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Downton Abbey: Season 3, Episode 1: Style and Show

Well then! What a dramatic re-entry to Downton Abbey! Our recap by Amie Simon will help you recall some of the best lines and keep that glow going while we wait a week for episode 2. It's quite long, as warrants an entirely new season with new story lines, new characters and new fashions.

You can watch this entire episode online at (desktop version) or at (mobile-friendly version). Please note, video is US only at both sites.

Once again, just to be clear, we do tell you everything that happens in the episode - so if you've not seen it yet and don't want to know in advance, please step away from the blog!

Click through to read more …

In addition to Matthew and Mary’s long-awaited wedding, the first episode of Season 3 brings us two full hours of Downton Abbey! Be still my heart. There are so many things that happen in this premiere, but lets get to the juicy highlights.

It’s spring 1920 at Downton, which promises new hairstyles, flashier dresses, and tastier drawing room cocktails. Of course, even more excitement and drama as the Crawley family and staff shakily enter a scandalously modern era.

We open on Matthew and Lady Mary’s wedding rehearsal in church (yay!), where we learn that Mr. and Mrs. Branson (Sybil and Tom) won’t be present because they can’t afford to make the journey (boo!). Lord Grantham is frankly relieved, because he hasn’t had time to “prepare the county” for the scandal of an Earl’s daughter running off with a hotheaded chauffer … and Isobel can’t understand why it even matters now, pondering sending Sybil the money herself.

Back at the house, it’s revealed that Mrs. Hughes and Anna are off settling the Bates estate. Thomas wastes no time making several snide judgments about it, then gets the smack down from Carson about where he can shove his opinions.

The Dowager Countess, Cora, and Isobel get together to discuss the problem of Branson—despite some differences of opinion (surprise!), they ladies all agree it would be best if the whole family were together to celebrate.

While discussing the planning of the grand event, Carson reveals he’d like a new footman (to replace Bates), and O’Brien lets it slip that her nephew is available. But since Carson isn’t interested in hiring on her relation, she overrides him by going directly to Lady Cora and making a sly suggestion to bring him on staff in front of Lord Grantham. That’s SO O’Brien!

Anna visits Bates in prison to show him a journal Vera kept with names of all her friends and acquaintances. It’s Anna’s belief that a woman like Vera couldn’t have carried off the framing alone, or that she at least told someone about it—so she enlists Bates’ help to make notes about all the names so she can make inquiries about each one.

There are several more scenes with Anna visiting Bates at the prison scattered throughout the episode, but each of them is so similar that I found myself saying, “Again? Really?” I love Anna & Bates! Don’t get me wrong, but enough already with the sad, swelling music, and the puppy eyes. We know it’s a tragedy; there’s just not much of a storyline there, so it’s frankly not all that interesting.

Lord Grantham receives a phone call from his lawyer and has to make a sudden departure for London, where he learns that his sure thing investment has gone south, losing every single dollar of their (Cora’s) fortune (or close enough), and putting the Abbey at risk.

Looking fresh-faced, and, honestly, pretty, Lady Edith runs into her previous beau, Anthony Strallan. Her newfound resolve to acquire him as a husband is steadfast, despite the fact that he’s resistant—and that her whole family declares him too old for her.

Down in the servant’s quarters, it looks like O’Brien and Thomas are no longer BFFs. As she’s giving her very tall nephew (6’4”) courage for his first formal dinner service, Thomas acts like a jerk and she sneers at him and calls him vain. Daisy is also all in a tizzy because her promised promotion from kitchen maid to assistant cook hasn’t happened yet. Leave it to Thomas to stir up trouble there too.

During the dinner service, Alfred gets picked on for doing things wrong, Matthew remarks that they should all lead a simpler life without servants, and the Dowager Countess exclaims that, "An aristocrat with no servants is as useful to the county as a glass hammer."

