Downton Abbey is officially back! Series 4 premiered with a monster two-hour episode, full of lots of drama and laughter, as well as a few mind-meltingly boring bits. But we’re mostly just so happy to have the show back, it’s hard to care about that sort of thing right now.
There’s way too much backstory to cover in one “previously on” paragraph, so if you missed any episodes last season, check out the Series 3 recap section before proceeding. Everyone else, let’s get this party started shall we?
Warning: This recap is massive -so bear with me! (I can't help it, it was a two hour episode and I apparently had loads to say. Feel free to skip to the comments and come back if you need to.)
IT BEGINS. We zoom in on the great house. It’s late, and everything is dark, because we’re all still sad about Series 3. There’s one light on in the billions of windows, upstairs. Someone’s sneaking around in the dark, packing and leaving notes while dramatic piano sounds tinkle in the background. We hear a baby crying, and see Mary lying awake in bed. The camera focuses on a cute photo of Mary and Matthew on her bedside table and we all feel like we just got punched. Mary does not get up to deal with the crying baby situation. An unidentified person leaves the house with a suitcase. The title credits pop up. And we are already in a state of rapture because it just hit us that this show is back and we’re watching it and OMG, it’s been a year okay, let us have this emotional moment, it’s not a big deal. Stop judging us.
Oh, Dear, O’Brien. Mary is sitting in her bedroom, staring listlessly at her fireplace. Anna is downstairs, staring around a suddenly empty bedroom. Two letters are perched on the mantle. Everyone is suddenly in a state of consternation because – just like most of us predicted last season – it turns out that O’Brien’s up and left Downton, to go work for Lady Flincher, i.e. Cousin Rose’s mother, in India. Thomas’ expression when Anna tells him this news is priceless. Cora is upset and shocked, saying she can’t believe O’Brien would do this. Robert snorts and says he think it’s exactly like something O’Brien would do, because seriously everyone else is aware O’Brien was basically evil incarnate except for Cora.
The downstairs crew is similarly upset, and thinks that since Alfred’s her nephew he must have known what’s going on. Alfred denies all knowledge, calling O’Brien a “dark horse”, which seems to be Edwardian for “crazy”. Edith, meanwhile, simply can’t believe that Susan Flincher would steal Cora’s maid while her daughter is a guest in their house. Branson, who clearly does not care at all about this domestic drama, says that he doubts she’d put it like that. Edith says that no matter how she puts it, it’s disgraceful. Rose, of course, chooses this moment to enter the drawing room, and it’s all awkward because apparently a lady’s maid choosing to change jobs is a way bigger deal than you thought. Robert grills Rose about what she knew and when, and she says she had no idea, just that her mother thought O’Brien did hair well and knew she wanted to travel. Rose is wearing what appears to be the 1920s version of an ugly jazzercise sweatshirt, so it’s hard to really concentrate on what she’s saying.
Mary: Still Sad. Check. Mary, whose main job at the moment appears to be standing and gazing off into the distance, is busily staring out of a different window when Anna arrives, bearing a lavender shawl. She says she thought that Mary might want it, in case she decides to go walking or something. Mary wants to know where the black one is, because, duh, sadness. Anna looks defeated, as the new nanny arrives, bearing Mary and Matthew’s son. Nanny says that she was planning on taking Master George – who is totally adorable in this tiny little sailor suit – out for some air and wanted to know if Mary’d like to come. Mary, of course, says no, because she’s got busy sad staring to do, and calls her son a poor little orphan. Anna bristles at this, and says that George has his mother, after all. Mary archly replies that he’s not actually poor either, to be accurate, and sits down in a chair with a book that she opens and discards almost immediately in favor of – you guessed it – more window staring.
JOY: It’s Dowager Countess Time! We meet up with Violet, who looks like she’s leaving church, but it doesn’t really matter, because omg omg omg Dowager Countess, we have missed you soooo much. She says hello to Molesley the elder and the two chat for a minute and watch Matthew’s gravestone being completed. Their chat is basically to inform the audience that it’s been six months since the car accident, because that’s how long it takes graves to settle (the more you know). Violet inquires after Molesley the younger and asks whether he’s found a new job, since he clearly can’t valet for Matthew anymore. He says no, and they lament the changing ways of a world in which it’s hard for a trained valet that could probably be a butler to find gainful employ. So, actually nothing much at all happens in this scene , but Violet’s existence, and that’s okay.
Nanny Wars. Thomas runs into Nanny and her Unnamed Assistant bringing the kids in from their walk. He stops to say hello to baby Sybil, because of the two kids, obviously that’s the one he’d care about, and he gets reprimanded by Nanny almost immediately for touching the child without permission. Thomas, his expression changing to one that indicates that something horrible is probably about to happen, tells Nanny that he actually knew baby Sybil’s mother, which she never did. Nanny doesn’t care, and says that doesn’t make Thomas her friend. He insists it does, which seems delusional, but since Thomas has had so few people besides Sybil be kind to him ever, it’s possible he thinks that’s the same thing as friendship. Nanny’s all whatever, I’m not listening to this and tells Thomas to have Mrs. Patmore send up the children’s’ lunches. Thomas tells her to get it herself, tips his hat to her and war is basically declared. Dun Dunnn.
