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Downton Abbey: Season Three, Episode Three

Edith: “Something happening in this house is actually about me.”

Unlike seasons past, this one seems to be taking place in a tight timeframe. While we are used to large leaps of time between episodes, so far this year it hasn’t happened. We know from the last episode that Edith wanted to be married within a month, so I am placing this episode in May, 1920.

I rather wish they would speed up the timeline again as the slow pace of this season seems to have affected the story lines as well. Similar to last week, some of the stories appeared to be different takes on stories we have already seen, some were just silly; but, there were a couple that I found charming and that moved me.

The best example of stories we have already seen is Isobel working with the prostitutes. While I do believe the woman has a good heart and that she genuinely means well, she tends to force herself and her help on people who don’t necessarily want it. The scene where the prostitutes are ignoring her as she tries to teach them to sew makes me smile. All they want is food; nothing is going to change what they do for a living.

Ethel is dithering, even when Isobel turns up at her door. We see proof positive of her chosen career this week, but she refuses to accept Isobel’s help, even for Charlie’s sake. Again, I wonder what happened with Mrs. Hughes helping her. It feels as though when Ethel chose to keep Charlie, Mrs. Hughes stopped giving her food. The telling detail was that Mrs. Hughes is unsure about where Ethel is currently living.

Now that Bates and Anna are married, we need another downstairs romance. It appears that Daisy has a crush on Alfred, who, as far as I can tell, is completely oblivious to the girl. This story feels a bit like Daisy’s crush on Thomas back in season one. Additionally, it seems like Mrs. Patmore is still getting involved in Daisy’s life by keeping Alfred away from her. While I would like Daisy to find some real romance in her life to make up for all the guilt she feels about William, this story of hers has been told.

Anna’s and Bates’ story seems to have stalled as well. The Free Bates campaign is in full swing. Anna travels to London to meet with Mrs. Bartlett about Vera’s last hours, even going so far as to give her money. This detail struck me as naive in the extreme, knowing Vera and her sort as we do, and we have seen enough of the Bates’s family money go to these types. Of course, nothing comes of the meeting and we are right back where we started.

Bates, meanwhile, is being set up by his cellmate. Luckily he finds the drugs before the guards can find them on him. This is a story line I don’t understand at all. Why is Bates being set up and what does his cellmate hope to gain from it? The Bates story this week felt forced into the episode, as though we are not meant to forget about him while he is not at the house.

While the money situation is a new story, the whole thing just gets more melodramatic and, I’m afraid, has cast a pall over the first part of this season for me. A trip to the new house doesn’t sway Matthew, but then there is that ridiculous letter from Reggie in which he assures Matthew that he knew the truth but that it didn’t matter. The whole idea of Lavinia posting a letter just hours before she died is so absurd that even Fellowes seems to have struggled with it. The convoluted way we learn how she did it feels like someone saying to him as he is writing this section, “You need to explain every detail of how that letter was sent, otherwise the viewers won’t buy the story.” Frankly, I still don’t. But, Lavinia did manage to post the letter and now Matthew can accept the money guilt free. Yuck.

The scene where Matthew tells Robert bothers me as well. Matthew is about to give Robert enough money to save the estate, yet he is willing to do it with no strings attached. For someone who has been set up as the business brain in the family, this borders on the stupid. Everyone knows that Robert can’t manage huge sums of money, so why Matthew allows him the chance to lose his money as well as Cora’s astonishes me. It is Robert who comes up with the idea of joint ownership of the estate, but he effectively blackmails Matthew into accepting his terms. Not the gratitude one might expect under the circumstances, but it is easy to see where this story is headed. I hope the old world vs. new world running of the estate is more compelling than saving it was.

There were, however, several stories this week that I liked and that seemed to be going somewhere new. O’Brien and Thomas in an open war with each other could be more fun to watch than the two of them conspiring together. I wasn’t sure what Thomas was hoping to gain from starting the rumor that O’Brien was leaving as it seemed to be such an easy thing for her to fix. I understood, however, when I saw Cora’s reaction. Thomas, who appears to be getting even more chummy with Robert, has driven a wedge between O’Brien and the source of her power. Thomas looked worried when O’Brien threatened him. I can’t say I blame him.

