Downton Abbey Recap: The Mourning After

Downton Abbey Season 4 RecapAlthough Season 4 of Downton Abbey kicks off six months after Matthew’s untimely demise, Mary remains such a Debbie Downer that it might as well be six minutes after. That is, until she receives a letter from the dear departed that changes not only her demeanor but, frankly, everything. Pour yourself a cup of tea – or, better yet, ring for it – and read on. I’ll fill in the blanks.

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BLACK IS THE NEW BLACK? | When word of Mrs. O’Brien’s departure spreads in the first few minutes of the two-hour episode – she’s been poached by Rose’s mother – it’s all the servants can do to refrain from breaking out in a chorus of “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” Mind you, Mary, doing her best Mrs. Danvers impression, is quick to fill the void of unpleasantness. Leaving no one off the guest list for her pity party, she refers to her son as a “poor little orphan,” lashes out at Carson (dear, sweet Carson, of all people!) for urging her to rejoin the living and becomes so hysterical at dinner that she almost makes Violet lose her appetite. (Almost. Violet does love a good mousse.) All the while, Robert encourages everybody to continue coddling the widow so that he can look after baby George’s inheritance – half of Downton – and, in effect, be the estate’s sole lord and master once more. Even after he receives a letter in which Matthew states his intention to make Mary his sole heiress, he throws tantrums and fights to maintain control. (To the point that his mother is “tempted to ring for Nanny and have [him] put to bed with no supper.”) Finally, however, Robert’s attorney rules that the pseudo-will is legit, and Mary, not her infant, is her father’s new partner! With color returned at last to her wardrobe and Tom to tutor her in property management, Mary seems likely to do just fine, too. But that, of course, is anything but fine with Robert. You can practically feel his teeth grinding when she says – with that familiar spark back in her voice – “I have ideas, you know!”

GOOD GRIEF | Nearby, Matthew’s mother is also in (a less aggressively sour kinda) mourning. In fact, the born busybody is so blue that she won’t even rehire Molesley, who’s been left unemployed by his master’s passing. “These days,” she tells the butler, “I’m just an old widow who eats off a tray.” To which Violet responds – in classic Violet fashion – “Just because you’re an old widow, I see no necessity to eat off a tray.” Thankfully, Isobel is snapped out of her funk by the opportunity to help Grigg, a down-on-his-luck theatre performer to whom Carson once lost a lady love. And Molesley is bailed out of debt by Anna and Bates (and Violet’s money).

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THIS ONE’S A KEEPER | While the rest of the household goes on about Mary, Mary’s depression, Mary’s future, Mary’s inheritance and Mary’s spilled perfume (no kidding – an actual plot point), Edith keeps bopping off to London, where she dresses to kill and canoodles – in public, no less! – with Michael. And who can blame her for going both all out and all in for her editor? He’s so enamored of her that he’s willing to become a German citizen so that he can divorce his mentally ill wife and marry her!

CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS | In her haste to replace Mrs. O’Brien, Cora rehires Edna, the manipulative minx who, unbeknownst to her ladyship, was tossed out for throwing herself at Tom. “It all sounds like a ticking time bomb to me,” sighs Mrs. Hughes. And how right she is. (Isn’t she always?) After ruining one of Cora’s garments, Edna takes Thomas’ advice and lets him put the blame on Anna, who, naturally, has warned the newcomer to steer clear of the troublemaker. So, in short, she’s just Mrs. O’Brien without the poodle ’do!

THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS | Bored at Downton, Rose fibs that she’s a servant at a dance for commoners (with Anna in tow as chaperone), then is forced to dress up as a housemaid for real – and invent a fiancé! – when her partner, Sam, shows up at Downton with hearts in his eyes. Speaking of hearts, Daisy’s is dinged when she learns that her Valentine’s Day card is from Mrs. Patmore, not Alfred, whose crush, Ivy, comes home from a pub date with Jimmy drunk as the proverbial skunk.

