Downton Abbey: Mary Crawley, History's Greatest Monster (S6 E8 Recap)

downton abbey s6 castIs Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary worse than Hitler? Probably not, though she may be the world’s worst sister. Sure, Edith did write the Turkish Embassy a hundred years ago about how Mr. Pamuk died while sexing up the oldest Crowley daughter – because it was true! But she didn’t start the fire. Mary has always been awful to Edith, and while there may have been reasons, there aren’t any excuses. But this week, Mary went beyond any previous antics. Yet somehow Edith’s humiliation turned out to be a life lesson for Mary that led her into Henry’s arms. Poor Edith is not even the main character in her own life story. Her ruination at Mary’s hands proves to be a turning point FOR MARY. Mary, Mary, Mary! The middle child never wins.

And she's supposed to be the pretty one?

And she’s supposed to be the pretty one?

Let’s dispose of all the downstairs nonsense first, since even Thomas’ suicide attempt was all part of God’s plan for Mary.

Sgt. Willis stops by because he always does.  In two weeks when we get the Christmas Special/official series finale perhaps Willis will admit he’s harboring the love that dare not speak his name for poor Thomas Barrow, and has been framing and falsifying evidence against the servants for years in order to have an excuse to hang around. This week Willis is there, allegedly,  to tell poor Mrs. Patmore that the respectable doctor and his wife she hosted at her B&B were in fact ADULTERERS enjoying a dirty weekend. Plus Willis informs them that her little business is already being labeled a “house of ill repute” by the “rumor mill” which in that little corner of Yorkshire runs with the speed of the internet and the power of TMZ.

Or he could just be coming for Mrs. Patmore's scones.

Or he could just be coming for Mrs. Patmore’s scones.

Anna and Bates again find the misfortune of anyone who isn’t them hysterical — especially when it involves the coppers. Carson acts like a scold even though he and Hughes were also planning to do the guest house thing. Hughes remains sweet on Carson, however, because he may be a curmudgeon, but he’s her curmudgeon. Carson also doesn’t think the upstairs people should even be told, but word spreads quickly after Anna tells Mary, who blabs to the rest. The Crowleys save the day by visiting the B&B for tea because their mere presence will wash away any taint because that’s the magic fairy dust that is aristocracy.

Mr. Moseley starts teaching at the village school. He’s not giving up his day job just yet, but he tells Mr. Carson he’ll be gone for a couple of hours every afternoon. Carson (who Mrs. Hughes may forgive but we don’t have to) tells Moseley he’s overreaching. His first try does not go well. The children ignore him, pass around notes, and run out when the bell sounds. But he picks himself up and tries again. Miss Baxter encourages him to tell them he was in service instead of treating it like a naughty secret. He does and it works. He explains how education isn’t just for “toffs” but for everyone. The kids, some of whom are the children of maids and gardeners, are impressed. He’s clearly found his vocation, and couldn’t be any happier. Well, he could be, but only if Miss Baxter gave him a clear signal she reciprocated his feelings.


Thomas gets another job rejection. He’s “overqualified” for the position. Seeing no future he tries to kill himself. Baxter is the one who finds him, in time of course. Robert and Carson both feel bad enough to tell him he doesn’t have to go, and it looks like everyone will be nicer to him now. And so the lesson for all of us is a suicide attempt is a great way to hold onto the job you were about to be shit-canned from.

Seriously, not as bad as it looks.

Seriously, not as bad as it looks.

And now let’s get to the important people, by which I mean Mary.

Edith still hasn’t accepted Bertie’s proposal, mostly because she still doesn’t know what to tell him about Marigold. This is an easy one, Edith: TELL HIM THE TRUTH. But circumstances are about to make things a bit more complicated…

Tom and Mary are out “agenting” a task that consists of their taking long walks while discussing her love life. Mary notices a headline, “English Marquis dead in Tangiers.”It’s Lord Hexham, Bertie Palmer’s employer who died. Will this mean Bertie’s out of a job? Does Mary feel perhaps a tinge of sympathy for Edith or her prospective intended? She feels something, but sympathy isn’t the right word. As she puts it, “It’s bad enough he’s an agent now he’s not even that.” Sensitive soul that she is, she has no qualms saying that in front of just an agent, Tom.

Now a pause for this seemingly unrelated tidbit: Isobel is telling Dickie about the wedding invitation she received, which he knew nothing about. He sees Miss Cockenblocker as “a kind and gentle soul.” To which Isobel replies in a manner overflowing with subtext, “Is she? Is she, indeed.” Later she meets with Miss Crookedshift herself,, and tells her she’s not coming to the wedding unless Larry invites her, which even the cool little Miss can’t make happen.

Is it tea time or lunch or just sitting around time? Cora, Robert, Mary and Rosamund are discussing Bertie’s upcoming visit. He’ll be stopping by before heading out to Tangiers because Yorkshire is on the way if by on the way you’re speaking very generally.  Then Edith comes in and rocks everybody’s world – especially Mary’s – when she mentions that Bertie is the heir. Mary’s first reaction is, “He’s having you on,” but by the time they all leave the room, she’s whispering to her mother that if it’s true surely he won’t want to marry Edith. Robert, who this season seems to like his middle child, couldn’t be more thrilled. “Golly gumdrops what a turnout!” He announces happily, also mentioning, “She’ll outrank us all!”

