Downton Abbey series 6 episode 5 recap: boyfriends, (more) blackmail and blood splatters

Ellie Walker-Arnott wipes the blood off her evening dress to recap tonight's instalment

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Someone pass the smelling salts! We knew this episode would be fit to bursting with hospital drama, but who’d have guessed it would end in a real ambulance being called? 

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Violet snuck into the Abbey to announce that she’d invited an eminent politician to Downton. Minister for Health Neville Chamberlain is touring the north and the DC is desperate for him to hear her plight. She believes she has some sway in Westminster, but Robert isn’t convinced. “You have no more chance than a cat in hell without claws,” he says. “We’ll see,” purrs Violet persuasively.

Edith is giggling over a letter from Bertie Pelham. “It’s nothing like that,” she insists to her papa. But he tells everyone she has a hot date anyway. Meanwhile, Henry has telephoned for Mary. He’s going to be looking at a flashy new motor in Yorkshire and he wants her to watch him do it.

Isobel, Clarkson and Merton – three corners of Downton’s terribly chaste love triangle – arrive for drinks and hospital-based scheming at the Abbey. Clarkson is changing sides, but, presumably terrified, hasn’t told Violet yet. She’ll be sure to find out soon though, as Isobel comes bearing a message from the DC herself: Neville Chamberlain has indeed been secured, Robert suspects by blackmail. He’ll dine at Downton on Friday, whether the Crawleys want him to or not. 

Downstairs, Willis informs Baxter that she’ll be required in York on Wednesday for the trial while Andy continues to fend off Thomas’ attempts at friendship. 

Carson decides he wants to test his new wife’s prowess in the kitchen, and despite her efforts doesn’t brand their first dinner as newlyweds a success. His chop is undercooked, his plate cold and his knife blunt. And he’s being served bubble and squeak as a side with his lamb. It wouldn’t do for Downton, so Hughes has some work to do. Carson asks Patmore if she’ll help. “She’s got some catching up to do,” he chortles, while Hughes gives him the stink eye. 

The following day is a busy one on Downton’s calendar. Baxter heads off to trial, Mary to Henry and Edith to London while Mr Mason moves into the newly-vacated Yewtree Farm. Pigs are the talk of the breakfast table. Mary’s concerned for their welfare and thinks old Mason might not be up to the task. Robert concurs wholeheartedly. “They are strong and could be dangerous,” he warns. 

Mary and Branson survey their acres for a spot to put Branson’s new repair shop. He’s thinking of placing it on the edge of the estate with access to the village. “For passing trade?” asks Mary, nose upturned.

The former-chauffeur takes the opportunity to quiz Mary on her love life. She concedes that Talbot is attractive, but we’d hold back on buying a hat. “I don’t mean to sound snobbish… but I won’t marry down,” says Mary, sounding exceedingly snobbish. Branson says having a marriage of equals has little to do with wealth, titles or grandiosity. Mary isn’t convinced the sentiment applies to her situation. 

The pair interrupt Mason’s moving day picnic to discuss the porkers. “I’m top at pigs,” boasts Mason. But the smile is soon wiped off his face when Mary suggests he can’t cope with the physical demands of pig care. Andy steps in to say the day. He’ll help. He might be a city boy, but he’s a country convert. He wants to learn as much as he can about pig farming. 

Crisis averted, Mason asks Daisy if she’ll move into the farmhouse and make a life there. It’s a 20 minute commute by foot over the fields so she says she’ll have to think about it. 

Down south, Edith and Bertie are wandering around a London park. She suggests a “racy” plan for him to come to her flat for pre-dinner drinks – and their homemade cocktail certainly does the trick. They are heading out for dinner and dancing at Cafe de Paris (coincidentally the location for RadioTimes.com Christmas party last year.) He helps her with her furs and kisses her in the process, expressing enormous relief when she reciprocates. 

In Yorkshire, Mary’s date isn’t going quite so splendidly. Henry is red faced and racing around the countryside while her and Branson look on. He’s enamoured with the sport but she’s disdainful. “I just hate it” says Mary, applying more lipstick to her pout. And there are no glamorous clubs for afters. The trio head off to enter unknown territory for Mary: a public house full of rough-around-the-edges chaps supping pints. 

Meanwhile, Baxter’s “devil” has changed his plea so she’s spared taking to the stand, Sybbie asks her Donk if Violet is a red Indian (Cora replies that she’s more akin to an Egyptian sphinx) and Denker gets involved in the hospital debate.

“Who does he think he is? Jumped-up little sawbones,” she spits, after finding out Clarkson’s changed allegiance. She takes it upon herself to accost him in the street, accusing him of treason because, naturally, crossing the DC is the same as crossing the Queen. Violet is far from grateful for Denker’s show of support. The house has been disgraced. “It is not your place even to have opinions let alone express them!” Violet shrills. Denker is to be sent packing with a “tepid” reference. 

Septimus Spratt is resplendent with glee at the news. But not for long. Denker is stubbornly refusing to pack her bags. Like Lady, like Lady’s Maid – she’s got a plan and it involves blackmail. If Spratt can’t persuade the DC to keep her on, Denker is going to the police and she’ll tell them about him harbouring a fugitive in the Dowager’s shed. Thankfully his charms are sufficient and Denker is saved. 

At the Abbey, Thomas walks in on Andy reading one of Mason’s prized books about pig rearing. Later, while skulking around the servants quarters in the dark, Thomas hears the footman throwing the tomes around his room. It turns out he can’t read. He was pretending before. He’s too stupid and his hopes of running a farm are dashed. Thomas contests this. He’ll teach him to read and it can be their little secret. In an entirely platonic way. 

It’s the day of Chamberlain’s visit. Mrs Patmore is predicting the future – “he may be Prime Minister one day” – while Robert is feeling terribly unwell. It’s that pain in his stomach again but it’s too late to cancel. This is “the last big fight” of Violet’s life so he simply must attend. 

Violet arrives, swiftly switching the table plan to give herself maximum tactical advantage, before reminding Chamberlain about his young and carefree past. Blackmail is the order of the day, after all. The DC, Clarkson and co start shouting over the consomme about change and tradition, while the Minister, somewhat prophetically, confesses his distaste for confrontation. 

Robert is deteriorating at the dinner table. Thank God there’s a doctor in attendance, because he needs one. He stands suddenly, sways and cries, projecting blood across the room. It ruins the table cloth, splattering on his fellow diner’s faces, jewel-encrusted dresses and dinner jackets. And then he falls to the floor.

His ulcer has burst and an ambulance is called while Robert croaks to Cora: “If this is it know that I have loved you very, very, much.” The hospital row just got real. 

A tiara-topped Cora spars with Violet in the hallway, putting on evening gloves and a coat over her blood stained dress. There have been too many secrets, she spits as Violet continues to argue her case. “If you mean Marigold, that’s settled and you know I am sorry,” Violet says, while Mary listens from behind a pillar. So that cat’s well and truly out of the bag. 

“Life is short, death is sure. That is all we know,” Carson philosophises below stairs, before Mary and Edith return home from the hospital. 

Robert’s had surgery and has a good chance of recovery. But life will be different. “From now on you and I need to talk full responsibility for the estate,” Mary tells Tom. 

“Long live our own Queen Mary,” he replies. 

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Downton Abbey continues on Sundays at 9:00pm on ITV