New beginnings is the theme of the seventh episode of “Downton Abbey” in the final season (Season/Series 6). This episode begins with two cars racing and a man timing their speed. A month has passed since the last episode and it’s July in 1925. Violet may have been sacked by the hospital, but she’s still in fine form: You won’t want to miss this wonderful show of good manners and hard questioning by the dowager, Violet. The Crawleys will also be gone for three days to London to Brooklands and during this time, on the 20th, Daisy and Mr. Molesley will be taking exams.
Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) has invited all of the Crawleys to Brooklands and that includes Bertie Pelham (Harry Hadden-Paton). Edith (Laura Carmichael) at first says that she is sure Talbot is just “sucking up” but she also declares, “I’m in if Bertie’s coming.”
“It’s a long way for him,” Robert (Hugh Bonneville) comments.
“Maybe there’s something else for him to do in London,” Edith says.
Mary (Michelle Dockery) comments, “Isn’t it enough that it’s a chance to see you?”
Edith remains a bit sour, “Would it annoy you if it were?” Remember that Mary has said that Bertie is boring, but not to Edith’s face. Edith has called Henry Talbot “oily” while Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) finds him nice enough. Brooklands is a 2.75-mile motor racing circuit that is near Weybridge in Surrey, England. It opened in 1907 but hosted its last race in 1939, when Europe was again heading toward war. Today is it is a part of the Brooklands Museum and a venue for vintage car and motorcycle events. Weybridge is about 25 miles from London by car and would take under an hour in a car today.
Downstairs, Mrs. Patmore ( Lesley Nicol) is excited that her bed and breakfast will be opening up soon. She changed a bedroom in to a bathroom so that there’s a place to stay for her niece and when she retires from service, she can stay there. This Mrs. Patmore’s plan for the future. Mrs. Patmore asks Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), “How’s life for the newlyweds?”
Mrs. Hughes says, “Fine. Only, Mr Carson wants to dine at the cottage again.”
Mrs. Patmore attempts to cheer her up and says, “No need to sound so gloomy. I can rustle up something.”
Mrs. Hughes continues, “Whatever you do rustle up, I won’t cook it right, or the plates will be cold, or the dressing will be wrong.”
Daisy (Sophie McShera) asks, “Does he appreciate all you do?”
Mrs. Hughes replies, “Does any man?”
Mr. Carson continues to put pressure on Mr. Barrow (Rob James-Collier) to find another job. Mrs. Hughes apologizes for Mr. Carson telling Mr. Barrow, “I’m sorry if Mr Carson spoke harshly just now. He doesn’t mean to be unkind. But it worries him when a plan is delayed.”
Mr. Barrow is still subdued and replies, “The plan being my departure.”
Mrs. Hughes comments, “You just haven’t found the right person yet, Mr Barrow. But I’m sure there are friends out there waiting for you, and a new job in a new house may help you to find them.”
Mr. Barrow admits, “Well, you see, Mrs Hughes, this is the first place I’ve found where I’ve laid down some roots.”
Remember that Mr. Carson accused him of doing something untoward with Andy and wouldn’t take his word. Earlier Lord Grantham caught Barrow trying to take a guest, Gwen Harding (Episode 4), down a notch and told him that kindness is a better path. Yet Mr. Carson does have his blind spots and Barrow is one of them. Carson also does become the target of a lesson formulated by Mrs. Patmore where he learns just how hard it is to cook and clean up after a long day at work. Mrs. Hughes pretends to have hurt her hand and Carson is so tired making and burning the dinner that he falls asleep at the table during dessert. The honeymoon may be over, but there’s a new respect between this husband and wife and a deepening friendship between Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes.
In the last episode, Violet (Maggie Smith) met Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) as she was storming about Downton Abbey after learning about her dethroning. Lord Merton introduced her to Miss Amelia Cruikshank (Phoebe Sparrow). Now Isobel ( has received an invitation to a wedding for Amelia and Larry, Lord Merton’s eldest son.
Violet asks, “Do you enjoy weddings?”
Isobel (Penelope Wilton) replies, “Yes. But I’m not going to that one. I’d feel like the wicked fairy at the christening of Sleeping Beauty.”
Violet asks, “Why would Larry Grey want you to be there? I mean, you of all people.”
Isobel replies, “I’m sure he doesn’t. Dickie must’ve persuaded them to ask me.”
Violet is much wiser and comments, “I doubt that. He wouldn’t want to subject you to more insults.”
Isobel asks, “Well, who then?”
Violet wisely asserts, “I’d say this is the work of Miss Cruikshank. She’s the one always making a show of friendship. Why don’t I pay a call on her? See if I can winkle out the truth.”
Isobel says, “I’m sorry I showed it to you now.”
Violet reassures her, “Oh, don’t be, don’t be. Are things going well in my former kingdom?”
Isobel replies, “Cora is settling in. I know it must feel awkward.”
Violet admits, “Oh, no. I’m yesterday, she’s tomorrow. That’s the way it is.”
Isobel comments, “You must be feeling very hurt.”
