'Downton Abbey' recap, Season 3 premiere

It's past vs. reality in a great season kickoff

  • Mama knows best? Cora's mom, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) arrives to shake things up at Downton.
Mama knows best? Cora's mom, Martha Levinson (Shirley… (Carnival Film & Television…)
January 06, 2013|By Jordan Bartel, assistant editor, b

After a unique, very-informal-for-Downton dinner party, Carson poses an interesting question in this episode: "Where's the style, Mrs. Hughes, where's the show?"

"Perhaps people are tired of style and show," she responds.

Perhaps. Well, most definitely for a good portion of the estate. Sibyl and Branson are — yes!! — very happy with their more low-key life in Dublin. Cora is even pretty much done with all the frivolity. Same goes for her mother, the visiting Martha Levinson (guest Shirley MacLaine), who is blunt about everything but, most importantly, blunt about the way the world is changing.

Yes, it's spring 1920, but Lord Grantham is still very stuck in the formalities of the past. He has passed on that trait to his daughter, Mary, who reveres Downton as some sort of untouchable, majestic place (too bad her soon-to-be husband, Matthew, doesn't share his her enthusiasm).

Much of this two-hour (!) premiere focused on the struggle between the past and the ever-changing present. "Downton" has touched on this topic before, but a looming crisis forces Robert to finally put things into perspective. For good. 

You can basically hear the dowager countess grumbling through the entire episode. So Let's get things started (PS: Anyone else now distracted by "Homeland's" Nicholas Brody — er, Damian Lewis — in the "Masterpiece" intro? I expected Carrie to show up, too. And cry.).


We start things off in typical Downton style, at the rehearsal for Mary and Matthew's grand nuptials, which are, by my count, 34 years in the making.

Robert is in fancy-dad mode, fretting about what big-name religious figure will be there and trying to forget that Branson is now his son-in-law. Looks like Sybil and her beau might not be able to make it to the wedding, Mary tells him, because they can't afford it.

"Branson is still an object of fascination for the county," he tells his daughter, saying he's relieved the pair aren't coming. Because that's what matters: the county folks' gossip. Still, Mary desperately wants her sister to come (probably because her other sister is Edith).

Later, Isobel offers to send Sibyl the money, but Cora tells her no because Robert wouldn't want that (more on this later).

Still, Matthew and Mary seem very happy. He dorkily worries about "taking you to bed with your father watching" and there are lots of slow walks and longing looks. "I want us to get to know each other, to learn about who we are without everyone there," Matthew tells Mary. Which makes sense because they're getting married.

What can ruin these love birds' mood? Robert is called to London and gets some bad news from his lawyer. That money he invested in a Canadian railroad line during the war? Most of it is gone. And by it, I mean most of Cora's fortune.

Lesson learned: Never invest in anything Canadian. Ever.

"I won't give in, Murray. I refuse to be the failure, the earl who dropped the torch and let the flame go out," Robert says.

Matthew won't care (he tells Mary that he doesn't have any desire to live in he "big house" and even says he won't be needing a valet — what!!). But Mary will.

Coincidentally, Matthew gets a letter from a lawyer saying that he was named the third heir to the fortune of Reggie Swire, Lavinia's brother. The first one died before Reggie, and the second is missing in India ... and ... you know where this is going. It's a lot of money, a huge amount. Translation: Enough to possibly save Downton when he hears about Robert's financial ruin.

Matthew tells Mary about Reggie's money right before Robert tells Cora about what happened. He cries, but Cora seems OK with it, OK with letting go of the Downton burden. "Don't worry about me. I'm an America. Have gun, will travel," she says with a laugh. Robert even laughs a little British laugh and thanks the lord that he has someone like Cora in his life. It all almost makes you forget Robert lusting over that maid last season.

Right before the wedding, Robert tells Mary about what's going on and she wastes no time in trying to convince Matthew to save Downton. It leads to Dramatic Matthew and Mary Confrontation No. 1 of the episode.

Matthew: "I don't think you understand. Reggie put me int he will because he thought I was Lavinia's one true love. How can I profit from her death?

Mary: "So you're prepared to destroy us in payment for you destroying her?"


Later, Mary says that all of this proves that "God Matthew, you're not on our side. That deep down, you're not on our side. Dramatic throwing off a letter to the floor ... and scene.

Will this be another end to Matthew and Mary? It appears that way, as Mary has Dramatic Moment No. 2 of the episode, when she gets up in the middle of dinner and cries and runs away.

Branson (who made it to the house with Sybil — again, more on this later), goes to talk to Matthew and urges him to marry Mary because they're meant to be together.

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