'Downton Abbey' Recap: Season 3 Episodes 7 & 8

By Chris Baggiano,
High-drama downstairs in this week's 'Downton' double feature.

Potent Quotables

“Mr. Stick-it-up-your-jumper will have to go!” – Anna speaking of Thomas’s imminent departure to Bates.

Boy does PBS love inundating its viewers with Downton Abbey. For a show that has so few episodes already, it is a tad boggling why PBS can’t allow the audience a little more time to savor the series and just postpone the DVD release of the show (released January 29th) a couple weeks, or premiere Downton a few weeks early. In any case this week’s Downton fest saw the culmination of O’Brien’s revenge plot on Thomas, Bates’s release (finally) from jail, and the resolution to the power struggle between Matt and Robert in what turned out to be something that felt a little different for the show.

O’Brien is one vindictive gal isn’t she? She has been force-feeding the narrative between Thomas and Jimmy to both of them for weeks now. Hinting to Thomas that Jimmy is into him and telling Jimmy to cozy up to Thomas for advice on how to further his career. The usually calm and collected Thomas finally reached the breaking point and snuck into Jimmy’s room while he was asleep to kiss him. (Waking anyone up with a first kiss is definitely a creepy move). Jimmy awakes and freaks out while Alfred witnesses the whole thing. After some indecision, Alfred, with egging on from O’Brien, decided to tell Carson everything he saw. Soon Thomas would resign and O’Brien’s master plan had worked.

Or had it? O’Brien, unsatisfied with merely having Thomas fired and requiring him to find employment elsewhere, apparently also wanted to completely ruin Thomas’s career in Britain. O’Brien told Jimmy his manhood was in question if he didn’t press charges (it was very illegal to be gay or at least to do what Thomas did back then), so Jimmy threatened doing such a thing if Carson gave Thomas a recommendation. This seemed a little too far even for O’Brien.

Getting Thomas fired is one thing, and in fact would have been a welcome change to the staff, but to completely ruin his career is another thing. O’Brien’s plan originally seemed to be all about helping her nephew Alfred further his career, but ended up in this netherworld of cold hearted retribution. Everyone’s treatment of Thomas and his proclivities was incredibly progressive, especially for the times, and it seemed that Downton wanted to hammer this point home as even Carson, who is disgusted by homosexuality, comes around to Thomas in the end.

Bates, longtime rivals with Thomas, ended up taking up for Thomas in the end by sitting O’Brien down and threatening her with Thomas’s knowledge of what she had done to Cora, which made her miscarry. Unfortunately this backfires on Bates, who was more than happy to see Bates go, but allowed his integrity to flare up so that Thomas could get a good recommendation, as Thomas is eventually retained by Carson and Robert and is actually given a promotion over Bates as Under-butler. Oh Bates, when will you learn?

Upstairs the butting of heads between Robert and Matt had finally reached its high point. Robert, holding onto the last vestiges of his power, continued to disagree with Matt about how to run the estate and had Jarvis, the estate foreman, on his side. The three of them, plus the family lawyer Murray (on Matt’s side), ended up having a very heated debate that ended with Jarvis resigning his post. Matt had the Ace up his sleeve though in Mary. Finally Matt was able to convince Mary to support him in the running of Downton. This probably should have been given more significance, but instead was relegated to pillow chatter betwixt kisses and violin flourishes.

Robert also was convinced by Tom’s voice of reason. Robert’s disdain for the lowborn Tom finally subsided in this episode. Matt appointed Tom to be the estate’s overseer based on his limited farming background. In the end it was Tom who was able to convince Robert to cede some of his power and allow Matt’s plan to come to fruition, although Robert did require Tom to play for the house cricket team in the annual match between the house and the village (actually an interesting scene, but ultimately not really worth delving into). The final shot of the episode, in fact, saw Matt, Tom (after telling Cora he was going to live at Downton for a few years instead of moving to work in his brother’s garage), and Robert all hugging in slow motion to show that they were now thick as thieves.

The upstairs and downstairs drama actually allowed for something seemingly new for Season 3. It may seem a minute thing but with all the secrets and heated emotions flying around the character reactions were given extra emphasis. Usually Downton Abbey, especially in Season 3, errs on the side of buttoned down, but for some reason in this week’s two episodes it seemed that all the characters were allowed to emote properly. The glares O’Brien shot at Thomas, the multiple blow-ups by Robert and Matt, and of course the many behind the scenes wheelings and dealings between the characters allowed for the drama to seem more heightened than usual. It seems an odd thing to bring up, but allowing all the characters to react properly to what was going on made Downton all the more enjoyable this week. The reactions to Mosley’s constant demonstrations of cricketing were especially delightful.

The main subplot of this entire season seemed to be Edith’s future, and that seemed to finally be settled as well. Edith decided to take the job at the magazine in London to write the woman’s column after meeting her editor, Michael Gregson. It seemed almost instantly Michael had taken a shining to Edith and flirted with her on every occasion he was allowed. This caused Edith to do a little background research in which she found out that Michael was actually married, shocking and appalling poor Edith.

In perhaps the most convoluted back story in recent memory, Michael came clean to Edith, telling her that he was indeed married but his wife was clinically insane and resided in a mental institution but, because of law, he could not become divorced from her because she was incapable of making that decision. It seems that Edith again has found someone broken to love. Her journalistic approach could become quite interesting if she continues to write about “male issues.”

Edith wasn’t the only one going to London, as it seemed both Mary and Matt were stealing away to meet with a fertility doctor. Matt’s continual blame of his injury for the inability for the couple to conceive was finally put to rest as it was actually Mary who was at fault. Mary required some minor surgery that has yet to be revealed, but upon their chance meeting at the same physician Mary was given a clean bill of health and it seems that the couple will be having a baby sometime next season. This was another subplot that didn’t really receive enough time (possibly because of the editing down for American TV), but when you have Sybil dying during childbirth there is only so much time in an episode.

While Edith and Matt went to London, they were also duped into bringing Rose, the Dowager Countess’s great niece. She was sent to Downton by her mom because of, what was revealed later in the episode, a very unwanted relationship she was having with a married man. Rose really does offer up something new to Downton. She is the quintessential 1920s flapper. Where other younger characters like Alfred and Ivy have been portrayed as in between the old sensibilities and the new, Rose is completely someone with the sensibilities of the 1920s. Hopefully she will become a somewhat recurring character that could offer some much needed fresh air to the usual staleness of Downton, although the Dowager Countess promptly sending Rose off to Scotland does not bode well.

Finally, Ethel’s struggles are finally rewarded. With both Robert and the Dowager Countess worrying about being the center of scandal due to Ethel’s employment by Isobel, the Dowager takes it upon herself to find Ethel a new job. The Dowager struck up a deal with Edith to help convince Robert to warm up to Edith’s becoming a journalist, asking only that Edith post an advertisement in the newspaper in regards to Ethel’s skills and her need for a job. Despite Isobel’s fervent disapproval of this action Isobel realizes that Ethel is miserable due to how she is being treated by the villagers based on her past.

Eventually Ethel receives an offer from a woman who lives close to the Bryants, the grandparents of Ethel’s son that she gave to them to raise. Initially this causes doubts in Ethel, but when Mrs. Bryant comes to visit the Dowager to tell Ethel it would be fine to work so close to the Bryants and her son, Ethel becomes ecstatic at the prospect. It seems as though Isobel will have to find yet another project to work on for Season 4.

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