Downton Abbey Season 3: Episode 1

CLICK HERE to Season 3: Episodes 2 & 3

When the pre-show outshines the main feature, I’m beginning to have a little concern.

The episode “The Secrets of Highclere Castle” is a fantastic one-hour focus on the history and present day Highclere Castle, the setting of Downton’s Crawley mansion. The information is largely collected in the book written by Countess Fiona Carnarvon, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle. Read my review of the book here. And you can watch the whole one hour feature here.

Lady and Lord Carnarvon
Lady Fiona and Lord George Herbert Carnarvon

I have high praise for Downton Abbey S1 and S2. That’s why since last February, there have been quite a few ripples sent out from the pond here. Like numerous others, I’m following the countdown to S3, this cultural phenomenon of using Downton Abbey to measure the passing of a year. So it was with much anticipation that I watched S3 premiered in North America on PBS last night.

It begins shakily (metaphorically and literally… maybe some shots with a hand-held camera?) telling the recent development of how everyone is doing. So many stories, so little time. So what we get is a montage, vignettes by the seconds. That is fine too, but somehow, the people seem different now.

It takes a while for me to get into the act, to get back that captivating feel as in S1 and S2. Such moments are sparse and far between, I’m afraid to say. Ok… before you fans of Downton throw pebbles at me instead of into the pond, there are a few ‘movie moments’.

My favorite is when Robert reveals to Cora he has lost all her money in a failed railroad company (Canadian? Sorry). He sheds tears for the loss while she is so forgiving and loving. What a moving scene. Cora Crawley is now my favourite Downton character.

Matthew and Mary
Matthew and Mary

Another sweet moment gives me back the feeling of why I love DA in the first place, is the Matthew and Mary blind kiss the night before the wedding, a wedding that is almost called off. But here in S3 E1, it seems Mary has gone back to her old, old self where practical matters and Downton heritage surpasses love and honor. In this case, I’m all for Matthew, who is unwilling to take the large sum he inherits from Lavinia’s father. Again, here’s the guy with some backbone when it comes to moral dilemmas.

Shirley MaClaine as Martha Levinson
Grandmama from America

Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson, the Grandmama from America, is the highly anticipated new twist. And she doesn’t disappoint. We need someone to turn the table, tip the balance, add some spice of life to the stiff traditions of Downton, if that means setting a buffet table, guests choose their own food, be it cold cuts and what not, sit anywhere they like, and joining in an after dinner singing of ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’. Violet Crawley, take that.

The prison scenes with Bates and Anna are heartwarming, another reminder of why I love DA in the first place. Some nice shots. I particularly like the one he slowly limps down the long flight of stairs. While for justice’s sake he should be out of there. But for cinematic variety, I think Bates in prison offers a nice human touch of pathos, which again is why I like DA in the first place.

Other plot lines seem quite weak. Daisy goes on strike? She should first join a union. The too tall footman/valet Alfred’s troubles with Thomas, recycled from previous episodes of Bates’. And Mrs. Hughes, I feel so sorry for her. But Mrs. Patmore proves to be a solid and lively character. Edith has grown more beautiful while Sybil turns lacklustre.

I hope the rest of the episodes deliver what I’ve so highly anticipated. The 20’s is a stylish backdrop for a costume drama. They’re all dressed up, and I wish they have somewhere to go, and bring me there with them.


Other Related Posts:

Season 3: Episodes 2 & 3

Season 3: Episodes 4 & 5

Season 3: Episodes 6 & 7 Finale

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey

The Downton Ripples

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: Facts that give rise to Fiction


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

41 thoughts on “Downton Abbey Season 3: Episode 1”

    1. Stefanie,

      Maybe Julian Fellowes is trying to create conflicts between them. But I like the changed Mary at the end of S2, humbled and learned her lesson.


      1. Do you think Mary is that bad in the first episode? Downton Abbey is her home. It’s all she’s known, and she’s the eldest who has always thought it would be her home. She also feels for her father, don’t you think? I liked the contrast between the more pragmatic American Cora and the conservative Mary and her grandma. Have now watched 3 episodes and I’m enjoying it pretty much.