The Farm is Pretty. Robert and Tom are out walking the estate (with Isis!), talking to the farmers, because this plot about modernizing Downton is still going on, apparently. Or maybe not. Apparently Robert wants to abandon the whole thing, because of the death duties that must be levied on part of the estate, thanks to Matthew’s death. Tom understands this, but wishes they could wait for Mary to become more involved, once she’s feeling more herself. Robert says his daughter isn’t a player and is rather dismissive about it, since most everything Matthew had belongs to baby George now, because he didn’t make a will. So, yet again, Mary seems to be left at a disadvantage by inheritance laws. Robert says that it’s more appropriate for him to manage everything anyway, since he owns the other half of the estate and also because it’s totally obvious that he wants to be the one running everything again. He also goes into full on Irritating Robert Mansplaining mode, talking about how Mary is so fragile she can barely put a fork in her mouth and she shouldn’t have to worry her pretty head about money in her condition and blah blah blah Shut Up, Robert.
Oh, Molesley . Molesley stops by to see Carson, and explains that he hasn’t had a lot of luck on his job search. He asks if he can’t just stay at Downton, and Carson says no, because it’s not fair when there’s no one left for him to valet for anymore and they have let him stay for the past six months. Molesley looks downtrodden and says that he guesses he can go stay with his father until he finds something, and looks like a kicked puppy. Carson does that fake cheerful voice thing he does when he doesn’t want to deal with something and says that sounds splendid. Molesley looks sad some more.
Isobel is Also Sad. Edith visits Isobel and suggests she ought to come up to visit baby George more often – since no one seems to be paying him any mind but Nanny, apparently. They have an awkward discussion about how George is a tiny baby and is super rich now and Mary’s been passed over again, all because Matthew didn’t have a will. (Yes, we get it. This week’s moral lesson is go make a will. Everyone right now. Just go do it because we’re just going to keep hearing about it until you do.) Edith says she wants to help Isobel any way she can, and Isobel says that she’s grateful for it. But she then gets a faraway look on her face and says that when your only child dies, it means you’re not a mother anymore – it means you’re not anything – and that’s a hard thing to get used to. Edith insists that Isobel is still a grandmother, and says she’ll be wonderful at it, but Isobel just looks sad.
Robert is So Transparent. Before bed one night, Robert tells Cora that he thinks it’s high time they settled the issue of who exactly is managing Baby George’s property. He says he doesn’t want to hurry Mary into doing things before she’s ready, but blah blah decisions must be made, wouldn’t it be convenient if he just handled everything by himself? Cora stares at him and says, of course, it must be Mary, she’s George’s mother and legal guardian. Robert argues that when it comes to decisions about the estate, it really ought to be him behind the proverbial wheel because he and his grandson together own 5/6ths of Downton anyway, and also has anyone noticed how much he wants to be in charge again. Ugh, Shut Up Robert. At least be honest about how none of this is in any way for Mary’s benefit.
Cora, meanwhile, fixes Robert with an absolutely fabulous incredulous expression. She says he wants to push Mary out, but Robert says she wasn’t ever “in” in the first place, that it was Matthew who’d been his partner, not his daughter. Robert is kind of a selfish jerk.
Valentine’s Day Brings Drama. Everyone gets a bunch of letters one random Tuesday morning, and Mrs. Hughes is rather flummoxed by this until Carson points out that the big mail delivery is because it’s Valentine’s Day. He says that he wasn’t always a stranger to the art of romance, even if he is now. Everyone at home sighs, and we all wonder when these two are going to realize that they are incredibly perfect for one another and just get on with it already. Anna and Bates have sent each other Valentines and subsequently make googly eyes at each other and are cutely flirty for a minute. Daisy gets a Valentine and Thomas is rude about it, but Daisy is a bit starry-eyed over it.
There’s a bunch of irritating back and forth between Daisy and Ivy about whether Jimmy sent Ivy a Valentine and what that might mean, and if Jimmy sent her a Valentine then who sent Daisy’s and blah blah blah, how is this awful love quadrangle in the kitchen still going on? Is anyone out there rooting for Daisy and Alfred or Alfred and Ivy or Ivy and Jimmy? It’s obvious they’re all young and this is the kind of silliness young people are supposed to be involved in, but it’s just such a dull storyline. (That quite frankly I think a lot of us were probably hoping would just be dropped.)
Another Dude From Carson’s Shady Past Shows Up. For someone as proudly stuck-up as Carson, he sure does know a lot of dudes who are of kind of questionable repute. Mrs. Hughes delivers a note to him, which Carson opens, scoffs openly at and discards. Mrs. Hughes, obviously curious, retrieves said letter from the garbage and investigates.
