Editor’s note: For the benefit of American readers who haven’t yet seen Season 3 of Downton Abbey, please do your best to avoid spoilers when commenting.
June Thomas: Well, that episode was full of weeping men, domineering dads (biological and otherwise), and new arrivals. I was also struck by how visually dynamic the show is. Despite how little actually happens, there are tons of scene changes and short sequences to keep things moving. I’m always so focused on themes and plot, I sometimes overlook Downton Abbey’s surprisingly zippy pacing.
Seth Stevenson: My vote for most visually dynamic element goes to the HOT NEW DOWNSTAIRS HELP. Not just one but two pretty faces were added to the staff. I wonder if viewer focus groups were demanding more eye candy. I did feel bad for oft-aggrieved Daisy (whose DNA is, I’m pretty sure, at least one-quarter mouse) when she was overshadowed by that winsome new kitchen maid. And do we think Thomas will find love at last with that dashing footman?
Thomas: Daisy sure is the nail Downton Abbey’s creators love to hammer on. The look on her face when Alfred—a dead ringer for her dead husband—flirted with new girl Ivy! I think we just saw an early moment in Daisy’s transformation into O’Brien.
I do not think that Thomas will find love with young James, “Call me Jimmy.” I can’t see the show ever allowing Thomas to be happy—not because he’s gay, but because he’s a shortcut-taker. Carson, the downstairs dad, is surely serving as a proxy for Julian Fellowes when he praises hard work and question-asking as the path to success.
Stevenson: I think you’re right—Thomas’ passion (I grinned at his lightning-quick gander up and down Jimmy’s bod) will end up being thwarted in some excruciating manner. You’ve also given me visions of an old, embittered Daisy. I can picture her aging mouse face turning sour and mean. More rat-like.
Thomas: Speaking of true love, I almost wonder if Edith will fall for Alfred. I love the way she stuck up for him, telling the others they mustn’t allow him to be “completely overshadowed” by the handsome Jimmy.
Stevenson: We’ve already plucked Branson up out of the service ranks and into the arms of a Crawley lady. Would Fellowes do it again with Alfred? Of course he would! Basically every storyline this season is something we’ve seen before. Random inheritances. Downstairs scheming. The Ethel plot barely evolved at all—we got a near repeat of the scene last season in which little Charlie’s grandpa blustered at her from under his moustache. But I think I’m on Team Daisy when it comes to pairing someone off with Alfred (even if she’d need to climb atop a stepladder to smooch him).
Carson’s sense of entitlement really struck me this episode. He seems to feel he is owed a massive org chart of underlings, when Matthew rightly observes that the house could make do with less help. How do we think this whole “Downton is being mismanaged” plotline will play out?
Thomas: The mismanagement plot has already led Matthew to one strange place: “cousin Violet’s” sitting room. That was a canny move. The dowager countess is clearly on the side of tradition, but she’s a sensible woman, unlike Robert (less likable by the day) and Mary, whose connection to the estate seems to trump all other ties. I foresee some conflict with those two over Matthew’s attempt to clean up Downton’s Augean stables.
Stevenson: Ugh, Robert. When he’s not plowing his wife’s money into risky investments, he’s blundering the household accounting. Or slurring Catholics. I feel increasingly Branson-ish and resentful as I watch Robert smoking his cigars and swirling his brandy. He’s due for a comeuppance.
Speaking of Branson, I detest the way that Fellowes has turned him into a cowardly, pregnant-wife-abandoning representative of the Irish cause. That’s stacking the deck!
Thomas: I’m having a hard time reading Mary’s froideur with Matthew. I understand that she was angry with his dithering about accepting the Magical Estate-Saving Inheritance, and I would not have been happy if my spouse accused me of forging a letter in order to get my hands on a considerable sum of money. But why was she so cold when Matthew got all giddy at the prospect of the nursery being used for its intended purpose?
Stevenson: I couldn’t read where Mary’s distance was coming from. I doubt she’s looking to delay motherhood so she can start a career. Is she just not into being a mom? Wasn’t half the point of marrying Matthew (after his miraculous recovery of erectile function) that they’d produce an heir for Downton?
Thomas: There are times when I want to shiv Robert with a sharpened bouillon spoon. Given how few of the storylines I can stomach these days—I’m variously bored, offended, or tired of the Bates, Thomas, Daisy, Robert, and Branson threads—I’m amazed that I still enjoy watching.
Stevenson: I think perhaps the melon spoon would be more appropriate for a shiv-ing, June. I wouldn’t want you to pick up the improper utensil in a moment of blind anger. Manners are everything.
These are the current Downton characters I would most like to hang out with, in roughly descending order: The dowager countess, Sybil, Matthew, Mary, Branson, the smoking hot new kitchen maid, Isis the dog, and Mrs. Hughes. Everyone else I’ve gone sort of meh on.
Thomas: As annoying as the newly weak and weeping Branson is, I did enjoy his furtive arrival in the rain, especially when the archbishop of York declared, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Could that possibly be a winking reference to Walter White’s “I am the one who knocks” on Breaking Bad? No, I suppose not.
Stevenson: Were you at all moved by the closing sequence in which Anna and Bates receive their stacks of letters and then cry while reading? (Not to be confused with crying while eating.) I must admit I was left dry-eyed. It’s the sort of florid moment that Downton might once have hooked me with; this time, no dice.
Thomas: I was similarly unmoved by the Bateses’ simultaneous letter drop. I think Isis might be the only one who could send me reaching for a tissue these days. May the gods of Downton keep that bitch safe!
Stevenson: I may be coming around on Edith, though. Bully for her, getting a letter published in the Times. Do you suppose women might ever get the vote?