Downton Abbey, Season 3, Episode 1: Review

Downton Abbey is BACK and yes, there is a wedding. Also some awesomely fun snark flying between Dame Maggie Smith and Ms. Shirley Maclaine.

The first episode of Downton Abbey’s Season 3 aired January 6 to the great relief of American anglophiles nearly dead from lack of plummy accents and oh-so-arched sniping.  Among the highlights: a gorgeous wedding dress, a continuation of the will-they-or-won’t they Matthew and Mary seesaw and the best solution for putting a fiery revolutionary in his place (pit him against 2 old ladies and he’ll crumble faster than a building smashed by the Hulk). 

We’re back at the grand estate, complete with opening credits showing new shots of the manor (although the dog’s backside is still there, to my great relief). Things are all a flurry with preparations for Mary and Matthew’s wedding, both upstairs AND downstairs.

Of course, nothing can be simple when it comes to the Grantham household. Sybil and Branson are at first no-shows, mostly because the family (also known as Lord Grantham) refuses to give them money to help fund the trip. Cora’s mother, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) descends upon the house with the attitude that America rules and Britain drools and assumes the role of Dowager Countess Violet’s new foil.  Sadly Shirley MacLaine’s delivery fails to match the impeccable timing of Maggie Smith proving that, although America may think it rules, Britain still holds the crown. We cede to the superiority of Smith, Dench, Mirren, et al.

Added to that, Lord Grantham has somehow managed to lose all of Cora’s money/his fortune in some ridiculous Canadian railroad scheme that makes no sense other than it’s a plot twist that will probably be resolved in two episodes.  Why two you say? Because the solution quickly presents itself in a potential inheritance (again!) left to Matthew (again!) by Reggie Squire, Lavinia’s father. Squire dies and leaves his fortune to a few potential heirs, all of whom manage to stumble to an untimely death/absence. All except for Matthew.  Next time I buy a lottery ticket, I’m taking Matthew Crawley with me. The man attracts large amounts of money simply by existing. It seems Lady Luck is just as much a sucker as the rest of the female population for that killer combo of wavy blond hair and piercing blue eyes.

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Of course, Matthew being Matthew, he just has to kick the gift horse in the mouth. (Simply looking would not suffice.) He announces if he gets it, he refuses to use the money to help save Downton, because it would be a betrayal to the memory of (guess who, of course you can) Lavinia. His wife to be, Miss Mary, finds out about the estate’s financial troubles and Matthew’s new fortune at roughly the same time. Naturally, she can’t understand why he’s being such a moody little girl about the whole thing and overdramatically accuses him of being against the family.

In the middle of this, Branson and Sybil show up because a mysterious benefactor has funded their trip. Woe quickly follows joy as Branson refuses to wear anything other than his awful tweed suit to, well, everything formal. An evening dinner party goes from bad (everyone has to wear black tie! pas terrible!) to worse (the oven breaks), with Martha saving the day by throwing an impromptu “American” picnic. Honestly, I don’t think either Carson or the Dowager Countess will ever quite recover from it.

On top of all that, a volley from Mary and the Dowager to enlist Martha to help save Downton completely fails, not due to lack of familial feeling, but simply because the dead Mr. Levinson seemed to have taken a misogynistic page from the dead Lord Grantham’s book and tied up the money so as to keep any of the womenfolk from getting their hands on it.

Fortunately, things start to look up soon after. Edith’s stalkerish pursuit of Lord What’s His Name (the old guy with the fake hand) pays off after she cries about how she’s oh so lonely to her father. He gives in and allows them to be together (ew). They are engaged shortly thereafter, leaving Edith to be almost generous to Mary. 

Branson makes an effort to more or less get along with everyone and is stuffed into a suit for the wedding by Cousins Violet and Isobel in one of the best scenes of the night. Politely explaining to the two why he refuses to wear a waistcoat, they nod and tell him to try it on, in complete disregard of his eloquent speech. Oh, Branson. You can stare down an English Lord, but you can’t face down those two. To be fair, if the two of them had been at the Front during the war, the Germans probably would have surrendered in the first five minutes.

Downstairs, things are much less chaotic, though storms are brewing. There’s a new footman, Albert, who is O’Brien’s nephew. From the start, he gets on the wrong side of Thomas, now in power and favor due to his position as Lord Grantham’s valet. O’Brien of course is not pleased and this season promises to be the one where these two former allies go to war. I tremble for the casualties.

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New complications also arise when Daisy takes a shine to Albert, but he’s pursued (and caught) by Martha Levinson’s American maid, whose combination of pert and pretty would snare any man under sixty with a pulse. Naturally, this puts Daisy’s nose out of joint, as does the fact that she still hasn’t been promoted. She goes through the entire episode in a big sulk, which is probably why her repeated warnings about the stove are ignored by Mrs. Patmore.

Out of these swirls of romance and revenge is Carson of course, who grumbles as always with the changing times. He, and well, everyone is given a scare however, when it seems Mrs. Hughes might have cancer. Uh-oh. What would we do without the dependable, understanding, all seeing Mrs. Hughes is beyond me (and Carson and Mrs. Patmore). Not helping things at all, Ethel makes a reappearance, as miserable and as extraneous as usual. 

Anna and Bates, those two deserving yet unlucky creatures are still stuck. She’s still trying to help get his release. He’s still managing not to be killed behind bars.  Arghghgh! WHEN WILL THOSE TWO BE ALLOWED TO BE HAPPY? 

In the end, only one question remains: will THE wedding of the season happen? The short answer: yes. Never mind the eleventh hour fight between Matthew and Mary. The two of them forget their snit long enough to remember they love each other. Mary manages to make it to the church in one of the most beautiful (and what will likely now be the most copied) bridal ensembles ever sewed into existence. Her glamour shot as she poses atop the stairs for Carson and her father made me catch my breath. 

Their expressions as they catch sight of her in all her glory made me let it out in one big, soppy “Awwwwwwwww!” Mary, as Edith says just moments before, has all the luck. Not because she’s marrying into title and fortune (Edith’s reason), but because she has three excellent men who love her: Carson, Lord Grantham and Matthew.

The couple of the year is married without a hitch, but with a few-well placed jibes (Matthew: “You came. To be quite honest, I wasn’t entirely sure you would.” Mary: “Im’, glad of it. I would hate to be predictable”).  They drive off on their honeymoon to great fanfare.

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At the end of the episode, as chaos quiets and everyone winds down, Lord Grantham and his mother-in-law sit by the fire and share a companionable drink. They don’t talk about much, but one word stands out in their conversation sounds very much like the theme of Season 3: change.

Uh-oh. Does anyone else hear ominous, character fate rumbles sounding in the not too distant future?





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