Later, Mrs. Hughes visits a workhouse in Ripon. She discovers Mr. Grigg there, who turns out to be another one of Carson’s old friends from back in his theater days. He asks her if Carson sent her, and Mrs. Hughes says not exactly, which is code for not at all, because she’s kind of meddling a bit here. Mr. Grigg wants to know what Carson’s going to do, Mrs. Hughes totally lies and says that he’s a very busy man, so she’s been sent to find out how he is and then they’ll come up with a plan. Apparently the two of them go back a long way and he says that means something, even if they last parted on bad terms. Mrs. Hughes agrees to help, because she is a saint, and keeps doing stuff like this all the time for no ostensible reward.
The Jane Eyre Saga Continues. Edith goes to London to visit her editor/boyfriend/Mr. Rochester type with a madwoman in the attic Michael Gregson, and he throws a party to introduce her to all his literary friends. Apparently Edith doesn’t care anymore about the whole married thing – though it also doesn’t appear that she’s actually mentioned the whole problem of him being married to anyone else. Another season, another moment where I wish we could get a look at Edith’s POV in this storyline is passed over.
Anyway, Gregson’s come up with a plan to deal with the whole problem of not being able to divorce someone who’s mentally incompetent, but it’s such a weird scheme that it’s also possible that Gregson’s mentally incompetent too. He’s done some research and says that other countries where lunacy is perfectly acceptable grounds for divorce, and one of those countries is Germany and what if he just moves there and becomes a German citizen so he can divorce his crazy wife. He asks Edith if she’d come to Germany with him if he moved there to implement this Obviously Brilliant Plan. Edith says that she wants to be with him more than anything, but she also doesn’t seem to be jumping at the chance to go to Germany either.
Violet and Isobel, BFFs. The Dowager Countess goes to see Isobel, and they have a talk like actual friends. Violet says that even though Isobel insists she isn’t interested in anything anymore, surely she must care about her grandson and his progress. Isobel says of course, but doesn’t want to make Mary crazy by interfering. Violet points out that that’s actually the job of grandmothers, to interfere, and this little tiny friendship moment between them is painfully sweet. Violet’s legitimately making an effort.
Molesley, because he is Molesley, chooses this moment to show up and ask Isobel for his old job back. Violet tries to run away from this awkwardness, but Molesley says there’s no point, since everyone knows that he’s lost his job because Matthew died. Isobel says that she doesn’t’ need a butler because she’s just an old widow who eats off a tray. This is a bit super weird, because Isobel is normally the one chomping at the bit to find ways to help those in need, but perhaps we’re supposed to read the fact that she’s completely blowing Molesley off here as a symptom of her depression. Maybe he reminds her of Matthew and it’s too painful. But, it’s definitely not like her. Violet promises to let him know if they hear of anything.
More on Carson and the Man From His Past. Carson is furious when he finds out that Mrs. Hughes raided his trash can to find the letter from Mr. Grigg. Mrs. Hughes says she’d just wanted to know what about the letter had upset him so, so she went to see him anyway and by the way she’s not sorry. She tells him that his friend’s in the workhouse and it’s really awful there, like Dickens-novel bad and doesn’t he care at all about that. Carson says that at least he’s in the dry, because Carson can be a huge jerk sometimes. Mrs. Hughes points out that it’s natural to care about what happens to someone who was once such a big part of your life. Carson snits that he really doesn’t want to be reminded of that time in his life, thank you very much, before flouncing off with a ginormous candlestick.
Mrs. Hughes asks Isobel, champion crusader, whether she couldn’t help get Grigg out of the workhouse. Isobel isn’t super thrilled about this idea but Mrs. Hughes promises that if the two of them vouch for Mr. Grigg they’ll have to release him from the awful Dickensian workhouse and the two of them can help him build a decent life. She says that Isobel is strong enough to deal with anything, and encourages her to use the strength of her grief to help her do good in the life of another. Isobel reluctantly says okay. . Which, in a way, is sort of irritating, because Isobel doesn’t even know this guy, and she’s known Molesley forever and wouldn’t lift a finger for him. But, apparently this is a plot point, so let’s just go with it.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mary. Tom tells Mary it’s time for her to rejoin the world and take an interest in something at Downton. Because apparently six months is a decent amount of time to get over the love of one’s life in his opinion, or something. Shut up, Tom. (It’s a half-hearted shut up, here, because it’s clear that Tom’s intentions are totally pure, but seriously. It’s nobody’s business how Mary grieves.) Mary says she’s interested in her son – or at least she will be, in time. She asks after what Tom’s been up to that day, but Robert jumps in to say that Tom mustn’t worry Mary’s pretty little head with anything as mundane as estate business. Tom then turns to Carson and asks him to advise Mary about maybe rejoining the land of the living sometime soon. He thinks she’d take it better coming from Carson, because the two of them are so close.
