Warning -- some spoilers!
Sunday’s premiere of season four of the PBS juggernaut,
Downton Abbey, was the highest rated drama ever for the
network, which speaks to the power of white people and their
viewing habits... Picking up a bleak six months after the
saddest thing that has ever happened -- referencing
Matthew’s death, duh -- not much has transpired Upstairs
since we left the Granthams. That doesn’t mean the two hours
didn’t entertain and offer some good old-fashioned
restrained English entertainment. After four seasons, fans
of the show know what to expect and are probably already so
in love with it that it can do no wrong -- I am writing this
recap for you. For folks who aren’t fans -- you may stop reading
The episode picks up with O’Brien having left the downstairs
for the wilds of India to accompany Lady Flintshire (Lady
Rose’s mother) as her new lady’s maid. This set the tone for
the busy catch-up that becomes far more complicated than a
season premiere should be (especially since PBS
inconveniently omitted a “scenes from last season” at the
outset). Downton Abbey is a real time commitment, coming in
at two hours an episode, so they definitely pack a lot in.
Let’s start with the upstairs. Lady Mary is obviously
mourning for Matthew and it becomes wearying watching
everyone work to protect her from the world. Branson and the
Dowager Countess (with the help of Carson) step in to
intercede with Lord Grantham to convince him to include her
in the business of the estate. There are a few gross
conversations about Mary’s “rights” as the widow, and her
running the Abbey, but after a few pep talks, just as many
break-downs, and a mean dressing down of the lovable
Carson, Mary comes around and gets interested (maybe in more
than the business -- I’m looking at you, Branson). After a
posthumous (and admittedly emotional) letter turns up from
Matthew declaring Mary his sole heir, there is a lot of talk
about returning to the land of the living (insert "Walking
Dead" joke here). It's this letter that brings out an ugly,
proprietary side to Lord Grantham. He is hesitant to
relinquish control of the estate to Mary, and the Dowager
thinks it's because he just doesn’t want to let it go; because he
likes being in control again. He can be kind of a baby about
things -- which his mother thinks as well. She threatened to
ring Nanny and have him put to bed with no supper (LOVE
Meanwhile, the wallflower Edith is far less wall and way
more flower as she travels to London more and more often to
visit with her follower (that’s what Daisy calls him, anyway, but I’ll call him her boyfriend). Since he is still married,
Edith feels very worldly dining in public with him and
taking the train to see him. She even admits struggling with
his invitation to stay overnight, saying, “I’m finding it
harder and harder to say no --” That vixen! She has gotten a
makeover this season as well. While Mary appears wan and pale
and dressed all in black, Edith is all Gatsbied up in her
rhinestone party dress and white satin gloves. I’ve always
rooted for Edith; she’s had it rough over these four
seasons, so I hope she gets hers this go-around. Searching
for a solution to the marriage problem, Gregson suggests he
become a German citizen in order to get a divorce, and that
is shocking to Edith. I’m having a hard time suspending
my twenty-first-century-disbelief enough to care about this.
Apparently its a big deal -- World War I and all. She
invited him to Downton to meet the folks -- let's hope we
don’t have to wait three episodes to get in on that action.
On to downstairs. The under-maids and under-butlers have a
lot happening on Valentine’s Day. Who sent a card to
whom? Check yes or no -- all that. However, the big news is
Barrow’s various feuds with the ladies of the downstairs.
Barrow first sets his sights on the Nanny when she scolds
him for addressing the children and then dares to give him
orders. In an attempt to do her in, he tells Lady Cora she
is neglecting the children, which is a lie (but good for
him because she is verbally abusing little Sybil, calling
her a “wicked little half-breed.”) Cora overhears this as she
is following up on Barrow’s accusation and fires her
immediately. She can be heard wailing down the hall as Ms.
