Downton Abbey series 6 finale recap: sex scandals, suicidal butlers and speedy weddings

The Dowager Countess returns, Mary marries, Bertie breaks up and Mrs Patmore is called a bawdy madam - it's all here in our exhaustive episode recap

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The Crawleys are faced with a moral dilemma. Edith and Cora are in a wild meadow, wandering and pondering the Bertie and Marigold conundrum, while Robert and Rosamund discuss it in the drawing room. “If I stay silent there’s a lie at the heart of my marriage,” says Edith. Cora and Rosamund think she needs to tell him, but Robert’s not so sure. Might the disgrace be too much for Bertie to bear?

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Downstairs, more scandal is brewing. Sergeant Willis is back, this time to talk to Mrs Patmore about her B&B. It turns out her first guests – a Dr and Mrs Fletcher – weren’t actually husband and wife. They were having an illicit affair and are now caught up in a high-profile adultery trial. Mrs Patmore might be called to testify, while her B&B has been publicly named and shamed as a “house of ill-repute”. Patmore feels rather faint, while the rest of the staff struggle to conceal their giggles. Carson, naturally, doesn’t think it’s a laughing matter. What if someone makes a connection between Mrs Patmore and the Abbey? The bawdy tale must be kept below stairs, he booms.

But it’s too late. Anna is already telling a hysterical Mary. “That’s the first proper laugh I’ve had for ages,” her Ladyship squeals. 

Meanwhile Daisy gets her exam results – “You passed every paper with high marks,” beams the schoolmaster – and Moseley teaches his first class. Unfortunately not all his students are as conscientious as Daisy and he’s subjected to yawns, fights and a crude pencil drawing of his face.

Soon the Crawleys read a newspaper and discover some dreadful news. An English Marquis has died in Tangiers. It’s Bertie’s employer. Mary grins at the prospect of Edith’s boyfriend losing his job, while the rest of the family are rather concerned for his future. But they needn’t be, because it turns out terribly polite, unassuming Bertie has been named the new Marquis.

“Golly gumdrops. What a turn up!” shouts Robert, unable to contain his glee. If Edith married him, she’d now outrank them all. Everyone giggles apart from Mary who looks like she might vomit.

She spends the next day staring at trees. Branson thinks she’s upset about Henry and suggests she give the mechanic another go but Mary’s feeling far from romantic. “If I’m in love with him, what’s that? A powerful urge that fades?” she reasons. She’s not convinced Branson’s got her best interests at heart. To prove it he unwisely tells her the truth about Marigold. We all smell trouble.

Meanwhile Bertie arrives at the Abbey and almost immediately bursts into tears. A nice, rich, titled man who is in touch with his emotions? Edith’s most certainly hit the jackpot with this one. Mary hopes he’s planning to ditch Edith now he has prospects but he’s here for an answer to his all-important question. “I really do love you. The trouble is I’m not as simple as I used to be,” Edith replies. He takes her declaration of love as a yes and ignores the rest, kissing her passionately in the hallway.

The evening is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Henry Talbot. Mary is terribly annoyed, with Branson for inviting him and with Henry for not getting the message. He is not best pleased either. It’s simple as far as he can see. They love each other. All that stands in their way is his lack of fame or fortune, and isn’t Mary better than that? The ice queen snaps. “You push in here, into my home, uninvited, in order to call me a grubby little gold digger? You’ve got a nerve,” she spits, running upstairs and slamming her bedroom door like a stroppy teenager.

The next morning she comes down to breakfast and is shocked to see her outburst has done the trick: Henry has scarpered. With impeccably awful timing, Bertie tells the group he has an announcement to make. Edith tries to put him off but it’s too late – and Mary’s smiling again.

“I admire you Bertie,” she says slowly, enjoying the moment. “Not everyone would accept Edith’s past.” Branson squeaks and the room falls silent. “Well, you must have told him? You couldn’t accept him without telling him. About Marigold. Who she really is?”

“Marigold is my daughter,” a pale and shiny-faced Edith is forced to admit. Mary purses her lips triumphantly while Branson resists the urge to punch her, and Bertie quietly excuses himself from the room.

Mary’s let the cat out of the bag, and it’s peed all over Edith’s happily-ever-after. Mere moments later Bertie’s off, and so is the engagement. “You should have told me the whole story from the beginning,” says the new Marquis. “I don’t feel I could spend my life with someone I don’t trust.” They both say a tearful farewell, politely wishing each other good luck in their future endeavours.

It’s dreadful and terrible and Branson’s had enough. It’s time horrid, haughty Mary gets what she deserves. “You ruined Edith’s life today,” he roars. “You’re a coward, Mary. Like all bullies, you’re a coward.”

