Last night's Christmas Special is the last episode of Downton Abbey Season 3. Enjoy the recap, and check back at H&H for Downton Abbey Series 4/Season 4 news, speclation, and recaps!
Editor's note: Do not read this recap unless you've seen the episode or are willing to be thoroughly spoiled.
Need a refresher? Don't miss Naz Keynejad's recaps of the Series 3/Season 3 premiere, episode 3.02, episode 3.03, episode 3.04, episode 3.05, episode 3.06, episode 3.07, and episode 3.08. And now, onto the recap for the Downton Abbey Series 3 finale, episode 9, the Christmas Special:
The episode starts a year later, as the family is taking off to go on a trip to “Shrimpie’s” estate (Duneagle Castle) in Scotland.
The family has clearly moved on, with Baby Sybil a cute little one-year old and oh look! Mary’s pregnant! Matthew’s worried that the trip might be too much for her, but she insists that she’s fine. So excited for them! Wait … she’s not just pregnant, she’s eight months along! Wow! She looks great. Both Robert and Mr. Carson don’t really want her to go on the trip either. I guess everyone’s worried about the heir, not to mention that after the experience with Sybil, they’re all a little more cautious. In addition to the family, Anna, Bates, O’Brien, and Mr. Molesley are also going, obviously because they are the family’s ladies’ maids and valets.
Branson hasn’t been invited to join the family on the trip. I suspect it’s more because he’s the former chauffeur, and the current estate manager, than anything else. Violet’s worried that even though “he’s been house-trained,” the freedom of being alone at the Abbey might go to his head, and Isobel promises to keep an eye on him.
Over at Duneagle, the staff are a bit more stuffy than our Downton crew. In fact, the entire household is more formal. They start dinner every night playing bagpipes. You should see the look on Matthew and Violet’s faces when the player shows up. I guess it is one of those instruments that’s really an acquired taste. Apparently, the bagpipe player will also come back in the morning to wake everyone up, and goes on all through breakfast. What … er … fun?
There seems to be a bit of tension between Shrimpie and his wife Susan. Of course, Rose is being watched like a hawk, but the lord and lady of the castle are not exactly simpatico. Shrimpie confides in Robert about his new posting overseas, and while he seems to be fine with the idea, Susan is not too thrilled about it.
Rose is back. I didn’t realize she was Shrimpie’s daughter. Now it makes perfect sense why they trotted her out in the last episode. Let’s hope she’s learned from her mistakes and has calmed down a bit. She doesn’t seem to have a great relationship with her mother, and Violet feels that Susan is not doing a very good job handling Rose. That night, when she takes a bit of a break from her mother and goes out to sneak a cigarette, she runs into Bates and Anna. They promise they won’t give her away and later, she thanks Anna for keeping her secret and offers to repay her in some way. Anna takes her up on it, and asks Rose to teach her how to dance the Scottish reel in preparation for the upcoming ball (which includes the servants). It’ll be so fun to see Anna and Bates dancing together!
Meanwhile, Edith’s editor, Michael Gregson, “happens” to be in Scotland on a sketching holiday at the same time, and Shrimpie tells Edith to invite him over for dinner. Mary’s being a bit snobbish about the whole thing, which upsets Edith. Really, these two need to put aside their differences and start getting along. Gregson shows up and he’s perfectly fine and well-mannered, despite Mary’s reservations. After dinner, Edith corners him and asks what he’s really doing there.
Michael: “I want to get to know your family.”
Edith: “What do you hope to achieve?”
Michael: “I thought that if they knew me … if they came to like me … they might find it easier to be on my side.”
Edith: “It won’t change the basic facts though, will it?”
Michael: “Edith, my basic fact is that I’m in love with you.”
Whoa! Okay, that was a bit unexpected. Edith’s being very practical about it of course, because really, they don’t have any options. As long as Michael’s wife is alive, their relationship can’t go anywhere. There is no way Edith would agree to be Michael’s mistress, and I doubt he’d even ask her to consider that option. He seems more honorable than that. Any way, their conversation is interrupted by Violet and nothing more is said about it that night.
