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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.

Tug of War. Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Tug of War. Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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:

Off to Duneagle in Scotland. redit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Off to Duneagle in Scotland. redit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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.

redit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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.

DA3_7_3

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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.

Matthew’s Death

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.

Matthew's last moments. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Matthew’s last moments. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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.

DA3_7_2

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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.

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The Downton Abbey of seasons past is back, warts and all. Last night viewers were treated to a 120-minute episode of pure Downton Abbey-isms, with Violet spewing her wisdom left and right, character development galore, only an occasional plot twist that stretched the story line into unbelievable territory, Tom Branson as super hero, and even a glimmer of passion ‘tween the sheets twixt Mary and Matthew. So let’s dive in, shall we?

All bow down and hail Bates’s release from prison!

Thank you Julian Fellowes for putting an end to our misery. I had reached a point where I didn’t care if Bates rotted in prison for the rest of his life. This week we were treated to Bates and his Anna sitting side by side, walking side by side, and painting side by side. Their tepid kisses told me that they should stop taking lessons from Mary and Matthew and embark on another steamy honeymoon night.

Ethel and her miasmic scarlet letter washed clean

It’s becoming clear to Violet that: “Ethel is notorious in the village.”
“I don’t think so”, replies Isobel, who will counter her nemesis any time, any where, even at the price of being wrong. Violet always has the upper hand: “I know so. You have touched this house by a miasma of scandal … “

In this episode the two battle axes are at it in full force. Violet shows no quarter, even to the hapless Ethel, who ventures to brag after receiving a compliment about her cooking from Isobel: “These days a working woman must have a skill.”

To which Violet replies:  “But you seem to have so many.”

Our dowager does have a heart and even keener powers of observation. Noticing Ethel’s extreme unhappiness at her treatment in the village, she joins forces with Mrs. Hughes and Isobel to remove the fallen woman from her scene of social crime to another position in another village. Violet places an advertisement in Ethel’s name “to wash her clean.” But the only appealing offer comes from a Mrs. Watson near Cheadle, a village tantalizingly near her son, Charlie, and the Bryans. who are raising him. This is when Violet comes to the rescue!

She invites Mrs. Bryan, who, in defiance of her meany of a husband, encourages Ethel to accept the position, for she feels “uncomfortable keeping a mother separated from her son.” With Ethel working nearby, she can see how Charlie is getting on, and later, much later, reveal that she is his mother.

Lady Rose’s nubility vs the Downton nobility

Let’s see. Lady Rose’s mama is Violet’s niece and godchild. Lady Rose is 18. She is pretty. She is a flapper and a trendsetter, for her wardrobe is years ahead of its time. She is also a liar and a sneak and (blush) the girlfriend of a slimy married man with a house in Warwick Square. This minx’s sole reason for appearing on DA is to spice things up, and I must admit she is more interesting than that dishrag, Lavinia Swire. (Will she hook up with Branson, super man, in future episodes? Curious minds want to know.)

Before the nubile Rose is packed off to her family’s estate in Scotland in July, she will stay with Violet at the Dower House. When questioned if she was capable of keeping such a young girl gainfully occupied and interested, our stalwart dowager replied: “The thing is to keep smiling and never to look as if you disapprove.”

Somehow Rose finagles her great aunt into letting her go to London with Edith so that she can arrange a surprise for darling mummy. Matthew also needs to go there on some mysterious business, and so, like the lion, tin man and Dorothy, the three of them start off for Aunt Rosamund’s place.

Once there, Rose makes her escape in a taxi and disappears ’round the bend. The taxi driver, kind man that he is (and hoping for a fat tip), returns Rose’s scarf and relates the sordid tale of her escapade.

Gullible Rose is rescued at the Blue Dragon from the clutches of lying cad who has (if inferences can be read correctly) fornicated with the girl.

This story arc is so contrived that I felt myself getting mad, except for the fact that we see Matthew in heroic action and Aunt Rosamund look down her aristocratic nose at that dreadful two-timing Terrence.

Once Rose is safely deposited at her great aunt’s home, Violet, with a smile that could neutralize poison, announces that Rose will be trundled off to Scotland after the cricket match to stay alone with her Aunt Agatha.

The camera pans to Rose’s horrified face.

Do we really care? Except that this gives Julian Fellowes a perfect excuse for sending the whole troupe to Scotland for Episode Seven of this season. Stay tuned to find out what happens.

Edith, the not so invisible woman

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Praise Saint Julian, for he has given Edith direction, a job, a nice wardrobe, and a splendid man. Although, let’s be realistic, life will never be perfect for our scrappy gal, who has learned to make do with her eldest sister’s cast offs. We first meet up with our heroine at her granny’s house for tea. Violet is aghast when she discovers that Edith actually means to accept the position of columnist for The Sketch. When Edith reminds granny that it was her idea that she find something useful to do, Violet retorts, “I meant running a local charity or paint watercolours or something!”

At dinner Edith announces that she accepted the job as journalist and her plans to “get the 10 o’clock” and meet her editor for tea. Violet seems quite supportive, saying “I don’t think a woman’s place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there”, but then she turns her thoughts directly on Edith. “”Edith isn’t getting any younger, perhaps she isn’t cut out for domestic life.”

And so Edith goes off to London. Her first glimpse of Michael Gregson, the editor of The Sketch, is that of a smiling, strapping man who is looking for “a mature female voice” (and perhaps something else on the side).

They make a date for lunch next time she’s in town, and our Edie takes care to look especially pretty. As she talks of journalism and being jilted at the altar, she mentally rearranges Mr. Gregson’s clothes off his body.

