‘Downton Abbey’ Season 3, Episode 2: The Dowager Countess Recap

Now in its third season, Downton Abbey is more divisive than ever. Once almost universally acclaimed, the British period drama that follows the aristocratic Crawley family and their many servants faced accusations last year of descending into soap opera-style sensationalism. Although we don’t mind a juicy soap opera here at Flavorwire — and have, in fact, been known to defend Downton Abbey against its snobbier critics — this season we hope to unite the various factions by limiting our recaps to the one character everyone can still agree to love: Violet Crawley, that feisty, elitist grandma played by the one and only Dame Maggie Smith. Each week, we’ll recount the Dowager Countess of Grantham’s adventures. They may often be tangential to the main storyline, but they’ll always be among the most important Downton moments to us.

With Shirley MacLaine’s Martha Levinson back in America and Tom Branson behaving himself in proper dinner attire, the Dowager Countess was free this week to focus her disapproval on Edith’s impending marriage to the much older Sir Anthony Strallan. Greeted at Downton by a jubilant Edith, already knee-deep in wedding preparations, she replied to the latter’s exclamation about how exciting it all was with deflating sobriety: “At my age, one must ration one’s excitement.”

After finding time to poke fun at Mrs. Crawley (“Aren’t you a wild thing?”) and express her reservations about the appropriateness of Mary and Matthew’s enormous, yet still apparently inadequate, new home, she was back on Robert’s case about Edith and Sir Anthony. “Edith is beginning her life as an old man’s drudge,” Violet told her son, confirming that her misgivings about the marriage were more than just obligatory shade-throwing. But this is still the Dowager Countess, and her complaints about Edith’s wedding aren’t totally unselfish. Why is she making such a fuss, Robert wanted to know. “Because I want the pleasure of saying, ‘I told you so,'” she replied.

When the day finally comes and everyone’s filing into the church, Violet pulls out some more choice cracks about Sir Anthony: “He looks as if he’s waiting for the headmaster,” she drawls, before commenting further on the fact that he’s been around the block more than once.

But never let it be said that the Dowager Countess isn’t good in a crisis. At the shocking — OK, let’s face it, not so shocking — moment when Sir Anthony leaves Edith at the altar, rather than condemn her to a life as his nursemaid, it’s Violet who sensibly steps in. “Don’t stop him doing the only sensible thing he’s done in months,” she advises her granddaughter. “Wish him well and let him go.”

We left Edith still deep into her shock, depression, and conviction that she’s doomed to be an old maid — but at least the Dowager Countess had bounced back by the end of the episode. What should Carson do if no almshouse is interested in the food from the wedding? “If the poor don’t want it,” she told him, “you can bring it over to me.”

Last night’s Dowager Countess words of wisdom:

“No bride wants to look tired at her wedding. It either means she’s anxious or she’s been up to no good.”
“Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”