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Downton Abbey: Season 3, Episode 3: A Great Many Noses Out of Joint

The plot thickens. In just one hour, we have Ireland, prison, handsome new footmen and an electric toaster. It's a tough night for Carson. And it'll be a long week for the rest of us. Read on when you're ready to find out who's BFFs with whom after season 3, episode three, in this week's recap by Amie Simon.

With two daughters married (plus one self-proclaimed spinster) and the estate saved by Matthew’s money, day-to-day life resumes at Downton—but not quite free of drama and scandal!

We open on the servants receiving piles and piles of mail—except Anna, who distressingly hasn’t had a letter from Bates in quite some time. Cut to Bates over at the prison, who also hasn’t had a letter from Anna in awhile. Of course both of them assume the worst: abandonment! But we know that’s not true, don’t we?

Matthew and Mary discuss why it’s important for Matthew to learn the ins and outs of the Abbey’s estate, even though he’s reluctant to step into Lord Grantham’s world. Be careful what you wish for, Mary …

Isobel gives Mrs. Hughes a letter from Ethel and discusses her new “profession”. Mrs. Hughes shakes her head at how far poor Ethel has fallen, and balks at the use of the word “prostitution” in the house—but commends Isobel for her compassion and earnest offer to help.

Carson expresses concern to Robert and Matthew about who he’s supposed to answer to, but they both assure him that everything will stay as is, and that Matthew’s money is just “an investment.” But when Mr. Carson asks to hire more staff to get the household up to speed, Matthew jumps right into to suggest that maybe that’s not necessary. Oh, everything’s the same, is it?

The next morning at breakfast, Matthew asks Edith why she doesn’t just have breakfast in bed like all the other ladies, to which she replies “Because I’m not married.” Oh, hey—that’s what I’ve been doing wrong! Apparently only married ladies can have breakfast in bed. Even though she could buck tradition and have it served in bed anyway, she explains she’d rather be “up and about.” Huzzah! Edith has returned to us.

She’s also getting some crazy, new-fangled ideas! As Lord Grantham reads an article from the paper about how all American woman can now vote, Edith exclaims that they are are better off than she is, since she’s not over 30 and doesn’t own a home, and thus cannot vote in England yet. Matthew suggests she write to The Times about it—which prompts Robert to put her in her place with an “Ask your mother if she needs any help with dinner.” I guess Lord Grantham has had enough of this women’s rights nonsense.

Downstairs, Carson announces that they’ll be a new household maid soon, so Anna can relax and go back to just serving Lady Mary. When she doesn’t express the proper happiness, Mrs. Hughes calls her out. HELLO. Y’all know she hasn’t received any letters from her husband in forever. Show a bit more compassion, Hughes!

When Carson also says they’ll be getting a new footman, O’Brien jumps right in to say that now her nephew, Albert, can be second footman—but Carson isn’t so thrilled with this plan. Neither is Thomas, who wastes no time snarking about it. The O’Brien/Thomas rages on (and it’s pretty thrilling, isn’t it?).

Mary summons Matthew to tell him that she’s redecorating the nursery to create a proper sitting room of their own. Matthew then hints that they might want to keep it a nursery (HINT HINT), but Mary gives him the brush-off. No babies for Lady Mary yet! Sorry, Matthew.

Edith actually ventures out of the house to visit the Dowager Countess (and deliver some extremely expensive perfume). When Violet inquires about her state of mind, Edith admits she’s pretty bored. But what can she do? Garden? The Dowager Countess admits, “… you can’t be as desperate as that.” Gardening! Well, I never! As long as Edith doesn’t do anything as terrible as that, her grandmother tells her to find SOMETHING to do other than whine about being jilted.

Poor Anna can barely keep from breaking down every five minutes, since she thinks that Bates has been trying to set her free by not initiating contact, but Mrs. Hughes assures her that there must be a good reason why he hasn’t contacted her. Oh good. I’m so glad Mrs. Hughes finally offered some support.

Back in the prison, Bates’ new BFF approaches him and tells him all about how his roommate, Craig, is buddies with one of the prison guards (Durant) and offers Bates some tips, bringing up the likely reason why he hasn’t seen any letters from his wife. Bates expresses surprise, and then finally realizes the guards must be the reason for Anna’s silence.

Mr. Carson starts schooling Alfred on how to be a proper footman, which apparently has something to do with the six different types of spoons the Crawleys use to eat. I think I need a labeled diagram to figure it all out myself. Six! Spoons! And separate ones for bouillon AND soup. Who knew? Thomas tries to throw some snark their way, but Carson shuts him down with a “He asks for help! You never did.” BURRRRRRNNN.

Mrs. Hughes and Isobel finally arrange to meet with Edith, who admits her reason for wanting help: to contact her son’s grandparents so she can give him up, because she’s realized that the life she’s leading now won’t allow him a decent chance at happiness. Isobel tries to urge Ethel to reconsider, but she’s made up her mind. Whew. Who else is relieved that we don’t have to deal with Ethel running in and out of Isobel’s charity house?

