We’ll be blogging about the third season of Downton Abbey over the next several weeks. Please assume that the rest of this post contains spoilers and don’t read further unless you’re prepared to encounter plot details.
First, the American premiere of Downton Abbey is always near my birthday, so it kind of feels like a present to me, but one I can share with family and friends and other rabid fans. This season was hotly anticipated, by me as well as the legions who’ve gotten addicted to this soapy period drama.
Following the changes of WWI, which we saw in Season 2, there were so many moments of adjustment in these first two hours, and we got to see all of our favorite characters in new situations.
O’Brien and Thomas, former downstairs conspirators, are on the outs and now manipulating and backstabbing each other as O’Brien schemes and succeeds in getting her nephew Alfred hired at Downton.
Bates is in prison, which is not quite as dreary and boring as you’d think (which likely owes a lot to Anna’s spunky steadfastness) and Lord Grantham has lost Cora’s fortune in a risky investment, which puts Downton and all of the Crawleys at risk.
Deliciously, the Dowager Countess is fed a bit of her own medicine, wavering in annoyed awe at the arrival at Cora’s American mother Martha Levinson. I never thought I’d see the Dowager Countess back down in any situation, but watching her realize that Downton needs Martha’s money once again, and then trying to curry the favor of a woman she disdains is remarkable.
Mrs. Hughes’ sickness is at first comical as Mrs. Patmore struggles to support her despite her own squeamishness with sickness and doctors, and then poignant as you later realize that Mrs. Hughes probably has cancer, that she will struggle silently and nobly, and probably succumb. What will Downton (and we?!) do without her?
One of my favorite threads through the first two hours was the ways in which each family member and each of the staff had to adjust to the arrival of Branson and his new status as a member of the family. The intimate scenes of Sybil and Branson as spouses privately and publicly were nice touches.
But of course, I must mention the wedding. The Wedding of Mary and Matthew, which is such a perfect plot device on which to hinge so many of these stories. On the one hand, it’s satisfying that they are finally together, but it’s also frustrating that they are still not entirely united as they struggle over Matthew’s possible inheritance. How dreary and cruel Mary can be! But she is riveting, regardless, and always herself.
Her attempt to call off the wedding the night before allowed for some poignant scenes between Mary and Anna but, even more remarkably, Branson and Matthew. Their support of each other was such a nice note and a wonderful way to witness the changes afoot at Downton. Oh, and also, a lovely moment between Mary and Matthew themselves, as they agree to disagree and reconcile.
Which brings me to my two favorite moments of the first two hours of season three of Downton Abbey:
1. Lady Mary comes down the stairs in her wedding gown, with both her father Lord Grantham and her lifelong champion Carson watching, both amazed at her. When she speaks, she addresses Carson first, “Will I do, Carson?” Mary’s relationship with Carson has long been the most redeeming aspect of her character, the chance for her to truly be vulnerable and sweet.
2. At the end of the second hour, in a very poignant closer, Mrs. Hughes reminds Mrs. Patmore that they will all perish one day, which reminds us, the audience, that because this is a period piece, all of these people (if they were real, as well as their real counterparts) have perished. And all that is left is Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle) and our memories/imaginings of them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!