Robert realizes that now he can make all the bad investments he wants because he's going to have a rich son-in-law.

Robert realizes that now he can make all the bad investments he wants because he’s going to have a rich son-in-law.

Mary and Tom go back to work, and by work I mean Tom begs her to let him invite Henry, so the two can reconcile. She won’t relent, but she does manage to trick him into confirming the true identity of the foundling child by pretending she already knows. Oh Tom! How could you fall for that?

Bertie arrives and assures everyone he just wants to be known as Bertie. Carson, however, tells the staff he doesn’t care what Mr. Pelham wants, he’s Lord Hexham to them. Bertie’s upset to have lost his “delicate” cousin, who so loved watching those fisherman docking their boats at sunset, their dusky skin glowing as the light faded, the sweat gleaming on their bare muscular chests. He can hardly even think of the vast estate he’s just inherited. At dinner, he talks some more about the dear departed one, and how he was really an artist at heart, so sensitive, so frail. Bertie of course didn’t expect to be the heir because he was certain his cousin was going to marry some other cousin – the one with the sensible shoes, who lives with her companion, and has all those cats. And surely they would have had children.


If Bertie really believed his cousin was going to father children with a lady, then how likely is it he’d ever figure out that the foundling child what looks just like Edith is actually her daughter? Problem solved!

Mary just stares at him, totally bitched-face asks, “Are you here to settle things with Edith before you leave?” She’s even angrier when he tells her that that would be his greatest hope.

More Mary-bitch face which she did a lot of this episode.

More Mary-bitch face which she did a lot of this episode.

Edith and Bertie finally get to spend a moment together. She seems to be on the edge of telling him, maybe, but he confesses his own uncertainty, not of going ahead with the marriage – he needs her more than ever, but of having to be “always on parade.” She still hasn’t quite accepted his proposal, and avoids the question by announcing that it’s tea time and the children will be down. Maybe she’s waiting for him to say that Marigold is such a charming child that he only wishes she were his own.

Tom is doing a puppet show to entertain the kids for the five minutes a day they’re allowed out of the dungeon. Henry who was just passing through while down in Yorkshire doing “car things” arrives. Was there only one road through England back then? Was Downton Abbey right smack in the middle of it? Cora invites him for dinner and to spend the night, even while Mary is insisting he must have better things to do. He happened to bring along dinner clothes, because doesn’t a gentleman always do that?

On her way upstairs to change, Mary confronts Tom. She is sure Henry’s showing up was engineered by him and she is super-pissed off at his interfering. And really you’ve got to ask, what is it with Tom this season? Why is he so obsessed with Mary’s happiness? No wonder, sentimental ‘shippers keep thinking they’re the real end game!

Henry approaches Mary. She’s tells him they don’t belong together and he’d be “outranked” by his stepson. He tells her that he’s going to make getting rid of him “as hard and horrible” as he can. Mary then goes to Robert’s room, where Robert, Cora and Rosamund are hanging out. With her skinny-bitch slightly goth looks she’s comes off like a woman who’d make fur out of puppies as she berates poor Cora for inviting Henry to stay.

After dinner, while drinking coffee with Tom in a corner, she stares at Bertie and Henry talking together as though she still can’t quite fathom the unfairness of a universe in which Bertie is Lord Hexham, and Henry isn’t. She states that if Henry were the Marquis, “there wouldn’t be a woman in England who wouldn’t be setting her cap at him.” Does she even realize she just said that aloud? To Tom? He asks if he were the Marquis, would she be one of them. It looks like even her courtier has had enough of her. Maybe she should appoint Carson her new best friend. He’d have agreed with her wholeheartedly.


Mary storms off, but Henry confronts her. He apologizes for “miscalculating” but then blows it by telling her that the only reason she won’t accept him is because of his lack of money and she’s “bigger than that.” What she hears is that he’s calling her a “grubby little gold-digger,” She goes to her room shaken and ignores his calling after her.

Back in their little cottage, Bates and Anna are the Greek chorus to this drama. Bates calls Mary a bully. Anna thinks maybe Henry is right for her after all because Mary can’t control him, and we all know that strong women really want to be controlled by stronger men, right?

Bertie asks Edith if she’ll send him to be bed happy. The little puppy nearly blushes when she mentions what that sounded like. She tells him she loves him, and seems finally about to …., but then he tells her he’ll take that as a yes, and he kisses her. which shuts her right up.

