Hello, dog butt. Hello, bells. Hello, kettles and gas lamp and feather duster. It’s the spring of 1920 and it seems we’re back at Downton Abbey.
When we left off at the end of Season 2, Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary had finally declared their love and gotten engaged, no longer letting family, war and other fiancé(e)s stand in their way. Viewers might have expected that something else would have come up between then and now — Downton does have a habit of skipping a few years between seasons — but all is, surprisingly, well. Time for a Crawley wedding! Which we’ll get to in a moment …
Not that Robert, Lord Grantham, has nothing to worry about. First there’s an ominous phone call. Uh-oh. Also, there aren’t enough footmen. Miss O’Brien wants to get her nephew Alfred hired for one of the open positions, and even though Mr. Carson says he has no time to train a new footman, O’Brien goes over his head, to Cora, the Countess of Grantham, to get Alfred the job. Robert permits the hire and says he’s going to London for a quick trip, but won’t say what about. Double uh-oh.
You know how they say women marry men who are like their fathers?
Robert, Mary’s father, goes to London to meet with his lawyer Murray, who looks like a walrus. Murray informs him that the Canadian railway company in which he invested Cora’s fortune is going bankrupt. The money is gone, and they may have to sell Downton. Whaaa? (It’s unlikely to happen, since the house gives the show its name, but some other luxury will surely have to go.) When Robert returns from London, he hears that Alfred has arrived. He forgot they were hiring more staff and demands that nobody else be brought on — but of course, he won’t say why. (He eventually does break down and tell Cora, who takes it in stride as an American. Mary, who also learns the truth, doesn’t take it quite so well.)
Matthew Crawley, Mary’s fiancé, has unexpected news from a lawyer too. He learns that Reggie Swire, the late father of Matthew’s late fiancée Lavinia, has made Matthew his heir. Like Robert, he keeps the news to himself for a while — and then plays it down when he does tell Mary before diverting the conversation to sexy sex banter. He eventually announces that he can’t keep the money — even after Mary spills Robert’s secret about how broke they are — because of his guilt over Lavinia. These men! So proud!
The other two-sides-of-the-same-coin pairing is much more fun: Martha Levinson, Cora’s mother, played by Shirley MacLaine, makes her grand entrance. The lady sure knows how to wear a feather in her cap and aggravate the Dowager Countess — and everyone else. (For example: her very unpleasant maid, Miss Reed, informs Mrs. Patmore that Martha needs goat’s milk every morning.)
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And then, of course, there’s the wedding. It involves so much bunting that they could open a bunting store and make all their money back; all they need is a few mason jars and it may as well be Brooklyn. Mary — in a long-sleeved, boat-neck, drop-waist white gown and long veil — and Matthew tie the knot and secure the Crawley lineage. Now if only the estate were as secure …
In the second half of the episode — which aired separately in the U.K. — Mary and Matthew return from their honeymoon, and the family members put their heads together, sort of, to try to figure out how to save the house. Matthew continues to feel that he cannot accept Reggie’s money even after he is confirmed as the heir, so Mary and the Dowager Countess decide that they will get Mary’s other grandmother to give the family even more money. To do so, they plan a big dinner that will demonstrate the crucial role the estate plays in the life of the area. (It will also demonstrate the staff’s impressive floral-arrangement skills. “Nothing succeeds like excess,” quoth the Dowager.) The party, however, is mangled when the oven breaks down before any of the food is cooked. Martha, plucky American that she is, encourages the group to throw a makeshift indoor picnic instead. Great fun! How casual! How 1920s! But while Martha offers hospitality to the family in the U.S., Mary’s scheming was all for naught: the Levinson money, while not bound to English inheritance laws, is tied down nonetheless and cannot be used for the Downton cause. And thus Shirley MacLaine fades back into the mists of the Atlantic, her jaunty head feather bobbing behind her.
News from downstairs: Alfred shows up for duty, and his main attribute is that he’s tall. Mr. Molesley is sad that Matthew doesn’t want a valet, but Thomas manipulates things so that Moseley goes to Downton and Alfred is demoted. Daisy goes on strike and is upset when Reed makes a move on Alfred. While cleaning the Bates house, Anna finds a diary belonging to Vera, the late Mrs. Bates. She brings it to Mr. Bates in jail, for him to annotate in case there’s a clue that will clear his name — a clue she finds, she hopes, in the timing of Vera’s interactions with her friend Mrs. Bartlett on the day of Vera’s death. Bates has an unpleasant new cellmate, Craig, on whom we’ll keep a watchful eye. Mrs. Hughes is worried she may have cancer, so she is distracted from her duties, but she won’t let Mrs. Patmore tell Carson why she’s upset.
Other big news upstairs: the Dowager Countess sends money for Lady Sybil and Tom Branson to attend the wedding — and Sybil is pregnant. Tom is awkward and calls his mother-in-law “your ladyship.” A tool-y nobleman who used to have a thing for Sybil puts something in Tom’s drink so that he acts impolitely at dinner, yelling about Irish politics. (Burning question: What kind of drug does that?) Tom and Matthew are BFFs now, though the Branson couple goes home after the wedding. Isobel Crawley has taken up the hobby of reforming prostitutes, who include the family’s former maid Ethel, the one who had a baby with an officer convalescing at Downton. Lady Edith still has a crush on Sir Anthony Strallan, even though he’s old and has a bum arm. Later in the episode, Edith’s crush heats up. Robert asks Strallan not to pursue Edith, but she defies her father and ends up engaged to her older gentleman friend, giving hope to all the sad Lady Ediths of the world. And to all the wedding-hungry television viewers too. Bring on the bunting!
Dowager zinger of the week:
Violet: “I’m so looking forward to seeing your mother again. When I’m with her, I’m reminded of the virtues of the English.”
Matthew: “Isn’t she American?”