Downton Abbey Season 3, Episode 9 Review: “Christmas Episode”
How can I write about anything else that happened this episode besides the absolute tragedy of the last two minutes? Sure, a lot happened. The Crawleys went to go visit their miserable Scottish relatives, Shrimpy and Susan; Thomas and Jimmy finally agree to be friends; Mary had a baby; Carson held a baby; and the new maid wants to make a baby with Branson. But when you top off a show with what transpired at the very end, everything else pales by comparison, doesn’t it? Especially when it concerns one of the more tolerable characters on the show. This is a tough one, but on with the recap.
How about we hit the storylines that didn’t make us sob into a pillow first, eh?
Tom Struggles with Being Branson
The Crawley family had always had mixed feelings over Branson. He will always be the lowly chauffeur that married Lady Sybil, unworthy of being treated as part of the family. And he would have none of it, either; his radical Irish politics defied the English aristocracy and everything that it stood for. But since last episode, when Matthew finally got his way with the running of Downton, Branson took on the role of Estate Manager, and even helped to win the cricket match for Robert (and let’s face it, that’s what really sealed the deal). Another huge factor for him staying at Downton was Baby Sybil; she would get to stay close to her family and not live over some garage with Branson’s repugnant brother, Kiernan (who we had the pleasure of meeting in the last episode).
In this very special episode of Downton Abbey, Branson is struggling with his newfound station. Though he’s been living at house for a year now, he still doesn’t feel like he quite fits in. While the rest of the family is away in the Highlands, Isobel invites him to dinner and tells him that he has a real role at Downton now, and that he can talk to whomever he wants. We can tell that he’s still pretty uncomfortable with the idea, as seen by when Mrs. Hughes asks him for permission to have the maids clean during the day. He tells her that she doesn’t need his permission, but Mrs. Hughes insists that she does. It appears that the only person who may not know that Branson is the Estate Manager is Branson!
Complicating matters is the infinitely annoying new house maid, Edna. She’s got eyes for Branson and loves the idea that he, as a chauffeur, married one of the laides of the house. She implies that he thinks he’s better than them because he won’t eat dinner with the servants. Since he’s still conflicted about his station, he asks to eat dinner with the servants. Then she stalks him and goes to where he said he was going to have lunch the next day. As if that wasn’t enough, this pushy woman invades his bedroom while he’s dressing, then doesn’t leave when asks, then kisses him, then tells him to meet her for lunch the next day. The funny part is that Branson is totally conflicted about what his place is at Downton, and Edna similarly doesn’t know her place, either, but in a completely different way. One is understandable and kind of charming, and the other one is disrespectful and annoying. I’ll let you decide which was which.
In the end, Mrs. Hughes and Carson make the decision to let Edna go (Praise JESUS!). When Mrs. Hughes delivers the news to Branson, she says “You let Edna make you ashamed of your new life. But you’ve done well.” Amen, sister. But when it came down to it, Branson’s brief flirtation with Edna was really just about him missing Sybil, and he sobs telling Mrs. Hughes about how he can’t live without her.
I like that the writers didn’t make Branson’s transition to aristocratic life an easy one. He’s already become much more comfortable with the lifestyle, but I like that he hasn’t completely lost his edge after living a life of political rebellion. It should be hard. After last week’s cricket match, I was concerned that they would have him just fall in line, but in fact, he’s still seen as kind of an outsider, and he struggles with his new social standing. Having said that, I HATED this Edna character. She was just insufferable, and she made me incredibly uncomfortable because she had absolutely no boundaries. I’m not even sure what her purpose in this arc was; I mean, was she just there to amplify Branson’s conflict with his new role at Downton? Could this have been done without her outright throwing herself at him? I think it could have been, and in the end, we were left with a truly irritating element in a storyline I liked in general.
Most Miserable Couple in Scotland Host the Crawley Clan
In what I found to be probably the least interesting storyline of the episode, the Crawleys (sans Isobel) go to visit Rose’s parent’s, cousins Shrimpie and Susan, in the Scottish highlands at their hunting lodge. It’s seriously just a bunch of hunting, and us discovering that Shrimpie and Susan’s marriage is crumbling. They spend most of the time saying snarky things to each other and making their guests incredibly uncomfortable. They really need to learn how to push their feelings way, way down like good hosts. Anyways, we finally got to see why Rose is the way she is; it’s because her parents are dicks. They are constantly putting her down and on her case about something, so no wonder she wants to run off with married men and sneak off to jazz clubs. So, instead of taking her with them to Bombay (where Shrimpie’s work is taking him), they decide to hand-off their unruly daughter to the Crawleys while they’re away. One of the other revelations was when Shrimpie confessed to Robert that the money is about to run out, and Robert realizes that Matthew was wise to modernize the estate.
I was kind of baffled why we were being introduced to these completely new characters (Shrimpie and Susan) and expected to care about their deteriorating marriage. It’s not like they were even sympathetic or engaging characters on their own, which would have made it easier to give a crap about their unhappiness. But they were just two miserable people that we had to watch be horrible to each other, and that’s just not fun. The only way in which this worked was that it made empathizing with Rose a lot easier. As my last review stated, I found Rose and her storyline kind of irritating. But she was much more endearing here, and I now look forward to seeing more of her in the upcoming season. And the fact that Robert finally realized that Matthew was right to modernize Downton and run it differently was a nice way to conclude a conflict that has existed all season.
