First a complaint. There has been practically no gossip available regarding series six. When series four was being made, even official sources were happy to offer us some crumbs, for instance that there would be new love interests for Mary and that a dashing jazz singer would make an appearance. Some of the information was misleading (calling Mr Green a "charismatic valet", for instance, which made us expect him to be part of a romantic storyline), but it was something. We were told a little less about series five, but still we got to hear about some new characters like Simon Bricker, Lady Anstruther and Prince Kuragin. But this time, zilch. All right, we can assume we'll see Henry Talbot again - but that's it.
There have been rumours that series six is to be the last one, but the show's creators won't even deny or confirm this. They don't seem to realise why we fans care so much. It's not that we don't see that Downton has to end sometime, and series six seems as good a place to stop as any, before the characters get too old or their storylines too feeble. But hints that the producers themselves don't know whether this series will be the last or not have at least me worried. Because the series is already written, isn't it? The last thing I want - and surely many other fans feel the same - is one of those horrible "open" endings where nothing is properly resolved. No, if Downton ends, there has to be a tying up of loose ends, and preferably as many happy endings as possible. I realise there can't be five weddings and zero funerals in the final episode. But where there is no full-blown romance, maybe we can at least get hopeful glimpses of how various characters' future will turn out?
My hope is that if the producers really, truly don't know at this stage if series six is the last, Julian Fellowes will have time to rewrite some parts of it if ITV decides to call it a day. And after all, show me the happy ending which is completely watertight - it is possible to get the drama going again even after what looks like a tidy resolution.
High time to come to the predictions now:
Henry Talbot jilts Mary: Something - maybe my lingering loyalty to Charles Blake - makes me doubt that Talbot is Mary's happily-ever-after. It's been a while since a man said no to her, and maybe he plays it cool because he really isn't passionately interested. My guess is that they will have a fling, after which he'll dump her with some line about never promising her anything. At which point, ideally, Blake will re-enter her life and she will finally realise how well they are suited.
Marigold becomes a test of love: More churlish looking gift love interests in the mouth now that they've finally arrived, but this Pelham bloke Edith's interested in: is he really the best she can get? The poor cousin of an aristocratic family that everyone feels a bit sorry for? Why should Mary always get the finest man options, while Edith tries to settle for second best (older, in time crippled man; married farmer; disfigured fake heir; married editor) and fails even at that? Pelham will certainly make an appearance in the new series, but whether he's good news for Edith depends entirely on how he reacts to finding out the truth about Marigold, which of course he will. Option 1: he shrinks away from the "scarlet woman" Edith, gives up the job as steward at Downton (which he has landed now that Branson's gone away) and disappears. Option 2: he accepts the situation and is prepared to marry Edith and treat Marigold as his own daughter. At which point his aristocratic cousins get mauled by a lion in South Africa, he inherits the lot, and Edith becomes a lady of the manor in her own right.
An upstairs guest takes a shine to Thomas: It has been hinted that Thomas is interested in the new footman Andy - why else would he save Andy from Miss Denker's gamblers, seeing as he is no philanthropist? But consider: we can't have the "Thomas pines for footman" plot again. Also, Andy's nice-looking enough in a boy next door kind of way and would be a good fit for Daisy - he's certainly a cut above Alfred - but he's no match for the glamorous lookers Thomas has fancied in the past (who were also, it has to be said, total bastards, with the exception of the sweet but unfortunately suicidal blind lieutenant). As Andy's shown no sign of an interest for Thomas - not even managing to squeeze out a "thank you" when Thomas comes to his rescue: at least Jimmy knew when to be grateful! - I think he's a false trail, and that Thomas's romantic future lies elsewhere. The most practical thing by far would be for a toff/businessman/diplomat/similar to fall for him, as someone with enough money and authority would be able to camouflage their affair by employing Thomas as a valet or private secretary ("People are so ridiculous... Of course Barrow's devoted to me"). He may not be Mr Right at all but a high-born predator who makes sure of his prey by manipulation and blackmail. In any case, it's high time Thomas was much sought after.
Peter Coyle turns up: A character who is able to make Miss Nice As Pie Baxter relish nastiness? Surely, we've got to meet this man! The true threats to the peace of Downton always come from outside, leaving scope for the regular "bad" characters to reform. In the end, if the worst comes to the worst, the Downton crowd will hold together. Even Miss O'Brien warbled along to "If you were the only girl in the world" during the war concert in series two. With Peter Coyle, we would have a no-holds-barred villain on the scene who could test Miss Baxter's resolve to be good person and her love for Molesley. If he got a foothold in the Downton household he could pose a threat to other characters too, upstairs or downstairs. The question is how, as there is no demand whatsoever for more manservants. Maybe he has reinvented himself as a gentleman?
The Green case is resolved, finally! The most likely scenario is that the murderer proves to be a perfect stranger. But I have another, more far-flung theory: what if it turns out to be Edna Braithwaite? She and Green got along well during the fateful houseparty, and we never did discover who was supposed to father Edna's baby if she got Branson to swallow the marriage bait. ("No doubt she had a candidate in mind", Mrs Hughes sniffed at the time.) Later, there could have been be a falling out among thieves, or he could have attacked her as well. When the truth is revealed, Edna could make a nice embittered little speech about how everyone was ready to rush to Anna's side when she was in trouble, but no-one at Downton is prepared to put in a good word for her, least of all Branson (if he's even in the country at the time). Ah well, just a thought. It will probably turn out to be Miss Unknown Slight Blonde Looking a Bit Like Anna.