Charmed as she is, our Edie wasn’t born yesterday! Back at the Abbey, this smart cookie checks her man out. And hies back to London blazing mad.
Donning a serious working hat, her best pearls, and killer lipstick, Edie rushes to Gregson’s office to QUIT her one opportunity to make something of herself.

I had the impression, SIR! that you were flirting with me and found me attractive! Only to find you are MARRIED!”

“Yes, uhm, well, let me explain.”

“I find the idea repugnant! No, I find YOU repugnant. I quit!!

“No don’t go yet. You haven’t had your clotted cream and fresh raspberries! You see, my wife is in an asylum. Lizzie was wonderful when she could cook and clean and sew, but she is gone. And I can’t divorce a lunatic. I’m tied, I tell you, TIED to a madwoman, but I’m MAD about you! Just seeing your feisty words in print lifts my spirits. Having lunch with you …”

“Do I look stupid? My cousin, who is MUCH younger and more nubile and prettier, bought that line off some toff on Warwick Square, but I’m not having any of your deceitful and hateful and untruthful lies.”

What if I said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry?”

“Oh, well, then. If that’s the case, see you next week.”

The Passion of Mary and Matthew

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

One more open-mouthed smooch and the passionate scenes between Mary and Matthew will receive an x-rating. We catch Mary saying such seductive things as, “You’ll make me untidy,” “We’re trying for a baby,” and “While we make our little prince.” I shudder at her passion.

Even the doctor is predicting an increasing amount of sexual activity, saying that Lady Mary will be pregnant by 6 months. Gasp. This is too much for me to bear. I am positively getting red in the face thinking about the lustful way in which these two are cavorting all over creation in order to follow their DUTY to God, country, house, and earldom.

Oh, what the heck. I’m a 21st-century girl. Go team Matthew and Mary. Bring that next heir on!

The sacking of Thomas, or how O’Brien tightens the noose

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The long arm of forewarning and prophecy made it’s first appearance with this statement: “I expect you’ll find something to do, Mr. Barrow, now that Mr. Bates is back.” Viewers have wondered since the first episode when O’Brien would crank up her evil conspiracy against Thomas and it seems the time is at hand. Thomas is in a precarious situation and knows he’ll be given his notice as the earl’s temporary valet. If anyone was rooting for Bates to rot in prison, it was our erstwhile valet cum footman cum bad guy. But the earl promises Thomas that he won’t be left in the lurch. “We’ll sort things out.”

The fiendish O’Brien, divining the right moment, strikes up a friendly conversation with Thomas and makes this observation about James: “You make a cozy couple I must say. Alfred says [James is] always going on about you. Silly sloppy stuff.”

Thomas stops smoking long enough to retort: Youre quite wrong Miss O’Brien He’s a proper little ladies man.”

“Oh, if that’s how you want to play it.”
“What are you going on about?”
“There’s no need to bark. I only know what Alfred tells me.”
“Well, if he says Jimmy’s interested in me he’s lying.”
“Oh dear, was it supposed to be a secret?”

Lovely stuff, this dialogue. O’Brien and Thomas dance around each other like two vipers. One hungers to kill the other, while the second is distracted by a desire that overwhelms his sense of caution.

And so the inevitable happens, with Thomas making a move on a sleeping Jimmy. (Does this make sense? Would he not wake him to see if the young man was receptive?)

Suddenly awakened, Jimmy is, like, totally spooked.

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

This happened during an age when homosexuality was criminalized and gays were literally living in the closet. Poor Oscar Wilde was sent to prison and hard labor, only to emerge as a physically and spiritually broken man. Thomas was putting everything on the line by showing his affection to James.

After the truth comes out, Thomas and Carson engage in a conversation that represents the attitude of most gay and straight people at the time:

Thomas: “I was very drawn and got the impression he felt the same way. When you are like me, Mr. Carson, you have to read the signs as best you can, because no one dares to speak out.”

Carson: “I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world. You have been twisted by nature into something foul.”

Here is where Thomas quietly defends himself, saying, “I am not foul, Mr. Carson.”

Bravo, Thomas.

Jimmy and Alfred are guided by the puppeteer O’Brien, who manipulates the situation in such a way that Thomas is let go without a reference after ten years of service, a disastrous consequence that will lead him straight to the poor house.

There are twists and turns, with the end of the story sorted out by Bates, who, while he feels revenge is sweet, is a decent man. For the first time since his return from prison, Bates has been given an important task by Julian Fellowes – as the instrument of redemption for Thomas. All he has to do is lure a self-satisfied O’Brien to his house for tea and whisper in her ear: “Her ladyship’s soap.”

O’Brien turns paler than Bates’s whitewashed walls and leaves, promising to set things right.

In the end, all turns out well, with Thomas retaining his position in the house as an underbutler. This job is usually held by a former first footman who steps in for the butler if he is unable to fulfill his duties due to an illness or absence. Thomas as underbutler bodes well for further plot developments, and I cannot wait to see him manipulate his new position to his advantage in future DA seasons!

Tom/Branson, superman

Tom Branson emerges as the super hero of this season, able to grieve with the best of them, dandle a baby, divine how to run a great estate simply from observing his granddaddy, order his boozy brother, Kieran, around, deftly sidestep tricky matters of protocol so that he even gains Carson’s grudging respect, and learn to play cricket in the blink of an eye.

These tricks disguise the fact that Tom/Branson plot line often makes no sense. Where is his revolutionary fervor? Buried in the grave with Sybil? While most of the family calls him Tom, Violet and the earl insist on calling him Branson, which is meant to put him in his place. This does set up a running comic dialogue, with Violet constantly being admonished by Cora and her granddaughters. Remarkably, Mary, whose nose is pointed so high in the air that it attracts snow clouds, fully embraces Tom’s entrance into the family, even though the only thing they have in common is baby Sybbie.

