Downton Abbey Recap: The Americans, Or Thomas, Stole The Subtext

Hello and welcome to Downton Abbey Season 3 Recaps! From now until February, I plan to guide you through the rough waters of Downton in the Roaring (maybe not roaring in England) Twenties. Because, love, and Downton, is a battlefield, at the end of each recap, I will rank the top 5 characters of the episode in a scientific manner. I will use these rankings to decide who wins the season. Please note, these recaps will be FULL OF SPOILERS, so either wait to read them until you’ve watched the show or, alternatively, just read them instead. Also, feel free to share your own thoughts about each episode in the comments. I won’t ever judge you. We are all in this together.

And now, Season 3, Episode 1.

As always, we start with Laura Linney, who appears to be sporting a new outfit and a new hairdo. So much effort! Can’t they give her something more exciting to say? A poem to recite maybe? Moving on.

We begin in spring 1920. While Daisy hasn’t aged a day, we know these are modern times because she is pushing a bike.

But enough clearing of the writers’ throats. We move on to what appears to be a wedding rehearsal! So it’s happening! It’s really happening! Matthew and Mary are going to finally, officially, fulfill their destiny! Or ARE they? There seems to be a new sort of will-they-won’t-they tension and that is: will Sybil and Branson bring their underclass selves to Mary’s magical wedding day? Can I suggest they do not come? Sybil and Branson have zero chemistry and honestly, I would rather they stay in Ireland, off-stage, where we can all pretend they mean something to the plot.

Enough upstairs! Time for a few close-ups on O’Brien’s sour face! I’m glad to see she hasn’t gone completely soft and that Thomas is still as devious as ever, though I don’t even know what he’s trying to be devious about. At this point it is clearly deviousness for deviousness’ sake. I missed this team of troublemakers but seriously, maybe it’s time for them to start a book group or get a hobby?

And now the drama begins! Lord Grantham is on the phone. THIS IS VERY MYSTERIOUS because as we know, the phone is a scary instrument of the Devil and Lord Grantham only uses it in extreme circumstances. The plot is thickening! Or at least we can pretend it’s thickening, even though it looks like someone forgot to add the flour (Daisy?). Also, do we STILL not have a new footman? Alert! Major plot point number 2!

I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of hoping Lord Grantham got that girl from last season pregnant.

On to the jail where we are reunited with our truest loves: Bates and Anna. Now there’s some chemistry. Even in jail he is somehow a dreamboat and she is an angel flower from Heaven. New theory: Anna is Jesus.

And then sneaky, conniving, baby-murderer O’Brien gets her nephew the footman job! And we are introduced to the first non-penetrable joke or maybe historical fact of downstairs Downton: no footman should be over 6’1″. Is this part of Carson’s vaudeville act? Am I missing something? Also, is it just me or does Alfred the new footman look exactly like poor, dead William? Is this another subplot? The ghost of William coming back to torture Daisy? Is this why Daisy looks so pale?

Now we are treated to a scene of Matthew and Mary talking dirty to each other while walking with Downton Abbey in the background. Does this mean the actual building will come between them? In bed? This is how I predict the show ends: the castle crushes Matthew in his sleep, out of jealousy.

Finally, the root of the drama with Lord Grantham is revealed: HE’S DEAD BROKE. That’s what happens when you invest in BRITISH NORTH AMERICA. I guess they can’t take out a mortgage on the house? Maybe because of its weird sexual relationship with Mary?

Edith is becoming quite forward now, getting into gentleman’s cars and such. I like this. Another prediction: Edith will be triumphant in the end.

In what appears to be a moment of postmodern surrealism, Matthew says to Mosley, as Mosley dresses him as if he is a paralyzed baby: “To be honest Mosely, I want to live more simply after the wedding.”

Everyone can tell this footman situation is going to be a problem.

Thomas is trying to trick Daisy into starting her own personal strike. Two things about this: 1. The strike doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, even though we know it’s a bad idea, since it’s coming from Thomas. This logic is a little distressing. Daisy really should stand up for herself, right? But in the world of Downton, whatever Thomas says is bad so WHAT IS A GIRL TO DO? Which brings me to point 2: Daisy, have you not learned to never listen to Thomas yet? Seriously, fool me once…

Apparently, the height of this new footman is going to be the hilarious thing for awhile so strap in. And also, Matthew’s going to dress up in coattails and go on about simplicity for at least 5 more hours. Sigh.

