Downton Dish: Let's Talk Everything You Need to Know About Episode 3

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Previously, on Downton Abbey: Edith has the worst wedding ever, Carson is a supersleuth, Vera Bates had a super creepy neighbor, Matthew got a letter from his dead almost father-in-law, Isobel went on about prostitution a lot, Mrs. Hughes turned out to be okay so everyone can breathe again and apparently we won’t be needing that dreadfully tiny Downton Place after all.  

How is Downton going to top all this? Let’s find out, as Series 3 rolls on with another exciting episode. We meet some new faces, new storylines begin and Carson finally gets to hire more staff. (Huzzah!) Click through and let’s discuss all the dramatic twists and turns from this week’s episode.

In other news, I apparently owe poor Molesley a gigantic apology for totally and completely spelling his name wrong for the past two weeks. Molesley, I’m sorry! You’re still my favorite servant! (Also really is that first “L” just silent? Is this the Edwardian version of Django Unchained?) Anyway. Onward.

The Postal Service Fails Again. Our episode opens with Mr. Carson distributing mail around the servants table downstairs. Everyone seems to get a letter except for Anna – even horrible Thomas gets two and how on earth does he even have friends? I call shenanigans on this. She looks up forlornly and asks Carson if he’s totally positive that there’s nothing for her. Carson says that – once again – she’s got no mail, and Anna looks downcast. We then cut to the Remarkably Clean and Well Lit Prison, where the inmates are also all getting their mail. Guess what – no letters for Bates, either!  He also looks sad. Seriously this prison has so much light for a place that has no visible windows.

What is the point of this storyline? Are we ever supposed to think for even a moment that Anna and Bates (who are either adorably or vomitously in love depending on how you feel about their relationship) have suddenly given up on their marriage and stopped writing each other? OF COURSE someone’s tampering with Bates’smail? I feel like I’m suddenly living that scene in Sherlock where Benedict Cumberbatch is yelling at the television about obviously that man isn’t the child’s father just look at the turn-ups on his jeans. Honestly.

Isobel Keeps on Crusading. Isobel pops downstairs after dinner to talk to Mrs. Hughes about the Ethel situation. Again. Thank goodness. Because I know we were all on the edge of our seats about it. Anyway, it turns out that Ethel sought Isobel out and asked her to deliver a letter to Mrs. Hughes. Isobel confirms that Ethel is in fact a PROSTITUTE who has been living a life of PROSTITUTION. (Candidate 1 for line of the night: “My my. That’s not a word you hear in this house every day.” – Mrs. Hughes) She says she’s sure Ethel’s been driven to do this and asks Mrs. Hughes to pass on any information that the letter might contain that would allow her to help Ethel. Also in case you didn’t know Isobel’s been helping women rebuild their lives over at her Home for Wayward Girls. Just in case you totally missed last week entirely.

Times They Are A Changing. Carson is all kinds of confused about what Matthew’s new status as a co-owner of the estate means and asks if he is supposed to answer to both him and Robert now. Matthew says no, that nothing’s really going to change much around Downton and he’s just an investor. Carson wants to expand the staff now that the money problems have been dealt with, since they’re short of a kitchen maid, a house maid and a footman. (The horror!) Matthew looks skeptical about the need for a second footman and says he thinks the world’s different now since the war. Carson snarkily says he’d quite like to go back to being a butler, but if Matthew wants him to do all that work, plus continue to serve as a second footman at dinner, he’s cool with it. Robert steps in and says that won’t be necessary and Matthew looks embarrassed.

Edith Finds a Hobby. The next day, Matthew deploys some admirable tact and asks Edith why she doesn’t just have breakfast in bed like Mary and Sybil do, implying that even though she’s not married it doesn’t really make a ton of difference since both her sisters are. Edith says she likes to be up and about, thank you very much, and Matthew looks embarrassed.

