Downton Abbey Episode 03.01 is the premiere episode of the third season (series in the UK) of the UK-US produced Period drama series, Downton Abbey. This episode focuses on the newly engaged Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary Crawley and their marriage, which occurs at the end of the episode; the return of Lady Sybil Branson and her husband, Tom Branson; and the fanfare-laden arrival of Cora's mother, Martha Levinson.
Veteran actress Shirley MacLaine makes her first of three appearances as Cora's outspoken and very American mother.
The story opens as Daisy Mason is wheeling her bicycle past the Downton church, as the family is rehearsing for the wedding of Lady Mary and Matthew. The county was still buzzing about Lady Sybil marrying Tom and they were not able to attend the wedding as they had no money. The whole subject, as it was dealing with the Crawleys, the big names in Downton, was rife for gossip.
However, at the Dower House, Cora Crawley; Isobel Crawley Grey and Violet Crawley are discussing the same situation. Isobel decides she is going to send Tom and Sybil the money to book passage to Downton, but Cora talks her down from that as she thinks Robert would be furious as he expressly forbade it. Isobel approved of Tom marrying Sybil, although Violet and Cora were still skeptical.
Meanwhile, Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, receives a call that he is to go to London. Before then, he is roped into taking on a new footman in Alfred Nugent, the nephew of Cora's lady's maid, Sarah O'Brien.
As it turns out, O'Brien and Thomas Barrow, were now enemies. Whatever happened to sunder their friendship was never revealed, but they were now at one another's throats as they were trying to outdo one another.
When Robert arrives in London, he is stunned to hear that a bad investment in a railway in Canada, the Canadian Grand Trunk debacle, in essence, wipes out the whole of Cora's fortune, the fortune that had shored up Downton since he had married her. When he reveals, tearfully, that her fortune had been wiped out, she is stunned, but she squares herself and tells her husband, "Don't worry about me, I am an American, have gun will travel."
A car comes along and out steps Sybil and Tom. They had sent Mary a letter to let them know about them coming to the wedding after all. Someone had sent them the money to make the trip. But who, was a mystery. Cora welcomes Tom warmly to Downton, and she would then bond with her youngest.
A large formal dinner was planned, and a bevy of individuals were invited, including Sir Anthony Strallan and Lord Merton, the godfather of Lady Mary. Also attending was his oldest son, Larry Grey, an arrogant young man who had been keen on Sybil some years ago but she wasn't so keen on him.
The snobbish man, after being put in his place by Tom because of his severe lack of manners, surreptitiously drops a pill (similar to what a Spanish Fly would be used today) into his drink, making him totally drunk and belligerent.
Tom, under the influence of the spiked drink, goes on a liquor-fueled rant about what was going on in Ireland.
Larry sniggers about what he had done, until Strallan discovers that Larry had spiked the drink. Everyone at the table is furious with him, especially when he insults Tom by calling him "A grubby little chauffeur chap!" His father, Robert and Matthew stand up in a rage. Lord Merton apologized to Tom, and Matthew asked him to be his best man, which surprises and pleases everyone at the table, except for Larry, who was ejected from the castle. He states his reason, "If we are mad enough to marry the Crawley girls, then we must stick together."
Matthew later receives a letter from Reginald Swire, the late father of his former fiancée, Lavinia, who had passed away from the Spanish Flu. He left Matthew his considerable estate. He is not sure about accepting it. A fact which infuriates Mary, especially after she finds out about the situation about the estate.
Meanwhile, arriving to the Abbey, in considerable fanfare and pomp, is Cora's mother, Martha Levinson. The highly American mother breezes in and announces her presence. She greets her daughter, son in-law; introduces her lady's maid, Reed to Charles Carson and Elsie Hughes, the senior servants; and then greets her granddaughters.
She tells Sybil to "Give me all the details about the birth, we do these things so much better in the states." She commiserates with Edith, whom she has a bond with, "Still no one special? Well, never mind that. You can take a tip from a modern American girl."; and greets Mary with "Give me all the details about your wedding, and I will see what I can do to improve them!"
She then proceeds to grill Matthew about his relationship to the family and why he would be inheriting her husband's money. He explains about his place in the family and Robert assures her that if she looks up the family entry in Berke's (a book which lists the geneology of landed gentry), Matthew's name would be shown.
She then also begins to grill Tom and Sybil about their marriage, but she then brightens up about hearing about a marriage between a member of the aristocracy and a servant. Situations like that were becoming the norm in America, and she is amazed that it could occur in England.
Martha then greets Violet, and it is clear that, while they are cordial to one another, there is also a lot of animosity between the two mothers in-law. Violet and Martha are quite different ladies, and it is evident that they show that in their dress and their bearing. While they do respect one another, they are clearly enemies. Martha is known for her very barbed comments towards Violet.
The mystery of who brought Sybil and Tom back to Downton is revealed. It turns out that Violet herself had sent the Bransons the money to come to Matthew and Mary's wedding. She had her lady's maid, Smithers, write the message and send the money.
Meanwhile, John Bates, sentenced to life in prison for the death of his first wife, Vera, has his own issues with prison. He is taunted by his new cell-mate, a man named Craig, who tries to get him busted on a drugs charge, with the drugs supplied by an evil guard called Durrant. Bates turns the tables on Craig by threatening him. As he is in prison, Barrow has been named as Robert's valet, which Robert despised, as he liked Bates, but hates Thomas.
However, his most looked-forward to times is when he gets a visit from his wife, Anna.
After Matthew explained about the situation with the money, Mary and Matthew finally marry. At the wedding itself, Martha, wearing a hat with a very large feathered plume in it, levels a barbed insult at Violet at the wedding when she said that, while it is good that the future is being unfurled, the future isn't reflected upon or tied to the past.