Downton Abbey: Season Three Review


By: Meilan Solly
It’s no secret that Americans like British culture, as shown by their obsession with the Beatles, Harry Potter, and Shakespeare. One growing Anglophile trend is a love for British television, with shows such as Sherlock and Merlin finding large fan bases in the United States.

While these shows have certainly been met with high regard, the show which seems to have completely taken both America and Great Britain by storm is Downton Abbey, a series which features the Crawley family and their assorted servants as they try to navigate the dying class system of Britain’s early 1900s.

The third season of Downton just finished in the United States, so between crying over the events of the Christmas special and eagerly awaiting the arrival of season four, take some time to read this review and reflect on all the events you’ve just witnessed. For those readers who have not yet seen season three, be aware that there are MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

At the end of season two, Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary (Michelle Dockery) finally agreed to get married. Besides eliciting ecstatic shouts of joy from both the pair’s relatives and viewers alike, Matthew and Mary’s union finally allowed for other characters to take center stage. Shirley MacLaine guest-stars in episode one as Cora’s mother, clashing with Violet (Maggie Smith) and Robert (Hugh Bonneville) in a battle of modern vs. old-fashioned, a recurring theme throughout the season. MacLaine’s guest spot is one of the highlights of the season, as both Smith and MacLaine are legends, so it was interesting to see them play off each other.

Mary’s two sisters, Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), are parts of major plotlines this season. After reconnecting with Lord Anthony Strallen (Robert Bathurst), Edith finally finds happiness (and a marriage!)…or so it seems. Strallen jilts Edith at the altar, leaving her embarrassed and disgraced. While Sir Anthony’s actions do hurt Edith for a while, they actually enable her to become independent. She accepts a job working as a newspaper columnist, and the end of season three hints at a relationship with her new editor.

While Edith searched for love, Sybil had it with ex-chauffeur Tom Branson (Allen Leech). The two, although grudgingly accepted back into Downton after their scandalous marriage, are accepted all the same. Everything seems to be going well, as Sybil is pregnant and Tom, although expelled from his homeland for radical activity, is with the woman he loves more than anything. Then episode four happens. After a severe lack of oversight on Robert’s part, viewers are left with the absolutely heart wrenching sight of Tom begging Sybil to stay with him as she gasps for air before dying in childbirth. The rest of the season follows Tom and new baby Sybil as they try to cope with Lady Sybil’s passing. Tom becomes good friends with Matthew and even accepts a job as manager of Downton, working to modernize the estate. Next season, expect to see much more of Tom, and possibly even a stronger friendship with Lady Mary for reasons later explored.

“Downstairs,” a.k.a the servants’ hall, also saw much drama. Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) starts the season languishing in jail, the victim of ex-wife Vera’s (Maria Doyle Kennedy) suicide masquerading as a murder plot. He remains there until episode six, leaving viewers with one of the most boring side-stories in Downton’s history. Although Mr. Bates and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) are a fantastic couple, it was quite tedious to watch their jail visits when other exciting events were happening back at the estate. Now that Mr. Bates is out of jail, hopefully season four will finally be his chance to escape the bad luck which has plagued him since season one.

As for the rest of the servants, the most interesting events of the season centered around Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier). Following the arrival of new footman Jimmy (Ed Speelers), Thomas is convinced by ex-friend Mrs. O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) that Jimmy has a crush on him. This is not the case, however, as Mrs. O’Brien has turned from Thomas’ truest friend to his most dangerous enemy. She encourages Thomas to take his relationship with Jimmy to the next level, which for Thomas means sneaking into Jimmy’s room in the middle of the night and kissing him. While this is obviously not the smartest move on Thomas’ part, the events following the kiss are quite tragic. Jimmy’s fellow footman Alfred (Matt Milne) exposes Thomas, and Carson’s (Jim Carter) retaliation, aided by more of Mrs. O’Brien’s conniving, is brutal. After Carson calls Thomas foul, Thomas responds with the best line he’s ever uttered: “I’m not foul, Mr. Carson. I’m not the same as you, but I’m not foul.” In the end, everything works out for Thomas, as he is actually promoted. Season three Thomas varies greatly from the Thomas of earlier seasons. Thanks to his sobbing over Lady Sybil’s death, plus the various tribulations he faces, Thomas becomes an object of pity rather than simply a villain.

The final major event of season three occurs in the Christmas special. Mary is pregnant, the Crawley family heads off for the Scottish Highlands, and the servants go to a fair. Everything seems to be going well, right? It seems happiness is not in the cards for the Crawleys, however.  Mary gives birth to a healthy young boy, and after meeting his son for the first time, Matthew drives off to tell the others. He never arrives, instead leaving astonished fans with a final image of blood slowly trickling down Matthew’s face as he lies dead under his car.

Season three of Downton Abbey was certainly filled with nerve-wracking drama, especially since two major leads decided to leave the show.  It was not the best season, however, falling between season one and season two in terms of quality, with the first season being the best and so on. Season four, which began filming in early February, will not air in the United States until early 2014, but it is already promising to be exciting. Mary will find a new suitor, Sir Anthony Gillingham, as she copes with the loss of her husband, and possibly become closer to Tom as they are now facing the same situation. The one year hiatus between season three and season four may seem like a long wait, but with such exciting prospects ahead, it will be over before you know it.