The dirty talk between Matthew and Mary continues, which makes me wonder: Matthew talks a good game, but will he be able to live up to the standard of love-making set by Mr. Pamuk?

Annnnnd here come boring Sybil and boring Branson. Someone has paid for them to come to the wedding of the century. Wah wah, she’s pregnant and has a new, subversive bob.

More plot thickening occurs: it turns out Matthew is like an heir magnet and Lavinia Swire’s dad put him on a list of people to give all his money to in the case of his inevitable death. I guess we can see where this plot is headed.

In the most subtext-less dinner to date, Branson is asked if it is “an Irish tradition” to not change outfits 15 times a day. Oh class warfare. Even Carson is mean to Branson. Apparently his mixture of uppity-ness, Irish-ness, fertility and inability to wear the correct color tie is altogether too much for anyone in the house. When did everyone get so fragile? Also, if we can we get a pregnant sex scene between Branson and Sybil, I promise I won’t call them boring anymore.

We do not get a pregnant sex scene.

Lord Grantham tells Cora about losing all her money to the Canadians, thus giving himself a chance to cry and win an Emmy. She seems actually pretty okay with the poverty thing, probably because she is a flexible, fancy-free American. As she says, “Have gun, will travel!”

Back in the prison (did they film all these scenes at once?), Bates can’t seem to get behind Anna’s little Sherlock act when all she wants to do is love him and set him free! I see a spin-off in which Anna is a kind-hearted but hardboiled detective. She would look absolutely adorable in a detective hat.

Downstairs, jealousy and a need for more plot is eroding the Thomas/O’Brien pact of evil. This makes me sad.

At a fancy cocktail party the drama over Branson only having one outfit is played for all it’s worth. Sir Antony sees Larry, a hoity-toity former admirer of Sybil, put something in poorly dressed, “political” Branson’s drink and soon Branson is belligerent at dinner, which we can all agree is much more fun than the sniping about dinner/morning/whatever jackets. It turns out Larry is a dastardly villain who has drugged him! But the noble, disabled, Sir Antony calls him out and Larry’s drugging backfires with Matthew pity-asking Branson to be his best man! One idea for pepping up the wedding: have Larry try his drugs on the whole wedding party! Edith is throwing herself at Sir Antony like a true modern woman. I think what you say in these situations is: “Get it, girl.”

Back at the jail with another spin-off idea: Bates in an old timey version of Oz.

At the Crawley house, without the drugs, boring Branson says to Violet and Mrs. Crawly re: dinner jackets or whites ties or something: “I see them as the uniform of oppression.” They ignore his boring political politics and make him look presentable for the wedding. Branson is clearly boring even himself at this point and he barely puts up a fight.

And finally, HERE COME THE AMERICANS! Shirley MacLaine is finally on the scene in what appears to be a flapper outfit, with a maid who has absolutely amazing eyebrows.

Things have really disintegrated as Mary is now talking dirty in front of her MOM in a nice precursor to the most annoying rich person pre-wedding fight ever to exist: should Matthew or shouldn’t Matthew hypothetically take a zillion dollar inheritance from Lavinia’s dead father which would hypothetically “save” Downton? I don’t think I side with Mary or Matthew in this fight. I’m beginning to, in fact, really hope that the house is actually in love with Edith and so crushes them both in a vengeful rage.

The plot stays about the same thickness as obnoxious, petulant Mary accuses Matthew of not ever being on her side and storms off in tears.

Violet says: “I’m a woman of many parts.” Apparently everyone is talking dirty now.

New theory: the reason we are dealing with global warming now is because the girls of Downton had to wear sleeveless dresses all the time so all the coal in the country was used every night to keep them warm enough for dinner.

Since the Matthew and Mary tension can’t sustain this show a second longer, Anna and Branson are called in to remind the fiances that they are the main characters of a hit TV show, so it’s time to get it together. Question: are Anna and Branson going to remind them every day that they love each other? Mary flaunts bad luck by opening her eyes during the pre-wedding kiss and thus dooms herself to a horrible, unhappy marriage. Oh well. Am I the only who thought Matthew was going to maybe murder Mary when he quoted Branson: “I will never be happy without you as long as you walked the Earth”?

It’s the day of the wedding and EVERYONE is talking about sex except of course for poor Edith, the virgin. Mary, who is definitely not a virgin, seems to have picked a first communion dress for her wedding. What does it mean? We will never find out because the wedding, the most important wedding of all time, as well as the honeymoon, are completely skipped over.