This Alfred/Daisy/Jimmy/Ivy Storyline is Still Happening. This storyline grinds the show to a complete halt every time we come back to it. It’s boring and stupid and I can’t imagine that anyone is terribly interested in which way this quadrangle shakes out. Jimmy tries to convince Ivy to sneak out and go to a pub with him that night. Alfred is all judgmental and says she can’t go without permission. Daisy discovers the wonders of an electric mixer. This is actually something we have to waste time on during this episode. I don’t know why. During their grand pub adventure, Ivy gets sloppily drunk and has to be basically carried home. Alfred and Anna help those crazy kids cover it up, but Alfred also stops to make insinuations that Jimmy was trying to take advantage of Ivy while she was intoxicated, and this storyline is so uninteresting it’s not even fun to recap.
Don’t Mess with Thomas: Nanny is all kinds of upset that Thomas (surprise!) failed to relay her instructions about the children’s lunches to Mrs. Patmore. Thomas doesn’t care, and says that little Sybil should be able to have eggs with her tea if she wants them anyway. Nanny says that Thomas is a member of staff, so he has to do what she says, and just shut u about it. He replies that she’s staff too, but she says that it’s not the same thing. She stomps off and Thomas looks vindictive. Later – to the surprise of no one – Thomas corrals Cora in the great hall to express his concerns over the performance of the Crawley family nanny. He says the she’s leaving the kids alone all the time and that he’s really just worried about the poor wee youngsters and won’t someone think of the children blah blah. Cora looks shocked, then worried. Score another one for Thomas.
Wow: Shut, Up, Mary: Carson goes up to see Mary before dinner to discuss Tom’s concerns. We don’t see their conversation, but presumably Carson repeats a lot of what Tom told him earlier. What we do see is Mary’s reaction, which is ugly and awful. She says this whole scene is her fault for encouraging Carson to think that he had the right to address her in this way in the first place and that if Robert’s made a decision, it isn’t his butler’s place to question it. (As a viewer, this bit basically feels like getting slapped.) Mary then goes on about what an effect that Matthew’s death has had on her. Carson keeps trying, though, to his credit, until Mary says she’s sorry he feels entitled to overstep the mark like this. Carson actually takes a step back in shock at her words and we’re all basically super angry at Mary at this point, because Carson in no way deserves this. Carson tells Mary that she’s letting herself be defeated and someone has to be the one to say so. Cheers, Carson!
While it’s understandable that Mary must be feeling nagged at and harassed about the state of her own feelings – which by themselves have to be awful enough without the helpful input of six other people on top of it – her treatment of Carson in this scene is horrifying. Especially after last season revealed how close the two of them are – in many ways, closer than she is with her actual father – this is just awful to watch. It’s likely that Mary lashes out in this way because she knows it’s safe to do so with Carson and that’s what we do to the people who love us, but watching her be so purposefully vicious and cutting was really difficult. And, quite frankly, made me like her a bit less.
Afterward, Mary joins the rest of the Crawleys at dinner, who are all discussing the tenant farmer luncheon coming up. Everyone starts talking at once, trying to convince her to either to participate or not and Mary goes into something of an emotional spiral, yelling about how she’s tired of everyone nagging at her, and her husband is dead, just in case anyone missed that memo, and doesn’t anyone understand what that means. She throws her napkin down and storms out.
The Dowager Countess Provides Advice. Violet goes up to see Mary, in full awesome grandmother mode. She tells her that she doesn’t care about her little tantrum at dinner, because she loves her and wants to help. She says she knows Mary’s gone through a horrible time but she must remember that her son needs her. Mary admits that she doesn’t think she’ll be a very good mother, because it feels as though Matthew’s death has taken all the softness and warmth out of her. Violet says there’s more than one way to be a “good mother”, and that Mary has to decide whether she’s going to choose death or life. Violet puts an arm around her in a sort of hilariously awkward way, in an attempt at comfort. This scene is awesome, not for the least of which reason is that it reminds us that Mary is much more Violet’s daughter than Cora’s. The two of them are so very alike after all. It would seem highly unlikely that Violet was really anyone’s definition of a “good mother” either, but it’s clear that she loves her family.
Thanks Rose for Ruining Everything. Rose tells the family that they’ve had three responses to the advertisement she placed for a ladies’ maid, and that she and Cora are going to go interview the most promising one. Of course, that turns out to be Edna – whom you may remember as That Girl Who Thrw Herself at Tom Last Season - because this show hates me.
And, because they don’t have the interview at Downton, there’s no way for Mrs. Hughes or Tom to realize that the winning candidate is someone they basically kicked off Team Downstairs last year. This is assisted by Edna completely making up an imaginary sick aunt to force the interview to happen somewhere other than at Downton, and therefore keeping herself away from the house until she’s officially hired, when it will be too late for anyone to protest.
Violet Tries to Help, But Molesley’s Luck Strikes Again. Violet stops by the Molesley house and tells the elder one that she’s giving a dinner party for Lady Shackleton and that she’d like his son to come serve. Apparently Lady Shackleton’s butler’s retiring and Violet’s trying to help Molesley get a job and it’s all just adorable. Molesley the elder is concerned that Violet’s butler Spratt will get shirty about having another servant involved, but Violet says this whole situation is none of his business and therefore Spratt has no room to mind.
