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Downton Abbey: Thoughts about Season 4

season 4 cast image

Warning: There are a few spoilers below for Downton Abbey seasons 1-3.

While the fourth season of Downton Abbey airs in the UK, we in the US must sit around twiddling our thumbs until January, attempting to avoid spoilers (well, some of us, anyway).  So far I’ve been successful, but I had a near miss this morning when Twitter started to discuss last week’s episode (I closed the window just in time).  No doubt I’ll eventually run into something, or my willpower will give out.  We’ll see which one comes first.

But until then, I’d like to share a little bit about what I hope to see (and what I’m concerned about) regarding season 4.

Here’s the trailer, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet:

Kissing, tears, dancing, and Dowager Countess wisdom–all the staples of the show are there.  There was a lot of positive buzz around the first episode, and it appears this season is going to focus on Lady Mary climbing out of her grief.  So here’s the big question for Downton Abbey: is there life after Dan/Matthew?

Lady Mary

And that leads me to one of the things I am really looking forward to this season.  Mary is one of the most dynamic characters on the show.  I want to see how she will move forward after the loss of Matthew, who was always such a huge part of her story.  I know Michelle Dockery will do a fantastic job, I just hope Julian Fellowes doesn’t do one of his classic “Let’s talk about this for one episode, and then bounce back and pretend like it never happened” moves.

Several new characters are coming on board this season who are being labeled as “Lady Mary’s suitors” and I just wonder if they can live up to the Matthew/Mary dynamic.  And how Mary will feel about them after the loss of her beloved husband.  And I can’t help but feel concerned for whoever she might choose, given the fate of all of her former love interests (Note: I still find it suspicious Richard Carlisle is never heard from again, and if any story about Mr. Pamuk made it in the papers, we certainly never heard about it…).

I truly loved Matthew and Mary together, but I do agree that “happily ever after” doesn’t drum up much drama, which leads me to…

season 4 anna and bates

What might be in store for Anna and Bates?  At the end of season 3 they were finally together, finally happy.  And given Mr. Fellowes’s philosophy on happy couples, I can only imagine what he has in store for them.  But judging from the trailer, it will involve some tears.  One guess is that Bates may not be as innocent as we think he is, or he may do something that shakes Anna’s steadfast faith in him.  Because otherwise those two are rock solid (unless Anna becomes pregnant, in which case she’s doomed, because that never marks a happy occasion at Downton).  Dare I say it?  I’d actually like to see a little shake up in their relationship this season, as long as it’s believable (again, I’m counting on you, Julian!).

branson

What about the other household member who lost a spouse last season?  I feel like Branson might be ready to move on, more so than Mary.  Maybe that’s because his entire relationship with Sybil revolved around her visiting him in the garage a few times, a botched elopement, and then some time in Ireland that we never saw.  Don’t get me wrong, their relationship was sweet and all, but they’re no Matthew & Mary.  But Branson himself is becoming a very intriguing character, caught between upstairs and down, unsure of what his social position is.  And now that one of his main allies is gone (Matthew), how will his relationship with the Crawleys fare?  Maybe Mary will step in to fill the gap left by her husband.

edith

I’m on the fence about what Edith’s story might be like this season, and whether or not I’m looking forward to it.  Sure, I want to see Edith come into her own at long last, and she deserves some happiness.  But I hope she doesn’t become some sort of walking cliche for the “working, independent girl” of the 1920s.  And speaking of cliches…

lily-james-as-lady-rose

This is the girl I’m really worried about.  Yes, Downton needs some new, young blood walking its halls.  But Rose got on my nerves in season 3, and I’m worried they’ll load her up with “flapper girl” cliches and make her a walking representation of a new decade.  But maybe I can forgive that if they give her character a little more substance.

daisy

I don’t even have any guesses as to what will happen downstairs this season.  From the trailer, it looks like we’ll have more love triangles going on, and some new faces.  What will it be like without O’Brien?  And who will replace her?  What evil business will Thomas get into, and who will be his new partner in crime?  His new buddy Jimmy, perhaps?  And will Daisy ever get her life sorted out?  Here’s hoping she doesn’t stalk around the kitchen with a perpetual scowl on her face this season.

What else?  I’m sure Robert will still walk around with his chest puffed up, spouting out bad advice, and Cora will quietly stand by his side.  I’m sure there’s some great Dowager quips to look forward to, and I’m excited to see Maggie Smith paired up with Harriet Walter (who played Fanny in the 1995 adaptation of Sense & Sensibility).  Let the sparring begin!

