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Monday, February 11, 2013

"Downton Abbey" Season 3, Episode 7 Recap

A bittersweet occasion
  • PBS
  • A bittersweet occasion

PBS aired two hours of "Downton Abbey" back to back last night - click here for my recap of the second hour.

A trusted friend and TV advisor informed me this week that PBS is combining (and therefore editing down) so many episodes of "Downton Abbey" for February sweeps, but I still can't see why they would want to burn off so many episodes so quickly when there are, in the end, so few. Even during last year's embarrassment of a season, the world that series creator Julian Fellowes has conceived is one that should be lingered in and appreciated for its resplendent beauty (if not always for its storytelling). On that note, every hour of the series is so jam-packed with plot that to run two hours together is really overwhelming. How is one to process all of the Dowager Countess' one-liners before the next episode is shoehorned in??

Last week, I praised the series for slowing down and giving us the emotion and nuance that we both deserve and crave - the show is not a sweeping epic, it's a soap opera, and it's the relationships between the characters that really make things interesting. Having said that, this week's first hour was the closest the show has ever come to a filler episode. Old ideas were rehashed, major events (Branson's brother Kieran's arrival, Thomas' inexplicably bold action toward Jimmy) were glossed over and solved pretty quickly. That is, of course, the show's way. As one commenter pointed out, "Shirley MacLaine's character didn't even return for the funeral?" Indeed, I had nearly forgotten she existed.

What this episode really solidified was the show's eternal struggle between tradition and modernity. Battles were won and lost on both sides. Edith triumphed by being allowed to go to London and meet with an editor (more on that in a minute), and received her grandmother's support. But to get that support, she had to help scheme against Isobel, who won out slightly in making Ethel's life better by bringing her back into society, but needed to let go of her to let her truly blossom. Robert and Jarvis fought against Matthew and Murray (and everyone else) regarding the future of Downton, which wrapped up nicely (and obviously) with the running of the estate's farm going to Branson.

One more event evened the scoreboard between the old ways and new though, and that was in regards to Thomas and Jimmy. First of all, even though Thomas, smitten, fell for O'Brien's machinations (dammit Thomas, O'Brien is so much better at this than you are) without corroboration, his actions toward Jimmy were shocking. Not just for the time, but for anyone at all. Did he think that Jimmy was inviting him up to bed and faking being asleep because Alfred was out at the movies? It still seems like Thomas would do something to wake him up before planting one on him. Of course, "Downton" being "Downton," Alfred walked in just as it all was happening.

Did Jimmy kiss Thomas back? Did he see him as a friend and ally, as something more, or just as a colleague? We know he's not interested in any of the kitchen maids - he flirts shamelessly with all of the girls and yet remains aloof from them - but that means nothing. Thomas thinking there was something between himself and Jimmy could be right or wrong, but it doesn't matter now. The old ways win out here - what Thomas attempted was illegal, as Carson bellowed at him. The repercussions for his actions will become clear in the second hour ...

In other pairings, that editor seems sweet on Edith, doesn't he? He's like a hybrid of Sir Anthony and Sir Richard Carlisle. In other words ... we've been here before. I would love to see Edith with a different kind of man than she has been in the past, or to just embrace modernity and the Jazz Age and escape to London to spend some time with her aunt just being free (or as free as Edith can reasonably be). The editor seems like a nice chap, but he just doesn't bring anything new to the proceedings.

Finally, Mr. Bates came limping back into our lives - and Anna's. I haven't found them very interesting since the first season, where I was swooning constantly, but their initial hug after he was freed, their stroll among the grounds and looking at what cottage they might inhabit was actually charming for the first time in, well, a while. For all that changes, everything stays the same - Bates and Thomas are still at odds, which seems petty on Bates' part given how much both of them have overcome and lived through since. Ah well. It is the "Downton" way!

Musings and Miscellanea:

- I don't know if it was always O'Brien's intention to get rid of both Jimmy and Thomas in one fell swoop for Alfred's sake, but she was surely pleased with the outcome. Despite how snaky Thomas and Jimmy can be, there's something that's not very likable about Alfred, either.

- "Stay in bed! Read books!" - Robert to Bates, so ecstatic to have an ally in the house again.

- This week The Atlantic published an article about how boring "Downton" is now that everyone is married. They cited the fact that no marital nuances are explored. Are we watching the same show? We didn't get much between Sybil and Branson, I'll allow, but I think how Mary and Matthew has been handled has been lovely. Even without The Baby Question, the two have grown into their new roles while still keeping their old personalities (Mary is still feisty and often petulant, but still loves and supports Matthew). Frankly, I'm glad to not have any more drama between them. Cora's coldness to Robert after Sybil's death was also an interesting and truthful interlude, even though they are back on good terms now. (UPDATE: a good response and rebuttal)

- "Have you changed your pills?" - Isobel

- "You've been reading those communist papers again ..." - Violet

- Baby Sybil is such a perfect-looking baby!

- Wow, Branson's brother really caused exactly zero splash at all.

- I have really liked the Carson/Hughes dynamic this season. They've never been more obviously the mother/father figures of the Downstairs - firm but fair!

- I loved Matthew getting really heated and annoyed with Robert and Jarvis. The only good thing that came from the interminable "but I don't want the money" storyline re: Lavinia's father's fortune was that because of his feelings about it, Matthew is even more invested in the estate and how it it is being run than he would be otherwise.

- "When I asked you for your opinion, I didn't mean for it to be taken literally!" - Robert

- "Love him, by all means ... but believe in me" - Matthew

- "I'm never wrong" - Violet

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