Monday, January 6, 2014

Downton Abbey Series 4, Part 1

Six months have passed since the car wreck heard 'round the world took Matthew from Downton Abbey, and if you weren't sure that THINGS HAD CHANGED, well all you had to do was watch the credits...the familiar backside of Lord Grantham's beloved dog was replaced by scenes with positively Gothic overtones of someone sneaking out of Downton under the cover of darkness. Downton Abbey is BACK, people!! :) (And in case you're not familiar with my Downton recaps, this is NOT a spoiler-free post!)

The figure sneaking away in the middle of the night turns out to be the love-to-hate O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), who has absconded to INDIA with Violet's niece Susan! (I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that I totally suggested this last year, thanks for reading the blog Mr. Fellowes! *wink*) While I suppose I'll miss O'Brien's scheming (and her epic bangs!), I think it is wholly appropriate that the character make their exit causing scandal -- family members poaching each other's staff! Sneaking off in the dead of night!! THE SHENANIGANS!!!

O'Brien's hasty exit in Lady Susan's employ makes things right awkward for her daughter Rose (Lily James), who feels rather guilty that her mother would do something so declasse as poach a longtime staff member from the household that's been hosting her daughter for the past six months. She shows some initiative and posts an advertisement for a lady's maid in the POST OFFICE WINDOW, which is pretty shockingly modern but unfortunately attracts the attention of the erstwhile maid Edna (MyAnna Buring), who uses the reference provided by Mrs. Hughes -- which was basically a bribe to get rid of her -- to get re-hired by the family. I pretty much hate Edna with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns, so I am in complete accord with Mrs. Hughes' assessment that Edna's reintroduction to Downton is like a bomb waiting to go off. (Side note: It's refreshing to see Rose be, well -- excited and youthful and least thus far. Her little interlude masquerading as as a maid at a local dance was HILARIOUS.)

Continuing to assess the downstairs action, we get a little Valentine's Day card drama to remind us that NO ONE IS INTERESTED IN DAISY which is one of this show's greatest tragedies! Both Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Ivy (Cara Thebold) get cards from anonymous admirers. Daisy is heart-breakingly hopeful that Alfred (Matt Milne) sent her a card, but he's deep in the midst of his own awkward times deflecting questions about his aunt's midnight decampment from Downton, and he still, for some reason I cannot fathom, has eyes for Ivy alone. Ivy of course is still into Jimmy (Ed Speelers), who seems only willing to flirt until he decides HEY, WHY NOT, IVY LIKES ME I SHOULD TAKE HER OUT. They can have each other, because who needs Jimmy or Alfred when you have a kick-ass mentor like Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) who sends you a card just because she's worried about you feeling left out of the romance drama, and you COMPLETELY MASTER the art of making mousse with the SHINY NEW ELECTRIC BLENDER in no time flat. Daisy, my dear, you rock. :)

Carson (Jim Carter) finds himself in the middle of some unexpected drama when his old acting partner, Charles Grigg (Nicky Henson) -- whom we haven't seen since season one, part two! -- has fallen on hard times and found himself in the workhouse. It seems Carson can hold a bit of a grudge, and his reluctance to see Charles stems from the disappointed romantic hopes of youth rather than any concern about keeping his stellar reputation as a butler without equal intact. Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), however, cannot STAND to see Carson tortured (because they are IN LOVE, right?! they just don't know it yet), and after a little smart reconnaissance work discovers a repentant Mr. Grigg, in desperate need of help and desperate to make amends with his one-time friend.

Mrs. Hughes decides I CAN FIX THIS! She goes to the grief-stricken Isobel (Penelope Wilton), who has a long history of being SUPER ANNOYING. But a bereft Isobel I can apparently deal with -- but Mrs. Hughes very wisely realizes that a bereft Isobel ISN'T NORMAL, so she convinces her to take on her first post-Matthew project of fixing Mr. Grigg, which she does with her usual efficiency, securing him a job in Ireland. But Carson has taken grave exception to Mrs. Hughes' well-intentioned meddling, and it takes some SPARKS and as close as the two of them get to fighting for him to realize that he has no need to hang on to the memory of some woman who threw him over way back when, because HELLLOOO!!! Mrs. Hughes is RIGHT THERE. (I kid, I kid, I'm projecting a bit here...)

Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) are stupid cute in this episode...I mean RIDICULOUSLY happy. And since I know a few spoilers for what's coming later on in the season, this breaks my heart...I mean don't these lovebirds realize by now that happiness is a jinx?! Bates -- did anyone else notice that he's hardly limping anymore? -- gets some wonderful screentime as the devoted husband, going out of his way to placate Anna's worries about Molesley's (Kevin Doyle) unemployment situation by playing a sort of jolly Santa Claus. Seeing the normally stoic Bates involved in such a light-hearted scheme is, frankly, adorable, and just makes me want to give Brendan Coyle a hug. :) Apparently Edna and Thomas (Rob James-Collier) are now allies and have decided to take-down Anna in the family's estimation, which honestly feels like such a poor imitation of a classic O'Brien-Thomas scheme one wonders why Fellowes bothered... (Also, how sad is it that unemployed Molesley is the most compelling version of this character to date? Poor guy...)

Speaking of Thomas, he accidentally does something rather good by complaining about Nanny West's (Di Botcher) treatment of the newest Crawley family members, George and Sybbie Jr, after the nanny tries to give him orders. While I completely get Thomas' affection for Sybbie, as her mother always treated him with kindness, I really didn't expect the nanny to actually be guilty of abusing the girl in favor of her cousin because of Branson's history in service. YIKES. In other news, the discovery of Nanny West's unsuitability provided Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) with one of her more awesome moments to date in the series. Half the time Cora is such a frustrating character because she takes EVERYTHING the servants tell her at face value...but just when I think she couldn't be more clueless, she does something awesome like accept Branson into the family because Sybil loved him, or go all Mama Bear on the evil nanny. BE MORE AWESOME, CORA. I know you can do it!

For the past six months, upstairs life has revolved around trying to accommodate Mary's (Michelle Dockery) crippling grief. She's become a shadow of her former self -- I've read many describing her as a zombie, which personally I find a little harsh -- I mean just because I don't really care that Matthew's gone doesn't mean I don't think she shouldn' his widow her grief and crippling depression makes sense to me. But then I've always felt like I liked Mary a lot more than many other viewers of the show? ANYWAYS, enough thinking out loud there. Mary's zombification leads to two interesting plot points -- Robert's (Hugh Bonneville) insistence that she not be bothered with anything regarding the running of the estate, and Branson's (Allen Leech) belief that she NEEDS to do just that in order to bring her back to life. Also, how wrenching and powerful were Mary and Carson's scenes? It broke my heart a bit when she told him off but it made sense...and I loved that Carson loves her enough, and has known her long enough, to know where that anger was coming from. Well-played by both Dockery and Carter.

I love Branson the estate agent SO MUCH. He seems to have really settled into the role comfortably and his compassion for Mary's grief, and his understanding of what it takes to find the will to engage again from his own loss is really beautifully played. Loss and parenthood have softened this one-time hothead's rough edges with a lot of compassion and wisdom. Robert's reluctance to involve Mary in the stewardship of her son's inheritance is highly concerning...I do think Robert grieves Matthew, but his insistence on not burdening Mary starts to become annoyingly patronizing all too quickly. Thankfully his mother is around to put him in his place, especially when he floats the ridiculous notion that it would be permissible to conceal Matthew's final wishes -- a will of intent if not in actuality -- until his lawyer verifies it. BADLY DONE, ROBERT.

I adored Violet (Maggie Smith) as per the norm in this episode. Not only is she as smart and sassy as ever, but the woman looked AMAZING. That dove-grey ensemble she was wearing at one point? SO STYLISH. Smith is an acting powerhouse, and the moment where she encourages Mary to re-enter the land of the living just KILLED me. I would love more of the Dowager's backstory...for all her quick wit and sharp tongue, this is a woman capable of great compassion and empathy...and I'd love to know how she got there. Too bad we can't travel back in time to let a young Maggie Smith bring a film of Violet's youth to life. :)

Now Edith (Laura Carmichael) -- that girl is ROCKING the 1920's fashions isn't she? Girl has finally got a decade whose looks love her. *wink* Apparently she's still writing, but no one really knows about what exactly, because WHO CARES she and her editor still have a little something going on! And dancing on the edge of a full-blown affair is apparently VERY good for Edith's looks and temperament! Gregson (Charles Edwards) -- I can't be bothered to call him Michael -- is like some needy version of Rochester. I mean SO CUTE but SO DOESN'T HAVE IT TOGETHER. His latest brilliant idea is becoming a German citizen because apparently that means he could divorce his insane wife and marry Edith. Not that I think the show is going to go well into the 1930s (not successfully at any rate), but who doesn't see Fellowes thinking "oh!! Gregson can become a German fascist!" LIKE THAT IS GOING TO END WELL. :P

I suppose this about covers it for Downton's two-hour season four premiere. For all this show's forays into soapiness and predictability I still love it. Thoughts on the first two hours -- did I leave anything out? And for those of you who have watched series four in its entirety, please try to keep comments as spoiler-free as possible for those in the US watching this season as it airs on PBS!

