Downton Abbey - Season 4, Episode 1

Downton Abbey - Season 4, Episode 1: Following the deaths of Lady Sybill and Matthew Crowley, Downton Abbey is steeped in mourning. Downton Abbey begins in the US tonight on PBS.

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SPOILER ALERT

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Lady Sybil is dead. Matthew Crowley is dead.

But hey, it's Saint Valentines Day. Love and life must go on.

It's the modern age with a vengeance. The Abbey has electricity now. No more oil lamps and carpet beating. There are electric lamps, vacuum cleaners and electric mixers, oh my! No more pulling a dangling corded rope to summon the help. We flip a switch firmly attached to the wall to ring for servants now.

Now that we've rung for the servants, let's see what they're up to.

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SPOILER ALERT

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The only two servants in love with the right people are Anna and Bates, who are very happily married. Leaving each other unsigned Valentines's Day cards and stealing a kiss in the hallway before scurrying off to attend to the upstairs folk. Daisy, Ivy and the two interchangeable footmen are still locked in their eternal love quadrangle.

The conniving, scheming O'Brien has left Downton, escaping with the "Shrimpy" branch of the Grantham family to India. Conniving and scheming to the last, she left in the middle of the night, with no notice and leaving only a note for her mistress. It would be easy to begrudge O'Brien for leaving without notice if the level of consternation her leaving caused didn't lead me to believe that they would have done everything to keep her there.

Everyone is questioned about O’Brien leaving-- from Lady Rose, to a lowly footman who was related to O'Brien. As it turns out, the footman relative had no idea but Lady Rose was clued in, since it was her own mother involved in this bit of maid-stealing. Lady Rose, who always has some scheme or another brewing, holds her own secrets close and, it seems, isn't quick to tell another's secrets, either.

Rose tries to make things right by using the quick unconventional method of putting a card in the post office window rather than waiting for the excruciatingly slow and traditional method of running an ad-VER-tisement in "The Lady." Progress! Her ad-VER-tisment garners an unexpected result that would have left housekeeper Mrs. Hughes at her wits end if she didn't have the unnecessary distraction of Carson's storyline to contend with as well.


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It seems Matthew's death not only puts poor Mosley out of a job as valet, but there isn't much more use for Mrs. Crowley in the cast, either. Hence the paper-thin storyline of rescuing Carson's old acting pal just to give her something to do and reminds us that Lady Mary's grief may not be paramount. This mother has lost her only child and is grieving every bit as much as Mary, if not more.

For one moment, it seemed that the attitudes of her BDF (Best Downton Friend) in this series, the unlikely Dowager, may be rubbing off on her. "You want to bring him here?" It's out of character for Mrs. Crowley not to help every stray from the workhouse that lands on her doorstep. In the end, Mrs. Hughes' instincts are right: Crowley house will continue to be the refuge for every vagabond with a cough and any hapless story arc that wanders into Downton World with no other place to go. I expect "Send them to Crowley House!" will become a byword in this series.

Back upstairs, Lady Grantham has reached a place of acceptance over Lady Sybil’s death, her son-in-law's death and her housemaid taking off. Cora has Mrs. Hughes and Anna to dress her while they search for someone else, so she's free to take comfort in her two other daughters and her grandchildren.

"Why can't Lady Sibby have an egg to her tea?" Thomas Barrow wants to know

Why can't dearest dead Lady Sibyl’s namesake daughter have whatever she wants (let alone an egg) in this incredibly rich family? Too-handsome-for-words Barrow doesn't like the new Nanny and wants her gone. Barrow is not one to cross and he brooks his complaints about the Nanny to no less than Her Ladyship. Barrow is the ill wind that blows some good. His suspicious sniping bears fruit in a way that leaves Cora whispering with rage and is positively satisfying.

Lady Edith and the Dowager team up to help Mosley secure better employment. It's a nod to the age when the 1% felt their responsibility as job creators or, in this case, job referrers, and lived up to it. Come to think of it, half this series is about making Downton "safe" not just for the family, but for the people who live and work in the place. Unfortunately, the Dowager, wise in matters of family, is a bit short-sighted in matters of servant rivalry (did that other butler attend the Alan Rickman Professor Snape School of Acting?) and Edith is too caught up in her contemplations of possibly "living in sin" to be of use to anyone.

