The Dowager Countess has accepted defeat, and that she's been replaced as hospital president by Cora. But that doesn't mean she isn't still furious. However, rather than continue to vent her anger on the family, instead she'll leave on a month-long trip to France without saying goodbye. Perhaps they'll miss her when she's gone, and they'll remember to appreciate her.
But before she skips town, Violet has one more piece of meddling to undertake – Isobel has received a surprising invitation to the wedding of Lord Merton's awful son Larry and the suspicious Amelia Cruikshank. So Violet drops in unannounced for a delightful face-to-face snark match, and poor Amelia is in way over her head. Violet winkles out that Amelia merely wants to fob Lord Merton off onto Isobel so she doesn't have to care for him in his old age. But what will Isobel do with this knowledge? Will she stay out of it, or leave Lord Merton to the mercies of his awful children?
Mrs. Hughes is fed up with Carson's constant criticism of her cooking, so Mrs. Patmore devises a scathingly brilliant plan to teach him a lesson. Hijinx ensue! Hughes feigns a wrist injury, and informs a flummoxed Carson that he'll have to do all of the cooking. He quickly learns that the job is a lot harder than he ever imagined. They don't often give Jim Carter scenes like this, that deviate from Carson's priggishness, but when they do it's usually a winner.
Lady Mary's Creeping Sense of Dread: Everybody Has An Opinion
The centerpiece of this week's episode is the car race at Brooklands. Henry and his obviously-extraneous friend Charlie are both racing, and Henry invites the whole Crawley family to come for the day, mostly so they will make sure Mary comes to cheer him on. Mary spends the whole time choking back her increasing trepidation. But she's the only one – Tom and Robert are both eager to go, and Edith is thrilled to turn it into an excuse to see Bertie. But while every one else is having a wonderful time at the track, Mary looks like she wants to vomit.
The fast-moving camerawork and rapid cutting of the racing scenes feel very out-of-character for "Downton Abbey." They're mostly effective, except for the continual cross-cutting to a sedate picnic scene over at the schoolhouse, which makes for some uneven pacing throughout. But then, Mary's fears come true – there's a terrible crash. She is convinced that Henry has been killed, but of course it turns out to be his friend Charlie McExpendable who crashed. Henry tries to dive into the burning car to save his friend, but he's unable to get past the flames.
The wonderful day has taken a dark turn, and everyone is distraught. Mary is barely holding herself together when Henry calls to hear her voice – and to press her on their future together. Both of them have realized that the time for their games is over, but before Henry can offer to quit racing, Mary tearfully breaks up with him. Once again Michelle Dockery makes a meal of Mary's contradictory impulses. Even though it took a bit to warm up to Henry, Matthew Goode has become a great foil for her.
Spinsters Have More Fun
Even after the horrible crash, Edith and Bertie are so deliriously happy with each other that they can't find it in themselves to be somber. The smiles only get wider when Bertie asks Edith to marry him. Even though he doesn't have much in the way of prospects, Edith doesn't care. But she doesn't say yes right away, instead asking if she can bring Marigold with her. Of course, Edith doesn't disclose the truth about Marigold at this time because, well, because we still have a few episodes to go and we have to milk this for everything it's worth, I guess.
It's finally time for Daisy's school exams – six of them! But in the midst of her nervousness, she still has time to be perturbed about how much time Mr. Mason is spending with Andy and Mrs. Patmore. Mrs. P tells her that Mason having other people in his life doesn't mean he cares any less for her, and in a genuinely surprising and affecting moment, Daisy expresses her puzzlement at the concept – because she's never actually had anything of her own. Just you wait, Daisy, until the workers seize the means of production.
But Daisy isn't the only one to be tested, as Molesley takes the general knowledge exam from Mr. Dawes and aces it. Dawes offers him a job at the school and Molesley is so overcome with happiness he looks like he's going to fall over.
The Depressed Under-Butler Market
In some ways, Barrow and Daisy are in similar positions – they're two people who have spent their whole lives working for the benefit of others, only to find that they don't have much to call their own. But while Daisy's been encouraged to use education as a way out of service, Barrow is continually being chucked out on his ear. Even when he's altruistic, it turns out badly. His attempts to help Andy learn how to read have not made much progress, and a humiliated Andy finally admits his illiteracy to the other servants. Mr. Dawes offers to teach him and Andy enthusiastically accepts, but when Barrow offers to continue helping him at night, Dawes tells him to stop, as it will only confuse him.
Throughout this episode Barrow is continually pushed further and further away from everyone else, continually reminded that he doesn't belong. It's made even sadder by Barrow's admission that Downton is the only place he's ever laid down anything like roots for himself. If he's not at home here, then there's nowhere he belongs.
Mrs. Patmore's Bed and Breakfast is finally open for business. Mrs. P rushes over to cook breakfast for her first customers; it's hard work, but she's thrilled to have something that's her own. But as she's leaving, a suspicious man with a camera lurks in the hedges, scribbling down notes. Oh noes! What could be amiss at the Patmore Inn?
And Violet, even though she's left town, has left behind a peace offering in the form of a gift – a new dog for the house. Robert is overjoyed, and immediately starts baby-talking to the newest member of the Crawley family.
Two more episodes to go, and a lot of dangling threads to tie up. But this show has never been in a hurry to tie anything up, has it?