SONIA BRAND-FISHER: Mary Crawley says to her sister, Sybil, in the middle of episode 3 of “Downton Abbey” something along the lines of “Fairy tales don’t happen in real life.” This episode, however, felt very fantastical and romantic to me. Lovers, requited and otherwise, unite and reunite to swells of music in almost operatic settings. Even the subtle use of mirrors and reflections in various shots both upstairs and downstairs added to the otherworldly quality of the episode. Not quite as jam-packed with intrigue and scandal as the last episode, this one succeeded beautifully in composing a landscape of stories that could potentially have happy endings, and could potentially not.
The two young loves whom I’m simultaneously excited and terrified to see develop into romance are Sybil and Branson. There are few things more fabulous than the “run-away-with-me” love story between two young people in the face of adversity, but Sybil’s tentativeness acts as the reality check far more than Mary’s intervention. The scene in the stable when Sybil visits Branson exhibits Sybil’s practicality when handling this situation. She acknowledges the existence of their affections, but also states firmly that she cannot just leave her family, friends, and lifestyle that she has come to love. This is totally legitimate, however Branson construing that to mean that she is ashamed of their class difference seems pretty unjustified since Sybil is acknowledging their affections in the first place. Sybil shows maturity beyond her years. She has goals that she would like to meet. I’m curious, however, that Branson’s impulsiveness will rub off on her or will end in heartache for both of them.
An artistic element of this episode that was masterfully done was the use of reflections and mirrors to allude to another listening presence or to represent a type of influence. When Lord Grantham hears the news of Matthew and William being lost in battle, Edith enters and inquires about the news. Anna’s reflection appears superimposed over their conversation as she listens through the door, creating a ghostly image of the third party that is the servants’ presence at Downton. Mary also appears framed in a mirror when Lord Grantham and Cora are talking about her; an imposing and shocking interjection into their private conversation. Yet, the most moving scene of reflections was back in the stable with Sybil and Branson where each of their reflections was super imposed over the other via the car windows as the two were arguing, giving a visual cue to the influence that they are beginning to have over each other.
My favorite scene of the whole episode, however corny it may be, was the entrance of Matthew and William into the concert for the soldiers as Mary was singing. Her face at seeing Matthew alive made me think she was going to run down that conveniently placed aisle and throw her arms around him. I was hoping for that, to be honest. Of course it would be over-the-top and romantic and very silly indeed, but that swell in the music as they entered and the turning heads and the little glances between William and Daisy made for a build to a climax that didn’t seem to come. The song went on, and the audience joined in, and we were all tearing up in our living rooms. It felt like opera, grand and sentimental, and we are left on the edge of our seats hoping that the next episode will bring that desired cymbal clash.
HOWARD MEGDAL: So much to like in this episode, easily the strongest of the three so far this season.
The extent to which this storyline involving Mary, Lavinia and Matthew allows Mary to maximize her anguish is only good for the viewer. Michelle Dockery is astonishingly good as Lady Mary. She can act more with her eyes alone than most actors can convey with their entire bodies. She suffers much, but her drama is always dramatic, never melodramatic. Her screen time with Matthew is exquisite, but so is anything she participates in- the conversation with Edith, even with her parents.
One disappointing note: we saw O’Brien given the chance to show some humanity, and with her past kindness toward Lang, the shellshocked veteran, gave the optimists hope. But O’Brien’s lack of even a moment’s thought before bringing Cora in to ruin her fellow servants was a disappointment. We see Thomas continuing to be Thomas; knowing the evil duo might not have a united front to cause trouble would have lent extra depth to subsequent plot points, I think.
But Mr. Bates has returned, so who cares! Good job by Lord Grantham to acknowledge he was wrong to a lower class- the episode makes clear how impressive this is, adjusting for era. Why it is taking the first Mrs. Bates so long to take the money and run, we really couldn’t say yet. Seems cruel, really, to all of us. But she didn’t seem like a great gal when we met her.
Daisy’s really making me angry now. You said yes to William. How ridiculous you’ll look if anyone you’ve told “He’s not my beau” to finds this out. And who are you waiting for that’s better? Thomas? Good luck there…
The climactic scene, with Matthew and Mary singing with the room, was subtle and effective. I’m sorry Sonia didn’t get the payoff she was looking for, but I certainly did. I actually might have liked it less with a running hug. Still, my suspicion is that Sonia’s right on this one. Curious how Zoe felt about it.
ZOË RICE: Here’s what I’m learning about Downton Abbey: Conflicts seem to resolve themselves pretty quickly. And they better, or they’ll interfere with Captain Crawley’s vacation time.
Episode 3 still hasn’t lived up to the season’s excellent premiere, but the frenetic pace of last week has thankfully slowed enough to allow for savoring, and there were indeed some tasty morsels to chew over. Lady Grantham and Cousin Isobel’s politely heated exchange, for example, was pitch-perfect, and I wound up loving Lady Grantham more for it – and that was before she rolled up her sleeves to feed hungry soldiers, snubbing O’Brien in the process.
The missing-in-action plot felt undercooked – a mere jolt instead of what could have been slightly more drawn-out despair, but the reunion scene warmed the heart better than any MGM wartime musical. How can one not feel touched by a whole room singing, nobility, servants, and soldiers alike, and then the surprise arrival. I give much of the credit to Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary. She is at once strong and vulnerable, and more endlessly sympathetic than her actions may warrant. Top it off with a singing Captain Crawley and I’m on board.
The Lady Mary–Captain Crawley relationship remains the real driving force of the series. While it’s obvious that Thomas and O’Brien are about to sabotage poor Mr. Bates’s divorce, I’m much more interested to see what will develop with Sir Richard once Mary accepts him. And if his ways turn dastardly, I’ll be thrilled to see how Matthew comes through with his promise to always protect her.
And if in the meantime we have to endure Ethel’s pregnancy drama, a disappointed Molesley, and a forbidden Sybil-Branson romance, well that’s all fine and good. Just as long as Matthew keeps getting 3 weeks of leave for every month. He’s got a love quadrangle to maintain, after all.