For the most part, it was a pretty laid back affair, short on the theatrics from last week. I'm not complaining about either approach, mind you. I think it's nice the show can modulate to dial things down a bit from time to time. Still, while I was enjoying myself, the more low-key events gave my mind opportunity to wander and I spent a fair amount of time wondering which various DOWNTON pairings would make for the best sitcom spin-offs.
One year has elapsed since we last saw the Crawleys and we pick up with them heading off to spend ten days in Scotland with cousin Rose and her extremely unhappy parents. This is a yearly tradition, it seems, though it's never been mentioned on the show before. Whatever you say, DOWNTON, whatever you say. The downstairs staff seemed to think the Crawleys' absence might mean some free time for themselves but Carson was having none of it. Mrs. Hughes, for her part, towed the line, though she wondered if some R&R might not be the worst thing.
This also meant Branson was the only upstairs house member left at Downton, a fun bit of business considering he once worked downstairs. Tonight saw Branson going through something of an identity crisis, egged on by new maid Edna (who seemed prime to jump the widower's bones) and Isobel, because Isobel wouldn't be Isobel if she weren't causing trouble. I know I complain about this every week and you're probably tired of hearing it. But this is my last chance and I just want to say seriously, Isobel, shut the fuck up.
A year of working together has apparently brought Jimmy and Alfred closer together, so naturally I began to wonder what their sitcom would look like. They're not really different enough to be mismatched roommates. I can't think of an interesting scenario, I would probably not watch their spinoff. Let's move on. Elsewhere, love was in the air! First, Mrs. Patmore found an admirer in the new delivery man. Yeah, girl! And Dr. Clarkson started putting the moves on Isobel, going so far as to invite her to the fair (which all the servants would also be attending). Clarkson's interest in Isobel felt motivated more by his own loneliness than genuine affection but maybe I am just projecting my own feelings about her onto Clarkson. Seriously, Isobel is the worst.
Up in Scotland, the Crawleys were mostly being annoyed as they visited Duneagle, bagpipes playing at all hours and whatnot. This was supposed to be a big vacation for them but no one seemed to be having a very good time. The cure for that was simple--go shoot something! While the men were at play (admist some pretty gorgeous Scottish vistas, it must be noted), the womenfolk sat around squabbling and preparing for a ball. Edith was eager to invite her editor and quasi-love interest to dinner. Of course, everyone was suspicious of this man because what decent gent would show any interest in Edith? Even Robert openly expressed his disbelief that the magazine would want to employ an "amateur" like his daughter. Robert Crawley, father of the year.
There was more boring nonsense about Rose arguing with her mother, Susan (whom everyone seemed to hate). DOWNTON has for some reason seen fit to introduce this uninteresting character very late in the season and craft entire story lines around her. I don't get it. It feels like filler, just as in did in the last episode. Somehow, the writers managed to have all these scenes with Rose and the other women bickering but never gave Notorious DCG a single good quip! This may be a first. I almost always have three or four quotes from DCG jotted down by the end of a regular episode. But after tonight's 90 minute affair, I realized that nothing she'd said seemed worthy of quotation. For shame, Julian Fellowes.
If I had to pick, I'd say I enjoyed the first hour tonight much more than the second. Something about the meditative mood and lack of plot histrionics seemed more pleasing. Branson has been a very problematic character for a long time but I liked seeing him question his place at Downton and entertaining the idea of Edna's romantic gaze. I was even touched when he later broke down crying over Sybil while speaking with Mrs. Hughes. Talk about a salvage job on a character I had once given up all hope on. Even his insistence on eating dinner with the servants felt more motivated by his confusion and loneliness than a thuggish will to be defiant.
What a joy it was to see Mrs. Patmore scheming to get everyone to the fair. This subplot felt very reminiscent of an episode from Season 1 but I was so taken with seeing the downstairs staff step out that I couldn't bring myself to care. Every scene with Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes was pure gold. Now there's a sitcom spinoff I would watch! And what about Carson taking care of the baby while everyone was out enjoying themselves? A sitcom with Carson taking care of a baby? We must start a letter-writing campaign to PBS demanding it at once!
Let us pause for a moment to reflect on Thomas. In the last episode, his future was very much in limbo. But a year has passed and he's still employed at Downton. Unlike Branson, I don't think the writing for his character was ever all that bad and he's gone through a rather dramatic arc from the scoundrel of Season 1. A bit of his old self popped up here and there in snide comments tonight but for the most part, he hadn't regressed. He even got to be heroic when saving dumb, drunken Jimmy from a pair of muggers! Of course, it turned out he was only there because he was following the lad. Seems Thomas was still harboring a bit of a crush. During their final scene together, I was sure Jimmy would either punch Thomas or kiss him. I was both relieved and delighted to see that instead they found a way to be friends and come to a more high-minded mutual understanding. Lovely.
I've written all this and I haven't even gotten to Mary's pregnancy! Since tonight was a mega-episode, I had a strong suspicion it would end with the little bugger's birth and I was not disappointed. I was also suspicious that the season finale would end on a dramatic note but I knew there was no way they could kill Mary off after doing the same thing with Sybil so recently. Which is why as soon as I saw Matthew speeding back to Downton, I knew he was a goner. I mean, I guess they left it ambiguous enough that he could survive the car wreck as Season 4 opens but I kind of doubt it. Honestly, if this is the last we see of him, I won't miss him much.
I was more interested in Mrs. Patmore's romantic heartbreak. When Mrs. Hughes sat down to tell the poor woman that her man was only interested in her cooking, I was ready to start weeping. Imagine my delight when Mrs. Patmore quickly expressed her relief of not feeling the obligation to serve this boor of a man. You go girl! I just cannot express enough how much I love scenes between Patmore and Hughes--that sitcom needs to happen!
Other random thoughts about tonight's episode and the season overall:
- Enjoyed seeing Anna and Bates on a picnic. It's like that terrible prison story never happened.
- I assume O'Brien's story tonight is meant to set up her departure from Downton and maybe even the show overall. Even if it didn't, it was worth it for setting up the best sight gag of the night--Drunk Molesley!
- Watching Cora cry over Sybil was painful. Not because of Cora's pain but because Elizabeth McGovern cannot act for shit. I'm tired of pretending otherwise. Somebody's gotta say it!
- Was Isobel being cruel or clueless in her dismissal of Dr. Clarkson's marriage proposal? I honestly couldn't tell and I don't know if that's a failure of the writing or because Penelope Wilton always plays Isobel exactly the same in every scene.
- I'm not sure where Edith's romance with this editor is going exactly but I am sure it's doomed. Edith is sadder than a tub full of drowned puppies.
- Loved Carson forgetting to even ask the sex of Mary's baby in his excitement.
- Mary's first comment to Matthew after giving birth is "We've done our duty." Seriously? I guess it was Mary's turn to be the worst tonight.
- While it was great to have more scenes between she and Mrs. Patmore earlier in the season, looking back I have to say Mrs. Hughes' cancer scare being introduced and dismissed so quickly feels like a mistake. They should have at least referenced it again once later in the season.
- I'm surprised that we never saw Shirley MacLaine after the season premiere, not that I'm complaining.
And that's all she wrote, folks. I leave Season 3 fully satiated and ready for another serving. What say you?