Downton Abbey's third season ended with a time jump, a shocking loss, and a whole lotta controversy in the fan-dom...so par for the course, right? *wink* Personally I think this third season finale is one of the season's strongest episodes, a pretty wholly satisfying end to the season and a great set-up for the drama to come.
A year has passed since the previous episode -- a year in which, if relations between the various major players are any indication, a lot has happened (in particular I'm thinking of Edith's continued work for Gregson's newspaper, and her corresponding rise in spunk and independence vis-a-vis her relationship with Mary, which appears to be veering into the testy territory that made them such fun in season one). The episode opens with the house in tumult as the family is preparing to leave Downton for their "annual" vacation in Scotland (much like the previous installment's "annual" cricket match, I find the introduction of these regular, never-before-mentioned events somewhat humorous). This trip at long last introduces us to an extended branch of the Crawley family -- Violet's (Maggie Smith) niece Susan (Phoebe Nicholls) and her husband "Shrimpie" (a.k.a. Hugh, a.k.a. the Marquess of Flintshire, played by Peter Egan), parents of the firebrand that is Lady Rose (Lily James). While I'm unfamiliar with Egan's work, Nicholls is a most familiar face, having appeared in Persuasion, Shackleton, Foyle's War, and Inspector Lewis.
|Hi, my name is Shrimpie and I hate myself BECAUSE MY NAME IS SHRIMPIE.|
Even though, given the confines of a two-hour special episode, the introduction to the MacClare clan is rushed, I loved the glimpse this episode provided into another great house -- albeit with a few cultural quirks (waking every day to the sound of bagpipes) and hobbies (deer stalking and the gillies' ball) refreshing different from Downton's norm. It becomes quickly apparent that Robert (Hugh Bonneville) in particular views this annual jaunt to Scotland as an idyllic retreat to be savored -- but this year especially things are far from peaceful in the MacClare family, as near-constant bickering between Shrimpie, Susan, and Rose repeatedly threaten to cast a dour mood over the otherwise determinedly festive gathering. I rather think this trip is Fellowes' way of addressing the old adage "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence;" as events unfold, Robert comes to the realization that the change he spent most of season three fighting has actually preserved and strengthened what matters most -- his family and home -- while Shrimpie, who had no Matthew to push him into the 20th century, is in a thoroughly unhappy marriage and stands to lose his home.
Back at Downton, romance and scandal of all stripes threaten to bloom in the absence of the Crawley family, as Branson (Allen Leech) and most of the servants were left at home to tend to the running of the household and estate. Branson's storyline in this episode is particularly strong, as his general demeanor and the fact that he's the de-facto head of the household in the absence of Robert and Matthew signals the preceding year has given birth to a deeper trust between him and the rest of the family. Indeed, this is the closest he's come yet to acclimating to his new role as one of "them," i.e. a member of the very upper class he spent most of his tenure at Downton railing against. Oh the irony. :)
That said, while Branson has been accepted at Downton he's still not quite considered a part of the family by the world at large, which has to sting a bit when one is left behind to "hold down" the proverbial fort. This leaves him ripe for manipulation by the new maid, Edna (MyAnna Buring), who seeks to take advantage of Branson's change in fortune by ingratiating herself into his life during the family's conspicuous absence. I thought this was handled SO WELL, in no small part because there is nothing romantic in Branson's response to Edna's overtures of "friendship," it's all about loneliness and GUILT. It is only natural considering Branson's origins and history with the household that he would feel more comfortable with the servants than his "new" family and their attendant social rules. Edna's attempts to guilt Branson into compromising his position as manager and family member may very well have succeeded if not for the ever-watchful eye of Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan). Her "mother/son" talk with Branson at the end of the episode stands as one of my favorite scenes in the series to date -- the empathy and understanding and, most importantly, guidance she offers him absolutely priceless in its value and friendship.
