As part of my “write every day” project, I’ve decided to recap Season 3 of Downton Abbey. Won’t you watch and read along?
Laura Linney is way too excited to be introducing the two-hour season premiere of Downton Abbey. “We have been waiting for news about them ever since Matthew and Mary kissed under the stars in 1920.” Yes, we have been waiting 82 years and change to see what happened to them. Linney gushes on, “Tonight, we come back to the spellbinding magic of Downton Abbey.” Spellbinding magic? Who writes this crap?
Aaaaaand, here we go. DOG BUTT!!
We open in the church, where the Crawleys are rehearsing for Mary and Matthew’s wedding. For exposition’s sake, we learn that Sybil and Branson aren’t coming to the wedding because they’re skint, but Lord Grantham is cool with that because it is quite a scandal in the county that Lady Sybil has eloped to Ireland with the help. “What’s the big deal?” wonders Matthew’s mom, Isobel. “These country folk don’t have much to get excited about, Mom, so yeah, it’s a big deal when the earl’s daughter runs off with the chauffeur,” explains Matthew. “Well, they’re just going to have to get used to it,” says she. Truth.
Cut to Downton Abbey. Downstairs, Carson thinks that Mrs. Patmore has made a perfectly satisfying treacle tart. O’Brien looks sour (so, the more things change…). The servants are discussing the fact that Anna is preparing the Bates house to rent out, and Thomas thinks that it’s stupid that it hadn’t been seized when Bates was convicted. Carson gets all uppity, as you do when you’re Carson, and says, “in this house, Mr. Bates is a wronged man seeking justice, and if you don’t like it, you can eat in the yard.” OH SNAP.
Cut to Matthew’s house. Cora and Violet are explaining to Isobel why it’s better that Sybil and Branson aren’t returning for Mary’s wedding. “The family must never be a topic of conversation,” explains Violet, even though she doesn’t agree with Lord Grantham’s opinion that they should stay away. “If we can show the county that he can behave normally, they will lose interest in him. And I shall make sure he behaves normally because I shall hold his hand on the radiator until he does.” Hee hee! Violet, you’re so saucy. Isobel thinks Branson is an interesting addition to the family and reckons she’ll send them the money to attend the wedding. “Hell to the no!” says Cora. “It is forbidden by our Lord Grantham!!! He’ll be furious and eat our faces!”
Cut to Lord Grantham on the phone. Something’s up and he’s off to London first thing. Mary is concerned. [Lord, the way they splice together these episodes for broadcast in the States makes me feel like I am being forcefed ADHD. We are not all imbeciles over here, BBC! You don’t have to cram everything together and make it like the Fast and the Furious!] Downstairs, Anna and Mrs. Hughes have returned from London. O’Brien is sat in the same spot she was at lunch, still looking dour. (Is that what she does all day, sit at the table sourly? I do that for free. I didn’t know that could be a paid gig.) Carson is short a footman (RIP William), and O’Brien interjects hopefully that she’s had a letter from her sister inquiring after a job for her son. Carson interrupts with, “We are about to host a society wedding, I have no time for training young hobbledehoys. [Bell rings.] Her ladyship is ringing.” Cut to Cora’s room, where we see that O’Brien has gone behind Daddy’s back and asked Mommy for what she wants instead. Lord Grantham enters and Cora says, hey, we need a footman, O’Brien has a candidate, and because he’s distracted, Lord Grantham’s all, whatevs. I’m headed to London in the morning.
Cut to the Prison of Grayness. Anna has found an address book of Vera’s, blah blah boringcakes. Anna and Bates want to prove that Vera committed suicide so that he can be exonerated and they can go back to their footloose and fancy-free lives waiting on the aristocracy. That is all I will say about Anna and Bates in this recap.
Lord Grantham arrives in London and learns that he invested … and lost … nearly all his money in Canadian railways. Downton is in danger of being lost! Oh noes!
Poor Molesley askes Matthew whether they’ll be living in the Big House after the honeymoon, then gets his hopes of being Matthew’s valet after the marriage dashed when Matthew explains that he’d always thought of him as a butler helping out as a valet. Poor Molesley. That’s got to hurt coming from the guy who was too above accepting help from Molesley either as a butler or a valet when he first arrived at Downton. I’m not sure how these relationships work, but it seems like a particular insult to Poor Molesley when Matthew tells him that he’d rather live more simply and leave the servants to his mother. Ouch.
Lord Grantham is chagrined to learn that Carson’s hired a new footman. O’Brien’s extremely tall nephew, Alfred. “None more shall pass!” he screams. “Turn off those lights! Close the door, are we air conditioning the whole neighborhood?! DO YOU PEOPLE THINK MONEY GROWS ON TREES?!?!?!!!”
At dinner, Alfred bends over in half to serve Violet some potatoes. “Are you really that tall? I thought you might be walking on stilts.” We learn that Alfred’s got a bit of a learning curve transitioning from a hotel to the private dining rooms of the aristocracy, not realizing that in this context, the diners prefer to serve themselves from the dish he’s holding. Bless. And Isobel is so kind about it. I just love her and her gracious efforts to humanize the servants, even though it is a bit less subtle than the way Violet and her kin do it. In this same scene, we learn what’s at stake if Lord Grantham loses Downton: the village depends on the estate for employment. “An aristocrat with no servants is about as much use to the county as a glass hammer,” quips Violet. Lord Grantham goes a bit green around the gills.