        1. WG,

          You see, that’s the initial Mary of DA, heiress insisting her ownership, ie, only if she marries a rightful heir due to the entailment that as a female she can’t inherit. But after the Pamuk incident, and the ‘damaged goods’ image has sunk in, she’s even willing to marry the ruthless Richard Carlisle, giving up her hope of ever being the rightful owner of Downton. And after Matthew came home severely wounded from the War, her caring for him, and her consideration for Lavinia while suppressing her love for Matthew, that’s when I like her most, a loving and humbled Mary. That’s why Matthew’s turn around, getting down on one knee to ask her to marry him is such a gratifying wrap to S2, because we see love conquer all, and reward those who persevere.

          But here in S3 E1, Mary is back to the original Mary Crawley from the very beginning, as if she has forgotten she’s a changed woman now. But of course, that other side of her, the previous Mary, can always resurface because now she’s the rightful heir to DA after her marriage to Matthew. However, for me, it’s the humbled and romantic Mary that is so much more enjoyable to watch.


  1. I really enjoyed the premier and the Secrets of Highclere. Although (even though I hate to admit it) I was taken aback by Lord Carnarvon’s nose hair. I think my enjoyment stems from how boring TV has been these days…


  2. I did read Almina and the Real Downton Abbey earlier this year but it was nice to see the special on Highclere Castle. I had not seen the first season of DA but watched the second one which I really liked. I like all the historic settings and the clothes. Last night I also finished the big illustrated book “The World of Downton Abbey” it gives good background info.

    I was a bit disappointed with Shirley McLane’s character – I think they did not give her much to work with and that her character as an “American” was a bit stereotyped. I was trying to think what could happen now that Lady Mary is married with Matthew and there is no money for Downton – where can they get the money? I was thinking that Lady Mary needs to get Matthew’s inheritance from Lavinia’s father – but how… I wonder if maybe Matthew won’t get sick or in an accident and then Lady Mary will inherit from him? What do you think about this solution?


    1. Vagabonde,

      I accidentally stumbled upon a site and read some spoilers. I couldn’t get away from it fast enough, now it’s in my mind. I hate spoilers! That’s why I don’t watch the trailers and the previews of DA now. Looks like they have a way of getting out of debt, but then again, we’ll see how it goes, and see if the plot is reasonable enough. And, you’re right about Shirley MacLaine not given enough to do. As for stereotyping, she’s there just to counteract some of the already stereotyped British characters. So that’s the balance there… or tipping it, rather.

      I’m interested to see how things go with all of them. That’s the power of story, I guess, despite weaknesses.


  3. I have been a Downton Abbey fan since it very first began and most of my friends (well, colleagues at school) were saying, “Downton What?” If it didn’t have to do with someone named Snooki, they were clueless. Anyway, I find the mesmerizing quality so inherent in Season One to be dissipating with each following season. Not that I don’t still love it, it is the only show I watch on television. But, it’s lost some of the tenderness, I think, in its fame. I find the stories become more soap opera-ish, and the two minute clips then off to something else a bit distracting. I like the journey approach, not the race. That said, I thought Shirley MacClain did a wonderful job, Maggie Smith never disappoints, and I’m a special fan of Bates and his love. Not to mention, as you did, Matthew. What a guy.


    1. Most of these shows become victims of their own success I think … partly because the idea that generated the first series isn’t always able to be sustained so the stock, reliable soap opera plot-lines start to creep in. It’s always disappointing to see … but I think DA is doing better than most (so far).


      1. You’re absolutely right. I’m afraid DA has somewhat been victimized by its own success. See all the parodies coming out, and most crucial, Jullian Fellowes might think it can ride on its success that he may have slacked off a bit in drafting a good script. But for me, I think I’ll watch regardless, DA had me at hello, so to speak. 😉


  4. p.s. Wasn’t it interesting how last night’s show highlighted some differences between the British and American point of view? I appreciated how the producers, writers, whomever, dealt with what could have been a prejudicial subject. Each side has strengths, and weaknesses, which I thought were fairly pointed out by the two grandmamas.


