And they're off! The sixth and final season of Downton Abbey begins with a fox hunt circa 1925, which gives Lord Grantham the opportunity to chide Lady Mary for not riding sidesaddle, which is "so much more graceful." Mary scoffs and insists her daring new astride style is much safer, then promptly falls on her ass. Humph. Watching over the outing is a mysterious young woman who can't resist smirking at Mary's misfortune. After the hunt, she makes her intentions clear: She's a chambermaid at the Liverpool hotel where Mary and Viscount Gillingham had their racy rendezvous. If Mary doesn't cough up £1,000 (about $79,000, accounting for inflation and currency rates), the sneak will tell the papers that the Lady is a tramp and no doubt ruin Gillingham's marriage in the process. Sigh. Can't poor Mary have sex without someone dying or having their life ruined? Meanwhile, changes are afoot at the Abbey. Tom is in Boston, Rose is in New York, and Edith's considering a move to London. A neighboring family's decision to give up their own stately home means that Daisy's father-in-law, Mr. Mason, has lost his tenancy. The sale also makes Lord Grantham question whether or not he really needs all of these servants. Thus begins a game of telephone, which results in the Dowager Countess' scheming maid Denker letting it slip that everyone's job is at risk. Carson hints that Thomas, who has nothing to do but give piggyback rides to the Crawley kids, really might have something to worry about; but it's Denker who's closest to getting the heave-ho when Violet discovers that she's been gossiping about the staff cuts. "Sometimes it's good to rule by fear," she tells Cousin Isobel after punishing her big-mouthed maid for spilling her mistress' secrets. The line is almost as priceless as the look on Spratt's face when he sees Denker get told off. Like Denker, Daisy's also in danger of getting canned. Her bid to stand up for Mr. Mason at the estate auction backfires, causing public embarrassment for the Crawleys. Despite Carson's not-so-helpful likening of her outburst to Guy Fawkes' plot to blow up the House of Lords, the family lets her off with a scolding. Mr. Mason, however, remains without a home. Elsewhere, Violet and Isobel are squabbling over the local hospital. The Royal Yorkshire Hospital wants to absorb and improve it; Violet and Dr. Clarkson, who manages to lob a few insults at the opposing Isobel, don't want to lose control. We just want to hear Violet say witty things at Isobel's expense. "Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?" is a good one. Per usual, Anna's got something to cry about. This time, it's the fact that she's had multiple miscarriages. Despite Bates' support, she's in full-on mope mode. Not even learning that another woman has confessed to Green's murder, exonerating Anna once and for all, can do much to cheer her up. The Crawleys, however, insist on celebrating the news with some Veuve Clicquot, the return of the gramophone, and some lukewarm attempts at physical contact. Speaking of popping corks, it's time to talk about sex, baby. Lady Mary's blackmailer skulks off with just £50 after Lord Grantham threatens to turn her in to the police. It's hardly cause for celebration, as both he and Mary then have to endure an awkward conversation about why she keeps having sex outside marriage.
But it's the concept of having sex inside marriage that really dominates the episode. Turns out, Mrs. Hughes has been putting off setting a wedding date because she's afraid of doing the dirty-dirty with Carson at her age. She confesses this in a chat with Mrs. Patmore, who reveals that she's a virgin. "Perhaps you can keep the lights off," the cook offers weakly. The bride-to-be then asks Mrs. Patmore to feel out Carson for his thoughts on marital sex, which is both the worst and the best idea of all time. It takes our lovely cook a lot of time and no small amount of port to get there, but eventually she and Carson get to their sex chat. After a little consideration, Carson lays down the law: Yes, he wants to bone Mrs. Hughes once she's his wife. That message gets relayed, and our two lovebirds eventually wind up discussing their future sex life face to face. Carson assumes the wedding's off, but Mrs. Hughes is on board. "Well, Mr, Carson, if you want me you can have me, to quote Oliver Cromwell, 'warts and all,'" she tells him. Excellent. Now, can we focus on getting Mrs. Patmore laid?