Sep 23 2013 10:44am

Downton Abbey Season 4 (Series 4), Episode 1 Recap: Taking the Black

Mary in Downton Abbey Series 4 episode 1The wait is finally over (for U.K. viewers, anyway). The Crawley family and their devoted staff are back in Downton Abbey Series 4. We're sure you're just as eager as we are to get to it, so without further ado...

(U.S. viewers, stick with us! We'll be re-posting Naz's recaps when Season 4 airs on PBS beginning in January.)

Note for U.S. Viewers: The season premiere of Downton Abbey as aired on PBS tonight was two hours long. In the UK they were shown as Episode 1 and Episode 2, so for Naz's recap of the second half of tonight's episode (originally posted to H&H in September), check out her recap of Episode 2 here. Plus, before you go, be sure to enter our Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Sweepstakes!


Well, here we go. It was a bittersweet episode, but I feel that they handled the aftermath of Matthew’s death very realistically.

You can tell things are going a different direction this season just by the opening. Unlike past seasons, there is no beautiful montage of activity at Downton while the actors’ names are displayed. We start in the dead of night, Downton, a shadowy prospect against a gray sky. Someone is packing a suitcase in the dark, leaving notes, and walking through passageways on quick feet. There’s a baby crying, and Mary’s lying alone in her bed, unable to sleep, as the camera focuses on a picture of her and Matthew on their wedding day.

Morning dawns with Anna standing in an empty servants’ room, while Mary stares at the misty vista outside her window. Then all of a sudden, it’s all action: turns out that O’Brien has left, and we see the servants running back and forth telling each other the news. And where has our resident meanie gone? Well, apparently, she’s snuck off “like a thief in the night” to go work for Shrimpie’s wife, Susan! Cora’s devastated, and poor Alfred tries to convince everyone downstairs that he didn’t know anything about it. Apparently though, Rose knew about her mother’s plan to poach O’Brien, and Edith gives her a lecture on what a breach in decorum it all is. Any way, that’s that. O’Brien is off, gallivanting around in India with the Flintshires.

Maggie Smith as the dowager in Downton Abbey 401Everyone’s still in semi-mourning clothing (grays and muted colors), except for Mary (well, and Anna), who’s in full black. Anna tries to coax her to wear a mauve-ish shawl, but she refuses. When the nanny brings in the baby, Mary calls him an orphan, to which Anna objects, since he still has his mother. But Mary is not moved. Clearly, she’s still heavily mired in her grief.

When Tom suggests asking Mary to join him and visit the plantations, Robert tells him to leave Mary alone because, “she has enough on her plate.” Okay, so Robert is letting Mary wallow. Violet’s out at the churchyard speaking to Molesley Sr. and watching some workers put the finishing touches on Matthew’s headstone, and we’re told that it’s been six months since he died. Okay, as an aside? The baby does not look like a six-month old. He’s still pretty tiny, in my opinion! We find out that Molesley (Jr.) is still at the Abbey, even though he technically doesn’t have a job and isn’t getting paid. Apparently, Molesley can’t find a job any where and Mr. Carson politely tells him that he can no longer trespass on their hospitality and has to leave. Poor Molesley!

The nanny is out with the two babies when Thomas walks by and stops to have a little chat with Baby Sybil. She confronts him and tells him that she doesn’t want him touching the babies! Can you believe that? He tells her that he knew the baby’s mother, a privilege she didn’t have, and when she argues that that doesn’t make him the baby’s friend, he tells her off. The tension between them continues throughout the episode, with Thomas deliberately ignoring the nanny’s “orders.” And of course, Thomas being Thomas, he takes matters into his own hands and complains to Cora, telling her that the nanny is neglecting the children. Oh, Thomas! How I’ve missed your devious ways!

Meanwhile, it seems that Matthew’s plans for the estate will have to be abandoned since the cost of his “death duty” (i.e. inheritance tax) are too exorbitant. Tom argues that they should consult with Mary before moving away from the plans to improve the estate, but Robert reminds him that Mary doesn’t have much power over the money, since the majority of it belongs to Baby George. Apparently, Matthew didn’t have a will giving Mary power to manage George’s fortune, so Robert has taken over, and he’s decided that Mary is too “fragile” to be involved. When Tom tries to convince him, Robert balks:

Robert: “You’ve seen her. She hardly has the energy to lift a fork to her mouth!”

Tom: “She loved him very much.”

