It’s 1922 and all is not well at Downton Abbey. But how could it be? Still reeling from the loss of a few significant characters, season four picks up months after that fateful car wreck to find a house in mourning.
After airing a season four promo and some character specific clips, executive producer Gareth Neame took the stage at TCA alongside Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley), Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley), Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes), Joanne Froggatt (Anna), and Sophie McShera (Daisy) to tease season four and beyond. The notoriously tight-lipped cast didn’t give too much away, but we were able to glean a few key takeaways about what is in store for both the upstairs and downstairs crew in this time of transition.
1. Shipping Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson? You should probably look elsewhere…
Sorry, downstairs shippers. Season four will not be the season of love for Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson. “No. No. We still have a very nice working relationship. We still have occasional spats here and there. We still have a lot of respect for one another. We occasionally get to drink a glass of sherry together…not as often as I would like,” said Logan. “But yes, as far as romance goes…well….over to you Gareth.” Neame joked that in an alternate universe, they could end up kissing after a healthy debate over upholstery, to which Logan responded: “Sometimes middle-aged love is rather interesting.”
2. Lady Mary will have a few new love interests this season
A journalist asked specifically about the addition of Irish actor Tom Cullen as a love interest for Lady Mary this season. Dockery replied quickly, “yeah she has more than one.” She added: “He is an old family friend who she’s known since the girls were children and she hasn’t seen him since she was tiny. And yeah, she’s kind of slowly throughout the series coming back to real life. Of course it’s important for her to eventually move on.” Still, later in the panel, someone astutely joked that perhaps Lady Mary’s romantic prospects should be a little nervous considering the current death count. “God knows what could happen. I’m pretty sure that Iain Glenn…Richard Carlisle is somewhere dead and we don’t know about it,” Dockery joked. Neame added: “They’re kind of like praying mantises aren’t they? They get to do it once…and then she kills them.”
3. Can we expect any additional departures of key cast members?
It’s no secret that the departure of Dan Stevens wasn’t necessarily what Julian Fellowes and crew had in mind when writing Downton Abbey, but they managed to work around the actors decision and offer viewers a gut punch of a season finale this past year. “What’s wonderful about the show is that it’s open doors for all of us,” said Dockery. “As far as we know we’re all doing series five next year, and beyond that we really don’t know. That’s in the hands of Julian and our producers so we’ll see. So long as the core cast remain…I think if other actors start leaving that would be a worry.”
4. Edith’s career as a journalist and her relationship will be “complicated”
Think Progress’s Alyssa Rosenberg asked whether or not Lady Edith would continue working as a journalist now that she’s involved romantically with her editor, Michael Gregson. Laura Carmichael gracefully evaded the question. “She is still involved with her editor and it is a lot more complicated than that, which I’ll just have to let you see without giving too much away,” Carmichael said before shifting the focus back to the death of Matthew. “I like to think of her as the Carrie Bradshaw of the 20s,” she joked.
5. But, Edith is due for some character development and evolution
“Julian has this take that some people in life are lucky. And some people aren’t. And Edith is definitely one of those unlucky people,” says Carmichael. “I love the Gregson and Edith relationship because he’s so different from any of the other men in Downton. He’s kind of a working, modern man. A self-made man. And exists in a different universe in London. Their relationship is interesting and I think different.” Neame added: “I think what we can say is it is a very different season for Edith this year. Really different stories. Very exciting.” We do know for certain that Edith will be venturing to London more often, and we’ll get to see the streets of the evolving city which provides some escape from the claustrophobia of the mourning at Downton.
6. Dockery was initially nervous about continuing without Stevens, but seems excited for the prospect of a new chapter for Lady Mary and the other characters
“My first reaction was ‘oh crap. What is going to happen?’ I thought where could the story go now? We’ve spent all this time having this on-off, will-they-won’t-they relationship and then suddenly it was coming to an end. So initially I was concerned,” Dockery admitted. “As much as I was sad to see Dan go, and to see Jessica go, it opens up opportunity for Julian to write a new chapter, not only for Mary.” She added that motherhood may not come especially naturally for her character, partially because she only sees Matthew when she looks at the child. “It is a slow process, motherhood, for Mary,” Dockery said.
7. Still, that new chapter probably won’t involve Lady Mary shacking up with her recently widowed brother-in-law
A new clip teased a burgeoning relationship between Lady Mary and Tom Branson, but, the panel assured us (with dramatic pauses) that we shouldn’t expect them to get together. “They are very much friends. And he is her brother-in-law still. I think they become close because of what they’ve both been through, having lost a partner. And also Mary becomes far more involved in the running of the estate with Tom, so we do have a lot of scenes together,” said Dockery. “But romantically…I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I hope not.”
8. Mrs. Hughes didn’t actually have a cancer scare
“Some people weren’t quite sure what had happened at the end,” said Logan. “I think we should clarify this: I didn’t have cancer. It was a figment of my imagination.”
9. Daisy will keep acting like a bratty teen and Thomas will have a “shakeup”
“Someone asked me how old she was when we began and how old she is now,” said McShera. “And that couldn’t work out…she must have been about 10 when we started.” But as to whether or not we’ll see any changes for Daisy this season? “She’s had such a journey and even during her terrible teens, you know that bratty teenage stage which she’s still in a bit…she’s being a bit of a jealous girl with Ivy,” said McShera. Though Rob James-Collier wasn’t present to talk about Thomas Barrow, Neame jumped in. “He is a complete outsider,” said Neame. “Of course it’s going to be a complex world for him going forward. I’ve heard rumors that O’Brien may be heading for the hills. There’s going to be a bit of a shakeup to what happens to his story.” He added: “He’s always going to be…wanting to be in control, wanting to find out what’s going on, wanting to make sure he can dictate things.”
10. Could we see Downton in World War II?
For a series that likes to make big leaps into the future, it’s a fair question to ask whether or not the show, picking up in 1922 in season four, might extend to World War II. Though Neame assures us that the series is in “extremely good health” and said they’re focused on developing stories for season five, he did say that Downton would not be extending into World War II.
Season four wraps filming shortly and begins airing on January 5, 2014 on MASTERPIECE on PBS.