“Downton Abbey” Season 6 Episode 6 begins in early June of 1925, and everything becomes a question of standards. Carson complains that Mrs. Carson can’t keep their cottage up to Downton Abbey standards. Mr. Barrow tries to help raise Andy’s standard of living. Finally, it must be decided: Who will be the Crawley family standard bearer for the hospital? In addition, two secrets will cause considerable pain in this episode.
In the last episode, Robert Crawley was taken to the hospital and is now recovering. This episode begins with Mr. Molesley passing out flyers in the village and the audience sees a poster in the village.
Have you been wondering about Downton Abbey’s financial future? This episode gives us an idea of how Downton Abbey will manage without any American heiresses (Cora), or dead former fiancées (Matthew Goode’s Lavinia Catherine Swire who was the only child of London solicitor Reginald Swire). The wheels are put into motion by a fundraising idea for the hospital. Downton Abbey is going to be opened to the public. Not everyone is on board with the idea, but the audience knows this is one way that the famous properties in the UK have survived, making the UK a sort of large heritage park.
Upstairs in Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora’s bedroom, Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) has finished looking in on Robert and comments, “We could raise more than you think.”
Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) declares, “Robert, we are opening for one day for charity, and there’s an end to it. Mary and Tom have made the decision.” As Mary told Tom, they are taking over the running of the estate in order to keep stress to a minimum for her father.
Robert replies, “Ah. I know well enough that when Mary has spoken, my opinion has little bearing on the matter.
Mary (Michelle Dockery) does ask, “You don’t really mind, do you?”
Robert replies, “No, but I think it’s crackers.”
Downstairs, Mr. Carlson (Jim Carter) echoes Lord Granthan’s sentiments, saying, “I don’t like it. Poking and prying around the house. What’s to stop them slipping the odd first edition into their back pockets?
Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) replies, “You’ve a very poor opinion of your fellow man.”
Mr. Carlson defends himself, saying, “I have the opinion that life has taught me.”
Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) doesn’t understand the whole idea, “But I don’t see why anyone would pay good money to come and look.”
Anna (Joanne Froggatt) asks, “You’re not curious about how other people live.”
Mr. Bates replies, “No. I’m not.”
Anna continues to question her husband, “And if you’d the chance to see the private rooms of the King and Queen, would you give six pence for that?”
Mr. Bates, who has obviously met very few Americans, can only reply, “But what would it tell me? They sleep in a bed, they eat at a table. So do I.”
Mr. Barrow gives us the answer to that question, commenting, “I always wonder whether someone else is having a better time than I am.”
Mr. Carson interjects, “But that’s what’s so dangerous. You think they must be having a better time.
Then you want them not to have a better time. The next thing you know, there’s a guillotine in Trafalgar Square.”
Mrs. Hughes replies, “Ever the optimist.”
Then we have Daisy, who seems to have become a bit of a communist, “I think all these houses should be open to the public. What gives them the right to keep people out?”
Mr. Carson quite sensibly replies, “The law of property, which is the cornerstone of any civilization worthy of the name.”
Mr. Molesley weighs in, “Well, to me, it could be a good thing. To let them enjoy fine craftsmanship and beautiful paintings. But then, of course, they’re bound to start asking, ‘Why have the Crawleys got all of this and I haven’t?'”
Yet we know that this is how many of the great properties survive, through tourism and then there’s the odd movie or television series. It’s been a few weeks since Robert so rudely spewed blood all over the table linen and an expensive area carpet. One assumes that the maids know just how to handle those kind of stains. That episode was in May. It is now June.
The dowager, Violet (Maggie Smith) has been sidelined, but things are worse than she actually knows. She complains that Cora is “leading a revolution without turning a hair.” Yet that isn’t the only rivalry going on. The competition between Mary and Edith has Edith sniping at Mary. Edith calls Mary’s suitor Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) a “car mechanic” but Tom (Allen Leech) quickly reminds them he is a car mechanic. Oh, Edith. You are the publisher of a women’s magazine and yet you continue to put your foot in your mouth.