Good old Cora comes to Tom’s rescue repeatedly, saying that “He’s our responsibility, he and the baby.” Frankly, the Bryans’ attempts to take their grandson from Ethel makes more sense than this sentimental claptrap. The Crawleys have the wealth and means to get rid of the chauffeur while keeping their grandchild. But the viewers are invested in the Crawleys as decent people. We would balk and leave in droves if the earl and his extended family went off the deep end and used their social muscle to push Tom/Branson out of the picture in order to retain Sybil’s child.

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The Catholic christening is deftly glossed over, but provides some fun dialogue from the earl, who delights in poking fun at the clergy.

Recall that in episode 4 he suggested that Violet be placed next to a toffee-nosed prince of the church because she’d know how to handle him. The earl gets off another brilliant line at the dinner table, protesting that at a Catholic christening he…

And thus we come to the ridiculous situation in which forward thinking Matthew discovers that Tom’s granddaddy owned a teensy tiny Irish sheep farm, a fact that caused him to conclude that Branson must know how to handle the running of an enormous estate in Yorkshire.

Irish sheep farm. Image @kid's encyclopedia

Irish sheep farm. Image @kid’s encyclopedia

I was drinking wine during this scene and nearly choked with disbelief on that peculiar observation.

When Branson’s brother, Kieran, sensibly invites him to live in rooms above his garage in Liverpool, the upstairs gang just about keeled over from a collective heart attack.  Baby Sybbie in a garage? Over Violet’s dead body!

Kieran turns out to be a plot device upon which hangs our changing perception of Branson, whose super powers include diplomatic skills with which he convinces his brother to eat with the toffs, honors Cora, and impresses Carson. Branson lives in limbo, no longer able to socialize with the downstairs folks and unable to fit in comfortably upstairs. What’s a super hero to do?

Sweep out the old, bring in the new

My DA viewing party took the opportunity to take breaks any time Matthew, Tom, and Mary discussed farm improvements using a volume of Estate Farming and Stewardship for Dummies.

The earl and Jarvis are Downton Abbey’s benevolent overlords, using farming techniques that go back to the Norman Invasion. Murray, Matthew, and our super hero Branson, are forward thinking chaps who are unwilling to squander Swire’s fortune in the manner that Robert used to waste Cora’s inheritance.

It is telling that Robert now thinks of Downton as a dual monarchy, whereas Matthew looks upon his inheritance as an investment that must turn a profit.

Ponzi circa 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ponzi circa 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the young whippersnapper is starting to make sense a desperate Robert brings up a marvelous new American financial invention: the Ponzi Scheme. “I hear that you get a great return on your investment in 90 days.”

Jarvis, seeing his cushy, easy job vanish into thin air, asks for a good reference and sweeps out of the room, old broom that he is. This plot development stepped over the line of common sense too many times, but I understand Fellowes’ need to provide baby Sybie’s daddy with a raison d’etre for remaining in town.

Violet, as usual, gets in the last word, telling her son: “Think of the child. You cannot want your only granddaughter to grow up in a garage with that drunken gorilla. We owe it to Sybil.” Besides, as she sensibly remarks, we could call him Branson again.

Dang right and experience be damned. And so at the end of Episode 6 the new estate manager is … Ta, Da! Drum roll, please – Sybil’s darling Tom, the grandson of an Irish sheep farmer.

The depths of Branson’s super powers have not been plumbed. When the earl, in a moment of self pity, declares “It’s time for me to take a back seat”, our hero comes to the fore with this observation, that Robert knows the people on his estate backwards and forwards and that this knowledge is priceless.

Hearing this, Robert’s face shines with delight and he declares in a Sally Field moment – “You like me, you really like me!”

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

It’s cricket time!

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Giles Keyte/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

I almost thought I was watching a replay of the Ravens and 49ers when the villagers took on the folks at the Abbey in their yearly cricket match. The scenes were so action-packed and unbelievably tense that I missed quite a few details.

The village folk (including Dr. Carson) were up for a thrashing, having won too numerous times to count, and the earl and Moseley were just the right men to bring VICTORY to Downton Abbey. Of course their team was missing two men, mere bumps in an otherwise smooth landscape.

Matthew had to hurry up and get Branson up to speed and teach him cricket in like 30 seconds …

… and the earl had to find a way to keep Thomas, a talented cricketer, on. Fellowes, clever fellow that he is, solved all of Episode 6’s problems in a mere 10 minutes.

Branson will stay on with baby Sybbie at the mansion, which has Cora crowing with delight. Mary and Matthew continue their pornographic display of affection in plain view in the hope of conceiving a little replacement male Crawley. Edith basks in the thought of being loved by an honourable married man and having a paid position. Violet has been reassured time and again that she is perfect, which does not surprise her at all.

And then there’s Branson. He, who has NEVER played cricket before, catches the WINNING ball! Those of you who were not convinced of Branson’s super powers must now agree – the man is unstoppable!

And so, all is now well in Downton Abbey land. See you next week, gentle readers. Same time, same blog.

In leaving your thoughts, please NO PLOT SPOILERS about the last installment.

Images courtesy PBS Pressroom.

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chronicles of downtonInquiring Readers: Thank you for leaving your comments for Downton Abbey Season 3, Episode 5. The winner of a free copy of The Chronicles of Downton Abbey is tinuviel, chosen by random number generator. Tinuviel, please send me your mailing address.

Thank you ALL for leaving your detailed reviews of Episode 5. I enjoyed reading all of your responses. My review of Episode 6 will be posted on Monday, February 11th. My review of Episode 5 is at this link.

