After this many years of recapping, I didn't think anyone could come up with a show I'd be this excited to cover, much less that the chips falling in a way that I actually got the assignment. I'll gladly give up my weekend to cover it… not that that even means anything to the Dowager Countess. Let's start with new additions to the opening credits: Allan Leech (Branson) is now a series regular, as are Matt Milne (playing the new character Alfred Nugent) and Lucille Sharp (playing new character Reed). So!
It's the spring of 1920, mere months after the Season 2 Christmas special. Let's start with the bits and pieces:
Daisy is finally looking a bit more like a woman and a bit less like an androgynous child; unfortunately, she's still whining about the kitchen help she was promised that thus far hasn't been delivered. Thomas -- always her Svengali -- incites her to strike, but when Daisy realizes that Mrs. Patmore is fighting her passive resistance with passive indifference, she folds like the cloth she immediately picks up to dry the dishes.
Isobel is working with a charity that supports women who have come down (or "gone down" seems more appropriate) in the world, and as such runs into Ethel. Despite the fact that Ethel is looking kind of homeless, nothing comes of that yet.
Mrs. Hughes finds a lump in her breast; Mrs. Patmore is there for her -- reversing their support-system roles from when Mrs. Patmore was losing her sight -- as she has the growth tested, but the results are inconclusive and unfortunately, it's going to take up to two months for definitive analysis. In the meantime, the doctor counsels her to rest as much as possible, which is great news considering the financially-mandated hiring freeze Downton is under and the fact that Carson has already been chewing her out for her head being off in Breast Cancer Land instead of on her work. Carson does apologize and encourages her to tell him if anything's wrong, but she's not ready for that quite yet.
Despite his having told her in the Christmas special that they have no future together, Edith rekindles her friendship with Sir Anthony Strallan -- you know, the boring older gentleman who she was keen to marry before Mary ruined the whole thing with a casual wave of her hand. But Lord Grantham and Lady Cora (I should refer to her as "Lady Grantham," but I'm taking liberties for brevity's sake. Besides, she won't mind… she's American) feel Sir Anthony is too old and wounded (literally) for Edith (much like the Dowager Countess before them) and the former has a talk with Sir Anthony, with both agreeing that Sir Anthony should refuse Edith any further contact. When Edith gets a letter from Sir Anthony telling her to go away, she immediately (and essentially accurately) blames Lord Grantham before running into her American grandmother's arms and, with her support, she convinces Lord Grantham to reverse his decision. I'm not sure what he was on about anyway, given that the line to marry Edith has started and ended with Sir Anthony since the show began.
On to the Bates and Anna front! In good news, Bates' inheritance was legally processed, thus allowing him to transfer title of his house to Anna, which she's renting out for extra income. The bad news is that he's still in jail, but at least he knows he has a place to stay should he ever get out. Anna isn't waiting around for that to happen though, as she finds a book of Vera Bates' with names and dates in it that she thinks might help to clear Bates' name, with the idea that Vera must have told someone about her plan to off herself. Although she doesn't reach her in this episode, she zeroes in on the friend to whom Vera wrote her "Bates is coming to kill me" letter. Also, Bates has a new cellmate and while he seems a nasty piece of work, his question of "Why do you have to be so pious" to Bates makes it hard for me to completely dislike him; nonetheless, Bates lets him know who the cell's alpha dog is.
Now, let's get to the bigger stuff. Everyone (viewers and characters alike) is looking forward to the arrival of Lady Cora's mother, Martha Levinson, since -- unless you've been living under a media rock -- we know that she's being played by Shirley MacLaine. Martha shows up to delightfully drip tacky fur and brassy American attitude all over everyone; her also-American maid, the aforementioned Reed, isn't much more popular, as she runs the temporarily Daisy-less Mrs. Patmore ragged with Martha's dietary requirements. Sybil and Branson initially cry poverty in declining to attend the wedding, and Lord Grantham is fine with that, as he doesn't want to give the servants a firsthand hero-worshipping look at Branson the successful class-conqueror. Unsurprisingly, Isobel Crawley has a different opinion; less expected is that the Dowager Countess sees it her way, at least in a broad sense, thinking that if they can show that Branson can behave in a civilized manner, the county's gossip about the unlikely pairing will die. Isobel gets it in her head to send the young couple travel money and soon they've turned up, with Sybil all smiles and Branson unsurprisingly just a bit warier; the latter lets the room have it with both Irish political barrels at the very first dinner he attends, causing Carson to clutch a glass with such force that it shatters. Although Matthew successfully befriends his soon-to-be brother-in-law, Branson's ill temper isn't helped at the following evening's meal by the arrival of Larry Grey, an unctuous former suitor of Sybil's. Soon, Branson is drunkenly bawling out the entire dinner table, but Sir Anthony luckily comes to his rescue, as he realizes that Grey drugged his drink; not only does this bring Branson unexpected sympathy, but it also inspires Matthew to choose him as his best man (his original choice dropped out due to illness). In other interesting news, the Dowager Countess eventually reveals that it was she who sent the money for Sybil and Branson to attend, a fact that earns her some hilariously unwanted admiration from Martha.
With the wedding imminent, Carson is still bemoaning his dearth of footmen, so O'Brien offers the services of her nephew, the aforementioned Alfred Nugent, but Carson balks, given Alfred's lack of experience. However, O'Brien gets Lady Cora to push the idea through and the fierce attachment she shows to her nephew -- even in the face of Thomas' characteristic barbs -- does her credit. However, he's not exactly a natural as a footman, so O'Brien asks Thomas for help training Alfred to be a valet. Thomas turns her down because Alfred hasn't paid his dues -- not that he wouldn't have done so without a reason anyway -- but later gives him advice in stain removal that results in a hole in Matthew's tailcoat. When this costs Alfred his shot at being Matthew's valet, O'Brien swears she'll make Thomas sorry and I highly doubt I'm alone in predicting that she's going to come out on top of that conflict. Alfred also finds an unlikely friend (and romantic interest) in Reed, who by kissing him not only makes him feel better, but also practically causes Daisy to get the vapors.