Sybil and Tom arrive the next morning and are greeted by a confused Lord Grantham and a warm Lady Cora. But dinner is terse, since Tom hasn’t changed his wardrobe, and confesses that he doesn’t even own a pair of tails. SO SHOCKING! Isobel, as usual, starts trouble by questioning Tom about his political views.

Back to Matthew: it seems that Reggie Swire (the deceased father of his former fiancée Lavinia) listed Matthew as the third inheritor of his secretly robust estate, and the other two heirs are currently M.I.A. Ever stubborn, Matthew believes he cannot accept the inheritance because his heart wasn’t true to Lavinia when she died, and it would be wrong to take this last gift from her father.

Glowing Sybil confesses to Mary that her life in Ireland is very different than it was at Downton, but how she wishes the family would accept Tom as he is and realize that she’s happy despite everything. Mary then tells Sybil that an old suitor of hers, Larry Gray, is coming for dinner the next night. A snooty ex and a temperamental new husband thrown together in an already awkward social situation—what could go wrong?

Lord Grantham finally breaks down and makes a tearful confession to Cora about how he’s lost almost all of their fortune, but bless dear sweet Cora. She takes it all in stride, comforting her man and telling him that the money isn’t important. They should celebrate Mary’s wedding and enjoy having their family, and worry about all the rest later. Oh, I just want to hug her!

Anna helps Lady Edith with a sassy new hairstyle, and they talk about what true love means. She arrives in the drawing room in a spaghetti-strapped dress! Sir Anthony is obviously impressed, but he gets distracted when he sees Larry Gray slip a little something extra into Tom’s cocktail.

At dinner, Tom becomes more and more belligerent. But just when everyone is about to throw him out (queue the Dowager Countess: “Is there any way to shut him up?”), Strallan saves the day by telling everyone that he observed Gray drugging Branson at the cocktail hour. Gray tries to pass it off as a prank, but no one is buying it—least of all his father. Matthew then one-ups Strallan by declaring that Tom should be his best man. Bravo!

Shortly after, Lady Cora’s mother, Mrs. Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) arrives at Downton from New York in a showy new car and a bundle of fur. She has her own maid with her, who gives Mrs. Patmore a hilariously long list of dietary requirements, including fresh goat’s milk every morning, and “no fats, no crab, and nothing from the marrow family.”

When Lord Grantham tells Mary that this might be the last gathering at Downton, she approaches Matthew about using his newfound inheritance to help her father—but he still refuses to accept the money, even to save Downton. OH, Matthew. Seriously, give it up already! Of course, this causes Lady Mary to run from him in tears the night before their wedding. HERE WE GO AGAIN.

Taking his newfound best man duties seriously, Tom sets off persuade Matthew to apologize and make up with Mary because they’re meant to be together. Matthew manages to convince Mary to wed him, even though IF he inherits, he still refuses to take the money. Lucky for Matthew, he’s both cute and aces at saying the most romantic things, so she agrees to marry him. But! She doesn’t agree to let this particular point go.

The Dowager Countess arrives for dinner and the fireworks between her and Mrs. Levinson start flying right away! YES. The catty banner we were hoping for is here. After an insincere hug, Cora’s mother gives the Countess and up and down glances and lets loose with this zinger, “Oh dear, I’m afraid the war has made old women of us both.”

At dinner, it’s shockingly revealed that the Dowager Countess is the one who sent the money to Sybil and Tom so they could be at Downton for the wedding, which touches Tom and finally makes him feel like he’s part of the family.

After what seems like forever in the Downton universe, the day of the wedding arrives with Lord Grantham finally calling Branson by his first name, and thanking him for bringing Matthew and Mary back together … followed by a breathtaking entrance by Mary in her beautiful beaded dress. Both Lord Grantham and Carson beam with pride when they see her descend the grand staircase.

The wedding goes off without a hitch—get your tissues out; it’s as beautiful as you imagined—but we’re sadly not treated to any of the honeymoon on screen. And Mary and Matthew arrive back at Downton after a (presumed) month or so of wedded bliss, in their own showy new motorcar.