Love is also in the air at Downton, as new grocer Mr. Tufton (John Henshaw) shows more than a passing interest in Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), and Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) is revealed to apparently harbor romantic inclinations toward Isobel (Penelope Wilton), of all people!!! I absolutely loved Mrs. Patmore's storyline, as she is consistently one of my favorite characters with her sense of humor and her sharply-honed sarcastic edge. *wink* Daisy (Sophie McShera) and the rest of the downstairs staff get a lot of mileage out of the idea of Mrs. Patmore having a "fancy man" -- and I was quite on board with the idea, until at the local fair Tufton is revealed to be an inveterate FLIRT. I had a brief worried moment when I thought the cook's heart might actually be broken -- but I should've known better, as her good humor and pragmatism quickly won out and made short work of Tufton's desire to court her for her mad cooking skills. :)
|this really happened|
The Isobel/Clarkson storyline...that on the other hand was hilarious from start to finish -- though it certainly answers the question of what Fellowes might have in store for Isobel next season. I mean c'mon, WHAT HAS HAPPENED in the year between part six and part seven that has Dr. Clarkson thinking he and Isobel have made some sort of LUV CONNECTION??? Inquiring minds want to know. NOW. :P I don't know why I continue to let myself be surprised by Isobel's stupidity, but I really cannot believe that she had no clue Clarkson was into her. Here's hoping they revisit this awkwardness next season! Speaking of love connections, seeing Carson (Jim Carter) with baby Sybil, and then Mrs. Hughes joining the party -- why oh why oh WHY can't we have something happen between those two? That would rock my Downton-loving heart.
|Thomas, trying REALLY HARD to be a team player...|
Wrapping up the Downton-set action, Jimmy (Ed Speleers) is still acting like the whole awkward episode with Thomas (Rob James-Collier) happened yesterday instead of a year ago. (Thomas was rocking the hat in this ep, wasn't he?) I mean even Alfred (Matt Milne) is willing to give Thomas some credit for keeping things appropriate. Anyways...at the fair, Jimmy acts like an idiot, gets threatened, Thomas tries to help him and gets beat up (like, REALLY beat up), and then they're both like CAN'T WE JUST BE FRIENDS?? And good grief but I hope so. I mean if they could actually be FRIENDS, that would rather be a refreshing change of pace for the show...not to mention go a long way towards Thomas's continued humanization. We really don't need him put back in the "villain" box (unless an opportunity comes up to give O'Brien an EPIC comeuppance, then I'd be okay with that).
Okay, back to Scotland and all of THAT drama. :) Mary (Michelle Dockery) is finally pregnant, yay for that, and at eight months no less -- yet she still insists on joining the family on their vacation. She is also apparently (and quite understandably, I might add) suffering from what appears to be a surfeit of pregnancy hormones, as she and Edith are sniping at each other in a manner I don't think we've seen since season one (good times, people, GOOD TIMES). Mary apparently smells a rat where Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) is concerned, as Edith's (Laura Carmichael) love-struck editor is conveniently in Scotland at the same time as the Crawleys, so he wrangles an invitation to join their party. Since Gregson's insane wife is apparently the best-kept secret EVER (never mind HOW??), as at the beginning of the episode only Edith knows of her, I'm not really sure WHY she objects to Gregson's presence but whatevs. Mary and Edith sniping at each other is just one of life's comforting constants. And lest we forget and cast Edith as a victim here, she's been guilty of more than one offence towards Mary in the past (i.e., dishing on the true circumstances behind Pamuk's death).
So Gregson has apparently CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT HIS COLUMNIST and thinks he can actually make this work if he explains his situation to Edith's father. What father in their right mind would be okay with that? I mean C'MON. *rollseyes* He's actually SHOCKED when he runs the scheme by Matthew (Dan Stevens); clearly being married to a lunatic has addled his brain. Now, if not for the whole Rochester-esque life he's leading (which, incidentally, I think is great dramatic fun for the show), I think Gregson is pretty dang perfect for Edith. I mean he liked her BEFORE HE MET HER. But the road to happiness on this show never did run smoothly, so here's my prediction: Edith starts an affair with Gregson, she gets pregnant, he tries to have his wife killed, there is a great scandalous trial resulting in a prison sentence, Edith promises to be faithful, has his kid, crazy wife dies whilst he's rotting behind bars, and then because it was "only" attempted murder he gets out by the season finale and he and Edith marry under a cloud of scandal. Fellowes, you can have that for FREE. *wink*
Meanwhile O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) meets her long-lost twin in the form of Susan's maid Wilkins (Simone Lahib). They appear to be on the road to becoming BFF's until Susan reveals a preference for O'Brien's mad hairdressing skills, which leads the permanently sour-faced Wilkins to hatch a plot to embarrass her "rival" at the gillies' ball. This turns just all kinds of hilarious as the spiked drink meant for O'Brien is downed by the hapless Molesley (Kevin Doyle), who proceeds to royally embarrass himself on the dance floor. Personally I think Susan should hire O'Brien, but then we'd never deal with the SOAP issue, would we? Decisions, decisions...I guess I just like the idea of O'Brien sweltering in the Indian sun at some remote outpost.
