Downton Abbey: Season 3, Episode 3 Recap

Deborah Gilbert | January 21, 2013

After staring death in the face last week, Mrs. Hughes has decided to throw caution to the wind and grab life by the breadbasket, causing Mr. Carson to clutch his pearls and exclaim, ‘Is it not enough that we are sheltering a dangerous revolutionary, Mrs. Hughes, could you not have spared me that?’ Oh dear. Wait ’til he hears her plans for the butter and jam. One shudders to think.

Prisoner of Love: The Ballad of Bates and Anna
How many more obstacles can be tossed into the path of the true love of Anna and Mr. Bates? What’s next, a tsunami? A zombie apocalypse? Maybe writer’s cramp? While Mr. Bates is languishing in Folsom Prison, making pillows for Anthropologie, poor Anna is pining away not understanding why she hasn’t heard from him. And he, in turn, is wondering the same (such wz lyf b4 txtN). It’s like the Newlywed Game, minus the smarmy host, and they lost on question #1: While she was correct in thinking he might have been doing that gallant thing again and attempting to set her free, he was totally wrong in thinking she’d ever give up on him. Ever. Unfortunately, when you are detained at His Majesty’s pleasure, it doesn’t matter that interfering with your mail is a federal offense, because Bates has run afoul of some sort of crime syndicate that is involved in smuggling (what looks like) burlap cigarettes. That’s clearly what Lord Grantham should have invested in: Burlap cigarettes. Wile E. Coyote that Bates is, he thwarted their attempts to set him up last week (with the help of his new BFF and a crack in the wall), and now that he knows that they are behind the seeming silence from Anna, he summons his inner O’Brien to return the favor. Oh yes, Mr. Bates can play that game. We have no idea what happened exactly, or why (and neither does he). All we know are two things: Those guards look for any excuse to sniff the sheets, and the letters held hostage resumed delivery. So all is right in their garden again (or as right as things can be when one of you is in jail for murder and flypaper for trouble). On the plus side, Bates’ limp has improved. And by the way, every time that guard yells, “NO TALKING!”, I think of Monty Python. Is that wrong?

Gee, Our Old LaSalle Ran Great: Those Were the Days
When we first met Lord Grantham, we thought him to be quite charming and maybe even noble – that’s what a British accent can do for a guy (just look what it’s done for that lizard who sells insurance). We didn’t see even a hint of malevolence in Robert, just the inherited daftness of his class. He was, quite simply, a harmless boob. But over time, as the layers of the onion have been peeled away and we have gotten to know him better, it seems that under each of those layers we find something else unflattering about the character’s character. Yes, we are judging him and we find him wanting. Let’s break it down, shall we?: We always knew he’d married Cora for money (shades of Ethel), but somehow we forgave that. But then he cheated on her. And when she had the Spanish flu, he seemed to be concerned but left her in the care of O’Brien. There was The Jane Situation; he thwarted Edith’s chances with Sir Anthony, and now Matthew’s attempts at discussing the business of Downton are being met with dismissiveness – why? Is he afraid of what Matthew might have found? We know that last season Robert told maid Jane to see his ‘man of business’ for some sort of payoff when she left his employ. How many other goomahs are on the payroll? (It’s interesting to note that after all the mishegas about accepting the inheritance, Matthew is now referring to Reggie Swire’s bequest as, ‘my own fortune.’ That didn’t take long.) But back to Robert: Now we see that while, (he thinks) to his credit, he doesn’t want to use ‘thumbscrews or the rack’ on Catholics, he does refer to them as ‘Johnny Foreigners’ (i.e. not British). A simple and disappointing bigotry. Given that his first response to Sybil’s pregnancy was to lament having a Fenian grandchild, it seems that the real reason he blew his stack at her marriage plans was Branson’s religion as much as his station. And not for nothing but Lady Cora is a Johnny Foreigner too (and a Member of the Tribe to boot). What other layers are under there? If time marches forward in the next two seasons, and the Crawley story moves into the 1930’s, will Cora leave him as Downton hosts Sir Oswald Mosley or the Mitford Sisters? One wonders. And now Matthew is seeking help from Violet to save Downton in spite of him. Historians will note that the team of Matthew & the Dowager were the inspiration for the team of Wayland Flowers & Madame.