    1. Bellezza,

      My real interest came when I watched Season 2 last Jan/Feb. Then I bought the Blu-rays for both seasons and re-watched, many times. I think S1 is most brilliant, and a bit less in S2. And now, seems they’ve got fame and popularity to sustain them, Julian Fellowes begins to slack off a bit. I’m afraid of this kind of declining slopes. Also, the most beautiful art can become cliché if repeated, recycled and if standards are not maintained. This is my concern for DA. However, for better or for worse, I’ll still watch every episode of this Season. That’s the attraction of the series.

      And yes, I agree with you about the contrast when Shirley MacLaine storms in. Just to add some fun, and, some ‘reasonable’ conflicts. I feel some other ‘conflicts’ are just too trivial, like Daisy going on strike. Seeing Episode 1 gives me some concerns… just hope my hunch is not accurate.

      My advice to Julian Fellowes is: Don’t Make Downton Abbey a Cliché!


      1. My main negative from the start has been the Miss O’Brien character and her various conflicts. She – and that fellow whose name I can’t recall even though I saw him tonight – have been the main negative for me from the start. Their plot lines have seemed soap opera from the start for me.


  5. Well, of course you know I’m not watching – the good news about that is that I can’t ruin anything for you with spoilers! But I must say I was intrigued to see the American Grandmama brought in. Over on Weather Underground, there’s a good friend who’s a Yorkshire lass, and as British as anything BBC or such could come up with. We’re constantly comparing notes with her about language, food, attitudes, and such, and I can see how that dynamic could really add something.

    I hope this season lives up to your expectations!


    1. Linda,

      I highly recommend you watch the DA S1 and S2 DVD’s. You’ll be captivated I’m sure. As for S3, just come to the pond and watch the ripples. 😉 I hope Shirley MacLaine will be given a bit more work in the next episodes and not go back to America so soon. The contrast is interesting… and it can be more fun if she can have a few more lines.


  6. Oh, thank you for that link — roomie and I enjoyed watching The Secrets of Highclere this evening. I’d listened to the Lady Almina audiobook some months ago and it was like getting a Cliff’s Notes version of the book in this PBS special. A shame to think that homes like these have to become businesses to stay afloat.


  7. And congrats on your camera purchase 🙂 Sounds like you’ll be getting many years of enjoyment from it. I’ve now got my eye on those micro four-thirds cameras (mirrorless) that are smaller but have large sensors.


    1. Thanks. I’m still learning to use it. I’ve posted a photo on Twitter today, my testing sample, as is and with no editing. Are you on Twitter? You can see it from my photo file @Arti_Ripples


  8. I could have sworn I commented on this right away, but maybe I just thought I did because I was reading it at work! So, shortly — Highclere Castle — well worth watching — find it online at PBS. I really loved the premiere, but I agree there were some odd things like Daisy’s strike, way too much drama with Alfred and Thomas and O’Brien. Love the Shirley-Maggie scenes and wish MacLaine was going to stick around. The Matthew/Mary pre-wedding kiss scene was exquisite and perhaps one of my favorite moments was the solidarity of Matthew and Tom. I’m looking forward to Episode 2!


    1. Jeanie,

      You’re right about commenting right away… in an email. And after that we had several exchanges. But not at the pond here. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the premiere. As I mentioned I stumbled upon some nasty spoilers on other sites. But don’t ask me, I’m not going to repeat them. And, trying to forget them as a matter of fact so I’ll still enjoy the show.