While the bishop is visiting for dinner, Sybil calls Downton and delivers a coded message to Edith, which is followed by a quick hang-up and shots of Sybil running in the cold, wet, dark! Shortly after Edith tells Lady Cora and Mary about it, Branson arrives at the door soaking wet, and without his wife. Mary says she’ll announce that he’s there, but Tom begs her not to—saying that no one can know he’s arrived. What the heck is going on?!?!

Hilariously, Mary ignores the whole “tell no one” thing and lets Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess know immediately what’s going on, though they agree to address it after their high-maintenance guest leaves. The servant’s dining room is abuzz with news of Tom as well, with great speculation about what he’s done and why he’s there.

In the drawing room, Tom finally reveals that rebels kicked a prominent Irish family out of their castle, and then set fire to it. Since he was there, the police are now after him. The police! Branson’s political activism has finally gotten SERIOUS. He then reveals the most shocking thing about all of it: that he left Sybil there, with the plan that she would stay behind and join him later.

But she hasn’t even arrived yet! A furious Lord Grantham screams at Tom that he abandoned a pregnant woman and then tells him to “GO TO BED!” Cora urges Robert to go to London and see the Home Secretary to keep Tom and Sybil out of jail. Oh, Branson. What have you done? This is not good, and Tom knows it. After he retreats to his room, he breaks down into sobs.

The staff is still speculating about Tom going to prison, but Carson puts an end to it by telling them all to go to bed as well. After they leave, Carson admits to Mrs. Hughes that he knew all along that Branson was bad news, and if anything happens to Lady Sybil it’s totally his fault. I have to say, I agree. There’s rallying against the upper class, and then there’s leaving your pregnant wife behind to outrun the law—and those two things are NOT the same.

In one of the more humorous moments of the episode, Mrs. Hughes whips out an electric toaster to Carson’s horror: “Is it not enough that we’re sheltering a dangerous revolutionary, Mrs. Hughes? Could you not have spared me THAT?” Always railing against new technology, that one.

Meanwhile, a handsome young man appears in the servant’s quarters: Jimmy Kent, a new applicant for the footman position. It’s love at first sight for the miscellaneous Downton maids—and Thomas, who can’t stop smiling. Thomas … SMILING. Oh dear, this is probably going to be trouble.

The meeting between Ethel and her son’s grandparents (The Bryants) gets off to a rocky start, with some pretty terrible insults flying out of Mr. Bryant’s mouth. Seems they know what Ethel’s been up to, and for obvious reasons don’t approve. They offer her money, and Isobel urges her to take it—but she says it won’t be enough to last for long and gives her little guy up for good. Even though I don’t really care for Ethel, I teared up a little as she said her goodbyes.

In prison, Bates asks his new friend why he’s even helping him, and he says it’s mostly because he doesn’t like Craig. Fair enough! They concoct a reverse scheme in which Bates hides the drugs in Craig’s bed and then tips off the officers. The corrupted officer shows up too late to protest, and on the way out of the cell, Craig tells Bates he’ll be sorry. YIKES! Be careful, Bates.

Carson tells Mary and Matthew that the new footman choice is between two applicants—one of whom is much more handsome than the other. Mary suggests he hire that one one to “cheer up the place”. And Mr. Carson makes a comment about how Alfred’s actually a fine footman, even if he is Ms. O’Brien’s nephew, which gives Matthew the opening for this zinger: “Clearly nothing worse can be said of any man.”

Sybil finally arrives at Downton, and we’re treated to a dramatic 360-view of her reuniting with her husband. The family gathers together as Sybil explains that she everything is fine because the police didn’t stop her, but no one is buying it. Cora tells them they can’t travel again until the baby is born, but Sybil says Tom wants the baby to born in Ireland. Lady Mary exclaims that he CANNOT want that now. A telegram from Robert arrives saying that Tom and Sybil cannot leave.

Thomas arrives back from London with Lord Grantham to discover the hot new footman HALF UNDRESSED. Is this love at first sight? Can you even imagine Thomas in love? How weird would that be? O’Brien catches Thomas peeping and it’s almost like you can hear her bangs scheming about what to do with that information.

Lord Grantham reveals the shocking outcome of his visit to London: Tom will be safe as long as he NEVER goes back to Ireland—he’s banned from his own country! When Sybil says it’s not fair, Robert then tells here there’s nothing he can do about it, because Tom attended meetings to help plan the downfall of the Irish aristocracy. Sybil seems shocked by this news. So much for being honest, Branson.  

In the kitchen, there’s a scuffle between Alfred and Jimmy about who gets to carry which dish upstairs. Daisy tries to stick up for Alfred, but of course no one really cares—except maybe Alfred.

