There were shocks, thrills, divine fashion and plenty of withering put downs from Countess Violet when Downton Abbey returned for its the sixth and final season on Sunday night. With the action set in 1925, four years before the Wall Street Crash, change was very much blowing in the wind – in small ways (Lady Mary riding astride much to the chagrin of her father) and big (the Earl of Grantham and his servants grappling with downsizing).
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Mary receives a blackmail threat while her fractious relationship with Edith continues
Viewers are yet to see if Mary played by Michelle Dockery and Henry Talbot will cross paths again. "Mary is never short of a suitor," said Michelle speaking to Phillip Schofield on This Morning from the set of Highclere Castle, which doubles as Downton. "There could be one or two more around, you never know! It's so annoying, I want to tell you!"
The 33-year-old actress went on: "There's definitely a chemistry between [Henry Talbot] and Lady Mary. At the moment it's looking good but we will have to see."
Lady Mary decides to stop riding side saddle much to the chagrin of her father
Unfortunately the consequences of a previous romance come back to haunt her when she receives a blackmail threat over a hotel stay with Tony Gillingham. A chamber maid has the hotel register as proof of their tryst and is demanding £1000 – about £50,000 in today's money.
While working out how to ward off scandal, which shouldn't be difficult because she has survived so many, Mary also asserts her independence by taking over the running of the estate once and for all.
Anna and Bates finally have murder charges against them dismissed
Her sister Edith is becoming even more urban after inheriting her dead fiancé's paper and property in London. Her new status and panache sets up a town v country betweent the two siblings.
Meanwhile, the slowburning romance between Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan) hits an unexpected bump in the road when they try to discuss the issue of sharing a marriage bed via an unlikely medium. The couple use Mrs Patmore as an a go-between which results in some comic exchanges.
"I think people who like Carson and Mrs Hughes will be happy," Jim said, hinting that there will be a happy ending for the couple, who finally get to share a screen kiss.
The Crawleys are left wondering how they will manage with so few staff
Another favourite couple on the show Anna and Bates finally saw the murder charges hanging over them dismissed. This prompted relief in the Twitterverse and a party in the servants' hall during which the Earl opened bottles of Veuve Cliquot to drink with his staff.
This being Downton they do face another challenge: finding out whether Anna can conceive. Fearing she is infertile, the maid tells her husband: "I have disappointed you". In the most touching moment of the episode, he kisses her, saying: "Nothing could be further from the truth".