“Downton Abbey” Season 6 is off to a happy start. The final season premiere showed the Crawley family starting another summer at Downton. However, things are changing. Modern times are forcing people to adjust. Whether it’s Mary (Michelle Dockery) taking on the job of a man or Robert (Hugh Bonneville) realizing he can’t maintain a full staff anymore, it seemed everyone was preparing for a new era on the PBS drama.
Mary’s blackmailer: Lady Mary no longer rides sidesaddle. When everyone goes out for a hunt, she rides like the men. She falls off her horse at one point, but gets back on. That’s when she notices a woman watching her. When the woman follows Mary back to the estate, Mary questions her. Rita Bevan (Nichola Burley) introduces herself. She was a chambermaid at a hotel where Mary spent a night with Tony Gillingham (Tom Cullen) last season. Rita says it will take 1,000 pounds to keep her mouth shut.
Mary tells Anna (Joanne Froggatt) about the situation and asks for advice. The maid says she shouldn’t allow anyone to blackmail her. Later, Rita poses as one of the Dowager Countess’ maids to get into Lady Mary’s room, but Anna quickly removes her.
Rita won’t go away that easily. Mary comes home one day to find that Rita has told her father everything. Robert writes her a check and sends her on her way. Robert instead offered her 50 pounds in exchange for a signed confession. If she says anything about Mary’s tryst, she’ll be prosecuted. Robert claims it was money well spent, and it convinces him that Mary is tough enough to take over Tom’s (Allen Leech) job as agent permanently.
However, Robert also questions why Mary didn’t accept Tony’s marriage proposal after their fling. “I’d rather be alone than with the wrong man,” Mary says.
Sex talk: Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) hasn’t set a date for her wedding yet, and it seems fear is holding her back. Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) asks what’s wrong, and Mrs. Hughes reveals that she “hadn’t fully considered all the aspects of marriage.” She’s nervous about consummating her marriage. She considers living a celibate life and realizes she and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) have to talk about it. However, the maid isn’t sure she can do it. She asks Mrs. Patmore to talk to her fiancé about her future sex life.
Mrs. Patmore goes to the butler, but she can’t quite find the words. Later, he calls her back into his office once he realizes that Mrs. Hughes must have sent her. Carson worries that Mrs. Hughes changed her mind about marriage, but Mrs. Patmore says the maid is concerned about her “wifely duties.” Mr. Carson finally understands and is shocked.
“I love her, Mrs. Patmore,” Carson says. “I’m happy, tickled, bursting with pride that she would agree to be my wife. And I want us to live as closely as two people can for the time that remains to us on earth.”
Mrs. Hughes wonders if she should accept his terms and set the date, but Mrs. Patmore says she can’t make that decision for her. Mrs. Hughes talks to Carson alone for a moment, and he worries that she is breaking up with him. However, she assures him she is still more than willing to marry him, and she is happy with the terms of their relationship.
Anna and Bates’ future: Anna reveals to Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) that she has suffered her third miscarriage. She believes she can’t have children, but her husband tells her not to worry.
A police officer comes to Anna and Bates to say someone has come forward to confess to Mr. Green’s (Nigel Harman) murder. They hope the person will be convicted so they’ll no longer be suspects, but Bates worries that they don’t have evidence yet. The officer comes back later to confirm there is evidence, and the case of Mr. Green’s murder is over. Robert opens up a few bottles of wine and the family goes downstairs to toast Anna and Bates’ freedom. Bates says they can start planning their future again, but Anna says they can’t plan for children. Bates assures her they have more than enough.
The hospital dilemma: There is a large hospital in York that wants to take over the town’s medical facility. Violet (Maggie Smith) wants to keep the hospital private, so they'll have control over their healthcare. However, Isobel (Penelope Wilton) thinks it could give everyone more modern resources and wants to consider being owned by another facility. Isobel is surprised that Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) sides with the Dowager Countess.
Robert later asks Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) if she could support his mother on this issue. Cora tells him that Violet is wrong, and she’ll have to get involved. Lord Grantham worries that this means much family drama is planned for the summer.
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Cutbacks: Robert tells Carson that they need to cut back on staff. Luckily, two maids already handed in their resignation, so they don’t have to let anyone go immediately. He later reveals to Violet that he wonders how much longer the household can survive as is. Violet tells Miss Denker (Sue Johnston) that Robert is considering downsizing the staff. She tells Denker not to tell anyone, so naturally, she heads to Downton to tell the staff the next day. Barrrow (Rob James-Collier) believes he is the first on the chopping block.
Denker decides to tell Spratt (Jeremy Swift) that Violet might be cutting back at home as well, even though Violet didn’t seem to imply that at all. Spratt confronts his employer, and the Dowager Countess informs him he doesn’t have to worry.
Violet tells Denker she’ll miss her one day. It makes the maid worry that her job is in danger, but Isobel knows Violet won’t give up her only maid. “Sometimes it’s good to rule by fear,” Violet explains.
Other houses are making cuts as well. Mr. Mason (Paul Copley) is being kicked out of his estate. Robert can’t do much for him, unfortunately. They go to the auction of the estate, and they see the Hendersons. Mr. Henderson says they held onto the place longer than they should’ve, and they can’t continue living in such luxury. Daisy (Sophie McShera) tells off the new owner in front of everyone at the estate's auction. She embarrasses everyone, including herself, but Robert and Cora don’t want to fire her. They simply ask Carson to reprimand her.
Edith’s choices: Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) editor doesn’t like working for a woman, so she has to run back to London briefly. While there, she looks at an apartment she owns. Her tenants have moved out, and she wonders if she should live there with Marigold.
“Downton Abbey” Season 6, the last season, airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on PBS.