Season 4 of Downton Abbey premiered on PBS last night with a spectacular two hour episode that updated fans on what our cast members have been up to during the six months since Matthew died. In several cases, it’s been a whole lot of nothing, but the framing for the new episode also explained O’Brien’s (Siobhan Finneran) disappearance from the household staff, as well as what exactly might become of Downton in the year 1922. The pace was rather leisurely, even for an episode of Downton Abbey, but fans of the period drama should be pleased to have gotten large doses of most of the series leads.
In case you missed last night’s big premiere or want a recap as to what the characters are up to, here’s a look at all the major players in Season 4, complete with plenty of chatty gossip. So, grab a cup of tea and delve in.
Lady Mary Crawley
Since Mary’s husband died in an untimely and tragic fashion at the end of Season 3, all eyes were on Mary when Season 4 opened, and she wasn’t handling the absence of her husband particularly well. It’s tough to lose anyone, and Matthew and Mary’s romance was a particularly compelling saga, but six months post mortem, Mary was a wreck--nervous, cross and abnormally quiet all at once.
It took some time to coax the eldest Crawley daughter out of her shell. Even her baby son couldn’t seem to bring a smile to her face. But a couple of important conversations with Branson and Carson helped her to see that there was an estate to run and that she could play a key role should she choose to moving forward. It took Lord Grantham a bit longer to come around, but Mary should be playing a key role in building the estate moving forward.
Robert, The Earl of Grantham
I dislike how the writers have turned Lord Grantham into a relic of a past time. The man was always a bit stuffy, but he did initially lend Branson use of the library and later came to accept his daughter, Sybil’s, marriage to the young employee. However, the events of the past couple of years have changed him somewhat. Proven inept at running the estate, he grew curmudgeonly when Matthew wanted to make changes last season. That attitude has carried over into the new season as Tom and Mary have begun to attempt similar changes to the estate. It’s almost as if the man has been forced to change and adapt so many times that he’s hit a wall and has found it both exhausting and impractical to keep changing with the times. I don’t blame him for being exhausted, but when your elderly mother chastises you for incompetence (as happened during the first Season 4 episode), you should know it is time to take a look at your decision-making processes.
Maybe he’ll come around, but I’m not holding my breath.
Cora, The Countess of Grantham
Cora wasn’t really given much to do during the first episode of Season 4. She took some advice from the sneaky Barrow and looked in on the nanny, who was treating Sybil and Tom’s daughter like a second-class citizen. Unfortunately, Cora’s never been the most well-informed member of the household, and by the end of the episode, she was under the mistaken impression that Thomas could be trusted. This seems to be a pattern of behavior for the head of the household, who also trusted O'Brien, even though her ladies maid purposefully left soap on the floor so that her mistress would trip and miscarry her child. I wish she would have a better nose for the rats in her home, but I guess the Countess does have other talents.
Lady Edith Crawley
Who knew Lady Edith would be one of the most fun characters to watch during the premiere? The lady’s been in love with a married man for quite some time. His wife has been in an asylum, and he hatched a plan this week to get a divorce in Germany and marry Edith. Of course, that would mean moving to Germany, but Edith actually seemed to be entertaining the idea. One of my favorite parts of the new episode featured Edith eating at a restaurant with her beau and marveling over the fact that she was allowed to eat in restaurants for the first time after the war. Edith proved she was smitten with the man, but if his plans tarry, she could land herself in a heap of trouble. Edith has always been a little wacky, favoring older men and even learning how to drive, but at the beginning of Season 4, she has been up to her most courageous hijinks, yet.
Tom took a trip downstairs during the first episode, startling the staff, but at least he has conceded to try to fit in with the genteel company upstairs. This week, he even threw on the proper attire for dinner and made an ally out of Mary. The man finally seemed to be coming around to his new station in life, which is a good thing. Sans Matthew, Downton was sorely in need of a man with modern ideas and Tom just so happened to be chock full of them.
Additionally, a friendship seemed to be blossoming between Tom and Mary during the new episode. While casting has alluded to the fact that Mary might have some gentlemen callers during the new season, we will have to wait and see if Tom finds a partner, as well. Former maid Edna has returned to the scene, which could cause some problems for Branson moving forward.
Violet, The Dowager Countess of Grantham
The Dowager Countess was in fine form, as usual, during the first episode. She rarely has had her own plotlines on the show, but she did get to meddle this week in several of the large storylines. During the Season 4 premiere, meant involving herself in finding Mosely a new position. It also meant she chastised her son, Lord Grantham, after he objected to Mary running a portion of the estate. The Dowager Countess hasn’t changed an iota since the series started
Mr. Carson had a lot to do this week. An ex-friend came into the town to seek rest and find employment under the tutelage of Isabel Crawley, and Carson had to decide whether to address the former friendship or ignore it entirely. Additionally, Branson enlisted his help to talk to Lady Mary about coming out of her depressive funk. Carson was actually chastised for this behavior, and it was sad to see him so mortified in Lady Mary’s presence. However, she perked up and actually apologized for ruffling his feathers, so things ended on a high note for Carson this week. Plus, now that he has forgiven his former pal for stealing the love of his life so many years ago, maybe he will be able to engage in some romance himself?
Mrs. Hughes also had a meddling week, bringing Mr. Carson’s former friend into the home of Isabel Crawley. Additionally, she dealt with some household issues, including the arrival of Edna. Season 4 hasn’t been a big year for Mrs. Hughes thus far, but she is the glue that keeps Downton together and the show wouldn’t be the same without her.
Anna and John Bates
Bates didn’t really have much to do this week, and his relationship with Anna wasn’t much remarked upon. However, Anna was quite in the thick of things. She incurred Barrow’s ire for no reason at all and Barrow tried to convince Lady Grantham that Anna wasn’t fit for duty. Amidst all of that excitement, she was also tasked with chaperoning Lady Rose—a daunting challenge for anyone, as Rose has mostly acted before she has considered the consequences during her tenure on Downton Abbey. Anna has always been one of the kinder people on the drama, and it has always been tough to see her faced with challenges thanks to other people taking advantage of her.
It’s actually a little upsetting that it was O’Brien who left the show, leaving Thomas to create drama on his own. O’Brien was always the more fun and startling villain to watch in action, and without his counterpart, Thomas has lost a little bit of flair. The man spent a good chunk of the episode starting drama with the nanny; luckily, in the twist of all twists, the woman turned out to be horrid. He then started drama with Anna and turned the equally disdainful Edna into an ally. We will have to wait and see how this all plays out in the coming weeks, but there should be little doubt Thomas will continue to weasel in and out of trouble with ease. I almost wish he would fade to the background for a bit, however. He's beginning to be quite the bore, despite stirring up trouble.
Footmen and Kitchen Maids
All of the romance was concentrated in the kitchen during the Season 4 premiere. Ivy and Daisy were both looking for love, but Ivy got all of the attention from the footmen, leaving Daisy disconsolate. Mrs. Patmore tried to cheer Daisy up by sending her a favor, but when Daisy found out, she was even more upset. If Ivy’s big romance continues, the staff might be looking for a new kitchen maid, soon.
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Jessica Rawden is Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. She’s been kicking out news stories since 2007 and joined the full-time staff in 2014. She oversees news content, hiring and training for the site, and her areas of expertise include theme parks, rom-coms, Hallmark (particularly Christmas movie season), reality TV, celebrity interviews and primetime. She loves a good animated movie. Jessica has a Masters in Library Science degree from Indiana University, and used to be found behind a reference desk most definitely not shushing people. She now uses those skills in researching and tracking down information in very different ways.