Elsewhere, at Yew Tree Farm, Daisy (Sophie McShera) puts up a photo of William (Thomas Howes) . Remember she was a reluctant bride. She did not love William (She was attracted to Thomas Barrow and only agreed to be William’s sweetheart so he wouldn’t be heartbroken and have hope while he was away at war). Yet now she puts up a photo of William who died after being married to her for six hours. She has grown close to her father-in-law, Mr. Mason. Yet her heart remains ever so stingy. When Mr. Mason gives her a thank you note for Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) she tells him it isn’t necessary. She doesn’t even bother to give the note to Mrs. Patmore and throws it in the rubbish bin where Mrs. Patmore finds it. “What’s this? Oh, it’s addressed to me.” Daisy makes an unconvincing excuse. Mrs. Patmore has only been kind to Daisy in a motherly way. Mrs. Patmore discouraged Daisy’s interest in Thomas and encouraged her to write to William.
Upstairs, Robert has been offered wine by Carson, but realizes that his ulcer cannot be denied. “Sometimes in life sacrifices have to be made, and I think the time has come for me to accept that I cannot go on as I used to.”
Carson is regretful, “I am very sorry to hear you say so, My Lord.”
Yet Robert continues, “Not as sorry as I am.” And he can’t help but think of other things, saying, “And speaking of necessary sacrifices, I’ve been thinking about things, lying here. We must get on with simplifying the household.
I know we’ve talked about it, but we haven’t really done much.”
Carson reminds him, “Oh, the new maids live in the village, and so cost a lot less. And we only have one groom and a stable boy.”
Yet Robert reminds him, “But we still have an under butler and two footmen. In this day and age.” This is the death knell for Mr. Barrow at Downton Abbey.
Carson does comment, “I do believe that Mr. Barrow has genuinely been looking for other employment.”
Robert still wants to be kind and asks, “But not finding it. Is there anything we can do to help?”
Carson replies, ” I’ll speak to him, My Lord.”
Robert does learn that Carson and he are in agreement, asking, “What do you think of the plan to open the house for a day?”
Carson replies, “I think it’s a dangerous precedent, since you ask, but I’m not sure how useful it is of me to say so.”
Robert comments, “Dangerous? I think it’s idiotic.” Robert has obviously not drawn any associations with the French Revolution and has no idea that downstairs Daisy has such ideas.
Carson doesn’t add that worry to Robert’s only saying, “It adds up to the same thing, My Lord. It’s a mistake.
I suppose it’s too late to stop it now.”
Robert admits, “Far too late. But what on earth can we show them to give them their money’s worth? Lady Grantham knitting? Lady Mary in the bath?” Robert doesn’t know some are just satisfied with Lady Mary’s eyebrows.
Robert’s mother, Violet, feels that Robert’s medical emergency should bring people over to her side, but that’s not proving to be true. Cora admits that “I’m afraid it must get worse before it gets better.” There is a definite difference between the healthcare of the haves and have-nots. Anna is again worried about her pregnancy and both Bates and Mary want her to see Dr. Ryder in London. Mr. Bates wants to pay, but Mary knows that he can ill afford it. Tom reminds her that what matters here is pride.
Pride and standards are what trouble the home of the newlyweds. Mr. Carson innocently asks, “How are you at making coffee?”
Mrs. Hughes replies, “I can make coffee. It’s not very hard.”
Carson chuckles, “That’s where you’re wrong. There’s quite an art to it. Uh, you might like to have a word with Mrs Patmore.”
Without Mrs. Patmore, we Americans have to rely on Starbucks. Mrs. Hughes doesn’t have that option and replies, “Of course. If you’d like me to.”
Carson doesn’t stop there. He at least doesn’t bring up his mother but comments, “And I want to start bringing things a little more up to standard. I wonder if we could have the hall boy to do some polishing.”
Mrs. Hughes agrees, saying, “I don’t see why not.”
Carson the adds, “And you might ask one of the maids about making the bed.”
A bit disgruntled, Mrs. Hughes replies, “Isn’t that good enough, either?”
Carson notes, “It’s not bad. I didn’t mean that. But I do like those sharp corners.”
Mrs. Hughes comments, “Well. I’m glad it’s not bad.” Yes, this is how the honeymoon slowly dies and the reality of unrealistic expectations take over.