Order the book for $19.99 at PBS.org

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Rabid Downton Abbey fan: Do not continue reading this post if you have not seen the latest Downton Abbey installment (#5). In this post-traumatic stress episode, in which the viewer is still reeling from events that unfolded in Episode 4, Julian Fellowes is finally starting to concentrate on the characters again.

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Daisy’s relationship with her papa-in-law is strengthening and promises to bode well for her financial future.

Isobel’s good heart is having a positive impact on Ethel.

Mrs Hughes and Mrs. Patmore are turning into the sort of servants one could easily imagine as friends.

And Maggie Smith simply shines as the grieving dowager who desperately wants to save her son’s marriage.

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Joss Barratt/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

As for the prison story, it seems that Mr. Bates might finally frolic in some open meadow with his fair bride again.

Wonder of wonders, Matthew and Mary showed a spark of marital harmony in a very affecting bedroom scene.

There are a few problems, of course, for this season can still not compare to Season One. Those two Neanderthals – Robert and Carson – are becoming insufferable with their stubborn adherence to old customs.

And the whole Catholic issue is somewhat tedious, but not unrealistic. There was a great deal of animosity and hostility towards Catholics from British Anglicans and American Protestants in the early 20th century. All the ceremonial hoopla of this relic-loving, reliquary-prone religion gave Protestants in the US and Anglicans in the UK the heebie jeebies, and so the Robert’s distaste is not all that surprising. (My father’s side of the family were staunch, conservative, Pope-fearing Catholics, which my mother’s side definitely was NOT. My maternal uncle quipped that if all St. Servaas’s bones were put together, scientists would discover that the man had been at least 12 feet tall.)

Seal of St. Servaas

Seal of St. Servaas

What is unrealistic is Robert’s SURPRISE that Tom Branson would want his daughter to be baptised in his faith.

Fellowes has made our earl look stupid on too many occasions.

Where I once admired our lord of the manor, I now find him irritating. Having said that, the final scene in which he and Cora hold on to each other in mutual grief had me grabbing for my hanky.

Which brings me to one final thought: Has anyone else noticed this strange phenomenon? – Robert’s dog, Isis, doesn’t seem to age. The series began in 1912 and is now covering events in 1920-21.

Isis should have aged 8 or 9 years. She would have a gray muzzle at the very least and the slow gait of an older dog. But she is as sprightly as ever! Go figure. (Ah, a reader wrote to say that Pharaoh preceded Isis, so that would make our lovely bitch only 3-4 years old. Continuity preserved!!)

chronicles of downtonNow for my book giveaway. You all must be salivating. (Unfortunately, only U.S. Viewers are eligible.) St. Martin’s Press has kindly sent me a copy to give away of their gorgeous new Downton Abbey companion book, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era, written by Jessica Fellows and Matthew Sturgis. It is a lush volume, made of glossy paper and filled with color photographs. Included are details of all the main characters and glimpses of what went on behind the scenes from the perspective of the film’s director, executive director, and other members of the crew.

I particularly like the items that go with each character. For example, Thomas’s chapter showcases images of the accoutrements of his position, the brand of cigarettes he would have smoked, and the nature of his collars. The Earl and Countess’ possessions include images of their jewelry, picnic basket, newspapers, hat, and embroidery hoop. Mrs. Patmore’s and Daisy’s chapter includes images of various kitchen items. And so on, and so on. This book, in addition to the equally wonderful The World of Downton Abbey, given to me for Christmas by a dear friend, are the perfect coffee table adornments for those of us who are DA addicts.

Order the book from PBS for just $19.99

Contest Rules: For a chance to win a copy of this book, all you need to do is write about some aspect of Episode 5 that you liked or didn’t like – just as if you are the reviewer! The contest is open until February 10th, midnight. PLEASE NOTE: CONTEST is Closed. Tinuviel, you are the winner, chosen by random number generator!

Images courtesy PBS PRessroom.

I look forward to reading your comments! NO SPOILERS, PLEASE!!! 

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Inquiring readers: The Outreach Director of the Daily Glow kindly allowed me to share this fun post by Sharon Tanenbaum. I’ll share a few of her seven tips and then direct you the site. I might even put in a few of my own! Enjoy.

The Crawleys may have old-fashioned manners, but their skin and hair are modern marvels. Here are the best beauty tips from the third season of the Masterpiece broadcast on PBS.

1. Your complexion always looks better in candlelight.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

2. For an instant anti-aging trick, stand next to someone who’s at least 30 years your senior.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

3. Don’t underestimate the power of a red lip.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

4. If you’re going without makeup, make sure your skin is flawless.

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

To view the final three tips, click here.

Here are some more beauty tricks:

A. Modest attire goes a long way towards rehabilitating your fallen reputation

Ethel

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

B. To look like the classiest woman in the room, stand beside one who is not.

slide_248339_1466729_free

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

C. Simple lines hide figure flaws

Phylis Logan as Mrs. Hughes and Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

D. Protect your complexion out of doors with a hat or parasol, or preferably both.

picnic s3

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

E. You are assured to be treated with the utmost respect when wearing your best power clothes.

Matthew and Mary

Matthew and Mary*

Do feel free to leave a comment, but PLEASE! none that contain spoilers about the last three episodes of Season 3!

*Images Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

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Downton Abbey lovers, it is important that you NOT continue to read this post if you have not seen Episode Four of Season 3. PBS is streaming each episode one day after it airs at this link. Do watch it and then come back to share your thoughts.

As many of you know, a major character is killed off during this season (perhaps more). It’s been all over the Internet for months. In fact, some headlines in the U.K. have totally spoiled the surprise for some U.S. viewers. Fear not. For the first time in the 3rd season the writing is up to snuff. While some of us already know who has died, the writers have managed to create scenes that stir us, make us laugh, or promote the plot. More importantly, we are able to react with disbelief, grieve alongside friends and family, and still be stunned by our reactions.

