Encore: Downton’s Sibling Showdown

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It’s a pattern we’ve seen since Downton Abbey began: when Mary is unhappy, it’s often Edith who pays the price. But this time, Mary crosses a line — and sets up a sibling showdown six seasons in the making.

Michelle Dockery returns to the podcast to reflect on Lady Mary’s comeuppance…and redemption, from her jaw-dropping fight with Edith to her heart-to-heart with Violet, and finally her wedding to Henry Talbot.

We’ll also go behind-the-scenes of all the drama with the episode’s director, David Evans, who reveals what it was like to film the episode’s most memorable moments.

Finally, we’ll dig into the rest of this week’s jam-packed episode with our weekly Downton roundtable.

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Transcript

Jace Lacob: MASTERPIECE Studio wants you to know that Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is currently making its US debut in New York City. You’ll see Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen, 50 extraordinary costumes, and so much more.

Tickets are available for purchase at www.downtonexhibition.com. The exhibition runs through April 2, 2018.

The exhibition is presented by Viking, the leader in river and small ship ocean cruising, also known for its national corporate sponsorship of MASTERPIECE on PBS.

CLIP:
Mary: Remember, however much I love him. I will always love you.

Jace: I’m Jace Lacob and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.

It’s the episode we’ve all been waiting for. Lady Mary has a second chance at love. But she’s terrified…

CLIP:
Mary: I can’t be a crash widow again! I can’t!

Jace: …And continues a pattern that we’ve seen since Downton Abbey began: when Mary’s frightened or unhappy it’s often Edith who pays the price.

But this time, Mary crossed a line.

CLIP:
Mary: You must’ve told him? You couldn’t accept him without telling him.
Bertie: Tell me what?
Mary: About Marigold. Who she really is.
Edith: Marigold is my daughter.

Jace: …And walked into the showdown that’s been building for the past six seasons:

CLIP:
Edith: I know you to be a nasty, jealous, scheming bitch!
Mary: Now listen you pathetic…
Edith: You’re a bitch!

Jace: Today, we’re diving into the bittersweet, penultimate episode of Downton Abbey, and all of the unforgettable moments of Lady Mary’s comeuppance, and redemption — from the explosive Edith confrontation and her heart-to-heart with Violet, to her visit to Matthew’s grave and — finally — her wedding to Henry Talbot.

CLIP:
Mary: Well Mr. Talbot. You have swept me off my feet.
Henry: I promise you won’t be sorry.
Mary: I’d better not be.

Jace: And who better to reflect on it all than the woman who brought Lady Mary to life, Michelle Dockery.

CLIP:
Michelle Dockery: I think she enjoys the rebel in him. She recognizes that in him and I guess because she’s like that herself. She’s a rebel at heart.

Jace: We’ll also talk with the episode’s director, David Evans.

CLIP:
David Evans: It really was “Mary The Movie,” and I loved that.

Jace: But first, we’ll discuss the other big moments in this week’s jam-packed episode with our Talking Downton roundtable:

We’re joined by two of our commentators: Kate Hess, an actress and writer known for her funny MASTERPIECE parody “Murder Abbey.” And Christina Dowling, a writer and unabashed Anglophile who’s reported for E! Online.

What an episode this was. Everything happened. Initial thoughts?

Christina Dowling (Christina): I love Henry. I’m glad it’s working out, but everything seems to come so easy to Mary and Edith is left crying. Sure, she’s in a nice London flat, crying into her own newspaper…

Jace: But, but she finally has met her match and loses him. Do we feel it’s rightfully so?

Christina: She should’ve told him. It reminds me a lot of the first season, with Mary and Matthew, and how Mary couldn’t tell Matthew about Mr.Pamuk and therefore couldn’t accept his proposal.

Jace: What do we make of everyone piling on Mary this week?

Christina: I think she deserves it. I love Tom and Mary’s relationship because he’s the only one she’ll actually listen to. The only one. She can talk to Anna about stuff, but she will actually listen to Tom.

Jace: Tom and Violet, I think.

CLIP:
Mary: If you’re here to reprimand me about Edith, please don’t. Tom’s already torn me into strips.
Violet: Why did you do it?
Mary: I don’t know! She was so… Anyway, I’m sorry now.
Violet: You should be.

Jace: I love the scene between Violet and Mary, and that it’s Violet that actually gets through to her granddaughter and says, “It’s about love, I believe in love.”

