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PBS’s soap opera in tuxedos, Downton Abbey, returned for its fourth season with a two episode premiere last night. Over the past couple seasons, Downton Abbey has slowly morphed from a show filled with gossip, one liners, zingers, and general fun comeuppance into a show that teems with plot, no matter how inconsequential it may be. Unfortunately, the first two episodes of season 4 follow this latter formula, which makes the ever grandiose and majestic Downton lose a bit of its inherent charm.
After last year’s Grantham family shakeup with the deaths of both Sybil and Matthew, season 4 began as every season has every done – the estate is quickly going to ruin and for some reason no one has the money to do anything about it. Mary is firmly lost to the “land of the dead” as she mourns for her lost Matthew and can barely stand to hold her baby, George. Robert is in control of the estate again because Matthew had not drawn out a will and the law says that Mary has no say in any of Matthew’s inheritance. Of course Branson and Robert are still butting heads against the running of the estate focusing much of their energy on how to pay the death taxes that are levied against the estate since Matthew’s death. Cousin Rose is now a full-time resident of Downton.
Initially O’Brien’s departure in the night, to work for Rose’s parents in India, causes a great stir. This event, however short it was considered during the show – only about five minutes or so was actually devoted to O’Brien – did offer some excitement for the show to return to its old gossipy ways as the various servants ran from room to room telling each other what had just happened. Unfortunately, that was far too short and only served as a wistful reminder of some of the more simple fun the show used to have. O’Brien’s departure means that Cora must find a lady’s maid to replace O’Brien, giving Rose something in which to stick her nose.
And that lady’s maid is Edna the former housemaid who threw herself at Branson in a very un-lady-like manner. She has gotten both experience and training since then and with Mrs. Hughes’s glowing letter of recommendation – only to get Edna out of Downton sooner – Cora just couldn’t say no. There is only a matter of time before the truth finally comes out. Especially when Edna has decided to buddy up with the ever shifty Thomas, who gets her out of a jam by telling Edna to blame her mistake on the ever pure Anna. Damned logical reasoning Thomas just needs to make sure he creates unnecessary drama!
And if plotting against Anna wasn’t bad enough, good old Thomas also lucked into a good deed based on his own selfish reasoning. After newly introduced Nanny West felt she had the right to order Thomas around, which Thomas did not take kindly to, he tells Cora that the nanny often leaves the two babies unattended. This was a complete fabrication but when Cora overhears the nanny favoring George over the “crossbreed” of classes that is baby Sybil she immediately fires her. Who knows what Thomas will do with this new injection of good will?
The love quadrangle that is Alfred, Jimmy, Daisy, and Ivy is still going strong. Daisy still holds out hope that Alfred, who has feelings for Ivy, will eventually see the err in his ways and like her. But Alfred is too focused on the dreamy Jimmy who is toying with Ivy by taking her to get sloshed at the pub and inviting her to the theater in York. Jimmy’s intentions are still a tad unclear as he seems to have a beau elsewhere but he may as well have a little fun while he’s at Downton, nay?