Possible spoiler alert: At the end of season two we left the Crawley clan after seeing Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens) kiss and decide to get married. It was one of those, "Yeah, we saw that coming a mile away, nevertheless it's exciting," type of TV moments. Season three begins in 1920 as Matthew and Mary get ready for their wedding.
As the beginning of 'Anchorman' so eloquently put it, quoting Bob Dylan, "The times, they are a-changin'." Large estates like Downton are dropping like flies. It seems the way of life that the Crawleys have all known is slowly disappearing into the past. The main theme of season three it's that the writing is on the wall for estates like Downton.
Mary and Matthew finally getting hitched isn't the only thing going on. It wouldn't be 'Downton Abbey' without at least four dozen other subplots to keep track of. Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Tom (Allen Leech) are now married and expecting a child. The family still has a hard time accepting Tom as one of their own, but they're coming around. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is having troubles of his own. He's realized that the money that has been keeping Downton afloat all these years, namely his wife's fortune, is quickly drying up because of bad investments. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) remains the social outcast of the family, seemingly unable to find any luck in love. The Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith) continues to hold the family together like glue while offering up a smattering of hilarious one-liners.
Downstairs, O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) and Thomas (Rob James-Collier) become bitter enemies. New faces appear in the servant's hall including Jimmy (Ed Speleers) and Alfred (Matt Milne), two new footmen jostling for position. Ethel (Amy Nuttall) returns as a shell of her former self. Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) finds himself incarcerated. He also manages to continue to be the most frustrating storyline of the bunch. His absolute piousness was more than I could handle in the second season. Here it's almost unbearable. Anna (Joanne Froggatt) remains on a steadfast course to find proof that Bates didn't commit the murder of which he's been convicted.
I'm sure there are other plots, subplots, and exciting changes that I'm missing. The show has never had a shortage of things going on. Whether it's the social drama of the upper class or the plight of the working man, 'Downton Abbey' is sure to cover it all.
It's still a wholly addicting series for reasons I'm still unsure of. However, the third season feels a bit hollow. There are numerous times where huge shifts in characters or story are thrust upon us only to be explained away by a scene or two. To point out specifically what these instances are would give away major plot points, so I'll refrain from doing that. I did find myself annoyed at the frequency though. Far too many seemingly insurmountable ordeals are managed with a few convenient changes to the story.
Even though the show feels too convenient at times it does do drama well. Somehow it's made standard soap opera fare mainstream. The characters are rich and varied. Sure, it may seem like all the Crawleys do is wake up, eat, entertain, and go to bed, but they do it with style. There's never a moment where there isn't something juicy going on in the household.
Nothing really measures up to the show's first season. Season three takes too many opportune liberties with problems that should be much more impacting to the overall story. Still, I find myself drawn to the show and its characters. I hated the season finale of the third season and yet I can't help but be excited for what season four will bring.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Released by PBS, this Blu-ray set comes on three 50GB Blu-ray Discs. The discs are housed in a standard sized keepcase with a swinging arm in the middle that holds two discs back-to-back. The set is classified on the back of the case as being a Region A release.
The third season of 'Downton Abbey' comes to Blu-ray in 1080p even though the notes on the back of the case state that it's presented in 1080i. Sadly, it's apparent that the picture doesn't measure up to the quality of past seasons.
What is really noticeable is how flat the black areas are. If it's a really dark shadow, then the black takes on a bluish hue that is really distracting. Other blacks are depthless, causing crush-happy shadows to wreak havoc on faces and textures. Establishing shots of Downton and its surrounding areas harbor fantastic resolution though. Whenever the characters take a stroll outside, detail is sharp, edges are defined, and clarity is as good as it gets. It's in the darkened corridors of the buildings where the weaknesses are apparent.
Colors are strong. Primaries pop, while whites are bright and ethereal. The colorfulness of the Downton interior is counterbalanced by the bleak grayness of Mr. Bates' prison. Blue skies shine. Green hills shimmer. There is some noise from time to time also. Black areas are where most of the errant noise hangs about. No aliasing to report, although slight banding can be seen on occasion.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mix does quite nicely. It delivers the show's now iconic theme song with gusto. Even without the support of a sub-woofer, the low end sonics of that song are on full display during the opening credits.
Dialogue is always clear even if some of the characters have extremely thick accents. The sounds of clanking plates and clinking silverware, coupled with the conversation of dinner guests almost gives the illusion of a surround sound mix. There is definitely enough going on in this show to warrant a 5.1 mix and I find myself a little sad we don't get one.
The echoes of the cavernous halls of Downton also might lead someone to believe that this is more than two speakers at work. This all speaks well of the strengths of 'Downton Abbey's lossless stereo track. Even so, a multi-channel mix would be more than suitable and most welcomed.
I'm still a 'Downton Abbey' fan, but I found the third season wanting. It seemed far too keen to explain away huge changes in the plot with conveniences. The show does, however, boast a cast of characters that is as wide ranging as any show out there. So, even though Thomas and Mr. Bates drive me bonkers, I still have half a dozen other people I enjoy following. The video has noticeable inadequacies, but the audio is superb considering it's only a stereo track. With a large helping of special features rounding out the set, season three comes recommended.