Kate Hess (Kate): And I think if there’s anyone more of a snob than Mary it’s the Dowager Countess and for her to be saying, “Look you love this guy, you should just be with him,” I think is very meaningful to Mary. I cried a lot during that scene.

Jace: I cried a lot during this episode, I will admit.

I want to talk about the suicide scene, which took me by surprise even though I’ve been very worried every week that something was going to happen to Thomas, because there was such an aura of dread around him. It actually happened.

Christina: Well Carson was so horrible to him; not giving him any chance, basically, you know, asking when he’s going to get out. And, you know, Thomas had nowhere to go. It was, you know, incredibly sad, so I’m glad– Thank God for Baxter…

Kate: Yeah, and I think after that moment they all realize that Thomas does have feelings, and hopefully, they’ll be a little nicer to him?

Jace: Maybe. Other favorite moments?

Kate: I absolutely loved the reveal of Cassandra Jones.

CLIP:
Spratt: Good afternoon, Lady Edith.
Edith and Laura: Bananas!

Kate: That was super funny and it was great because it was right after the Dowager and Mary scene and it was right before Mary went to Matthew’s grave, so I really needed that laugh break, because both those scenes I was crying a lot.

Jace: You mentioned the Matthew grave scene, which I thought was a beautiful scene in which Mary goes to ask forgiveness of her dead husband and she says, “Remember how much I love him, I will always love you.”

Kate: Yeah, I think that was a great moment that allowed her to move on to Henry. And I think, what’s so touching about it is, she is asking for his forgiveness, but we all know he would want her to be happy.

Jace: Predictions for how Downton Abbey might end.

Christina: I know what I want, and I will…for the love of queen and country let Edith get a happy ending, please.

Jace: I do hope there are happy endings. I want a happy ending for Anna and Bates. I don’t know that we’ll get that, but I kinda want… I just want them all to be happy.

Christina: Do you think it’ll end just at this time period? Or do you think there’ll be a jump ahead?

Kate: I hope that they don’t do a soft fade into modern day tours of Downton.

Christina: That’s my biggest fear.

CLIP:
Mary: It’s just… nobody can believe that I know my own mind.

Jace: This week, we’re bringing you the second part of our conversation with Michelle Dockery to get her take on what Lady Mary might be thinking.

One of the most shocking moments in this week’s episode is when Mary very cruelly tells Bertie about Marigold. Why can’t she help herself when it comes to Edith?

Michelle Dockery (Michelle): Well, in the previous episode, the whole tragedy has happened with Charlie and she– at some point she thought it might be Henry. And of course it brings back– the car crash brings back all those memories and it’s almost like a kind of second grief that happened. She can’t– She can’t handle it. And so what happens is she just takes it out on her sister which, is often what she does. But this time it’s more– I don’t think in the past she’s ever been jealous of Edith. Mary’s always felt like top-dog and always been one step ahead of Edith. And then of course this happens and she becomes potentially this great lady and out ranks us all. And Mary can’t bear that.

CLIP:
Branson: So we’ll all bow and curtsy to Edith. You’ll enjoy that, Mary.
Mary: Hardly. If Bertie really is Lord Hexham, which I still don’t believe, he won’t want to marry her now.

Michelle: But it comes from just her not being happy in herself because actually I don’t think Mary does want that life. I mean eventually that’s why she marries Henry ‘cause she is wild at heart. She’s a free spirit actually.

But it was just– When we read it, me and Laura, we just– I remember texting her going, “Oh, my God. We’re gonna have such a good time.” Cause we love it when Julian write these great scenes between the sisters. It’s one of the core relationships in the show. I think particularly that scene at the breakfast table with Bertie when Mary lashes out at Edith.

CLIP:
Edith: The one thing Mary can’t bear is when things are going better for me than for her.
Bertie: I’m sure that’s not true.
Edith: You don’t know her… I’m getting married and you’ve lost your man. And you just can’t stand it.
Branson: Edith, there’s no need –
Mary: You’re wrong. I’m very happy for you. And I admire you, Bertie. Not everyone would accept Edith’s past.

Michelle: I think it’s a great scene. But she does—Edith does provoke it. You know it’s not just one sided…

Jace: I’d expect you to take Mary’s side.

Michelle: I mean– and not because I’m making excuses for her — but there is this — so complicated — this sibling rivalry and just how well they know one another and you can– I have sisters and I’ve never had that kind of relationship with my sisters. I mean we’re like best friends…

Jace: You’ve never sent a letter to a Turkish ambassador?