Lord Grantham goes to London on an errand, the true purpose of which he keeps to himself, which is understandable, given that he gets the news from his financial adviser that he's lost a fortune (specifically, the lion's share of Lady Cora's fortune) due to his investment in a Canadian railway that went bankrupt and is now being -- gasp! -- nationalized. This news threatens the continued existence of Downton, but Lord Grantham declares that he's not giving up. In this case, "not giving up" entails making cryptic cheapo comments to Lady Cora, unaware that Matthew has gotten the news that Lavinia's estate, the huge value of which Matthew never knew, has fallen to him… unless the one person who was ahead of him in the inheritance queue (and who long ago disappeared in India) is found. Lord Grantham tearily confesses the bad news to Lady Cora, who takes it with more grace and sympathy for her husband than you'd expect. Thinking that it will affect her immediate plans with Matthew, Lord Grantham next confides the news to Mary, who in turn suggests to Matthew -- who doesn't want Lavinia's money anyway -- that he pass it on to Downton should it come to him. Matthew, however, isn't super-psyched about the idea of profiting from Lavinia's death when he knows he broke her heart, which sends Mary into a right state the night before the wedding. It's Branson, of all people, who convinces the groom that he and Mary are meant to be together (an act that earns Branson the long-withheld approval of Lord Grantham), so Matthew makes up with Mary and gives her an eyes-closed-before-the-wedding kiss, which ensures that the Twilight crossover crowd will keep watching.
Mary looks like Snow White on her wedding day, and the entire town cheers for her as she's driven in a carriage to the church. Despite their reconciliation, Matthew remains firm on not keeping Lavinia's money should it come to him, and he tells Lord Grantham so; meanwhile, never ones to wait while men dither about trying to make up their minds, Mary and the Dowager Countess hatch a plan to try to get Martha to come to Downton's rescue, despite Lady Cora's willingness to roll with the punches and downsize.
Mary and the Dowager Countess conspire to use the occasion of a huge lords-and-ladies dinner to show Martha how indispensable Downton is, but unfortunately, the evening only turns out to be definitive proof of Murphy's Law -- Matthew's tailcoat doesn't make it back from being mended in London and Lord Grantham's evening shirts go "missing" (this was O'Brien's revenge on Thomas and even though the mischievous Reed witnessed her take them, she's not talking), but the real disaster is that the oven breaks. Lady Cora is ready to just send everyone home, but Martha steps in and organizes a cold-food indoor picnic with support from Isobel and Lady Cora. The informality of the evening -- including sing-alongs around the piano -- is a big hit. However, it's irrelevant for Downton's purposes, as when the moment of the request comes, Martha informs Mary and the Dowager Countess that her husband tied down his estate's money, much in the same way that the Dowager Countess's late husband did, so she doesn't have access to the amount that would be necessary. In the end, Martha tells Lord Grantham that she's sincerely sorry she can't help him save Downton and advises him to, in essence, be more American about the development and adapt.So, to recap my own recaplet (don't think I've ever had to do that before), even if -- as seems likely -- Matthew inherits Lavinia's money, Downton will be at risk unless he has a change of heart; Sir Anthony and Lady Edith are about to announce their own engagement; Anna has hopes of breaking the case against Bates; and O'Brien and Thomas are suddenly the bitterest of enemies. Welcome back to Downton Abbey!
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We open on Daisy, of all people, as she walks her bike through town. As I said in the recaplet, she looks a bit more grown-up and womanly, although that could be due to the fact we're seeing her in clothes other than that curveless shirt she always wears in the kitchen. (Even when she got married for five minutes last season, she still looked like a gender-neutral doll.) She heads toward the church...
...into which we cut and we see Matthew and Mary -- presumably rehearsing for the wedding -- standing together at the front. Matthew starts the long process of catching viewers up through apparently casual conversation by asking what the latest with Sybil is, and Mary tells him that she and Branson can't afford to make the trip from Ireland for the wedding. A bishop (judging from his attire) asks the priest -- a "Mr. Travis" -- if they can move things along here, so Travis asks Matthew and Mary if they'd mind walking down the aisle once more, and everyone involved in the wedding goes back to one... but not before Lady Cora mentions to Mary that she's not a huge fan of the way the archbishop orders Travis around and then gets all the credit. Mary counters that Lord Grantham was the one who wanted a "prince of the church" to preside over the ceremony before turning to her father and asking if they're really not going to get Sybil over for the occasion. Lord Grantham, however, is relieved that she's not coming, as Branson is "still an object of fascination for the county," by which he means he's worried that Branson is going to hawk copies of his book Crossing The Lines Of British Peerage: A How-To Guide. He thinks having some more time to prepare the servants will be useful, although to my way of thinking, Mary and Matthew's wedding is one of the few events that's big enough to distract people's attention from the "Return of Branson" narrative. But no one said Lord Grantham was a PR expert. Isobel, unsurprisingly, sniffs to Matthew that Lord Grantham is seeing a problem where none exists, as no one will care about Branson being there, but Matthew's answering line is well spoken: "You must think country life more exciting than it is if you imagine people don't care when an Earl's daughter runs off with a chauffeur." Isobel replies that even if that's true, it's a fait accompli, so people might as well get used to the idea. The discussion is curtailed by the archbishop barking at Travis like he's his faithful retriever slow in bringing him his slippers. Lord Grantham and Mary then start to walk down the aisle yet again...