WARNING! SPOILER ALERT in the body of this review and comments of the Downton Abbey Finale of Season Three. If you have not seen the last installment, please view the 7th episode online at this link. I deliberately kept the incriminating images at the back of this post. Readers who comment can leave their honest assessments, for the 4th season will not be aired in the U.K. until next fall.
What did you think? Did Julian Fellowes leave us with a cliffhanger or a major downer? How will this latest catastrophic development change Season 4 and the actions of major characters? I must admit to some RELIEF that the 3rd season of Downton Abbey has finally ended. I’ve not been on such a roller coaster ride since I last visited our local amusement park, one minute loving the story lines and the next minute loathing certain plot developments. One thing is for certain, the popularity of DA is here to stay as long as Julian Fellowes continues to provide us with such lively and unpredictable entertainment. And, now, my rather cryptic thoughts on Downton Abbey Season Three, Episode Seven:
An interlude in Scotland
An excuse for a change of scenery means a road trip to Scotland. This episode was divided between Downton Abbey with the servants and Duneagle Castle in Scotland with the Crawley family. Lord Grantham described the annual visit to the Highlands as the highlight of his year. (The war and Sybil’s death had prevented the Crawleys from visiting in previous seasons.) Viewers now understand why Lady Rose made her appearance in the last episode, for her family are close to the Crawleys. This segueway to the Highlands is a means to get Rose to Downton Abbey – as a replacement for Sybil? One shudders.
Mrs. Patmore’s pasties entice a Lothario
No sooner had Mr. Tufton the new shopkeeper, smelled the enticing aroma of Mrs. Patmore’s cooking and sampled a few of her dishes than his mind was made up – he would woo her until she was installed as his wife/personal cook in his kitchen.
Mrs. Patmore , flattered by his not so subtle attentions, simpers like a 16-year-old girl at all the testosterone aimed her way. She purchases a pretty new blouse for her date with the first man to pay court to her in decades and cheers him on in the rope pulling contest (which the men of Downton win.)
Upon seeing Mrs. Patmore all gussied up for the day, Mr. Tufton comes on as strong as a jack hammer: “I hope you don’t mind if I say so Mrs Patmore, but in that blouse you look like you stepped off the pages of Vogue”. This doesn’t fool Mrs. Hughes one bit. “You are free with your compliments,” she observes. And he replies tellingly: “I love to be in love Mrs Hughes. I’ll not deny it. Any time, any place, I love to be in love!”
But Mrs. Hughes wasn’t born yesterday. Tufton’s not so subtle moves on other women at the fair doesn’t escape her knowing gaze.
Like a true friend Mrs Hughes summons the cook to her quarters and reveals the unpleasant truth. Instead of stomping out of the housekeeper’s quarters, Mrs. Patmore giggles, saying: “It was the cookin’ he was after and not me. I never felt such relief in my life. The more he said about how he liked his beef roasted, his eggs fried, and his pancakes flipped, then the more I wanted out and get away.”
It is side stories like this one, filled with colorful characters, comedy, and a glimpse of the life of ordinary mortals, that elevate Downton Abbey from the mundane to the fabulous.
Love is All Around You
Romance is in the air for a number of Downton’s inhabitants. Bates and his Anna kiss by a babbling brook and she learns the reel for him.
Dr. Clarkson reaches the inevitable conclusion – that Isobel Crawley would make a perfect wife. Isobel likes their platonic friendship and discourages the doc from declaring himself. But after this episode’s awful ending, one can conclude that Isobel will need the doctor’s substantial shoulders and his considerable support to get over Matthew’s sudden demise.
Thomas sacrifices his pretty face to save Jimmy’s after the Downton men win a tug of war. If that isn’t love, what is?
Michael Gregson and Edith: “He’s brought his pencils and his rods what’s wrong with that?
This is the most improbable subplot in the season finale. Michael Gregson, fishing rod in hand, rushes to Scotland and finagles an invitation to Duneagle. His motive? To convince the Crawleys that he’s a decent chap despite his batty wife in the belfry.
It’s a good thing that Edie has low self-esteem or else she would have been spooked off him from the beginning. The family is not very receptive. Michael wants them to get to know him – the real him – so that the Crawleys can see that he’s the perfect man for Edie, with just one teensy little flaw.
This subplot had more in common with One Life to Live than Downton Abbey. Our Edie deserves better.
Michael: I thought if they knew me, if they came to like me, they might find it easier to be on my side. My basic fact is that I am in love with you. Really and truly. Cross my heart and hope to die.
Edith: And I want to be in yours. But this visit of yours is so creepy, I can’t see a happy ending.
Nothing stops Michael. Having made a tepid impression on Robert and Mary, who refuses to open her eyes, he makes a move on Matthew.
But his appeal to Matthew’s sense of romance doesn’t get very far (the dialogue is priceless; how can one make fun of it?):
Michael: Does the law expect me to have no life at all until I die? Would Lord Grantham?
Matthew: You can’t expect that he would want you to involve his own daughter, what when all you have to offer her is a job as your own mistress.
Michael: No, I love her. I’m offering my love.
Matthew: You’ve been misled by our surroundings. We’re not in a novel by Walter Scott.
Edith will not be put off when Michael tries to say his goodbyes, saying, “It’s odd. If you’d asked me before tonight how I felt about you I’m not sure what I would have answered, but now I’m absolutely sure, and this is NOT our last evening.” Ah, our rebellious Edith. Will she live in sin with this man? Set fire to the asylum in which his wife is housed? Carry on as usual and be dangled on a string for life? This improbable plot twist is not what we had hoped for Edith. These scenes seemed so contrived. I do hope that Julian Fellowes gets this relationship back on track in Season 4, for it had such an interesting start.