Unfortunately, Spratt absolutely gets shirty about it, whether it’s his business or not. He tells Molesley that he thinks that he’s pushed Violet into letting him help serve so he can show off. Spratt, who is apparently Mayor of Delusion Town, also immediately assumes that Molesley’s after his job. I’m not sure that we’ve every actually officially met Spratt before this moment, but it seems pretty safe to assume he is a huge jerk, as he seems paranoid and crazy. He stalks off to announce lunch, warning Molesley not to mess with him because, as we all know, Molesley is extremely threatening.
Suffice it to say: the lunch experience does not go well. Violet and Edith do their best to sell Molesley’s awesomeness to snotty Lady Shackleton, but they are undermined repeatedly by Spratt, who keeps doing super-awful things like shouting while Molesley’s trying to pour gravy or shoving hot serving plates into his hands. Consequently, poor Molesley basically looks as though he probably has issues dressing himself in the morning, and Lady Shackleton assumes that he’s never done any sort of service work before and declares him quite unsuited for it. Molesley is awkwardly embarrassed and I want someone to run over Spratt with their car. Seriously, perfect solution. Get rid of this jerk and Molesley can just work for Violet, right?
Edith Has Lunch with Mr. Rochester. Edith meets her Mr. Gregson – and honestly the next new male character on this show better be named Smith or something – for lunch at the Criterion. She looks particularly lovely in a gorgeous aqua -colored gown that I would buy right now if they made it available in the Downton apparel line. Gregson tells her she looks glamorous and that he’s already ordered wine for them, so clearly they have something they’re meant to celebrate. Edith remarks on how much her life has changed, that she’s allowed to do this, be out with a man in a posh restaurant in London, drinking in the middle of the day. Gregson says he’s found out he can get a divorce in Germany, if he becomes a German citizen. Edith is overwhelmed by this, and shocked that he would join the most hated race in Europe, voluntarily, for her. Gregson makes puppy dog eyes at her, and Edith suddenly wants to kiss him in the middle of the restaurant (oh the scandal!), which they do. She’s all very swoony about it, but I just can’t seem to get into this relationship, no matter how much I think Edith deserves some happiness. And this plan to get a German divorce just seems so complicated and convoluted. There’s no way this is going to end well.
The Edna Conspiracy. Back at Downton, Mrs. Hughes tries valiantly to convince Cora not to hire Horrible Edna, to no avail. Cora, deploying the spectacularly ignorance for which she is fast becoming famous in my head, refuses to listen and says she’s surprised at Mrs. Hughes for not wanting to give a hardworking girl like that a chance. Barf.
Mrs. Hughes has to break the news to Carson and Tom that Edna’s returning, and that it’s her fault for writing her such a good reference. Tom says that she can’t blame herself, he asked her to write it in the first place, and it’s up to him to tell Cora the truth about what happened between them. Surprisingly, it’s Carson who says no to this plan, insisting that since Cora has lost a daughter and a son-in-law, he just can’t let her find out that Lady Sybil’s husband was, as he puts it, “unworthy.” Tom looks super uncomfortable and awkward. Carson says that they’re just going to have to deal with it, and that Mrs. Hughes and Tom are just going to have to keep an eye on Edna and keep her in line. Mrs. Hughes – because she is the only one with sense – says that this all sounds like a ticking bomb, and she’s completely right.
The Fall of Nanny West. Cora, having been apprised of Nanny West’s apparent child neglect by Thomas, seems to be spending some time spying on her when she gets the chance. While Cora doesn’t see her abandoning the kids in the nursery, she does stumble upon something just as bad – while eavesdropping she hears Nanny with baby George, telling him what a good boy he is, and how she’s not going to let that nasty chauffer’s daughter bother him anymore. She then yells at young Sybil, and calls her a “cross-breed”. Cora storms in at this point, and you can guess what happens next. See ya, Nanny West. And of course, now Cora is totally grateful to Thomas. Honestly, it’s always irritating when Thomas’s schemes end up working out in his favor – because he did completely make up his accusations against the Nanny, and still manages to come out looking great, by some kind of blind dumb luck. Sure, the nanny was awful , and no one is going to be sad to see her gone, but why does Thomas always have to win?
Mary Comes Back to Herself. After yet another awkward conversation with her father, in which Robert treats Mary like a child who has only just barely learned to eat using adult utensils, she goes to see Carson downstairs. She apologizes for her treatment of him earlier, and says that, actually Violet agrees with the things he said before. Carson says that he’s glad if her appearance here means that she’s finally decided to rejoin the land of the living. Mary breaks down in tears – the full-on, ugly crying kind. (Or well, in theory. Michelle Dockery could pretty much never look ugly doing anything.) Carson gathers her up in a hug and lets her sob her heart out on his shoulder. It’s so sweet and touching and Carson is just awesome. He tells her that she’s strong enough to face a future without Matthew, and to fight for the changes he wanted for Downton, and that when she needs him, he’ll always be there for her. Seriously. It’s okay if you got a little teary here. And it’s okay if this is the first time in an hour you’ve actually managed to like Mary.