And this leads to this week’s car crash, which takes place at the breakfast table and not the race track, and doesn’t involve machines made of steal, but two ladies coming at each other fast and furious — with words. Mary comes down still in a state, made even worse when she discovers Henry made some excuse and took off early. Robert probably still peeved about Mary’s treatment of Cora the night before, or maybe just annoyed because she’s become the boss of him, excuses himself to go write some letters, leaving Edith, Bertie, Tom and Mary at the table. Bertie starts to mention his news. Edith warns him that now is not the time. Tom, who can’t stop himself from being “the peacemaker” because that is his dedicated role for the season, suggests that they are both happy for them. Then he makes a tactical error, by asking, “Aren’t you happy for them Mary?” She kind of shrugs, causing Edith to stand up to her sister saying that Mary can’t be happy for her when her own life is a mess. She goes on. Tom tries to stop her, but it’s too late. Mary replies that she is happy for them, and thinks it’s just peachy that Bertie accepts Edith’s slutty past and Marigold.

Edith confesses that Marigold is her daughter. Bertie excuses himself. Tom stares at Mary really hard. Edith looks like she’s about to die right then and there. Mary takes a look at the newspaper. She wins, but it’s Pyrrhic victory because now having ruined her sister’s life everyone hates her, right?

You’d think so, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. Everyone, even Edith, seems convinced that Mary lashed out because of her own unhappiness therefore for everyone’s sake — including her own — she must marry Henry in order to be happier and nicer.

Bertie and Edith say good-bye. He tells her it’s not Marigold, but that she didn’t trust him, which seems a bit forward thinking for 1925, but then again he was tots cool about his flaming cousin. Are they still possible?  Doesn’t sound like it when Edith says, “We’ll probably never see each other again.” They don’t even shake hands.

Only one more episode left to say it: Poor Edith!

Only one more episode left to say it: Poor Edith!

Shaken up because Tom calls her “a bully and a coward,”  Mary goes to Edith’s room. Edith is packing up for London. Mary tells her it never occurred to her she hadn’t told him. That’s when Edith really explodes because honestly the only thing worse than ruining someone’s life is then expecting them to swallow bullshit like that. Edith calls her a jealous scheming bitch, but even she tells her that Henry is perfect for her and she’s just too stupid and stuck up to see it. Because sure wouldn’t all of us give dating advice to the person who just ruined probably our final chance for happiness?

But why exactly is Henry “perfect” for her? How exactly is he her match? We had YEARS to root for Mary and Matthew, to see them as a couple, to accept that Mary did really love him – despite his being middle-class and all, and not just because he was going to inherit her childhood home. We’ve had a few episodes to get to know Henry, and mostly what we know is that he drives cars fast. You know who seemed perfect for each other? Edith and Bertie – that’s who.


Tea time. Carson tries to tell Robert about Barrow discretely, but his Lordship announces it out loud. Mary who really doesn’t know when to shut up asks him if he still thinks dismissing Barrow was worth the savings. He tells her that was low – even for her.

Then we’re off to a brief London interlude and some comic relief from the lower classes. Edith has told her attractive Editrix at least enough of the story for her to know that Edith is not going to be Lady Hexham and that Mary “wasn’t helpful. The perky Editrix smokes cigarettes like a modern woman. Could she be Edith’s true love or will the mysterious advice columnist Cassandra Jones who will stopping in at the office in person turn out to be Edith’s Mister or Miss Right?

Could the Editrix please get a spin-off?

Could the Editrix please get a spin-off?

Maybe Cassandra will actually be Michael Gregson because they never actually found a body, did they? Nope. Cassandra is Septimus Spratt. Who knew he had these hidden depths? Seriously, did anyone, because this particular turn seems extremely random. Mrs. Patmore is a font of wit and wisdom who’d make a great advice columnist, but Spratt?

Back at Downton, Master George – one of the three children who lives in a small room beneath a staircase – is sent with an orange to cheer up Barrow. An orange, you may ask? But remember this is England and he is a poor, so it’s probably a very special treat.  Barrow says to Mary, “At least I’ve got one friend,” which leads two people who are not normally much into self-reflection to share a moment. Barrow confesses, “I’ve done and said things. I can’t stop myself,” and Mary admits she could say the same about herself.

Violet arrives home to save the day. She tells Mary to get over herself and marry Henry. Mary finally admits what should have been obvious from the start. The truth is she’s terrified of being a crash widow a second time, but somehow just the act of confessing it, and Violet’s insistence that LOVE is important, gets Mary to completely change her mind.

Violet is never wrong, except maybe about that hospital thing.

Violet is never wrong, except maybe about that hospital thing.

Mary sends for Henry who arrives with a marriage license and before we can say, “Huh? Is this the same episode?” She’s married, and oh yeah, Edith shows up at the last minute, not to tell Henry about poor Mr. Pamuk because no one cares, but to tell Mary that she forgives her, because soon they’ll be the only ones to remember Sybil, and Matthew, and a bunch of other people who aren’t even dead yet, so they better learn to stand each other.

Good on Edith for that, and good on her for building a life for herself outside of Downton, which has turned out to be a kind of fancy hellscape that most people – like Tom, and the staff – have a very hard time breaking away from. But it still feels wildly unfair that Mary is the one who gets the happy ending.


The double-episode series finale last Downton Abbey ever is coming up in two weeks. My personal wish-list includes a little more comeuppance for Mary. What’s on yours?

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: Downton Abbey

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