Michelle: No. So it’s something I guess I don’t understand personally. But of course as siblings you annoy each other and you– because you know which buttons to press. And I love it that Edith has kind of grown, her confidence has grown so much and she’s become– she’s blossomed. And Mary just can’t stand it. I guess she never really believes that it would be possible.

Jace: Now I loved the fact that it does become sort of a full out verbal brawl in this episode between the two of them. And Edith actually calls Mary quote, “Nasty, scheming, jealous bitch.”

Michelle: Twice. She calls me a bitch twice.

Jace: I mean did you and Laura sort of have a laugh when you actually got that on paper?

Michelle: Yeah! And I’m sure audiences out there applauded that she said it cause she has it– She had it coming. I mean it was just such a great scene and we both loved doing it.

But it was very emotional. Laura and I have– She’s one of my closest friends and we grew up together on this show. I was 27 when I started the show and you spend so much time with one another. You become so close. And we knew that these would be our last scenes together and it was just really emotional. It was amazing actually.

Jace: I love that. The other scene, of course, that is as equally sort of gut-wrenching is in this episode when Tom finally puts his foot down with Mary after she sort of lashing out at everyone because he’s really the only one that can call her out for her bad behavior.

CLIP:
Tom: You ruined Edith’s life today. How many lives are you going to wreck just to smother your own misery?
Mary: I refuse to listen.
Tom: You’re a coward, Mary. Like all bullies, you’re a coward.

Jace: Is Tom right to sort of use those words to describe her?

Michelle: Yes. And she needs to hear it.

I think he knows her very well by now. He’s like a brother– I mean he’s her brother essentially. So I think coming from him is… it really hits home. And eventually of course it’s Violet who really turns the tables.

CLIP:
Violet: I believe in love. Brilliant careers, rich lives, are seldom lived without just an element of love.

Jace: I never expected the Dowager Countess to say something like, “I believe in love.” And it is Violet that ultimately is the one who’s able to get through to Mary. How do you see their relationship as sort of reaching a culmination in this episode?

Michelle: Well, I think Mary is very much her grandmother’s granddaughter. They’re very similar and she relates to her on a different level I think to her mother and father. And I– They’ve always been some of my favorite scenes to play with Maggie and I’m always– I still pinch myself.

And every time it’s like an acting lesson with her and Penelope. It’s just– You learn so much just by watching them. But I’m kind of— Sometimes I’m like, “I’m done. I’ve acted with Maggie Smith.” It doesn’t get much better than that.

Jace: You mentioned Penelope Wilton. One of my favorite scenes I think in the entire series is when Mary and Isobel come face to face after Mary has visited Matthew’s grave.

CLIP:
Isobel: Well I don’t know if you have his forgiveness, but you don’t need to ask for mine. I’m delighted.

Jace: What was it like shooting that scene?

Michelle: Well, that– Originally I don’t think that scene was in that draft of episode eight. And it was something I think Julian and the producers talked about and it was added.

And Isobel and Mary, they interact within group scenes but they never have moments just the two of them or rarely they do. It’s another very moving scene and such a lovely moment to play with Penelope.

Jace: Now Mary and Henry actually do get married in this episode. What is it about Henry Talbot do you think that– in which Mary has finally met her match?

Michelle: Well I think he ticks all of the boxes or most of the boxes and she’s in complete denial of that. And I think she enjoys the rebel in him and I guess because she’s like that herself. She’s a rebel at heart.

And he knows her quite well very quickly. He gets her. And of course she doesn’t like being called a golddigger and you know he’s really quite harsh on her…

Jace: She’s concerned that he’s going to be outranked by his own step son. She comes up with a lot of excuses. I mean now that they are married what happens in terms of their relationship? Where do we go from here?

Michelle: I like to see them– You know me and Matthew think that they should just have a really fun life. You know, Mary’s been quite in a way she’s been a bit of a recluse. She hasn’t really left the home much. And I see them sort of traveling with George and going to see Grandmama in New York, going to visit Shirley.

Jace: That’s the spin off.

Michelle: I think that could be a great idea for a film actually if we came here. Just putting that out there, Julian.

Jace: Before this next question, a brief word from our sponsors.

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Jace: There’s that beautiful reconciliation scene between Mary and Edith on Mary’s wedding day…

CLIP:
Edith: …because in the end you’re my sister and one day only we will remember Sybil or Mama or Papa or Matthew or Michael or Granny or Carson or any of the others who have peopled our youth, until at last our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike.

Jace: What was it like shooting that scene with Laura Carmichael having this be the culmination to their struggle?