As much as I have disliked Edith in the past, watching her prepare for her wedding was simply lovely. She was obviously so excited and so pleased to be the center of attention for a change. Anthony, on the other hand, continues to worry about his infirmary and his age and brings the subject up again with Robert. I blame her father for ruining Edith’s wedding. If Robert could have had a bit more generosity of spirit when talking to Anthony, I do believe Edith would now be happily married. Instead, she is humiliated before the entire village. Even the servants pity her, although the scene where they get to eat her wedding feast made me smile.

Through the course of this episode, we watch Edith change significantly. In the course of a day, she moves from being a happy bride to a resigned spinster. The scene where she is crying after the wedding brought tears to my eyes. Jealous of her married, pregnant sisters, she can’t bear to be around them and sobs out her heartbreak to her mother. Most poignant of all, however, is the next morning. She climbs out of bed, resignation to her fate written all over her. Isobel is right; she needs to find something to do. Edith is at her best when she is working.

Although he has been annoying me no end recently, I liked the story this week of Carson discovering that Mrs. Hughes is ill. Having no luck with Dr. Clarkson, he manages to wheedle the truth out of Mrs. Patmore whose expression when she discovers what has happened made me laugh. In typical Carson fashion, rather than respect Mrs. Hughes’ wishes to keep her illness to himself, he runs off to tell Cora. I must say that Cora was extremely kind and compassionate towards Mrs. Hughes; it’s a side of her I admire.

We saw another side of Carson this week as well. He obviously cares a great deal for Mrs. Hughes and was genuinely worried and wanting to help her. He doesn’t go about it very well, but his heart is certainly in the right place. And, we can all rest easy now that we know that the tumor is benign (although, was there ever any real doubt?). Carson’s singing in relief at the news is a wonderful character beat, as is the closing shot of Mrs. Hughes smiling at him.

Bits and Bobs:

— Jean Patou was a French fashion designer very popular after the war. He is still known today for his perfume, Joy. Lucile was the professional name of Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon who was one of the first English designers to become internationally known. She became infamous for surviving the sinking of the Titanic, but then unbelievably, was booked on the Lusitania for its fateful voyage. She cancelled at the last minute because she was ill.

— “Dashing Away With The Smoothing Iron” is an old English folk song. What is so lovely about Carson choosing this particular song is the final line of the song, “She stole my heart away.”

Well Said:

Daisy: “I couldn’t get over how outspoken she was. But, you liked that, didn’t you?”
Alfred: “I suppose I did. It felt… modern. She said what she felt, even though she was a woman. I did like it.”
Daisy: “Maybe I should be more outspoken, say what I really think.”

Robert: “I must say, it’s a relief to have some men in the family at last.”

Edith: “I won’t sleep a wink.”
Sybil: “Tonight or tomorrow?”
Lady Violet: “Sybil, vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”
Sybil: “Well, you started it.”

Mrs. Hughes: “Did you tell him?”
Mrs. Patmore: “I would prefer to say I put him out of his misery.”

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


  1. Poor Edith. I was so furious with Anthony. What was he thinking? Although it was probably Robert's fault.

    O'Brien versus Thomas! Get the popcorn. :)

    Terrific review, Chris.

  2. Fantastic review as always but the cracks in the writing are beginning to show. In a way, I wish this show was less popular because that might make the writers work harder for more coherent plot development.

    Also - losing Downtown Abbey. Sorry but just could not feel the pain. I have never much liked Lady Mary and since her marriage, I like her even less.

    But great clothes. Love the clothes.

  3. Poor, poor Edith! I finally began to like her this season. She definitely did not deserve this, not from Robert nor from Sir Anthony! Shame! :o(

    Don't worry Chris, the season is going to get a lot better! I don't think things will again be as thrilling as WWI (unless they take us 20 years into the future to WWII), but things definitely get interesting again at Downton! ;o)

    Thomas vs O'Brien, the two characters we love to hate, bring it on!!!

    Robert vs Matthew promises interesting things as well. And yeah, that whole Lavinia sending a letter sounds like a desperate device to get themselves out of the corner they'd written themselves into with that money thing!

    I think the deal with Bates is simply his cellmate hates him so he's out for him. It's a dominance in jail thing.