Why did the writers kill off such a popular character? Downton Abbey has made the cast uber famous. Who can fault the younger ones from jumping ship to what seems to be a more promising land for their careers? Us! For we oldsters know this is a big mistake 90% of the time.

Actors are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Some who stay with a successful series are never able to rise above their stereotypical roles and quietly drop out of sight after their run is over. The same fate happens to most actors who drop out prematurely. Only a lucky few manage to carve a solid career for themselves.

Take Dame Maggie Smith, for example. While hanging onto her meaty role as Violet, she’s performed in the following films during the same time period: Nanny McPhee Returns, Gnomeo & Juliet, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Quartet. Maggie, who’s no spring chicken, dug deep inside herself, found a few extra hours in the day, and decided to go for the gusto, staying with Downton while accepting other film projects. (Take that, Leonardo Di Caprio. That poor tired old/young soul is takinga break after making 3 films in 2 years.) Dame Maggie could show him a thing or two. She has proven her acting chops, which is where she has a leg up on the young’uns.

It is no secret that offers are raining down upon some of the more popular Downton actors. Godbless’em for being tempted and providing the writers with marvelous ways to “Auf” them, but all I can say is “Sayonara, darlings. You’re not doing yourselves or your careers a favor.” To make my point, visit IMBD to see the projects for which our much lamented expired cast member left Downton.

Now that I’ve had my rant, on with reviewing the show!

The Battle of the Physicians – or a standoff at the Downton corral

It all started normally, with Dr Clarkson assuring the family that Sybil is a healthy young woman going through normal childbirth.

The earl solicits a “society doctor”, Sir Phillip, to oversee the birth of Sybil’s child, explaining to Cora: “We can’t risk her welfare to soothe Clarkson’s feelings. I like the old boy, but he did misdiagnose Matthew and he did miss the warning signs with Lavinia.”

When Dr. Clarkson notices Sybil’s alarmingly thick ankles and muddled mind, Sir Phillip puffs out his substantial chest. “You are upsetting these people for no reason at all!” and warns Clarkson off, telling him not to interfere with doctoring or his much superior social skills in schmoozing with the ladies at the dinner table. We know Sir Phillip is not too swift for 1) He probably received a second-rate education in a first-rate institution simply because he’s upper class, and 2) He disses our pretty Sybil by accusing her of having fat ankles in the first place, which back in those days was considered a major physical defect. Had I been Papa Crawley, I would have decked Sir Phillip.

But Clarkson won’t be put off: “I think she may be toxemic with a danger of eclampsia, in which case we must act FAST!”

Gasps all around. By now the viewers are reaching for their medical dictionaries (click here for explanation of the condition).

Two factions emerge: On one side is the Cora/Clarkson contingent, on the other side the Robert/Phillips naysayers. Clarkson continues his portents of doom, despite Sir Phillip casting dagger eyes at him: “Her baby is small, she’s confused, and there’s far too much albumen in her urine.”

This is TMI for Robert, who reminds Clarkson that the Crawley matriarch is in the room listening.

Violet, godblessher, retorts, “Peace! A woman my age can face reality far better than most men.”

Continuing with his gloom and doom predictions, Clarkson warns that an immediate delivery is Sybil’s only chance. He urges the chauffeur to hie his wife off to a hospital, where they may yet save Sybil and the baby and deliver it by Caesarian.

Sir Phillip puffs up his chest again and declares that a caesarian will be surely kill Sybil and ruin her flat tummy for life. All eyes turn to Clarkson, who reluctantly agrees that as things stand, a caesarian might just do Sybil in.

“Honesty at last,” intones Robert in his best Yul Brynner as Rameses voice. I will NOT put Sybil at risk. I am the master of Downton Abbey and my decision (even though I co-own the place with Matthew) shall stand. So let it be written, so let it be done!

“The decision lies with the chauffeur”, Violet says sensibly, cutting through the bullshit with a rapier voice.

Branson is summoned. Poor man. All he can hear is If… If…If… If… If… If. He looks this-away way, he looks that-away and … stands paralyzed like a pillar of salt.

Meanwhile, what of the lovely Sybil, she of the slim ankles now thickened? We begin to understand why Jessica Brown Findlay’s role was so minor in the first 3 episodes, for the viewer is starting to realize that she is doomed – that it is Sybil, the most popular and most beloved sister, who is about to DIE. But is she?

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The next thing we know, Sybil has successfully delivered her baby. She’s radiant! Tom is bursting with pride. They ooh and ah over their little girl.

The servants rejoice. The family is happy.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Cora apologizes to Robert for doubting him. Sir Phillip’s chest is now so puffed he looks like a mating pigeon just given a come hither look.

My friend, who watched Episode 4 with me, kept sighing with relief. “Ah, she lives. Good, she lives. I thought they were going to kill her off.” I started braiding my tongue to remain quiet.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Back to the cozy little post-labor scene: Jessica Brown Findlay has all of two lines, which was more than she’d been given all season.

She then nuzzles into her sheets, ready for rest, which leaves the viewers sighing with relief and thinking, “All is well. Someone else besides our beloved Sybil is going to die.”

Tick tock tick tock.

The denizens of Downton Abbey are fast asleep when Mary sounds the alarm. Wake up! Wake up. It’s Sybil!

Lady Sybil, we hardly knew ye.

And now it’s time to lay my tongue-in-cheek tone aside, for Sybil’s death bed scene was as splendid a bit of writing and acting as I have seen. Like you, I sat on the edge of my seat and cried. Every one, from a desperate Cora and Tom, to the disbelieving sisters, father and witnesses, to the resigned yet horrified face of Dr. Clarkson, tugged at my heart.