Robert drops some political knowledge on the table, saying that Tennessee is going to ratify the 19th amendment and American women are about to get the vote. Edith, who has apparently morphed into Series 1 Sybil at some point between last week and right now, says that’s lovely for them because it’s more than women in England get. Robert’s like well women almost have the vote so that’s basically close enough, but Edith says no, she doesn’t because she’s under thirty and isn’t a householder. Matthew says she should write a letter to the editor about it if she’s so upset and Edith declares that she will. Robert ignores all this feminism completely and tells Edith to help her mother make sure everything’s set for their big dinner with the Bishop of York. Edith goes to visit her grandmother instead, but Violet tells her in no uncertain terms (“Stop whining and find something to do!”) that she needs to find some sort of occupation for her time.

Edith ends up taking Matthew’s suggestion and does pen a letter to the newspaper about women’s suffrage. This letter actually gets published, much to Robert’s chagrin and he and Carson are scandalized. (But Matthew is totally Team Edith.) Edith is clearly pleased to bits that the paper actually published her letter and smiles happily to herself. After the cryfest last week, it’s actually lovely to see her happy for a moment again, even if it’s about something small. It is strange though that Edith has become the one crusading around in support of suffrage and equality and it oddly really makes me miss Sybil from the first season, even though I don’t begrudge them giving Edith this storyline. She does need something to do after all.

Mary’s Decorating Makes Matthew Suspicious. Mary tells Matthew that she’s stolen the nursery from her mother to turn it into a sitting room for the two of them. She’s going through swatches or something and wants his opinion about the print. Obviously, Matthew has no decorating input to share, but it turns out he’s totally convinced Mary’s pregnant and is not subtle about his suspicions. Apparently Cora told him that Mary had been to the doctor earlier for some unidentified reason and he’s all cutely hopeful that this redecoration meant she was trying to tell him something. Mary swats that down with a quickness, saying she just needed something for her hayfever. Matthew – who is either exceptionally adorable or exceptionally dim, it’s hard to tell which – tries again, asking whatever will they use for a day nursery if they turn this into a sitting room. Mary, radiating WELL THIS IS AWKWARD so clearly you can see it from space, says they can worry about that further down the line. Matthew looks embarrassed.

Clearly, this plot point is going to come up again.

More Prison Drama. Hurrah. Anna is still moping about her lack of mail. Mrs. Hughes catches her crying and she says she’s scared that Bates has decided to be all noble and set her free or something and that’s why she’s not heard from him. Mrs. Hughes says she’s sure that her husband has a good reason for not writing even if none of them have any idea what that might be. Suitably bucked up, Anna continues with her day. Perhaps Mrs. Hughes should consider taking out an advice column this season?

Meanwhile, back at the Ridiculously Clean Prison, Bates’ Random Prison Friend (does he even have a name?) informs him that Evil Cellmate and the Traitorous Guards from last week have it out for Bates (Still? Again?) because he managed to find their planted contraband in his bunk and thwart their plans to...oh, whatever it doesn’t matter because this prison storyline is mindnumbingly boring. (Much like everything to do with Bates-in-prison.) All you need to know is that they’ve had Bates reported to the Governor as a violet prisoner and as such, his mail and visitation and mail  privileges have been blocked. Bates is relieved, because he’d thought that Anna had given up on him completely, so he’s happy that her lack of letters is explained. Again, why is this even a plot point? Anyway, some time later Bates is plotting some sort of sort of Evil Cellmate retaliation with Random Prison Friend. They manage to plant some contraband (seriously what is that stuff? It looks like a dirty clump of hay which, while messy, hardly seems worth all this fuss) in Evil Cellmate’s bed and inform the officers about it. Evil Cellmate’s dragged off to solitary or something like that, a warden comes by later to give Bates his pile of withheld mail and please everything that’s the last we’ll hear of this plotline.

At Downton, Anna receives a similar pile of Bates-mail and they both joyously read all their mail and cry and yes it’s all very sweet I suppose, but so unnecessary. Seriously. That’s all that happens on the Free Bates storyline this week. Why was this even a thing? We already know Anna and Bates love each other. Why bother with a subplot where the characters have to wonder if they don’t? Yay, Bates got rid of Evil Cellmate maybe? I don't even know.

