Downton Abbey: Season 3, Episode 1 Recap

Deborah Gilbert | January 6, 2013

We can all exhale – Season 3 is finally here! It’s a New Year and a new season and I know you’ve all resolved to not miss a minute! It’s now 1920 and for our friends at Downton Abbey life begins to move toward something that more closely resembles our modern world. But with modern life comes modern problems. There’s dodgy investments, cancer, prostitution, labor disputes (and even Americans in the dining room, perish the thought!). But fear not, everyone still has at least one foot in the storied past…

Easy Come, Easy Go: Oops, My Bad
Lord Grantham rolls the dice and his top hat lands on B&O Railroad, so he proceeds to invest all of his wife’s looted fortune in it, against the advice of his broker, Moneybags. Now it seems like he’ll be trading Downton Abbey for a little place on Baltic Avenue. But wait, suddenly Matthew is set to inherit ‘a fortune’ from St. Lavinia’s dad, though he’s too principled to accept it. But of course the money to save Downton will be found somehow because we know there is going to be a Season 4 and they ain’t moving in next door to Honey BooBoo. So, where do you think the money to save Downton will come from? Might Martha still come through? Will Lord Grantham win the UK National Lottery? Will oil be discovered out back behind the house? Will seething Daisy strike out on her own and start a chain of restaurants, become rich and buy Downton for herself? We’ll just have to wait and see how it all unfolds.

If They Could See Me Now: Love Finds Andy Hardy
The news of Shirley MacLaine’s casting as Cora’s Mother from America had some fans excited and some worried, but right from her sweeping entrance in that fabulous red car, she fit right in. Equal parts vulgar and perceptive, Martha proved to be a great sparring partner for Violet; alternately flirting with hobbledehoy Alfred, offering unwanted advice and stirring the pot with well-aimed zingers. And just when you think she’s run out of moxie, this plucky American granny has a real Mickey and Judy moment: As everything downstairs goes pear shaped and the assembled Lords and Ladies are in danger of starvation, she saves the day by getting everyone to pull together and put on a show in the barn (or something like that). Carson was certainly not pleased. When Mrs. Hughes asked how it went, he quipped, ‘The problem Tito is it all seems to be ending. Do you think kids want to come and take fox trot lessons with their parents? Trips to Europe, that’s what the kids want!’ (Or something like that). But back to Martha, what’s with the French asides? Between Martha and Violet, I was starting to feel like I did when I was a kid and was dragged to borscht belt retreats with my parents and I couldn’t get the comedian’s jokes because all the punch lines were in Yiddish. As for Martha, somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of her. At least, I hope not.

War of the Roses: O’Brien and Thomas split?
How could it be that the couple who defined the phrase ‘thick as thieves’ is breaking up? If these two crazy kids can’t make it work, what hope is there for the rest of us? But it seems that until Mrs. Hughes sends them for some couples counseling, we will be treated to all sorts of summer camp pranks. Next week: Corn Flakes under the sheets! But what caused this seismic shift? And with each of them knowing all the other’s schemes, they have more to fear from each other than anyone else, so where might this lead? And what a revelation for Lord Grantham, ‘Are you not popular downstairs?’ This from the guy who was the last man on the continent to hear about Pamuk. How could he not have lost it all on the Canadian railroad when he doesn’t even know the first thing about what is going on in his own house?

No One Puts Edith in a Corner: The Cheese Stands Alone
Poor Edith, as Sybil returns with Branson (I mean Tom), Edith is once again the third wheel – a wheel that keeps rolling toward Sir Anthony’s manor. He may be too old, but as my mother used to say, ‘a girl like you can’t afford to be so choosy.’ Despite attempts to chase him off, it now sounds as if they are getting engaged- but given her track record, why did she allow him to leave without making the announcement? Somewhere there is a permanent rain cloud with her name on it. Will she get her happily ever after? Or just another drenching?

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi: It’s a small world, after all
It’s former housemaid Ethel, who dreamed a dream in times gone by, when hope was high and life worth living: Now she is left standing in doorways wearing lipstick and God knows what else. And where is little Charlie? Is he with the dreadful grandfather or somewhere else? I’ve got to say, that in my book, the difference between what Ethel may be doing for money and what Ladies Mary or Edith (or Lord Grantham, for that matter) did for money is only one of degrees (and paperwork). Ethel’s predicament serves as a reminder of the cruelty of the old class structure. Major Bryant was her Pamuk, but she was born without money and station, and without that safety net the consequences of her folly are more than just embarrassment and cancelled party invitations; they affect her very survival. Will Isobel be able to help her?