Robert: “And the price of great love is great misery when one of you dies.”

Tom: “I know that.”

Poor Tom! It’s going to be interesting to see what’s going to happen to the estate now that Matthew’s no longer around to strong-arm Robert. Clearly, Tom doesn’t have the same sway over Robert, especially now that he’s more of an employee than a member of the family. I can see how this is going to create some tension down the line. We all know that Robert is not a fan of change, and that he was resisting the improvements Matthew was suggesting, so what’s going to happen to the estate if Robert takes over again? It’s really time for Mary to get up and out of her room and start working on making sure her son has a future at Downton!

Meanwhile, Edith goes to visit Isobel and we see her as stoic as ever, bearing Matthew’s loss with a great deal of grace. It feels as though she’s dealing with it way better than Mary, who seems to have given up on life. But it’s heartbreaking to hear Isobel say: “When your only child dies, then you’re not a mother any more. You’re not anything, really. And that’s what I’m trying to get used to.” Sniff.

Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey 4.01Does everyone remember Mr. Carson’s vaudeville partner from back in season one? Charlie Green? Well, he’s back and apparently, he’s been writing to Mr. Carson. When Mrs. Hughes catches Carson throwing the note away, she picks it up and goes to visit Green. He’s in Ripon working at a workhouse, and is very sick. Mrs. Hughes confronts Mr. Carson (who is very upset with her for having read his private mail) and he still refuses to help his old friend. Surprisingly, Mrs. Hughes approaches Isobel and asks for her help. Isobel (somewhat reluctantly) agrees to take him in and vouch for him with the authorities. Carson doesn’t understand why Mrs. Hughes chose to impose on Isobel while she’s still grieving, and Mrs. Hughes tells him that it was exactly for that reason that she chose to do so. It’s really interesting to see everyone trying to motivate Isobel to go back to her old self and take charge.

Edith heads to London in Downton Abbey Series 4 episode 1It seems that Edith is pursuing a relationship of sorts with Mr. Gregson. She goes up to London to visit him, and he’s thrown a party in her honor to introduce to all of his literary friends. Robert isn’t too happy about all of this, but is not saying anything. When she arrives in London, Gregson meets her at the station and asks whether or not she would consider moving to another country with him, a country where he can legally get a divorce from his wife. What? Seriously? Wow!

The party is in full swing, and Edith looks absolutely stunning. Apparently, Gregson had also made her an offer to live together, and he wants to know if she’s considering it. They’re clearly very much in love. I’m happy for Edith for having found someone who loves her so much, but did it have to be someone who is completely unavailable?

Meanwhile, Violet goes to visit Isobel and encourage her to go to the Abbey more often and spend time with little George. While she’s there, Molesley stops by to ask for his old job back, but obviously, Isobel doesn’t really need a butler. Isoble says that she’s just an “old widow who eats off a tray,” to which Violet quips, “just because you’re an old widow, I see no necessity to eat off a tray!” I’ve missed these two and their bantering ways. It’s nice to see that their relationship is still intact.

In true Violet fashion, she sets about finding a new job for Molesley and has him come over to the Dowager house to help serve luncheon during Lady Shackleton’s visit. Molesley’s a bit conflicted about working for someone else, since working for Matthew has “raised his standards,” but his father tells him to find a position, and then see about finding another one that might suit him better. Well, he shows up at the luncheon and the Dowager’s butler is threatened by him, and tries to sabotage Molesley’s “audition,” so to speak. It’s hilarious! Of course, things go badly, and Lady Shackelton basically dismisses Molesley as a suitable candidate for her household.

Back at Downton, in a truly bold move, Tom approaches Carson and asks for his help to get Mary out of her funk. He asks Carson to steer Mary towards the light, so to speak. I really love Tom for this. He sees Mary’s potential for leadership and is using every available means at his disposal to make sure she lives up to it. He tells Carson that Mary will listen to his advice, “because she knows you only want the best for her.”

So Carson decides to talk to Mary, and she gets really upset with him. She tells him that he’s overstepped his “mark,” and that he doesn’t understand the “affect Mr. Crawley’s death has had on me.” I have to admit, it’s good to see Mary react to something, anything. She looked like a zombie before this scene. It’s nice to see her revert back to her more imperious self, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Carson doesn’t let her get away with it though. He tells her that she’s being a defeatist, and that someone has to tell her the truth.

