As if the Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by the indomitable Maggie Smith, didn't have enough to worry about with her son's financial wherewithal evaporating almost as fast as the household staff. In episode one of the sixth and final season of “Downton Abbey,” a hospital takeover threatens to take away one of her last civic perks.
The year may be 1925, but the government-run county hospital is engaged in an activity all too familiar to contemporary healthcare leaders. It wants to take over the local charity hospital in order to bring better treatments and equipment to the Downton villagers.
The dowager's nemesis is one-time romantic rival and frequent companion Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), the widow and daughter of physicians and a champion of, ahem, modern healthcare. She is also grandmother to the presumptive heir to the Grantham estate.
Violet Crawley (the dowager), who sits on the board of the local hospital, isn't without her allies in the fight. Dr. Richard Clarkson, played by David Robb, correctly called for sending granddaughter Lady Sybil to the hospital when she was seized with eclampsia during her pregnancy.
When Sybil's death threatened to destroy Robert (Lord Grantham) and Cora Crawley's marriage, Violet persuaded the good doctor to tell a white lie to patch up the break. They've been fast friends ever since.
How will this takeover battle play out? Don't expect deus ex machina from the antitrust authorities. Unlike the U.S., which passed the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Great Britain didn't pass its own laws regulating competition until 1948—two years after creation of its National Health Service.
The final season of “Downton Abbey” is currently airing Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on Masterpiece on PBS.