Beleaguered love, boiling political tension, and bittersweet family drama made series 3 of Downton Abbey one to remember. How did the finale live up to what came before? Many, many spoilers follow below!
Series 3 of Downton Abbey was an eight-week emotional roller-coaster for everyone from fans to the fictional family. From the uncertain eve of Mary and Matthew’s long-awaited wedding, to the devastating loss of Lady Sybil, to Thomas’s dangerous liaison with new footman Jimmy, it’s certain that no one in the Abbey will ever be quite the same.
As the series began, it seemed like everyone in Grantham was ready to celebrate Matthew and Mary’s decision to tie the knot at last, along with the show’s many shippers and fans. But the joyous occasion was nearly doomed to disaster when Mary learned that Matthew refused his potential inheritance from deceased-fiance Lavinia’s father to help bail Downton out of debt. Fortunately, wise words from Branson reconcile the two just before the wedding, and a lucky letter from Lavinia’s father reconciled Matthew to the idea of devoting his inheritance to the support of Downton. Now Mary and Matthew can look to forward to their future as the Lord and Lady of Grantham… hopefully with heirs aplenty.
Edith (poor Edith!) was determined to hop on the wedding train as well, and pursued Sir Anthony Strallan with a single-mindedness that would brook no argument from either Sir Anthony or her family. But from the precipice of success, Edith fell into despair as Sir Anthony let his age rule over his heart and left her at the alter. Forlorn, but with an unexpected resilience, Edith turned her attentions to England’s neglect for women’s rights and toyed with a journalistic career in spite of Robert’s objections.
As for Sybil, the youngest of the Crawley sisters ought to have earned the most joy out of series 3, but it was not to be. Sybil was repeatedly torn between her husband Tom’s disdain for English aristocracy and a desire to keep peace with her own family, a tension that only escalated when Tom participated in an Irish rebellion and was banned from his country. The birth of Sybil’s daughter might have helped bring the Bransons and Crawleys nearer together, but after a difficult, though seemingly successful labor, Sybil tragically died of eclampsia.
Sybil’s death sent waves of sorrow through Downton Abbey and its fans, but none more so than her husband Tom. Though Matthew and Mary especially tried to lend whatever support they could, it was sadly clear that Branson – exiled from Ireland and bereft of his wife – found it difficult to make a place for himself at Downton without Sybil.
Love and loss also characterized the lot of the downstairs set of Downton Abbey. Mrs. Hughes spent earlier episodes battling terror as a lump in her breast was examined, assessed and diagnosed with agonizing slowness; fortunately, the lump was benign, and Mrs. Hughes found strength in the clear love and support from the Crawleys, Mr. Carson and Mrs. Patmore.
Anna, meanwhile, struggled with perhaps the most dolorous storyline of the series: that of Mr. Bates’ continued imprisonment for the murder of his first wife Vera. Anna was desperate to find proof of her husband’s innocence, and finally narrowed down the truth in an offhand reference to a pie crust. Freed from the grey-toned prison at last, Bates and Anna hope to finally start their married lives in earnest.
The younger members of the staff were also entangled in highly-charged emotional bonds. Kitchen maid Daisy was finally promoted to assistant cook, only to lose the growing affections of new-footman Alfred to her new underling Ivy. Ivy herself fancied even-newer-footman Jimmy, however, and Alfred found himself hemmed in by the dislike of Jimmy and Thomas.
Thomas, of course, found it increasingly difficult to hide his attraction to Jimmy. Still grieving for Sybil, Thomas took O’Brien’s vindictive advice and tried to initiate a relationship with the handsome footman. Unfortunately, Jimmy’s indignant reaction coupled with Alfred’s accidental intrusion landed Thomas in very hot water.
Dear old Isobel, well-intentioned to the point of being dangerous, lent a hand to Ethel, a former maid at Downton who had turned to prostitution to feed her illegitimate son. Watching unhappily as Ethel decided to have the boy raised by his wealthy grandparents, Isobel took a stand against prejudice and hired the “fallen woman” as her maid. Though Ethel’s cooking skills and relationship with Isobel both improved, Ethel continued to face censure from almost every quarter in Grantham.
And to zip straight back to the top of the Downton Abbey food chain, Robert and Cora spent significant time in the emotional trenches as well. Robert’s loss of his and Cora’s fortune was a bigger blow to Lord Grantham than it was to his wife, but Sybil’s untimely death nearly drove a permanent wedge between them. Robert also struggled with his two sons-in-law, fighting Tom for the right to baptize his daughter as a Catholic and resisting Matthew’s attempts to reorganize the finances of Downton so that the estate might survive in the 20th century.
And lest we forget – Lady Violet was truly stupendous in series 3, whether engaging in biting back-and-forths with Cora’s visiting mother, or trying to bear up under the awful loss of Sybil. (It hardly seems like necessary speculation, but we fully expect Dame Maggie Smith to accept another Emmy Award for her work this year.)
Like we said, it’s been quite the year on Downton Abbey! Share your reactions to the finale and the series below in the comments… And don’t forget to speculate on the upcoming Christmas special!