Violet admits, “Well, the fact is, I might as well be honest. I am angry at the way I have been treated.”
Isobel notes, “I don’t blame you.”
Violet continues, “While angry, I say things some people find hard to forgive. So, I have decided to go away. I’d rather vent my rage on the desert air and return when I’ve regained control of my tongue.”
Isobel says, “Your self-knowledge is an example to us all.”
Violet asks, “You don’t think I’m wrong?”
Isobel reassures her, saying, “The last thing you need at this stage in your life is to quarrel with your son and daughter-in-law.”
Violet admits, “Precisely. But don’t fear. I’ll call on Miss Cruikshank before I leave.”
Isobel replies, “I suspect she’s quite a tough nut.”
Violet assures her, “And I’m quite a tough nutcracker.”
Violet makes a surprise visit to see Amelia Cruikshank.
Amelia says, “I’m terribly sorry, Lady Grantham. No one told me you were coming and I’m afraid Lord Merton’s out.”
Violet asserts, “It’s you I’ve come to see.”
With a pretty smile, Amelia replies, “How flattering. May I offer you anything?”
Violet replies, “Only your attention. Shall I sit here? Now, Mrs Crawley tells me that you paid her a visit when you first came, that you were amazingly friendly.”
Amelia says, “Well, I hope I’m always friendly.”
Violet comments, “Nobody’s always friendly. And now you have invited her to your wedding, which has taken her by surprise.”
Amelia replies, “You mean Larry and Mrs Crawley have not seen eye to eye in the past.”
Violet says, “Larry Grey has spoken to Mrs Crawley in a manner that in any other century would have resulted in him being called out and shot.”
Amelia disagrees, saying “I can’t believe it was as bad as that.”
Violet corrects her saying, “Then you are misinformed. But I want to know this. Why encourage Mrs Crawley when your fiancé detests the mere idea of her?”
Amelia politely insists, “I still dispute that, but I would say that Larry had perhaps not quite thought matters through.”
Violet asks, “Meaning?”
Amelia explains, “Only that his father is old, and alone, and in need of…”
Violet now understands and completes her thought, “In need of care? Which you are not prepared to give.”
Amelia still tries to remain positive, “I would’ve said a companion.”
Violet then understand, “Which you are not prepared to be. And what of this house? Will you surrender it to be free of him?”
Amelia asserts, “She won’t want to live at Cavenham after Lord Merton’s death. It would be lonely for a woman like her.”
Violet declares, “But, by heaven, I bet it won’t be too lonely for a woman like you. I expect they’ll have to drag you out as you break your fingernails catching at the door case. So, there we have it. You want a free nurse to take her tiresome old man off your hands. You’re a cruel, little Miss, aren’t you? I’d feel sorry for Larry, if I didn’t dislike him so much.”
Amelia keeps her smile, saying, “I shall forget you said that, but you should go now. Much more, and we may feel awkward when we meet. Which we are bound to do.”
Violet disagrees, “I think not, Miss Cruikshank. Not if I see you first.”
Larry Gray (Charlie Anson) is a nasty sort of fellow. During Series 3, he spiked Tom Branson’s drink and Tom then upsets his wife and others when he talks about the oppression of the Irish. Mary notices that Larry is amused by Tom’s “vivid display of Irish character.” Sir Anthony Strallan then comes to Tom’s defense because he saw Larry drugging Tom’s drink. Larry called Tom “only a grubby little chauffeur” but Mary said Larry calling it a joke was “a bully’s defense.”
Strallan has once courted Lady Edith and on the verge of proposing, he was misled by Mary into believing that Edith found him a bore. In Series 3, Strallan and Edith do get engaged but he leaves her at the altar and this time Mary has nothing to do with it. Strallan knew Edith meant to devote her live to looking after him and that is why she loves him, but he tells her to not wast her life on him and Violet believes Strallan’s action was “the smartest thing he has said in months.”
During Series/Season 5, in 1924, Larry expresses his believe that any marriage between Isobel and his father would fail because of the disparity between their backgrounds. He has a similar view of Rose MacClare and Atticus Aldridge, but in this case it is because Atticus is Jewish. Larry insults the whole Crawley family for their “eccentric” choices and angers Tom so much he tells him to leave. The Crawleys have no reason to like Larry Gray at all and he reportedly takes after her mother. Lord Merton is Mary Crawley’s godfather.
At the races, the men sprint to their cars and then start driving. Edith has asked her new lady editor Laura Edmunds (Antonia Bernath) to the affair and introduces her to Tom, perhaps Tom will have a potential love interest and keep it all in the family? Mary is dressed in a red dress and a white hat and jacket.