I Have Scaled These City Walls: Love Means Never Having to Say I Told You So
Tom appears to be the winner (and only participant) in the first Dublin Triathlon. Congratulations! You win a dressing down from your father-in-law and the disdain of your former fellow coworkers who judge you harshly for punching above your weight to begin with. While the Dowager seemed to think that Sinn Fein is the Irish version of Changing Rooms, and Drumgoole Castle’s neighbors merely gave them the usual hideous wallpaper and DIY gone horribly wrong, Mary grasps the horror and asks how he could do it, “They’re like us!” The call is coming from inside the house! That tame revolutionary isn’t so tame now, eh? We all know how much Lord Grantham hates it when reality from outside (or even inside) the gates of Downton disrupts his tea time and his denial (this is, of course, the same man who didn’t want to hear the doctor explain his wife Cora’s pregnancy in any detail); That’s why Tom’s well placed dart seemed to hit the bull’s-eye, ‘We all live in a harsh world, but at least I know I do.’ As for Sybil, what did she know and when did she know it? Given the escape plans they made, Sybil had to have known at least some of what was going on, though obviously not all. But it seems she’d given up more than financial security for her life with Tom. Remember that last season, Branson dismissed Sybil’s nursing job as ‘bringing tea to randy officers’, so when he says to her, ‘you’re very free with your musts’, we again see that side of him; the side that seems to think the equal rights this revolutionary is fighting for are fine in the abstract, but he doesn’t want them in his bed. In that way, he is more like Lord Grantham than he would ever care to admit.

She Works Hard For The Money: Give Her a Break Already
We finally find out what Ethel wanted: She thinks little Charlie would be better off with his grandparents – even without her – thinking they can give him a better life (ignoring the obvious fact that the same grandparents gave that world of opportunities to their own son, Major Bryant who, despite that, didn’t exactly turn out to be a model citizen). And, of course, Mr. Bryant and his moustache rain down all the judgment upon Ethel yet again – none on the man who got her pregnant. Natch. And Ethel is no match. Not anymore. The sassy old Ethel would have gone toe to toe with him, but she’s been beaten down by life and her confidence is gone. It’s that harsh world again, and Ethel is another one who knows she lives in it. It is also the biblical story of Solomon and the two mothers claiming the same baby: The one who was happy to cut the baby in half (Mr. Bryant), and the real mother, the one who sacrificed by offering to give the baby away rather than see him harmed – Ethel. If they really wanted to help, Mrs. Hughes or do-gooder Mrs. Crawley could have offered her a job instead of letting her walk off into uncertainty. Mrs. Hughes does need a housemaid. But if they hired her back at Downton, would everyone there be as rude to her as Mrs. Byrd? One hopes this isn’t the end of the story for Ethel. It would be satisfying, to see her make a success of herself and fight to get her son back. But this is 1920. FYI: In real life, Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Bryant are married. That is, the actress who plays Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), is married to the actor who plays Mr. Bryant (Kevin McNally). I guess that’s how she perfected the glare.

The Write Stuff: I Am Woman, Hear Me Get Up For Breakfast
Edith may just end up leading the most interesting life of the three Crawley sisters after all, and all it took was a well-placed kick in the tush from granny. Edith needs to find something to do, but what? What can she do? Wait! She can write letters! We know she likes to write letters. Now resigned to her life of spinsterhood after that jilting at the alter hurt her by ten thousand million times (clearly she got her math skills from her father’s side), and accepting that she won’t be spending her days redecorating the sitting room and planning menus, she is seeing the harsh glare of what fending for herself, in a manner of speaking, will be like. Not fending in the way that Ethel has too, but in many ways, much the same. For both Edith and Ethel, their options are defined and labeled by what the men in their lives decide to grant them, and despite the title ‘Lady’, without the title ‘Mrs.’, Edith has no standing. And Edith will not accept having no standing in society when sisters Marcia and Cindy do. The passage of the 19th amendment in the U.S. inspires her to write a letter to The Times demanding the vote for British women as well. Of course the ever-supportive Lord Grantham says it will never be published and tries to distract her, but she is changed for good. Note the look that washes across her face when Lord Grantham dismisses her political concerns and tells her to help her Mother with dinner plans. There is a definite change there. And her letter gets published! And just like that Lady Edith casts off the shackles of yesterday. What’s next? May we see Mrs. Pankhurst coming to Downton for tea? To Edith this grateful chorus says, well done Sister Suffragette! (Though given her schlimazel-y history, one hopes she stays away from the horses at the Epsom Derby or she might end up like Emily Davison!)

This week also saw the reappearance of the O’Brien apparition when she appeared as a shadow in the doorway of shirtless Jimmy James’ dressing room. We think she might have figured out her next chess move in her match with Thomas, and we’ll bet seven shillings she’ll be the first to find out what secret that pretty boy Jimmy James is hiding. But we’ll have to wait and see.

Dowager Countessdown

5. ‘No family is ever what it seems on the outside.’

4. ‘That house was hideous, but that’s no excuse.’

3. ‘Can somebody write that down?’

2. ‘He looks like a footman in a musical review.’

1. ‘You’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do!’

Another quote in the running was, ‘A guinea for a bottle of scent? Did he have a mask and a gun?’ Interesting to note that while the guinea (coin) was replaced by the pound sterling in the nineteenth century, it had an aristocratic association and was still used to indicate amounts up until the 1970’s. A guinea was the equivalent of 21 shillings (about £1.05) – and remember Daisy’s raise was just seven shillings – so that perfume cost about three times Daisy’s raise. Is it any wonder she’s so cranky?

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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