Other Stuff Starts Happening. Now that we’ve tidily dealt with that mourning Matthew business in the first hour, it’s time for other plots. A package is delivered for Mary, and Mrs. Hughes is the only one on top of things enough to notice that it’s from Matthew’s old office. She asks Carson if maybe someone else ought to take a look at it before they give it to her, since odds are high that something emotionally devastating is contained within. Carson takes it to Robert, who opens it. The tiny dog Mary gave Matthew when he went off to war is sitting on top of everything and I was not prepared for the tide of emotional upset I experienced upon seeing it. Awww. Matthewwww. A piece of paper falls out of a book contained in the box. Guess who at least conveniently wrote down some vague approximation of their wishes should they suddenly turn up dead? That’s right. Matthew intended Mary to be his sole heiress and Robert gets all kinds of irritatingly snotty about it, arguing with Violet about whether or not they should even show the letter to Mary in case it turns out not to be legal. Translation: Robert really likes being in charge again and totally doesn’t want to give that up. Violet delivers a pretty fantastic verbal smackdown in response to his irritating whining and insists Mary must be allowed to see the letter before anything else happens. Ha ha, Robert. Shut up.
Isobel’s Boring Houseguest Remains Boring. Carson’s ex-friend Mr. Grigg is still recuperating over at Isobel’s, because reasons. Mrs. Hughes has brought over Dr. Clarkson, the Worst Physician on Earth, to have a look at him, who says that he’s mostly okay, except for being unemployed and aimless. Mrs. Hughes remains sympathetic, insisting that times are hard even for able-bodied young men. Dr. Clarkson smiles and basically acknowledges that he knows Mrs. Hughes is using Mr. Grigg as a project for Isobel, and is cool with it. Mrs. Hughes tries to smooth things over when Mr. Grigg accurately guesses that she hasn’t exactly told Carson that he’s in town. There’s some sort of secretive backstory going on here, lots of dramatic meaningless lines like “he thinks that it was all my fault!” with no context, that kind of thing. Yawn. We all get it that Isobel needs something to do but so far this storyline is just wasting Mrs. Hughes, who is entirely too awesome for this.
Awww, Molesley! Anna runs into Molesley while she’s out and about, and he’s busy working on some kind of road crew that seems to be mending the pavement. He looks awful. Anna, being Anna, tries to be cheerful and comforting, telling him that this is skilled work he’s doing, something better will turn up. Molesley is depressed and sad, and snaps at Anna, saying he’s barely earned anything since Matthew died and is at his wits end. He apologies as soon as he realizes he’s been rude, and admits that he owes various creditors a total of twenty pounds. Anna offers to lend him some money, because Anna is the World’s Best Person. Molseley huffs and says he’d never be able to pay it back. Anna offers to make it a gift, but he says he could never accept it. A foreman yells at him to get back to work, and Anna looks upset. Anna tells Bates about Molesley’s predicament once she returns home, saying that to be in debt like that is just the worst thing. The two of them begin plotting to do something about it.
Matthew’s Message to Mary. Robert gives Mary the letter from Matthew, and she is overwhelmed. Plus, more than a bit irritated that both her father and her grandmother have seen this letter before she has. But Robert says that once she’s read it, she’ll understand. After Mary reads the letter, they also have to break the news to Isobel and the rest of the family. Mary has Robert read it to the group and we realize that the note was written the night before they headed to Scotland and it states his desire to make Mary his sole heiress so that she can take charge of the future of their child. Mary cries over the sweet closing sentiment of the letter. Everyone else is kind of stunned. Isobel says that surely this note must be legal and we learn that Matthew even had two random clients sign it as witnesses. Robert, surprise, insists that nothing is settled and that their lawyer must look it at it, since no matter how much they might want it to be, the letter is not a will.
During dinner, most everyone is feeling pretty relieved and emotional. Robert, battling for Worst Father of the Year, doesn’t think that this letter is such a great discovery, as it means the estate will have to pay death taxes twice over now before it can get to baby George, and also Robert is the world’s biggest sore loser. He then proceeds to badger Mary for her opinions about all manner of estate and farm-related questions, spitting them out almost viciously at her as though to prove all the things she doesn’t know. SHUT UP, ROBERT. Afterward, Mary puts the tiny stuffed dog she once gave Matthew on her nightstand to remind herself that at least he was always on her side. Anna says that the whole family is on her side, but Mary looks shaken and sad about the way Robert treated her at dinner. (SHUT UP, ROBERT.) Anna says that her father loves her very much, but Mary says he’s also very glad to have Downton back under his control.
