'Downton Abbey' preview: What to expect in season 4
Six months have passed since Matthew’s death when Downton Abbey returns tonight for a new season, and while Lady Mary — and much of the house — are still mourning the loss, life must also go on. And for some characters, 1922 and beyond will prove to be tough.
For details, click through our handy guide below where we tease the action you’ll see in season 4.
Mary (Michelle Dockery)
Lady Mary is under “a dark spell,” says Dockery, when the new season begins. (Most of baby George’s care is being handled by nanny and there are a few in the house still treating her like a porcelain doll.) But when the question of Mary’s role in running the estate arises — her son, after all, is the heir — she will have to rise to the occasion. Meanwhile, ready or not, she finds herself with suitors in the form of Tom Cullen’s Lord Gillingham and Julian Ovenden’s Charles Blake, who starts off his interactions with Mary on quite the wrong foot. “[Blake] just assumes that Mary is this spoiled eldest child who kind of expects everything,” says Dockery. “Gillingham gives her advice and they have an ease with one another. Whereas with Blake it’s the complete opposite.”
Robert and Cora (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)
As always, the First Couple of Downton must deal with the storm of change that comes to the estate — for Robert, that means accepting Mary’s larger role in running the estate, and for Cora it entails coping with a jarring event at the top of the season that will leave her with some big shoes to fill.
Edith (Laura Carmichael)
It’s a big season for Edith, who will continue her complicated affair with unhappily-married editor Michael Gregson (Charles Edward). But just as things seem to be going swimmingly (Gregson wins Robert’s favor during an episode this season) her world gets turned upside down.
Cousin Rose (Lily James)
There’s a lot of Cousin Rose this season, and that should be no surprise. While Downton resists the pull of the new world, Rose is eager for it and doesn’t mind getting into trouble to get a taste. “I just wanted to have some story lines that would be inappropriate with older characters,” explains creator Julian Fellowes. “If you suddenly had Edith running around dancing like a flapper and getting pissed, you would think, ‘Oh for Christ’s sake, pull yourself together.’ Whereas because Rose is 18 or 19, you forgive it.”
Whether he likes it or not, Tom is part of the upstairs lot these days. And this season more than ever, he will come to accept that, helping Mary as she gains her footing in her new leadership role. Elsewhere, the return of a familiar (and pretty) face will put Tom in an awkward position, but he’ll get help from an unlikely ally.
Bates and Anna (Brendan Coyle and Joanna Froggatt)
Downtstairs, all is well for beloved couple Bates and Anna… for a while. Though they “start off in a really good place, happy in their cottage,” according to Froggatt, “there is another trauma in the cards.”
Daisy (Sophie McShera)
Daisy’s schoolgirl crush on footman Alfred — and her rivalry with kitchen maid Ivy — will continue through most of the season. But come this year’s Christmas Special, she may find herself with a new suitor.
Alfred (Matt Milne)
Alfred’s love for cooking will grow and develop this season, leading to a big opportunity. The question: Will he be willing to leave the comforts of Downton for a new life?
Carson (Jim Carter)
Carson is very much a support system for grieving Mary early on, but he will also see a few major story lines of his own. One of the most notable is the return of someone from his past who shows up imploring Carson for help.
Thomas (Rob James-Collier)
Ever the snake, expect more of the same from Thomas — sucking up to the Crawleys, betraying his fellow servants, and scheming for entertainment. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
BONUS! We couldn’t leave out Dowager. Even though she is not one to have major story arcs of her own, she’s, in a way, front and center in all of them, providing advice and her signature sharp commentary. Among the things we’ll see her chiming in on? Mary’s role in the estate, Tom’s steadier footing among the upper class, and pretty much everything about Isobel Crawley’s life. (Spoiler alert: She and Isobel may actually become… friends.)
(With reporting by Benji Wilson)
The war is over, but intrigue, crisis, romance, and change still grip the beloved estate.