Then there’s another matter of pride. The Crawley family and the hospital. The local hospital will be combined with the one in York, but there are some other changes afoot.
Dr. Clarkson tells Cora what the arrangements are to be, saying, “Mrs Crawley is to stay on as our almoner.”
Cora finds this “very sensible.”
Yet here’s the kicker, Dr. Clarkson explains, “But they want to offer the role of president to you.” Of course the question is: What about Cora’s mother-in-law, Violet? Dr. Clarkson continues, “Lady Grantham is to be, and I quote, ‘Allowed to step down after so many years of noble service.'”
Cora sums it up best, “Golly. They’ve sacked the captain.”
Isobel interjects, “You can see their point. How could they have someone in the management of the new system who thinks the whole idea is a horrible mistake?”
Cora asks Clarkson, “And you support this notion?”
Isobel explains, “Of course he does. He put your name forward as replacement.”
Clarkson then explains, “Lady Grantham is not as young as she was, and, as Mrs. Crawley says, I’m afraid she’d be almost willing the new regime to fail.” In addition, there will be more responsibilities. Cora can only reply, “I need to talk to Lord Grantham.”
Soon enough we will see there are many complications from not telling people immediately although in the case of Mary, that doesn’t really apply. Mary is taking Anna to London and to meet with the sad Evelyn and surprise Henry Talbot. She’s taking Tom. Edith can’t help but make a crack about Talbot being an “oily driver.” Oh, Edith. With the kind of secret you’ve been keeping, you do like living dangerously. You were with that much older man and then a married man. Now the single, but kind and dashing Talbot is oily? Your sister is just won honors as a pig farmer.
Mary bids farewell to her father who admits, he’s “so sick of this room, I could scream.” Mary is a bit concerned about Barrow who “was in the gallery, looking rather glum.” She asks her father, “Do we know why?”
Robert admits, “We’ve talked about making changes in the household.” And with budget cuts the person who is most likely to be unneeded is Barrow. “Carson and I both feel he’s the obvious candidate.”
Mary asks, “You’re not going to sack him?”
Robert says, “I hope not. I hope he’s going to find another job.”
Mary does seem to have a genuine interest in his fate, saying “Oh. I see. Well, that explains it.
He’s awfully sweet with George and the girls. You do know that?”
Robert then kindly says, “And when George is older, he can ask him back.”
Too bad Mr. Barrow doesn’t know this. Barrow had an affection for Sybil, Tom Branson’s late wife and Mary and Edith’s sister. He cried when she died. Downstairs, things look dour for Mr. Barrow. Carson reminds him, “Mr Barrow, in 20 years’ time, I doubt there’s one footman working at Downton. Lady Edith already manages without her own maid, and if Anna were to leave, I doubt that Lady Mary would replace her. It’s not just you.”
Barrow somewhat bitterly says, “But I am the first.”
Carson says, “But you are the under butler, a post that is fragrant with memories of a lost world. No one is sorrier to say it than I am, but you are not a creature of today.”
Barrow asks, “And you are? I don’t believe that a house like Downton could be run without a butler.
In that sense, yes, I am.” Barrow had just recently discovered that he has some affection for Robert Crawley and he does love the area and wishes to stay local, but he doesn’t seem to have any friends, even when he makes friendly gestures. He got Andy the job, but until recently Andy rejected him as a friend. Yet he keeps Andy’s secret.
Another prickly character, Daisy, is benefiting from the kindness of Mr. Molesley. He’s arranging for her to take a teaching exam. She’ll have six separate papers. He admits he wants to help her because “I think it’s because I missed the boat.” Mr. Molesley will at the request of the school master also sit for a test on general knowledge.
Violet visits Robert, but says that she feels the opening of the house is a mad scheme but then comments that “as president of the hospital I ought to have a formal role.” Neither Robert nor Cora want to tell her what the future plans are for the hospital and the plans don’t include Violet so Violet continues on saying, “The patients are my priority, as president I am their representative on earth.” She also adds, “I have a feeling your collapse will have changed a lot of people’s minds about the so-called reforms.” She mistakes Robert’s hesitation, saying “Don’t worry. I shall be magnanimous in victory.”
