Downton Abbey: Season 3 Wrap-Up

Deborah Gilbert | March 4, 2013

It’s hard out there for a Downtonian. The end of Downton Abbey’s season 3 would have been upsetting enough without the double-whammy of Matthew’s little mishap. Clearly, no one ever fully explained to Matthew the most important aspect of the whole ‘stop and smell the roses’ concept (i.e. first, STOP.)  These last couple of weeks have found you all coping (or not) in a myriad of ways: Not only has THIRTEEN’s Member and Viewer Relations Department received many angry letters, phone calls, emails, tweets, etc., we’ve heard stories of bereft Downtonians sobbing uncontrollably in the middle of business meetings; wandering the streets mumbling incoherently about cricket; and most disturbingly, hanging around dog parks, wistfully staring at the wagging doggy bums. What’s a downtrodden Downtonian to do? Let’s review…

Good night Sweetheart: All Good Things Must Come to an End
And what a season it was: It was the season when O’Brien chopped off her noodle bangs and lost her super-human strength — no longer infallibly evil. Even though she caused major mischief, she was upended in the end with a slippery little blast from the past. It was the season that Sybil, the Crawley who cared the least about all this titles business, ironically, lost her life because of her father’s pig-headed adherence to the importance of said titles. It was the season when all the old age pensioners almost got their freak on. It was the season we saw a humanity in Thomas and actually started to feel sorry for him, instead of just loathe him. It was the season Molesley threw his hands in the air like he just didn’t care. It was the season we went to Kellerman’s — though, oddly, the R&B soundtrack was replaced by bagpipes. It was the season Lord Grantham’s self-pity knew no bounds and modernity started to push back against his denial in earnest. It was the season the on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again marriage of Mary and Matthew was on-again, and the baby quest was off to the races.  And it was the season it became crystal clear that Downton Abbey is really just a big snow globe that Violet shakes at will.

You Shoulda Put a Ring On It: The Accidental Feminist
One supposes it doesn’t matter how she got there in the end, just that she got there. Edith grew up benefitting from the patriarchal society and never really pushed against its constraints until she stopped benefitting from it herself. After Sir Anthony ran for the hills, she assessed her situation, and finally felt the full weight of its limitations for her life, maybe for the first time. That might make her more pragmatist than feminist, but at least it’s a start. She is becoming her own person, but like everyone else in the Crawley family firm, she is still tethered to the money. It is not surprising that a family whose whole reason for existence is about image, would overlook the member who doesn’t present the perfect, pretty one. But Edith’s continual dismissal by Lord Grantham prompts a question: Does he know about her long-ago letter to the Turkish Ambassador? In every drama there are secrets: There are secrets that we know but the characters don’t, and there are secrets that the characters know but we don’t. Violet once said that she hates Greek drama, when everything happens off-stage, but some things at Downton do happen off-stage (like Mary’s wedding and Sybil’s funeral). So even though we never saw Mary tell anyone else about Edith’s letter, after she confronted her in Season 1, that doesn’t mean that Mary kept it to herself. After all, information is currency and Lady Mary has always been about the currency. And if she did tell Lord Grantham, that could explain his continual undermining of Edith, the one who let down the side yet again. But one thing we do know: Matthew didn’t tell Mary about Gregson’s wife, so that secret went with him. How long will it stay a secret and what happens from here as Edith’s awakening continues, will (hopefully) be the stuff of Season 4.