The next day, while the men are off “stalking,” (i.e. hunting deer), the ladies go off for a nice picnic on the loch. While out on the hunt, Robert asks Shrimpie if everything’s alright between him and Susan, and Shrimpie admits there are problems. He also tells Robert that divorce isn’t an option for him because of his official position in the government. Apparently, the main problem between them is that they simply don’t like each other any more.
Meanwhile, Matthew is bonding with Gregson. They’re off on their own separate trail, he asks Gregson to join him the next day for some fly fishing, and stay for dinner. When Gregson objects that it’s an imposition, Matthew calls him on it and basically lets him know that he understands Gregson’s motives for coming all the way to Scotland. It’s not that Matthew thinks Gregson’s being sinister, it’s just that he knows what’s going on and I guess wants to be friends. Clearly, Matthew has a soft spot for Edith and wants her to be happy, so it’s nice to see him make an effort with Gregson.
Anna and Bates take advantage of the family being away all day and arrange for a little picnic themselves. Anna’s being really flirty, and even brings some beer, which Bates finds “racy.” They are adorable together. After all the hardships, it is so nice to see them be a real couple, on a romantic picnic.
That night after dinner, we find out that Shrimpie’s actually being sent to India for his next assignment. There is some question of whether or not Rose would accompany them – Shrimpie doesn’t think it’s a good idea, but Susan won’t even discuss it. Edith asks Matthew to share his opinion of Gregson, and Mary jumps in with another one of her mean jibes, which of course, upsets Edith again. Rose confides to Cora that she’s looking forward to going to India, even though her mother would drive her crazy. It’s interesting to see a fuller family dynamic.
There’s one important thing to keep in mind here: Edith hasn’t shared Gregson’s story with the family, so they have no idea that he’s already married. Later that night, Mary’s wondering if Gregson’s planning on proposing, and Matthew tells her that it seems like he might be, but he’s not sure. This is going to go very badly for Edith once everyone finds out the real situation. I was wondering why she hadn’t mentioned it, and then I realized that Edith doesn’t really have anyone to talk to or confide in.
Any way, the next day, Gregson comes clean to Matthew, who basically tells him that there is no way Robert would allow his daughter to become someone’s mistress, no matter how much they love each other. He tells Gregson that he won’t support Edith living “a life of scandal” either, and that it’s best to just give it up. Matthew suggests that Gregson use the ball to bid Edith a “proper goodbye.”
The ball starts off with Susan yelling at Rose about her dress, which she deems is too “slutty.” The argument escalates until Shrimpie starts yelling at her to back off and not make everyone so miserable all the time. Robert goes after Shrimpie, and finds out that the marriage is not the only thing in trouble. Duneagle is in financial trouble, and Shrimpie will have to sell it. He’s completely resigned himself to the fact, but he’s worried about Rose and her future.
On a happier note, Anna surprises both Bates and Mary by joining in a reel. There’s a really sweet scene where Mary comments on how marvelous Anna is, and Bates wholeheartedly agrees. The love in his eyes as he looks at his wife! Oh, my heart!
Meanwhile, Gregson tells Edith about Matthew’s reaction and advice, and tries to end his association with Edith, but she refuses. She doesn’t actually come out and say that she agrees to be his mistress, just that the evening isn’t going to be their last. Oh Edith! What are you doing?
After dancing a reel, Mary doesn’t feel too well and tells Matthew that she’s going to go home the next day, but that he should remain behind so as not to break up the party. Matthew’s worried, of course, but Mary assures him that everything’s fine. I really hope nothing bad happens to her and the baby. The family just can’t handle another tragic pregnancy!
There’s a bit of a side story with O’Brien and Susan’s maid, Wilkins. Apparently, Susan’s modus operandi is to berate Wilkins all the time, so when she asks O’Brien to help Wilkins learn how to do her hair properly, Wilkins gets upset. In a way, O’Brien’s stuck between a rock and a hard place; I mean, the lady of the house is asking her for help. She can’t just say no! Any way, Wilkins decides to pay O’Brien back and spikes her drink at the ball. O’Brien takes one sip and realizes it’s way too strong, so she sets it aside. Molesley, who’s been dancing up a storm (all by himself, in a corner!), comes over and downs the cup. He ends up getting real drunk and getting a bit wild on the dance floor. Watching Molesley making a spectacle of himself, Robert tells Violet that they say “there’s a wild man inside all of us,” to which she promptly replies, “If only it would stay inside.” Hilarious!
