Downton Abbey: Season 6, Episode 3

New character facets, continued bickering, and a surprise return from a long-gone character are the focus of this week’s episode.

As I stated in last week’s review of episode two, much of the first third of the season six would be centered on the marriage between the two head servants, Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter). A bit surprisingly — at least to me — is that not only does the wedding take place in this episode, but comes and goes so quickly that there is barely time for a melodramatic flourish of a string orchestra to mark the occasion. Instead, much of episode three is spent on the build up to the big day and Mrs. Hughes’ fight to make her wedding wholly her own.

We left last week with clear battle lines drawn. Mary (Michelle Dockery) wants the two to get married in the Downton home — a privilege she feels should be accepted as readily as she’s offered it. Mrs. Hughes wants to mark the occasion of her nuptials in a way that suits her life, rather than play dress up in a home that’s never really been her own. Carson, as always, sides entirely with Mary, agreeing with her that he should be honored to marry in the home where he has been such a devout servant. Never the one to be nuisance, Hughes seems resigned to making others happy before herself — a duty that’s been her burden for most of her life.

That is, until Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) steps in to save the day. In what has become one of the hallmarks of Downton Abbey, Patmore does what every cunning servant does when they want something to go their way; casually bring it up in passing to someone with far more negotiating power. In this case, Patmore brings Hughes’s dilemma to the attention of Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), who immediately takes on the task of convincing her stubborn daughter that the only person that deserves to choose the impending wedding’s venue is the bride.

As we’ve seen in the past, Mary doesn’t like not getting her way, and she quickly accuses Cora of acting on purely selfish reasons, saying that the only reason she wants to make changes is because she doesn’t want the servants dining in the main hall. Even Mary soon realizes the absurdity of this accusation and finally gives in to the idea that wedding is just another thing that’s out of her control, affectively ending that little pre-wedding debate once and for all.

Last week, I expressed a little annoyance over the story line that eventually developed into the crux of episode two: that of Edith (Laura Carmichael) and her daughter, Marigold (Sharon Small). I was happy to the see the matter effectively wrapped up, and this week, was even happier to see the writers fully dedicated to making Edith more than a punching bag. Her role at the magazine left to her by the late Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) has always felt like a narrative goldmine as yet untouched by Fellowes and team; it was refreshing to see them dive head first into it this week.

In keeping with the theme of women taking charge that I touched on last week, Edith is following in Mary’s footsteps as a woman ready to get out of the drawing room and head bravely into much more ambitious venues. Partly by necessity, after having her editor walk out on her during a disagreement, Edith’s forced to work through the night to get her magazine ready for print, effectively making her the issue’s editor. The scene’s handled well; Laura Carmichael gives us an effective and decisive Edith that, if it had been boiling below the surface for some time, had yet to make any indication of its existence. To boot, Edith seems to have grabbed the affection of a new love interest in the form of Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton), an estate manager we were first introduced to last season. Their future courtship, and Edith’s evolving role in the magazine, seem inevitable. Let me be the first to give that two thumbs way up. Good for you Edith, you deserve it.

Initially, Thomas’ (Rob James-Collier) search for new employment seemed like the kind of throwaway plotline that would be best resolved quickly and quietly, but this week’s events put into greater focus the writers’ reasons for accompanying the ever-unlikable Thomas on this journey. Say what you will of Thomas, but he’s always been someone who thinks highly of himself and his worth to a household in need of a quality servant. If he’s to leave Downton, he’ll not debase himself by taking a job below his server’s acumen, so when he goes out on an interview to what was once a respected household he’s shocked to find it’s fallen into a state of disrepair, which, despite its owners’ delusions, we know it’ll never emerge from. This snapshot of a household on the other side of the cliff from which Downton itself seems destined to fall is Fellowes further confirming the idea that these types of estates have little time left, a theme that will likely continue to be touched upon throughout this final season.

In other Downton Abbey news, things continue to heat up in the Battle of the Grannies, this time putting Cora right in the middle of the debate, much to her chagrin. We never see Cora lose her cool, but Violet (Maggie Smith) and Isabel’s (Penelope Wilton) bickering is nearly enough for her to snap. A late episode revelation from Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) hints that this disagreement may be heading towards a resolution, although Lady Grantham will surely not go down without a fight.

One of the trademarks of binge-worthy television is to end each episode with something that leaves audiences salivating for more, and while Downton Abbey‘s been a huge part of television over the past half-decade, it’s not exactly considered highly binge-able, which is why episode three’s final moment twist felt unnecessary and forced. Predicated by a letter received by Mary early in the episode, this week ends with the return of little Sybbie (Fifi Hart) and her father, Tom Branson (Allen Leech), leaving audiences to ask: why?

This week gives us no solid answer, other than that Tom finally realizing that his home’s at Downton. What this explanation’s missing, though, is why it matters to the story and to the characters I would’ve been happy seeing this thing through with. We’ll see where Tom fits into Mary’s new role, Lady Grantham’s fight against modernization, and the rest of the Downton clan, but I enter this plot development with a bit of wariness as to how to properly integrate a character who seemed gone forever.

RATING 7 / 10