Okay, your turn. What did you think of the premiere? Were you relieved that Mary (sorta) got her groove back? Or do you prefer brittle, bitchy Mary? Will you miss Mrs. O’Brien, or are you looking forward to the new scheme team of Edna and Thomas? (By the by, do you think the show made the nanny that he got axed vile so that we’d dislike Thomas less? If so, #fail. He only did that good deed by accident, didn’t he?) How nice is it to see Edith coming into her own? (If she has to do it away from her family, so be it, I say!) Isn’t it time for there be some movement in the Alfred/Ivy/Jimmy/Daisy quadrangle? Grade the episode below and then elaborate in the comments!

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33 Comments
  1. Alichat says:

    Ok…..Edna has got to go. And why oh why must Cora be so gullible???

    • bkwrm says:

      That seriously bugged me! It made sense with the nanny since she is relatively new to the place but to believe that about Anna who has been sweet, loyal and is someone she has known much, much longer. It sounds like nothing Anna would do. And to have Robert tell Bates to tell Anna was underhanded.

      • Alichat says:

        Yeah….that really bothered me. Anna is her daughter’s lady’s maid, and filled in as her maid until she got Edna. Anna deserved the benefit of the doubt….or at least to have Cora approach her directly and ask about the shirt. And as for the nanny, Cora was too reserved for me. I expected her to lay into the nanny for calling Sybil a half breed.

      • EJ says:

        I agree. Especially after Anna helped move poor Mr. Pamook!

    • knd says:

      Agree agree agree on both counts

    • Sarah says:

      Terrible! She was awful in the episode we had to endure last season. So the thought was…bring her back?!? This whole subplot is hinged on viewers having no common sense, no investment in our characters. I want the characters to move forward, not for Barrow-O’Brien 2.0 to dominate Season 4.

      • I found this new season full of so many new story lines, it was as if it is only a long preview of the year to come. Cora is really naïve and too gently. Barrow needs a shovel to his head and why is Edna back? Barrow is picking up on where O’Brien left off. Doesn’t Robert remember how well he handled the money in season 1? He and Cora have no concept of updating and keeping up the times, which seems to have been the case in that era of aristocrats.

      • gdv says:

        I was disappointed that Thomas was up to his old tricks, especially after all Bates and Anna did for him last season (asking Lord Grantham to let Thomas keep his job in spite of the Jimmy kiss thing). But then I had a thought—did Thomas know that it was Bates and Anna who helped him? Maybe he’ll feel guilty about it later.

        Frustrated that horrible maid is back, too. Ugh. Where are all the decent maids these days? It’s like Anna and Gwen were the only nice maids in the whole county.

        Having said that, I loved all of the Carson/Mary, Mrs. Hughes/Mrs. Crawley, and Mrs. Patmore/Daisy scenes. Great writing and acting. Loved the Rose and Jimmy scenes too. I was kinda “meh” about their additions last season but they fit into the cast quite nicely now.

  2. StupidPeopleShutUpjessica says:

    I’ve seen all of season 4, and I hate to break it to you, but this is the high point of the season. It’s dreadful.

    • shuayb says:

      The season was NOT dreadful. It was quite good in fact. You must be british. Britons hate change and this is a departure from the previous seasons. Everything is changing…

    • scooby says:

      Can tell you that even if you did in fact see all of S4, you weren’t paying attention. It was very good. S1 was the best and partly due to novelty and discovery of the world, but also we had Matthew/Mary in its earliest stages of banter, chemistry, and angst. I’d argue S2 was probably 4th of 4 just because it whirled through WWI so quickly and had a ‘I can walk!’ thing that probably didn’t bolster Dan Stevens’ impression of whether he should stay. S3 and S4 kind of jockey for 2nd place to me. Not sure where I fall on that yet as the Christmas special/US S4 finale just aired. I agree with shuayb, you must be British. Expecting any kind of upbeat opinion of Downton Abbey from the UK these days is expecting a lot. They were kind of over it before it even hit really big here. So many costume dramas and a case of tall poppy syndrome mixed in there, you knew taking Downton down a peg was in the offing sooner or later. It’s hard to address people’s opinions of certain arcs or characters without spoiling so I just have to bite my tongue or not read comments, I guess. There are answers to gripes I’m already anticipating. Alas, mum’s the word on upcoming characters.