Hughes escorts her out, unceremoniously. Barrow also has his
sights set on O’Brien’s replacement, Braithwaite, but in a
different manner (probably not in the way one might think, since we know Barrow prefers gentlemen). He’s a
blatant social climber and sees great potential in the new
lady’s maid. Braithwaite (if you will remember) got a
little too close to Branson in season three and was sent off
with a recommendation letter that he begged Ms. Hughes to
write for her. It was that letter that convinced Lady Cora
to hire her back, and it caused quite a quandary among Carson,
Ms. Hughes and Branson (who, in Branson’s defense, offered to
tell his mother-in-law the whole story ,but was discouraged
by Carson because he didn’t want Lady Cora to think him
“unworthy” of the Lady Sybil -- ouch!!!). He schemes with
Braithwaite to frame Anna for ruining Lady Cora’s scarf, but
his intentions are unclear. Who could hate Anna? And hasn’t
Bates proved himself a formidable enemy? What are you up to, Downton Abbey?
Carson himself had his own storyline this week as well,
character from his past as a stage performer made an
appearance. After Ms. Hughes digs a letter out of Carson’s
trash bin (everybody is interminably nosy at Downton Abbey),
she goes to see Charley Grigg in the workhouse, where he is
in pretty poor shape (even worse than Molesley, who is the
Badnews Bear of Downton Abbey). As the wisest person in the
world, Ms. Hughes decides to pair Grigg with Lady Crawley to
help with her grief (there is a LOT of talk about grief in this
episode), and of course it does help her. We learn over an
excruciating bit of subtext and exposition that Grigg stole
a girl from Carson a hundred years ago, and Carson never
forgave him. The episode ends with a pretty badass shot of
Carson coming out of the mist, Iron Man style, and them
parting as friends. You can always rely on Downton Abbey to
neatly wrap things up for you -- at least the stuff you
don’t really care about.
Finally, I would like to leave you guys with a final
request. Can someone please start making a list of the
anachronistic phrases they use in the the show, such as Lord
Grantham saying “blow a gasket” last night? Did that phrase
exist in 1922? Here’s a link to an
NPR article with
a few… can you find your own? Tweet me
@sroseholt with what
MASTERPIECE: CLASSIC "Downton Abbey Season 4: Part Two"
Sunday, January 12, 2014, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
Check your local listings
The fates of several characters converge at
a glittering house party. Gregson impresses
Robert, and Anna faces trouble.
Season 4: Part Three"
Sunday, January 19, 2014, 9:00-9:58 p.m. ET
Love is in the air at Downton Abbey, and darker emotions too, as
Mary, Edith, Tom and Anna each struggle with a dilemma.
Season 4: Part Four"
Sunday, January 26, 2014, 9:00-9:58 p.m. ET
Can Bates learn what’s troubling Anna? Meanwhile, Thomas
installs a new ally and Alfred takes up cooking.
Season 4: Part Five"
Sunday, February 2, 2014, 9:00-9:58 p.m. ET
Rose’s surprise party for Robert risks scandal. Mary meets an
old suitor, and Edith gets troubling news.
Season 4: Part Six"
Sunday, February 9, 2014, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
When Robert and Thomas make a sudden trip, everyone’s life
becomes more complicated. Mary and Blake come together over
pigs. An unwelcome visitor appears.
Season 4: Part Seven"
Sunday, February 16, 2014, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET
Robert and Thomas return from America. Bates disappears for a
day, Edith prepares to go abroad, suitors flock to Mary and Rose
makes her move.
Season 4: Part Eight"
Sunday, February 23, 2014, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET
Lady Rose meets the Prince of Wales and faces a dilemma. Trouble
also plagues Cora’s mother, her brother, Edith and almost
everyone else at Downton Abbey.
Visit Program Site on PBS.org
The opinions in these articles are those of the writer and do not
necessarily reflect the opinions of The TV MegaSite or its other volunteers.
We need more episode guide recap writers, article
writers, MS FrontPage and Web Expression users, graphics designers, and more, so
please email us
if you can help out! More volunteers always
Back to the Main Reviews Page
Page updated 1/7/14
Back to the Main Primetime TV Page