Downton Abbey 3×03

Tom and Sybil Branson

I found this episode to be a “bridge” episode–that is, it exists to tie up old plot threads and introduce new ones for the coming episodes. So last night we saw Tom and Sybil permanently settled at Downton, the introduction of two new downstairs characters–Jimmy the footman and Ivy the kitchen maid–the wrap-up of Ethel’s will-she-won’t-she give up Charlie, and Matthew taking over the reins on the estate and realizing what a mess Robert and his estate agent have made of its running. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the end of the increasingly tedious saga of Prison Bates and the prison mate and guard who inexplicably hated him on sight, but at least the tiredness was mitigated by a sweet scene of Anna and Bates hugging their respective piles of hoarded letters.

This isn’t to say there were no great moments, those special “Downton” touches that remain indelibly imprinted in pop culture:

  • Carson’s horror over Mrs. Hughes’ toaster! I guess that was the last straw for him after being forced to master usage of the telephone!
  • Daisy and Mr. Mason’s bonding (a scene added to the PBS broadcast)
  • The looks on everyone’s faces when they see Handsome Jimmy (JAMES! /Mr. Carson) downstairs, and Mary’s immediate pleasure upon seeing him serving the family at supper. There has to be a few stable boy romances in her adolescence!
  • Daisy’s death stare at Ivy when Alfred starts flirting with her.
  • That dramatic Tom/Sybil kiss in the great hall! Swoon!
  • Go Edith! Glad to see her moving on after being jilted and taking on a more progressive role.
  • More Violet bon mots! Though her quips usually back up her aristocratic privilege, I think she’s more like Edith than Mary.

On to the more important storylines of the episode:

Tom and Sybil and the Irish War for Independence The fight for Home Rule was bloody and bitter. I definitely understand that the family’s sympathy would lie with the Anglo-Irish aristocrats rather than the regular Irish and Ulstermen battling one another and the English, but the slipshod method of introducing this topic into Downton makes them seem callous, arrogant, and unlikable. Granted, much of the reaction is at first driven by fear and anger over Sybil’s safety, but once she arrives at Downton there is no recognition of the reality of the situation. I’m also disappointed by how Sybil has lost her voice! We neither see nor hear her perspective on life as Tom’s wife, life in a troubled Ireland, or how her life has changed by not marrying back into the insular aristocratic world of her birth. Now we only see Sybil acting as mediator between her family and Tom instead of having her own opinions and values, which is definitely not the Sybil we saw in S1!

Thomas, Jimmy, and O’Brien We’ve been promised a more sympathetic Thomas this season, and it appears we’re being set up to see a romance of some type. However, Thomas’ leering at Jimmy is incredibly creepy when Jimmy has given no sign of mutual attraction or recognition. I loathe to see what O’Brien will cook up from this since she knows Thomas is gay.

Ethel and the Bryants As I said on Twitter, Ethel’s story is a lesson against aspiring above one’s station and it’s painful to watch her descent. Yes it was a harsh and unforgiving world for a woman who lost her good name, but it sometimes feels like Ethel is being punished on a meta level for being discontented with her place. Gwen in S1 wanted to be a typist, but she was not personally contemptuous of being a servant, nor did her quest to leap out of domestic work influence her romantic/sexual desires. The cold irony is that the very act that got Ethel into trouble is the only work she can get, furthering her exploitation in body and in reputation. I found it interesting that Isobel was not supportive of giving Charlie to his grandparents, but Mrs. Hughes was: Isobel’s optimistic pragmatism that she could still help Ethel with Charlie or the empathy of a mother to another mother?

What did you think about last night’s episode? Leave your comments below!


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7 replies on “Downton Abbey 3×03”
  1. says: Robin Woods

    I, too, wonder where Sybil’s voice has gone! Is it because she has chosen a “different path”? It’s a disappointment that she is not explaining to her family what is truly happening in Ireland or what their life has been. Maybe she knows that they are so out of touch, it would be the proverbial “brick wall”.
    Brava,Edith! While Sybil has lost her’s, Edith’s finding HER voice! Well, done! Perhaps Julian will make a career woman of Edith, to bring in the opening of doors for women. I should like to see Edith make her way in the new world. Remember Lady Astor!
    Tears were shed over Ethel’s decision to give over charge of Charlie to the Bryant’s. I was hoping Mrs. Hughes & Isobel might have come up with SOME way to help her. Take her back on as a maid @ Downton & Isobel to watch him or start a daycare to truly HELP these unfortunate women, something so Ethel didn’t have to loose her son! But that was the reality of the time. Hopefully, Daphne, will tell Charlie how hard his mother tried to keep him, but felt it best or no, keep in touch with Ethel so she will see him become the man she hopes if only from a distance. I had a great aunt, that was raised as my great grandparents’ daughter due to a similar situation.
    My hope is that Matthew will be able to get things straightened out financially at Downton, with the least amount of hard feelings. I’m sure as middle class people, the Crawley’s have had to “live within their means”, while the Granthems have always HAD and done what others of their class and station have, so they know nothing of economy or how to go about it! Look at the attitude of Cora & Mary about the latter’s wedding! Her going away ensemble was “twice the national debt”! I know for myself, I never want to forget the “hungry days” as I never know when they will come again and their lessons & practices will be necessary.
    Thomas needs to stop “preying” on men at Downton! Go to the pub , take a walk look elsewhere for a man! He already almost lost all in season I! All his high plans come to naught! He makes the worst choices! Where will he go when John Bates returns as valet? I’m certain he won’t go back to Footman especially as there are the full complement of said now. Maybe he could go back to being a man in business. Ha!
    Can’t wait for the next episode to see what Julian has in store for us!

  2. says: Teri Brown

    It was totally a bridge episode. Which didn’t make it any less enjoyable, but it did tie up a lot of loose threads! And I love Violet’s quips. The one she said to Edith about finding something to do was priceless.

  3. says: heidenkind

    I agree about Tom and the Irish Troubles. This was really a great opportunity to show what life outside of Downton–specifically, Ireland–is like, and instead all we’re given is Lord Grantham’s opinion and Tom acting like an irresponsible crazy person! It was very annoying.

  4. says: JoAnn M

    Why was Edith not allowed to have breakfast in bed as a single woman? I have searched and searched and not found any answer to this! Thanks!

    1. @JoAnn: It was just traditional that a married lady had the privilege of eating in her room, possibly tied to her daily responsibilities and general paternalistic assumptions about her “delicacy”.

  5. says: Patty

    Just a hunch here. I’ll bet married women were allowed to stay in bed for breakfast because they were assumed to be tired out from a night of sex with their husbands the night before and were, therefore, forgivably tired.

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