Mrs. Levinson is still there, and seriously wearing on the nerves of both the Dowager Countess and Robert. Isobel distracts them by announcing that she has a “new occupation”: helping prostitutes get off the street and rehabilitate themselves. Oh! And one of those women is former Downton maid-turned-single-mom-turned-nearly-gave-up-her-son Ethel. She makes a brief appearance before hurrying out and saying something about not being ready.

Matthew decides to sit down with Lord Grantham over some drinks and explain that he could save Downton with his money, but he can’t because oh poor Lavinia, I am a traitor to her love, etc. Lord Grantham tries to understand Matthew’s point of view, but he’s just being polite. Because, as I said before, everyone except Matthew knows Matthew is BEING STUPID.

In one of the more heart-breaking scenes of this episode, Mrs. Hughes pulls Mrs. Patmore aside and tells her she discovered a lump in her breast. Mrs. Patmore confirms it, and goes to the doctor with her for moral support in case of a breast cancer diagnosis. Of course, the first tests are inconclusive; which means that Mrs. Hughes basically has to wait at least 2 months to find out what it means.

Carson keeps asking Mrs. Hughes if anything’s wrong, but despites Patmore’s attempts to get her to spill the beans, she insists she doesn’t want anyone else to know because she doesn’t want to be treated like a dying woman. So stoic, but at least she has one person to lean on if the worst happens.

After an awkward moment when O’Brien asks Thomas to help Alfred become a valet, he agrees and gives Alfred a tip on how to get a stain out of Matthew’s dinner jacket, which of course makes a hole! Looks like Thomas is up to his old tricks. Directly after, Thomas puts a bug in Lord Grantham’s ear that Mosley replace Alfred as Matthew’s valet, and Alfred be downgraded back to footman. O’Brien promises to make him sorry for it! By … stealing Lord Grantham’s dinner shirts, apparently.

Meanwhile Mrs. Levinson’s maid is getting frisky with Alfred; and Daisy seems to be really bothered by it. Alfred is initially taken aback by Reed’s forwardness – but she declares she’s an American, and it’s 1920! This may be the first time two young, unmarried people have made out behind the Abbey. The times, they are a changin’.

After a dinner in which Edith makes a VERY forward statement about “couples” to Sir Strallan, Lord Grantham discusses the problem of Edith’s romantic feelings for him and asks Strallan to cut off contact so she can get over it. That poor guy! He might be the only person ever to love Edith! Why can’t they see that?

Once Edith gets the brush-off, she goes to grandmamma to help her convince her father that Strallan is the only man who can make her happy. Edith then gets very dramatic, saying that she’ll just wait outside Strallan’s house forever until he agrees to see her. Then she begs her father to relent. And he does. HOORAY! Edith will be happy too. How sweet.

Now that it’s settled, a chaste kiss on the cheek seals the deal between Edith and Sir Anthony—and they discuss getting married within a month. But instead of telling the family right then, he agrees to come back in the morning so they can announce it to everyone. (What could go wrong here, right?!?!)

Trying to be resourceful, Mary sets up a grandiose dinner to impress her rich American grandmother and convince her of the importance of a place like Downton Abbey, hoping she’ll hand over the money that will save it.

Of course this means that disaster strikes! Robert’s formal shirts are missing, Matthew is without a proper dinner coat, and the food isn’t cooked because the oven is in disrepair. With so many guests already on the way, Mrs. Levinson uses her hostess skills and suggests serving an indoor picnic with whatever is cooked in the pantry with bread, cheese, fruit, etc.

As it turns out, all the stuffy British guests LOVE it – even if the Crawleys (and their staff) don’t. Mrs. Levinson is having a fine time, including a scene where she serenades the Dowager Countess, which is just as hilarious as it sounds. She even kisses her hand at the end.

