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Your favorite Edwardian drama is back! Our Downton Abbey season 4, episode 1 recap breaks down the events of the premiere, which aired Sunday, January 5 on PBS.

Last year’s season 3 finale left viewers on a big cliffhanger: Matthew Crawley had died on the same day as the birth of his and Lady Mary’s firstborn. The Downton Abbey season 4 premiere jumps ahead six months as Lady Mary and family are still recovering from the loss of Matthew.

The episode begins with a dark-cloaked figure leaving the family. It’s O’Brien, who’s departing the show because the actress who plays her (Siobhan Finneran) wanted to leave. Anna discovers the letter O’Brien left in the middle of the night and news spreads quickly around the home. Anna offers to take care of Cora while they find a replacement.

Lady Mary is still struggling from the loss of Matthew more than anyone, and understandably so. Even six months after his passing, she’s still wearing all black and insists on wearing no other colors. She also has a hard time bonding with her son, Master George, going so far as to describe him as an orphan.

Out on the farm handling the estate, Branson and Lord Grantham are discussing paying Matthew’s death duties and disagree over how they should be handled. Branson insists that Lady Mary be involved with the decisions, but Robert says that since he owns half of everything, he thinks he should manage George’s fortune. Later, Cora and Robert debate keeping Mary involved with the estate. “Matthew is co-owner, and now his son is. I worked with Matthew, now I must work for his boy,” Robert argues.

Looking to get Lady out of the emotional hole, Branson goes to Carson to ask him to speak to Lady Mary. He goes through with it, but Mary is offended that Carson would disagree with Robert’s plans for the estate. She believes her father is making the best decisions possible. “You’re letting yourself be defeated,” he tells her before stepping out of the room.

At dinner, there is more debate over the managing of the estate – including comments from Violet – and it sets Mary off. She storms out of the room. Later that night before leaving, Violet goes to Mary’s bedroom and offers some advice. “I love you,” she tells Mary. “Now you must remember your son. He needs you very much. The fact is, you have a straightforward choice before you: You must choose either death or life.”

“And you think I should choose life,” Mary asks. Violet nods.

After talking with her father, Lady Mary realizes that she is being taken advantage of and goes to apologize to Carson. She gets emotional and the two embrace in a warm hug.

Meanwhile, Molesley is in need of a job after the death of Matthew, who he worked for. He asks Carson to continue at Downton, but Carson isn’t interested in him staying around.

Also in mourning is Isobel Crawley, Matthew’s mother. She is wondering what her purpose is anymore. Edith reminds her, “You’re a grandmother, and I know you’re going to be a wonderful one.” Later, Lady Violet agrees that Isobel should use George to give her purpose. While Violet is at Isobel’s, Molesley comes in and asks for a job, but Isobel doesn’t think she needs assistance. Violet is interested in helping him, however, and sets up an opportunity.

Speaking of Edith, she was tasked with putting an ad up at a local store for the open maid’s position that O’Brien left vacant. Edna – who we saw in a previous season of Downton – has been training for a position like this and applies. Edith and Cora meet with Edna over tea, and she gets the job thanks largely to a letter of recommendation from Mrs. Hughes. There’s just one problem: In season 3, the recommendation letter was given to her as leverage after a quick romantic relationship between her and Branson.

Edith also went into London to meet with Michael, who informs her that he’s interested in moving to Germany. Over dinner at the Criterion, Michael professes his love for Edith. He also tells her he can divorce his wife Lizzie if he becomes a German citizen. At tea later, Edith invites her man to Downton so the family can meet him at a house party.

Barrow and Nanny West enter into a tiff over the course of the first half of the episode over silly things related to each other’s power. Always looking to stir up trouble, Barrow rats on West by telling Cora that she has been neglecting Branson and Mary’s children. Later, Cora peeks in on West taking care of the kids and hears her calling Sybil and Branson’s child a crossbreed. She fires her on the spot.

The end of the first half of the episode concluded with Lady Mary – now dressed in purple instead of her mourning-black – entering an afternoon event with Branson, Robert, and farmers from around Downton.

The second hour of the episode kicked off with a box arriving from the office of Matthew, and in it Robert finds a letter that reveals he wanted Mary to be his sole heiress. Before taking it to his daughter, Robert presents this note to Violet, who encourages him to share the letter with Mary even if it isn’t legally valid.

Speaking with Mary privately, Robert reveals the existence of the letter. They then bring it to Isobel and the rest of the upstairs family so they can all read it together. Robert still insists they bring it to their lawyer Murray because it is not a will.