Edith Locks it Down
While visiting in Duneagle Castle in Scotland, Edith invites Mr. Gregson over so that everyone can meet him. Robert isn’t too happy with it, and Mary is full of snarky comments about how he must have bought tails just for the occassion, but Cora is just dying to meet him. So they invite him to go hunting with them and to say for dinner. While hunting, he confides in Matthew his situation: that he is in love with Edith but that he’s married to a crazy person and can’t divorce her. While Matthew sympathizes with the situation, he advises Gregson to let Edith down easy at dinner that night and not see her anymore. When the time comes for him to do that, Edith won’t let him. She decides that despite what her family may think, that she wants to pursue the relationship with Gregson.
This could be easily categorized as Edith just being so desperate for a man that she convinces herself that the man in front of her is the one she really wants, but I don’t think that’s the case here. She and Gregson have real chemistry, and not only that, but he loves her for her mind and her independence. He encourages her to be the best that she can be and to speak her mind, which is something none of the other men Edith has been interested in has done. He’s handsome, smart, somewhat successful, and he adores her. I consider this a happy ending for Edith, I just hope that the writers let her enjoy it for a little bit and resist the urge to kill the guy off.
The Affairs of the Fair
Besides Branson’s storyline, the other major plot at Downton revolves around the servants wanting to get some free time to go to the fair while everyone is away. Carson gets to be predictably prickly about the whole affair, which is kind of fun to watch, but everyone seems to be super excited about the prospect of getting out of the house and finally having some actual fun. I don’t think I’ve even seen most of the downstairs folks in the daylight, so this should be interesting. What makes things even more interesting is that Mrs. Patmore gets hit on by the new delivery guy, and Dr. Clarkson asks a very clueless Isobel to the fair as a sort of date, even though Isobel seems to miss all the clues that it’s meant to be more than a friendly outing. What transpires is that Mrs. Patmore finds out that her brief beau, Mr. Tufton, has eyes for nearly anything with a heartbeat and Isobel unwittingly shuts down a come-on by the shy Dr. Clarkson. It’s a shame, too, because that Dr. Clarkson is a handsome fellow and Isobel could benefit from a good boinking. Another key development from the fair is that the losing team from the tug of war goes to attack a very drunk Jimmy, but Thomas intervenes, telling Jimmy to run and get out of danger, while Thomas gets badly beaten in his defense. It takes a while for Jimmy to come around to thanking Thomas, but when they do, they agree to be friends.
I really enjoyed seeing the servants get out to let loose at the fair. And I think it will be interesting to see how the Thomas/Jimmy relationship develops from here now that they’ve decided to put what happened in Jimmy’s bedroom behind them. The fact that Isobel kiboshed the adorable Dr. Clarkson was kind of infuriating, but in a hilarious way. She’s so used to not being hit on that she doesn’t know how to read the signs when it actually happens, the poor woman. She’s also definitely not used to being hit on by men as handsome as Dr. Clarkson. I hope that he doesn’t give up on her and that the two can have a little romance because I think they’d make a super cute couple. Oh, and while everyone is gone, Carson picks up a baby in what I think will go down as the most sickeningly adorable moment of the entire episode. More Carson with babies, please!
A Farewell to Matthew
And now for the shocker. It begins with Mary deciding to return to Downton early with Anna so that she can rest. But after they get off the train, Mary tells Anna that they must go to the hospital at once because she thinks the baby is coming. Long story short, Mary goes to the hospital and has their little boy, and Matthew arrives shortly afterwards. As Matthew holds his son, he says crazy cute things like, “I feel like I swallowed a box of fireworks.” Leave it to Mary to make it seem like a business transaction, stating, “We’ve done our duty. Downton is safe.” Hope that maternal instinct kicks in sometime soon. Matthew shamelessly dotes upon his newborn son, and showers Mary with the most loving declarations, almost in a way that made me sense that something terrible was going to happen. Like it was a little bit TOO good to be true. After Matthew leaves, he gleefully drives his car back to Downton and then… crashes into a huge truck and goes off the side of the road. The last image we have of Matthew is of splayed halfway out of the car, eyes open, with blood dripping from his ear. And then we cut back to Mary lovingly holding her newborn baby, unaware of the tragedy that just occurred. Heartbreaking.
Heartbreaking, and kind of senseless. I know that Dan Stevens didn’t want to renew, but couldn’t they have sent his character off in a way that wasn’t so goddamned painful? I mean, seriously? As he drives off ELATED after the birth of his son, he gets hit by a fucking truck?? It’s so tragic as to seem laughable. It felt too forced. It felt to deliberate. It’s as if the writers were trying to find the most fucked up way possible to kill-off Matthew’s character, and boy did they succeed. Was it effective? Sure, in a kind of manipulative way. It would have made way more sense for him to have died during a hunting accident at the castle, just as it made sense for Sybil to die in childbirth. I know that Downton Abbey specializes in melodrama, but this was a bit much. Even so, it was still effective because in the end, we’re left without one of the show’s most endearing and charming characters. How they plan to fill the gap left by Matthew’s absence, I don’t know, but it had better be good.