It was a low-key start for Downton, which will see the cast chopped and changed over the course of season 4.
Downton Abbey was back last Sunday with a predictably morose episode in the wake of Matthew Crawley’s surprise death at the end of Season 3. Setting the tone for a season of change and adjustment, the episode saw the Crawleys and especially Lady Mary, barely coping with the loss of the family’s golden boy. If you don’t want to fall behind in conversation, but without having to actually watch the season opener, here’s the short of it (beware of spoilers below).
Everything is sad now, especially Lady Mary.
After losing Matthew, the abrupt and unexplained cast changes continue with O’Brien sneaking off into the night. “No!” we hear you shout, fists raised dramatically towards the sky. Unfortunately, this is only the first of several departures this season. The problem of O’Brien’s absence is resolved quickly and overdramatically, in typical Downton style – “I’ll dress you today,” offers Mrs. Hughes to Lady Grantham. All is right with the world.
Except it isn’t because who is left to run the Downton estate six months after Matthew’s death? A newly proactive Lady Mary tries to overcome her grief and volunteers her services. The fact that baby George – her and Matthew’s son – is now the rightful heir helps Mary’s case. Unfortunately Lord Grantham deems her too fragile to cope with anything more than grief. “When it comes to decisions about the estate, shouldn’t it be me?” he asks. Isn’t this the same guy, who almost lost the family fortune in a Canadian railway stock last season, we ask.
Lord Grantham has his own plans for Downton.
Even torn and conflicted over the loss of her ever supportive husband, Lady Mary becomes ever more assertive. “I have ideas, you know,” says Mary. “Matthew and I used to talk.” The matter comes to a head when a box containing some of Matthew’s belongings arrives for Mary. Lord Grantham decides to open it first and discovers (plot twist!) a letter stating Matthew’s wish to make Mary his sole heiress. As the battle of wills comes to a head, Mary shows off her administrative knowledge, while Lord Grantham shows off his rampant sexism.
Downstairs there’s a whole different kind of warfare going on. Mr. Molesley is at a loss and between jobs, but gets a second chance at working for Lady Shackleton (the dream!) courtesy of the Dowager Countess. All goes awry when her own Butler, Spratt (who happens to look like a more well-fed, suspicious version of Molesley), views Molesley as a threat. “I’m perfectly capable of serving luncheon to three ladies, so why are you here?” he asks. The battle comes to a head as butlers collide the way only butlers can – causing each other to drop dishes, handing each other hot plates – it’s all ridiculous and hilarious, perfect for some much needed comic relief.
Meanwhile, Lady Edith is finally happy in her relationship with a married man. Apparently editor Michael Gregson has time for work, a marriage, an affair and plenty left over to research ways of getting out of the aforementioned marriage. He discovers that lunacy is grounds for divorce in countries like Portugal, Greece and Germany and for some reason, seems to think that moving to post-World War I Germany is not the worst idea in the history of humanity. Poor Edith seems to be headed for heartbreak yet again. And that’s (mostly) what happened on Downton this week. Here’s to an episode that doesn’t make us want to cry for a full hour next time.