Sybil, convulsing and unable to breathe, dies swiftly, but the reactions of family members take longer to settle in.

The camera lingers on each face, all showing the same horror and disbelief that I felt.

Elizabetth McGovern could not have been more perfect as the grieving mother. Her last talk with Sybil “( my baby, you will always be my baby”), was heart breaking.

Even though I knew that Sybil would die in this episode, this scene with McGovern’s superb, restrained acting was a revelation. I could not watch it without crying a bucket of tears.

Sybil was the glue that held the three sisters together and now she is gone. The reality has set in for the two remaining sisters:

Mary: She was the only person living who thought that you and I were such nice people.

Edith: Oh, Mary. Do you think we might get along better in the future?

Mary: I doubt it. But since this is the last time that we will all be together in this life, let’s love each other now, as sisters should.

Thank you Julian Fellowes, for giving us back the Downton that we have come to love.

We are even given a foreshadowing of events to come when Cora has the earl sleep in his dressing room.

The next day, she can barely contain her civility, saying in a hasty, tight-lipped phrase:

“I must apologize to [Dr. Clarkson]. Because-if-we’d-listened-to-him,-she-might-still-be-alive.-But-Sir-Phillip-and-your-father-knew-better,-and-now-she-is-dead.”A devastated Cora cannot forgive Robert for his part in promoting Sir Phillip over Dr. Clarkson, and who can blame her?

While most of the hour concentrated on Sybil’s tragic end, there were other plot developments, believe it or not.

Lady Edith flexes her career muscles

Edith can’t win for trying. Arising early in the morning to join the men for breakfast, she happily discovers that she has been offered a regular once a week column in The Sketch to discuss problems faced by the modern woman. Wondering if she should use her name, Robert retorts that this is exactly what they want: her name and title. When Matthew rises to her defense, she says with resignation: “Don’t bother, Matthew, I’m always a failure in this family.”

Violet’s response at dinner is hardly better: “When may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage?” This prompts Edith to mouth – “See?” Yet we’re rooting for her. Let’s hope this sister gets her chance to prove herself and find her niche in the world, as middle children are often wont to do.

Ethel Cooks Badly for Isobel

Isobel finally has a meatier role to play, however minor, in which she tries to rehabilitate Ethel into a respectable servant.

Her good Samaritan gesture results in Mrs. Bird walking out the door and Isobel reaching for the pepto bismol any time Ethel serves up one of her culinary disasters.

Downton Servant Merry Go Round

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Daisy, likes Alfred, who is O’Brien’s nephew. He likes Ivy, the new kitchen maid, which prompts Daisy to behave super bossy towards her, which sinks her in Alfred’s eyes. Ivy likes Jimmy, or James, the wannabee footman, which gives Alfred a hang dog look and prompts him to help Ivy out of kitchen scrapes. Sound complicated? Yeah, well, this story line is like watching puppies tussle. Cute at first and then a little boring.

Thomas is falling into O’Brien’s trap …

O’Brien’s jealousy of Jimmy and hatred of Thomas sets her in motion to do both of them in. When it looks as if Jimmy and Alfred will have to vie for first footman, O’Brien sets a trap for him. “Want to wind the clocks? You’d better ask Mr. Barrow,” she advises the gullible young man. And so he does. Thomas is only too happy to oblige and explicitly sets out to teach James a new skill.

After his lesson, O’Brien attempts to pry some details from a reluctant Jimmy. “What are you implying?” she prompts, “Nothing unseemly I hope?”

“No, nothing like that,” he mutters before scurrying away. Our last glimpse of O’Brien has her wearing a Chesire cat smile and rehearsing the next bad thing for Thomas.

This concludes my review of Episode Four. I am so over Bates’s predicament and Mary’s non-chemistry with Matthew, that I am happily skipping over their story lines.

What did you think of this week’s DA and Sybil’s death? Please, no plot spoilers on future developments.

My other Downton Abbey Season 3 posts: Click here

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Inquiring readers: Chris Stewart from Embarking on a Course of Study, has been submitting posts to this blog for over two years. As we discussed Downton Abbey, we realized we had very similar views, including a snarky streak. Chris has graciously submitted her take of Episode 3, which is right on the money (in my book.) Enjoy!

If you have not seen Episode 3, click here to see a streaming video online provided by PBS Masterpiece Classic. Warning: Plot spoilers if you continue reading on.

3D Glasses image - movie theaterDownton Abbey, Season 3, Episode 3: Not Enough Noses Out of Joint

This week, except for the copious use of the P word and the discussion of women’s right to vote, there was very little to learn here, both historically, or about the characters. I kept wanting “Downton Abbey 3-D.” Give me some glasses to put on so I could find the depth.

Anna and Mr. Bates: The Case of the Missing Letters

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Carson hands out mail. No letters for Anna from Mr. Bates again. She’s worried. Cut to letters handed out at the prison. None for Mr. Bates. He looks upset too. So clearly someone is holding both their letters back at the prison. There’s a quick end to a possible source of tension for the hour.

Anna tells Mrs. Hughes about the letters. Is Mr. Bates being gallant and trying to set her free? Why else would he be silent and stop her from visiting? Whoa there! If this happened, we should have seen her go to the prison and be turned away. Much better than missing letters.

While at work, another prisoner whispers to Bates, “They know you tricked them.” Bates: “What that’s to do with me?” He thwarted their plan to pin something on him so they’re angry. I find the prison drama both too low-key and vague. Apparently, Bates was reported to the Governor for violence and is considered dangerous. This is why no letters and no visits. “Thank God, I thought she’d given up on me,” Bates says. “Don’t thank God until you know what else they’ve got in store for you,” his fellow prisoner warns. Ho hum. I admit, though, the look of relief and happiness on Bates’ face, got me. More of what we love Bates for, please!