Edna and Tom
The title should actually read “A Brazen Maid Sets Her Sights on Tom.”
Tom, the new estate manager, lives in limbo. His position is much like that of a governess – he belongs nowhere, not with the servants and not with the family. Case in point, when the Crawleys dash off to Scotland, Tom remains behind, eating alone and thinking of his dead wife, Sybil, who is missed by one and all. Leaving Tom alone to supervise the estate worries Violet:
Violet: Do you think it is wise to leave him here unsupervised?
Cora: What do you mean?
Violet: Well I know he’s housebroken, more or less, but I don’t want freedom to go to his head.
Isobel: I’ll keep an eye on him.
But the one keeping her eye on him is Edna, the new maid.
After the Crawleys leave for Scotland, Branson is seen walking, eating, and sleeping alone in the house in scenes reminiscent of Jack Nicholson several months into winter in The Shining. Edna pops up wherever he goes – at the pub, in a room, in the hallway - smart, fresh, and pretty. Each time she hones in on Branson like a heat-seeking missile.
For a supervised maid, Edna seems to have a lot of free time to stalk Branson without a reprimand. While Branson’s intrigued, he is a male after all, Edna cannot make him forget his misery over Sybil’s death. When Mrs Hughes cautions him about getting involved with the help, he blurts out his misery.
Like a mother hen, Mrs. Hughes, who gets better with each season, comforts Branson and fires Edna, who is obviously not cut out of maid-of-all work cloth.
A Tale of Two Marriages: Shrimpie and Susan vs Robert and Cora
We don’t really care about Shrimpie and Susan, the Marquess and Marchioness of Flintshire, who have an awful marriage, but we do care about Cora and Robert. If the earl and his countess needed proof that their marriage was on solid footing, then Shrimpie and Susan, who have tired of each other over the years, provide it.
The marquess and his marchioness are stuck with each other, despite the absence of passion and lack of mutual respect. Worse, Shrimpie has squandered his inheritance by following the traditional route of estate management, which bankrupted him. He praises Robert for his modern thinking and for making smart choices. Robert is more grateful than ever for Matthew’s good sense.
Shrimpie’s solution out of his financial predicament is to take a post in Bombay, where he and Susan will live in couples hell, and leave Rose with the Crawleys for her coming out.
The contrast between the two aristocratic couples couldn’t be greater. While Susan and her husband quarrel over every minor detail, the earl begins to appreciate what he has. He gives his Cora a passionate kiss and recognizes Matthew’s part in his success. “Downton will survive because of Matthew’s vision and now I give thanks for him.” Even if many of us didn’t know ahead of time that Matthew was about to meet his Maker, these sentences act like sign posts: Matthew’s gonna die. Matthew’s gonna die.
Matthew and Mary
The dialogue between Mary and Matthew hinted of a less than happy ending because they have never been so happy before. She’s soft and amorous. He simply can’t resist patting her on her bump and giving her compliments left and right. They coo and ooh and ah all over each other…
… so that their love talk is beyond sugary. Mary to Matthew: “You think me nice, but nobody else does. What makes you sure I am? Matthew: “Because I’ve seen you naked.” The dialogue makes even the most clueless viewer wonder – What’s going on? Why the chemistry all of a sudden?
At eight months pregnant, Mary feels safe traveling to Scotland, but makes a mistake in joining the picnic. “I was stupid to go”, she says later, “we were shaken about like dice in a cup.” Which, as everyone knows, is code for early labor.
After Mary’s twinges start, she rushes back to Yorkshire to have her baby, telling Matthew he can join her later with the rest of the Crawley gang.
Alone and about to give birth prematurely, Mary confesses: “I feel I’m only half myself without him.”
The doomsday clock is ticking more loudly.
Matthew arrives to view his son and heir. “My darling, how are you really?” he asks. “Tired and pretty relieved. Just think, we’ve done our duty. Downton is safe. We have an heir, and as soon as I get out of bed we can work on the spare.”
Tick tock tick tock.
Matthew is giddy with delight holding his little chap and waxing eloquently about teaching his son cricket and estate maintenance.
And now we hear the dialogue that seals the doom deal:
Mary: “I hope I’m allowed to be your Mary Crawley for all eternity.
Matthew: “You’ll be my Mary always because mine is the true Mary.
Mary: “Ever wonder how happy you have made me?”
Matthew: “Right now I want to tell you that I fall more in love with you every day that passes.”
It’s a wonder that lightning doesn’t come out of the blue and strike him then and there.
Mary asks for a decent kiss before sending her beloved away to collect her family. Life couldn’t be more perfect for our happy couple. But this is Downton Abbey and no one is allowed to remain blissfully happy for long.
Sybil’s death scene lasted 10-15 minutes, giving viewers time to prepare for her unhappy end. But with Matthew’s the viewers were robbed.
One moment he is rejoicing in the birth of his heir, the next moment he is dead in some roadside ditch. End of episode. End of the season. PBS immediately switches to a fund appeal to capitalize on their stupified viewers. I felt cheated.
The camera lingers on the shocking scene for a few micro seconds before cutting to the Crawley’s drawing-room, where the family placidly awaits Matthew’s arrival.
As he lies dying in the road, Violet says appropriately: “We don’t always get our just desserts.” Which is exactly how the viewers are starting to feel.
Mary, who is happily expecting the arrival of her family, says of her husband: “Tell Mr Matthew he must wait his turn, he’s seen the baby and they haven’t.”
I wonder if that statement will come back to haunt her! Two major characters killed off this season. Life in Downton Abbey land is unfair!
Please vote in the poll or leave your considered thoughts about this episode and the third season. Will you return to view Season 4?
All images via PBS Pressroom.