Another hasty edit shows a car pulling up and a (supposedly pregnant) Sybil gets out, rushes to Lord Grantham and says, “please tell me you sent us the money.” “What money?” he grumps. “DID SOMEONE SEND THESE PEOPLE MONEY?!?! WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!?!?!” Face eating commences. (Not really; Cora makes a sweet gesture in welcoming Tom to Downton, Carson gives him the cold shoulder, etc.)
At Crawley house, Matthew explains to Isobel that he may be the heir to Lavinia Swire’s father’s fortune (“a huge amount” of money). He’s third in line, the first guy’s dead, and they can’t find the second candidate because he’s conveniently disappeared in India (as one does). I WONDER WHERE THIS STORYLINE WILL GO.
At dinner, the family and servants torment Branson by asking about whether he owns a morning coat (why the hell would he own a morning coat? Last I checked, most journalists, especially those from a working-class background, don’t have much need for extremely formal wear, and Mary, you turd, why do you think he would be able to afford to buy a “Downton wardrobe” to have on hand for the rare occasions they travel to England? THEY COULDN’T EVEN AFFORD TO MAKE THIS TRIP!!!! I like Mary, but the willful, classist ignorance she displays in this scene is infuriating, if only because it’s wildly insensitive to Sybil). Meanwhile, Carson holds the serving platter too high for Branson to serve himself. Ugh. This whole scene is just nasty. Branson goes downstairs to pay his respects to his former coworkers: Mrs. Hughes and Anna are gracious, Carson is imperious and, after Branson exits, is incensed that he had the nerve to refer to Mary by her name. “He’d better learn to play by their rules.”
Matthew and Mary discuss whether he will keep the Swire fortune if he is indeed the heir. This is really already a tired source of conflict for these two. Meanwhile, Lord Grantham reveals to Cora that her entire fortune has been lost and breaks down crying. “Don’t worry about me, I’m an American. Have gun, will travel,” she says soothingly, even though that might be more confusing than comforting.
Cut to village, with Matthew coming upon Branson exiting the local pub, where he’s checked in because he feels too alienated to stay in the house. Matthew convinces him to come back to the Big House because “we’re brothers-in-law with high-minded wives. We’ve got to stick together.” I sort of love this alliance, and I hope that the writers show more of this relationship over the course of the season.
It’s night and the Granthams are enjoying cocktails. Matthew’s best man has fallen ill. I WONDER WHOM HE WILL ASK TO REPLACE HIM? Branson is chatting with young Gray, whom Sir Anthony the Ancient observes slipping something into Branson’s drink that makes him belligerent at dinner. “Mr. Gray has given my brother-in-law something to make him appear drunk,” announces Mary, the sharpest mind in the room. “Is it drink?” murmurs Violet, who wins this scene. Quite frankly, this whole scene is ridiculous and I feel embarrassed for everyone involved (apart from Violet’s obligatory zinger). Of course, this provides ample opportunity for Matthew to announce that he wants Branson to be his best man. I mean, I love their burgeoning bromance, but this scene sucks. The following scene in which Violet and Isobel force Branson into a morning coat, despite his opinion that it is “the uniform of oppression.” Now this scene is a charming reminder that both Branson and Matthew, even as a team, are no match for The Grantham Rules.
Back at the Abbey, Shirley Maclaine arrives in an astonishingly gorgeous and modern gold-and-black fur-trimmed overcoat and coordinating hat. I read in Entertainment Weekly that the way Mrs. Levinson is dressed signals that she looks to the future, which, unfortunately, the script reminds us again and again and again and again. Conversely, the way Violet dresses signals that she adheres to tradition and the past, which the script reminds us again and again and again and again. I wish the writers of this show would give its viewers a bit more credit in terms of things like semiotics and critical thinking. But that’s not what soaps do, I reckon. (She’s also brought Eyebrows the Maid with her, who is nearly as uppity as she is.)
(Speaking of costumes, as a middle-aged lady with a spare tire, I am extremely glad that the dropped-waist style of the ‘20s is not in favor these days. This show reiterates that only the willowiest among us can pull off that look.)
Matthew and Mary quarrel over the fact that he refuses to accept the Swire fortune, even though it would save Downton. Super melodramatic. Meanwhile, Violet and Mrs. Levinson greet each other, Mrs. Levinson saying, “The war has made old women of us both!” “Oh, not me,” says Violet. “I stay out of the sun.” This is a joke that gets carried through until they suck all the joy out of it.
Branson goes to talk Matthew into reconciling with Mary. They say something along the lines of “Blah, blee, bloo, blah, blah, bloobity, blah, bloop, remember?” and kiss with their eyes closed (because seeing each other before the wedding would be bad luck). EXCEPT MARY TOTALLY OPENS HER EYES, YOU GUYS. I WONDER IF THAT WILL COME BACK TO BITE HER IN HER TINY BUTT!!