Michelle: There were such strong parallels in that dialogue– That Laura and I have this closeness and I guess memories that we–  we will only share. You know, having spent so much time together on and off set, when she was saying those words there was a double meaning to it. So it was really– I was really tearful when she was saying that speech.

And what I love about that scene is– I was watching it with my sister and as Edith walks in and she tells– Mary tells everyone to leave. My sister went, “Come on Mary.” She just sort of said it out loud, “Come on Mary” as if to say, “Come on you need to be the bigger person and apologize to your sister.” And what’s interesting is it’s Edith who takes the reins and she actually — I think it turns out — that she’s possibly the stronger one in many ways. And I love that that Edith actually becomes the adult in the room.

Jace: I love it. That made me very upset.

Michelle: Me too and I wasn’t expecting it when I watched it. And it’s so…Yeah. That was one of the scenes that I was crying at when I was watching it. And as I say because it had that double meaning.

Jace: Also in this episode Mary visits Thomas after his suicide attempt and Thomas says quote, “I’ve done and said things. I don’t know why. I can’t stop myself and now I’m paying the price…”

Michelle: And she understands him.

Jace: …Is that Mary?

Michelle: Of course it is. And I love that relationship, Barrow and Mary and in some ways I wish that there had been more interaction between them.

She understands him. She understands his actions and his meanness and his meddling because it comes from a place of discontent and unhappiness at times. And I think it really– It goes very deep with Mary when she hears about his attempted suicide because I think there’ve been moments with Mary where she’s possibly, you know, maybe not considered going that far. But she’s been so down that she thinks, “I just don’t want to go on anymore.” And so yeah certainly there’s something about Thomas that she really connects with.

It’s like the kind of mirror. It’s like a mirror in some ways. And that’s the show essentially, isn’t it? It’s those interweaving storylines between above and below stairs and those– when those relationships come together… My last scene was with Phyllis, Jim, and Hugh downstairs. That was my last scene. And it was something really poignant about that I was finishing Downton and I was actually in Carson’s office as opposed to my bedroom with another suitor.

Jace: Hopefully not another suitor now that you’re married.

Michelle: No, no.

Jace: But I love that notion that Mary is sort of downstairs. That that’s the final scene for you.

Michelle: That was my final scene. I mean it’s not the final scene in the show but yeah that was the last take for me. And actually my first scene was with Hugh in series one. And it was his last scene as well with Carson and Mrs. Hughes. So it was really poignant for us ‘cause we were finishing on the same day…

Jace: Was it hard to leave Highclere? I’ve read that you had a difficult time leaving the set.

Michelle: I didn’t think I would. Because we’ve been working there day in day out for six months and I thought I could walk away quite easily from Highclere. And Laura had finished early that day and she waited around to the wrap at seven o’clock till we finished.

And we sort of didn’t know what to do and it was like, “This is really weird. Isn’t it Laura?” And then she was like, “It’s really weird.” And then all our eyes filled up. And I was like, “Oh my God. We’re done. That’s it.” And she went, “Come on let’s walk around the rooms.”

We held hands and we walked through the dining room together. We walked into the hall through the library, into the drawing room, the painted room and we were just in floods of tears. We couldn’t believe it. And then we walked out onto the grounds to Matthew’s — I call it Matthew’s bench cause it’s all those scenes with Matthew and Mary in those early years. And we went and sat on the bench and looked out at the view. And we were just crying our eyes out.  And she said to me, she said “It just doesn’t seem fair. Some people don’t experience this much joy in a lifetime. What we’ve had in six years.” And it really will stay with me, her saying that. I think she just hit the nail in the head. Like it’s just been the most glorious time.

Jace: While Michelle Dockery was in front of the camera, longtime Downton director David Evans was behind it. We asked David for his take on this week’s powerful episode.

Welcome.

David Evans (David): Hi.

Jace: I think episode eight might actually be my favorite episode of the show full stop. There’s just so much emotion, there’s a lot of resolution, there’s also a number of fights in this episode, as well. Most notably between Mary and Tom and Mary and Edith. How did you make each of those fights feel different and distinctive?

David: Mary and Tom is easy to explain and the reasons for that really are to do with the circumstances of what it’s like on set. The row between Mary and Tom was the very last scene on Downton Abbey that I ever shot.

To be honest, it was just like two actors who are very much at the top of their game. Allen just came in– He walked onto set completely ready to give it to Mary with both barrels and she was completely on point.

