Matthew's death affects all of the Downton residents, from upstairs and down, and another loss -- of a certain lady's maid -- brings new trouble to the Abbey

By Denise Warner
Updated January 06, 2014 at 04:00 AM EST
PBS

Downton Abbey

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The new season of Downton Abbey begins as O’Brien steals away to ship off to India to become Lady Flintshire’s new ladysmaid.

Six months after Matthew’s fatal drive, we welcome back the old characters (and one guy from one episode of season 1). Cousin Rose, the aforementioned maid-stealer’s daughter, resides at the abbey. Edith still hangs around Sir Anthony Strallan’s Younger Brother (As a refresher for those new to my recaps, Charles Edwards, who plays Edith’s married love interest Michael Gregson resembles a younger Robert Balthurst, who played Anthony Strallan, Edith’s former love interest. And from now, Gregson will be SASYB for short). Mary and Isobel grieve for Matthew. Cora needs a new maid. Robert blunders around the house like he’s God’s gift to English estates. (It’s almost as if he’s glad Matthew’s dead. When he’s alone, he probably twirls his mustache and laughs: “Downton is mine. She’s all mine.”) Tom has earned his place at the big boy’s table as the capable (and handsome) agent. Violet descends every now and again to spout valuable wisdom to those around her.

Downtairs, it’s also the status quo. The Ivy/Alfred/Jimmy/Daisy love square is thriving. Thomas (should we call him Barrow now?) stirs up trouble the best he can. Anna and Bates continue their campaign for best couple ever. Mrs. Patmore worries about her two kitchen maids and their high school antics. Carson refuses to have feelings, unless Lady Mary is involved. Mrs. Hughes tries to soften the butler up. Molesley lost his job after the death of his employer. And we see the return of the awful maid Edna, who kissed Tom and made him feel bad for becoming part of the Crawley family in last year’s Christmas episode.

In the aftermath of Matthew’s untimely demise, Mary drapes herself in black, zombie-like in her appearance and mannerisms. The estate is in turmoil over who will run it, and the eventual death taxes that must be paid. Isobel, like Mary, does not know what to do with herself either. Even the servants — especially Molesley — feel the effects of the loss.

Isobel, for some reason, finds herself occupied by a scheme of Mrs. Hughes to help Carson’s old friend Charlie Grigg. (You will remember him from the episode in season 1 where he threatens to tell Lord Grantham that Carson was part of a stage duo called “The Cheerful Charlies.”) Grigg ended up in the workhouse and writes to Carson for help. Carson throws the letter away, but the nosy Mrs. Hughes reads the letter and — despite knowing Carson wishes not to have any contact with Grigg — decides it’s a good idea to ask Isobel for help. That is exactly what you want to do after you’ve lost your only son — help a random guy get a job in Belfast as a stagehand. Credit to Isobel, who is a much better person than I. Honestly, though, this subplot was weird.

Mary, on the other hand, isn’t as easy as Isobel. She needs more coaxing to recover. Tom offers his advice. Carson, at the behest of Tom, attempts to pull Mary into the “land of the living,” but she sharply rebukes him for overstepping his boundaries.

How does Mary’s father help her? Oh, Robert. He wants Downton all to himself — that much is clear. And instead of comforting his daughter when she needs it, he tries to hold her back. From the beginning, he wants to keep Mary out of the running of the estate. Since Matthew didn’t leave a will, all Mary receives is a small share of Downton — the rest goes to Baby George, and Robert.

Mary’s family pushes her to attend the tenants luncheon in Cora’s place, a fact that overwhelms Mary, causing her to leave the dining room in tears, with Robert crowing that he was right all along.

It’s Violet that pulls Mary up with a great speech. “Mary, you’ve gone through hideous time. But now you must remember your son. He needs you very much,” she says. “The fact is. You have a straightforward choice before you. You must choose either death or life.”

Mary arrives at the luncheon, dressed in purple — a clear step toward choosing life.

NEXT: Oh wait, just a minute Mr. Postman. When Robert opens a package sent to Mary of the late Mr. Crawley’s things, the Earl finds a letter that Matthew wrote. (Let’s call it the “immaculate will,” to crib from Pat Forde.) This immaculate will, of course, gives everything to Mary. Robert doesn’t want to show this to her daughter. He says it’s because he doesn’t want to upset her. We all know that it’s because he doesn’t want to give up control. Luckily, Violet sets her son straight, and Robert mans up and shows it to Mary and the rest of the family.

