Downton Discussion: What You Need to Know About Episode 3

The second series of Downton Abbey rolls on, as we’ve just finished the third episode this week. After a somewhat slower episode last week, things are cracking right along once again on both the war and the home fronts. Full disclosure: I will definitely may have some nits to pick once we get into the specifics of this installment, but I feel I should say that as a whole I loved this episode to pieces. It's probably my favorite of the second series thus far.

We continue to see how the war abroad is bringing about significant changes in the day-to-day life of Downton, there’s some drama, emotional upheaval, character development and more. Click through for a look at some of the big moments from this week’s episode, and share your thoughts in the comments!

Downton Abbey drew a fair amount of negative commentary from certain critical circles in the UK during its second series for being too “soapy” and relying on what might be termed overly convenient or occasionally unbelievable plot twists.  Is this charge, true? In some ways, yes. There are certainly elements in this season that could be fairly labeled predictable, over the top, or soapish. And you know what? It doesn’t really matter that much. It’s still a great ride that will make you gasp and flail and swoon and cheer – and this episode pretty much highlights all of those aspects – the joy and fun and emotional satisfaction can easily outweigh some of the questionable paths we might take to get there.

So, big things from this week?

See Ya, Mrs. Crawley. Isobel and Cora have throwdown number three hundred about who’s really running things at Downton, the end result of which is basically Isobel snorting and stomping and “BUT WHAT ABOUT MEEEEEEE-ing” for a while until she finally threatens to take her toys and go home unless people start appreciating her. (This seriously comes complete with a dramatically uttered “But I mean it!” like three times.) Cora, not being an idiot, pounces on this opportunity, and calls her bluff. Isobel whinges for a little bit longer before she decides to head off to France to work in a hospital. Everyone rejoices. (Or at least everyone in my house did. I need a break from this character so badly. Unsympathetic doesn’t begin to describe her.)  

Lady Edith is on Her Second Week of Being Awesome. Snarking at the soldier that’s flirting with Ethel? Helping Daisy find out what might have happened to William? Making the hard decision to tell Mary the truth about Matthew’s disappearance – and clearly motivated by the fact that she thinks Mary deserves to know, rather than selfishly trying to get one over on her sister? I like this Edith, who has suddenly become a decent person who thinks about others. It’s a whole new world.

Mary’s New Attitude is Depressing.  Mary’s rather opportunistic view of her relationship with Richard Carlisle continues to bother me a bit. During her conversation with her father, Mary comes across as so calculating with regard to her potential engagement – and the comment about Robert marrying Cora for her money was an unnecessary low blow. It’s understandable that she’s unhappy with Matthew engaged to Lavinia and it’s likely that she figures it doesn’t much matter who she marries if she can’t have him, but Mary’s never come across as overly concerned with things like wealth or status or titles and it feels weird to hear her keep making these arguments, like they’re all she has left.

Ethel’s Poor Life Decisions. This is one of those overly soapy plots that maybe could stand a little toning down. Ethel makes the decision to sleep with the convalescent Major Bryant in what appears to be a broom cupboard or the most poorly maintained bedroom in history. Of course they get caught by Mrs. Hughes. As Ethel has been generally obnoxious since the moment of her introduction – her constant insistence that she’s ready for a bigger life than she’s currently living is both irritating and over-the-top (“I’m ready for a new adventure and I don’t care who hears me!’ Really? Who says that?) – it was terribly satisfying watching Mrs. Hughes sack her. We’ll probably be paying for that small moment of joy for weeks now that Ethel’s returned to the house pregnant and desperate, though I’m not quite sure why anyone at Downton (other than Anna, who is basically a saint) would be tremendously motivated to help her. But we’ll see where it goes.

Line of the Night: Someone That *Isn't* the Dowager.  Mrs. Hughes gets a gold star for this gem: “I may not be a woman of the world, but I don’t live in a sack!”

Branson is Sort of Creepy. Branson and Sybil continue their completely weird pseudo-courtship. It’s clear that we’re supposed to find their flirtation incredibly romantic, but when we get lines like:

  • “I’ll stay in Downton until you want to run away with me.”
  • “I’m not even sure I like him like that. He says I do, but I’m still not sure.”
  • Branson’s description of Sybil’s nursing job – that she loves, by the way – as “bringing hot drinks to a bunch of randy officers.”

It’s hard to know how we’re supposed to take it. But…seriously? This entire situation is a giant flashing warning sign that Something Bad is Going to Happen. Sybil is the most progressive of the Crawley girls, so it makes sense that she would be the most susceptible to what the Dowager Countess would call an inappropriate friendship of the upstairs-downstairs sort, but it’s hard to believe that she would be torn about someone so overtly abrasive and angry. Certainly this season, there’s little apparent reason why anyone would want to be with Branson, let alone someone who would have to basically destroy their whole life to do so.  (To be fair: I’m sure that they could get me back on board with this pairing. But I need Series 1 Branson, who seemed well meaning and charming, to reappear immediately.)

Bates is Back! (AKA: Anna and Bates! Anna and Bates!) Bates returns to Downton after an exceptionally sweet scene where Lord Grantham goes down the pub to apologize to his former valet for his awful treatment of him and ask him to come back to work for them. It’s a thoroughly charming scene and one that highlights that the two men are actually friends, of a sort, even though their closeness crosses all sorts of class lines. And, honestly, I can’t help it. The scene where Bates and Anna see each other in the hallway when he returns to Downton? Her smile, the “Thought it was you” comment? I mean, I’m not made of stone. And hugging in the yard! Yeah, I got a little swoony. But, Anna, please stop saying things like “Now we must get used to being happy and trust it.”  Because when people make comments like that, it’s like saying “I’ll be right back!” in a horror film. You won’t be back, and you won’t be happy, and it’s just a question of time. And I kind of really, really need you guys to be happy, okay?

The Little Soup Kitchen that Could. It’s nice to see the inclusion of the surrounding village in this story at last – in a lot of ways the setting of Downton the house is very isolated and insular – so it’s good to see that yes, there is a world that exists beyond those walls that is being impacted by the war in a very different and much more immediate way.  And of course, it’s always satisfying to see some random petty scheme of O’Brien’s get thwarted, even if it’s only a C-plot.

Matthew Crawley and the Amazing Dramatic Entrance. The entire recital sequence was perfect. Was it soapy? Yes. Was it sort of emotionally manipulative? Yes. Was it fantastic? YES. From the entire room – gentry, soldiers, and servants – all singing along with Mary and Edith, to the Dowager Countess’ wonderfully confused expression, to the sudden appearance of the presumed missing Matthew and William, to the  incredible look on Mary’s face when she realized that Matthew was alive and safe. (I know I can’t have been the only one that yelled “She LOVES YOU, you IDIOT” at the television, right? Please someone say yes.) And then they sing a song together.  I can’t ask for a lot more from my television, I really can’t. It was one of those moments where the emotional beats are so exactly right that you’re willing to overlook any and all plot contrivances or saccharine staging, because it’s just that satisfying. 

On to next week!



Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Twitter at @LacyMB