It’s hard to believe that Season 3 of Downton Abbey
Now we have many months to wait until developing storylines and arcs get played out and new ones get introduced. Be that as it may, there is much to note about the finale of the best season of Downton since its first, plus news about what to expect in Season 4, so let’s get started.
Caution: Spoilers ahead.
Since last week’s episode, a year has passed on the Downton calendar. As the family prepared to leave for its annual holiday at Duneagle Castle in Scotland, much ado was made about whether the now-pregnant Mary (huzzah!) should go or stay at Downton. Tom had no choice but to stay behind with Sybbie, since the the Marquess and Marchioness of Flintshire, a.k.a. Rose parents, “Shrimpy” (Peter Egan, Death at a Funeral) and Susan (Phoebe Nicholls, The Trial of Tony Blair), didn’t invite him.
(Forgive my incredulity, but really, Robert could have grown a pair and asked that Tom be invited, since he, like Matthew, is, ahem, a member of the family.)
Once the holiday goers were off to the Highlands, the action diverged into the goings-on at Duneagle Castle and those at Downton Abbey and its environs, until events and characters converged back at Downton during the climactic final moments.
At Duneagle Castle
From the off, it was obvious that all was not peaches and cream with the Flintshires. Susan’s mean-spirited remarks (which could rival that of Major Bryant’s father) vexed Shrimpy and Rose to no end and caused many an awkward moment for everyone within earshot. Shrimpy later confessed to Robert that he and Susan had grown to dislike each other, Susan admitted to Violet and Cora about having difficulties in parenting Rose, and both agreed that it would be best that their daughter stay at Downton while they lived in India for Shrimpy’s new post there.
(Thus Rose will become the Crawleys ward in Season 4, and one wonders if she is meant to bring a Sybil-like spark, scandal, and further dismantling of aristocratic traditions to the series.)
Unlike Tom, the Flintshires did invite Edith’s editor, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards, Batman Begins), to dinner when she mentioned he was in the area. Mary, who was back to her deliciously snide and ever-so-snooty self, was rightfully suspicious about his (not) coincidental trip to the Highlands, especially when he arrived at Duneagle in tails. When Edith asked Gregson what he was really doing there, he replied that he wanted the Crawleys to get to know him, like him, and be on his side, because he loved her. She didn’t see a happy ending. The next day, Gregson pleaded to Matthew his case for having a life with Edith, despite being unable to divorce his mentally-ill wife. While Matthew understood his predicament, he wouldn’t allow Gregson to make Edith nothing more than his mistress, and suggested he say a proper goodbye to her at the Ghillie’s Ball. Not surprisingly, Edith had changed her mind and declared that this was not their last meeting. Right, then. Mistress it is.
(Whether the ending will, in fact, be happy or not remains to be seen, unless Mrs. Gregson somehow goes the way of the former Mrs. Bates and gives Mr. Gregson an out, although not necessarily by suicide or other nefarious means, of course.)
Meanwhile, the current Mrs. Bates was happy as a lark with her hubby at Duneagle, as they actually had free time for a leisurely walk and picnic. Concerned about being so English in the midst of all the Scottish traditions, she enlisted Rose to teach her the reel for the Ghillie’s Ball. Anna’s marvelous dancing skills surprised both Mary and Mr. Bates, who positively beamed with pride and love at the sight of his wife.
O’Brien and Molesley, too, were at Duneagle, where they met Miss Wilkins, Lady Flintshire’s lady’s maid. Wilkins’ initial thought that O’Brien was a kindred spirit turned to resentment when she was upbraided by the Marchioness for not doing her hair as well as O’Brien had done Lady Grantham’s. As quick to right this wrong as O’Brien would have been, but not nearly as clever, Wilkins spiked O’Brien’s drink, only to have the hapless Molesley drink it. Unlike his previous experience with liquor, Molesley’s drunkenness this time was on full, exuberant display when he literally and figuratively whooped it up on the dance floor.
At about the same time that Molesley passed out, Mary began to feel physically uncomfortable and told Matthew that she would return to Downton the next day. She insisted that he stay at Duneagle, lest his leaving prompt the rest of the family to do the same and thus ruin the festivities for the Flintshires.
In and around Downton Abbey
Since both Tom and Isobel were left on their own, she had him over for dinner. The post-meal conversation consisted mainly of Isobel-isms: compliments on his having made the delicate transition from chauffeur to family member, and encouragement for him to speak with whomever he wants as agent of the Downton estate, even if the whomever are the folks downstairs. But back at Downton, he was still uncomfortable and unsure of what he was supposed to do and not do, such as give Mrs. Hughes instructions and permissions and not have lunch with the staff.
But lunch with new maid Edna (MyAnna Buring, Ripper Street) he did, although he didn’t plan it. She had her sights set on Tom, and so began emotionally blackmailing him and insinuating herself into his life. Waiting for him at lunchtime at Grantham Arms, getting him to drive the servants to the Thirsk Fair and to have dinner with them downstairs, and entering his room uninvited and kissing him while he was undressing, were all brazen moves, to be sure. But implying that he wasn’t being true to himself and causing him to feel ashamed of himself and his life as a member of the family were downright despicable. Mrs. Hughes had been onto Edna for a while, so when the latter fessed up to meeting Tom for lunch, she and Carson all but exploded in agreement that she had to go. Poor Tom felt guilty, even though he hadn’t encouraged Edna (nor discouraged her, as Mrs. Hughes pointed out), and sobbed to Mrs. Hughes that he couldn’t bear to be without Sybil.
