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.
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
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)
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 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
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?
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.