With many U.S. fans are still recouping from the Season 3 tragedies – the deaths of Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) — viewers may not be quite ready to embrace what Season 4 has in store.
Six months has passed since Matthew’s untimely demise and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is still in mourning. In fact, the entire Grantham household seems to be walking on egg-shells to not disturb Mary’s grief-stricken life. But grieving can only go on for so long and even sympathetic Tom (Allen Leech) knows that Mary needs a distraction. Fortunately, there is a nanny issue to address, tenant properties that need inspecting, and a massive estate to manage, all which may or may not be under Mary’s prevue as Matthew’s widow. Unfortunately, shaking Mary out of her stupor will be quite the task. But let’s not forget that Mary is now a very eligible widow – and many suitors will be circling around from a safe distance.
With Tom and Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) unsure which is the best way to approach Mary about the estate and its responsibilities, what really gets Mary’s attention are her suitors. It is something she is vastly familiar with and it brings her back to herself for a time. Be on the lookout for the newly acquired pigs on the estate, which bring a few fun adventures for Lady Mary.
Then also taking a great interest in the affairs of others, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) tries her best to give everyone a helpful push in order to get her family back to the art of living. Life is too short after all, and she will not sit back and let her granddaughters’ live unfulfilled lives. Nor will she abide by Mrs. Crawley’s (Penelope Wilton) retreat from the world either. So with her own share of meddling, Violet hilariously gets involved in everyone’s lives with unexpected results.
Not exactly sitting on the sidelines this season is Mary’s sister, Edith (Laura Carmichael), who seems to finally be coming into her own. Edith’s tentative steps towards romance with Mr. Gregson (Charles Edwards) have brought her into full bloom and Edith is ready to do anything to ensure her future happiness – and trying to finagle a way to properly introduce him to the family is top of her list. Fortunately, Mr. Gregson is a man of many talents and he can charm just about anyone, even a cantankerous and protective father.
With the ladies preoccupied with various pursuits, the lives downstairs with the staff of Downton Abbey are also a buzz with activity and ambition. The shenanigans of the lop-sided love quadrangle with Alfred (Matt Milne), Ivy (Cara Theobold), Jimmy (Ed Speleers) and Daisy (Sophie McShera) continues to play out with much misunderstanding on all sides. O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) has decamped, leaving a vacancy that Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is only too eager to fill with the candidate of his choice. Mosleley (Kevin Doyle) is hovering about trying to make himself useful and indispensible so he can stay on. And Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan)are keeping watchful eye over their flock to ensure that everyone’s work does not suffer by any distractions or wandering eyes.
Last but not least are Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt). Season 1 introduced them as the love-birds dancing around their growing admiration and attraction; Season 2 and 3 saw them fight to carve out a life together, facing great odds during the incarceration of Mr. Bates for the false conviction of murdering his ex-wife; and, horrifically, Season 4 takes them on an even darker journey. You would think that they would be safe under the protective roof of Downton, but even a grand house with a gentile family can be seen as easy prey. The pain Anna and Bates shall endure this season shall seem insurmountable. It will also make fans wonder why they are being so tortured. (Word of warning: Episode 3 should be watched with great caution.)
With so many things to preoccupy them all, it is enough to see why no one notices that something awful has happened. Despite the household distractions, the second half of Season 4 will keenly feel the after-effects of the Bates/Anna incident. It will make one very grateful that Mary has so many suitors to help keep the storyline from sinking into total despair.
Season 4 has many lighter moments, but one shattering moment will cast a long shadow over the season. You will enjoy the levity and love in the lives of those not struck by the tragedy, but it will feel like quite an ordeal getting through it all.
DOWNTON ABBEY Season 4 premieres Sunday, January 5th at 9:00 p.m. on PBS. You are invited to revisit a time when the world was shifting and changing and how one remarkable household stuck together through tragedy and success.
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