Later, the guards enter his cell and search it, go through the bedding again. According to plan, Bates has hidden the object previously hidden in his bed, in his cell mate’s bed. They take the cell mate away. He tells Bates that he’ll be sorry. Cue ominous music.

Matthew and Mary, Still Married to the House

Mary and Matthew discuss Matthew’s role as co-owner of Downton. He doesn’t want to go into every detail of the running of the estate or challenge Robert’s authority. Mary says he has to pull his weight.

Matthew and Mary meet in nursery to look over wallpaper. Matthew asks if that’s all she wants to talk about. They are in the nursery after all. What about that trip to the doctor? Is she announcing she’s pregnant? No, she had trouble with her hay fever. Matthew leans close behind her and says suggestively, what will they use for a day nursery if the need arises? Mary looks very uncomfortable and says they can worry about that further down the line. Whoops! Did they not have the Kids Talk before marrying? Mary looks like the subject is distasteful to her.

More of Matthew being warm and loving with his wife, and more of Mary being a wet sock. Boy did marriage kill this love story.

Saving Ethel (Isobel and Mrs. Hughes)

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Isobel visits Mrs. Hughes and gives her a letter from Ethel (um, when did this take place? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time we saw Ethel she closed the door in Isobel’s face). Isobel confirms Ethel is a prostitute. Mrs. Hughes is surprised. “That’s not a word you hear in this house every day.” No kidding. Even I felt uncomfortable at the use of the word in those hallowed halls. Isobel asks Mrs. Hughes to let her know if she can help. Mrs. H says Ethel will be too ashamed to face how far she’s fallen. I have to disagree. Ethel sees clearly how far and it’s given her a kind of grace and nobility that it’s a pleasure to watch. She’s certainly much more interesting than our beloved Anna of late. Dare I say Ethel is the new Anna? Someone needs to be since Anna’s going in circles.

Ethel asks Isobel to write to the Bryants. They can have Charlie. The Bryants come and meet Ethel at the Crawley house. They know what she is. It’s not difficult to find out about a woman like her. Mrs. Bryant says they can offer money to help. Mr. Bryant seems to bond with the boy. Ethel wants her son to have the opportunities Mr. Crawley had.

She says goodbye to Charlie, hugs and kisses him. Mr. Bryant carries him off to the car. Mrs. Bryant says she’ll write to her. Ethel’s reaction is heartbreaking. This story line was the best of the episode.

Robert and Matthew: The Bromance May be Over

Once Carson knows of the Robert-Matthew partnership, he gets to the point, asking if the staff can be brought back up to snuff? Matthew says the world is different now than before the war. Mr. Carson is immediately indignant and booms out, would Mr. Crawley like him to continue doing extra duties as a footman? Robert steps in and says Matthew didn’t mean it. Matthew looks chastised. I wouldn’t want to cross Carson either. When he lowers those impressive eyebrows at you, watch out.

Robert asks Matthew to help with estate accounts. Matthew does and tells Mary there are some issues. Rents are unpaid or too low. No maintenance scheme. Half the assets are unused or ignored entirely. Mary says a country estate isn’t a city business. She bristles and defends her father. True to stereotype. Sigh.

Matthew goes to the Dowager Countess for advice. How can he fix things without putting people’s noses out of joint? She says do what must be done but a great many noses will be out of joint.

Well, that was pointless. Maybe she’s hoping for some trouble to liven things up. I found her ambivalence annoying and confusing. She’s always been so particular about the estate and tradition, yet she doesn’t give Matthew a lecture or advice. Somebody took the zing out of the Dowager this week. I hope it’s found before next. Her comments were boring and repetitive.

Edith, Post-Jilting

Edith shows up at the breakfast table. Matthew remarks on it and she says she’s an unmarried woman so can’t have a lie in like her married sisters. She prefers to be up and about. Note how we’ve moved from ‘spinster’ to ‘unmarried woman’. Robert reads aloud from the paper that all American women will have the vote. Edith says it’s ridiculous that women don’t vote in England. Matthew suggests she write to the paper to give her opinion and she says she might. Robert seems alarmed at the prospect. We all know Edith will write a letter. And there’s Edith all sewn up now. No lingering ill effects from being dumped at the altar. She’s got a cause. That’s all a woman needs to completely forget about her broken heart and abject humiliation. Edith had her fifteen minutes last week, apparently, let’s move on.

Edith visits her grandmother and the Dowager Countess asks her how she is. Edith: “Being jilted at the altar, yes it is horrid, multiplied by about ten thousand million.” Actually, Edith, I give you a five on that scale in terms of how hurt you seem to be. Nowhere near ten thousand million, my dear.

Her grandmother tells her she has brains and ability and to “Stop whining and find something to do.” Wow. Ouch. Basically, “We saved you from the old guy. You’ve been enough of a bother. Get on with it.” Now, Edith hardly seems crushed over what happened. She’s back to her old self, but she didn’t deserve that. I wish Edith would go down to the village pub and get really drunk and dance on some tables, make out with someone in the street, and be brought home by the local constable. Yes, stiff upper lip and all that but, broken hearts have long-term effects. I’d love to see Edith go very, very wrong for a bit.

Edith does write to the newspaper about the vote. Robert says it won’t be published but it is. He’s horrified. Edith is pleased.

The New Footman and Dirty Looks from O’Brien

Jimmy Kent is hired as the new footman. I’d say he’s pretty, but not handsome.