      1. Oh, duh! Well, no wonder! I knew we’d talked about it so I was confused! I really do need to slow down! Yes, I saw some spoilers too (Edith’s wedding was one). You know, that bugged me. It just seemed a little bit too contrived and melodramatic. I would have rather they married and she found out he was gay or something. I don’t know — that would be dramatic, too, but leaving her at the altar? I thought, “Julian, Julian, you are on the precipice. Don’t go over…”

        My email is down (talk about an unproductive day — I was sick, so I just came home). But I can’t reply to your comment yet about the Valentines! Thanks for the nice words. (And you might want to skip the next post. You won’t like it!)


  9. Did anyone catch and know the foreign phrase Robert utters at the reveal of Tom’s roofied cocktail? Sounded like “amonk cusa” or something similar, but it was hard to tell if it was French or Latin. Thanks.


      1. D’oh. When in doubt, check the closed captions… oh well. The phrase is French: “il ne manque que ca”. But google is of little help in the translation, with conflicting translations and meanings. Seems it is idiomatic. Best I can do given the context: “that explains it”, “what else could explain it”, or even “if everything else wasn’t enough”…

        Anyone have a better take?


    1. jefffreeland,

      I’ve directed your question to Vagabonde, a regular visitor here at Ripple Effects. She’s bilingual in both French and English. Her answer to your query is posted below, after peggy’s comment. Hope that helps.


  10. After 2 years of being delighted by DA, I was really disappointed with the premier of Season 3. I kept wondering if the cinematographer had changed as I kept being distracted by the camera angles, framing of shots and poor (dark) lighting. Not something I pay attention to when watching things. Story line also not as well done. Great actors, great set, not well executed this time.

    Hoping episode 2 is an improvement!


    1. Peggy,

      I’m with you, and I agree the DOP probably has changed or trying something new. Camera angles are different and yes, shaky… like hand held esp. in the servants’ quarters. Anyway, I do hope it’s just that they need some warming up and future episodes will be better.

      Thanks for stopping by the pond and leaving a few ripples. 😉 Hope to hear from you again.


  11. Arti – In answer to your question this is how I replied on my blog. ” I went back and looked at a video of the first episode and listening to it – Robert is saying more or less – that this situation is topping everything – “Il ne manque que ça” like ‘this is the last straw.” It is usually said when a situation is bad and something comes up to make it even worse. But to be more correct, he should have said “il ne manquait plus que ça” in the past tense, meaning ‘that’s what we needed to hear to finish this farce…”


    1. Merci, for you best stroke. You last translation best fits the context, it seems. Of course, since it is used as a commonplace phrase in English, there may have been some bastardization of the French, as it was used in ordinary conversation, which became accepted. My mother had a marvelous dictionary with an appendix of common foreign phrases. I regret not having pulled those pages, before she got rid of the volume. It would have told all, I’m certain. But, I very much appreciate your scholarship. Thank-you, again.


  12. Sorry about the late responses, Arti. I was away when you posted this – saw it come through but reception was poor and we hadn’t seen the first episode anyhow. It’s nt starting here for another couple of weeks but we orderd the Blu-Ray which arrived before Xmas. However, we’ve only started watching it this week. As I’ve said, I haven’t felt as negative as several of you here.


    1. I didn’t know the S3 Blu-rays are out already? Would love to rewatch those already aired, but not to view the upcoming ones. The clips on the PBS website can’t be shown here in Canada due to rights.


      1. Oh yes. Ours arrived before Christmas … But we didn’t have time to watch them. As we often don’t watch tv live these days we are quite happy to watch via these.

        Re Mary, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the other Mary coming through again but I don’t agree that that first episode was evidence of a full-blown return. I hope what we see is a more rounded character, softened by her experiences but not necessarily completely changed. That would be more realistic I think. The first Mary was a bit too hard and the second one, though appealing, a little unbelievable perhaps?


        1. WG,

          Thanks for the heads up. Just put a hold on it in the public library, I’m 68th for Blu-ray. DVD I need to follow over 250 others. And you’re absolutely right about Mary. We definitely wouldn’t want stock characters. I guess it’s just that, these two just got married, can’t they live in peace for a little while, just for us viewers. Would love to chat with you more as the episodes are aired.


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