No one is taking Edith's dating prospects seriously. Even her father gives the side-eye to Edith's romantic inclinations- but only because he hasn't seen her in that sinfully delicious beaded red dress and matching sinful red satin head wrap- or the hip hugging sparkly green dress with the jeweled spaghetti halter straps. (Please note her suitor eyeing Edith's bum before she takes a seat. I'm not entirely certain that was a part of the script.) Edith's fashions have been given a nudge upward this season (thank God), giving her a real style of her own, rather than being a pale imitation of whatever Mary's wearing; an outward sign of Edith living less in the shadow of her second sister status and having a life of her own and giving Laura Carmichael a chance to be every bit as glamorous as Michelle Dockery for once (I was tired of Carmichael always being well, but still second-best dressed when she is every bit as beautiful as the other two sisters. It's like they went out of their way, for three seasons, to make her dowdy by comparison, but oh well, that's the story, I suppose).

Dockery's performance as first sister, Lady Mary Crowley is always brilliantly understated. She has always seemed to move at a different pace than the rest of the entire cast, underlining the fact that Lady Mary is different from every single person in her household.

I didn't think it was possible for Lady Mary Crowley to stand out anymore than she does. In normal parlance, she moves with a deliberate grace that is stately and magnificent. In grief, Dockery brings Lady Mary to all but catatonic full-stop, doing the impossible and making her earlier Ice Queen demeanor seem lively by comparison. Lady Mary is not always a sympathetic figure but this performance is spot on, making us burn with hurt for her.

We learn that Lady Mary is avoiding her son and anything else that reminds her of her love for Matthew. But Downton is a place that is dedicated to holding memories. The steps she came down as a bride, she now descends as a widow and we see that there will be no place Lady Mary can hide from her grief.

Once she realizes she can't hide, Mary moves swiftly into the anger phase of her grief and she insults everyone in sight. She accuses her family of badgering her, Carson of not knowing his place as a servant and even remotely implies that her Grandmother, The Dowager, is on par with a paid governess.

Indeed.

Fortunately, those who love her best are willing to overlook her “lapse” as an outpouring of her extreme grief. It is to Lady Mary's credit that, in a world where men constantly regard women as "the weaker sex," no one even remotely implies that she is weak, not even her father who consistently underestimates her. She inherited her mother's beauty, her father's Britishness and the Dowager's backbone. Combined with her own intelligence, she is a formidable and incredible person to reckon with, even in full mourning for her lost husband.

As her Carson and her grandmother eventually tell her, she will have to choose: Wallow in the misery of widowhood or return to life and live it.

Meanwhile back at the...well, plantation, Lord Grantham is feeling that it's time for him to take back over. He was never too keen on handing the reins over to an American and his former chauffeur. Now the one is dead and the other impossible for him to really take seriously as anything other than some sort of high ranking servant.

It's just all too bad his oldest child is female and obviously unwell from grief. If he can just insulate her from the the world, maybe no one will notice if he sets out a course to waste yet another fortune. He can make it work this time, you see. He's done it so well before. After all, he's the oldest, richest white male in the building. Obviously, he should be in charge.

For Cora, that's no longer a good enough reason that Lord Grantham should resume sole charge of Downton. She questions him, baldly incredulous: "Why?"

Cora's question is valid: Lord Grantham has squandered the fortunes of Downton several times at this point. Whatever money he was left when he inherited the title; the vast fortune he garnered when he married Cora; and he was on the verge of losing the money Matthew inherited from his dead ex-girlfriend and, after much soul searching, invested into Downton.

Cora may love him dearly but now we all know what she does: Lord Grantham is a good steward of Downton but he knows little to nothing about finance. He's good at spending money but seems to have very little sense of how money is earned. He thinks simply willing it to be there as it always has been will be enough.

But, as this series consistently points out, it's a changing world. Servants leave at moment's notice to live lives of their own choosing, without so much as a "by your leave" from their employers. The richest white guy in the room isn't always the smartest and even a "weak" woman may have to rise out of the grief of losing the only man she's ever truly loved to save her family's home and way of life.

About Deborah Nesbit

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