Later, Violet comes up with a plan to help Mary run the estate: Tom will teach Mary the ropes of farming. “Let her see the problems facing the estate,” she explains. Mary is hesitant about this plan because they’re keeping Robert in the dark, but in Violet’s wise words, “There can be too much truth in any relationship.”

Lady Rose asks Anna to go with her into town to go dancing. She’s not interested but is dragged along anyway. At the dance hall, Rose immediately begins batting her eyelashes at several gentlemen. Her dashing looks work – Rose picks up a man and tells him she’s a lady’s maid at Downton. It comes back to bite her later when he makes a surprise visit to Downton to see her again. In what is a great moment, Anna suggests she dresses up as a maid and says she’s actually seeing someone else.

At the end of the episode we learn that Mary does indeed own half the estate because Matthew’s letter was valid. She and Robert promise to begin discussions the next day about the handling of the farms.

Other notes about the episode:

- Barreling into modern times, downstairs receives an electric mixer, which puts off Mrs. Patmore, who doesn’t like new technology.

- Anna tries to give Mr. Molesley some money to pay off his debts, but he refuses to accept them. Later, Bates works with Violet to give him money. Anna asks how he pulled it off, and he credits prison with a proud smile.

- Carson showed his romantic side – once with his knowledge of Valentine’s Day, and second when we hear about a former flame. A plot involving a former friend of his begins and ends on the episode when Isobel and Mrs. Hughes organize a repair.

- A love triangle has formed between Alfred, Ivy, and Daisy.

The best ‘Downton Abbey’ quotes of the episode

“We must all have our hearts broken once or twice before we’re done.” – Mrs. Hughes

“It’s getting harder and harder to say no.” – Edith to Michael

“There can be too much truth in any relationship.” – Lady Violet

“How do people have time to write when the week is just beginning?” – Mrs. Hughes

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

“It’s not for me to have an opinion, but I will say this.” – Mrs. Hughes

What did you think of ‘Downton Abbey’ season 4′s premiere?

Episode 2 airs Sunday, January 12 at 9 p.m. eastern on PBS. Watch a trailer below:

  • K@

    Nanny West was the worst! I can’t believe she called that poor child a half breed!In my head I pretended that the nanny was a squib who sided with the death eaters. When she was cast aside by the wizarding world she decided to take revenge on muggle non-pure bloods. I also like to pretend that Carson is somehow related to Snape.
    On a completely unrelated note, I’m not a fan of Rose. I feel her character is somewhat unneeded and it takes focus/ plot lines away from Lady Edith.
    And I understand Mary is going through a hard time, but being a mother should come before her mourning and her own sadness. It took her way to long to snap out of it.
    But the episode was great! I broke out my good china, had some fancy cheese and chocolate and had the best time ever! I’m so happy to visit Downton Abbey again!

    • fanatic

      That sounds way too judgmental of Mary. Depression isn’t something you just “snap out of” (even though the show kind of made it seem that way). Everyone handles grief differently, and it’s not uncommon to withdraw from family and friends, including your own children. That’s not to say she shouldn’t be working towards getting better, but she should do so for her own sake, and then her relationship with her son will come more easily…. Sorry for the therapy lesson, lol.

      • Sam

        Agreed. And when Mary finally does “snap out” of it people will be saying she moved on too quickly. Just watch -_- They had to give her at least one episode to mourn Matthew!! Sheesh!!

    • Downton Fan

      Please don’t judge Mary so harshly. Remember this was the time of the Wet Nurse, the mother would often only have a visit from her baby once a day for an hour or so. It was how those in the Upper Classes were bought up, and how they bought up their own children. It’s the same reason why Mary cried on Carson’s shoulder, but would never cry on her own fathers shoulder. It didn’t show less love, just a lady abiding by the rules of that time.

  • luna97381

    robert is getting so detestable. at least i love to hate thomas

  • upper_westsider

    Very glad to have Downton back! Definitely rooting for Mary (with Tom’s help) to take more repsonsibility for the estate. Her father can’t seem to move on with the times. He drives me up the wall with his “we have to be sensitive to feminine sensibilities” crap.

    After feeling sympathy for Thomas last season, I’m hating him again. He’s trying to be O’Brien, but he’s not cunning enough.

    Very happy for Edith and her romance, but I think something will go wrong there. Always seems to happen for her.

    • Crazy-Eight23

      Right? I just want Edith to say “screw all of you and your judgmental lifestyle! I’m leaving.” But I still want to see her even if she leaves. Episode 3 is heartbreaking..

