Premieres: January 6, 9PM, PBS
Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellowes has a piece of advice for viewers tuning in to season 3 of the Emmy-award-winning period saga when it returns on PBS' Masterpiece: ''Just make sure to have a box of Kleenex.'' Picking up just months after last season's swoonworthy Christmas special, which concluded with Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary's (Michelle Dockery) long-awaited engagement, season 3 promises emotional turmoil for both the upstairs and downstairs residents. While Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) reels from the revelation that the estate is essentially bankrupt, Matthew and Mary butt heads (shocker!) before their nuptials. Meanwhile, Anna (Joanne Froggatt) is intent on getting Bates (Brendan Coyle) out of prison and, teases Froggatt, a devastating event sends a ''shock wave that ripples through the house.'' Consider yourselves warned.
Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) & Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery)
Though there's been plenty of drama surrounding his character off screen as of late (Stevens recently announced that he is leaving the series at the end of this season), the real angst takes place on screen. Matthew and Mary are finally ready to walk down the aisle but will they actually say ''I do''? Fellowes is staying mum, though he does reveal that even if the two get hitched, their troubles won't be over. ''They're privileged, but it doesn't mean their life is without drama or difficulty,'' he says. ''There will still be areas where they do not agree.'' That said, adds Fellowes, ''I don't mean that they're wrong for each other, because I don't think they are.'' Translation? Expect some heated arguments, and (hopefully) some great makeup sessions, too.
Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) & Lady Grantham (Elizabeth Mcgovern)
''It's doom and gloom for Robert,'' says Bonneville. After a catastrophic investment puts the future of Downton at risk, Robert considers selling the estate. ''For the English side of the family, the prospect of losing Downton Abbey impacts them in a very different way than it does Cora,'' explains McGovern. ''There's more of a feeling of 'que sera' as far as she's concerned.'' Bonneville hints that there may be a way to save the estate, but to pull it off, Robert will need to adapt. ''He's rather blind to the fact that change is inevitable,'' he says, adding that Robert's prewar attitude will cause some tension with Matthew. ''Matthew's task is to lead Robert, willingly or unwillingly, into the present day.''
Anna (Joanne Froggatt) & Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle)
Don't expect Anna to sit idle while Bates is behind bars. ''She's fighting to free her man,'' says Froggatt. Though the couple will try to remain positive, the separation will take a toll. ''They never lose faith in each other,'' says Froggatt. ''But she does lose faith a little bit, as does Mr. Bates.'' Anna will continue to have an important role in the house. ''She's supporting Lady Mary, and vice versa,'' says Froggatt. ''[They're] going through their problems together.''
Martha (Shirley Maclaine) & Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith)
Has the Dowager Countess, Violet, finally met her match? It certainly seems like it when Cora's mother, Martha, arrives at Downton for Matthew and Mary's wedding. ''She's the opposite of Violet,'' explains Fellowes. ''Violet loves the past. She thinks everything was better when she was a girl, the whole world is falling to bits, and her clothes reflect that sort of nostalgia. Martha thinks everything is getting better, transport is better, communication is better, and she wears modern clothes that look toward the '20s.'' Having two icons like Smith and MacLaine share a scene, says Fellowes, was an embarrassment of riches: ''When they're on the screen together, you don't know which one to look at.''
Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael)
After a string of heartbreaks, Downton's most dejected sibling rekindled her romance with her older suitor, Sir Anthony (Robert Bathurst), last season. But her newfound happiness may be short-lived. ''Poor Edith,'' says Fellowes. ''Things just don't seem to work out for her.''
Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) & Tom (Allen Leech)
With Sybil close to giving birth, the Dublin residents make their way back to Downton. ''The fact that Branson is now a member of the family and we have to call him Tom sticks in [Robert's] throat a little bit,'' says Bonneville. ''But gradually we get there.'' In fact, Robert may end up looking to Tom for help with the struggling estate. Says Bonneville: ''Both sons-in-law become a strong part of maintaining the future of Downton.''