3. Lady Mary: When Mary hears Matthew’s preposterous rationalizing after the funeral and tells Sir Richard she is happy to walk with him back to the house, Michelle Dockery gave this amazing look — the kind she alone can pull off, that says ten things with one eyebrow lift. She was giving into Sir Richard at that moment, and in the same second, became hard again. An unhappy Mary is a mean Mary; we’ve seen it over and over. If she is not getting what she wants, she will make pithy remarks (“You’d be uncomfortable working for a spy master? How disappointing of you.” “I’m not sure how feminine I am”) and will ruin other’s happiness (see going after Sybil). And how could she be happy with a man who would hire someone to spy on her every move? The dancing scene was a lovely one, the culmination of all we’ve wished for this season. But Mary is still betrothed to an evil tycoon, and Matthew is walking better than ever but is still mentally crippled by sending his eager young bride to the emotional slaughter. We will have to wait. And until M&M get their own fantasy suite, we’re glad it was Mary to create the lovenest for Anna and Bates.
4. Banana: What a rollercoaster of an episode for our downstairs Romeo and Juliet, eh? Anna insists that she become Mrs. Bates even though Mr. Bates keeps pumping her full of small clues that he may have offed his ex-wife. Oh well, better to be married to a murderer than wind up alone with cats. And married they are, in a secret wedding that ends in a squeal-worthy naked scene between the two. Oh, to hear Mr. Bates say, “You’ve had your way with me” a million times. But there is this lingering problem of the rat poison and the dead wife and the fact that even though it takes them five months, the London police seem to be doing their jobs. So with Lavinia’s funeral comes Anna, dressed in black, blubbering at the funeral of her own happiness. Talk about a “case of the world on your shoulders.”
5. The Dowager Countess: The MVP of this episode, hands down. Maggie Smith is excellent at the one-liners, as we know (and none of us can wait for the tete-a-tete with Shirley MacLaine next season), but this episode, she proved herself a wise all-knowing oracle underneath the snark. Take her speech to Matthew about marriage: “Marriage is a long business. There’s no getting out of it for our kind of people. You may have forty, fifty years with one of these two women. Make sure you have selected the right one.” Or her clever reasoning to Grantham about how to cover up the Branson scandal. For every crack she makes about cholera wiping out an entire Paris party, she has five insightful things to say. She is winning.
- Sybil and Branson did it! They are running away together. I wish I had more of an opinion about this. I mostly think it’s a shame for the show to lose Sybil to Ireland, though her character has been losing steam since the beginning of the season. When she was wearing pants and going to riots she was in the running for most-exciting Crawley sister. Now, even with her elopement, she is solidly in second place (SORRY EDITH). Good for her for being happy to be a poor journalist’s wife in Dublin, but I don’t have to like her for it.
- Thomas failed as a small-time crook (did anyone else see echoes of Breaking Bad in his bad-flour tantrum?), but he succeeds, as always, as a big-time brownnoser in the house. The most convenient flu of all time helped him too — poor old nervous drunk Molesley couldn’t step up, but Thomas can. With Bates going to jail, who knows? He could get that valet job after all and O’Brien can finally stop plotting about it.
- O’Brien was all set to confess Soapgate to Cora on her death bed. Maturity or self-indulgence?
- Carson quitting his Haxby job over the spying thing was the most Carsonesque decision he has ever made. His consistency is startling. He also wins points for the first “have you no shame?” of the series.
- The Hughes/Ethel plot has been grating on me for a while, but it was nice how it all tied up in a big ole’ maternal bow. Hughes played a surrogate mother to Ethel, who in the end chose her baby over the Bryant’s offer to Daddy Warbucks the child. Maybe a bad choice for little Charlie, but it shows a lot of growth from the girl who used to moon over Photoplay. It was like something out of a film with Theda Bara.
In past lives, Rachel Syme has been Books Editor of NPR and Culture Editor of The Daily Beast. She is currently at work on a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Hollywood years. You can find her on Twitter at @rachsyme.