In the second part of Downton Abbey
's season 3 premiere, the Dowager Countess and Mary hatch a scheme to convince Martha to save the estate, but like all things in Downton Abbey
, it goes horribly awry. Still, it gives us the pleasure of seeing Maggie Smith's horrified facial expressions as Shirley MacLaine sweetly serenades her. The matriarchs are killing it this season so far, so it'll be extremely sad to see Martha go.Recap Part 1: The Wedding We've All Been Waiting For >>>
Less Money, Mo' Problems
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What I wouldn't mind losing, however, is this stupid money storyline. The idea of Downton without a ton of servants and lavish dinner parties is like the idea of Carson showing up to work in a pair of shorts and sandals: it's just unimaginable.
Still, this storyline could have been extremely interesting and really pushed the theme of changing times. It's the 1920s, after all, and even stodgy Lord Grantham is making references to Chicago bootleggers. It would be interesting to see how the family reacts once their aristocratic bubble truly bursts.
Unfortunately, showrunner Julian Fellowes opens up an intriguing and dramatic storyline, only to simultaneously give himself a ridiculously easy out for any of the long-term implications for the money problems. That out is the intensely stupid inheritance ex machina. With Matthew literally sitting on a giant pile of money that would single-highhandedly save the family, yet refusing to use it, the show has pulled up all the dramatic stakes the money storyline might present. Does anyone on earth really think Matthew won't eventually relent, considering he holds Downton's futures in his super-attractive hands?
The only thing this storyline does is make Matthew absolutely insufferable, which is not a sentence I'd ever thought I would type. It's not that it's completely out of character, since even towards the end of last year these annoying martyr tendencies had started to pop up. We all know that Matthew doesn't know the difference between "Spanish flu" and "a case of the sads," and as such is convinced he basically killed Lavinia.
But by having Matthew refuse to use this convenient bundle of cash, he's also become kind of a jerkface. I mean, sure, he has moral issues, but what about all the people in Downton that will lose their jobs? What about all the family members he will literally be turning out of their homes?
What about Downton itself, which Lord Grantham has spent his whole life protecting? (Albeit not well, considering the amount of times he's had money problems.) Shouldn't any of these issues supersede Matthew's moral imperative to not take money from Lavinia's dead father? You'd think so, and eventually it probably will, but until that time comes we're stuck with one of the worst storylines Downton Abbey
has ever attempted.
You can't have your cake and eat it too, narratively speaking. You can't have a dramatic poverty storyline while at the exact
same moment introduce the plot device which will make that storyline null and void. All that stands between the resolution is Matthew's weird sense of honor and inability to understand how diseases work. That's not good storytelling, it's just irritating. Why are we wasting time on this when the answer was introduced from moment one?
All this does is hurt Matthew's character without really advancing anything in the story. Unless Matthew doesn't give in and they lose the house, in which case Matthew becomes the jerk that made everyone lose their home. It's a lose-lose situation for the viewers. Downstairs
With that rant out of the way, let's check in on our favorite bottom-level dwellers. Ginger Godzilla (or Alfred, I guess, is his technical name) has started to develop a personality. Not a huge personality, but he does seem to be quite the flirt. He takes a shine to Martha's maid, who as a direct American girl does the unthinkable act of speaking her mind and telling him she likes him. The shock! Daisy could practically be bowled over by a feather.
Thomas and O'Brien continue to turn their evil powers against each other instead of against innocent bystanders. It's like Spy vs Spy
, only one spy has a poodle on top of her head.
Watching Thomas and O'Brien go at each other gives me the same kind of pleasure as watching The Real Housewives
on Bravo. Basically, there's nothing more fun than watching unpleasant people try to passive-aggressively undermine each other while pretending to still be friends.
Relatedly, wouldn't Thomas and O'Brien be the best Real Housewives
cast members? Instead of flipping tables, Thomas could have hissy fits and throw around baking powder. It would be great.
Meanwhile, in more bummer storylines, Mrs. Hughes finds out she might have cancer, but she'll have to wait a long time for the test results to come back. Say it isn't so! Even Carson knows something's up, although not what yet.
In the ye olde pokey, Bates is getting on the wrong side of his cellmate by threatening him. I'm not saying this is all Bates' fault, but it does seem like he could control his temper a bit more, especially in the land of shivs. Think of poor Anna, still reading Vera's notebook.
I wonder what Vera's diary says. "Dear diary, today I plan on being really evil. I've practiced my evil laugh and it is now perfect. It's time to find Mr. Bates and try it out!" Upstairs
Upstairs things are even more dramatic. Edith decides she's tired of watching everyone else's love lives and thinks it's time to jump-start her own. Unfortunately, everyone else thinks her choice of old Anthony Strallan
is a little weird. "Just let me have the old guy, okay!? I'm not asking for much! He's a step up from the crispy fake cousin from last year! Just be happy about that!"
Rethinking his daughter's terrible taste in men, Lord Grantham agrees to let Edith ride off into the sunset with Sir Anthony, and the two immediately start talking about their wedding. Has anyone else noticed that Sir Anthony literally never stops smiling? It's really creepy. Not even the Joker smiled this much.
Writing Matthew off as completely useless, as she should, Mary decides to get in league with someone who actually gets things done: the Dowager Countess. They decide it's time to tap the Levinson money bank again by appealing to Martha's good side and showing her the value of Downton.
Cora is so awesome about this, it's hilarious. They go to her for advice and she's like, "My family's bank is closed, bitches. It is closed! My mom needs that money to continue putting more and more feathers in her hats."
So Mary and Violet decide to throw a giant dinner party to show Martha the worth of Downton Abbey. Because the best way to appeal to a free-spirited American who hates rules and convention is to throw a stuffy dinner party.
Of course, since this is Downton Abbey,
everything goes wrong with the dinner party. The ovens break, Thomas and O'Brien ruin all the men's dinner attire and the Dowager ends up mistaking Lord Grantham for a waiter.
This leads to a wonderful dinner party, where everyone lounges around eating cold cuts and listening to Martha sing on the piano. Off in a corner, Carson cries silently into his serving tray. It turns out to be all for naught, however, because Martha can't lend them the money even if she wanted to. It's all tied up in the convenient way that all money is tied up on this show.
So she offers them asylum in America if they ever want to come visit and gives Lord Grantham some reasonable advice about changing with the times. I really hope this isn't the last we see of Martha because she is incredible and almost matches the Dowager Countess in terms of one-liners.The Mary and Matthew of It All
Now in wedded semi-bliss, the waters are fairly calm on the Mary and Matthew front. Of course, she still thinks he's extremely stupid for not using the giant plot device that fell in his lap to solve all their problems. He's of course upset she doesn't understand why he continues to be infuriatingly stupid about the whole thing.
"Now stop talking and kiss me before I get cross," Mary says at one point. Now that they're married, they can ignore the giant elephant in the room made of dead-Lavinia money and just distract themselves with sex. So far, it seems to be working.
Are you as irritated by the money storyline as I am? Do you often find yourself wanting to pop through the TV and slap some sense into Matthew's beautiful face? Plus, who do you think will prevail, O'Brien or Thomas? Sound off in the comments!Want to keep up with all the dirt upstairs and downstairs? Then do as
the Dowager Countess would and add Downton Abbey to your very own
watch-list so you'll never miss a dinner party. Download BuddyTV Guide for free for your phone.
(Image courtesy of PBS)