07 January 2013

Downton Abbey: Season 3 Premiere Recap and Review

Ah, Downton Abbey. All the waiting was not for naught as the Season 3 premiere delivered the goods and made for the best two hours of television last night.

Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Caution: SPOILERS
If you haven't yet seen the premiere episode, visit PBS Video to view it online.

Upstairs, the wedding of Mary and Matthew finally happened, although it almost didn't. In learning that Matthew was to inherit an enormous sum of money from Lavinia's father, Mary was gobsmacked when he stated he couldn't accept it. To him, taking it was akin to stealing, since, in his mind, he (and not the Spanish Flu) caused her death by breaking her heart. To her, not taking it was was tantamount to leaving the family, Downton Abbey, and their future progeny high and dry, since Lord Grantham lost most of the family fortune in a bad railroad investment.

(It seems to me that Mary had asked the right question but about the wrong person at the end of the Season 2 Christmas special. It wasn't the memory of the late Mr. Pamuk she needed concern herself with, but that of the late Miss Swire.)

Sybil and hubby Tom Branson weren't going to attend the wedding because they couldn't afford it, yet they did, thanks to (surprise!) Violet. Poor Tom. Relations with both the family and servants were strained. However, after the incident of his laced drink, Matthew's declaring he wanted Tom to be his best man (a heart-stirring, tear-inducing moment if ever there was one), and Tom's bringing Matthew back to his senses when the wedding was hanging in the balance, things began to turn around. At least with the family.

Courtesy of © Carnival Film &
Television Limited 2012
for MASTERPIECE
As for Edith, her relationship with Sir Anthony Strallan began to heat up, despite his own misgivings about being involved with someone so much younger. Ditto those of Violet and Robert, who convinced him not to see her anymore. A devastated Edith turned to Martha for solace, and confronted her papa about his hypocrisy in the matter. Not one to argue against their logic, he relented in allowing Strallan to attend the big dinner, at which a brief conversation between the May-September romantics hinted that their wedding was in the offing.

The war of the words and worlds began with the arrival of Cora's wealthy mother, Martha Levinson. With modern-day views that challenged the aristocratic way of life, she had quite the gob for both eating whatever was placed in front of her and speaking her mind. Violet, true to her persona and Dowager Countess status, bristled at the mention of living in any manner that didn't adhere to tradition and held fast to the ways of the gentry. She even schemed with Mary to get Martha to save Downton, but, alas, to no avail.

Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited
2012 for MASTERPIECE
Downstairs, the staff were feeling the heat from Robert's hiring freeze, and Daisy was in a snit because she didn't get the promotion she wanted. Naive in her advice-taking once again, she listened to Thomas Barrow, now Robert's valet, and went on strike.

Thomas, ever mean-spirited, got the new footman and Miss O'Brien's nephew, Alfred Nugent, in trouble. So, of course, O'Brien exacted revenge. Trouble aside, Alfred caught the eye of Martha's maid, Miss Reed, who, like her boss, made no secret of her modern sensibilities and let him know she fancied him with a couple of big ol' snogs, much to the widow Mason's, I mean Daisy's, seeming consternation.

Mrs. Patmore, when not dealing with Daisy's sulking, was serving as confidante to Mrs. Hughes, who'd found a lump in her breast, one that Dr. Clarkson couldn't confirm wasn't cancer. In not telling Mr. Carson of her situation, Mrs. Hughes bore her own stress and that of Carson, who was under (self-induced) pressure to keep the household running smoothly without having enough experienced help.

Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited
2012 for MASTERPIECE
Anna continued to visit the still-imprisoned Mr. Bates, who had a new (and dodgy and possibly scheming) cellmate. Armed with a list of names she found amongst the late Vera Bates' things, Anna set out to discover why Vera chose to write that she was in fear for her life instead of telling this in person to a Mrs. Bartlett, whom John Bates said was "the nearest thing to a friend Vera had."

(For as much as I adore Bates, his dismissals of Anna's ideas to help get him absolved of the crime of murder and out of jail were annoying. How does he know they won't work? Men. Harrumph.)

Lastly, Isobel found a new vocation in helping "women who've had to degrade themselves" find alternative (and more respectable) forms of employment. Enter Ethel, who's now working as a prostitute. She went to see Isobel, but changed her mind and ran out the door. Will Isobel get Ethel reinstated at Downton? We shall see.

Costume-wise, there were several gorgeous pieces of the fashions of the day, not the least of which was Mary's simple and elegant wedding gown. The looks on Robert's and Carson's faces as Mary walked down the Downton stairs said it all. She was a beautiful bride. The wedding-day ensembles worn by Sybil, Edith and Cora were also lovely, as were Edith's champagne-colored evening dress, and Mary's red one, which was just stunning.

The dialogue was true-to-form for the characters, although Violet had fewer spot-on zingers than I expected, and those from Martha were a bit over the top. (I assume they were meant to be.) Still, "it's 1920" got to be tiring. So did all of the American vs. British bits. I get that they were included for drama and tension, but really, we didn't need so many of them.

Not enough were scenes with certain characters, such as Sybil and Tom, whom we didn't see at all during last season's Christmas special. But there were a lot of storylines to fit into two hours, so I hope we get to see more of them as the season progresses. And speaking of Tom, the scenes with Mary's godfather and his son (the dastardly fellow who spiked Tom's drink) felt contrived, but as segues to move the hold-out Crawleys from disdain to acceptance of Tom into the family, as well as to further the story of the Crawley-Strallan relationhsip, they worked well enough.

All in all, the Downton Abbey Season 3 opener was fabulous, and I am very much looking forward to the next episode.

Downton Abbey, Episode 2 airs on PBS Masterpiece on Sunday, 13 January, at 9PM Eastern. Check your local listings.

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