Downton Abbey: full series four recap

Miserable Mary, evil valets and secret love children – all the drama from the fourth season of Downton Abbey

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It’s 1922 and six months after the demise of poor Matthew Crawley. 

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A listless Lady Mary, dressed all in black, wanders the hallways of the Abbey making cutting remarks, looking unbearably miserable and calling her baby a “poor little orphan.” The family are worried about her and naturally suggest she takes up an interest in history or hats.

Isobel is faring just as badly – she can’t even be bothered to spar with the Dowager or poke her nose into anyone else’s business.

Down in London, Edith is grand, hanging around in literary circles, wearing dresses with huge splits and kissing her fancy man in public. They’ve even come up with a solution to the mad wife dilemma: Gregson will head to Germany where the law is different and become a German citizen. It’s a foolproof plan.

Meanwhile, scheming lady’s maid O’Brien sneaks away in the dead of night and the household is beyond inconvenienced. Determined to be helpful, new permanent family member Lady Rose hires a new maid – who unfortunately turns out to be Branson’s old almost-flame Edna. Edna, obviously, is delighted. 

Soon, a letter arrives from Matthew’s solicitor (what is it with everything arriving so slowly in this show?) saying that in the case of his death Mary inherits everything. Robert is visibly distressed by the idea of a woman being his co-lord. But a quick slap on the wrist from Violet and a hugely passive aggressive dinner later he grudgingly agrees to let Mary take an interest in the business side of the estate.

The Crawleys decide to host a fancy weekend party starring a famous performer Nellie Melba (Kiri Te Kanawa). Branson feels like a fool hobnobbing with the upper classes – Edna takes advantage of his low self esteem with a little Whiskey-fueled hanky-panky – while Gregson struggles to bond with Lord G, until a costly card game goes awry.

Also invited is the rather handsome Lord Gillingham, Mary’s former childhood friend who, though engaged, is clearly interested in getting into her bloomers. And with new aristocracy comes new servants, this time in the shape of Gillingham’s valet Green (Yep, Dennis from EastEnders) who starts flirting with Anna and making the servants laugh inappropriately loudly in the kitchen. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security though…

It’s all fun and games until everything takes a horribly sinister turn during Dame Nellie’s performance when he follows Anna downstairs and rapes her. 

After the party, Edna claims that Branson has impregnated her, until Mrs Hughes uncovers it as a lie and sends her away for good, while, knowing Bate’s murderous potential, Anna decides she has to keep her pain a secret and moves out of her marital home to avoid facing him.

Down in London again Gillingham asks Mary to marry him – the other fiancé falling somewhere by the wayside – but the eldest Crawley sister is determined to focus on fallow farmland and field drainage instead. Lady Rose meets American jazz musician Jack Ross, who is charming but – shock horror – black, and Lady Edith indulges in an illicit overnight stay at Gregson’s flat. Naughty, naughty.

Back at the Abbey, a new lady’s maid – Baxter, a quiet woman seemingly as evil Thomas (who is actually being blackmailed by him) – is hired to dress Cora. How she’s been managing we just don’t know. While the kitchen-based love triangle continues, with Jimmy trying to impress Ivy with his jar-opening skills and Daisy pouting over the porridge, until Alfred decides to stop pining and bags a fancy job at The Ritz.  

Evelyn Napier – you know, the chap from series one who bought ill-fated Pamuk to the Abbey – comes back up north to do a study of mismanaged stately homes, bringing with him his friend Charles Blake aka Lady Mary’s suitor number two. 

He comes in awfully handy when the Crawleys decide to embark on pig farming. After a conversation about the merits of a good pig man, Blake offers to take a look at the little porkers and finds that they are all terribly dehydrated. Him and Mary then spend a steamy night filling buckets and getting covered in pig muck. It’s really rather surreal. 

In other, more serious, news, Edith visits a Doctor in London which can only mean one thing: she’s got a brötchen in the oven. The troubling discovery made even more troubling by the fact that her baby daddy hasn’t been heard from since his arrival in Germany. She soon shares her secret with Aunt Rosamund, saying that she plans to have an illegal abortion but a trip to the backstreet clinic soon changes her mind and she decides to have her “charming bastard” after all. 

Aunt Rosamund formulates a new plan: her and Edith will go off to Switzerland where she can give birth to missing Gregson’s child in secret. No one seems to think the pair of them heading off for a 9-month long holiday strange, aside from the Dowager Countess who we should know by now can’t be fooled by anything.

It’s Lord G’s birthday and Rose decides to throw a party, secretly hiring Jack Ross to perform. Everyone in the house struggles to conceal their blatant racism apart from Rose who is overcome with passion in the servant’s quarters. Their fledgling romance never really takes flight though, as Mary takes it upon herself to persuade Ross to move on. 

Anna is still keeping quiet about what happened to her but Bates won’t let the isuse drop, threatening to leave forever unless Hughes tells him what happened. So she does, concocting a story about how it was a stranger who broke into the house and absolutely, definitely, definitively not Green. It works for a while, but when the valet returns to the Abbey he drops himself in it. And then it’s just a waiting game…

Soon enough, Gillingham turns up at the Crawley’s annual bazaar with the news that Green is dead after falling (or being pushed) in front of a bus. Bates was away from the Abbey on the day of the death – it’s highly suspicious but everyone decides not to look into it too closely.

A few months later Rose is coming out into London society and all the Crawleys are in the capital to celebrate, even the American ones.

While Bates unveils more criminal talents like pickpocketing and forgery in a confusing mixup with the Prince of Wales himself, Mary throws away a train ticket Mrs Hughes has found proving that he had indeed been in London on the day Green died. And Edith, having left her newborn in Europe, has a change of heart and secretly settles on bringing her little one back and paying the pig man to bring up her baby. Sounds like a fine plan to us. 

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