There’s still the question of the immaculate will’s legality, however. Robert sends it off to Murray, telling everyone that they shouldn’t get their hopes up. With less enthusiasm than Fox News announcing the results of the 2012 election, Robert reports that the immaculate will is legal. Huzzah! Mary will inherit. That doesn’t stop Robert from being a complete jerk to his daughter about it at the dinner table. Robert is really the worst.

A few stray thoughts:

Poor Edith. She looks incredible, she’s more assured, and much nicer. Yet, she’s hung up on SASYB, who says he’s going to become a German citizen to he can divorce his crazy wife and marry Edith. Edith is flattered by this prospect. It’s definitely cool when your semi-boyfriend basically says he’s going to become an eventual Nazi for you. So hot.

We know Robert sucks. I’m beginning to think Cora isn’t much better. Cora has the worst luck when it comes to ladymaids. And it must be her fault. First, O’Brien. Now, the dreadful Edna. Plus, she trusts everything Thomas says. Who would do that? (Sure, he was right about Nanny West. That, however, was definitely a lucky guess.) Cora so easily believes him about Anna, too. Anna, who has been so loyal to the family and not at all deceitful like Thomas.

Why are the last names of Charlie Grigg and Michael Gregson so similar?

How does everyone not know that Thomas is the worst?

Is the family eating at a smaller dining room table?

When the Dowager arranges a a luncheon to show off Molesley’s talents — why didn’t she just tell her own butler? He sabotages Molesley’s skills, and the poor fellow is left to work on the side of the road.

Also, what exactly is Molesley’s new job? It looks like he was pounding hot rocks into the ground with a shovel.

Ygritte (aka Gwen) got married! They mentioned her a lot. There’s no way Rose Leslie returns, is there?

Cousin Rose isn’t as Cousin Oliver-esque as I was expecting. She’s grown up a bit, as evidenced by her dance-escapade leading to the subsequent let down of the undergardner she meets there.

NEXT: A weekly ranking and the Dowager’s best quotes Even though it’s good to be back with our upstairs and downstairs friends, Downton has suddenly morphed into a show with mostly terrible characters doing random things for no reason at all. Thus, I will begin a weekly ranking of the inhabitants from worst to best.

Here’s week one:

18. Robert: How unhappy is he that Matthew’s will stands and Mary owns half of Downton?

17. Edna: God, why is she back? (Ostensibly to fill the bitch role vacated by O’Brien. With her teaming up with Thomas and scheming against Anna, things do not look good for the Bateses once again.)

16. Alfred: Dude, Ivy does not like you. Get over it.

15. SASYB: Maybe I’ll start calling him Michael Gregson. Not yet though. He’s going to become a German? After the war? For Edith? Someone needs to look at his life, and look at his choices.

14. Cora: The Countess clearly cannot read people at all.

13. Thomas: He gets points for correctly guessing that Nanny West was a terrible human being and abusing Sibi. I just don’t understand how can he do that to Anna after what Bates did for him and her ladyship’s soap.

12. Rose: Like I said, she’s was okay this episode. But she needs to be a little more developed before she moves up.

11. Edith: Her storyline is getting interesting and she’s not as ornery. But, really, a married guy?

10. Mrs. Hughes: For butting in so much — even if things ended well.

9. Ivy and Daisy: They are sweet, and pretty much on par with each other.

8. Jimmy: Yes, he teases Ivy. However, I think he does really like her.

7. Carson: His stubbornness keeps him from moving higher.

6. Mrs. Patmore: Between sending a Valentine to Daisy and not being able to work the electric mixer, she’s absolutely wonderful.

5. Tom: He’s pretty badass these days.

4. Mary: Her berating of Carson almost earned her a place near the bottom, but her quick apology, her change to the half-mourning purple, and her willingness to take up her beloved’s causes against her father show this will be an interesting year for Mary. And she gets a bit of a pass because Matthew died.

3. Isobel: First, she helps prostitutes she barely knows. Now, she helps homeless men stuck in the workhouse she barely knows? All the while navigating a world where she believes she no longer belongs? Nominate this woman for sainthood!

2. Anna and Bates: Too cute. They send each other anonymous Valentines and Bates deftly uses his prison skills to give money to Molesley that Matthew’s former valet cannot refuse.

1. Violet: Duh.

The Dowager Countess’ best quotes:

“It’s the job of grandmothers to interfere.”

“I’m not really interested in whether you behave badly or well.”

“There’s more than one type of good mother.”

“When you talk like that I’m tempted to ring for nanny and have you put to bed with no supper.”

What did you think of the fourth season premiere? Do you miss Matthew as much as Mary does?

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Downton Abbey

The war is over, but intrigue, crisis, romance, and change still grip the beloved estate.

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