The Save Carson’s Friend Project Continues. It turns out that Isobel’s been writing to various theaters all over the country, looking for work for Mr. Grigg. (And yet no one appears to be motivated to help poor Molesley except Anna and Bates, this seems hard to believe?) She’s had a response back from a theater in Belfast that’s looking for a stage door manager. Mrs. Hughes is pleased and proud of Isobel.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Mrs. Hughes comes upon Carson going through a box of his old theater memorabilia. He finds a picture of a woman, and Mrs. Hughes manages to find out that her name was Alice and that Carson was fond of her once upon a time. (Which in Carson speak basically translates to “love of my life” it seems safe to assume.) Carson admits that he at one point thought that this Alice had treated him badly, but there’s nothing to be done for it, because that’s life. Mrs. Hughes makes a kind-hearted joke, smiles at him and gets on about her day. And we all know that Plot Point Alice will be coming up again at some point in this episode, right? On a shallower note: seriously, can Carson and Mrs. Hughes get their act together this season? Welcome to my new Series 4 dream.
Edna and Thomas Scheme, Are Massive Jerks. Thomas finds Edna upset in the hallway because she’s ripped some clothing item of Cora’s. She’s afraid Cora will be furious but Thomas says she can get out of it if she does exactly what he says. Later, Cora, who is truly vexed over the destruction of one of the apparently 289 items of clothing she owns, is asking after what happened. Edna looks coy and says she can’t tell her what happened, even when Cora asks several times.
Later, Thomas corrals Cora in the great hall, and spins some story about how Edna was so unhappy because Cora’s mad at her. He says that she couldn’t say anything about the real clothing destroyer – and he can’t either, because he’s in enough trouble with Mr. Bates as it is. Turns out, the two of them have decided to come up with a story to blame Anna – Anna of all people – for the garment destruction situation, implying that she’s somehow jealous of Edna because she’s Cora’s lady’s maid. This makes exactly zero sense – and would be widely out of character behavior for Anna – so the fact that Cora swallows it so easily reflects even more poorly on her than it does on Thomas for coming up with the lie in the first place. I think we have to face it: Cora is an idiot. And why Thomas suddenly has it out for Anna, who’s always been nothing but kind to him – particularly after Sybil died – isn’t clear either.
The Impending Great York Excursion. Meanwhile, Anna and Mary are chatting in her room. They’ve accidentally spilled a bottle of Mary’s perfume, so a trip to York has to be made to get some more. Anna says that she can go fetch it – and that works out nicely because Rose has been asking about going to this dance where she wants Anna to be her chaperone. Mary’s surprisingly cool about it, saying that she realizes that Downton’s pretty dull for someone of Rose’s age and tells Anna to go to the dance with her, provided that she keeps Rose out of trouble. Plot point klaxon: Earlier in the episode Dull Footman Jimmy also convinced Mrs. Patmore to let him go to York to run an errand, so the odds of all the Downton residents somehow running into one another seem fairly high.
Bates Plans to Help Mr. Molesley. Mr. Bates goes to see Violet to talk to her about the whole Molesley situation. He tells her that he’s fallen on hard times and that he knows she’s helped him out in the past. He asks her for some money and explains that since Molesley is too proud to accept it as a gift they’ll have to come up with some other way to get him to take it. Bates then goes to Molesley’s house, under the pretense of getting him to sign a card, and invites him to dinner. Bates is being the kind of overly friendly that’s exceptionally creepy, but Molesley says yes anyway because he’s probably not exactly in a position to be turning down free food.
Oh, Hey, the Edith Plot is Still Happening. After a good half hour of no movement on the Edith storyline, suddenly we’re back in London with her and Michael Gregson. They’re having tea and Edith’s all sort of impressed that Gregson can apparently cook. Whatever. They discuss the weird Germany idea again, and Edith’s concerned that everyone’s going to hate him if he suddenly becomes a German, at a time when the Royal Family’s shucking off their German heritage as fast as they can. Gregson asks whether she’ll hate him and Edith says she’ll love him more than ever and just vomit. Edith also chooses this moment to invite him to come stay out at Downton so that her family can start spending more time with him or something since he’s about to be both German and divorced. Edith persists though and convinces him to come visit for a house party the next month.
Adventures in Babysitting… Er, York. Jimmy is in York, shopping or whatever he’s doing, and because it’s not a major city in the North of England that’s teeming with people or anything, the first person he lays eyes on across the marketplace square is Rose, who looks over the moon excited to be in an actual metropolitan area. He then proceeds to stalk Rose and Anna to the Jubilee Dance Hall, where the ladies go in and get a table.
Anna is still concerned about the suitability of them being at this venue, because it seems shady. Rose tells her not to do things like call her “my lady” because she’s having fun being incognito. Rose is, however, the absolute worst at being incognito, as she manages to flirt with about four different dudes around the room. Rose heads off to dance with one particularly smarmy guy, leaving Anna on her own. Jimmy comes over and starts chatting with her, and they decide to dance to keep an eye on Rose. Rose, meanwhile, is busily making up a whole new identity for herself where she’s a housemaid at Downton for this boy she’s dancing with. A bit later, a fight breaks out between two guys who want to dance with Rose. For some reason, Rose throws herself into the fray as well and says that she can’t leave when this random guys Sam is fighting to protect her honor or whatever. Anna says oh yes she can, particularly because if she stays she’s probably going to get arrested. Jimmy drags both girls out.
