'Downton Abbey' Recap: Season 3 Episodes 1 & 2 (or Part I)

By Chris Baggiano,
This is 1920, time to live a little.

The early 20th Century darling Downton Abbey made its well-appointed Season 3 premiere on PBS Sunday. Before getting to the recap I must first say that the PBS where I live had a 2-hour premiere event that seemed to include both Episodes 1 and 2 from the new season (at least according to IMDb.com). This recap will cover both so if you only got a one-hour episode last night SPOILERS are ahead.

Potent Quotables

“An aristocrat with no servants is as much use to the county as a glass hammer.” – The Dowager Countess.

“Oh dear have you swallowed a dictionary.” – Patmore to Daisy while she is refusing to work.

This was an action packed premiere for Season 3 of Downton Abbey. The episode(s) definitely achieved their main goal of setting up the copious storylines of every character for this upcoming season, while making sure to add just enough of that upper crust charm (otherwise known as witty hating), relationship interferences, inheritance confusion, and overly dramatic moments to remind everyone why Downton Abbey is so deliciously entertaining. Instead of tirelessly describing every last detail this recap will only delve into the seemingly most important storylines.

First and foremost, of course, is the constantly in flux future of Downton itself. After the first two seasons were devoted to the constant worry regarding Mary being able to inherit the estate (she couldn’t because British law at the time required a male heir within the family) it would be all too easy to allow Downton to pass straight into Matt’s and Mary’s hands (Matt being a very distant cousin of Mary’s would allow him to inherit the estate if he got married to her). On the eve of the much-teased marriage of Matt and Mary it comes to Lord Robert Grantham’s (Robert from here on out) that he has lost nearly all his money in a very bad investment into a Canadian railway that is going bankrupt.

Luckily Matt seems to be on the list for a very wealthy inheritance of his own. It seems that his recently deceased fiancée’s dad (Mr. Swire) has just passed. He stands to receive a very large sum of money if the two other heirs ahead of him died before Mr. Swire rewrote his will to include Matt. After some completely translucent doubt as to the second heir it is revealed that Matt will in fact inherit all of Mr. Swire’s money. Unfortunately it seems that Matt has decided to wear the heavy pants of integrity that are usually reserved for the currently incarcerated Bates (boy did he like to do things by the book last season). However, Matt is refusing to accept the money because he blames himself for his fiancée’s death (she died of the flu but he told her he loved Mary before that and he feels guilty clearly). So despite the fact that this ample sum of money could easily buy Downton from Robert, who will have to sell the estate, Matt is steadfast in not using the money for his own personal gain because it is like “stealing.” Matt’s stance also causes Mary and the Dowager Countess to concoct a grand gala to get Mary’s other grandmother (from the USA), Mrs. Levinson (played by Shirley MacLaine) to give up some of her vast wealth to save Downton again. The oven broke but Mrs. Levinson brought some of her American sensibility to have an indoor picnic that was greatly enjoyed by all.

This plotline looks like it will be the main thrust of the drama for Season 3. Not only does it effect the future of Downton and having a Crawley looking after it as they have for years but it also being felt with the wait staff of the manor, particularly with Daisy and the need for more staff. It also is the main source of tension between the newly wedded Mary and Matt (who are definitely very fond of the activities in the bedroom, although not a big surprise after all the sexual innuendo Matt was throwing around before their marriage). Oddly the writers chose not to show the moment that Robert told his daughter Mary about the new financial situation, instead quickly cutting to something completely unrelated.

Another main theme for this season seems to be the social upheaval that is on the horizon, especially in Ireland. Despite the fact it looks like Robert will come to a begrudging respect of Tom, (the former chauffeur turned husband of his youngest and most attractive daughter Sybil, who is also pregnant) the fiery Irish socialist, there are some clear class overtones at work here. The amount of time that is spent with Tom arguing for Ireland’s cause of independence from England with the combination of Isobel’s (Matt’s mom) latest endeavor of helping destitute former prostitutes (?) rehabilitate themselves and find jobs makes it seem like Downton is ripe for some class warfare. Matt making Tom his best man after the cruel dinner trick of a former beau of Mary’s was a nice moment and their impending friendship could become a very welcome addition to a show that lacks male camaraderie and acceptance of the lower class improving themselves. And before focusing on the servants it is important to note that finally the always-overlooked star-crossed lovers of Edith and Anthony (her awkward, older lover) have finally been given Robert’s blessing after his attempt to break them up failed.

Downstairs will definitely be affected by the lack of funds, as was show by Daisy protesting her new job being exactly like her old job (due to the fact they hadn’t hired another kitchen helper yet) and the oven breaking. More exciting though is the addition of a new footman/valet in Alfred, O’Brien’s nephew. His character definitely seems interesting, especially since he seems to be more of the times than anyone else. When he is asked by Daisy about budding relationship with the “loose” American maid (Mrs. Levinson’s personal servant) he lets Daisy know that she makes him feel good and that’s all that really matters. It seems like Daisy’s naïveté may finally start to wear away if she finds a place for herself amongst the new 1920s mentality.

Alfred’s quick rise, due to O’Brien, is a craw the detestable Thomas’s side (for no real reason except that Alfred hasn’t had to struggle as hard as Thomas did to get promoted to valet). Thomas offers Alfred “help” which ends up burning a hole through Matt’s tuxedo coat. O’Brien exacts her revenge on Thomas by stealing all of Robert’s best dress shirts causing a whole ruckus.

Last but certainly not least is Mrs. Hughes’s upcoming battle with breast cancer (or at least so it seems). While this doesn’t have much thematic significance it is a recurring story and it should be interesting to see the medical treatments/procedures for someone with cancer in those times. Her refusal to tell Carson is odd, especially since her work is suffering, but it isn’t Downton Abbey without a secret being foolishly held. Also Bates is still in jail and Anna is figuring out a convoluted way to prove his innocence.

Season 3 looks to be set up to ensure against anything dragging along, much like the Bates plotline of Season 2 did. With all the different things going on at Downton it would be surprising to be bored but any of it. It will also be fun to see some of the roaring 20s fashion and activities creep into the buttoned down manner of those at Downton, it has already started with Alfred and the American maid and hopefully that will continue.

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