Americans, 1! British, 0

At the end of it all, Mrs. Levinson agrees to help Mary, but explains she doesn’t really have enough money to save Downton, since her father felt Cora had received enough of their fortune and tied the bulk of it up in unbreakable trusts. She does offer to entertain all of them in Newport and NY, and add to Cora’s allowance, because she can’t touch the capital amount of their inheritance. She also urges Mary to move on and plot a new adventure without the Abbey.

And then something exciting finally happens in the prison, when Bates sees his roomie doing something shady with another inmate. After the brute threatens to shiv Bates if he tells, Bates gets rough and throws him up against the wall, telling him never to threaten him again; to which the roommate replies he forgot he was in the cell with a murderer. DUH DUH DUHHHHHHHNNNNNN.

Back at Downton, Mrs. Levinson announces to Lord Grantham that it’s time to go back to New York and apologizes for not being able to help him. They clink glasses of whiskey over hope that the future is merry, wherever it takes the Crawleys.

The episode ends with Carson congratulating Mrs. Hughes on a job well done, despite all the American-style party antics. “I prefer something with a little more style and show!” he declares. And while Mrs. Hughes agrees, she thinks the Crawleys might be ready to move on.

But are we ready? What would Downton Abbey look like without an actual Abbey? How can Mary be a Countess if she can’t live in a grand, ridiculously rich house with a staff of servants? What will become of the staff if they have to move? And how will the Dowager Countess survive the scandal of it all?


Season 3, Premiere Episode highlights:

Best line from Dowager Countess: "I'm so looking forward to seeing your mother again. When I'm with her, I'm reminded of the virtues of the English."

Best line from Mrs. Levinson: “You tell me all of your wedding plans, and I’ll see what I can do to improve them.”

Most scandalous moment: Sybil's old flame dosing Tom's drink, and the resulting "it was just a jolly prank!" hullabaloo.

Most romantic scene: Matthew closing his eyes in order to kiss and make up with Mary so he won’t see the bride before the wedding and jinx it. (HA!)

Most devastating betrayal: I hate to say it, but Matthew refusing to use his inheritance to save Downton is pretty upsetting.

Most ridiculous bit of soapy melodrama: Lady Edith proposing that she would wait outside Strallan’s house forever! (I think she’s probably been reading a little too much Jane Austen.)


New characters:
Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) – Cora's scandalously modern (and RICH!) American mother
Reed – Levinson’s scandalously “fast” maid
Alfred Nugent – Former hotel waiter, new footman, and O'Brien's nephew


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I suppose Matthew is being ridiculous and I suppose he will eventually give in, but I can see his point and I kind of like him better for it. (But perhaps he won't inherit the money after all. (Too deus ex machina) He's back to the old Matthew we were first introduced to. I started to think less of Mary; she could only think of herself and her social standing. And I really disliked her implication that her Mother's view of money and what it stands for showed her to be an American and therefor inferior to her, Mary, whose behavior showed her to be English. After all, whose money was it that saved Downton Abbey the first place. And an Englishman, not an American, lost it!

Wish Shirley MacLaine had been given better lines. Fellowes could make her a much more worthy opponent than simply stereotyping the "ugly American."

Ok, even in 1920 these rich English houses had farm land too. DIi they have an estate manager? Lord Crawleys businessman really was in charge of it and all the money was "put in 1 bucket" Were those English lors really that stupid? By the way, are they to lose even more money in the stock market crash? OR does only the Amercian grandmother lose it all?

Great feedback, luckysky! I looked at it less as Mary protecting her social standing, and more of it as her protecting her "Home". But! I understand why some people hate her for pushing it, and love Matthew for trying to do the right thing. I didn't really get that she was implying her American grandmother was inferior to her - just different!

And I also didn't see Shirley as the "ugly American" - I viewed her as modern, unafraid of change, and always up for new adventures; contrasting the difference between her and Downton Abbey's strict, never-changing rules and English customs.

Either way - I'm excited to see how/if any of this changes things at the Abbey! I just love the show so much. :)