TV Review: Downton Abbey [Series Three, Episode Eight]

on Friday, November 09, 2012
'Downton Abbey' Series 3, Episode 8 (2012) // Words: Tara Joshi

My lack of episode-specific reviews for this series of 'Downton Abbey', whilst in part down to lack of organisation, is at least somewhat indebted to the strange nature of this third series. More so than ever there were several episodes that lapsed in written quality, serving as mere filler for some incredibly captivating and enthralling episodes. Sunday saw the series finale, and thus it saw a tying together of the various plots – the coherence of all this was quite questionable, however. SPOILERS AHEAD.

The standout story of the episode was one that has arguably been the most interesting to watch over the course of the series; that of Thomas and O’Brien’s ongoing feud and the incredibly nerve-racking stakes it reached. Miss O’Brien has more than certified herself as evil and manipulative and, although Thomas has admittedly more than proved the same is true of him too, the whole Jimmy situation did draw your heart to the valet.

There have been moments concerning Thomas and O’Brien this series that have been incredibly difficult to watch they’ve been so laden with tension, and that’s been the beauty of it – Thomas heading to Jimmy’s room under a misapprehension about his sexuality was one such enthralling but unbearable scene. In general seeing all of the house come together in Thomas’ defence was quite wonderful and heart-warming to watch.

In fact, with the possible exceptions of Mrs. Hughes’ slightly trivial illness scare and the ongoing saga of Bates in prison, all the stories downstairs were great this series; particularly the romantic conflicts of Daisy and co. Other plots upstairs, however, have been a bit less strong this series, and while the overriding theme has seemingly been the old order versus the new, there were times early on in the series especially where it seemed a little bit forced.

The writers seemed to think they had to spell out all the differences between the modern America and the traditional Britain - between the younger generation and the old - but such ideas could have been treated with a bit more subtlety. Having an American style picnic in the house due to an oven malfunction, for example, was amusing enough, but 'Downton Abbey' has definitely been host to better writing than that.

And that is precisely the question that weighs over this series – whether the quality of writing really matters when the show is, for the most part, still incredibly entertaining. Regardless of the fact that some storylines have been drawn-out and trivial, others have been wildly entertaining and emotional.

Sybil’s death was tragic and, while the aftermath was arguably a bit soap opera, does that matter when it was all so engrossing and evocative to watch? The rift between Lord and Lady Grantham and the defensiveness from the ever-righteous Branson may have seemed a bit silly at times, but none of it seemed incongruous or ill fitting. It also seemed a bit questionable that Edith started to take on Sybil’s role as the rebellious, feminist sister, writing for a newspaper against her father’s will.

In spite of being married, Matthew and Mary have still managed to maintain the “will-they-won’t-they” aura, and their relationship has, in some ways, failed to develop. Mary especially has seemed like a bit less of a main character this series, though Matthew is finally rising to the fore and proving himself to be a worthy heir to the estate.

We’ve had the classic questions over whether Cousin Isobel is being a bit too much of a do-gooder, and while her story with Ethel the former prostitute has been a much longer storyline than was strictly necessary, it certainly had entertaining moments – the emotion of Ethel saying goodbye to her child, the wry comments from Cousin Violet. Then again, if 'Downton Abbey' has had one aspect throughout all three series that is constantly a joy to behold it is surely Maggie Smith as Cousin Violet.

While there’s a Christmas episode set for later this year, there is currently no fourth series of the show announced and that might be for the best. It’s a sumptuous, delightful show at the best of times, but when it’s weaker it can have unnecessarily elongated storylines and a fourth season might well leave the show seeming a bit bloated.

As it stands, the series ended on a high with the annual cricket match allowing for some lovely television with the light humour and the happy moments of bonding serving as a nice undercurrent for the house’s dramas. For all I’ve written here, however, it’s fair to say that if there is a fourth series of 'Downton Abbey' I’ll be glued to it and craving more.

Watch 'Downton Abbey' for a limited time on ITV Player. Find more of Tara's work on Twitter and Don't Watch Me Dancing.

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