The next morning, Susan talks to Cora about Rose, and mentions that maybe it would be better for her upstart daughter to live at Downton while they go off to India. Apparently, Shrimpie had had the same conversation the previous night with Robert, so Cora agrees to take on the responsibility. So I guess Downton has a new resident. And one that’s going to be a handful!
Back at the Abbey, the new delivery-man, Mr. Tufton, seems to have an eye for Mrs. Patmore. He brings over a bunch of supplies, and flirts with her about her cooking. So cute! Apparently, there’s a fair in town and he invites Mrs. Patmore to join him. Thomas, Albert, and James also want to go and Mr. Carson’s not too happy about letting everyone taking time off. He has plans for them to clean all the silver, and you know, do all the “extra” work that they don’t have time to do when the family’s around. But Mrs. Hughes talks him into it, and he lets the staff go off to have some fun.
It also looks like the new maid, Edna, has her eyes on our Mr. Branson. She’s cute, but is definitely a gossip. She wants to know why Lady Flintshire (Susan) didn’t invite Branson up to Scotland, and wonders why Sybil married the chauffeur in the first place. Yup. She’s going to be trouble. I can just feel it.
And here we go … She finds out that Branson is going to the local pub for lunch and goes over there to wait for him. This can’t be good. I mean, Robert just got used to the idea of Branson as a member of the family, I’m not so sure that he’s going to take kindly to him taking up with the new maid. Any way, she tells Branson that he’s welcome to come downstairs and have dinner with the staff instead of eating all alone upstairs, and Branson seems to like the idea.
Meanwhile, Isobel invites Tom over for dinner and advises him to accept his new position as the agent of the estate. Tom’s bemoaning the fact that Violet might not appreciate his associating with the downstairs staff while the family is away, and Isobel reminds him that his new position of authority gives him the right to talk to (and associated with) whomever he pleases. So the next day, when Edna questions his reasons for not joining the staff for dinner (she wants to know if he’s ashamed of who he used to be), he goes downstairs and tells Mrs. Hughes that he’ll be joining them for dinner. As Thomas says, wait till Mr. Carson hears about this!
Well, as expected, Mr. Carson is not happy about having Branson as a dinner guest at all, and Mrs. Hughes cautions him not to be rude. Dinner goes over relatively well and in the end (at Edna’s nudging), Branson agrees to drive everyone over to the fair.
It seems that love (or at least some serious flirting) is in store for everyone. Isobel’s been inviting Dr. Clarkson over for dinner, and they’re really hitting it off. When he finds out about the fair in town, he asks Isobel to go with him.
At the fair, Edna really pushes her luck and actually takes Branson’s arm. Mr. Tufton continues to flirt with Mrs. Patmore, who’s wearing a brand new blouse for the occasion. She’s so cute, all blustering and blushing! Mrs. Hughes doesn’t seem to like Tufton’s gregariousness, but Mrs. Patmore is eating it up! Well, it turns out that she’s right: Tufton’s flirting (and kissing!) other women, all while he’s wooing Mrs. Patmore.
In the Thomas and James corner, it seems that they are maintaining a chilly distance. James is barely civil to Thomas, and even Alfred calls him on it, telling him that Thomas doesn’t allow anyone to say a bad word about James. At the fair, James gets drunk and when a couple of thugs attack him, Thomas jumps into the fray and basically saves James from getting beaten to a pulp. He gets beaten up instead and James runs for Dr. Clarkson, who was in the midst of fumbling his way through a pseudo-proposal to Isobel. Don’t worry, she turns him down without even realizing that he’s proposing! Any way, Thomas is badly bruised and all his money (and watch) are stolen, so they take him home. He doesn’t tell any one about rescuing James. Later, when James checks in on him, Thomas admits to having followed James around at the fair, which of course, makes the situation awkward all over again. This time though, James actually sits down and talks to Thomas. He tells him that they can never have a romantic relationship, because he just doesn’t feel that way about Thomas, but he accepts Thomas’ offer of friendship.
