By the end of Downton Abbey Season 5 Episode 8, the penultimate episode for the season, viewers could be forgiven if they need to rest.
This is the most action-packed 67 minutes as pretty much every character’s plot is advanced.
Before we get to the wedding, the mainstay of this episode, there is a shocker.
Anna Bates is taken away in chains, arrested for the murder of Alex Green, who raped her. The Crawleys will come to her defense and we will likely learn in next week’s finale if the petite, quiet maid did take revenge on her rapist.
Much of the episode, though, is devoted to the wedding of Rose and Atticus (Lily James and Matt Barber). The nuptials almost don’t happen because of her mother and his father. It’s a race to see which of them can inflict the most damage.
Rose’s mother, Susan (Phoebe Nicholls), wins. She ranks as one of the most conniving characters ever on Downton and that includes Cora’s maid who planted the soap under her tub causing her to fall and miscarry in the first season.
Rose’s parents are in the process of a divorce. Just moments in Susan’s company, and one wonders why the marriage did not dissolve under the weight of her venom years ago.
How wretched is this woman? She doesn’t care that her daughter is happy. The Sinderbys are Jewish and Susan’s anti-Semitism consumes her. At another almost comically awkward dinner, Susan asks Atticus’ mother if she even has any English blood in her.
Atticus’s father, Lord Sinderby (James Faulkner), who could give master classes in snobbery, says, “Lady Sinderby’s family arrived in the reign of Richard III.”
“Really, I always think of you as nomads drifting around the world,” Susan sniffs.
As the Crawleys work double-time to keep the conversation moving, the Dowager Countess playfully asks Lord Sinderby what he disapproves of. Divorce is at the top of the list, which gives Susan ammunition.
The wedding is in London. Atticus and his pals have a stag party, and though he drinks a lot, he fends off the advances of a hooker. A few minutes later, as Atticus prepares for bed, the persistent prostitute knocks on his door, sashays into his room and seems to pose.
Indeed, she was posing for photos, which are delivered to Rose while she’s lunching the next day with Mary, Edith and Tom (Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael and Allen Leech). Rose dissolves. Tom persuades her to meet Atticus and find out what is happening. He was set up. Atticus is certain it was his father, but Lord Sinderby does not dance in the gutter.
No, such treachery had to come from a far more sinister mind. Yes, Susan was behind the blackmail photos.
The ceremony is at the registrar’s office, which is far more elegant than most municipal offices today. As Rose makes her way into the room for the vows, Susan announces that she and her estranged husband are divorcing.
Lord Sinderby looks as if he might explode, but his wife knows exactly what to do. She threatens him that if he so much as dares to disrupt the ceremony, she will leave him. Then he will have the scandal of divorce in his life. He shuts up, knowing he is bested.
Downton Abbey is in the throes of change. Besides Rose leaving, Tom is looking toward the states. His cousin in Boston has a business venture that’s perfect for him.
And Rose isn’t the only one finding love. Prince Kuragin (Rade Serbedzija) calls on the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith).
“I don’t know what you mean by our last chance,” the Dowager Countess says. “We left any chance behind us years ago.”
“I wish to send my final years with you as a friend, as a lover,” he says. “I don’t see a scandal – only hope.”
She’s left breathless over the proposal.
Two men, who have been rather unpleasant all season, show their nicer sides. Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) does a favor for a temporary footman in the household. The Dowager Countess’ maid had strong-armed the temp into accompanying her to a gambling den, where he lost all his money, but she got to drink for free. Thomas won back his money and made sure she paid for her transgressions.
The loveliest turn of personalities is with Lord Grantham. At the ceremony to unveil the memorial for fallen war heroes, the earl does something genuinely noble. He had a special stone made to honor Mrs. Patmore’s (Lesley Nicol) nephew, who was not honored because though he enlisted he was considered a coward. He was killed, and the earl sees both sides. His kindness makes Mrs. Patmore very happy.
On the walk back to Downton Abbey, the earl finally figures out what it is about Marigold that has been nagging at him.
“She reminds me of Michael Gregson,” Robert (Hugh Bonneville) says to his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). “Tell me if I am wrong.” Cora assures him he is not.
“I must admit it is an unusual sensation to learn there is a secret I am privy to,” he says.
Courtesy of © Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2014 for MASTERPIECE