Post-wedding the dirty talk reaches its vomit-inducing zenith when Matthew tells Lord Grantham his “eyes were opened” on their honeymoon. Gross.

Finally! Lord Grantham’s dog makes an appearance while the men smoke cigars and talk about financial ruin! Such a cute dog! More dog! Less caring about losing the estate! We don’t care about that! We want puppies!

A new and exciting plot is introduced: Mrs. Crawly has started a home for repentant prostitutes! And a less fun plot point: Mrs. Hughes might have cancer.

Back at Downton, Anna’s missing Bates so she walks in on the newlyweds to “open their curtains” in the morning. Is this why we don’t get any sex scenes? Because ladies’ maids are constantly surprising people having romantic times in bed? When do the babies get made? I think I need a Downton Abbey birds and bees talk.

And here is Edith. Demanding what she needs from Sir Antony. Like I said earlier, get it Edith.

Thomas uses his trickery, obviously, to get Alfred to do something terrible to Matthew’s dinner or morning jacket. His tails. I cannot keep these jackets straight. Is there not some sort of orientation for the new guys about Thomas? Can they at least post a sign in the downstairs hall telling everyone to not ask for or take any advice from him? This seems like an epic failure on O’Brien’s part, actually. Tell your nephew what’s up lady!

In the drawing room, Mary and Violet try to wrangle with Shirley MacLaine (does anyone know her character’s name?) about money and it is the first time there is any subtext in this entire episode. The ladies seem positively gleeful about it.

At dinner, Alfred has embarrassed the family by burning a hole in Matthew’s coat! Surprise surprise surprise. Seriously. Post a sign. Just a picture of Thomas with a devious glint in his eye. Also, can people really tell the difference between these types of jackets? Who even cares when Mrs. Hughes might have cancer!? And when there’s an American maid (read: slut) running around kissing people downstairs?

The Edith/Antony love affair is becoming complicated because Lord Grantham is a weird meddler. How young can Edith really be? And he clearly doesn’t like her, so why does he care if she does or does not fall for an older man whose arm is always in a sling?

The subtext-less dialogue finally reaches a breaking point when, back in jail, Anna tells Bates that Lord Grantham might lose Downton due to his money trouble and Bates says, straight-faced: “That makes me sad.”

This is a very long episode.

More drama ensues when people continue to wear the wrong color ties and insist on casual dining. Shirley MacLain doesn’t give up her cash and she gets ready to return to America, the land of the free and the lipstick-wearing.

Finally, Bates gets agro in prison with his unnecessarily shady cellmate. In the final scene he appears to confess to murder. Is he doing this to stay dangerous in prison or, more likely in an episode where everyone says exactly what they mean all the time, Bates has just confessed to murdering his ex-wife Vera. And really, who cares? She had it coming.

Character ranking:

5. Lord Grantham: Robert was all over the place: flip-flopping on Edith; throwing Cora’s money at some Canadian railroad scheme; crying in his PJs; losing his shirts. And yet, he remained very Lord Grantham-y throughout. And he brought out his dog at least once. Not a poor showing, all in all.

4. Larry, the Drugger: While I doubt we will ever see this particular character again, he was kind of cute and he sure spiced things up, if for only one night. Larry, we will never forget you!

3. Thomas: It’s hard to stay evil for no real reason, but Thomas does it because he’s committed to the game. Respect.

2. Violet: It was a weak episode, dialogue-wise, for everyone, but Violet did manage to throw in a couple zingers. She comes in second place, if only for the moment she mistakes her own son for a waiter because he is wearing the wrong color tie. LOL.

1. Edith: Though Edith is always the dark horse, she is clearly the only one taking control of her own destiny at this point. She wins episode 1, hands down.

Author

Lizzy Acker

Lizzy Acker is a fiction writer whose first book, Monster Party, was released in December 2010 by Small Desk Press. Her work has been published in Nano Fiction, We Who Are About To Die and Tramp Quarterly, among others. She was the co-creator/curator of the San Francisco reading series Funny/Sexy/Sad. She blogs regularly at lizzyacker.com.Lizzy is from Oregon, but now lives in San Francisco where she recently received her MFA from San Francisco State University. Currently, she writes status updates and processes member donations for KQED and is a contributing blogger to KQED Arts.

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