Back at the Abbey, Mr. Carson’s been keeping baby Sybil company, when everyone returns. He tells Mrs. Hughes that the baby reminds him of Lady Sybil, when she was that age. He’s so good with the baby!
Meanwhile, Mrs. Patmore confides in Mrs. Hughes that Tufton basically proposed. Mrs. Hughes tells her everything she saw at the fair, and how Tufton was flirting with other women, and Mrs. Patmore realizes that the proposal wasn’t really about her, but her cooking. Basically, Tufton was looking for a good cook to take care of him. Ugh. Poor Mrs. Patmore! Wait a minute! Mrs. Patmore is not upset at all! She’s relieved! She realized that Tufton was not a good match for her and couldn’t wait to get away from him. Phew!
Edna barges in on Branson while he’s changing for bed, asks him to meet her for lunch the next day, and kisses him! Oh dear. I really hope Tom can resist this one, because honestly, no good can come of it. Her plans are thwarted when Mrs. Hughes tells her to get Mary’s room ready. When she resists, Mr. Carson asks her if she had other plans, and she fesses up about her lunch date. Of course this infuriates Mr. Carson, and he tells Mrs. Hughes to fire Edna, and have a talk with Branson about the inappropriateness of the whole situation. Mrs. Hughes does a great job with Branson, telling him that he shouldn’t be ashamed of his new life, and shouldn’t let someone like Edna make him feel ashamed. She tells him that Sybil would be proud of him, and that some day, he’ll find someone who can help him bear her loss. It’s a very sweet scene, with Mrs. Hughes being more of a mother figure, than anything else.
Mary and Anna arrive at the train station, and Mary insists on being taken to the hospital right away. I guess the baby’s early. They send word to Matthew right away, and the entire family cancels the rest of the vacation and heads back home.
As they’re packing, Robert tells Cora that staying at Duneagle has made him realize how much he owes Matthew for saving Downton by modernizing its management. He tells her that after seeing Shrimpie’s unhappy marriage, he’s even more grateful to have Cora and his family around him. It’s really great to see him snap out of his blind insistence on the “old ways,” and embracing the new world.
Oh joy! Mary gives birth to a healthy little boy! Matthew is thrilled, of course, and Mary’s happy that they’ve done their duty, and provided Downton with an heir. You have to love the way Mary can be brutally practical at a time like this! The new parents have a lovely, intimate scene together, and I can only do it justice if I transcribe the whole thing:
Matthew: “You are going to be such a wonderful mother.”
Mary: “How do you know?”
Matthew: “Because … because you’re such a wonderful woman.”
Mary: “I hope I’m allowed to be …your Mary Crawley for all eternity, and not Edith’s version or anyone else’s for that matter.”
Matthew: “You’ll be my Mary, always, because mine is the true Mary. Do you ever wonder how happy you’ve made me?”
Mary: “You sound rather foreign. Shouldn’t you be saying things like, ‘you’ll be up and about in no time?’”
Matthew: “I’ll do that tomorrow. But right now, I want to tell you that I fall more in love with you with every day that passes.
Mary: “I’ll remind you of that next time I scratch the car.”
The family’s all gathered at the Abbey, waiting for Matthew to come back from the hospital. They are celebrating, happy and relieved that both Mary and the baby are fine. Matthew is driving back home, with the top down, smiling, not a care in the world. He misses the truck coming down the road towards him. As the family is talking about what a fantastic addition he’s been to the family, we see the truck driver jumping out of his truck and running over to the incline on the side of the road, where Matthew lies underneath the overturned car … dead.
The last shot of the episode is of Mary, happily holding her new baby, waiting for her family to come, completely unaware of Matthew’s death.
Such a sad, sad ending for this season.
Can't get enough Downton? Look for The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis, a behind-the-scenes look at the show, available now.
Naz Keynejad is an avid reader, wanna-be writer, editor and self-professed geek. She has a “thing” for period dramas and will watch anything as long as it’s filled with suppressed sexual tension, angst and of course, period costumes. Oh, and there has to be tea. Lots of tea.