Mary and Tom Branson in Downton Abbey 4x01During dinner that night, everyone’s talking about the tenants’ luncheon, and apparently neither Cora nor Edith are available to act as hostess, so Violet and Tom keep harping on having Mary there, and she just loses it.

Mary: “Oh, for heaven’s sake! Why does everyone keep nagging and nagging? My husband is dead. Can’t you understand what that means? After all he suffered in the war, he’s killed in a stupid car crash. Matthew is dead fifty years before his time. Isn’t that enough for me to deal with? Just leave me alone!”

As Mary storms out, Robert basically tells everyone to lay off. He asks Violet to back him up in this, and she refuses. I really love Violet. She is truly the only pragmatist of the entire bunch. She goes up to Mary’s room and tells her that she needs to be there for her son. Mary admits that she doesn’t feel she’s “going to be a very good mother, because, somehow, with Matthew’s death, all the softness that he found in me seems to have dried up and drained away. Maybe it was only ever there in his imagination.” Violet tells her that the bottom line is for Mary to choose between death, or life. It’s an incredibly touching scene between two strong women, both of whom have faced great challenges in their lives, coming together. I really, really love Violet. Back downstairs, Robert tells Violet that he feels it’s everyone’s job to keep Mary safe and secure, and Violet vehemently disagrees with him. She tells him that it’s everyone’s job to bring Mary back into the land of the living and give her purpose.

You know what’s even worse? That the following night, when Mary offers to help Robert host the tenants’ luncheon, and tells him that she has ideas for the estate, he cuts her off and tells her to let him manage everything. Oh, Robert. When are you going to learn that your old ways are not going to work? Anyway, Mary goes down to see Carson and apologize, and he asks her if it means that she’s decided to join them in “the land of the living,” to which Mary replies that it means she’s spent too much time “in the land of the dead.” She breaks down and starts sobbing in Carson’s office, and he hugs her and tells her to have a good cry. I guess this entire time, she hadn’t allowed herself to cry? That’s probably why she was like a zombie. He tells her to cry and get it out, and then get back to work, to protect Matthew’s vision for the estate, and if need be, stand up to Robert. Yay, Carson! You know, in some respects, he’s a better “father” to Mary than Robert!

Meanwhile, the ever-troublesome Rose decides to help out and places an advertisement in the village for a ladies’ maid. She feels that she’s responsible for O’Brien’s leaving, so she’s trying to find a new maid for Cora. She finds someone who used to work at the Abbey as a housemaid, and takes Cora with her to Ripon to interview her. Oh my god! Do you know who it is? It’s Edna Braithwaite! The girl who was putting the moves on Tom! But of course, Cora doesn’t know any of that and hires her. Mrs. Hughes is NOT happy about this at all. She confides in Mr. Carson and they even discuss it with Tom, but ultimately they all decide to let Edna start working at Downton again, but keep an eye on her. Mrs. Hughes is not convinced that this is a good idea and feels like, “it all sounds like a ticking bomb.” I couldn’t agree with her more.

Edith seems to be taking a lot of trips to London these days. She meets up with Gregson for an intimate dinner at the Criterion, dressed up to the nines. She really looks absolutely gorgeous! Gregson comes right out and tells her that he loves her, and then tells her that he’s figured out how to divorce his wife. All he has to do is become a citizen of Germany, and then he can get the divorce and marry Edith. Edith is shocked at the lengths he is willing to go to be with her.

Edith: “You’re willing to become a German citizen? For me? You’re willing to do that?”

Gregson: “I’d become an Eskimo if it meant I could marry you.”

Edith: “But … Germany? After four years of fighting, you’d join the most hated race in Europe for me?”

And then, they kiss, at Edith’s insistence no less! Again, I’m really happy for Edith and I really, really hope this works out.

Guess what? It seems that Thomas wasn’t too far off about the nanny. She’s a mean, horrible woman. Cora walks in on her as she tells Baby Sybil to “go back to sleep, you little cross-breed.” Can you believe that? She thinks that Baby Sybil isn’t worth the same attention as Baby George because she is the “chauffeur’s daughter.” Cora fires her on the spot, and tells her that her “values have no place in a civilized home.” Go, Cora!