Ethel’s Master Plan. Ethel’s letter asked whether Mrs. Hughes would be willing to meet with her, so she arranges for everyone to get together at Isobel’s, known refuge of the downtraodden. Ethel wants Mrs. Hughes to write to the Bryants and ask if they would still like to take her son Charlie, because she can’t give him any kind of life anymore and they’re his grandparents. Isobel says she shouldn’t do anything rash and again reminds everyone that she works with PROSTITUTES all the time to rebuild their lives, so surely she would be able to help. Ethel says that no matter how the two of them worked together, she could never give Charlie the opportunities that his grandparents can. Mrs. Hughes says she’ll write to them, but Isobel jumps in and says Mrs. Hughes should keep the details vague.

Mrs. Bird, Isobel’s cook, doesn’t want to help Ethel get her coat, because she knows she’s a PROSTITUTE and is not cool with that. Isobel makes her and then tells her to mind her manners. Mrs. Bird doesn’t care and says her feelings are her own and it’s not part of her job to “wait on the likes of her.” Eeesh, rude.

Tom Branson: Not So Awesome Anymore. The Crawleys’ big dinner with the Archbishop of York is underway and Robert’s in the midst of having an exceptionally awkward Catholic-bashing monologue, when Sybil calls the house with a cryptic message. Edith answers the phone and has no idea what she’s on about, but Sybil says to tell everyone she’s fine and that she got out of the flat okay.  Dun dun dunnnn. Moments later, Tom shows up at Downton. It turns out that Tom, who is clearly gunning for Husband of the Year honors, apparently had to flee Ireland and has left his pregnant wife alone in a foreign country to make her way back to England by herself because he was afraid of being arrested. Yes, really.

Oh, Tom. Just when I was starting to like you, here we go with you being the worst person on earth again. Mary and Matthew cover for Tom, who promises he’ll explain everything after dinner is over. Turns out that Tom was part of an Irish rebel group that kicked a noble family whose name I will never hope to be able to spell out of their castle and then set fire to it. Tom, winner that he is, tries to act as though he wasn’t really involved in this incident, but if that were true he obviously wouldn’t have run. He knew the police were after him, so he set off for England straight away, because he thought that if he went home and got caught he wouldn’t get a fair trial. Yup, he just ran to protect himself and left Sybil behind. But, lest you think he’s a complete cad, Tom says he doesn’t’ think the police will hold Sybil anyway, even if they do catch her, but he’s willing to go back and face the consequences if they do. What a champion of honor!  

Tom does admit that he was there while the Unspellable Name Family’s house burned, though he insists he was not an “instigator” of events. He says that he felt bad watching the Irish lord and his family standing around crying and watching their home burn. So now he thinks that while he still wants Ireland to be a free state, but you know, he realizes that the lords are real people who get hurt and he’s sorry about that. Oh, and by the way, Tom caught the last boat out, so Sybil’s on her own for the night at least in Ireland, but he’s sure she’ll be okay. Robert of course goes awesomely ballistic at this news and Tom goes upstairs to cry.  Seriously, is this supposed to make us feel bad for him? He left his wife – who has got to be crazy pregnant by this point – alone to flee from the police! He should be crying!

Carson Gets His Wish: Meet the New Footman. A new guy shows up to interview for the second footman position. His name is Jimmy and he is apparently the Edwardian version of George Clooney because basically every person at Downton except for Alfred develops a crush on him instantly. Carson appears unimpressed during their interview, but hires him after Mary says he should choose the more attractive candidate to cheer the maids up. He seems quite put off when everyone (even the Dowager!) keeps remarking about how good looking James (nee Jimmy) is, as he’s become quite fond of Alfred, thanks to the other man’s desire to improve his work performance. Jimmy seems to have landed a particular admirer in Thomas, which you can tell because Thomas starts trying to do his impersonation of a “friendly” and “nice” person, which is epically creepy. O'Brien totally notices this complete change in Thomas' character and you just know that bad things are so about to happen to everyone.

Ethel Makes Some Hard Choices. Ethel brings her (completely adorable) son to Isobel’s to meet the Bryants. Mr. Bryant is still as lovely and charming as we remember from last season; he immediately tells Ethel he knows all about her PROSTITUTE ways because he’s had her followed and that basically she’s a horrible person. The Bryants offer to give her some cash so she can stop, you know, “working” and Isobel wants her to consider taking their money. Ethel knows it won’t be much, but Isobel insists that it doesn’t matter if Charlie goes to a famous school as long as he’s got his mother there to love him. Ethel quite rightly points out that Isobel has no idea what it’s like to live in a world as a person without all the advantages of those schools with famous names. Ethel says she believes that Charlie’s grandparents love him and that she wants them to take her son with them and raise him up properly.

