Downton Abbey season premiere: blue bloods need bailout

Paula Duffy's picture

A two-hour season three premiere brought us a wedding, a mini-revolt among the help and a Wall Street-type stock tumble that imperiled the existence of Downton Abbey.

As is typical of PBS' period drama Downton Abbey there were multiple plot lines spinning during the season premiere, and the largest one hinged on the lack of money to run the estate and insure its future. Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham gambled on railroad stock investments and lost.

Who will bail out Downton?

Martha Levinson, Lady Cora Crawley's American mother said no, but she would put anyone displaced by the sale and closing of the Downton estate in various U.S. based properties ---- and increase Cora's dress allowance if that will help.

Matthew Crawley, new husband of Lady Mary and son-in-law of the bad investor Robert said no, but his reasons are high-minded rather than practical.

He will come into an inheritance from deceased former fiancee Lavinia, who he cuckolded. The guilt is ruling his decision to give the money away before it touches his tainted hands. Mary thinks that saving her family's way of life and securing their future children's future is of paramount importance. Like a figure from the Corleone family, Mary believes her new hubby is "taking sides against the family".

Downstairs staff being asked to do more with less

Troubled businesses in times of economic stress impose hiring freezes. Downton is a small corporation that employees many while keeping a village alive, and its economic stress is giving chief of staff Carson fits.

He's down a footman, a valet,a housemaid and a kitchen maid. Oh, and someone who would notice that the chimney needed cleaning to avoid a social disaster. An important dinner was brought to its knees when the oven failed. It allowed American Martha Levinson to stage an impromptu buffet dinner with leftovers from the pantry. It only proved the point that the social order has changed to such an extent that the guests thought it was adventurous and modern..

There's a rift between O'Brien and Thomas

The two partners in crime and intrigue have turned on each other with comical consequences for us and disastrous breaches of social etiquette for the Crawleys. When O'Brien finessed her nephew into the role of footman, then a valet for Matthew, Thomas went crazy.

The results demonstrated that the staff was willing to commit acts that would have been unthinkable even a year earlier, forcing Robert and Matthew to come to dinner without their white ties and morning coats. Oh the horror.

Lady Edith is tired of being a spinster

She took matters into her own hands and threw herself at Sir Anthony Strallan. He is a man old enough to be her father but her best chance for a husband. Her sad plea to her father carried the day when she correctly pointed out that all the men her age were dead from participation in the war. Another wedding is ready to occur at Downton, this one a tad less grand than Lady Mary's.

Dowager Countess of Grantham is becoming a mensch

It was she that relented and over the objections of her son, sent money to youngest granddaughter Sybil and her husband Tom Branson, former chauffeur at Downton to enable them to attend Mary and Matthew's wedding. Branson got bullied and it sparked sympathy from Matthew. Despite his edginess, Sybil's new hubby made just enough concessions to his rebel behavior to earn respect even from new father-in-law Robert.

The episode might as well have been named for Bob Dylan's '60s anthem, "The Times They Are A Changing". Social order is being upended and the arrival of Americans only highlighted it.

When Cora told hubby Robert that it wouldn't be the end of the world to down-size, his relief was palpable. It set up a mother-daughter dispute when Mary recognized she was her father's daughter and English leaning, while her mother was still an American in style, taste and temperament.

It's only going to get more heated from here. If you're still a little unsure of how we got to this point, check out a quick video recap of the first two seasons, here.

PBS will air new episodes of season three each Sunday at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT and 8:00 p.m. CT on its local stations around the country. Image: PBS/Downton Abbey

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