Episode three of Downton Abbey aired on Masterpiece Classic on Sunday. The “engine of social change is roaring through society,” its ripples even reaching traditional life at Downton. As the family upstairs and their servants downstairs face change, they are forced to make choices. Some like Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) hold on to the past, hoping that the entail can be broken and others like the parlor maid Gwen (Rose Leslie) and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) attempt to forge their own future out of the norm. Here is a brief synopsis from Masterpiece.
Recap of Episode 3 (spoilers):
The fair has come to town, and with it comes romantic hopes for several Downton Abbey inhabitants. In a triumph of the absurd, Violet, the Dowager Countess asks a baffled Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) to use his legal acumen to dissolve the entail — the very document by which he is to inherit Downton Abbey. Matthew’s findings and his hopes for Downton cement his growing closeness with Robert, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and a new warmth suffuses his encounters with Lady Mary.
But Mary’s thaw doesn’t extend to her sister Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) , as their competition becomes crueler. Cora, the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) simply wants Mary married, but newly circulating rumors may hinder that aspiration. Meanwhile, Violet’s power struggle with Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) moves from the hospital grounds to the annual flower show as Isobel casts her democratizing gaze upon Violet’s prize-winning roses.
A kind gesture by valet Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) is not lost on housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt); but he cryptically professes to not being capable of more. Lady Sybil discovers the politics of gender and class, with the help of the socialist chauffeur, Branson (Allen Leech), and butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) discovers that several valuable bottles of wine have gone missing. The vulnerable kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera), under increased pressure and ire from a fretful Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), possesses a dangerous secret that she learned upstairs.
This episode was all about social changes with many characters pushing and pulling at their station, or each other. One would think that of all the social classes in the Edwardian-era, that aristocrats know their place and what is destined for their lives. The working class can move up if they can, but a family born into a peerage has pretty much made it. This may apply to the men folk, but certainly not for the ladies unless they marry up. I was moved by Lady Mary’s plight. She has come to the grim realization that she is powerless. A pariah. Her conversation with her cousin Matthew says it all. “Women like me don’t have a life. We choose clothes and pay calls and work for charity and do the season, but really we’re stuck in a waiting room until we marry.”
Lady Mary knows that her mother and grandmother’s efforts to smash the entail are futile. Her father, Lord Grantham, has accepted the inevitable. She will not inherit nor be an heiress. She is frustrated and angry. Cousin Matthew has been accepted as the heir and is now the son that her father never had. “Matthew, Matthew, Matthew.” (Shades of Jan Brady in the 1970’s sitcom The Brady Bunch, whining “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”) Her mother isn’t much help either. She thinks her daughter is a lost soul, and she is right. Mary took a lover with no thought of marriage. She is a ruined woman if it is made public.
Ironically, I was reminded of a great quote from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice by Mary Bennet. Set one hundred years prior to events in Downton Abbey, not much has changed in regard to woman’s worth and reputations.
“This is a most unfortunate affair; and will probably be much talked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation.” Then, perceiving in Elizabeth no inclination of replying, she added, “Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable — that one false step involves her in endless ruin — that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful — and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.” Chapter 47
Reputations are still brittle, as Lady Mary well knows, and her sister Lady Edith even more so. She will use Mary indiscretion against her for revenge. There is nothing more painful than sibling-icide. It’s as old as Cain and Able, and just as ugly.
On a happier note, love is in the air. I had to applaud housemaid Anna for not being a lady and just saying so to the man she loves. What a plucky Miss she is. It is easy to be generous when you have nothing to lose! Kudos also to Lady Sybil. I feel a romance brewing between our spirited rebel and the socialist chauffeur Branson! Just thinking out loud mind you, but they make a handsome couple, even though socially, their romance would not be accepted. Hmmm? Interesting plot possibility.
I will end on a great quote from the butler Mr. Carson. “What would be the point of living if we did not let life change us?” I couldn’t agree more.
The conclusion of season one of Downton Abbey airs next Sunday, January 30th with episode four. Will it be a cliffhanger?
- Read my recap & review of Downton Abbey episode one
- Read my recap & review of Downton Abbey episode two
- Downton Abbey Entailed? Understanding the Complicated Legal Issues
- A Downton Abbey Etiquette Primer
- Visit the Downton Abbey web site at Masterpiece Classic
Images courtesy © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2010 for MASTERPIECE