Commercial Break would like to welcome Laurie Nivison! She’s a new contributor to the site and will be writing on Downton. Welcome Laurie!
Downton Abbey – Written by Laurie Nivison
I remember watching the first season of Downton Abbey and absolutely loving it. This was before everyone else in the U.S. caught on. I’ve been watching PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre since I was in middle school (yes, really, I was that nerd), and have had the benefit of watching many a costume drama through the years. From Dickens to Gaskell to anything Austen, I am a sucker for anything Masterpiece Theatre throws at me. It’s by far and away better than most anything on regular television most of the time. So it pleased me to see so many others who have hopped onto the cult of Downton Abbey bandwagon, and I’m happy to impart my thoughts on the third season of Downton here for you, dear readers.
The first (and second, as we are treated to a two-hour presentation) episode of season three brings us to Downton Abbey in 1920. I admit, the second season of Downton Abbey for me was a bit uneven compared to the first, due in part, I believe, to the employment of writers other than co-creator Julian Fellowes. Luckily, Fellowes is back writing all the episodes in Season 3 and we the audience are better for it.
When last we left the inhabitants of Downton Abbey, Matthew Crawley had finally proposed to Lady Mary. Now, the whole house, and, as it seems, the whole town is getting ready for these royal-like nuptials. But beyond the preparations for the wedding there is plenty of drama ready to descend upon Downton Abbey. It seems Lord Grantham has made an investment that has drained every penny from the estate. Will Downton survive? Could there be a rescue in the form of an inheritance for Matthew from his former love, Lavinia Swire, by way of her deceased father? Matthew’s guilt over Lavinia’s death could prevent him taking the inheritance, much to Mary’s chagrin. Which means Downton’s fate hangs in the balance. On top of the potential ruin of Downton, Branson and Sybil return for the wedding after eloping to Ireland. Branson’s adjustment from downstairs to upstairs is rocky at first, but he begins to emerge as a uniting force within the family. We should keep an eye on Branson as the series goes on, I have a feeling he will have a large part to play this season.
Downstairs, Mr. Carson is still his lovingly curmudgeony self, Daisy is rebelling, and O’Brien and Thomas are at their villainy best. Anna is determined to free Bates, visiting him regularly in prison and hoping to search for clues to set him free. O’Brien gets her nephew a job as a footman, however inexperienced he may be, which of course vexes Mr. Carson to no end. Mrs. Hughes faces a health scare with the support of Mrs. Pattmore.
Maggie Smith is still wonderful as the Dowager Countess, ready with plenty of quips, my favorite of which in this presentation was a simple exchange in response to an offer of a new drink called a cocktail: “I don’t think so – they look too exciting for so early in the evening, don’t they Carson?”
In addition to a new footman, Shirley MacLaine is introduced as Lady Grantham’s mother, who comes from America for Mary’s wedding. Her dry wit seems to be quite a match for the Dowager Countess, and she spares no expense at calling out the stodgy old ways of the British – “are there still forbidden subjects in 1920?” she says with a laugh – a good parallel for the Crawley family as they face change on all fronts. Will they surrender to progress for the sake of the estate or stick to old ways for fear of that change?
So much happens in this first episode I can’t possibly lay it all out here, but what I will say is that Downton Abbey is back in fine form. Leaving World War I and the unevenness of Season 2 behind, the inhabitants of Downton Abbey face the future with trepidation as change is inevitable. There is no shortage of downstairs shenanigans, let alone everything going on upstairs. There’s plenty of wit and drama to spare, which means we Downton fans are in for quite the season. So, what did you think? Should Matthew give in and accept the inheritance to save Downton? What was your favorite quip from the Dowager Countess? And will Lady Edith ever get a break? I can’t wait for next Sunday to find out what happens next.