'Downton Abbey' Season Premiere Focuses on Mary Mourning Matthew, Financial Troubles

I'm still holding a grudge against Dan Stevens, who played mop-headed cousin Crawley on the British import Downton Abbey, for wanting to leave the show after Season 3. But I might be holding a bigger grudge against Julian Fellowes, show creator and writer, who caused Matthew's character to die by way of getting hit by a milk truck. Seriously, anything would have been better than death by dairy. But as I try to move past the tear-enducing finale, so do American audiences everywhere, as we tune in to the Season 4 premiere of Downton Sunday Jan. 5. So what has transpired since Matthew's demise? (Minor spoilers ahead).

Well, the obvious of course: Mary is now a widow mourning the loss of her late husband. The episode begins sixth months after the incident in 1922, and Mary is still wholly immobilized. She dresses only in black, and seems disinterested with everything in her life, including her newborn son. Her father, Lord Grantham, feels it is in her best interest to be coddled and protected from any real life bothers. This leaves Mary with all the time in the world to sit and do nothing and only think of her lost beloved. This leaves much of the upstairs and downstairs staff at a loss of how to handle her (and their grief). Tom Branson, the husband of late Sybil Crawley is also attempting to help Mary past her grief (while his own wife died only several months before Matthew). But controversy strikes as his method of helping clashes with Father Crawley's.

The episode is everything it should be: Slow, depressing, and really, not all that fun. But coming off the tails of a major character's death, we as the audience are meant to feel the agony and gravity of these character's loss. And we do. But unlike Mary, we also want to move on. Half the fun of watching Downton is to see the lavish excessive of the time, the bright costumes, the balls, the controversy and the mixing of social structures. In the first episode, each character's would-have-been individual storylines are blanketed by a heavy, grey, woolen cloth that is Matthew Crawley's death.

Outside of Stevens' exit, there are familiar problems at Downton: Lord Grantham is faced with taxes he claims he cannot pay without selling part of the Downton estate. And as we learned last season, these are people who are unwilling to part with the old ways of living. They need an excess of empty bedrooms, and they need a full downstairs staff to get on. And truly, what would Downton Abbey (the show) be without Downton Abbey (the estate), anyway?

Times are a changin' at Downton, and while we are looking forward to some (like the addition of Downton's first Black character mid-season), the loss of the estate would be a deficit we would lament as solemnly as Mary mourns Matthew.

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