You have no choice but to button up your tails because Downton Abbey
is back and the Dowager Countess says so. When last we left our favorite aristocratic British family, the war was over, it was Christmas and Mary and Matthew had finally and blessedly gotten together.
Also, Sybil ran away with the chauffeur, Bates was in jail after some awkward bare-shoulder action with Anna, Cora's hats enlarged in proportion to her awesomeness and the Dowager Countess was ruling Downton like a boss.
We return to Downton in the spring of 1920 just in time for the nuptials of Mary and Matthew. Those two crazy kids are finally making it official ... maybe? This episode's final fakeout to the show's core relationship is potentially one roadblock too many for this already star-crossed couple. When you need another character to stand in for the audience and tell them to just get over themselves already, perhaps you shouldn't be throwing another obstacle in the way.
Still, Mary and Matthew's pre-wedding blues tie directly into the storyline, which looks to be the driving force of the season. The Crawley family is out of money! If they don't figure out a way to scrape together enough cash soon, they'll be moving from Downton to downtown. (I promise I will think of better poverty puns in the future.)
The episode sets up the clear thematic juxtaposition for the season: the way things are moving and the way things have always been. It's the start of the roaring '20s, after all, and things are about to change a lot for the aristocracy and for society in general. The strict set of rules that Carson and the elder Granthams set their lives by are going to be increasingly thrown off for good times, class mixing and short hairdos.
I'm sure all of this is especially distressing to the Dowager Countess. Almost as distressing as the specter of change itself, made manifest in Cora's mother, Martha Levinson, played by the divine Shirley MacLaine.
Martha represents everything American: a hatred for rules, a love of drama and gigantic feather hats the likes of which the Crawleys have never seen. Martha is not just willing to embrace change, she runs at it with arms wide open. What will she think when she finds out Lord Grantham lost all her money? We'll have to wait a bit for that snark bomb to detonate.
While the show is tackling what it means to change with the times, it's also taking stock of its new American popularity. No one could have known when the show's first season was airing how popular the British upstairs/downstairs soap would be over the pond. But US audiences lapped up the refined Crawleys and their not-as-refined drama.
So season 3 is addressing its new, expanded audience by giving us yanks plenty of shout-outs. The best is Cora's reaction to the bad news: "I'm an American. Have gun, will travel."Downstairs
With all the drama going on upstairs, the downstairs storylines seem fairly tame by comparison. O'Brien and Thomas are on the outs after O'Brien sends for her nephew to work as a footman.
Thomas doesn't want to give away all his trade secrets, like how to set up the best black market bakeries and kidnap dogs for fun and profit. O'Brien is hurt because she thought they were bros and Thomas is totally flaking on her. There's no way we'd be lucky enough for this to lead to a murder-suicide, so I'm assuming this tiff will make things a lot more dramatic downstairs.
At the advice of Thomas, Daisy decides to make some more poor life choices and starts her own strike. Mrs. Patmore is just like, "Girl, not more of your nonsense," and completely ignores her. The subtitle for all of Daisy's storylines could basically read, 'Someone tells Daisy what to do, she whines about it and makes exceedingly poor life choices.' That sums up about 98% of all Daisy screentime. I desperately hope they do something more interesting with her character this year after watching her complain about being married to William for five seconds last season.
Meanwhile, Molesey walks around like Droopy Dog all episode because Matthew won't take him on as full-time valet. In other corners, O'Brien's nephew has yet to develop a discernible personality, unless "tall" counts as a personality now. He is, however, very tall. Like freakishly tall. He looks like he's about to step on everyone he shares a scene with and/or terrorize Tokyo.
Anna is still playing plucky girl detective, trying to get Bates out of prison. She's found a notebook of Vera's that includes names of people Vera knew. She's hoping to be able to use the book to see if any of the people mentioned had an indication Vera was about to off herself.
I would say that's too easy, but after last season's long-lost/fake family member storyline, it's entirely possible she'll find a note that says, "Don't tell Bates, but I'm gonna kill myself. L8ter bitches -- Vera."Upstairs
Things are far more dramatic upstairs. As the nuptials of Matthew and Mary come closer, Lord Grantham gets some bad news. Basically, he is out of cash after a terrible investment.
What would make him think Canadian railroads would be a good idea? Have you ever seen curling? That's considered an exciting sport there! There's no way those railroads were going to get built before the end of the war. So the Crawleys are now more or less heading for the poverty line.
