'Downton Abbey' Season 4 Premiere Recap: It's All About Mary
First and foremost, grab yourself a glass of water and a bit of cucumber to place over your eyes to reduce the puffiness from all of that crying. Less puffy now? Good, good, now let’s revisit Downton. BLOODY HELL THAT WAS ONE BLEAK PREMIERE. It’s been six months since Matthew Crawley’s death and we see the very dark shadow it has cast upon all of Downton. And at the center of the grieving is a cold, ghostlike Lady Mary. There are a few brief moments of comic relief from the staff and what was perhaps Maggie Smith’s best performance as the Dowager Countess in an episode that otherwise constantly pummelled viewers with feels. All of them.
The episode starts with one glowing light emanating from a very dark Downton and inside there are the sounds of crying babes, mysterious letters being left on mantles, oh and Lady Mary looking a hot hot mess in a black dressing gown (who would blame her?). And within seconds Downton is alive with its first scandal of the season: MS. O’BRIEN HAS UP AND LEFT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! And when the news falls upon Lord Grantham he scowls, “Sneaking off like a thief in the night. That’s O’Brien to a tee.” Sick. Burn.
And now that Robert has dismissed that bit of gossip, we’re on to what becomes the crux of the episode: what to do with Mary. The ever-diligent patriarch suggest to Cora that he ought to manage Matthew’s estate since, in his opinion, poor fragile Mary cannot possibly do anything other than grieve. Cora raises a frustrated brow, and we join with her. As does Branson, Carson, and the Dowager Countess for “Team Get Mary Out of Bed."
The matters of Matthew’s estate become a bit tricky as we find out that he didn’t write a will and that together, Lord Grantham and baby George (How royal!) own ⅚ of Downton. WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTIONS ROBERT? Ehhhhhhh? And though Mary should rightfully manage the estate as she is George’s mother...she seems, well, less than enthused at actually being a mother. As Lord Grantham so painfully described to Branson, “The price of great love is great misery when one of you dies.” So that's my heart in a puddle on the floor. How's yours?
Okay, so we’ve dealt with seeing Matthew’s gravestone for the first time (Thanks for metaphorically holding our hands through that, Violet) and beholding Downton Saddey, let’s get back to more gossip with the staff. It’s Valentine’s Day and we’ve got a love triangle on our hands between Ivy, Alfred, and Jimmy and a “Secret Admirer” for Daisy. And of course some stolen kisses for Bates and Anna. Swoon. What’s MORE scandalous, there are new-fangled kitchen appliances like an electric blender that send the kitchen staff into a tizzy. WILL IT PUT THEM OUT OF THE JOB? Will they be electrocuted!? Daisy handles it like a bawse, because she’s Daisy.
And in our first major rivalry of the evening it’s Nanny West vs. Thomas Barrow. He clearly doesn’t want to be taking any orders, let alone those of a nasty nanny. Their bickering seems petty at first and when later Thomas confides in Cora that he thinks West is being unattentive to the children, it feels a bit contrived. BUT AU CONTRARE. Cora walks in on Nanny West scolding poor baby George and calling him a “wicked little crossbreed.” And she is, naturally, immediately fired. Good riddance. Thanks Thomas...for now.
Nanny West isn’t the only staff shake-up in the house. Poor poor Mr. Molesley gets the boot from Downton as his service is no longer needed (because Matthew is dead, remember THAT?). He returns to Mrs. Crawley in hopes of getting his old job back, but she refuses him as she is a widow without a child and insists on living more simply. “Just because you’re an old widow, there’s no necessity to eat off a tray.” BAZINGA! Violet! Later we see Molesley with his father in their back garden looking to the stars and expressing just how lost he feels now that Matthew is gone. It feels like everyone in Downton must have been looking at those same stars, feeling the same exact thing.
The Dowager Countess and Mrs.Crawley also bring in another large theme of the episode: charity. Violet insists on bringing Molesley to a bit of a “butler job interview” as one of her friend’s butlers may soon be retiring. So she brings him over to a luncheon where his opportunity is sabotaged with a bit of fire and yelling all thanks to an awful butler whose neck and lower jaw are immobile. Mrs. Crawley takes in an old friend of Carson’s (Gossip!) who has been found by Mrs. Huges at a tragic workhouse. This great act of selflessness seems to bring vibrancy back to Mrs. Crawley as she said, “I had almost forgotten I had energy or kindness in me.”
Goodness, lest we forget about the case of the new lady’s maid. Rose was all-too-excited to go into town a post an advert for the job and their first interview is with...dun..dun...duuuun... SOMEONE WHO ALREADY WORKED AT DOWNTON! The mysterious-ish Edna Braithwaite claimed she left Dowton to acquire more skills to become a lady’s maid and gets the job. Mrs. Hughes is FURIOUS at the decision because she knows the truth. THE AWFUL AWFUL TRUTH. Edna and Branson had an affair! Carson then insisted Edna must be allowed back into the Abbey because Lady Cora could not bear the news that her deceased daughter’s husband was unworthy. Ohhhhhhhhhhh I smell so many scandals this season.
Right, back to the lords and ladies of Downton. CAN WE TALK ABOUT EDITH’S GREEN PEACOCK DRESS!? To. Die. For. (Ack, probably shouldn’t use that phrase in Downton) She’s been sneaking off to London to see her married (sort of) boyfriend Michael Gregson, who, according to Mary is, “not bad looking and he’s still alive so that puts him ahead of most men of our generation.” The zingers in this episode! Right, so, he’s found a loophole in the system in which he can get divorced from his institutionalized wife if he moves to Germany and becomes a citizen. That’s right. He loves Lady Edith enough to renounce his Englishness and become part of the most-hated nation in all of Europe. So she kisses him in public. Naturally. MORE SCANDAL!
As the episode goes for the home stretch, the sun peeks from behind the clouds, there are flowers, there is color, this is an obvious metaphor. After a most tender and heartbreaking moment between Mary and Dowager Countess “I am your grandmother...I love you,” (Give Maggie Smith all of the awards for this scene, all of them.) and a breakdown in the arms of her dear friend Mr. Carson (we all had a good cry with her), Mary finally starts to come around. She has spent too much time in the land of the dead, and to everyone but her father’s urging, she starts to come back to life. She even wears purple. And it made all of our hearts swell. She’s doing it to keep the promises she made to her husband and for her son. And soon enough, she will do these things for herself. Yes Mary, you ARE strong enough. Matthew believed it. IT'S IN THE LETTER! Quiet, Lord Grantham! GET WITH THE TIMES! A lady's place isn't at the home. HHMMPH.
And really, Rose, Twinkle Toes? Trouble. Thomas! Stop meddling! Molesley! Take the money! Now Lady Violet, you meddle all you want. Bates! Forging! Carson! The theatre! UGHHH, Thomas and Edna are the WORST. Scandal, scandal, scandal.
And hold your breath — Mary owns half the estate. Branson's "Oh mah gahhh" face said it all. Then Carson/Charlie seeing Mr. Grigg off. And the love of their mutual lives is dead. And her dying words were, "Charlie Carson was the better man." Oh how can he EVEN with this? And then they parted as friends.
Bring it on, episode 2.