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A Changing World: Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 1 Recap

January 6, 2014

Did you miss any plot points - or sub-plot or sub-sub-plot points? What WAS that lady's maid's name again? Or perhaps you just want to re-live a key moment with friends. To that end, we are pleased to welcome music and entertainment blogger Amie Simon back with our own Downton Abbey episode recaps and relishments! They are all chock-full of spoilers, so don't click if you want to preserve the mystery. Let us begin...

After last season’s shocking deaths, I’m betting a lot of Downton fans were holding their breath and hoping Fellowes didn’t kill off anyone in the Season 4 premiere.

Thankfully, no one died… yet (knock on some antique wood), but an awful lot transpired both upstairs and down during this season’s first episode! Let’s dive into the highlights, shall we?

It’s 1922, and we open on Downton six months after Matthew’s death (*sob*). A mysterious figure sneaks out before any of the servants awake, but of course we already know it’s O’Brien running off to work for Lady Flintshire in India. Oh no! O’Brien! Whatever are we going to do without your amazing bangs to guide us through each episode?

The servants must miss her bangs too, because there’s a shocked discussion about her departure immediately, with Alfred insisting he knew NOTHING about it. As far as Jimmy’s concerned, that’s just one more thing to poke fun at him for. Geez, Jimmy! Leave the poor guy alone.

Little Rose, now living at Downton under the wing of Lord and Lady Grantham, feels so guilty about her mother stealing Cora’s Lady’s Maid that she posts an advertisement in town and guess who answers it? EDNA BRAITHWAITE! That brazen hussy! Remember how she tried to worm her way into vulnerable Branson’s affections while he was still recovering from losing his dear, sweet Sybil?

Well, somehow Lady Grantham missed that memo, and so Edna becomes her new lady’s maid without a second thought. Whoops. The worried staff consults with Branson and tells him to watch out for her. That’s code for NO MORE SMOOCHING THE HELP, Tom! Edna looks shadier than ever, and seems to be O’Brien’s replacement in more ways than one … despite her un-banged forehead.

And what’s going on with the ladies of the house? The new and improved outspoken journalist Edith is a breath of fresh air! She’s got a better wardrobe, a sassy haircut, and renewed confidence. Sure, she’s carrying on with a married man—but it’s cool! He’s going to get divorced! Some time … maybe?

And poor Lady Mary. She’s been skulking around in black, in full ice princess mode, even around her baby boy, George, whom she calls “an orphan.” No amount of pleading from the staff or her family can snap her out of it, either. Which suits Lord Grantham just fine, since that means he can just keep ruling the estate as he pleases.

In fact, any time anyone suggests Mary do something, ANYTHING, his lordship waves them away by saying, “Don’t bother her! She’s got enough on her plate!” Uh-huh. Let’s not forget that your running of the estate totally bankrupted Downton and you nearly lost it! Plus, Matthew didn’t leave a will, so his half of the estate belongs to little George, with Mary only holding one-third. This makes it even easier for Robert to “look after George’s interests” … something that even Cora balks at. Seriously. Lord Grantham in charge of any money is a serious red flag, right?

Valentine’s Day causes a lot of turmoil in the servant’s quarters with tons of cards and letters arriving. Ivy gets a Valentine! Daisy gets a Valentine! AND OMG ANNA AND BATES SENT EACH OTHER SECRET ADMIRER VALENTINES! That is so insanely cute. Even Edith gets a Valentine from her forbidden lover! Poor Mary. When she sees Edith reading her card, she looks positively dead inside.

It seems Isobel Crawley is in the same boat as Mary. She’s really struggling with Matthew’s death. No one can sway her to come visit her grandson, and she prattles on about how she’s all alone, and it sure looks like all of the spark has drained out of her. Oh dear. How will she be able to hold her own against the Dowager Countess now?

Speaking of the Dowager, Violet Crawley is having NONE of this business about her son keeping Lady Mary from moving on, and insists he involve her in the managing of the estate—something which Tom has wisely suggested would help. Hello, Lord Grantham! Tom Branson would know better than anyone what your daughter needs to get over losing the love of her life. You should probably listen to him.

Good ole’ Thomas Barrow seems to be back in fine form, butting heads with new staff member Nanny West, who tells him not to touch the children. Seems the nanny thinks herself somewhat above those commoners downstairs. Interesting! Also, there’s really nothing more hilarious than someone as egotistical as Thomas saying another person “thinks too much of themselves.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes has spent some time snooping around Carson’s office to find out what’s made him extra-cranky, and she stumbles upon a letter from a Mr. Charles Grigg, Carson’s old vaudeville partner. Seems Grigg has fallen on hard times, and has been living in a crowded workhouse. He’s sent Carson a letter asking for help, but Carson is still bent about a mysterious event in their past and refuses. Hmm…

Molesley, another poor soul affected by Matthew’s death, which put him out of a job, has fallen on hard times too. He approaches Isobel about getting his old position back in front of the Dowager, but she declines. Violet, however, immediately starts scheming about how to get him a new position. She’s so charitable and kind this season! Ch-ch-ch-changes.