It's an interesting storyline, and will certainly play into shaking up the old conventions of a house like Downton. But what is especially great is getting to watch Lord Grantham slowly die inside every time someone buys something extravagant. It's like watching one of the husbands on Bravo's Real Housewives
franchise, only everyone has great accents and no one has released a music video yet.
Meanwhile, Sybil and Branson return for the wedding and stir up drama. Or to be more precise, Branson stirs up drama by being Branson. I'm going on record right now, and I'm sure it's probably not a popular opinion: Branson drives me up the wall. There's being principled and standing up for what you believe in, and then there's being insufferable. For me, Branson often falls on the latter side of that line. When Branson told Sybil not to disappoint him when she merely asked him to stop being such a straight-up toolbag to her family, I just put my head in my hands and sighed.
Still, the bromance between Branson and Matthew is extremely fun to watch. And Branson gives us my favorite Dowager Countess moment of the episode, as she calmly listens to him throw a hissy-fit about wearing proper wedding attire and then forces him into it anyway. I would watch a show of just Violet and Branson going on adventures.
Of course, there are plenty of other adventures, like when a former crush of Sybil's basically ruffies poor Branson. Listen, I'm not saying Downton Abbey
is getting over the top (that ship has sailed), but when you have one character drug another to cause drama, you're basically period Gossip Girl
. I appreciate that Downton Abbey
never shies away from wearing its soap on its sleeve.
While all the wedding festivities and bankruptcy are underway, Edith still has her eye on old Anthony Strallan. Everyone keeps telling her he's too old, but she's like, "Age ain't nothing but a number! Right, Anna?" To which Anna is hilariously like, "My relationship with Bates is both weirder and more normal than yours, so I'd prefer not to get involved, thanks." Considering Anna's life is basically a fancy British Lifetime movie, that doesn't bode well for Edith. The Mary and Matthew of It All
First of all, it's amazingly refreshing to see Mary and Matthew together as a couple. They are insanely cute and their chemistry is undeniably great. Even though they get one final stupid roadblock on the way to their happy ending (though not ever after), seeing them together finally is a delight.
They're preparing for their wedding and already bickering about where they will live once married. Matthew wants to move out of the big house and live more simply. Mary is like, "What is simply? Do you like my expensive new suit? My father saw it and started crying, which I think means he thought I looked great in it!"
Soon Matthew gets some bad/good news in the form of an inheritance ex machina. I would say that it feels like Downton Abbey
should be better than this obvious way out of the Crawleys' financial worries, but this is the same show that had Matthew miraculously walk and Lavinia conveniently die, so ... par for the course.
Of course, Matthew doesn't want to use the money because of how he killed Lavinia with a case of the broken hearts, which has a lot of similar symptoms to the Spanish Flu. Mary is like, "Score! What a completely and almost unbelievably good piece of fortune! Let's use the money to save my family from ruin!"
This causes their big blowout fight, where Mary yells that Matthew isn't on her side, and Matthew yells that she doesn't understand and Mary dramatically storms up the stairs. Thanks to some last-minute advice from Branson, which is so on-the-nose I can't even really deal with it, the two finally make up. Of course, they don't agree about what to do with the money, so expect that to lead to some fun fights down the road.
Instead, they decide to literally kiss and make up, except Matthew can't see Mary before the wedding. So instead, they both close their eyes and kiss (although Mary cheats) and it is uniformly adorable.
The next day, Cora gives Mary the ye olde sex talk, which is hilarious:
Cora: So you know about the birds and the bees, right? We don't have to do this, do we?
Mary: Please, mom, remember that time I sexed a guy to death? I'm good.
Cora: Oh, right! How delightful! Well, married-people sex is awesome, you're gonna love it!
Anna: Yup, sex is great. I got all bare shouldered last season, remember? Before Bates got convicted and sent to jail for murdering his former wife?
Sybil: It is really the best.
So Mary and Matthew are formally Mr. and Mrs. Crawley, which I guess they were before because they're technically cousins. But don't think about the weird pseudo-incest angle! Our favorite couple has finally gotten hitched. And although Mary's dress is just unbelievably ugly and unflattering, it really is a fairytale wedding. But all fairytales have to come to an end, and with the money drying up, that will soon be a reality.
Recap Part 2: Is Downton Doomed? >>>
What did you think of the season 3 premiere? Are you loving Shirley MacLaine? Excited that Matthew and Mary finally tied the knot? What do you think will happen with their money woes? Sound off in the comments!Want to keep up with all the dirt upstairs and downstairs? Then do as the Dowager Countess would do 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)