Monday, October 1, 2012

Downton Abbey - Episode 3 - A Review

Oh, Downton Abbey knows how to tug at the heartstrings, doesn’t it? Tonight’s episode – the third of this third series – focused primarily on three plot strands. The first, the ‘wedding’ of Lady Edith and Sir Anthony Strallan. The second, Mrs Hughes’s increasingly poorly-kept secret illness. And the third, the pressing need for Downton to be sold. And unsurprisingly, two of those plots will undoubtedly have had people up and down the country reaching for their tissue boxes.
Episode 3 of Downton Abbey Series 3.
In last week’s Downton blog, I talked about how Edith had finally transformed into a character we could all like, and how I was happily looking forward to seeing her and Sir Anthony saunter off into the sunset together. Of course, I should have known better then that things were too good to be true, as was proven tonight when Sir Anthony left her at the altar. In many ways, Edith is quite a tragic character; as the middle daughter, she’s always been portrayed as having been denied the same amount of attention that her elder and younger sister have taken for granted. She’s been through her fair share of emotional pain throughout the series, too: first when Patrick was deemed to have sunk on the Titanic, then when Mary sabotaged her chances of happiness with Sir Anthony the first time around, and again when the man claiming to be an amnesia-ridden Patrick left Downton once and for all. When you consider how slighted she’s been for her whole life, it’s unsurprising why she was initially so unlikeable. A pattern that has emerged throughout the series is that she tends to become more likeable when she has a sense of purpose in her life – when she feels she’s needed. That was most obvious during the war; whilst it was on, she found herself something to do, got on with it, and became a much better, changed person for it. The prospect of finally marrying Sir Anthony had the potential to finalise that positive change in her character. Marrying him would not only have satisfied her on an emotional level, but on a societal one, too; she would finally no longer have been the unwanted middle daughter, but instead a well-to-do married woman with a strong, assertive place in the community. Unfortunately, however, being left at the altar and publicly humiliated by Sir Anthony as she was in tonight’s episode – thereby instantaneously crushing all her hopes and ambitions – will almost certainly see a return to the bitter, jealous Edith of previous series. Whereas the events that transpired in the church had the potential to ice the cake of positive change in her life, it ultimately did nothing but further add to the mounting pile of devastating disappointments in it instead. We see at the end, where she can’t even stand to be in the presence of her two sisters – the embodiments of everything she wants but can never quite seem to have – that that is seemingly confirmed to be true. Although Cora tells her, “Being tested only makes you stronger,” I simply can’t see that being true for Edith. However, in that scene where she weeps by her mother in her bedroom, although we see the bitter side of her re-emerge, we can’t quite dislike her. And the reason why we can’t dislike her is that we pity her. Having been invested in her hope for a happy ending, we as an audience are also crushingly disappointed when it is snatched away from her. But more so, we pity her because we know how far she’s developed as a character over the course of the past two and a half series, and somehow know deep down that this devastating blow might just be what undoes all of that goodness within her. That being said, I can’t quite see Julian Fellowes ending the series – whenever he does decide to do that – without giving her a happy ending of some sorts. Whether that might be with Sir Anthony (I suspect it may be) or someone else, I don’t know, but I do hope she gets one.

"Being tested only makes you stronger." Edith is comforted by her mother.
The other tissue-grabbing facet of tonight’s episode came both in the form of the news of Mrs Hughes’s possible illness spreading to Mr Carson and Cora, and Mrs Hughes going to discover whether or not she actually is ill or not. Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes are very much two peas in the same pod; both of a similar age, they share similar ideals about their roles as servants, believing pride, stoicism and a job well done being what must be striven toward. They are partners, and it’s hard to imagine one being at Downton without the other. As amusing as it was to see Carson try to deal with Mrs Hughes’s illness in his stiff upper lip fashion, though, it was also incredibly touching, because as a man whose emotions are never on show, him doing his best to keep Mrs Hughes off her feet and informing his ladyship of her condition is as caring and emotional as we’ll ever likely see him to be. And you can’t help but want to give him a big hug for it. Similarly, Mrs Hughes’s reaction to the kindness Cora extends to her is equally touching, because it reminds us that there are times when jobs and social positions don’t matter – sometimes it’s simply about helping a fellow human when they’re most in need.
"We can be sure of one thing. I won't be cured by standing here."
I won’t lie, when Mrs Hughes was on her way to the doctor’s at the end of the episode, my heart was thumping like a good ‘un. I absolutely loved that line she said whilst standing across the road before going in:

“We can be sure of one thing. I won’t be cured by standing here.”

I absolutely love that line, simply because it’s such a Mrs Hughes thing to say. And I’ll admit, I was on the edge of my seat, all the way through until Mrs Patmore told Mr Carson that she didn’t have cancer. However, I can’t help but worry. It probably is a case of me being paranoid and overthinking it, but I’m slightly concerned that Mrs Patmore may just have agreed to tell him that it was cancer so that he wouldn’t worry about her, when in fact she secretly does have it. Like I said, I may be overthinking it and I very much hope I’m wrong, but that would certainly be an interesting plot development indeed. 
Matthew and Robert.

My problem with the remaining plot strand – that of Matthew not wanting to read Reggie Swire’s letter to him, and Mary reading it to him anyway and confirming its veracity – is that it feels a bit rushed. It felt like the kind of thing that would have been stretched out over a couple of episodes in previous series, and having it wrapped up in a single episode tonight made it feel a little too neat and contrived. However, despite that, it will be interesting to see what things are like next week, with Matthew becoming Lord Grantham’s equal as co-master of Downton (Carson’s reaction to that alone looks set to make next week’s episode worth viewing). And at the end of the day, I’d much rather a plot line be rushed along a little if it means it’s prevented from becoming overly drawn out and rather boring, like the Anna and Bates storyline has become.

Lord Grantham ponders Downton's fate.

The two masters of Downton.
Overall, Episode 3 failed to bring this series of Downton Abbey up to the same standard as previous series, but it was entertaining nevertheless, and you can’t ask for much more on a Sunday evening.

And, of course, do let me know your opinions on this episode/series of Downton, because I'd love to know!


  1. Very disappointed in the episode with Sir Anthony and his jilting of Lady Edith at the altar. This abandonment was very difficult to believe for a man of his stature that he would ever do this to begin with. I could believe he would change his mind, but only well before wedding plans were made. I cannot believe a man with his integrity would do this to a woman. What are the writers in this script doing? If Maggie had interfered forcefully, the character of Sir Anthony would cancel the wedding, but he wouldn't have just walked out like that. This was a horrible part of the show, and the only saving grace at all that came out of it was that Laura Carmichael really gave a stunning performance! I hope as the show progresses we will not lose that goodness inside Lady Edith. It would be extremely unfair. I hope her relationship with her mother becomes close, and eventually I hope Mary can find it within her to be kind to her sister and to persist with that and maybe even to champion Edith somehow eventually. That would satisfy.

    1. Yeah, I know what you mean. Downton's always been a bit soap-like but this was probably a bit *too* soap-like, and it degraded the character of Sir Anthony for no real reason. But thankfully I like the direction they've taken with Edith in recent episodes!