Even unexpected regret and clichés hasn’t been enough to pull fans away from the soapy drama of Britain’s jewel as it played to impressive numbers in its autumn 2013 airing across the pond. Only question left on the minds of fans was how the passing of a beloved character would affect the house.
News and rumors spread quickly among the morning hustle-bustle at Downton Abbey. This fine morning, the staff is passing along their astonishment that O’Brian has stolen off in the night without so much as a proper explanation. This leaves the household short-staffed. Young Daisy (Sophie McShera) is still pining for footman Alfred (Matt Milne) who is busy explaining he knew nothing about his aunt’s sudden departure – and trying to catch the eye of kitchen maid, Ivy (Cara Theobold). Newly married to Bates (Brendan Coyle), the vacant position leaves Anna (Joanne Frogett) with more duties and Thomas (Rob James-Collier) with new possible candidates to corrupt. All of these events are carefully watched over by housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and the trusty, but orderly butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter).
Above stairs, the family Crawley is still mourning the loss of Matthew, and Mary (Michelle Dockery) has withdrawn inside herself to the point that no one can inspire her to leave the comfort of her dark mood. Tom (Allen Leech) believes that Mary should begin to look outside of herself – to take an interest in something, which he believes is the running of Downton as her son George’s guardian whereas Lord Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) protectively coddles his eldest, urging her to do nothing but concentrate on feeling better. This sets him against the Countess (Maggie Smith), and for once, she agrees with her grandson-in-law. Elsewhere, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) engages a new ladies maid who causes nothing but trouble and Edith (Laura Carmichael) pursues more potential heartbreak in the form of her handsome – and very married – editor, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards).
There was one thing that quickly becomes evident before many frames play in this fourth series – the writer’s did a stupendous job of making sure no one forgets Matthew. This can be both a good and bad thing however I chose to see it as a testament. Either way, the creators are going to take flack for this, yet they handle a tragedy and its ensuing gaping hole (left by the actor-chosen departure of Dan Stevens) with grace and respect. It’d be unrealistic for the family to never talk of Matthew or for the mood to be generally happy – Mary goes through dark places and happier times, intermittently which is the best version of her character right now. It’d be disappointing for the sixth month’s later lapse never to discuss the passing of Matthew and though his absence is a running thread though all eight episodes where some may find it “painful,” all this is doing is presenting a realistic picture of grief… and healing. Really I think what this season does is bring viewers to a place of transition: fans need to ask themselves whether or not they’re willing to continue on the journey. If you cannot accept the deaths of beloved faces and revel in the growth it brings out of those left behind, then it’s probably best to bid adieu.
Moving beyond that, I cannot help but rejoice in this series’ return. My family received a set in the mail late one Saturday afternoon and a mere twenty-four hours later, we’d watched all but two of the episodes. In our opinion, it was just that good minus one major overstep that rests squarely on Fellowes direction (though kudos to the filming of this scene – it’s much more terrifying behind closed doors) and a minor tumble for a character whom we’ve come to love. There was a lot of change to be had though some wasn’t in the best taste overall there was more pleasure than discourse. Young Rose (the Crawley’s cousin who is played by Lily James) is now a permanent presence at Downton and she adds in plenty of sassy drama, then, of course, there are the three men vying for the affections of Lady Mary. We are again re-acquainted with Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks) which is brilliant and meet the ambitious Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) and the wealthy lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen). The former candidate is a meeting that doesn’t get off on the right foot (reflections of the Mary/Matthew saga, anyone!?) and the latter is a re-kindling of a former childhood relationship. Both men are interesting but, what this love triangle does is lighten the mood – especially the “pig scene.” And if you’re wondering what that’s all about, just wait – only trust me, you’ve never seen Mary like this before and what’s even more ironic is of the three sisters, she’s the most stuffy.
Since it first invaded our television screens, we’ve experienced many highs and lows with Downton Abbey and even now in its current state – one that isn’t as well scripted as it once upon a time may have been, there is still something hypnotic about this series. Perhaps it’s the costumes and grandeur – which by the way is again breathtaking; this costume design is one to try and rival – or simply that fans are too invested in the outcome of this family, no matter the reason, until its end, there is very little that could persuade me to quit the series. Meeting the new character’s in no way disrespected this transition of saying good-bye though I will admit to being surprised one of the reported plots wasn’t exactly accurate… fortunately, it was a pleasant diversion. No matter its faults, it’s not scared me away yet and with its projected season of disappointments, series four has slowly taught us it’s okay to experience something new and the characters are divine at convincing us of their sorrow and blossoming reawakening to life, laughter and joy.
How about you, friends? What'd you think of the Sunday night season four premiere - or in general if you've seen the entire season four...? I'd love to get your opinions.
(Parental Review: There is a rape of a beloved character [it all happens behind closed doors although we see her smacked around briefly and hear the screams] and another character has a drunken one-night stand after careful scheming. There’s an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and brief thoughts of abortion. Racial issues are dealt with [in a surprisingly classy way]. The series is rated TVPG.)