      • StupidPeopleShutUp says:

        I’m not British. I’m breathing. The season is horrible. It is utterly derivative except for one distasteful storyline that was unpleasant. Every single thing has happened already for three seasons. The characters have all regressed. These characters all seem to have forgotten their experiences. It’s dull as dishwater. If you have no taste or are so blinded by your love for the show that you can’t be objective than I can’t help you.

        • scooby says:

          Avast matey, we have a troll-pirate in our midst. ;) You’ve just outed yourself as really not getting anything that happened so it’s pointless to discuss this. You call other people stupid in your handle, I really don’t know why I decided to feed the troll. Sorry, folks. I should’ve known better.

        • Then please just go away and let the rest of us that enjoyed it talk about it. We don’t need a hater in the mix.

      • Katie T says:

        I wouldn’t take the comments of some vocal viewers on social media and the net as the opinion of us Brits. I’m British and bar a couple of minor plot points throughout the series I loved season 4. There’s a plot that caused some outrage but I thought the people that complained were pretty pathetic given it was the kind of thing that happened in those days. And it’s not like they haven’t tackled tough subjects in the past. So either the people that complained didn’t pay much attention to the seriousness of some previous plots or they’re complaining for the sake of complaining. And the fact is that they still must be watching the show even though they supposedly think it’s rubbish now or it’s gone too far plot wise as the ratings stayed high and steady all season

  3. Sarah says:

    Daisy thought her valentine was from ALFRED, since Jimmy led Ivy to believe he sent hers. (Jimmy actually sent no one a Valentine, while Alfred had to tell Daisy that he in fact gave the Valentine to Ivy).

    Why is Barrow so quick to go after Anna, who comforted him after Sybil’s death, and who with Bates, saved him from being fired after kissing Jimmy? It seems ludicrous that Carson and Mrs. Hughes could not explain the dismissal of Edna with plausibility to Cora. “She acted I appropriately, and Mr. Branson dismissed her.” Done, easy.

    Rather than focus on this drovel, Mary and Tom vs. Robert would capture so much more of my attention.

    Also, that nanny was a witch!

    • Alichat says:

      Agree with you on the Edna point. I don’t understand why they didn’t just say that she’d acted inappropriately on numerous occasions, and when she entered a room she was not allowed in, they let her go. They don’t even have to mention Branson. Just say that she didn’t know her place, and wasn’t ready to work in a home of such stature. Mrs. Hughes could have said that she wrote the recommendation as a kindness.

    • Jimmy sent a valentine to his former employer, the Dowager Lady Anstruther who has just returned from France. It said it might be “useful.”

  4. schu says:

    I had NO idea Mrs. O’Brien was leaving the show! Don’t know how I missed that. Good riddance, except…Edna is just as bad! if not worse because she can actually use her good looks to be even more deceitful. But Thomas is literally the worst ever! Argh!!! And I love Anna and Bates as much as every good-hearted person should, but I really hope they get off their friggin high horses and forget about being all prideful and just throw Edna and Thomas under the bus a.s.a.p. Use those cutthroat prison smarts Bates!
    And am I right to suspect Jimmy & Rose will happen? Maybe that’s already known too, or maybe I’m way off, but there both the youngest and best looking people on the show now, it’s only a matter of time Rose takes her whole bad girl thing to the ultimate level, am I right?

