Downton Abbey series four, episode one review: Mary mourns, Edith gets frisky

Also, Valentine’s Day sparks upset in the kitchen, evil Edna makes her reappearance and Daisy gets an electric whisk - it's all here in our episode one recap

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It had been six months since poor old Matthew met his maker at the wheel of his vintage car. But for some of the Crawley family (and us Downton fans), time hadn’t really moved on at all. 

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Luckily, we were eased back into the fold with an episode where Lady Mary’s loss took centre stage, giving us plenty of time to come to terms with the new turn of events… 

As a dreary version of the Downton theme tune tinkled in the background, an actress pretending to be O’Brien made her sly exit in the middle of the night to run off to India with Lady Rose’s mother – as sneaky in her departure as she ever was in the house. Perhaps Bates knowing about the slippery soap incident got too much?

The staff had a to-do, Robert could barely drink his morning cup of tea and Cora was beyond distraught at the idea of having to dress herself. Anna said she would step up to the task. Lady Mary wouldn’t mind. Presumably because she had been wearing the same black dress for the last six months and had stopped bothering to take it off at night…

Mary, it soon transpired, had also taken to calling her baby a “poor little orphan” – the most affectionate name she could muster – and holding him at arm’s length like a broken bag of groceries whenever she was forced to touch him. Her maternal instinct, it’s fair to say, was yet to kick in.  

What Mary was or was not doing with her time was a matter of concern for everyone in the house. Robert – misguided and oblivious as ever – was convinced that her pretty little head should never be troubled with anything ever again. While, as usual, the trio of common sense, Violet, Carson and Branson, disagreed. As we’ve been told before, being defeatist is very middle class. It was time she took up an interest in farming, poetry, carpentry, history or hats. Apparently. 

We weren’t too bothered about her finding a way to spend her time, though… Everyone loves a bitch, don’t they? And the cold-edged, icy-hearted Mary we loved in series one was well and truly back, just with more of a reason to be mean. This time, miserable Mary rivals Violet Crawley with her ability to make cutting remarks. She’s like Downton’s spectre, dropping deadened one liners as she passes through. True to form, she even managed to take time out of her mourning to ensure she crushed Edith’s spirit. It’s so important to keep up that sibling rivalry.  

It wasn’t just Mary who had been suffering, though. After six months of hanging around at the Abbey Matthew’s valet Mosely was losing his livelihood, as well as his hair. And Isobel, too, had lost the urge to be a busy body. Meanwhile, Lord G, as ever, had coped well with another death in the family and was taking his chance to undo all the modernisations Matthew put in place. Atta boy. 

Downstairs the staff were preoccupied with Valentine’s Day. Bates and Anna were very inappropriately kissing in the workplace, while Ivy and Daisy were hoping their cards were from the right footman. They weren’t. Ivy’s was from Alfred and Daisy’s was from… Mrs Patmore. 

Thankfully, Thomas decided against sending Jimmy a token of his affections. With O’Brien gone, Barrow was set on keeping up appearances and getting the new nanny fired instead, by telling Cora that she had been neglecting baby Sybie and little George. Purely by coincidence (a classic Downton plot device) Nanny West turned out to be a big old snob who was calling Sybie a cross breed and depriving her of scrambled eggs, so she got sacked and that was the end of that. All in a day’s work, eh? 

In an effort to replace O’Brien, Lady Rose got up to her first piece of mischief by placing an advert in the post office window for a new lady’s maid and secretly interviewing and hiring someone. That someone turned out to be… you guessed it, evil Edna. Unable to explain why she had such a good reference if she wasn’t any good, Mrs Hughes had no choice but to accept the new member of staff. Whether Edna plans to get back in Branson’s pants remains to be seen. Tune in next week to find out. 

Down in London things were heating up between Edith and her fancy man. He threw her a party to introduce her to all his literary friends. Even Virginia Woolf was there, but Edith was more concerned about staring into the eyes of dreamy Gregson and discussing the practicalities of their living in sin. The charmer hasn’t stopped thinking about her for one moment, apparently, and has discovered that he can divorce his mad, old wife if he becomes a German citizen. Edith, wisely, avoided making any commitments when it came to Germany and flashed her thigh in a fancy hotel instead. The pair then ate in public (this is a fairly big deal) and snogged a bit over the dinner table – “It feels so wild to be out with a man,” she giggled. 

Back at Downton, Violet was doing her bit to save poor old Mosely by throwing a luncheon to try and “sell” him to her friend. It seems Lady Shackleton was in the market for a butler and it was time for Mosley to impress with his skills. The bumbling man, nice as he is, was never great under pressure, though. And, goaded by Violet’s menacing butler Spratt, Mosely lead the luncheon into Fawlty Towers territory… with hilarious consequences. 

In other news, Daisy was given an electric whisk which only she was brave enough to use. Mrs Patmore thought it would ruin dinner and Ivy thought she’d get electrocuted but it made exceptional mousses so Patmore became determined to master the art. A bored Jimmy also took a smitten Ivy to the pub but she spewed all over the servant’s entrance on the way home. Anna gave her what we can only assume was cheesy chips, two paracetamol and a Berroca and she was soon fine.  

By the end of the episode, Isobel was back to her old self too, after saving Mr Greig (remember Carson’s old performing partner from series one?) from coughing in the workhouse. She was unsure at first, but after that business with ex-prostitute Ethel in series three she’s got a bit of a reputation for housing waifs and strays and she was soon declaring “We must all do what we can” again. Funny how taking in an ex-thief can pull some one out of their grief. 

Mary too was making steps to move on by the closing credits. Trusty Carson had stepped in to say: “You’re letting yourself be defeated, my lady. I’m sorry if it’s a lapse to say so, but someone has to.” She didn’t react at all well, but later did a u-turn and had a little cry on Carson’s shoulder, deciding it was time to fight for the changes Matthew made and steer Downton in the right direction.  

Handily, Robert and Branson just happened to be throwing a luncheon for Downton’s tenant farmers the next day so Mary made an appearance, notably dressed in purple, not black.

“Now Mr Taylor, what’s all this I hear about you giving up sheep?” she said. Looks like she’ll be fitting in just fine…


Best quotes of the week:

“Just because you’re an old widow, I see no necessity to eat off a tray…” Dowager Countess (of course. This is her category) to Isobel

“This is a man you sang and danced with. Do you feel nothing?” Mrs Hughes to Carson

“Well he’s not bad looking and he’s still alive, which puts him two points ahead of most men in our generation…” Lady Mary on Edith’s new squeeze


Downton Abbey continues on Sundays at 9:00pm on ITV


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