Ethel does have a wonderfully moving goodbye scene with Charlie before he departs with his grandparents. Honestly, it’s pretty hard to watch this and not feel bad for her, even if you’re a person (like me) that’s never cared much about this storyline one way or the other.

Sybil Comes Home. Sybil makes it back to Downton finally and has a big emotional reunion with Tom in the foyer, complete with swelling violin music and kissing and crying. Honestly, I do wonder that Sybil’s not a bit more angry about this situation, but I suppose that’s like wishing for the sky to change color, since she never seems to be angry at Tom about anything, no matter how badly he behaves. She even goes on to defend her husband to Cora, claiming that he totally didn’t leave her at the mercy of the police in his place, but rather that they’d made a plan that this was what that would do in this situation a long time ago and that makes it totally cool. Ugh, whatever Sybil.

Cora points out that no matter how successful Robert is at getting the two of them cleared of their legal troubles in Ireland, Sybil certainly can’t travel anymore until the baby’s born. Sybil looks upset and says that Tom wants their baby to be born in Dublin and goodness knows we can’t do things that Tom doesn’t want. It turns out that none of this matters, because Robert’s struck a deal with the Home Secretary to keep Tom out of jail, the main condition of which is that he cannot go back to Ireland ever or he’ll be arrested the minute he gets there. (It turns out that Tom was involved in the meetings where attacks on Anglo-Irish lords were planned.)  Tom gasps and rants and declares he can’t be kept from Ireland because he needs to be part of his country coming of age. Whatever that means. Translated, I assume it’s something along the lines of “throwing off the yoke of English oppression” but that’s just a guess.  

Surprisingly, toward the end of the episode, Sybil seems to find her spine again. She’s angry that Tom never told her he attended those rebel meetings in Dublin. He, very maturely, responds that he never told her he didn’t go to them either. This makes Sybil curious about what else he might not have told her. Tom whines that he can’t stay at Downton for long, because of reasons, I guess, but his wife has other ideas. She says they both must stay where they are and that their baby must be born in Yorkshire as well. Tom says that Sybil’s all of a sudden “very free with her musts,” like she gets to be have an active say in their lives or what they do or something totally crazy like that. Sybil declares that she’s not going to take chances with their child’s life and that Downton can give them peace and safety and that’s what they need at the moment. Tom just kisses her cheek and doesn’t respond or apologize or anything at all, though I suppose we’re meant to take this as his acceptance of her ideas, since at least he’s not openly bossing her around at this exact second. I fear I am never going to understand this relationship. Would love to hear others’ thoughts in the comments – is this in some way romantic and I just don’t see it? Am I too hard on Tom?  Despite the fact that the Tom and Sybil storyline gives me serious moments of rage, I am incredibly curious to see where we go from here, so it must be doing something right.

Robert: Still Not So Great at Running an Estate. Matthew spends some time studying the Downton account books and tries to bring up to Robert that there are some areas where the estate is being particularly wasteful or procedures that need to be generally overhauled. Robert thinks this is boring and says they can talk about it later. It appears obvious that no one has learned that Robert should not be trusted with anything having to do with the estate finances, since he thought it was awesome to invest all their money in some kind of trans-Canada railroad and is basically the reason that they almost lost Downton in the first place.

Matthew doesn’t know what to do, so he turns to Violet for advice about how to handle the fact that he thinks Downton’s being mismanaged. She’s got no advice for him other than he’s just going to have to deal with it head on, even though it will make the family angry. Easy for you to say, Violet. Matthew looks perturbed and it would appear that the major storyline for the back half of this season has arrived How will Matthew break it to his father-in-law that he probably shouldn’t even be allowed to handle his own Monopoly money (you know, if that game were British and had been invented yet)?  Stay tuned.

What say you folks? Would love to hear your thoughts on this week’s episode – especially the Sybil and Tom storyline – in the comments!

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 Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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