Inside 'Downton Abbey' Season Three

Jarett Wieselman
The Insider
Inside 'Downton Abbey' Season Three

PBS brought day one of The Television Critics Association to a smashing close by debuting a Downton Abbey season three teaser trailer, as well as three new scenes, before welcoming the cast (Michelle Dockery, Shirley MacLaine, Elisabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle) and creator Julian Fellowes to the stage for a fan-tastic Q&A.

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And for the record, the spelling on that adjective is not a typo -- I say "fan"tastic because the tone struck by the rejoicing reporters was something more akin to Comic-Con than the typical TCA panel, which ascribes to The Dowager's stiff upper lip creedo.

But this simply proves what a wholly unique creature Downton Abbey has become over its first two splendid seasons. And judging from the fantastic first look footage, third time's the charm!

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The new season is set in the 1920s and Lady Cora's mother, Martha Levinson (played by MacLaine), comes to Downton for Matthew and Mary's wedding. But not everyone is excited about her impending arrival. Most notably, The Dowager Countess, played with wicked wit by Dame Maggie Smith.

When talking about her American counterpart, The Dowager says, "When I'm with her, I'm reminded of the virtues of the British." And their eventual reunion is filled with as much hidden hostility as that one sentence, as you can see here!

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And while Martha doesn't want to cast a pall over the proceedings, the fact that Lord Grantham has, apparently, lost the entire family's fortune might put a damper on things. Although both her and Lady Cora are too scared to tell anyone ... yet.

Although judging from another clip, Matthew and Mary's wedding might not even happen. In one scene, a tearful Mary is seen telling Matthew that he is no longer on her side, and in another, she tells him, "If we can disagree over something as fundamental as this, shouldn't we be brave and back away now?" Can I just say, for the fans, NO!

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Unexpected allies pop up when newlyweds Sybil and Tom return to Downton, with Isobel Crawley on Team Give Him A Chance, and Carson talking Thomas' side (shudder at the thought) in regards to the former chauffeur now being waited on upstairs.

Speaking of Thomas, his relationship with O'Brien continues to splinter as the former friends now seem to be separated by a chasm as the result of his behavior at the tail end of season two. O'Brien is even seen putting Thomas down (calling him "fey"") to make Downton's newest employee, a gentle giant, feel more comfortable.

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The biggest question of the new season involves the status of Mr. Bates, last seen being convicted (I think wrongly, but we'll have to wait and see) of his ex-wife's murder. We glimpse him in prison and see Anna reminding her new husband that she will never give up on freeing him. A sentiment star Hugh Bonneville echoed when he concluded the panel by ripping open his dress shirt to reveal a FREE BATES t-shirt underneath!

Here's hoping Lord Grantham is as dedicated to freeing his old friend in season three, which premieres January 6 on PBS!

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