It’s been a rough week here at my house, with bouts of flu for all five members of the family leading to pneumonia, ear infections and assorted other maladies. All of which adds up to the fact that I’ve been preoccupied and am only able to turn in a short(ish) late recap of the penultimate episode. But if any episode deserves a short and sweet recap, it is this one.
Season 6, Episode 8 was so generally awesome there is not much to say, except that it was almost (almost) like Season 1 all over again. Solid writing, substantive dialogue, more or less believable action, characters that you care about, scenes that make you cry — at least if you’re like me. Yes, indeed. I wept like a fool this week, pretty much from the middle of the episode until it ended. I even clapped a few times. And laughed. So basically, between the laughing, clapping and crying I looked like a lunatic.
I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but Episode 5 of the The Final Season contained so much verbal and visual juice it was hard to contain myself. I’m not even sure how to begin to dig into this one, exactly, but I think I’ll take my cue from Julian Fellowes himself in this regard. When in doubt, start with the pigs.
We Need to Talk about the Pigs
Or so Mary says, referring to a talk she simply must have with Farmer Mason. The pigs were mentioned right away in the episode, much to my delight, as I have resigned myself to the importance of pigs.
The show opens with Mary and Tom chatting while tromping through a field with a lovely view of Downton. Tom tells Mary he hopes she is alright with the decision to move Farmer Mason into her esteemed former Pigman’s house. Mary reassures Tom that she’s basically okay with it, especially since “pigs are Mr. Mason’s speciality”. This is news to all of us, and perhaps, even, to Farmer Mason. But it is crucial to determine his skill level in pigmanship, as Downton’s flock of 15 pigs rank just below Daisy’s educational pursuits and well above Edith’s happiness in securing Downton’s future, and should be treated accordingly.
I’m late to the recapping party this week, and am squeezing this one in just under the wire, since a new episode airs tonight. To the seven people who read these recaps: I apologize for the delay.
Mary Begins the Mating Dance
One thing you can count on about Downton, where there’s an unexpected guest, chances are that this guest will be an eligible bachelor, perfect for Iron Mary. There may only be half a dozen young men of marriageable age left in all of England after the wholesale slaughter of the Great War, yet Mary has managed to find and discard at least three of them. But she’s a lucky one, that girl, so it is no surprise.
It turns out that Mary has already met — and been intrigued by — this particular bachelor back at Lord Sindeby’s shooting party, the one where there were not enough duck blinds to go around. His name is Lord RaceCarNoMoney, and it looks as though he is a real match for Mary. I can only hope he is the Love of her Life #2, as I am feeling much more charitable towards her, since she was, in general, a more decent human being in this episode.
My favorite moment of Mary’s dinner date with Lord RaceCarNoMoney came when he asked her what her “enthusiasms” were, and she delicately dabbed her mouth with her napkin and said, “My work”. Lord RCNM nodded and acknowledged Mary’s fantastic career, before gently prompting her to mention her son. It was almost as if he had expected that Mary would have answered “George, my darling son.” when asked about her enthusiasms, and in fairness, Mary would have, if only she had remembered that she had a son. But she rallied and said that she was working to save the estate for George, who would inherit Downton Abbey not through her, but through her cousin Matthew, to whom the estate was entailed. Matthew also happened to be her late husband and George’s father, and — oh nevermind, the point is it is all very “neat and tidy”, as Mary said, and Downton will be saved, which is great.
I stayed awake for this episode, mostly because Cora did a lot more talking than usual and Edith finally fired her editor (either that or he quit — I couldn’t quite tell) and as a result she, too, did a lot more talking. It perked me up, to see both of those ladies expressing an opinion. Usually, they spend each episode like well-dressed turtles: inert, lying in one place, until at unexpected moments a face emerges. The eyes become animated and finally, slowly, there is some movement. A walk across a room, say, or a gander at some pigs at a fat stock show.
But don’t get too excited, folks, as next week Cora could be sitting on a couch again, dully staring into the middle distance. And Edith could go right back to being her old self, arms dangling at her sides, watching helplessly as Mary steals Mr. LandAgent right from under her nose and Marigold goes to live with Mrs. Pigman.
And Mary might just do this, since she’s been lacking a man to emasculate since the season started (though Mr. LandAgent might not prove to be much of a challenge in this regard).
In this episode, the big news at Downton Abbey is twofold: a Wedding and a Comeback.
Local culture is one of those trendy phrases that permeate, well, local culture (and beyond), but shoring up local culture is where I spend most of my energy. Why do I do this? For reasons that go way beyond nostalgia, way beyond trying to capture a sense of a simpler time. Life wasn’t necessarily better in the past in so many ways, but in our technological race to improve our lot in life, we are losing many of the distinctive aspects of the human experience, much of it having to do with occupying a unique place in the world, being surrounded by unique culture.
It’s too much to get into right now, especially because when I do bother to write a blog post or update the site, The Roving Home is given to an overview of things — aesthetics lite, if you will. I don’t usually go into the heavy duty reasons for why I’m involved with the particular events I’m involved with, but maybe I should do this more. Do more explaining about the investment of time, money and energy I put into building and restoring a sense of place. We often hear of the problems that come with the homogenization of America, and, on a larger scale, the effects of globalization in flattening cultures. We hear about it so often that it has lost its power to affect us. Or maybe we don’t even understand what the big deal is. But it is always worth a pause to consider what we are throwing away before we toss it: your grandmother’s recipe for kielbasa? Your dad’s banjo? Your uncle’s old fishing gear? This applies to buildings and furniture as well as songs, heirloom seeds and ideas. Please think before you throw, as the recycling adage goes.
We need to pay attention to what we have around us before it is completely gone and we are all eating the same industrialized waste and sleeping in reassembled flat-pack beds from IKEA (at least the beds will be attractive, some small consolation).
I head to my home state of Ohio a few times a year. I go back to see my beloved family, I go back to stay at the farm where I grew up, but mostly I go back because I have to: it is home.
Home can exist as a state of mind, it’s true, but home as an actual physical place has a stronger claim on a person than any abstract notion ever could. This doesn’t even have to mean that your home is a place you even necessarily want to be, but it is still a place, not just an idea. A place that exists in a specific spot on the planet — one that is unlike any other for you, utterly familiar no matter how long it’s been since you’ve been there. That’s how the farm is in Ohio for me. And not just for me; it’s the same for a lot of people in my extended family, scattered across the continent and the globe. We all converge in this particular spot any chance we get. It’s not that our farm is particularly amazing, though it has plenty of amazing elements, it is that it is ours. When I’m there, I think about my grandpa, who died in 2006, the year my oldest son was born. Just as my grandpa no doubt thought about his grandparents every time he was back on the same farm, their farm, long after they had passed away.
Spring came while I was in Ohio for this last visit. We celebrated Easter and mourned the dead and dying Ash trees that cover the property, the work of an invasive species which showed up in 2002 and has managed to kill millions of trees in little more than a decade. Death and life, as always, go hand-in-hand and even as dead ash trees are cut out of the landscape, the tiny seedlings my sister planted in anticipation of summer sprang from the dirt and cheered us all up each time we walked past this little field of green.
The days are getting longer, long enough for the kids to run around outside to the point of exhaustion, but not so long that there isn’t time for adults to sit around in front of a fire in the wood burning stove on my mom’s porch, hot tea taking the chill off a late evening in spring, at home in Ohio.
The destructive, tiny paths of the emerald ash borer.
Trouble at the playhouse
Maddenville: a shanty town occupied by the younger cousins in the family.
My favorite: the front field
Coffee in front of the wood burning stove on my mom’s front porch
Easter eggs in an old crock