Downstairs, another secret is about to cause someone pain. Mrs. Patmore overhears Barrows asking Andy to meet in his room because the lighting is better. The question of Barrow is on Mary’s mind.
Anna tells Mary, “Master George does make me laugh. He rules Mr Barrow with a rod of iron.”
Mary admits, “Yes, Barrow’s rather sweet with the children. Do you think he’s trying to get in with us?”
Anna comments, ” I’d say he’s genuine, m’lady. I doubt he’ll have any children of his own, and he enjoys their company.” George is the only one trying to cheer Barrow up.
Mary adds, “Miss Marigold’s fitted in surprisingly well.”
Anna begins to say, “Yes, but then they’re all…”
Mary is sharp enough to ask, “They’re all what?”
Anna replies, “They’re all clever and pleasant.”
Mary has her suspicions since the night her father and mother made some odd comments, “What were you going to say?”
Anna continues, “Just what I did say, m’lady.”
In London, Mary is dressed for poor Evelyn’s little gathering. All of the women are of the same age and, except for Mary, war widows. Evelyn at one time was courting Mary, but Mary found him boring. He was engaged, but did not marry. Now he is lost in the friendzone. Tom makes an excuse to go back separately and leave Henry alone to walk Mary back.
Mary finally asks Henry, “I don’t know why I haven’t told you before now, but Matthew died in a car crash.”
Henry admits, “Yes, I know. Evelyn told me.”
Mary then says, “So you understand.”
Henry replies, “Of course I understand. The car is your enemy. But it’s my friend, and all I ask is that you give it a second chance. After all, it’s not as if you’re driving around in a Hansom cab.” So different from today’s world where, at least on Los Angeles, the car culture has taken over.
Under the rain, they share a kiss. “Heavens, Mr. Talbot. Is this your plan to convince me?” she asks. They are obviously falling in love, but Mary thinks things are moving too fast, but is that really the problem? Tom doesn’t think so. Mary would rather talk about Edith and her suitor, Bertie who is “boring to an Olympic degree” and Mary can’t help but wonder why Edith would “saddle herself with a child. Marigold is sweet but why would anyone like to take her on.”
Now compare this lovely romance to the reality of the Carsons. Mrs. Hughes complains to Mrs. Patmore, “I’m an experienced housemaid and a housekeeper for how many years? And he doesn’t think I can make a bed.”
Mrs. Patmore replies, “Well, you always knew he was old to be trained as a husband.”
Dinner at the Carsons doesn’t go smoothly. Mrs. Hughes forgets the lemons at Downton Abbey. And they don’t have horseradish and sour cream. Carson feels it would be disloyal to enjoy wine since Robert must go without alcohol.
At the dowager’s, Isobel hasn’t revealed what she knows about the hospital, but does confide in Violet that Miss Cruikshank is engaged to Larry and has invited Isobel to the wedding. “As you imagine, I was amazed,” she confesses.
As Daisy and Mr. Moseley prepare for their written exams, Mrs. Patmore decides to make lunch for Daisy, Mr. Moseley and Mr. Mason. Mr. Mason drops by with fresh vegetables for Mrs. Patmore. Daisy is angered by this in a way that makes it plain to all that she doesn’t want Mr. Mason being friendly with Mrs. Patmore. The staff is also preparing for the open house.
It is decided that Edith, Cora and Mary will serve as guides, taking groups of ten through the rooms. Tom will take tickets. The home will be open for a total of nine hours. The threesome prove to be woefully inadequate. They can’t answer the questions about their home, but it appears Mr. Molesley might know some things. Mr. Molesley also witnesses the dowager coming and confronting Cora about being asked to step down while Cora is being asked to take over as president. Keeping secrets has its drawbacks. One is hurt feelings.
Molesley tells the people downstairs about the confrontation. Mr. Molesley also comes upon a little boy who has shaken free of his parents authority and made his way to Lord Grantham’s bedroom. Possibly, he heard Violet confronting Robert.
