This is not an episode of Season 3 that you will likely remember much of, particularly not with everything coming down the pike (oh, calm down, that’s not a spoiler). No, this is an episode that churns along well enough for the most part, and really marks a pivot-point in terms of the primary plot for the season.
Matthew serves as a catalyst for these new plot developments, as he urges Lord Grantham to consider major changes to the management of Downton Abbey, both in terms of staffing and land ownership, and as he urges Mary to begin thinking about having children. Both Lord Grantham and Mary are clearly resistant to upsetting the apple cart, and these scenes sow the seeds for future developments. Of course, the intricacies of owning an estate are basically boiled down to the positions of “let’s change the way things have been done for generations” or “let’s embrace change gradually (i.e. not at all, or ever).” While I’m not necessarily wishing they would spend more time explaining the intricacies of these perspectives, I wonder whether that might not be more satisfying than watching Mrs. Patmore try to learn to use a toaster.
I’m kidding about that, of course, because those scenes—from a smiles-per-second standpoint - are by far the most successful in the episode. Of course, as we have learned from the past two seasons, the “downstairs” of this upstairs/downstairs dynamic always works. New characters—Alfred? James/Jimmy? Ivy? Great, I’m totally on board. Weird love pentagon (Daisy/Alfred/Ivy/Jimmy/Thomas)? I’ll watch it all day. However, where the downstairs portion of Downton Abbey struggles is when the characters are pulled from the house; the courtship of Bates and Anna was a highlight of season one, but in seasons two and now three, they continue to suffer through a dreadful, painful story. There is more development with that throughout this episode, but, really, can we just get to the end of it already? Does anyone—does any single viewer—doubt for one second that Bates is going to get out? That he and Anna will get a chance to be happy together? If so, I bet you just love this Ethel storyline, which also could stand to be put out of its misery.
Next week: stuff happens!