Two men in a study.

Matthew and Robert caught red handed by the Dowager Countess.

Rachel - Longtime Downton Fan

From town fairs, flower shows, to eventful dinners with salt instead of sugar on the desserts, Season 1 Part 3 of Downton Abbey boils down to one phrase for me: All’s fair in love and war. 

Okay, not an actual war, that comes next season. But romances and rivalries heat up this episode, starting with the beginning of three great Downton romantic relationships. I’m talking about Mary and Matthew, Sybil and Tom, and Anna and Mr. Bates, of course.

A woman and man laughing at a dinner table.

Mary and Matthew bond.

Mary and Matthew’s will-they-or-won’t-they really kicked off this episode and for me, the great joy of this particular part of the series is how they both begin to grow as people as well as their fondness for each other. Mary’s still reeling from Mr. Pamuk (something we know will haunt her all the way through Season 2. Buckle up, Mary: you’ve got a long road of angsting, confused feelings, and sorrow ahead of you) but now she’s got to contend with Matthew embracing his new future as well as her secret having potentially gotten out. Matthew, in turn, is understanding that his new position as Robert’s heir can create some good that he hasn’t seen come to fruition until now, something that can make all of the ridiculous aspects (and I laugh each time Robert agrees with him) much easier to bear. But Mary’s potential fall from grace and Matthew’s compassion for the family, and Mary in particular's situation, allows them to find some common ground.

Just in time for Anthony Strallan to show up and Edith to be ruffled by Mary’s jabs at her lot in life, in the now-predictable Downton fashion. No one is permitted to be happy, or sure of what they want, for too long on this show.

And speaking of fashion, this episode gives us the first hints of Sybil and Tom beginning to bond. While I’ve admitted my bias for these two here before, the scene that always resonates with me in this episode isn’t the infamous harem pants scene (though it’s a classic for good reason!), it’s their conversation in the car after he asks her if she’ll have her own way with her frock. Sybil’s already spending time with Gwen hoping to help her along to live a life Gwen has chosen for herself and not resigned herself to, but rewatching this particular Sybil and Tom scene has always lead me to believe that she’s starting to understand he wants to carve a similar path: a career and life on his terms, especially when he insists he won’t always be a chauffeur. She likes seeing others form their own lives, and for me, this is the point where it’s a challenge to see Sybil’s heart have room for anyone else (at least in a romantic sense! She has the biggest heart of all the Crawley sisters, in my opinion).

Bates with a try and vase.

Forbidden dinner from Bates.

Finally, Anna and Bates’ interactions begin to slowly develop throughout this episode, from his checking in on her when she’s sick and assisting her with chores when necessary to her confusion about what his intentions are. We know he’s hiding an entire life from her, one he’s run from (and rightly so: Mrs. Bates is a piece of work!), but they aren’t at a point where Anna is made to understand that. After watching this unfold so many times, this is the love story that becomes tiring for me: as much as I’ve seen others wonder if Edith will ever be happy, that’s the precise question I wonder about Anna and Bates (despite knowing how they all turn out in the end). It’s the beginning of the roller coaster that’s the Anna and Bates relationship, and while my heart aches a bit for Anna in this episode, it’s a challenge for me to get really invested again knowing what’s ahead.

Though bringing up Edith and her lack of happiness and self-fulfillment pretty much defines every rivalry that begins with this episode. Edith and Mary’s rift is clear in that all the former wants is the opportunities of the latter in pretty much every area of her life, but she’s given ammunition to take Mary down with Daisy’s testimony, prompted to share by Miss O’Brien (if anyone is continuously taken advantage of in this episode, it’s Daisy). What started as unkind gossip in London is now in Edith’s hands, and make no mistake: we know she’s going to use it just as Mary begins to pine for Matthew. Though I did find Cora’s mention of “Little Women” to be a bit inaccurate: did she not remember Jo and Amy at each other’s throats at all?

Unkind gossip (though not potentially threatening to one’s standing in society) follows the Dowager Countess as well: she wins one over Isobel in the erysipelas debate (and I feel a bit bad for Isobel here: she only wanted to help Molesley!), but the Flower Show forces her to show a rare glimpse of humility as Isobel forces her to contend with her position and assumed victories over the villagers who truly deserve the recognition. The Dowager makes the decision for herself though, which is a choice I always can appreciate: she might be set in her ways in many things, but where it really matters, she tends to do the right thing.

And finally, there’s the downstairs ‘rivalry’ between Thomas and William, where William incorrectly assumes it’s for Daisy’s interest as a romantic partner. That couldn’t be further from the truth and we know now that Thomas’ struggles to accept who he is, and his lack of personal joy in his life, encourage him to act in ways that harm others. While later on, I can cheer for Thomas, I still feel that Mr. Bates’ accosting of him in the servants’ hallway was an appropriate move at this point. Thomas’ story is as painful for me to watch as Edith’s, or Anna and Bates’, and the more the show goes on the more I’m rooting for him as he begins to use his manipulative powers for good (we’ve got a little while until Nanny West descends upon Downton, but when she does? It’s Thomas’ time to shine!). 