Here Comes the Bride: That Julian Fellowes is such a tease!
After Matthew tells Mary he cannot save Downton even if they can’t find Mr. Pullbrook Pumpkin Pillbox Poolboy Papodopolous, a big fight ensues (witnessed by a gleeful Edith). So it’s off… again. This wedding has been off and on and off so often you’d think it was being organized by LIPA! Fortunately Branson (I mean Tom) reminds Matthew, ‘You won’t be happy with anyone else while Lady Mary walks the earth.’ Leave it to a rebellious Irish poet to save the day. But when Matthew goes to Mary’s bedroom to make up (cue the wistful Matthew & Mary music) and give her one last single girl kiss, we noticed that Lady Mary peeked – BAD LUCK! Why did Julian do that? Doesn’t he know how we worry? The next morning, a serene Mary descends the staircase as her two dads look on in wonder and she asks, ‘Will I do Carson?’ If it was 2013 instead of 1920, this would be the pilot of a new sitcom with Carson and Lord Grantham as two gay dads trying their best to raise their uppity minx of a daughter as hilarity ensues. But back to 1920, and what a day it is! Matthew and Mary are given the Wills & Kate treatment through the village and then… fade to black! Really? After all that – seven years of ups and downs, war and disease, scandal and interfering busybodies… and we don’t get to see the wedding!?! Yes, Lord Fellowes is a tease! One supposes he was trying to avoid that awkward moment when the minister said, ‘if anyone here sees just cause why these two should not be joined in holy matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his peace’, causing a stampede toward the altar. But still. By the time we rejoin the action, Sybil and Branson (I mean Tom) have disappeared without a trace and the happy couple are getting used to each other – and getting used to the hired help walking into their bedroom with tea in the morning. Seriously, they don’t lock the bedroom door?

Free Bates: Man of Alcatraz
Faithful Anna goes to visit Bates and when we see that prison exterior we think, wow, in Britain even the prisons are stylish. Yes, it’s a prison circa 1920, but I’ll bet by now, in 2013, it has been redeveloped into luxury loft condos full of yuppies (who should all be in jail for stock fraud). Ah, the symmetry. But let’s not bury the lede: Have we just seen the dark, violent side of Bates? Is there more there? Or is it just the thought of Anna in her garter that pushed him over the edge? And speaking of pushing, when he said (rather forcefully) to his cell mate, ‘don’t push me!’, one wonders if Vera just might have pushed him too far? Could it be that our Batesy is guilty? Are we putting on our ‘Free Bates’ t-shirts a bit too soon? And hey, I’m only asking the questions – so don’t tell me to go ‘eat in the yard!’ I’m still thinking that O’Brien was in the mix somehow (I wonder if they found her letter when they were cleaning out the house). Bates has always been a cryptogram of a man; is this more riddle to unravel? This jury is still out.

…and the jury’s also still out on all the other questions yet to be answered, chief among them: Will Mrs. Hughes survive being given a clean bill of health by Dr. Clarkson? If I had to choose a picture as a highlight from this week, it just might be the ghostly final scene of Mrs. Patmore walking down the hall with Mrs. Hughes as she gave her soliloquy on mortality. It perfectly encapsulated what this show does so, so well — moving from comedy to pathos with such ease.

Dowager Countessdown

6. "They look far too exciting for so early in the evening."

5. "Was Napoleon overawed by the Bourbons?"

4. "No guest should be admitted without their date of departure settled."

3. "Never mistake a wish for a certainty."

2. "I don’t know what that means. It sounds almost as peculiar as you look."

1. "Do you think I could have a drink? I’m so sorry, I thought you were a waiter."

Often I wish we could include Maggie Smith’s facial expressions in this Countessdown because they are always priceless. Tonight’s best being when Isobel and Cora were discussing sending Sybil the money, and later when Martha (Shirley MacLaine) was singing to her. It makes me laugh, even now, just to picture her.

Homework Assignment:
I don’t usually give homework assignments here but I am tonight. Your assignment Downtonians, is to use the word ‘Hobbledehoy’ (which means an awkward, gawky youth) in conversation, and report back the reactions you get.

Missed Downton Abbey’s Season 3 premiere? Watch it online for a limited time.

Downton Dish is written by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper.

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