TV preview: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 3 brings changes and challenges for the Crawley family

downton-abbey-season-3-premiere-mary-matthew-weddingDownton Abbey and the Crawley family may have weathered the turmoil and tragedy of the first world war, but they have not escaped unscathed. Society is changing — slowly but inevitably — and the privilege and prestige once enjoyed by the upper class is gradually starting to erode. It is the beginning of the Roaring Twenties, and the British aristocracy’s lifestyle of lavish parties, servants, and finery may be coming to an end.

The third season of the popular British TV series promises to bring plenty of challenges for the characters that viewers on both sides of the “pond” have fallen in love with. The series follows the rich Earl and Countess of Grantham (Robert and Cora Crawley) and their daughters (Mary, Edith, and Sybil), who occupy an elaborate estate in England called Downton Abbey. The show highlights both the “upstairs” and “downstairs” residents of the abbey, incorporating storylines about the wealthy Crawleys and their servants. PBS has created a fun 5-minute recap of the first two seasons that can be viewed here:

While the third season of “Downton Abbey” won’t begin airing in the United States until Jan. 6, some PBS stations across the country will be hosting special “sneak preview” screenings of the first episode in season 3. The PBS station in my area hosted a preview this week, and of course I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take a look at the next season. 😉 “Downton Abbey” is one of my favorite TV shows, and I’m excited about some of the plot developments we could be seeing in the new season of the show.

As season 3 begins, Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary are preparing for their wedding. While I wasn’t expecting the wedding to occur as early in the season as it appears to be, I think this is a good narrative choice. Matthew and Mary’s relationship has already gone through quite a few ups and downs in the previous seasons, and viewers have been hoping for a happy ending for them for a long time. I’m guessing more drama will occur this season as they try to adapt to their new life together and determine the future of Downton.

Sybil is expecting a child and continues to deal with the fallout of the scandal caused by her decision to marry the former Downton Abbey chauffeur, Tom Branson. Sybil doesn’t regret marrying Branson, but I think it is difficult for her to return to Downton and face her family, and try to reconcile her old life with the one she leads now. Branson isn’t shy about expressing his feelings about the oppression of the upper class, and tension remains between him and Sybil’s family. While Branson now is working as a journalist, he continues to remain interested in politics, and it’s possible he could get caught up in the violence surrounding the Irish War of Independence. He also may find an unlikely ally in another family outsider — Cora’s outspoken American mother, Martha Levinson. Fans can anticipate many clashes between her and Lord Grantham’s equally outspoken mother, the Dowager Countess.

Lady Edith hasn’t given up on renewing her relationship with former suitor Sir Anthony Strallan, and while I suspect season 3 will end with their engagement, I don’t think show creator Julian Fellowes will let it be a smooth road for them (after all, it just wouldn’t be “Downton” without drama). 😉

And the drama likely will continue downstairs, as well. Mr. Bates, who was accused of murdering his ex-wife in season 2, is no longer sentenced to death, but he remains in prison, and Anna continues to work to free him. The mystery of who killed the former Mrs. Bates likely will be solved this season, but no clues were given away in the first episode.

I’m also curious about a new character introduced this season, Alfred Nugent. He is Ms. O’Brien’s nephew and is working as a footman in Downton Abbey. He is quiet and reserved in the first episode, but I’m sure we’ll be learning more of his backstory. It will be interesting to see what role he will play in this season’s storyline (possibly a love interest for Daisy?)

The primary overarching plotline this season is likely to involve Downton Abbey’s financial troubles, as well as the increasing prominence of class struggles. While I don’t think Julian Fellowes would let the Crawleys lose Downton (the grand mansion is as much a character in the show as the Crawleys themselves), I do anticipate the Crawleys will have to make some difficult decisions about the abbey’s future. And Branson likely isn’t going to be the only former Downton servant who decides he wants to break free and try to make a better life for himself.

Will we lose any major characters this season? I see no indications of this yet, but several major characters did die last season. Although I love all the characters and don’t want to see any of them go, it could be a narrative possibility.

“Downton Abbey” is an excellent period drama, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I’d definitely recommend catching the first two seasons, even if it’s not the type of show you’d normally watch. While on the surface the plotlines do sound somewhat soapy — i.e. first Matthew and Mary hate each other, then Matthew proposes to Mary, then she rejects him only to decide that she really does love him, Matthew proposes to someone else, he finally proposes to Mary again, etc. — the show runs much deeper than that.

The gossipy drama makes “Downton Abbey” fun to watch, but the series also explores serious social issues such as the fairness of the restrictions society places upon people based upon their class. Julian Fellowes has created complex characters and storylines that draw the viewers in, and he doesn’t take the easy way out narratively. Even the characters we love to hate, such as the scheming servants Thomas and O’Brien, have redeeming moments, and no character is perfect. I’m greatly looking forward to season 3 and watching these characters develop even further.

4 thoughts on “TV preview: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 3 brings changes and challenges for the Crawley family

  1. Downton is one of those shows that’s hard to describe but you do a pretty good job here. I’ve already seen season 3 so I won’t say anything (I hate when people are cryptic and they think they are so clever and didn’t give away anything but they really did) except that it’s heart-crushingly good and it was renewed for a 4th so… yay!!!

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