    • scooby says:

      Well it’s already known because the 4th season of the series aired in the UK already. I just have a sneaking suspicion confirming or denying speculation is probably frowned upon in this establishment, otherwise I’d be happy to clarify the situation with Rose. If you’re creative with googling search terms (perhaps looking up her Downton Wiki without reading all the way through), it’d answer things fairly quickly.

  5. WTactualF says:

    I’m with you guys. It bugged me that Cora would believe those nasty things Thomas said about Anna. Anna has proven herself to be loyal, honest and kind while Thomas is a known snake.

  6. Bender says:

    Mary was almost a complete copy for Wednesday Addams.

  7. Lecholls says:

    I have to say that the Carson story was pretty boring. Otherwise, I was intrigued. Can’t understand why Cora believed anything bad about Anna, though.

  8. David P. Graf says:

    I am not going to list any spoilers but I was also disappointed by this first episode. After viewing it, I went to a site which contained full descriptions of the remaining episodes. If you enjoy good soap opera then the rest of the season will go by all too fast for you. If you were hoping that there would be a smidgen of reality then you will be disappointed. The attitudes and actions portrayed by the characters are anachronistic. That is, they are far more appropriate to today’s world than the world of those times. The one exception in last night’s episode was the nanny and they got rid of her.

    • David P. Graf says:

      Oops – I am truly sorry for the mention of the nanny. I wish there was an “edit” button. Again, my apologies.

      • jenferner8 says:

        Anyone who heard the nanny talking to Thomas would know she wouldn’t last the episode. That scene had major alarm bells going off in my head, and apparently in Thomas’. And it being Thomas, you know he’s not going to put up with it. He’s clearly watching out for Sybil’s daughter and rightfully so.

  9. Pati says:

    I liked the episode, glad Mary snapped out of it by the end. I didn’t know that the actress playing O’Brian was leaving the show as well. Anna is so sweet and I like her but Mr. Bates oh god, he looks like her father, she deserved better. I like Thomas but Edna has to go imo. Looking forward to more.

  10. jenferner8 says:

    At least O’Brien was fun to dislike, Edna is not, was not and never will be. She’s a Downton version of all things Kardashian, I didn’t like her the first time around and bringing her back has not changed that. She needs to GO! AWAY! NOW! Her and Thomas in cahoots is a VERY bad idea, it actually drags Thomas down. He’s always been another I love to dislike but not like this. Even at his worse and most despicable Thomas had his moments of weakness and tolerability. People love to hate him because of the rare glimpses of when he’s broken. Breaking down in front of Mrs. Hughes, and his rage when he realizes he’s been screwed over. His friendship with Sybil is a great example, in being who he really is he enables himself to protecting the one thing left of Sybil (her daughter).
    That being said, what is it with this show and every female character whose names beings with letter “E”!? Seriously, they are all horrible, conniving, bitter and selfish. Ethel, Edna, even Edith in first few seasons. Downton needs to get a better baby name book and tear out the “E” section.

  11. David says:

    This show is just another night-time “soap opera,” except the writing is better.

  12. Rose Moore says:

    I was ready to slap that Nanny West! She said some horrible things to little Sybil. I am glad Cora heard that herself.

  13. A says:

    Anyone else think that Michael might be a little too good to be true? I feel like the move to Germany might have some other motivations, given the political climate. Perhaps he’s a bit of a sympathizer?

    • Suzie says:

      This is set in the 1920’s, so long before Hitler reared his head. Sympathizer to what? WWI was brought about by opposing factions of Imperialism and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. It’s doubtful that Michael would side with Germany over Great Britain.

      • A says:

        Thanks, Wikipedia, I actually went to junior high. I wasn’t talking about Hitler. All I meant was that we don’t know anything about Michael, he seems reluctant to get close to Edith’s family, rather he appears to want to separate her from them significantly, and he’s choosing the unstable Germany, the most hated country in the world, when there are other options available. He could be a sympathizer to Germany, as a country, due to parentage, or any other number of reasons he isn’t mentioning.