    Looking forward to the rest of your reviews! :o)

  4. The whole Edith/Anthony debacle reminded me of that Sex And The City thing "He's just not that into you":). I know he chuntered on about his age but he just never seemed all that committed to the idea to me. My theory is that he's secretly gay, wanted outward respectability in the eyes of society but found at the last minute he just couldn't go through with the wedding:).

    Couldn't agree more about the Lavinia letter. Horrible writing.


  5. Much agreement, Gavrielle. It would have made a lot more sense if Matthew had changed his mind because he (1) realized that most of the servants would lose their jobs, and/or (2) acknowledged how important the estate was to his wife and her family. That letter was nearly as idiotic as Matthew deciding to throw away his inheritance in the first place.

  6. I agree with everyone about how stupid this whole inheritance storyline has been. I hope it is over.

    I cried for Edith at her wedding and again when Carson was singing at the end, for very different reasons.

    I, for one, really did worry that Mrs. Hughes might have cancer and I was extremely relieved she did not. My mom is going through treatment for breast cancer, and I need Downton Abbey to help me forget about it for an hour or so. No one else I care about can have cancer right now, darn it, not even fictional characters!

  7. Spent the evening catching up with Downton...loved Carson and his "subtle" methods of making Mrs. Hughes' work easier. His "She doesn't know I know!" made me laugh out loud.

    I am sick of the Bates in jail story. First of all, the characters there are constantly muttering or whispering and I can hardly understand anyone and secondly, everyone looks so much the same, it's impossible to tell them apart. Which dirty prisoner is that? Is that the roommate or the other guy? Annoying.

    Lavinia and Reggie's letters are right out of late seventeenth century literature. I do not mean that as a compliment. Oh, some impossible plot predicament? Look! I found a magic letter that miraculously makes everything okay!

  8. Yuck. Worst episode of the series, and frankly I'm wondering if I want to continue. The show has some wonderful characters, but the plotting has really gone downhill since the middle of the 2nd season. I was seriously tired of Matthew's noble response to Lavinia's tragic death when it was just an obstacle to him marrying Violet and to have it dredged up again with this ridiculously contrived plotline involving her father's money.

    Then you have "the bride left at the altar" something that virtually never happens in the real world but seems to happen at half of fictional weddings. I would be perfectly to never see the trope again; it hardly ever works for me. I never could figure out why the family was so dead set against it. He was seen as a possible match for her back in season 1 and the age difference between them hasn't changed. The only thing that's changed is a war injury and he's hardly a cripple in need of a nurse. Besides Strahlen doesn't look that much older than Richard Carlisle, and they never even mentioned the age gap with him.

    The downstairs plot developments were more promising. I really like how Mrs. Patmore's developed as a character recently and O'Brien vs Thomas could be fun. But the upstairs plot threads have been just awful lately. Does the show regain its narrative power, or does it continue to stumble along like a mediocre soap opera?

  9. Thank you for commenting, Magritte.

    For me, the high point of the series was season two. Having said that, there is a lot coming up in the following seasons that I loved and have watched again. This episode is, without a doubt, one of the low points. The series does find its feet again, or at least it did for me.

    I hope you find something to enjoy if you choose to move forward.

  10. Thanks. I probably am overreacting to this episode and felt a need to vent. I find that when a show establishes a certain level of expectation, I react more strongly to bad episodes. Whereas a show that was just sort of mediocre all the time (like Falling Water or Alice in Borderland) never really provoked a negative enough reaction with a single episode for me to drop it.

    I am feeling that there's too much convenience in the plot developments in the last half-dozen episodes or so, though.

  11. I liked the story of Edith being left at the altar. I thought that story line was well done and the surprise ending felt earned. Anthony talked himself into thinking this was a good idea and panicked at the last minute. He and Edith obviously genuinely loved each other. But she also is apt to fall for anyone who makes her feel desired (See fake Patrick and poor Mr. Drewe.) Deep down Sir Anthony probably knew she deserved the chance to have a few more suitors. Still every time I rewatch this episode I get swept up Edith’s excitement for the wedding and half expect it to happen even though I know the ending . I buy the story. Also I love watching everyone’s reaction’s at the church. All the other plot lines in this episode are manufactured drama.


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