Downton Abbey – Episode 3-7 Review – “The Family Business”

Can you believe it? This week’s episode of Downton Abbey was the second last of the season. I’ve enjoyed this season immensely, and I think the show delivered a stellar penultimate episode. I can’t wait to find out how all the loose ends will be tied up next week, though I’m sure there’ll be a cliffhanger or two as well.

This is a review of the seventh episode of Downton Abbey‘s third season, which is currently airing in Britain. If you have not seen it and are waiting for the show to air on PBS in 2013, please come back then. Otherwise, click through for a recap.


I guess protestants wear lavender to christenings?

I really, really like how all the various storylines have come together towards the end of this season of Downton Abbey. As sad as Sybil’s death was, it was also a fantastic storyline and a good plot device to raise the stakes elsewhere.

In particular, her death was an unexpected way to attach her love affair with Tom to Mary’s marriage to Matthew and the general mismanagement of the estate over the years. It’s all come together beautifully. Matthew is trying to set up the estate to be able to survive and be a home for their children, knowing how difficult that would be. Robert is so reluctant to admit that the estate needs to be managed differently, as was his employee – a gentleman who’d been running the estate for forty years and resigned when Matthew implied that he hadn’t been doing a good job.

But, as the Dowager Countess pointed out, Branson was the answer to all their questions. His farming experience and close relationship with Matthew made him the perfect candidate to run the estate, and it would mean keeping Baby Sybil near the family and away from a life lived above an auto repair shop with her “drunken gorilla” of an uncle.

It’s more important to Robert that Baby Sybil be raised at Downton than he realizes. It’s very possible that Edith, now a journalist, will never marry. It’s also very possible that Mary, who was getting on in years when she married by 1920s standards, may not be able to have children. That means the next heir to Downton could very well be the daughter of the chauffeur. How delicious.

Speaking of Edith, I’m thrilled she’s taken the job as a columnist. I much prefer her carrying Sybil’s feminist torch than sulking in Mary’s shadow, and who knows? Maybe she’ll have a juicy affair with her newspaper editor.

It’s been interesting to watch the Ethel storyline develop, as I originally wasn’t very interested in it but came to be quite invested. I think whenever the Dowager Countess gets involved, her razor sharp wit implores you to give a crap. It all worked perfectly. She would support Edith’s decision to write a newspaper column but only if Edith did her a favor while in London – she really is that Machiavellian. The favor was to have Edith place an advertisement for Ethel’s maid services. And while she may have had some selfish motivations for getting Ethel out of the family’s life, they were also very much sympathetic. She saw Ethel crying in the streets, because she has been shamed throughout the town and even storekeepers refuse to wait on her. She’d have a better life if she could start over fresh with Isobel’s personal reference, even Mrs. Hughes vouched for that. Isobel is such a bleeding heart, she doesn’t want to admit the truth. Rather than asking the entire village to change their values and become less judgmental overnight, it would be easier for Ethel to simply leave.

*As an aside, I’ve only just realized that all season I’ve been confusing characters’ names and writing Violet when I mean Isobel. Sorry about that. In my mind, the Dowager Countess was never young and doesn’t have a first name.

And then there’s Thomas. This storyline has been a slow build all season, and I love that it culminated hand in hand with the return of Bates. That raised the stakes immensely, because Thomas was already competing for his job. He was manipulated by O’Brien into thinking that Jimmy was truly attracted to him, and then he was caught trying to kiss Jimmy in his sleep by Albert. Albert was eventually convinced by his aunt to confess the truth to Carson, who of course reacted badly.

It’s a very interesting storyline to watch develop, and the writers did an excellent thing when they made the least likable character on the show a gay man. It adds so much depth to the issue. You have to consume Downton Abbey with an understanding of what it was like in 1920, for better or worse. And although it’s terrible, and I’m so glad we’ve come a long way from it, in 1920 homosexuality was considered a criminal offense. So Carson’s reaction is disappointing in a societal view, but for his individual character it’s just expected. What makes Downton so interesting to me is how we react to all this as viewers. Because Thomas is so despicable (I think he is, anyway – perhaps you do not) I take joy in watching his demise, whatever the reason for it may be. But if his exact situation had happened to a pleasant, likable character I know I would feel very differently. My emotions and beliefs are being challenged and manipulated, and when it comes to TV dramas I find that very interesting.

As you can tell from the length of my review, I thought this was a fantastic episode that brought many of the season’s storylines to a boiling point. As I said, I’m looking forward to seeing everything conclude next week. I do worry that the introduction of this “Rose”, the Dowager’s great-niece, will muddle things up too much. But the cricket game should be fun and it looks like we’re in store for loads of drama. I cannot wait! Now get to the comments and discuss all this with me.

A few special mentions:

  • As someone who was raised Catholic, I find extra humor in all the religion jokes. Yes yes, there is a lot of sitting and standing at a Catholic mass.
  • “What’s the matter, Robert? Are you afraid you’ll be converted while you’re not looking?”
  • Ethel: “These days a working woman must have a skill.”
    Dowager: “But you have so many…”