Still Waters: What Becomes of the Broken Hearted
Lady Mary has always been about expectation. As she is played, so brilliantly by Michelle Dockery, she is so glassily still on the surface that even the most subtle shift in her brow speaks volumes. When we first met her, as the first born of Lord Grantham, she thought she should have been the true heir to Downton and all that comes with it. She has got the sense of entitlement that comes with her position, the old money and her looks, but also the limitations. Though her limitations are different than her father’s: She is much smarter. She has to be to navigate her biggest limitation: Being female. She has to play the game, find a position – not earn a position – but marry one. Despite everything that she has been given, she never really does get what she wants – at least, not for long. And with the death of Matthew, she’ll now never get what she wanted most, to be the mistress of Downton. She’ll go from being Lady Mary to being the Dowager as Downton passes to her son. Maybe that is appropriate because in countenance, sharpness of tongue, and Machiavellian tendencies, we really can see the young Violet in her. Lady Mary resembles Violet more than anyone else in her family. But despite all her haughtiness, one of the most consistent aspects of Mary is that her emotional life has always been in two worlds. It could be that the most important and longest lasting relationships in her life are with Anna and Carson. She has no other friend like Anna. They are separate and unequal, but we have never seen any conflict between them over this. It was never mentioned that Anna spent much of the season wearing Mary’s hand-me-downs, she just was. And Mary has no other unconditional love like Carson, and unlike Robert, he was never disappointed she wasn’t a son. They are her real family in the ways that really matter. We would expect that to remain the same as the story goes forward. What will happen when Anna wants to start a family of her own?

Matthew We Hardly Knew Ye: And in the End, The Love You Take is Equal to the Love You Make
People do realize, don’t they, that Julian Fellowes killed a fictional TV character, not an actual person, right? From what I’ve read about the reactions from fans both here and in the UK, it seems lucky for Lord Fellowes that the current Monarch doesn’t have the same powers as Henry VIII, or his head would be on the chopping block. But I’ve read Lord Fellowes’ explanation for why the character had to die and why it had to be then, and I completely agree. There really was no other choice. With Dan Stevens leaving, there was no other logical way for Matthew to exit the stage. As much as we will miss Matthew,  this could actually be good for the show, which will now be in its final two seasons. Matthew began our Downton journey as our representative in this foreign land of Aristocracy. Like us, he was the outsider looking in. Through his eyes we saw both its ridiculosity and its tempting pull. But in the end he became an insider, so going forward he would not have served the same function to the storyline as he had before. His exit, while sad, brings with it new dramatic possibilities. I think that no matter how big a Downton fan any of us are, after going through the stages of grief, we’ll get over it and move on, as does the story.

But the immediate reactions to Matthew’s death were out-sized and a bit crazy. I’d seen the negative press and ‘fan’ comments directed towards the show, as well as Dan Stevens – for being the guy who broke up the band, so I thought I’d write him a letter of support. In the letter, that I dropped off at the stage door when he was appearing on Broadway, I wrote, in part, ‘I saw just part of the uproar and I’m guessing that you’re getting a bit of the Yoko Ono Treatment from people upset at your leaving. I suppose that is a testimony to you, as well as Julian Fellowes, that you’ve created this character that people care so much about and are so upset to lose. It would be awful if you left and nobody cared… So I hope you’re OK with it all!’ A few days later I got home from work and found a hand-written letter in my mailbox from Dan Stevens himself (his mama done raised him right!) In it, he said, in part, ‘I very much appreciate your support and encouragement, especially at a time when I am fielding a lot of quite negative feedback! I am excited about the future and am glad that you are too!’

You’ve got to feel bad for a guy who is doing what he thinks is best for his career and family and is met with a backlash. Hi-diddle-dee-dee, at times like these an actor’s life wouldn’t be for me. Imagine if you wanted to leave your job and a mob was screaming that you had no right – you had to keep the job they wanted you to have. It’s pretty weird. I wish Dan the best and look forward to seeing him in other things in the future – hopefully even on Masterpiece! Our Downton Abbey has survived a lot in these last eight years: Financial ruin and war; heartbreak and prison sewing circles; the Spanish flu and the American mother-in-law; and this too shall pass.