But this all sets up for the conclusion of Season 1 next week, where we find out if there’s something more thrilling than a new frock (turns out, Sybil, there is! It includes voting rights, stolen kisses, and a real downer of a garden party!) and just how on point Mrs. Hughes was this week when suggesting possible calamities.

“Suppose there’s a war?” indeed. Tune in Friday, March 26 at 7 p.m. on GPB-TV to remember how the announcement of World War I (and the new telephones at Downton Abbey) changed everything for our favorite characters, or stream the whole series now on GPB Passport.

Kirk - Downton Newbie

I’d like to start off with two pleasant little (sort-of Downton-related) revelations I had this week. As a former theater nerd, I occasionally watch bootleg recordings of various actresses singing “Rose’s Turn” from the musical “Gypsy,” which has been a favorite of mine since I was in elementary school. I expect that watching a bitter, middle-aged woman coming completely undone is only going to become more therapeutic (relatable) as the years go by, but that’s another blog for another day. 

If I'm lucky, I'm able to keep this rabbit hole from branching out into other numbers. Most of the time I am. Patty LuPone almost always comes out on top, because of course she does, with Bernadette Peters very close behind. No offense to OGs Ethel Merman, Rosalind Russell, and Angela Lansbury. This week, however, I found one I had never seen before. Emelda Staunton, to whom I was first introduced through her portrayal of fascist nutjob Delores Umbridge in the Harry Potter film series, is apparently an absolute beast of the West End. Her performance left me breathless and teary-eyed.  

That was the first revelation. The second was finding out that she has been married to Jim Carter (Downton’s Mr. Bates) for nearly 40 years. They met during rehearsals for a production of "Guys and Dolls." One of the things that stood out most to me in episode three was that the Crowley’s staff seemingly give up any chance of having families of their own to work as domestic servants. Having sacrifices like that shown on screen as being made willingly has always made me uneasy, especially when made by people who, for one reason or another, have very little power and often little choice.  

A man and woman playing a game at a fair.

This wasn't the only ring being tossed in this episode.

Even though I knew it wasn’t going to happen, I really, really wanted Mrs. Hughes to marry that farmer. I still don’t understand why she rejected his proposal, and the reason she gave made little sense to me. At one point, during their date at the fair, he asks what she plans to do when she retires. She answered that the Crowleys will take care of her. When he asks what happens if they sell their estate, which I thought was a very reasonable question (given the fact that the future of the estate is one of the major plot points of the show...), she replies, “I don’t know, dude. I’m trying to live in the present. YOLO.” Okay, that’s not an exact quote, but it will be once the American Downton Abbey reboot airs. My point is, they have no safety net and no way to have families of their own without becoming unemployed. I felt the worst for poor Mrs. Patmore, who was revealed to be losing her eyesight. While most of the older staff don’t seem bothered by their uncertain futures at all, Daisy, Anna, and Gwen are trying to make moves.  

A lot of the staff were suffering from some illness this episode or pretending to. Bates brought Anna a lovely forbidden dinner, upping the cute factor between the two significantly. Later, she boldly confesses that she is in love with him. He rejects her, but I have a feeling she’s not going to give up. Molesley comes down with a nasty rash which gives the Dowager Countess her first chance to dunk on Isobel after she goes full Web M.D. on him. Their rivalry continues to be delightful. Sybil helps Gwen fake an illness to give her a chance to attend a job interview. I’m glad she’s finally been given a personality, but I hope we get some backstory soon. I’d like to understand how she grew up to be so different from her sisters and family.  

And then there’s Daisy. Poor, simple Daisy. Honestly, I could have watched an entire episode of Mrs. Patmore throwing old-timey euphemisms over Daisy’s head. She’s still stuck on Thomas who, while very handsome, is clearly the worst. He went out of his way to sabotage sweet William’s efforts to win over Daisy, for fun I guess. I still have no clue what his deal is. Watching Bates hem him up was deeply satisfying and I hope it continues. Watching William play a forlorn version of Peg O’ My Heart was sad.  

Speaking of will they/won’t they, Mary and Matthew seem to have moved through open hostility and into some sort of flirtatious situation. Her parents are certainly hoping to push her in his direction, but as she is still throwing tantrums at the mere mention of his name, this is probably going to take a while. Even though, as she knows, it would solve a lot of her family’s problems. She will keep searching for some other random rich guy to marry unless her sister Edith, the snitch, ruins her reputation first. This week should be exciting. 

This episode’s highlights include that cat trying to drag an entire chicken under the table (I was rooting for him), and Sybil’s very strange harem pants moment. What was Branson doing just hanging out outside their window watching? I loved it. Remember, if you can’t wait to get your Downton fix, the entire series is available to stream right now on GPB Passport. See you next week!