When Carson tells Mary the maids want him to hire Jimmy, she says, “Do pick him and cheer us all up a bit. Alfred is nice but looks like a puppy rescued from a puddle. Tell the maids they can buy their valentines.”

This quip is so unlike Mary that it fell flat. Mary isn’t very humorous so it just doesn’t work for her. At dinner, when Jimmy, now called James, is introduced, Mary says, “Well done, Carson.” Felt a bit cougar-ish to me, Lady Mary. Maybe you could direct that sort of thing to your husband.

There’s some question/quibbling about who is first footman, Alfred or James. Carson takes Alfred’s side by spending time helping him with table settings, which spoons are for what.

Did this remind anyone else of “Pretty Woman”? Later, Thomas is passing James’ room and James asks if he can come to Thomas with questions and for help. Thomas says, of course. Game on!

O’Brien passes James’ door directly after, looking menacing. O’Brien did a lot of walking and glaring this episode.

Not much else. I think I’m going to start calling her Mrs. Danvers. I feel a bit sorry for her. Who is she left to plot with? Moseley? She’s being wasted right now.

Tom and Sybil, the Runaway Revolutionaries

It’s a dark and stormy night. A man runs through the streets. Back at Downton, Edith takes a call from Sybil, who says she’s all right and out of the flat and hasn’t been stopped. She hangs up before Edith can get any more information. Edith tells Cora and Mary about the call. Everyone is appropriately worried.

Tom bangs on the door during dinner, is hidden in Matthew’s rooms until the guests have left, and tells them he was witness to the burning of an aristocrat’s house, one that the Grantham’s knew. The Dowager Countess says, “The house was hideous, of course that’s no excuse” which seemed completely out of touch with the emotional tone of the scene so no score there, Dame Maggie.

The police think Tom was one of the instigators. That’s why he ran. Robert is, of course, furious. “You mean, you gave them Sybil to save yourself!” Tom says that when he saw the family turned out, with their children, in tears, watching their home burn. “I admit it – I want a free state but I was sorry,” he says.

But what’s happened to Sybil? Their plan was that he’d leave at once and she’d follow the next day. Robert explodes. How dare he leave a pregnant woman to fend for herself? Everyone else seems too subdued. More worry and emotion was exhibited when Matthew was missing in the war than for Sybil now. Robert will decide what to do in the morning. Tom goes to his room, cries. No pity from this quarter. A real man would not follow through on such a ridiculous plan, leaving his wife in such danger, pregnant or not. Another coward. First Sir Anthony, now Tom. Is Matthew next?

This whole Tom and Sybil escaping Ireland story was badly done. No adequate story preparation, just dumped on us, so didn’t register emotionally with me. Meh.

The next day a woman walks into Downton. We don’t see her face. Tom runs to her. Big dramatic make out session with the camera circling them. Really? Please. We know it’s Sybil. We never saw her in any danger, so the mysterious arrival and dramatic kiss is pretty pointless.

Robert returns from seeing the Home Secretary on Tom’s behalf. Tom can’t go back to Ireland or he’ll go to prison. He didn’t tell them that he attended Dublin meetings where the attacks were planned. Sybil, whose been holding her husband’s hand, drops it at this news. Later Sybil is upset. What else hasn’t he told her? Tom says he won’t stay at Downton for long. Sybil says they must stay for the baby’s sake. Poor Sybil. For all her independent thinking, she’s just traded one trap for another.

Daisy Gets Frisky

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Daisy asks again about the new maid. Mrs. Patmore says they’re working on it. Alfred compliments her on speaking her mind. Daisy is about to say something to him but Mrs. Patmore cuts her off. Daisy visits William’s father and asks what he would think if she’d met a man she liked. He is supportive and wants her to be happy. Again, Daisy tries to say something to Alfred, but is interrupted by Mrs. Patmore (enough with the interruptions! Get on with it!) who introduces Ivy Stewart, the fresh-faced new kitchen maid. Daisy is now assistant cook. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” Alfred says to Ivy, and offers his help if she needs it. Daisy stares daggers at her. Ivy smiles at her and says she hopes they’ll get on.

“We don’t have to get on. We have to work together,” Daisy says. Meow! I kind of like Daisy jealous and possibly plotting against Ivy. This turn of hers will be entertaining, but makes her seem a little nutty. She and Alfred haven’t had much interaction. I could easily see Daisy going off the deep end.

The third episode ends with Mrs. Hughes brings Anna a packet of Bates’ letters. Cut to Bates in his cell. A guard brings him all the withheld letters from Anna. He’s back in favor so can have them. Bates sits reading Anna’s letters. Cut to Anna in bed reading his letters. Both smiling and crying. Swelling music.

I vacillated between thinking it was sweet, nice to get back their original romantic vibe, but also another easy a wrap up of a conflict and a pretty unearned level of sentimentality since the ‘drama’ wasn’t made enough of. And why couldn’t we hear a voice over from both of them as each read the other’s letters?

What worked:

Ethel’s parts, anything with Thomas, Daisy’s surprise turn, Matthew trying to make sense of the books and figure out what to do.

Otherwise, mostly a bit blah, with the usual leaps and inadequate back story. I did some calculations, and I counted about 48 scenes in the episode. Some were the same ongoing scene interrupted by cutting back and forth to other scenes, making everything too fragmented so you’re not allowed to settle into the emotion, the tension, the characters. You’re continually whisked away, getting 1-2 minute sections at a time of the same scene as we cut back and forth. The show would fare much better if that stopped and if three story lines were picked per episode and developed and followed the whole show, rather than the 7 or so we have here.

Let the debate begin!

To read the rest of this blog’s Downton Abbey’s Season 3 links, click here. 

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