a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Whatever was “Downton Abbey” going to do?

What do you do to follow-up World War I as a plot point and setting? Well, you just continue with the high level of scintillating scripting by series creator and sole writer Julian Fellowes and the superb acting of the outstanding British cast that the public has come to know and to love, upstairs and below-stairs. And yes, the great “Downton Abbey” is more than back and, I’m happy to say, is better than ever.

I’m glad I waited to sing its’ praises until now, un petit en retard, the airing of the new Season 3, Episode 3 is tonight at 9pm EST.

SPOILER ALERTS!!!!!!

Because in Ep. 2, the subplot of what happens to middle sister, the less good-looking of the three glamorous Crawley sisters, Lady Edith, just lands on one like an unexpected ton of proverbial bricks,just as it does poor Edith. She is shockingly abandoned at the altar by her groom, the older, and partially wounded in the War, Lord Anthony Strellin.Bastard!

It is heartbreaking and beautifully under-played by Laura Carmichael, as the luckless Lady Edith, and her mother the Countess of Grantham, Elizabeth McGovern. Lady Edith’s two grandmothers are no slouches in the sympathy department either as the magnificent Dame Maggie Smith and the dazzling Shirley MacLaine, offer their support to the sobbing Lady Edith, too, in wrenching scene after scene that tears your heart out and throws it on the grounds of the sumptuously manicured estate.

I was not expecting to be so impacted by this storyline of the less lovely, but utterly sympathetic, sister’s May-December hook-up with much older Lord Stallin. But yet I was. And better yet, it was an utter surprise.

You just don’t see the stupendously well-mannered and stiff-upper-lipped Lord Strallin doing something so cowardly and dastardly as this. But he does. And now the series has a new villain! Although we may never see him again. The least he could do is pop off due to stress and leave poor Edith all his money, house, grounds, the lot!

Humiliating poor Edith in front of an entire church-full of the assembled landed gentry of The County AND their horrified servants! It’s a trauma that you know is going to echo down this season, and the next and the next. Will Edith ever be lucky in love? All signs now point to “No.”

And this unbelievable, shocking debasement comes in Episode Two, right after her older sister, the beautiful, but difficult and opinionated Lady Mary (the superb Golden Globe nominee Michelle Dockery) has married so well and so grandly to the series dashing and desirable heart-throb, Matthew Crawley(Dan Stevens).Lady Mary and Matthew got married in grand style in Episode One, only to witness Lady Edith’s disgrace in Ep.2 Never a dull moment at Downton!

And Downstairs, the plot thickens and sickens, too. Mrs. Hughes(Phyllis Logan) the saintly housekeeper may have cancer. The abandoned and disgraced former housemaid Ethel(Amy Nuttall), has become a prostitute. AND former partners-in-crime,the villainous, but handsome gay valet Thomas(Rob James-Collier) and the equally witch-y Ladies’ Maid to Lady Grantham, Mrs. O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran)are now at each others throats,threatening each other, forecasting all kinds of skullduggery to come.

Worrisome and interesting, also, is the contrast of continuing downstairs problems of dutiful Anna,(Joanna Froggatt) head house maid, who married and fell in love with the valet Bates(Brendan Coyle), who is now in jail for the murder of his ex-wife, the no-good blackmailer Vera.

This May-December love story, with Holloway prison thrown in, has proven tremendously popular as “Free Bates” T-shirts being sold on the PBS website abound.

The intrepid Anna takes it into her hands to go out into the world beyond Downton, in this case, London, and try to find out just what happened to the loathsome Vera Bates. Was it murder? And if not her beloved husband, then who? Or was it suicide? She tracks down a neighbor of Vera’s in the East End and bribes her to talk about Vera’s last day. I think gets some clues, even though she doesn’t know it yet.

One) that Vera was scrubbing her nails quite violently the last time her friend saw her and
Two)that she was surrounded by rain-drops that made her look like she had a halo, according to the aggrieved friend.

Mark my words, Agatha Christie fans, those tiny details mean SOMEthing!

And one never tires of the endless interior and exterior shots of Highclere Castle, otherwise known as Downton Abbey itself. It’s presence (it IS one of England’s stately homes after all) continues to overwhelm its’ inhabitants, and it is itself the series focal point and most awe-inspiring character.

Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) looks like he’s losing all his and his rich American wife’s money, too,in Episode One. And her mother, the uber-rich American, Mrs. Martha Levinson (a perfectly brassy Shirley MacLaine)though in residence for Mary’s wedding, won’t give them a red cent.

The worry about just what is going to happen to Downton, and therefore the entire series, was just enough to start “Downton Abbey”s Season 3 off with a bang and I know if they can manage to pull us all back in WITHOUT the backdrop and drama of World War I, well, then we’re well and hooked all over again, and in for a full season of Downton drama and delight.

However, I do have to point out that Season 3, like many “seasons” of British television is only 7 episodes long! And so, you better make your date with Downtown tonight at 9pm.

And if you’re out and can’t be in to catch it, PBS.org is playing all the episodes online starting the next day, Monday. For a limited time. So one way or the other you can’t miss the magical magnificence of “Downton Abbey.”

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