*All images copyright Masterpiece/ITV/Carnival films. No copyright infringement intended.


Debra E. Marvin said...

I guess I'm used to Robert being a horse's backside at times but Cora's Mama Bear Moment did not make up for the fact she is favoring Thomas over Anna. I'm still ticked.

Of course, we have to have conflict and 'bad things happen to good people' but CORA!!! wake up!!

The downstairs gang is really going all "Liberty Hall" on us. Anna, in all her thoughtfulness, is playing right into Thomas's game.
You know... I used to think Edna was on the fence. I gave her a lot of slack for crushing on Tom. (Right?) but if she is the new O'Brien, she is the slicker version because she looks so sweet. Much more frightening than OBrien's Bangs!

thanks for the replay! always fun to dish!

Unknown said...

@Debra - LOL! As far as Cora goes...well I can see Thomas having a lot of credit after being proved right about the Nanny. I mean that's her grandkids...that would be HUGE compared to a squabble between maids.

I cannot STAND Edna. I think she is, in many respects, more of a manipulator than O'Brien or Thomas because she's subtler...targeting based on emotional need.

Thanks for stopping by!

Heidenkind said...

I enjoyed it too. And Mary was totally a zombie. :p

I hope the show has more Rose and Branson in future eps. They at least have fresh stories to tell while others (like Bates and Anna) seem to winding down. I don't know what happens, but I do know Happy Bates can't last long.

Anne Mateer said...

You said so many things that were EXACTLY what I was thinking when I watched it! I want to slap Cora every time she believes one of the servants without question. I totally did not see it coming that Thomas was actually RIGHT about the Nanny--and was glad Cora defended "the chauffeur's daughter." I'm so glad Mary snapped out of it by the end. She was really getting on my nerves, as was Lord Grantham. I loved it when Violet asked him if she should call Nanny to give him some milk and put him to bed!

Poor Moseley! I felt so sorry for the guy! And Edna? Words cannot describe how much I hate her--especially her and Thomas in cahoots against sweet Anna, though I fear Rose will get Anna in trouble, too. Mrs. P is so awesome to Daisy.

Looking forward to settling into the story over the next few weeks.

On last note--little Sybbie is Adorable!!! (And so happy her daddy has settled in at Downton, too.)

Jack said...

That one lady from Harry Potter is still alive? (In the show I mean. Not in real life, I know she's not that old in real life.) How many seasons has she been there? She is the only character who has any interest for me, to be honest. If I ever got around to watch the show it would be for her

Unknown said...

@Tasha - All I can say is BRACE YOURSELF. I think the other shoe for Happy Bates drops in this week's episode.

@Anne - Great minds, hmm? ;) And wasn't Violet just on fire? Loved that!!

@Jack - Yep, Maggie Smith is still with us in real life and on the show...I had to look up how old she is though -- she's 80, I would think that is about her age on the show? Anyways, she's been on it all for seasons, since the beginning!

Kristin said...

I don't like Edna at all, either. Honestly, until they brought Branson in to explain the situation to him, I thought that she was the war widow maid that Robert kissed! And I was thinking, Cora, you're hiring someone who's going to ruin your marriage. Yeah...I don't know why I didn't recognize her. I just rewatched the whole series last month! :)

Daisy is so awesome, but she really needs a real love interest. I'm still hoping for Alfred, though I like him less and less since he's so smitten with Ivy.

Oh no! I'm not ready for more Bates/Anna unhappiness. I have thankfully avoided all spoilers for this season (so far), so I have no idea what's coming.

I was totally not expecting the Nanny to actually be cruel, either! I definitely took her side over Thomas' until that scene. What she was saying to Sybbie made me angrier than anything in Downton Abbey ever has before, strangely enough...I just kept thinking about how scarred that poor little girl would be if she had kept growing up with someone telling her that garbage.