At the dinner table, Edith reveals she’s written to the newspaper about the vote, and the Dowager Countess nearly has a heart attack—especially when Cora says, “I think granny’s right.” But Robert dismisses all the hullabaloo by insisting that the letter will never be printed. Poor Edith. She can’t even get props for rebelling.

Mr. Carson, however, does get props for hiring a looker (who Carson insists will now be called “James” instead of “Jimmy”, because it’s more proper), earning a “Well done!” from Mary, and this hilarious exchange:

Mr. Carson: “Hard work and diligence weigh more than beauty in the real world.”

The Dowager Countess: “If only that were true!”


Over drinks, Matthew and Lord Grantham start to discuss the finances, but Robert seems reluctant to get into it and insists they let the ladies in and continue to discuss it later—leaving Matthew looking a little unhappy about that suggestion. I wonder if he’s discovered that Robert is paying to put an ex-maid’s son through school? That’s probably not going to be easy to explain …

A guard arrives with a packet full of all Anna’s letters for Bates, and tells him he’s back in favor—well, except for with Craig, of course. The guard warns him to watch out, as an ecstatic Bates tears open each letter and starts smile-crying as he reads them. AWWWW.

Uh-oh! There’s smoke coming out of Mrs. Hughes’ room! But as Carson discovers while rushing in with a bucket of water, it’s just her electric toaster that has been turned up too high. “I was worried that Mr. Branson might take it upon himself to burn the house down, but I didn’t think it would be you!” the always-witty Carson retorts.

Settling down to bed, Sybil confronts Tom about the meetings, and he brushes her off and says there’s no way he can stay there, even with Sybil insisting they have to live at Downton now, if only for the safety and peace their child deserves. Branson just kisses her, and you get the feeling that he’s not quite ready to give up his rebel streak just yet.

“GOD IN HEAVEN” screams Lord Grantham as he reads the paper’s headline: “Earl’s daughter speaks out for women’s rights!” Whoops. Guess it did get printed, huh, Robert? Edith gets praise for standing up for her rights from both Matthew and Branson, but not from her father or, predictably, from Carson.

A relieved Anna finally receives her own packet of letters. Yay! She knows Bates loves her now for sure. I guess after Bates asking her several times to just forget about him, it makes some sense that she’d believe he was following through with giving her the brush-off.

Alfred approaches Daisy in the kitchen to thank her for sticking up for him, and Daisy seizes the moment to be bold, but she’s cut off by the arrival to the new kitchen maid, Ivy Stewart—who’s so pretty she grabs Alfred’s attention instead. Oh no, poor Daisy! (I personally can’t wait for the fur to start flying between those two.)   

Matthew visits The Dowager Countess to tell her that he’s unfortunately discovered that Downton is being horribly mismanaged—oh ho ho! It seems Robert’s mishap with the railroad investment isn’t his only bad choice. Matthew wonders how he can correct it without bending everybody’s noses out of shape, but Violet admits this it will be impossible, but necessary in order to keep the estate going. Eesh. I don’t envy him! This is going to get ugly.

The episode ends with Anna and Bates reading each other letters and crying joyfully … just in case we didn’t get enough of that the first time around.

But what is O’Brien plotting with Jimmy and Thomas? Will Branson really be able to stay away from Ireland? Can Ethel be saved, and does she even want to be? Will Matthew be hated for trying to reign in the finances? And will Mrs. Hughes’ toaster gain in popularity???

One thing we know for sure: Downton’s staff is a little bit prettier now.


Episode three moments of sheer delight:

Best line from Dowager Countess:

“Edith dear, you’re a woman with a brain … and reasonable ability. Stop whining! And find something to do.”

Most scandalous moment:

Mr. Bryant announcing to Ethel that he could produce a list of her “clients,” if necessary. LOW BLOW, dude. Low blow.

Most romantic scene:

Sybil’s arrival at Downton into Tom’s waiting arms. So much kissing and sobbing!

Most devastating betrayal:

Tom leaving Sybil to fend for herself in Ireland … coupled with not telling her the truth about how deep his political involvement is.

Most ridiculous bit of soapy melodrama:

Bates and Anna thinking that each one had given up on the other. COME ON YOU GUYS. You know better.

New characters:
Jimmy (James) Kent: The new footman, and object of affection for all the single staff at Downton.

Ivy Stewart: The new kitchen maid, who’s quite a looker as well.


There are 3 comments

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Can Ethel be saved, and does she even want to be?

And why should we even care? We have not been given enough connection with Ethel to get as wrapped up in her misfortunes as it appears we now should.

Class warfare! At least Dickens made us care about the poor and the downtrodden.

I really enjoy the these synopses, a nice refresher, as if we need it, and a few laughs to top it off. Thank you, thank you.

Ruth! That is the best compliment of my life! Thank YOU.