CLIP:
Mary: I didn’t mean –
Branson: Don’t lie! Not to me! You can’t stop ruining things! For Edith, for yourself! You’d pull the sky in if you could! Anything to make you feel less frightened and alone!
Mary: You saw Henry when he was here– high-handed and bullying and unapologetic. Am I expected to lower myself to his level?

David: It was all over and done with in like ninety minutes. We shot the scene very quickly. Just went with the energy that they were bringing to the scene and we did it.

The scene with Mary and Edith, the moment where Edith says things that the audience have been desperate for her to say for six years. That scene was probably the only time, really, that I think we all felt the burden of the millions and millions of viewers weighing on our shoulders.

CLIP:
Edith: …and not content with ruining your own life, you were determined to ruin mine!
Mary: I have not ruined my life and if Bertie’s put off by that, then –
Edith: Don’t demean yourself by trying to justify your venom. Just go.

David: So that was a very strange atmosphere for the three of us. We all three knew what they needed to give, that they needed to go there and find that strength of emotion. There’s also, you know, a great sense of discretion, particularly for the women who are in the cast of Downton Abbey, that they’re always acutely conscious that they’re playing women from another age. The question is constantly, “Can I go there? Can I be that off the leash?” Obviously, the way that Downton Abbey is written is that there are very few scenes where people are completely out of control and have lost their temper and are saying things really unguardedly like that. That just made for a very different atmosphere. Both of them were feeling, “Is this too big? Is this too much?” And I was basically going, “Nothing is going to be too much in a scene like this.”

They completely nailed it, I have to say. There they were in one of the most familiar sets in the whole show, behaving in a way that they’ve never behaved before. It was disorienting.

Jace: Looking at episode 8, Bertie and Edith break off their engagement. This scene to me contains one of the most gorgeous images in the entire series. It’s a long shot of a broken hearted Edith facing away from the camera with Downton behind her, sort of scarf blows in the breeze. How did that specific shot come about?

David: Well, there was something about Laura’s acting; I’ve noticed that she often does this, that the way she plays Edith is Edith has this heartbreaking tendency to be super nice when super niceness is really not required, almost as if Edith is thinking, “If I actually do succeed in turning myself into an angel, maybe things will work out for me.” In that scene she kept doing this thing that I’d told her that I’d seen how powerful it was, that it’s almost like she was speeding Bertie away from her.

CLIP:
Bertie: I’d better go if I’m to catch my train.
Edith: Yes hurry. I doubt we’ll meet again so I want to say good luck, and everything else that goes with it.

David: It’s like she’s desperate to throw herself off the cliff. It’s like, “What are you doing?” You want to say, “Fight for yourself,” and instead she seems to be bringing about the parting that’s going to break her heart as quick as she can, because in her heart of hearts she feels she deserves no better. But it’s almost like at that moment when he actually turns and walks away she can’t quite believe he was actually going to do it.

And so for me that last image, powerful though it is, the reason that it’s earned, the reason that it lands, is because of what’s preceded it. That you’re watching this woman watching somebody walking away, who in her heart of hearts thought might turn back.

Jace: Can you talk about the larger concept for this scene and how it developed from the page to the screen?

David: One of the reasons that I love that scene so much is that for me, talking about the scenes that I’ve had the chance to direct, it is the archetypal Downton Abbeyscene, because where Downton Abbey gains a huge amount of its power is to show really really really strong emotion being trapped in really, really rigid social convention. But that scene is a perfect example of a Downton Abbey scene, where both of the characters are in absolute agony, and yet they still insist because of their own idea of their own identity, they neither of them can break out of the straight jacket that society has made for them.

You know, it’s just unbearable, it’s unbearable, and therefore of course it’s the easiest blocking in the world in terms of mapping out a scene. It had to feel as rigid and formal as it possibly could. And I deliberately composed the scene to take place with that architectural majesty of the house behind them to kind of insist on that almost courtly atmosphere, where they can’t reach across that distance to touch each other.

Jace: To purchase Downton Abbey DVDs and Blu-rays, or Downton Abbey merchandise, visit shopPBS.org or other retailers.

For more Downton Abbey behind-the-scenes content — and to follow other MASTERPIECE shows — check out the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast at pbs.org/masterpiece, on Stitcher, and on iTunes.

 

MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Susanne Simpson is our executive producer. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.

Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking and The MASTERPIECE Trust.

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is open in New York City, now through April 2, 2018. See downtonexhibition.com for tickets and more details.

CLIP:
Michelle Dockery: She sounds like my girlfriend doesn’t she — Laura — the way that we talk about each other?

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