The holdup for my review of series 6 as a whole can mostly be blamed on one difficulty I’ve had with Downton’s past eight episodes (plus grad school). I wanted to do a separate article on the series 6 “MVP,” but I had trouble coming up with one who fit the bill, which isn’t to say that everyone was terrible or that the series was bad. This conflict actually summarizes my thoughts on this series as a whole quite well.
The “MVP” candidate field was compromised of four candidates: Edith, Tom, Barrow, and Molesley. The latter two can (sadly) be eliminated simply because they weren’t given enough to do (more on this later). I’d pick Edith if I absolutely had to, but I can’t after what happened in the finale.
Edith’s storylines are defined by tragedy. With her magazine, Edith finally found an environment she could thrive in. For a character I’ve despised since Downton began, I was pleasantly surprised by how Edith carried the show in the first few episodes. Then of course, she had to get sucked into another horrible love plotline.
I can see how the Marigold dilemma made it tempting for Fellowes to want to give her another suitor. She didn’t need one. Most characters this series only had one major storyline and she already had the magazine. This isn’t to say that Bertie Pelham had to be a detriment, but he was. By making Bertie a Marquis and then leaving Edith in a rather hasty manner, Fellowes took the least interesting aspects of Sir Anthony Swire and Charles Blake’s arcs and tossed them right back in the audience’s face. No thanks.
I never bought into the Mary’s malice toward Edith either. Yes, Mary is often jealous and unhappy, but two of them haven’t really taken action against each other since the first series. We’ve seen plenty of sarcastic comments, but that’s about it.
Edith was fun to watch this series, which is rare for her. I almost always skip her scenes when I re-watch the show. I can’t call her the “MVP” when she ended the series in such a typical predictable Edith like fashion. Yes, we need some plot for the Christmas Special, but it didn’t need to be that.
Which takes us to Tom, who shined with every opportunity he was given. Problem was, he wasn’t given many of them. Whereas Edith received two plotlines, Tom had none. I can’t call him the “MVP” either when he didn’t do anything besides remind Mary that she doesn’t need to be unhappy for the rest of her life.
Series 6 had a split that we haven’t really seen Downton implement since series 3. Essentially, this series can be divided into pre-Tom (1-3) and post-Tom (4-8), which isn’t dissimilar from the series 2 World War I split or the Downton is bankrupt spell in series 3. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. Shifting the tone a bit helps keep the series fresh. The question we need to ask is whether or not this series needed that at all.
I’ve said it in previous recaps and I’ll say it again. Tom leaving was a mistake. It accomplished nothing and forced the show into a bizarre holding pattern until he returned. If Fellowes absolutely had to have Tom leave to reassure his loyalty to the Crawleys, fine, but he could have come back after the first episode, especially since the Carson/Hughes wedding was drawn out longer than it needed to be. Three was a waste.
But wait! You may be wondering, didn’t I say that episode 2 might be best episode of the post Matthew era? I still think that’s true, but I think the first few episodes created a strain on the rest of the series that ultimately proved problematic with a certain plotline we all wanted to see.
There was one man everyone wanted to see since his appearance in the series 5 Christmas special. Why did it take until the fourth episode to give us Henry Talbot? I’ve speculated that Matthew Goode’s busy schedule may have been to blame, but he didn’t really have a lot going on in 2015 for that to have been a problem.
The romance felt rushed when it didn’t have to be. Tom played a useful role in the courtship process, which also shows why he shouldn’t have left in the first place. Five episodes wasn’t really enough time for them to become reacquainted, fall in love, and then marry when you think about how stretched out her relationships with Matthew and Tony/Charles (counting them as one) were. I get that maybe Fellowes didn’t want the final series to just be about Mary’s love life, but what alternative did he really put forth?
The hospital plotline was pretty underwhelming. There haven’t been many storylines that have involved the majority of the cast and there’s a reason for that. Downton is a show that thrives when its plotlines are diversified, which allows it to endure a few stinkers. I wouldn’t necessarily call the whole plotline a stinker, but it went on for far too long.
Beyond that, who looked good coming out of the hospital resolution? Cora was as unlikable as ever going behind the Dowager’s back, but even Lady Violet looked pretty petty refusing to give up control just because she hates change. Donk’s projectile blood spurting didn’t even really play a role in it at all in its resolution. The story shouldn’t have gone on longer than two or three episodes.
I don’t think there was a moment that fans looked forward to more than the Carson/Hughes wedding. Unfortunately, Carson decided to turn into the most unlikable character on the whole show, behaving nastily to just about everyone he interacts with. I loved the way Mrs. Hughes handled him, but the actual romance was sorely lacking throughout the series. I constantly found myself wondering why they were even together beyond the canned “it’s what the fans want.”
Oh Barrow. I mostly loved him this series, aside from his nastiness with Gwen, which seemed out of character by this point in the show. I dreaded the inevitable suicide, but felt that it was handled with grace by all the characters. Barrow’s hesitance to leave Downton shows the struggle that many in service had to endure, forced out of places that were their homes in every way except for the physical deed to the property. My only problem was that it was a little drawn out and prevented him from doing anything else this series. He could have done more with Master George!
The Mr. Mason storyline served as a nice contrast to Barrow’s struggles. I loved how he was integrated into this series after pretty much only making cameo appearances in previous series. He shows that while that way of life changes, it does so gradually and that there are happy endings.
The Mr. Mason farm dilemma also allowed Daisy to really come into her own. Her interactions with Cora were among my favorite of the series as they put Lady Grantham in her place and allowed Downton to do the right thing by one of its own. I didn’t care for her outburst at Mrs. Patmore, but the three of them plus Andy and Molesley have formed a refreshing dynamic in the show that I wasn’t expecting.
The Bates weren’t terrible, but it would have been nice to have them involved in something that wasn’t pure misery. Oh well. At least there wasn’t another murder.
I wish we’d seen more Molesley, especially while Barrow was looking for other employment. The show oddly ignored the elephant of the room of the 50 year old footman at a time, though Kevin Doyle shined with whatever he was given. Seeing him come into his own as a teacher was my favorite moment of the series.
Regarding Molesley and Baxter, I think Fellowes made the right decision not forcing a romantic pairing. I like that they’re “friends” in a way that doesn’t necessarily preclude them from taking it further. We’ll see what happens with the Special, but I won’t be disappointed if the two don’t get together.
Spratt and Denker have quietly become two of the best supporting characters in the series and I was disappointed to see their frequent absences. Denker only appeared in half the episodes and Spratt only did her one better. Considering how delightful their scenes were, this was a shame, especially when the insufferable Lady Rosamund bested her series high by two episodes (making the safe assumption that she appears in the finale).
The best part of the series is perhaps the fact that Downton isn’t closing. We know what’s coming for big houses, but we don’t need to see the end in 1925 just because the show is ending. The series lacked the depressing tone that I was worried about after watching that sad trailer back in August.
I could go on for another thousand words, but ultimately I did enjoy series 6 immensely. Having a clear end goal in sight helped focus the show and this has clearly been the best series of the post-Matthew era. The pacing problems prevented it from being the best series, which I genuinely think it could have been, but this has been a very satisfying conclusion to the show.