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The Return of ‘Downton Abbey’

Emma Terhaar | Monday, January 21, 2013

The third season of “Downton Abbey” premiered in the U.S. on January 6. We’re now three episodes deep, including a two-hour opener. Speaking as a fan of the series, I am somewhat disappointed by the recycling of old storylines. The marriages and almost-marriages, impending collapse of the class system, breast-cancer scares and inclusion of a driver into the aristocracy’s social gatherings are all new storylines, but they feel like they’ve been done before.

This is partially because we spent all of last season waiting for most of these plotlines to be carried out, and because the show insists on doing the “will they or won’t they” bit with absolutely everything that happens, making it all feel pretty similar.

Mary and Matthew are getting married, no “Downton” fan can speak these words without smiling, but the last minute call-off, and then morning-of call back on? How many times are we going to see Matthew and Mary together, then torn apart because of pride or honor or some other ridiculous quality? Matthew and Mary’s relationship is supposed to be an emotional roller coaster, but my neck hurts from plot-whiplash effect. And were any of us terribly surprised when Edith got left at the altar? In true “and none for Gretchen Weiners”-esqe fashion, Edith is the sobbing single sister once again.

After the first two episodes of the season, I feared the show had jumped the shark. Downton Abbey’s impending sale seemed like a promising plot twist, but we all knew some ridiculous deus ex machina was going to appear and save the family estate. Predictably, Matthew randomly inherited a bunch of money. Does anyone else wonder how it could possibly been enough money to keep Downton going, and when Lavinia made the jump from being upper-middle class to richer-than-Lord-Grantham wealthy? I wouldn’t have minded Matthew saving the day with his dead-girlfriend money, but the whole saga was a bit rich for my blood.

Perhaps the most bothersome aspect of the new season so far was Mary and Sybil’s icky new hairstyles. I’m really just confused. Are these supposed to reflect changing fashion trends, or is the show making some kind of statement about the effect marriage has on a woman’s hair (it just goes to crap overnight)? Mary’s sticks down around her face like a helmet, and Sybil’s is just the most awkward, bushy bob. I don’t understand why Maggie Smith hasn’t called them out for this yet.

Despite my annoyance and fear that the show is on its way down, episode three left me with a bit of hope. The advent of Edith’s feminist newspaper writing, the possibility for Matthew to teach Lord Grantham a lesson about handling money and the historical context of the Irish Revolution are all really exciting plotlines. Even the impending battle between Thomas and O’Brien seems promising. Servants acting incredibly petty and sabotaging each other is nothing new for the show, but we’ve never seen Thomas and O’Brien face off before. In one of the best scenes of the show so far, Anna and Bates read each other’s letters in their respective prisons as they were meant to be sleeping. Every “Downton” fan could feel a tear grace their cheek and the eternal call of “Free Bates” cross their lips during this touching moment in episode three.

We go into this Sunday’s episode with a little apprehension that they’ll pull more of the same old trite, a little hope that they hired a new hairstylist for the show and the knowing feeling that none of it really matters anyway as long as Maggie Smith is still there making snide comments in her nasally old woman voice. Long live Downton and FREE BATES.