Ouija This: I See a Tall Stranger…
So, what is to come in Season 4? We don’t know, but while we are impatiently waiting for January 2014 to roll around, we can have some fun speculating, can’t we? Lord Fellowes has said he won’t take the story into the 1930’s, and will be ending the series with Season 5, which one supposes is a good thing. It’s always best to leave the audience wanting more instead of looking at their watch – so it looks like we will be leaving our friends at Downton before The Great Depression hits (when, no doubt, the Stock Market crash bankrupts Lord Grantham yet again and he is forced to sell a controlling interest in Downton to Daisy). Then again, wouldn’t it be fun if, a few years from now, after he’s had a bit of a rest, Lord Fellowes gets an itch to pick up the story of the Crawleys again? (Masterpiece’s Upstairs, Downstairs sequel anyone?) Maybe jump forward eighteen or twenty years to when Mary, Edith and Sybil’s children are coming of age? Of course, Edith has no child yet and her only romantic prospect is her technically married editor, Michael Gregson, but I say, who cares about the crazy wife? He’s got a pulse – she should go for it! She could have a long-term affair and illegitimate child with him, and the child will (no doubt) grow up with a chip on her shoulder to match that of her Mum’s. Then again, maybe not a her, maybe a him – a son to be a bitter rival to Mary’s son and heir (while baby Sybil grows up as their mediator until she runs off with the son of Bates and Anna). Lord & Lady Grantham could still be living there, as well as Mary and Edith. Carson, Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore would likely be retired and living out their years being cared for on the estate.  And who knows, Britain’s Queen Mum lived to be 102, so maybe the Dowager could be wheeled in to toss around a bon mot every once in a while. It’s something to think about as we stare into the abyss of the long, off-season.

Oh yeah, and one other thing to think about in the Downton Abbey off-season: PBS has announced a bit of casting news for Season 4, and there are two items of particular interest; one, Shirley MacLaine will be back, and two, Nigel Harman, who EastEnders fans know as the dishy Dennis Rickman, will be joining the cast as a member of the downstairs staff. Is that a bit of salve for your wound, or what?

Downton City Marathon: Run to Your Telly!
Fortunately, THIRTEEN understands that we Downtonians cannot simply go cold turkey at the end of a season. So this coming Sunday, March 10, they are running a marathon of the entirety of Season 3 — every episode, back-to-back, all day long – from 12 noon until 11PM. That’s right, you’ll be treated to ten whole hours of Downtony goodness! Can you stand it?

As with any marathon, there will be some training and preparation involved – as well as some necessary carbo-loading. You’ll need to lay in some supplies, and have your cook fix you up with some tea and scones with jam, and maybe some finger sandwiches. And for those difficult moments, like when Sybil dies again or Bates has to march in circles again, have your butler prepare by decanting a bottle of red from the cellar. Maybe play a drinking game: Every time someone walks in on someone else without knocking, have a glass. You’ll be blotto in no time.

Of course, one supposes that all this Downton-based splendor might put a few of you in a fix, what with Sunday being the servant’s day off for many, and pesky family members selfishly demanding your attention – displaying a wanton disregard for your ‘Me Time’. How does one extract oneself from such situations to have the freedom to lock oneself away with the telly for ten hours on a Sunday afternoon? Might I suggest you think to yourself, WWTDD (What Would The Dowager Do?)? Then just throw some Cheerios on the floor and bolt the door behind you! You’ll now be free to put your feet up and enjoy!

The Great Beyond: Shop Til You Drop
Masterpiece has another mini-series in store (no pun intended) for us: Mr. Selfridge, starring Jeremy Piven (from HBO’s Entourage). It’s the story of the creation of London’s famed Selfridge’s department store. I’ve already seen the first episode and I think you’re going to love it. I wouldn’t compare it to Downton Abbey, even though it begins in the same era Downton did. I think it has a feel to it that is more like the recent Upstairs Downstairs. It turns out that the British institution, Selfridge’s, was founded by an American, who was quite a character; He was the P.T. Barnum of department stores who managed to create this grand and (for its’ time) ground-breaking store from nothing but ideas and showmanship. From what I’ve seen, it’s fun!  Mr. Selfridge airs Sundays, March 31 through May 19. Watch a preview here.

And please keep checking back here as well. With the end of the Downton Abbey season, the title of this blog changes to ‘Dispatch From the Downton Abbey Diaspora’, and just like last year, I’ll be coming to you once or twice a month with updates and other juicy tidbits about British telly on PBS. So please join me and join in the discussion!

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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