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'Downton Abbey' starts new season with a wedding, financial woes

Nick Briggs / Carnival Films

The Dowager Countess and Lady Mary hatch a plot to try to save Downton.

After 11 months of waiting, U.S. audiences finally returned to “Downton Abbey” Sunday night, and with the drama's classic mix of joy and hardship, the season premiere did not disappoint.

The major event opening the season was one audiences have been eagerly awaiting -- Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew’s (Dan Stevens) wedding! The couple finally tied the knot as their friends and family looked on, including Mary's pregnant sister, Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) and husband Tom Branson (Allen Leech), who'd traveled all the way from Dublin (thanks to some unlikely help from Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess). Also present for the wedding was Mary's other grandmother, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), whose American ideals clashed instantly with the traditional English ways of the Crawleys.

Amid the joyous wedding celebrations, however, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) received some disturbing news. Apparently the master of Downton is a bit of a gambler, and put the majority of his wife’s fortune into a rumored good investment. -- a railway. But the fortune, which once saved Downton from financial ruin, was lost when the railway prepared to declare bankruptcy. The loss meant there was not enough money left to run the estate anymore, leaving Lord Grantham with what appeared to be only one option: Say goodbye to Downton!

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All seemed lost when Lord Grantham finally broke down to tell Cora what happened, but there was hope on the horizon. Matthew inherited the fortune from the father of his deceased former fiancee, Lavinia. While Mary saw this as a saving grace, Matthew refused to keep the money. He just couldn't forgive himself for breaking Lavinia’s heart before she died from Spanish flu, and since her father had no idea about that detail, he felt taking the money would be wrong.

There was brief hope that possibly Mrs. Levinson could be convinced to help, but Mary and the Dowager Countess found themselves disappointed after some impressive courting attempts. Mrs. Levinson had already put enough money into what she saw as a symbol of a dying past, and besides, she didn't really have the money to do it. She claimed her husband "tied the money up" before his death, making it impossible.

The upstairs excitement definitely overshadowed some the less dramatic events occurring downstairs. But it will be interesting to see the new feud brewing between Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) grow and how Mrs. Hughes' (Phyllis Logan) health problem is expanded on more in the next episode.

As for the latest between Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggratt), the dark days continued for everyone's other favorite couple, but things will get brighter -- that is if Anna's constant efforts to free her husband prove successful. 

If "Downton Abbey" does one thing well, it's keep you eager to learn what's going to happen next. With the premiere set up of the Downton residents harshly finding their traditions threatened by a changing world, it's achieved that goal.

Watch "Downton Abbey" Sundays on PBS at 9 p.m. 

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