It is now 1925, and things continue to change at Downton Abbey. Manors and estates down the road are shuttering their windows and auctioning the family heirlooms, lords and ladies are cutting their house staff down to bare minimum, and those who thought they had a lifetime career in service are starting to wonder if they will need a plan B.
The changes are inevitable, and are affecting our favorite huge household of characters various ways. Lord Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) seems to finally accept that the good old days can't be sustained, and, in a fascinating and telling episode, even agrees to open Downton for a day for curious paying locals. The stress, however, is getting to him, culminating in one of the most spectacular dinner disasters in Downton's history (I will say no more). Meanwhile, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is getting more involved in the local hospital, the Dowager is continuing her friendship with Mrs. Crawley (the lovely, spirited Penelope Wilton), and Edith... dear Edith, is finally getting a spine, thriving with her work on the magazine, and even getting the interest of a new suitor. Let's just hope Mary (Michelle Dockery) doesn't destroy everything (believe me, she will do her darndest). Finally, Lady Mary, the woman we love to hate, meets her match in the dashing race-car driver Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode). Considering we all know how Matthew died, it is interesting to see how that one plays out (and if Mary's veneer will finally crack).
Downstairs, Carson and Mrs. Hughes (Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan) find that marriage is a little more complicated than just moving in together. With the Bates' (Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt) legal problems FINALLY behind them, they start working on starting a family. Both Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Molesley (Kevin Doyle) continue pursuing education, with her learning, and him finding a passion for teaching. And poor Thomas (Rob James-Collier) finds that with positions being eliminated, that he finds himself first up on the chopping block, so has to look for a job. He is finding out too little, too late that years of being a bitchy, cruel gossip in your workplace may not make you a lot of loyal friends.
We've been with these characters for such a long time, with such emotional investment, through good and bad episodes. For instance, it is hard not to feel a thrill of triumph when Mary casually refers to ex-chauffeur Tom (Allen Leech) as her brother. Edith, bless her heart, finally FINALLY straightens her spine and gives Mary a much-deserved piece of her mind. And through it all, Violet (Maggie Smith) hovers in the background, stepping forward to straighten everyone out very firmly when needed.
I think fans will be satisfied with the series' end. Especially the last two episodes, I felt, were on par with Downton's absolute best: you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll swoon a little, and you will sigh with relief and pleasure. We can feel safe that all of our favorites will be OK in their lives' paths for the next few years. Now let's just cross our fingers that we can re-visit them all soon with Downton Abbey: 1935 - The 10-Year Reunion.
The Season Six set comes with a few special featurettes: "Changing Times" (about the continuing societal changes affecting the ways of Downton), "The Cars of Downton Abbey" (probably the most fun, as they explain how the race car scenes were the most elaborate production for the show yet, as they had to borrow--and race!--actual antique collectors' race cars), and "Farewell to Highclere" (where the cast and crew talk about the importance of the manor itself as a character in the show).