'Downton Abbey' Season 4 Recap: Season Premiere Made Our Hearts Pound

downton abbeyI feel like it was just yesterday that I was complaining that season 4 of Downton Abbey wouldn't premiere in the U.S. until January. And now, here we are! January at last. After catching a few spoilers about this season, I was a little worried that we were already heading into Shark Jumping territory, but so far the first episode delivers what we want from Downton -- toothsome costume drama with strong period flavor and a few surprises. I cannot believe this scandal-causing character is back at Downton. No, not Shirley MacLaine (not yet, anyway) -- someone far more trouble-making.

And now, without further ado ... WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!!!


Edna Braithwaite, the maid who put the moves on Tom Branson -- while also trying to make him feel ashamed for having moved up in the world: How in the hell is she back at Downton?!? Well, if you watched, you know. Lady Rose went and got her hired after O'Brien left because she felt partly responsible. It was her parents who stole O'Brien from Downton, after all. (Also, Edna got a glowing letter of recommendation from Mrs. Hughes when she first left Downton at Tom's request. He felt badly about her getting fired on his account, even though it was Edna's actions, not his, that go her fired.)

Once it gets out who she is and why she left in the first place, though, they have to let Braithwaite stay. And boom, just like that, wily Thomas has a new partner in crime. They're plotting together against Anna. I'm both sick over it and excited to see what horrible deeds they plan together.

Meanwhile upstairs, Mary is in mourning. And I have to say ... this was not actress Michelle Dockery's best performance. I get it, she's depressed and has lost interest in life. But I couldn't watch Michelle-do-wooden without hearing SNL's Jon Lovitz screaming, "ACT-ING!" in my mind. Oh. You're going to London. How wonderful for you. I'm going to go upstairs now and listen to the Smiths and stare at my black dress collection.

It is interesting, though, that she is so unlikable in mourning. It is true that depression doesn't turn people into saints. It's common for people in terrible pain to throw up all kinds of barriers for people who want to reach out to them in compassion, and that's definitely what Mary does.

But thankfully there are still people willing to try and pull her out of her depression. Robert just wants to protect her and let her stay in mourning, but I think he mostly means well -- except that he also wants full control of Downton. EVEN THOUGH we all saw how well that worked out last time. Oh Robert, when will you ever learn? Thank goodness for Violet and Tom. And Carson!

I couldn't believe how cruel Mary was to him when he talked to her about taking an active role in the estate's affairs -- and in life in general. But Carson is stronger than that. I was so impressed when he turned and said, "You are letting yourself be defeated. And if it's a lapse for me to say so, well, so be it. Someone has to tell you." Mary is so very fortunate to have two fathers.

But of course, the servants at Downton Abbey have an interest in Mary's recovery. If Downton fails under Robert's leadership (as it likely would), their own economic security is threatened. So Carson is helping Mary, but he's also ensuring his survival and the staff's survival.

I loved Violet's talk with Mary, too. "The difference between a governess and grandmother is I love you." I can imagine that may have been the first time Mary heard those words from Violet. Mary says she's worried she's losing the softness Matthew saw in her. That makes sense, but later on when she decides to take the reins at Downton, you can see how her hardness will serve her as a leader. Just when I was about to give up on Mary, she starts to become more interesting after all. 

So that's Mary. Edith is coming into her own with this affair with Michael Gregson. "I'd become an Eskimo if it meant marrying you." OMG, could you die? And she has the best outfits this season so far, too. But this is Edith we're talking about, so of course her path to love is going to be difficult. If Michael goes off to Germany in the years just before Nazism inflames the nation, there's no telling what could happen. Why oh why does it have to be Germany?

Okay, so this was a two-hour episode (as they all are) and a LOT whizzed by us that I'm not even mentioning here. I mean, Nanny West? How do we feel about how that went down? Thomas is such a smarmy asshole the way he went about getting her fired, but she was being horrible about Tom's daughter. And poor Molesley, depressed because he can't find the kind of work he's qualified for. That breaks my heart.

Rose is funny with her adventures in the dance hall. "Really, m'lady, should you be so obvious?" asks Anna. "Why not? It's working!" Oh, how many of us have had the same conversation with a friend at a club ...

Next week we'll see how Mary plans to deal with the death taxes. And we'll see what Thomas and Braithwaite plot next. How long does Edith get to enjoy being in love before Michael has to leave for Germany? I guess we'll find out next week!

What did you think of the season premiere? Were you surprised by anything?


Image via Masterpiece Theater

Read More >