A tad chastened, Mary attempts to apologise to Edith, but she’s not very good at it and her sister’s not having any of it anyway. They have the exchange they’ve been skirting around for years. “Shut up!” Edith cries, hastily packing a bag. “Who do you think you’re talking to? I know you. I know you to be a nasty, jealous, scheming BITCH.” And with that Edith departs for London and Mary is left unsure what to do with her face.

Meanwhile, below stairs, the soon-to-be-sacked Thomas Barrow has had yet another rejection letter. He’s wandering the hallways looking even paler and more despondent than usual. Moseley reveals that Barrow has been imparting unusually kind words of encouragement to his fellow colleagues and Baxter panics. While Downton’s footman finally masters the art of teaching in the village, the servant’s bathroom door is kicked down. Inside Baxter and Andy find Thomas, deathly pale, in a bath tub full of blood. He’s cut his wrists but he’s still alive.

Mary’s getting it in the ear from the rest of the family, until Carson comes in with the nasty news that Thomas has tried to kill himself. “Do you still think dismissing Barrow was a useful saving, Papa?” asks Mary, resiliently remaining on the rampage. “That’s rather below the belt,” he breathes in reply. “Even for you…”

The following day, Mary is feeling kinder. She and Barrow, who is awake and resting in bed, have a heart-to-heart about their similarities: loneliness, pushing people away and generally being cruel. While Carson and Robert feel terribly guilty about their heartless decision to chuck the footman out on his ear. “No man is an island, Carson. Not even Thomas Barrow,” says Robert and they decide he can stay on for the foreseeable future.

“Suicidal footman in the attic. I only thank God the Dowager isn’t here to witness it,” exhales Carson just as the DC herself pulls into the drive. Branson has called her back to sort out her broken-hearted granddaughters once and for all – and within minutes she gets the truth out of Mary. She’s sorry about Edith and it’s Henry and the car – the giant-ball-of-flames, dying-in-a-car-crash thing – that’s upset her. “I can’t be a crash widow again. I can’t!” Mary wails.

The DC raises an eyebrow. She’s heard Henry’s in love with Mary and she’s in love with him. “I believe in love,” she says sagely. “Make peace with your sister and then make peace with yourself.” Mary nods. If Violet were around more we’d surely avoid all these dreadful dramas.

Mary telegrams Henry immediately, and heads to the village church where we get a feeling a storyline is about to be swiftly and neatly put to bed. “The truth is, I love him,” she tells Matthew’s gravestone, her voice clogged with tears. “Remember, however much I love him. I will always love you.”

Meanwhile the rest of the Crawleys are at Patmore’s sin-ridden B&B. The cuckolded husband has settled out of court, but all her bookings have cancelled nevertheless. Rosamund suggests the Crawleys take tea and let the local papers photograph them, to prove you can sample one of Patmore’s scones without ripping the clothes off a married man. Carson’s terribly concerned about dragging the family “into a local tawdry brouhaha” but Robert isn’t having any of it.

Down in London Edith has an intriguing meeting. Her new and hugely successful columnist Miss Cassandra Jones is coming for tea at five. She’s been writing agony aunt advice under a pseudonym and wants to negotiate a raise. In possibly the best Downton Abbey twist ever, it transpires the she is a he, and Miss Cassandra Jones is actually Mr Septimus Spratt, the Dowager Countess’ butler. Some of her brilliance has clearly rubbed off on him.

Back at the Abbey, Henry arrives with a stony expression, but it’s soon wiped off his face when Mary admits she’s in love with him too. She’s as calm and collected as ever, while he’s in quite the flap. “I’m hot and cold. I can barely breathe and it’s all because of you,” he gushes. They kiss and she giggles. The ice queen has melted.

Handily, Henry has a marriage license in his jacket pocket (as one does) so they can wed at once. “Now?!” she says. “Well, on Saturday,” he concedes.

And all of a sudden it’s Mary’s wedding day. Everyone’s about to leave for the church when Edith turns up. It seems, unsurprisingly, she didn’t RSVP to the last-minute invite. But now she’s here and the pair begrudgingly make a kind of peace.

“In the end you are my sister,” says Edith. “One day only we will remember Sybil or Mama or Papa, or Matthew or Michael or Granny or Carson… our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike.”

Ceasefire called, the wedding goes off without a hitch. There are flowers, ‘I do’s and confetti throwing.

“It seems all our ships are coming into port,” puffs a proud Robert, while Edith watches the children run around Sybil’s grave with a sad smile. 

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Downton Abbey concludes on ITV with a Christmas special later this year