Back at Downton, Mrs. Patmore has brought a picnic lunch for Mr. Dawes (Patrick Brennan), Mr. Molesley (Bernard Gallagher), Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Andy (Michael Fox). She has forgotten the lemonade, but Mr. Barrow has come with it. Daisy mentions that she was a bit confused by one of the questions and hands the test paper to Andy and tells him to read it. Yet Andy can barely get out the first few words. Barrow kindly takes it from him and reads it to all. Andy’s secret is out and he’s crushed. He admits that Barrow has been helping him (“At least Mr Barrow’s been trying to teach me to read, but I’m too stupid to learn.”), but he hasn’t made a breakthrough. Mr. Dawes offers to help a few days a week, if Andy can manage. Barrow offers to keep up in the evening, but “We wouldn’t want to confuse Andy with different methods,” Mr. Dawes tells Barrow. Mr. Barrow is marginalized again.
Barrow quickly leaves the group as they break up and Daisy must return to her exams. He finds Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes relaxing in the library and asks if anyone can join in, but both Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes quickly get up and leave, with Carson saying, “No, Mr Barrow, they cannot” and neither really see Barrow and his loneliness.
Soon after the tests, Mr. Dawes asks Mr. Moseley to become part of the teaching staff in the village. He says, “I’m impressed, Mr Molesley. There are Oxford and Cambridge graduates who know far less than you. You should be proud.”
Daisy asks, “Is that the end of service for you?”
Mr. Molesley comments, “Service is ending for most of us, Daisy. I’ve just got a head start. “
Daisy asks, “Will you miss it?”
Mr. Molesley replies, “Oh, let’s face it. I were never going to make butler. Well, not in a proper house like this one. And from now on, there’s going to be more and more people chasing fewer and fewer jobs, so it’s probably time. And this seemed like a good way to go.” We see Mr. Barrow whose main pursuit during all six seasons has been to become a butler in a great house.
Daisy is finally happy for someone, saying, “Well, I’m glad. You deserve it.”
Mr. Molesley replies, “I never think I deserve anything. Perhaps I’ve been wrong all along.”
The others have gone to another room and Mr. Barrow remains in his seat. Mr. Molesley asks, “Are you coming, Mr Barrow?”
Mr. Barrow says, “In a minute. You go ahead.” We feel his isolation. How things have changed. Mr. Molesley had once been a butler at Matthew Crawley’s house and was a valet to Matthew Crawley. After Matthew’s death (Series 4 in 1922), he was reduced to being a common laborer and only crawled back to Downton Abbey in the downgraded position of footman (with the help of Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore). He became the only footman when Jimmy was dismissed during Series 5. Now he is sweet on Baxter.
At the race in Brooklands, Tom and Robert find the race exciting as the drivers go around and around the track. Tom tells Mary, “Chin up. Won’t be long now.”
Mary isn’t looking at the race, but says, “Really? It feels as if we’re trapped in some witch’s curse for all eternity.”
Things go badly and Henry Talbot’s best friend and fellow racer Charlie Rogers has an accident and dies. “He was my friend,” Talbot says softly. “My best friend, really. If that phrase didn’t sound like it was something from a… Rider Haggard novel. ” Talbot blames himself and he can’t join the Crawleys for dinner as he must speak with Charlie’s family. H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) wrote adventure novels, mostly set in Africa and was big on those Lost Worlds. He wrote “King Solomon’s Mines” and “She.” He died in May of 1925 so since this episode takes place in the summer, he is already dead.
A shocked Henry Talbot calls Mary that evening demands over the phone to know where this relationship is going with Mary, saying, “Because his death has made me realize we don’t have a minute to waste, you and I. This is my carpe diem moment. I, I must seize the day.” Mary can’t help remembering her first husband Matthew and his death. She breaks up with Henry asking, “Don’t start saying you’ll give up racing. I don’t want you to give up anything except me.”
Tom tells her she’s made a mistake. “You’re not seeing straight. Today brought up Matthew’s death and all the rest of it. You’re in a black mist. You’re frightened of being hurt again. But let me tell you this. You will be hurt again, and so will I, because being hurt is part of being alive. But that is no reason to give up on the man who is right for you.”
In another room, Bertie asks Edith to marry him. Edith almost tells him about Marigold, but does not. She wants to think about this proposal, but she has already asked if she can bring Marigold along. How will Edith handle this? And there is, of course more. Someone is spying on Mrs. Patmore’s bed and breakfast. We seen him lurking in the bushes with a notebook and a camera as Mrs. Patmore leaves having fixed a fine breakfast for her first two guests. What can that mean?
When the Crawleys get home they learn that during their absence, the Storm named Violet has left to rage at the Mediterranean. Being with the French will make her grateful to be in England again and accept her forced retirement from the hospital board presidency, but she has left something that will surely warm the hearts of everyone: A new dog for her son, Lord Grantham. Robert quickly meets the dog downstairs and names her Tiaa because “Tiaa was a wife of Amenhotep II and the mother of Thutmose IV.” (During Season 1, the family dog was named Pharaoh. Season 2’s dog was Isis and that name was undoubtedly a problem with the current political concerns. Isis died of cancer during Series/Season 5 which was supposed to be in 1924.)
“Downton Abbey” Series/Season 6 Episode 7 aired on PBS Sunday, Feb. 14, but is currently streaming online on the PBS Masterpiece webpage.