Speaking to Robert in his bedroom, Violet wishes that Neville Chamberlain had said something, but Robert says, “He was never going to say a word, The truth is, Mama, officialdom doesn’t care what we think any more. Our influence is finished.” That isn’t entirely true as we’ll see later and anyone who lived through the public ardor for Princess Diana can attest.
Violet comments, “I am sick and tired of logic! If I could choose between principle and logic, I’d take principle every time! Just tell Cora I do not wish to see her face until I’m used to having a traitor in the family!”
After Violet leaves, the little boy enters the room and asks “Why is she in such a tizzy?”
“Well, you know mothers. They get terribly wrought up about things.” Robert asks, “May I ask what you’re doing here?”
The little boy explains, “I come to see your house with my mum and dad.” He asks, “Why is it so big, your house?” because it doesn’t seem “comfy” to him.
Robert explains it was the way they used to manage things and “But you know how it is. You like what you’re used to.”
Molesley interrupts and calls the lad, “Cheeky rascal!”
Robert is more forgiving and says, “Let him go. No harm done.”
Molesley asks, “Are you sure, My Lord? Shouldn’t we shake out his pockets?”
Robert is amused and comments, “I don’t think so. He was more of a philosopher than a thief.”
Now the night before, Mr. Carson saw Andy leaving Barrow’s room and Andy gave a vague explanation about borrowing a book, but he had no book in his hand. Now this evening, Mrs. Patmore also tells Carson what she heard: Andy and Barrow arranging to meet in Barrow’s room.
Carson asks Molesely and Ms. Baxter to leave the servants dining room to he can speak to Barrow.
Carson says, “But I will not beat about the bush either, Mr Barrow. Someone has reported that you seem to have a private understanding with Andrew.”
Barrow is somewhat offended, “Not this again.”
Carson comments, “I might not have given it much mind, but I was upstairs last night quite late, and I saw him leave your room.”
Barrow is a gentleman. He does not give up Andy’s secret shame, but says, “Mr. Carson, how long do I have to work in this house before I am given any credit?”
Carson replies, “That is all very well, but we are talking about a vulnerable young man, and I must look to his welfare.”
Barrow still won’t reveal Andy’s secret and only says, “Yes and if I were to give you my word of honor that nothing took place of which you would disapprove?”
Carson replies, “If I could just be sure.”
Barrow is now hurt and replies, “So my word is still not good enough, Mr Carson, after so many years?”
Carson replies, “I only wish it were.”
Upstairs, there’s reason to celebrate. The Crawleys are meeting in Robert and Cora’s bedroom. The open house went well and they’ve made a tidy profit.
Tom quite sensibly asks, “I don’t suppose we could open the house on a regular basis?”
Cora asks, “For charity, you mean?”
Tom admits, “No, for us. While the house costs money to run, and at the moment, it doesn’t raise a penny for washing its own face.”
Robert doesn’t see the logic of this suggestion and can only say, “Tell me you’re not being serious, Tom. To charge money so people can come and snoop around our home? What a revolting suggestion.”
Edith, too, can’t see how reasonable this suggestion is and says, “It is rather a frightful idea.”
Tom then relents, but adds, “All right. There may come a day when we simply can’t ignore such a large source of income at our fingertips.”
Robert adds, “Hopefully when I am dust.” Yet everyone has to admit that people are curious about what it is like to live at Downton Abbey.
Edith finds that sad “Because it means our way of life is something strange, something to queue up and buy a ticket to see, a museum exhibit, a fat lady in the circus.”
Mary replies, “Trust you to cast a pall of doom over our successful day.”
Yet there is another person who ends the day even more sadly. Mr. Barrow is sitting alone with his bandaged hand, crying in the servants dining room. He has attempted to help Andy even though Andy has been unkind toward him, but this has been misconstrued. He finds he has an affection for the Crawleys, even without Sybil, but he is being forced to leave. Now he is alone, ever the gentleman, he has allowed his reputation to be blemished in order to keep Andy’s secret. Of all the characters, perhaps Barrow has changed the most, from the young man scheming with friends and frenemies to become a butler to a friendless man with honorable intentions but a less than honorable reputation among the people who know him best.
“Downton Abbey” Season/Series 6 Episode 6 first aired on PBS on Feb. 7 and is currently available to stream online.