What are you looking forward to most about season 4 of Downton Abbey?  What are you most concerned about?  And are you trying to avoid spoilers, or do you feel they don’t impact your viewing enjoyment?

And as a reward for getting all the way through my rambling thoughts about Downton, click here to see the PBS preview of the first episode of season 4.

Photos copyright PBS and ITV.

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Downton Abbey Season 2, ep. 5 recap

All was doom and gloom in the fifth episode of Downton Abbey as the war draws to a close.  After last week’s focus on the horrible repercussions of fighting on the front, this week the drama generated within the household as a mysterious stranger arrived claiming to have some pretty serious ties to the family.

Warning: Spoilers galore ahead

While Lady Edith has stayed mostly in the background the last several episodes, she finally had a large part in a plot this week.  Officer Patrick Gordon, whose face is disfigured from terrible burns, arrives at Downton and poses as long-lost cousin and heir Patrick Crawley (the one who was supposed to have gone down with the Titanic and thus created the central plot of the first series, when new heir Matthew Crawley comes into the lives of the inhabitants of Downton).  Only Edith buys into Patrick-if-that’s-even-your-real-name Gordon’s story.  Maybe because it’s her unexpected chance at becoming the future mistress of Downton (at last winning a victory over Mary), or perhaps because she genuinely wants to believe the man she once loved has returned from the dead.  But Patrick makes a hasty retreat when information is learned about a “Peter Gordon” who was good friends with Patrick Crawley.  And with him goes Edith’s little glimmer of hope.

Edith reflecting on the house that will never be hers

Regardless of whether or not he believes Patrick’s story, Matthew wishes the family would entertain it as a valid possibility, as in his mind he is no longer a suitable heir for Downton.   I’ve read many reviews that feel the character goes a bit overboard on the self-pitying, but really, can you blame Matthew?  Yes, he’s still alive, but his entire life has changed, and he does not want to subject anyone to a life of looking after him.  He does perk up a bit when Mary is around, and we are treated to a few scenes with the two of them alone together.  Richard Carlisle has a right to be concerned.

Cora grows concerned that Mary’s time with Matthew will dash her chances at a good marriage to Richard.  In a rather un-Cora-like move she contacts Lavinia and convinces her to grow a spine and come back to Downton to care for Matthew.  This raises the ire of Robert, and their marital strife deepens.  Robert continues to feel neglected, and is slipping ever closer to a scandal with new maid Jane.

We also find Cora in cahoots with her mother-in-law this episode, as the two manipulate Isobel Crawley into staying out of Downton Abbey’s future.  I liked this scene (as I like all the scenes when Lady Violet is at the helm), but I never believed cousin Isobel to be so gullible.

Thanks to Cora’s meddling, Mary is ousted from her position as caretaker of Matthew, something she makes the mistake of mentioning to Sir Richard.  He demonstrates just what he’s capable of during a withering exchange in which he tells Mary she has given him the power to destroy her and she best not jilt him.  Oh Mary, you’ve met your match–h0w are you going to get out of this one?

Things are no better downstairs.  As I predicted, Daisy feels nothing but guilt over marrying William, and refuses to go to meetings to learn about getting her pension as a war widow.  Carson must make the difficult decision between staying at Downton or leaving to take charge of Mary and Richard’s new estate (and since Carson would “open his veins” for Mary, we all know which he will choose).

Then there’s Bates.  His patience for his wife’s refusal to sign on the dotted line and make their divorce official is long lost.  After a trip to London where he tries to “reason with her” there’s a tell-tale mark on his face that leads one to believe that more than a calm discussion was had.  And then Mrs. Bates is found dead.  This is not looking good for Bates (or Anna, for that matter), as there’s some incriminating statements floating about that O’Brien overheard, and that were said directly to Lord Grantham (perhaps you should not tell your employer that you wish your estranged wife was “the late Mrs. Bates”).

As usual, there are the other odds and ends throughout the episode.  Lady Sybil and Branson have another short exchange and it seems that Branson’s endless lectures of sacrifice (or perhaps his partially unbuttoned shirt and rolled up sleeves) have finally convinced Sybil that he’s the man for her.  Judging from next week’s preview it looks like the news is going to break, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Thomas is scheming to sell rationed food on the black market to make some extra cash, and O’Brien is busy gathering information to bring down Bates (I know she doesn’t like the man, but why is she so dead-set on “making him pay?”).  Ethel’s last hope of being saved from a life of poverty is extinguished when the father of her child is killed in battle (I still can’t get into this particular story thread).