In the middle of all this, Edith suddenly announces she’s going to London to attend a party her beau Michael Gregson is throwing. I love party Edith! She’s stunning in her bright red flapper dress. And Michael has a grand surprise: he proposes that they move to Germany together, because apparently if he becomes a German citizen, he can divorce his mentally ill wife and marry Edith! It sounds too good to be true, and given Edith’s track record, I’m not convinced it will work out well.

The sparring between the new Nanny and Thomas continues, with the nanny demanding that Thomas deliver messages to the kitchen staff about egg preparation for Sybbie. Of course this causes Thomas to do what he does best: lie. He takes Lady Grantham aside and tells her that he’s sure the nanny leaves the children all alone. Look out, Nanny West. You’re going down.

A more exciting development is happening in the kitchen, though, with the arrival of an electric mixer! Daisy takes to it right away, while Patmore gives it the side eye as if it’s the devil himself. Daisy even manages to make a delicious mousse, which the Dowager herself compliments! Patmore better watch out; her hand-whisked confections aren’t going to cut it anymore.

And oh, Daisy. She’s still got eyes for Alfred, who still has eyes for Ivy, who still has eyes for Jimmy, who takes Ivy out on the sly and gets her so drunk that Anna has to hold her hair back for her when she returns. My favorite part of this whole disaster was when everybody kept asking Jimmy, “What were you trying to do?!” And he replies “Nothing!” B.S. We all know what you were after, James. Don’t deny it! Even your messy coif looks guilty.

Carson remains unmoved by Grigg’s plight, even though Mrs. Hughes exclaims that the workhouse is “worse than Dickens!” But wait! She eventually appeals to Isobel to help save Griggs, knowing that Mrs. Crawley has a soft spot for people in need. Even though she initially resists, Isobel regains some of her old self back and agrees to help. Aw, that warms my heart.

At his wit’s end with Lord Grantham blocking every attempt to involve his daughter in the estate management, Branson goes to Carson and asks him to approach Lady Mary directly. Which he does, awkwardly, and then surprise! Instead of listening to him and agreeing, Mary freaks out and throws it back in his face.

Later when Mary is pushed at the dinner table to do something, anything, by everyone at the table except Robert, she exclaims, “Matthew is dead 50 years before his time! Isn’t that enough for me to deal with?” and storms out. Oh great, now Lord Grantham thinks he was right all along.

The Dowager isn’t giving up though, and approaches Mary before she leaves the house: “I’m not your governess, I’m your grandmother. The difference is, I love you.” OHMYGOD REAL EMOTION FROM THE DOWAGER! So many tears. She adds one more bit of wisdom before leaving that seems to final break through Mary’s reserve, “You must choose either death or life!” So true, Violet. So true.

On the way out, the Dowager enlists Edith’s help in convincing Lady Shackleton that Molesley should be her new butler, which leads to the corniest joke in the episode:

Violet: “We are selling Molesley to Lady Shackleton."
Cora: “You mean, as a servant?”
Violet [smirking]: “No, as a Chinese laundryman!”

Ow, my side. By the way, why is the Dowager pulling for Molesley? My thought is she just wants butlers everywhere, forever and ever. Unfortunately, Molesley botches the job because Lady Shackleton’s current butler totally sabotages him. Dang!

Another shady servant, Nanny West, apparently denies Isobel’s access to Master George. What a jerk! Thankfully, a curious Cora decides to check out Thomas’ allegations and overhears the nanny being totally evil to little Sybbie! As she dotes on “pure-bred” George, she hurls insults at the adorable toddler and calls her a half-breed! EVIL NANNY ALERT.

Naturally Cora storms in and confronts her, ordering her out of the house immediately and telling her not to touch the children ever again. This is incredible! Thomas tried to frame the nanny, and he ended up being right about her. He totally won even though he lied! I LOVE IT.

Mary finally decides she’s had enough of this moping business and goes to her father to offer some help managing the estate. But, Lord Grantham, RUINER OF EVERYTHING, shuts her down and treats her like a child, sending her to bed. Luckily she marches down to see Carson and falls into his arms, sobbing and admitting she’s, “spent too long in the land of the dead.” Huzzah! The ice princess has melted, even without Matthew around to thaw her out.

