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Downton Abbey Season 3: Episode One

This post contains spoilers for the latest episode of Downton Abbey.

The 1920s have come to Downton, and with them, the long awaited wedding of Matthew and Mary. But when Robert finds out that his investments have failed, the wedding and even Downton itself seem on the edge of disaster.

I was exasperated by Downton’s second season, but completely enraptured by the gorgeous Christmas special. Luckily, the first episode of the third season is more in the spirit of the latter, with great scenes between Matthew and Mary, and a bucketload of fantastic female character.

Unfortunately, Branson is still around.

Mary continues to be one of the most fabulous female characters on television. She has lost a lot of her bitterness as the young woman passed over for her inheritance and fobbed off on the “right” man, struggling to take whatever action necessary to save her reputation, but she remains a dignified, kind-hearted and fierce young woman who both embraces and struggles with her place in the world. Although Matthew and Mary have gone through plenty of soap-opera level drama, they remain a great couple. They disagree, and they fight, but they also genuinely respect and love one another, and chemistry and affection fills every glance. It’s almost as though the two of them have absorbed the show’s quota for healthy, compelling relationships, leaving Anna and Bates with dullness and Sybil and Branson with a relationship that is concerning to say the least. Luckily, they left plenty for Edith and her beau Sir Anthony. After a war that helped Edith to feel independent and useful for the first time, Edith has left her petty bitterness towards Mary behind, and also seems ready for a sweet, compelling romance.

Branson redeemed himself somewhat in this episode, as he stepped in to save Mary and Matthew’s wedding. But in the end, he is still an arrogant brat who cares more about spouting his message at all times than about his wife’s wishes. The scene when she suggested buying him an outfit for dinner was particularly unsettling thanks to his response: “Don’t disappoint me, Sybil.” There has always been something controlling and dismissive about Branson, particularly in his relationship with Sybil. He is a blunt force, without any understanding of nuance or even of the fact that good people might have opinions that differ from his own. He essentially tells Sybil that she loves him, and keeps insisting until she agrees. He has an extremist “well, revolution has to slaughter a few children of Tsars'” attitude to the world, and the vivacious, independent-thinking Sybil of the first season has been cowed into his drab, silenced shadow, a woman who attempts to convince him to step back and is called disappointing for doing so.

Meanwhile, Cora’s mother comes over from the States, and she has a thing or two to say about the state of the inheritance. Like Branson’s revolutionary ways, Cora’s mother’s constant comparison of British ways to American invention seems a little tiresome and forced, but she makes some interesting points about Cora’s inheritance and the injustice of it passing to some distant relation of her husband’s. Considering that Robert just gambled most of that money away on bad investments, without Cora’s knowledge or input, I wish the show had put more of an emphasis on this fact, especially as Cora herself does not comment on it. Hopefully, her mother will stick around for a while and have a thing or two to say when she finds out.

Downstairs, O’Brien pushes for a position in the household for her nephew, Daisy goes on strike over her promised role of kitchen assistant, and Anna continues to fight for Mr Bates’ innocence. Again, we see fabulous female characters acting in their own interests… and Anna, fighting for her dull martyr husband. I only hope that it turns out he is the murderer in the end. Now that would be a plotline I’d love to see, and moral dilemma on Anna’s part that would actually be compelling.

After extreme Doctor Who-related disappointed, it’s great to watch a new episode of a show that (generally speaking) cares about its female characters, their emotions and hopes and relationships with others. Can’t wait for next week!

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

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