If there was any sort of silver lining at all in this episode (and boy was it hard to find), it was when Bates wheeled Matthew out of the great hall after the armistice was observed.  It seemed Matthew was able to feel something in his legs, which he begins to ask Bates about, but then retracts his question, saying that it didn’t matter, at least not until he felt it again.  Could it be that Matthew won’t be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life after all?

Next week it looks like the Dowager Countess finally takes the Mary/Matthew matter into her own hands, and Cora becomes very ill, prompting O’Brien to perhaps confess her part in Cora’s miscarriage five years prior.  With only two episodes left, I still have no idea how these plots are going to tie themselves up, and can’t help but wonder what else will be thrown at us in the meantime.

What were your thoughts on episode 5?

Miss any other episodes?  Read my recaps here:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

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Downton Abbey Season 2, ep. 4 recap

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Last night Downton Abbey did not end with a cheery song and the return of an unscathed missing man.  Instead viewers were hit with one piece of depressing news after another.  This was the darkest episode yet (except for a few light spots with the Dowager Countess, such as when she calls the telephone an instrument of torture.  Oh Granny).

Two of my Downton Predictions proved accurate in this episode.  During the battle of Amiens (which was the beginning of the end of the war and was a major success for the Allied forces), Matthew and William are wounded by a nearby shell explosion.  William sustains a serious lung injury that will slowly kill him, while Matthew’s injury leads the doctor to suggest that he will never walk again, and will never have a “proper marriage.”  Now the future of the entail is called into question again, as well as Matthew’s engagement to Lavinia.  He tells her to leave, refusing to tie her down to a cripple who won’t be able to give her any children.

Lavinia pours her heart out to Lady Mary, then promptly departs for London, leaving Mary to care for Matthew.  Given Lavinia’s meek and mild nature, someone with Mary’s strong resolve is probably what Matthew needs (and of course I’m rooting for them to reunite).  Mary devotes herself to Matthew’s care, and seems to finally have found her place among all the change occurring around her from the war.

But Mary has other problems to tend to.  Vera Bates returns (thanks to O’Brien) and has every intention of revealing Mary’s secret, and plans to bring Anna down along with the Crawley name.  Anna tells Mary, who goes to see Sir Richard about the matter.  You know you’ve made a mistake in your choice of fiancee when he says he’s happy to help, but it also pleases him to know that he’ll have something on you and you’ll be in his debt.  As we can see from next week’s preview, it looks like Sir Richard plans to play the “Pamuk card” to get what he wants.

Mrs. Bates is paid off by Sir Richard, who then promptly announces his engagement to Mary (again, not a good sign, given that Mary had no knowledge that he would do so).  This news infuriates Vera, and she swears that she will get Bates back another way.  This woman is on an entirely different level than O’Brien and Thomas in her one-dimensional vendetta against Bates and Anna.  O’Brien and Thomas can be nasty, but who knows to what lengths Vera will go to get back at Bates.

Meanwhile William is dying at Downton (after a few strings are pulled by Lady Violet to get him there) in the largest bedroom he’s ever slept in.  Daisy is basically peer-pressured into marrying William in order to receive a widow’s pension.  You can’t help but feel badly for her, and I know the guilt is going to eat away at her as that pension starts coming in.  The marriage, quickly followed by the death of William, left us reaching for the tissues (if Lady Violet is allowed to shed a tear, so are we!).

There were a few odds and ends tucked in throughout the episode.  Lady Edith quietly nurses William, keeping him comfortable during the final days of his life.  A  few short scenes between Lady Sybil and Branson show that he seems to be chipping away at the barrier she’s put between them (really, this relationship grows creepier each week, like Sybil is some sort of trophy that Branson’s trying to win).

Lord Grantham is being ignored by Lady Grantham, who is busy running the convalescent home, and like some sort of spoiled child he pouts with his newspaper, and then takes an all-too keen interest in the new maid (did anyone else notice that lingering look he gave after she left the room?).  Mrs. Hughes has been looking out for Ethel and her illegitimate child, who the father wants nothing to do with (is it just me or does this thread fall somewhat flat–I didn’t have enough time with Ethel to become emotionally invested in her).  And Isobel Crawley returns at last, and the look Matthew gives her before breaking down when he sees her was enough to make me bring out the tissues again.

So what next?  Nothing was resolved in this episode, and it looks like several story arcs are getting ready to hit their critical peaks.

What did you think of this week’s episode?

Miss any of the other episodes?  See my episode 1, episode 2, and episode 3 recaps.

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