  • Ken Jones

    I liked the show. Episode one managed to pull my chain at least 4 times. That’s what’s so good about the show. It’s warm hearted. As such, it renews our hope for the human race.

    • Lisa Watine Abere

      After waiting so long, I couldn’t dislike the episode no matter what when on! On the whole I thought it was very good, but I agree there were a lot of threads going on, some of which did not look incredibly interesting. I have the following comments:
      - Even a stinker such as Thomas has to acknowledge that it was Bates and Anna who “convinced” O’Brien to talk to Jimmy about letting him (Thomas) stay on at Downton, ultimately making him underbutler. In fact there was a touching scene where Thomas wondered why Bates was helping him and he says he knows what it’s like to have nowhere to turn. How could Thomas forget this so quickly and look to stir up trouble for Anna and Bates? And why the heck should he care about the new maid? Not as if he’s hoping for a relationship with her.
      - Speaking of the new maid, Edna, I’m not clear on why Mrs Hughes and Branson allowed her to return. What was wrong with Branson saying “She made an inappropriate move on me?” No one would have held him responsible. Why do they let her have a job when she’s so clearly a troublemaker?

      - And also, why in God’s name would Cora believe Thomas over Anna, who is SO devoted to Cora and Mary that she helped carry the DEAD BODY of Mr Pamuk and never told a soul? You’d think that would be enough to earn her ladyship’s trust.. and overlook a torn scarf (if that’s what it was?) or two.
      - The whole character of Rose is going to be annoying. I’m telling you right now!
      -Edith’s storyline is going to be interesting- she’s turned from a bitter jealous witch to a modern, intelligent woman! Yo go girl!

      I happen to love Robert, I hope he doesn’t turn into too much of a cartoon.. I think he means well but he just can’t shake the old fashioned values. I also loved the storyline for Carson, anything he does he just wonderful, and he and Mrs. Hughes are just great together. Hopefully they can come up with something for Daisy, Alfred, Jimmy and Ivy to do.. not much doing there as it stands.
      Well, that’s my 2 cents! (or pence!) Can’t wait for next week!

      • verity

        I agree with everything you just said!

      • Ken Jones

        I also agree with everything Lisa said. I suppose Julian has some explain’in to do in the next episodes.

  • joojie

    I can’t remember the story-line of Edna, the new lady’s maid, with Branson and why she got the boot. Any help?

    • Susan

      Edna hit on Branson in a previous episode and was sacked for it…..shes back to make more trouble for him.

  • Egon Denhounde

    My five cents worth. It was disappointing indeed, with too many new story lines hinted at or emerging a bit helter-skelter – hopefully to be woven back into the central fabric of Season 4 at a later date. Some things were inane and incongruous – Thomas sniping with the Nannie who later gets canned for verbal child abuse, the scene at the dance with a “new” suitor emerging for the raucous little tramp (Rose), the Dowager providing money for a poor butler who just gets trampled on by everyone despite being a good person and loyal servant, and then Anna & Bates seemingly sucked into a conflict with Thomas and the returning prodigal maid (Edna).
    The fight over who will ultimately lead the charge on making the Abbey somewhat
    profitable also portends some family infighting to come. The acting remains solid, but there are too many threads in the script that will now be developed in the coming weeks. Fellowes has lost the sense in the “20′s” of the truly shattering social changes that were foreseen at the end of Season 3. I hope he gets that over-arching theme back on track fast to avoid Downton Abbey from descending into a Latin style “novela”.

  • AbbyFan

    It was Lady Rose MacClare , not Edith, who had tea with Cora at Edna’s interview.

  • missxsteph21

    I am not really sure how much I like Micheal. I feel like there’s something funky going on with this whole moving to Germany thing. I may just be worried that he’s going to hurt Edith and I really want her to be happy.
    Violets talk with Mary was so sweet, especially when she told her she loves her. Total aww moment if there ever was one.
    I think its awesome that Mary gets to own part of the estate now, and help out. Matthew totally knew what he was doing….what a smart man he was.
    I loved the episode and am so happy to have Downton back on my tv.

  • Septima

    When Carson told Mary off before leaving her room, it was so sassy I literally z-snapped.

  • Maui2010

    Is Lady Rose a niece? I missed some episodes in the past and I am not exactly sure who she is.

  • Downton Fan

    Was something missing last night? Remember when Nanny West reprimanded Barrow about not passing on the message about the eggs? I don’t remember seeing it, did I miss something? Then there was that very small section between two commercial breaks, the one where they went into the young boy in a red shirt laying in the field. It seemed to cut the film off to go into that commercial.

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