Today's News: Our Take - Downton Abbey: Where We Left Off and What's to Come

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It's been so long since our last trip to Downtown Abbey that our fond memories of the Crawleys are fading into nothing but distant whispers (with British accents!). Was there an engagement of sorts? Who's knocked up? And whatever happened to Bates? If you, too, are suffering from Downton amnesia, let us refresh your memory -- and share some exciting scoop on Season 3, which kicks off Sunday at 9/8c on PBS.

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Where We Left Off

Matthew and Mary are engaged!  After approximately six years of will-they-won't-they, Matthew and Mary are united at last! When Mary finally confessed her "indiscretion" with the late Turkish diplomat Pamuk, Matthew insisted she break off the engagement with the charades-hating Sir Richard. Cue a quick round of fisticuffs and a super-romantic snowfall proposal that had us wishing we could have been twirling with joy right alongside them.

Those other Crawley girls We know it's hard to believe, but not everything's about Mary in the Crawley family. In the Season 2 finale, Sybil announced she's pregnant, and Edith refused to let something as trivial as a dud arm get in the way of romancing Sir Anthony.

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An affair to forget Lord Grantham's attempt at a sordid tryst is thankfully a thing of the past. After Robert rediscovered his conscience, Jane the obnoxious maid moved on without a fuss (though much-needed school funds for her son probably helped ensure that).

Free Bates After Bates' friends gave some very damning testimony (we're looking at you, Robert), the former valet was sentenced to hang. Thankfully, they manage to downgrade the charge to manslaughter and a mere life sentence, giving his new bride Anna many more opportunities for heartbreaking visits.

Thomas dogs his way to the top With Mr. Bates imprisoned, Thomas took the opportunity to vie for the position of valet once again. His genius idea: steal Robert's beloved dog Isis so he could be the big hero when he "finds" her. Things might not have went exactly as planned when Isis actually went missing, but Lord Grantham saw the extent of Thomas' search efforts and decided to promote him for his devotion after all.

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What's Next

No money, mo' problems  Saying Lord Grantham made a bad investment would be an understatement. Disastrous, devastating, catastrophic - those words are much better fit to describe Robert's ill-fated decision after losing most of the family fortune. And while Lord Grantham does his best to keep the situation under wraps, he does face some tough decisions as to the estate's future and what to do about his family's current ostentatious lifestyle.

Matthew and Mary's pre-marital woes Don't worry. Matthew and Mary will exchange I do's, but as Sophie McShera tells TVGuide.com, "It's definitely not a smooth ride to get to that wedding." According to McShera, who plays assistant cook Daisy, a lot of the couple's problems in the premiere stem from the estate's impending bankruptcy and their different attitudes towards money. Will Matthew's middle-class attitude win out in the end, or will Mary get what she wants (as always)?

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Downton moves into modernity Lord Grantham's investment folly isn't the only thing forcing the household to adapt to the modern age. "Robert's essentially kind of a dinosaur. He's living in the past," Rob James-Collier said. "But the advent of the First World War broke down to a certain extent the boundaries of the class system... [and] these great, grand estates can't run like they always run." But according to the actor, who plays Thomas, "Matthew Crawley brings a somewhat entrepreneurial spirit to Downton" and helps the estate adjust to the Roaring Twenties.

And Matthew isn't Robert's only son-in-law to bring some progressive thinking to Downton this season. Sybil and her revolutionary husband Branson also return to help shake things up.

Shirley Maclaine takes on the Dowager Countess Matthew and Mary's wedding isn't the only reason to celebrate in Downton's premiere. Two words: Shirley Maclaine. The Academy Award-winning actress will make her debut as Cora's American mother Martha Levinson this Sunday. But while we might cheer for Martha's appearance, the Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith) is none too pleased. "These two matriarchs... collide together and to see it on screen with two absolute Hollywood legends is fantastic," James-Collier told TVGuide.com. "The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you know?"

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Anna Bates investigates With her husband locked up, Anna becomes an Edwardian Veronica Mars, tirelessly searching for a way to clear Bates' name. Though the couple might not be as glamorous as Matthew and Mary, we admire how dedicated Anna is to her incarcerated beau. Plus: Anna's headfirst dive in the P.I. scene is ripe for a spinoff!

Trouble for Thomas He's got his dream job. Bates is locked up. You'd think Thomas' life would be pretty perfect but unfortunately, that was only the calm before the storm. Thomas' jealousy of O'Brien's nephew Alfred, the new footman, spawns a rivalry between him and his only former friend as Thomas sets out "guns blazing" to get Alfred sacked.

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But while we've all seen Thomas' scheming side before, James-Collier promises we'll see a more vulnerable side of him, as well. "[Thomas] falls for someone hard and that's where this journey begins and then culminates in him potentially getting exposed and outed as a homosexual in Downton Abbey," James-Collier explains. This new bout with romance will also help explain the role Thomas' sexuality had in creating his bitter persona as "we see him pretty much unravel fully, emotionally."

Out with the old and in with the new This season sees the addition of three new servants, each of whom causes some sort of trouble for one of our Downton favorites. But those aren't the only cast changes this year.  Two major cast members will be saying goodbye this year (and one already explained his/her reasons for exiting). Any guesses on who else might bid adieu to Downton?

Downton Abbey Season 3 premieres Sunday at 9/8c on PBS.

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