Downton Abbey: Lady Mary and Henry Talbot break up

After her tender kiss last week, Lady Mary Crawley's fledgling romance seems to have gone up in a blaze of smoke quite literally. In the penultimate episode of Downton Abbey her beau Henry Talbot invited Mary, played by Michelle Dockery, along with the entire family to watch him race motor cars.

Lady Mary has ended her relationship with Henry Talbot

In a dramatic twist more horrifying than the Earl of Grantham's bloody collapse, one of his fellow drivers is killed in a horrifying crash. For one devastating moment she thinks he has been killed, bringing back memories of her husband's death. "He was my friend, my best friend really," laments Henry later. "I keep asking myself if I encouraged him."

While many ladies would be tempted to spend their life comforting someone as gorgeous in grief as actor Matthew Goode, it's enough to make Downton's resident ice maiden give up the idea of marrying him. Mary phones to tell him: "Don't say you'll give up racing. I don't want you to give anything up – except me."

Lady Mary and her family watched Henry Talbot race motor cars

Meanwhile, her sister Edith receives a proposal from agent Bertie Pelham. She asks him to accept her family's ward Marigold – but omits to tell him that she is really her illegitimate daughter.

Downstairs the servants are struggling with issues of their own. Thomas Barrow is trying to resist being edged out of the house by Mr Carson (Jim Carter) the butler.

Edith received a marriage proposal from Bertie Pelham

Of course, Julian Fellowes' masterly script provides moments of light relief. Carson's new bride Mrs Hughes Phyllis Logan decides to teach him a lesson with regards to his criticisms of her cooking skills after their wedding. She pretends she's hurt her hand so he will have to organise supper. Harried housewives all over the land had a good laugh at Carson's expense as he rushed round the kitchen trying to rustle up a meal. He then fell asleep because he was so tired – only to be woken by his wife suggesting he do the washing up.

Dame Maggie Smith on magnificent form as ever leaves for the continent after last week's hospital trust coup, firing off this salvo: "My reason for travelling is to make myself eager to come home. A month among the French should manage it."

She also leaves her relatives an adorable new puppy to be named Tiaa after Isis' demise, ‘the wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep II and mother of Thutmose IV'.

With one episode and a Christmas special to go, there are still so many tantalising loose ends. Will Mrs Patmore's friendship with Mr Mason the farmer continues to grow in the face of his daughter-in-law Daisy's loudly voiced disapproval? Will Anna and Bates' finally have their longed for child? Can Thomas find love amid and most importantly will Mary have a change of heart over Henry?