Interestingly enough, the Rose we meet here is like 500 times less annoying than the Rose we met a year ago. I honestly feel like those storylines were reversed or something. The mother/daughter relational issues while not breaking new ground at least felt genuine -- particularly given the testy relationship between Rose's parents exacerbating the normal pangs attendant with growing up. Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) really clicks with Rose here, obviously remembering her own struggles to relate to Sybil's atypical ways, and by the end of the episode arrangements are in place for Rose to move to Downton while her parents work out their issues overseas. If she continues in something resembling this vein, I shan't mind her addition to the cast at all -- but I'm not holding my breath on that score given her wild introduction. Balance, Fellowes, BALANCE. :P
Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) get some nice moments in this episode, even though this is decidedly a working vacation for the pair. I was happy to see that Bates appears to have mellowed in the year he's been out of prison -- or at the very least set the simmering anger issues I feared in the last episode momentarily aside for the trip to Scotland. I thought Anna's "surprise" of learning to dance a reel, because Mama Bates was apparently Scottish or something, was a bit weird, since she couldn't dance WITH HER HUSBAND...but whatever. The look of unabashed adoration Bates was giving Anna while watching her was all worth it in my book. :) Also, side note: I loved the fact that during the first Downton meets Scottish servants meal, Fellowes threw in the tidbit that valets and ladies' maids when visiting other households would've been referred to by their employer's name belowstairs -- a tidbit he included in Gosford Park.
At the gillies' ball Mary decides to DANCE, which is a great idea when you're eight months pregnant I'm sure. She decides it would probably be smart to return to Downton, so she sets off with Anna (Matthew & company to follow) and goes into labor THE SECOND SHE STEPS OFF THE TRAIN. But being a LADY she really holds it together until she reaches the hospital (yay for Isobel being sorta useful, i.e. present). She delivers a healthy baby boy, the succession assured and she and Matthew deliriously happy. I loved this...honestly from the second half of this season on, Mary and Matthew have been pretty consistently awesome.
Now, unless you live in the UK I'm not sure how you managed to avoid spoilers for what follows, but props to you if you did. Here's where I feel like I'm in the minority...I'm not upset at all that Matthew is no longer on the show. Dan Stevens was making no secret of his desire to leave Downton Abbey before the third season even started filming. Character-wise, Matthew and Mary clicked so well -- she turning him into a commanding heir, he transforming her through his love for her, softening her hard edges -- the only viable option for his character was to die. There's no way Matthew would take some sort of indefinite "leave of absence" -- he's too crazy in love with his wife and child. And the whole "two major characters dying so close together" thing doesn't wash with me either. Remember this "season" covers something like two years in the lives of the characters -- and Sybil falling victim to eclampsyia and Matthew getting in a tragic car wreck following his son's successful delivery is hardly apples to apples IMO. Is it tragic? Absolutely. But the possibilities it opens for Mary's character are so promising -- grief-stricken, alone, a single mother? LOTS OF DRAMA, people.
So after the lovely hospital scene, which I watched with a growing sense of IMPENDING DOOM, waiting for the other shoe to drop and all, a crying Matthew drives off to give the family the happy news that he's a dad. While all this is happening Matthew is, in effect, getting eulogized as the entire assembled family starts talking about how awesome and perfect he is and how grateful they are to him for saving the estate -- this is called HEAVY FORESHADOWING. They practically canonize the man in the seconds leading to his death. Not only will that leave the family reeling, but think about this -- who on EARTH will they allow within that circle of trust, into the gaping space left by Matthew's sad end? Personally I cannot wait to find out -- because I suspect the road for Mary to find love for a second time will be even rockier than the first, as everyone is going to be compared to the man who first saw beyond her hurt, brittle facade and loved her anyway.
As hard as Sybil and Matthew's deaths were to watch, as sad as I am to see two of the characters I've grown to love over the last three years say their goodbyes, I'm looking forward to seeing where the show takes Downton and its residents next. Because these deaths brought undeniable change to the family, change that cannot be ignored or glossed over in the passing of an episode -- change that desperately needed to happen in order to keep the show vibrant and growing.
This season has been a wild ride, but I've enjoyed it -- and I cannot wait to see where the characters go from here. See you next year Downton...and to Fellowes, I say bring it on. :)