Sunday, December 30, 2012

Downton Abbey, Season 3

It is the moment viewers have been waiting for, but anyone who expects an easy trip down the altar for Cousin Matthew and Lady Mary has another thing coming.  With the war over, the Granthams have plenty of milestones ahead, including weddings, babies, and even a funeral.  Rest assured, there will also be plenty of scandal when season three of Downton Abbey kicks off the New Year in style next Sunday on PBS’s Masterpiece (promo here).

Just as the future of Downton seems secure, the Earl receives dire financial news.  Yet, Matthew Crawley might be able to save Downton yet again, if his scruples will allow it.  His moral dilemma will cause his cause friction with Lady Mary on the eve of the ceremony—just like old times.  While the presence of Lady Sybil and her husband, the former chauffeur, is also slightly awkward, the family slowly warms to him over the course of season three.  Slowly, “Branson” becomes “Tom,” without terribly compromising his Irish Republican ideals.

This would seem to be the season for wallflower sister Lady Edith to come into her own, but her wretched luck continues unabated.  Yet, arguably it is the Earl who has the worst of it in the post-war years, spending the better part of this season apologizing.  At least, Thomas, the slimy acting valet, will get his comeuppance, perhaps once and for all.  Yet, it is the efforts of modest house-maid Anna Bates to clear that name of her wrongly convicted husband that appear most likely to bring some good news to Downton.  It will all culminate with a return to a tradition suspended during the war when the Crawleys once again spend Christmas in the Scottish highlands.

In the third season, some cast-members evidently began to tire of Downton or perhaps asked for more money, which means curtains for some apparently hale and hearty characters.  Of course, new characters will also be introduced, but the overly hyped arrival of Shirley MacLaine as Lady Mary’s fabulously wealthy American grandmother never delivers the anticipated sparks.  Still, Dame Maggie Smith remains the wonderfully tart force of nature, firmly maintaining decorum as the imperious Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess.

Julian Fellowes’ writing is a razor-sharp as ever, particularly the zingers he saves for Lady Violet.  However, fans might be surprised by the more tragic tone of season three, even compared to the WWI years of season two.  Nonetheless, all the elements that made the show a phenomenon are still present.  Jim Carter is still a deeply sympathetic bulwark of social conservatism as Mr. Carson, the Butler.  Michelle Dockery and Dan Evans nicely the develop Matthew and Mary’s stormy chemistry into a mature, believable marriage.  Even if her Lady Edith is stuck under a cloud of misfortune, Laura Carmichael has her best moments in the show this season, hardening and humanizing what has been one of the series’ least defined, most unpopular characters.

There is always hope for the future at Downton.  Indeed, a season four is already in the works, albeit without a familiar face here and there.  Still the best written show on television and the only one co-starring Maggie Smith, season three of Downton Abbey is enthusiastically recommended when it begins next Sunday (1/6) on most PBS outlets nationwide.