As Cora’s new lady’s maid, Edna, arrives, Thomas immediately pounces on her in order to form an alliance. It doesn’t take long before she needs his help, having ruined one of Lady Grantham’s favorite dresses. Thomas, still sore from all the things Bates has “done to him,” decides to take it out on Anna! He convinces Edna to act like she’s covering up for Anna’s ruining of the dress, and convinces Lord Grantham that Anna is jealous of Edna’s new position and trying to sabotage her. Oh no! Later when Bates and Anna discuss what could have happened, Edna chuckles maniacally in the corner. I kind of want Anna to slap that smirk off her face, don’t you? That woman is trouble!!

A box from Matthew’s office arrives at Downton, so of course Lord Grantham opens it in order to shield Mary from harm. As he’s looking through it, a letter falls out of a book—a letter that names Mary as Matthew’s sole heir! No way! Could this be the will everyone thought didn’t exist?

In consult with the Dowager, Robert admits that he doesn’t want to tell Mary about the letter until he talks to his lawyer makes sure it’s legally binding. But Violet knows what’s up! She confronts him by saying it’s only because he would prefer to be in charge of the estate. “When you talk like that, I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper!” GO Violet!

A frustrated Violet then enlists Branson to show Mary around the estate and learn how to run it, so she can tell her father to shove it when he tries to claim she can’t. Tom seems VERY excited about this plan! Ooh, this is getting interesting. Does anyone else anticipate a love match between Mary and Tom? It could happen—two broken-hearted people left alone to raise their little ones, touring the countryside and growing closer and closer. Ok, I admit it! I’m already ‘shipping them.

With a renewed sense of purpose, Isobel finds Mr. Griggs a job at the Belfast Opera House, but before he leaves, he’d like to talk to Carson in order to clear up something from their past. Stoic Carson refuses! What’s done is done. Aw. C’mon Carson! Give the guy a break. He almost died in that Dickensian workhouse.

And then we finally get to see some more of Rose. The pretty young thing tricks Anna into taking her to a dance for servants and farmers, and a fight almost immediately breaks out because she’s being so wanton and free! Jimmy saves the day (who saw that coming?) by dragging the ladies out of there just before the cops arrive. Of course, one of her dance partners shows up later and she has to disguise herself as a maid and let him down gently. This is just the first of many Rose-planned shenanigans, I’m sure.

Distraught at Anna’s unhappiness over Molesley having to pave roads rather than be a butler, Bates works with the Dowager to figure out how to get him money. He tricks Molesley into signing a card, then copies his signature on an I.O.U. note that he completely fabricated, and “pays” Molesley back! Good show, Bates. And all the more sweet once he tells Anna he did it all for her.

Then Edith arrives back at Downton desperate to share the news of her and Michael’s romance, just in time for his lordship to reveal that his lawyer has confirmed that Mary owns half the estate, legally! Huzzah! A woman owns property! And can manage it! THIS IS UNHEARD OF!

The premiere ends with Carson arriving at the last moment before Griggs boards the train to Belfast. His former partner then apologizes for “stealing” a lady love, Alice, from Carson! Then further explains that Alice admitted on her deathbed that Carson was the better man and she always loved him. After Griggs departs, Mrs. Hughes approaches Carson and they both seem to connect over their mutual broken hearts. Yeah! TEAM HUGHESON! Oh yeah, I’m ‘shipping those two also.

What will happen in the next episode? How far will Rose go in pursuit of “fun?” Will Mary actually be able to hold her own against her father? Will Edith be able to successfully marry Michael? Will Molesley every buttle again? And will Mrs. Patmore ever figure out how to use the electric mixer? We can’t wait to find out!


Best flip exchange between the Dowager and Isobel:
I: “I have no need of a butler. These days, I’m just an old widow who eats off a tray.”
D: “Just because you’re an old widow, I see no necessity to eat off a tray! “
I: “You and I are different.”
D: “Yes. That is very true. “

Most shocking line:

From Nanny West to tiny “chauffeur’s daughter” Sybbie:
“Go back to sleep you wicked little cross-breed!”

Most brazen behavior:

Edith demanding a kiss from Michael in PUBLIC VIEW!
“I don’t care. Kiss me now!”

Best line from Mary all episode (re: Michael Gregson):

“Well, he’s not bad looking. And he’s still alive.


Interested in MORE recaps? Some of our favorite PBS stations have different perspectives:

Lizzie Acker for KQED on "Addams Family Values" in the S4 premiere

The Downton Dish at Season 4, Episode 1