Wedding day! I was intrigued by the three little girls Mrs. Hughes and O’Brien were escorting to the car (Hughes being her sweet and nurturing self, O’Brien barking, “Settle down!”). Are they village girls? Was that a thing? Anyhoo, Mary looks skinny and sort of dull in her wedding finery. Despite this, both Lord Grantham and Carson are awestruck as she walks down. The composition of this shot is quite interesting, because Carson is in the center of the screen, while Lord Grantham is in the left third. When the shot is on the two men, the eye is drawn to Carson, which I think privileges his emotional reaction and therefore his relationship with Mary, rather than that between father and daughter. It’s not been a secret that Mary and Carson are close, but so are Mary and Lord Grantham. I almost think that this places Carson and Lord Grantham on equal footing as far as Mary is concerned.
Mary rides through town as the villagers cheer. There is super-cute bunting in the trees. I love bunting. Mary walks down the aisle, she and Matthew engage in murmured repartee and … that’s it. The end of the wedding scene. THE HELL?!?!?! This is the moment that the series has been building up to and WE DON’T EVEN GET TO SEE THE DAMN WEDDING?!?!?!! Surely there was more of this scene in the UK broadcast. This is just unforgivable.
Cut to Chapter 5, Matthew and Mary return from honeymoon in a flash car. “How was the honeymoon?” asks Lord Grantham. “My eyes have been opened,” murmurs Matthew. “Don’t I know it,” replies Grantham. EW EW EW EW EW EW EW.
At dinner, Mrs. Levinson hoovers dessert while everyone else waits; she natters on about how she loves the sun (“That we can see,” cats Violet, then suggesting under her breath to her son that “no guest should be admitted without their date of departure set.”). Downstairs, Edgar reports that not only did Mrs. Levinson eat the offal Mrs. Patmore prepared, that he reckoned she’d eat anything set before her. “What a gob,” he exclaims, before realizing that Eyebrows is right behind him. (People are always being caught out talking smack about the person — or their representative — who just happens to be walking up behind them.) Meanwhile, Daisy alerts Mrs. Patmore to the fact that the oven is malfunctioning. “It’s a bad workman who blames his tools,” clucks Mrs. P. Which makes this the second time in a week I’ve heard this expression (the other time was on the TWoP boards in re: Top Chef). Mrs. Hughes pops in and asks Mrs. P to spare a moment for her.
Word is beginning to spread among the family that the estate is in trouble. “If only we had some coal or iron or tin,” laments Violet. “Well, I can think of someone who has plenty of tin,” says Mary, giving the hairy eyeball to her American grandmother Levinson. And thus commences the campaign of the two ladies Grantham to convince Mrs. Levinson to fork over more cash for Downton. Bo-ring.
Back downstairs, we see that Mrs. Patmore has just confirmed that Mrs. Hughes has a lump in her breast. Mrs. P informs her friend that it must be seen to and that she won’t be alone if she doesn’t want to be. “And then this expense,” sniffles Mrs. Hughes. “Well, if you’re going to pay money, better to a doctor than an undertaker,” is Mrs. P’s totally endearing and pragmatic answer. I just love my Mrs. P., and it’s when the show portrays friendships like this that it truly shines.
Blah blahblah Edith and Sir Anthony the Ancient, and blah blah blah Anna and Bates. Here is Edith with googly eyes:
Matthew discovers that Edgar has accidentally burned a hole in his tails, which means he’ll wear a less formal jacket to dinner. I only mention this because it becomes a joke later. Mr. Carson fusses at Mrs. Hughes, who is grappling with her own mortality, and tells her to pull her weight, woman!
I’ve gotta say, apart from the Mrs. Hughes storyline, this part of the premiere is kinda dull. Mary and Violet are planning an extravagant dinner (“Nothing succeeds like excess,” says Violet) to prove to Mrs. Levinson that Downton is important and worth saving, and the narratives will all converge on this event: O’Brien takes revenge on Thomas by stealing Lord Grantham’s dress shirts, Matthew’s tails don’t return from London in time for the big dinner, and the failing stove gives out completely on the night of the dinner, leaving the party with no food. Both Matthew and Lord Grantham are forced to wear black tie instead of white tie, and Mrs. Levinson saves the party by throwing a picnic! In the house! Because she is PROGRESSIVE!!!
Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes’ test on the the cyst are inconclusive, Eyebrows and Alfred steal a kiss, and Edith is thrown over and then reconciled with Sir Anthony the Ancient. Mrs. Levinson, who is PROGRESSIVE AND FORWARD-LOOKING informs Mary and Violet that she can’t touch the capital of her late husband’s money, but that these large houses like Downton are relics anyway. But Mary feels entitled to be the mistress of Downton Abbey, not Downton Lovely Craftsman Bungalow. Downsizing and belt-tightening are not in her cards, thankyouverymuch! An interesting line of inquiry for a show about the aristocracy, written in an era of austerity measures around the world.
Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. What did I miss? What did you notice? I’d love to hear your thoughts/comments/responses/observations in the comments.