I hated zombie-Mary...I just wanted her to yell or cry or something! Exploding would have been better than the fog she was in. I'm glad that when she finally broke down, it was with Carson. He was the best person it could have happened with, and that scene was so sweet.

Edith does really rock 20s fashions. I loved how she pulled off that bright head scarf at the party. :) I also feel like there's no way that relationship can end well.

Awesome recap, Ruth! It's almost like watching the episode again. :)

Unknown said...

@Kristin - Oh gosh I kinda forgot about that maid!! I wonder if she'll ever make a re-appearance (it would be fun to see Gwen from season one again -- but even if we never do, it was cool to hear her get a shout-out!).

I am with you on the Alfred thing -- I'm kinda hoping that someone completely new and awesome comes in and sweeps Daisy off her feet at some point.

I couldn't agree with you more about Carson being the best person for Mary to finally break down with -- as hard as their first "fight" was to watch, the later apology was beautifully much depth and honesty between those two characters! Loved it!

Edith's head scarf was amazing!! I wish I could pull that off. ;)

And thank you!! :)

Jennifer said...

I don't think you left anything out. :) I read someone's interpretation of Mary in this episode as a woman suffering from post-partum depression, which is probably true considering her lifelessness and comments about not being a good mother. I've never liked her, honestly, but the scenes with her and Carson were so good. I like how they keep juxtaposing her relationship with her father and her relationship with Carson. Insightful.

I was highly annoyed by Daisy in previous episodes, but I liked her a lot in this one. And I've always loved Ms. Patmore. Edna is so annoying; you are correct, her and Thomas's conniving is such a poor knock off of the O'Brien-Thomas shenanigans. O'Brien bugged me, but I kind of miss her. And I miss her bangs!

And, waiting a week between episodes isn't so bad. More time to process. ;)

Unknown said...

@Jennifer - Oh good! :) I think the post-partum depression thing is probably spot-on...that plus depression over losing your husband? How awful. :( And I hadn't really thought about her relationship w/ Carson in those terms, but you are so right...he's the warm father figure I think she's probably always craved, but lacked when it comes to her relationship w/ Robert.

Poor O'Brien...I hope she's having fun in India... ;)

Debra E. Marvin said...

there IS a new male servant coming which is bound to mess up the love quadrangle!! hoping for the best for Daisy!
That's not a spoiler I hope... it's been on the previews.

I am personally quite ready for a nice strong willed male lead that Mary won't run roughshod over. Matthew had his place and their love story still brings me to tears (I cry every time they sing together in S2) but I'm looking forward to new fireworks!

Unknown said...

@Debra - No, I have heard that and I think I've seen some pictures. It is so hard to stay completely spoiler-free when this began to air in the UK months ago!!

Keeping my fingers crossed for Mary's new love interests as well...I do hope they are tough...they'll need it. ;)

Debra E. Marvin said...

I learned my lessons, Ruth.
I stay off twitter on Sunday night, and I avoid many spoilers during the fall.

Did catch one though... a big one. You may know it too. I love having the international aspect of my social media but spoilers are so difficult to avoid!

Both the new upstairs men are quite dishy!

Unknown said...

@Debra - I hear that. If it's what's coming this week, I'm actually glad I know. That's not a "surprise" I'd want to go into cold. :P

Debra E. Marvin said...

yes. I think that knowing Matthew was out at the end of the season made their scenes more bitter sweet and then I avoided that SCREAMING SHOCK that came in the last minute of the season!

Unknown said...

@Debra - Yep. Honestly, I was surprised at how little I missed his presence, lol! ;)

Rissi said...

...sorry, I feel no loss over O'Brien to those that miss her. ;) There is still plenty of scheming with Thomas (that dude knows how to play the cards) and while, yes, it's sad, I actually appreciated the somber beginnings because it'd have otherwise been unrealistic for things to be "normal" after such a loss. SUPER glad you liked it, Ruth despite the cliches, and the like. :)

Unknown said...

@Rissi - Oh I don't really miss her any more than I miss Matthew...but she was a fun character to hate every week. ;)

Lori said...

Just now read your review...I agree with about Mary. She's kind of a tough character to love but she's really grown on me and I do really like her. I thought he performance was spot on.

You are also spot on about there needing to be a backstory about Violet. That is exactly the sort of spinoff they need if Downton ends next season!

I also love Branson so much more this season.

Unknown said...

@Lori - Yay for more Mary appreciation!! ;)

I really do hope Fellowes and ITV wrap up Downton before it goes on too long...