(This manipulative stalker bit was one of the main sub-plots of the finale, and the most irritating of the lot. While making Tom the focus of a bit of intrigue during the family’s absence was an idea worth pursuing, give the man some credit; his is not a character naive enough to be played in such ways as Edna had done. And “too soon” comes to mind as well. Lastly, it was a dead-end storyline… unless, heaven forbid, Edna returns as Isobel’s replacement for Ethel.)
Edna’s interest in Tom wasn’t the only bit of romance (if one can call it that) happening around Downton. New grocer Mr. Tufton (John Henshaw, Born and Bred) began flirting with Mrs. Patmore, and Dr. Clarkson explored the possibility of having Isobel as his betrothed, both before and during the Thirsk Fair, which Carson allowed the staff to attend (with a bit of persuading from Mrs. Hughes).
At the fair, Daisy and Ivy played a rigged game where Daisy actually won a prize, the Downton men won the tug-of-war contest, and Jimmy won money from the wager he’d placed on it. However, not everything was fun and games.
Mrs. Hughes caught sight of Mr. Tufton flirting with not just Mrs. Patmore, but other women as well. (This, after he had loudly proclaimed that he loves being in love.) Back at Downton, Mrs. Patmore told her that he had proposed, and Mrs. Hughes could hardly bring herself to reveal what she’d seen of his shenanigans. Alas, Mrs. Patmore realized that he loved her cooking and not her, but in an unexpected twist, she also let out a sigh of relief that her instincts to get away from him were spot on, and the two women had a good laugh.
Not laughing was Dr. Clarkson, who, after downing a cup of courage, broached the subject of marriage with Isobel. In asking if she’d ever considered remarrying, she replied by asking him if he had, and if so, he was a better person than she, since she was happy with her life as it is, and that with friends like him, she wouldn’t want to risk damaging things. He later apologized and blamed his boldness on having had too much drink, and thanked her for having been kind and not allowing him to make a fool of himself, despite her insisting that she didn’t know what he was talking about.
Just after Isobel’s ever-so compassionate brush-off of Clarkson at the fair, Jimmy came running to get the doctor to help Thomas. Earlier, Jimmy had been flashing his cash during a drunken stupor, and was about to be beaten up and robbed by two thugs from the opposing tug-of-war team. Enter Thomas on the scene, who was then himself robbed and beaten bloody after he’d told Jimmy to run. Jimmy later popped by Thomas’ room to see how he was feeling, and asked if he had been following him. When Thomas replied yes, Jimmy said he could never give him what he wants. And in one of the tenderest moments of the finale, Thomas said he wanted them to be friends, Jimmy said he could handle that, and they continued to chat… as mates. (This was really quite touching.)
At the train station, Mary looked decidedly unwell and set off directly for the hospital. Upon learning of this from Anna, Carson and the servants went into worry mode (of course, after what had happened with Sybil), and the rest of the family hightailed it from the Highlands back to Downton the next day. Matthew arrived at the hospital soon after the birth of his son and was overcome with joy, while at Downton, Robert remarked about his good fortune — the saving of Downton and now a male heir — all thanks to Matthew. Lost in reverie while driving from the hospital to Downton, Matthew didn’t see the oncoming lorry and got killed in the crash. The closing shot: Mary holding her baby, none the wiser about Matthew or her life to come without him.
So, no episode is perfect from opening to closing credits, but I must say that the Season 3 finale was extremely satisfying. Loose ends had been tied up — Bates was back, the estate was safe — and we were left curious instead of dangling or in angst about the fates of the family members and servants (the effect of Matthew’s death notwithstanding). Fingers crossed that Season 4 is crafted in equally fine fashion.
What to Expect in Season 4
Production on Season 4 has already begun, so what can we expect from it? In an interview with The New York Times, Downton Abbey creator and writer, Julian Fellowes, said:
“We begin Series 4 six months later. We don’t have to do funerals and all that stuff. That’s all in the past by then.
“One of the main themes is the rebuilding of Mary, that Mary has to rebuild her life in a society which is changing. We would see women’s roles in the ’20s as being very much behind women today. But it was a big advance on what it had been 30 years before. And that’s all explored in the show.”
Presumably this will include a new love interest for Mary, and reports in the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail have stated that Miranda actor Tom Ellis had auditioned, been shortlisted, and won said role. However, MASTERPIECE publicist Olivia Wong told EW that this is “not true at all.” And Executive Producer Gareth Neame added:
“I’m not going to speculate on any upcoming characters other than, as I said, next year very much the spine of it is Mary rebuilding her life. Inevitably that means she’s got to, at some point, [find a] new man. She’s an eligible young widow. So we shall see.”
Until Season 4 premieres in the U.S. on PBS, you can watch all of the Season 3 episodes at PBS Video for a limited time. Beginning June 18, Amazon Prime Instant Videobecomes the exclusive subscription service for Downton Abbey: Season 3,and you will only be able to stream these episodes through the online retailer’s site. And later this year, Amazon Prime Instant Video will be the only subscription service to offer any episode from any season of the program, including Season 4 and, if there is one, Season 5.