Anna and Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey Season 4 episode 1A minor plot line involves Valentine’s Day. Anna and Bates sent each other cards, but didn’t sign them (how cute is that!), and Daisy and Ivy both got cards from a secret admirer. Ivy thinks that Jimmy sent him the card, and he didn’t, but he takes advantage of the situation and convinces her to go out to the pub with him without asking permission. He gets poor Ivy drunk and Alfred and Anna have to step in and help. Of course, Daisy thinks that Alfred sent her a card, so Mrs. Patmore takes matters into her own hands, and makes Alfred confess that he really sent a card to Daisy. I know this is all a bit confusing, but basically, Jimmy didn’t send a card to anyone (well, not at Downton any way), and Alfred sent one to Ivy and…are you ready for this? Mrs. Patmore sent a card to Daisy, because she knew that Alfred wouldn’t give Daisy a card and didn’t want her to be sad. How awesome is that?

Another minor plot involves Mrs. Patmore’s being upset over a new electric mixer. She feels that the new gadgets will eventually replace people like her. Daisy loves the mixer and uses it with great success, but late one night, when Mrs. Patmore tries it, she ends up making a mess. She tells Mrs. Hughes not to let Daisy know about the incident, because she doesn’t want to be the one who’s “stuck in the past,” while Daisy moves on to the future. It’s sad to see her like this, but totally understandable. Change has come to Downton in varying degrees, and every person, be it upstairs or downstairs, is dealing with it in interesting ways.

The episode ended with all the tenants sitting in the dining room when Mary walks in, no longer dressed in black, takes her seat at the table and begins talking to the tenants about their plans. She’s back, and she’s taking control. Woot!

Next week In the next part, there will be tension between Anna and Edna, and Violet conspires to have Mary trained by Tom in the affairs of the estate. Robert also finds a letter from Matthew with what looks to be very serious information. Could it be a draft of a will, giving Mary full control over Matthew’s portion of the estate until little George is of age? We’ll have to wait and see!

Continue on to Naz's recap of Episode 2 for the second part of tonight's episode as aired in the U.S. on PBS!

Editor's note: Downton Abbey fans, take note! The book Behind the Scenes of Downton Abbey may well be relevant to your interests—it's full of Season 4 goodness.

But wait, there's more! H&H is hosting a Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Sweepstakes! Learn more here and enter while there's still time.


Love romance? For a weekly roundup of the hottest news, sneak peeks, reviews, cover reveals, TV recaps, sweepstakes, and much more, sign up for the Heroes and Heartbreakers newsletter.


Naz Keynejad is an avid reader, copy/story editor, and is currently working on her Masters degree in English literature. She’s a self-professed literary nerd and has a “thing” for period dramas. She will watch anything as long as it’s filled with British accents, suppressed sexual tension, angst, and of course, period costumes. Oh, and there has to be tea. Lots of tea.

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Friederike H. Keck
1. Friederike H. Keck
Hi Naz, it is good to have DA and your great recaps back. So thank you very much and keep going.
Friederike from Munich
Naz Keynejad
2. nazkey
Hi Friederike! It's good to be back, and I'm delighted to see you here as well. I'm looking forward to your insightful comments!
3. carmenlire
I was so excited for the new series, and was not disapointed! This episode was very well done, and I am so glad that Mary gained control by the end of the episode. I do hope that there may be a few flashbacks from the previous six months though.
In the previews for the next episode, it looked like Anna might meet a gentleman that changes the dynamics between her and Mr. Bates. I also liked the sneak peak of Tom and Mary hanging out together.
I was completely disinterested in the plotline with Charlie and Carson, however. I wish that they woud've mentioned the farm that Daisy will inhererit. And, I must say, I'm ver the whole love square with Daisy, Alfred, and the other two.
Naz Keynejad
4. nazkey
I'm hoping that they really don't create problems for Anna and Bates. They deserve a break!

Yeah, I'm over the whole love square too ;-)
Jeri Huish
5. jerilyn11
10-to-1, Mosley ends up performing onstage with Charlie.

I really liked this episode - I'm glad to see Mary moving through her greif and Tom coming into his own. Bringing back Edna and Rose though.... blah. Trouble. I guess they needed another schemer without O'Brien.
Naz Keynejad
6. nazkey
LOL. I love the idea of Molesley and Charlie together!
Friederike H. Keck
7. sl1878
I really like the idea that Thomas is looking out for Sybil's daughter. He's still my favorite character.
Friederike H. Keck
8. Kiran Lanfranchi
I hope that Downton Abbey does not turn out to be an ongoing saga, like soap opera. It would have more value, if the show ends at some point. Tragic that Matthew had to die. One of the nicest people in the drama. Just waiting to see what is next in store for Downton.
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