Bates Adds Forger to His List of Resume-Worthy Skills. Bates uses Molesley’s signature on the card to forge a document containing both his signature and Molesley’s. It looks like a contract of some type, and Bates seems very pleased with himself. When Molesley comes over for dinner, Bates spins some story about how he found a note that said Molesley had lent him thirty pounds when he first came to Downton and he’s so sorry that he hadn’t managed to pay it back until now. Molesley doesn’t remember any of this obviously, because it never happened, but it’s still a super sweet gesture. The look on Molesley’s face is priceless. Out in the hallway, Bates tells Anna that he arranged all this for her, because she’s put up with so much that he can’t change, so he’d like to make things better when he can, since she was upset about Molesley. It probably ought to be an overly goey saccharine moment, but it works. They’re so cute.
Meanwhile, Back in Snoozeville. Jimmy gets special permission to take Ivy to the theater on his day off (this requires some reorganizing of schedules so she can go). Mrs. Hughes uses this opportunity what with theater being mentioned to bring up Carson’s boring ex-friend plotline again, explaining that the situation is an open wound for him, and that Carson should do his best to fix it or have it out or at least talk to Mr. Grigg before he leaves for Belfast the next day. This plot is tremendously dull, but Carson and Mrs. Hughes’ friendship is just amazing and that can’t be overshadowed by some lame storyline.
Of course, Carson goes to meet the train the next day because that’s what happens in stories like this – leaving it to the last possible moment before emerging from the smoke to talk to his ex-friend. The two talk, and we learn that their quarrel was over the woman in the photo from before – Alice. Turns out they’d both had a thing for her, but Alice had chosen Grigg, and Carson decided to just never mention it (or speak to him again possibly). Grigg said things never worked between them anyway, and Alice is dead now anyway so it doesn’t matter. This is a truth bomb for Carson, who didn’t know that bit of news. Grigg says she died about five years ago and that they’d separated long before that anyhow. He says he went to see her one last time, though, and that she’d told him to his face that Carson had been the better man of the two of them and that she could have – and did really – love him. Whether or not this is just biting comments from one ex to another is up in the air, but we’ll just let that go. Grigg tells Carson he never set out to steal his girl and hurt him though, and that everything that happened was Alice’s choice. Grigg then thanks Isobel, and asks Carson if they can part as friends before he gets on the train. They wish each other well and the train leaves.
Carson looks kind of upset, so Mrs. Hughes offers to walk back to Downton with him. Because they are perfect and I’m going to go insane if we get through this whole season without either of them realizing that.
Edna is Getting a Shut Up Character Jar. Robert comes to see Bates, so they can have a chat about how his apparently jealous wife is being mean to Edna because she’s just so crazy jealous that Edna’s senior ladies’ maid now. He asks Bates to get his wife to go easy on the new girl and stop being so unkind. Bates looks confused, as well he should because it’s obvious to anyone that’s ever seen Anna that she would be the last person to sabotage another maid in this way. (I think it must be said: Cora and Robert are both idiots.) Bates says something agreeable to make Robert shut up and they start the dressing for dinner situation. Later, Bates tells Anna about it and she’s equally confused, until she sees Thomas and Edna in the kitchen looking thick as thieves. Edna starts laughing in an exceptionally snotty way, but says its nothing when asked about it. We all hate her, yes? That’s a group opinion? She is SO getting a Shut Up Character Jar next week.
Awkward Dating Stories. Sam, the nice boy from the dance hall, shows up at Downton looking for Rose the housemaid to see if she’s okay. Thomas, of course, has no idea what he’s talking about, but Anna covers the situation admirably, and helps Rose find a maid’s uniform to wear. Rose and Sam – who let’s be real seems nice, but we don’t care about, we know this isn’t going anywhere – chat in the yard outside, and Rose looks kind of hilarious in her maid’s get-up. They flirt for a minute or two, before Rose has to let Sam down gently, by making up a fake farmer boyfriend to get herself out of this situation. She kisses him goodbye and that’s that. Poor Sam, he seemed lovely.
Matthew’s Final Wishes. Before dinner, Robert gathers the family – plus Edith’s Mr. Rochester-esque boyfriend who is visitng – to tell them that he’s had a letter from their lawyer Murray. He’s found that Matthew’s letter to Mary demonstrates testamentary intention, indicating that the author had the intent for the letter to serve as a will. Matthew’s wishes will therefore stand, and Mary will be named as his sole heir. Mary looks overwhelmed. She says that she hopes Robert’s not too disappointed and suggests that the two of them sit down with Tom the next day to talk about the future. Robert says they have to talk about the death tax. Mary says she doesn’t agree with her father’s position about selling land, but that they should wait until the next day to talk about it.
Dun dun dunnnn.
And that’s it. Two new hours of Downton! What did you think? Favorite moments? How are you coping in a world with no Matthew? I’m bursting with the need to discuss this, so hit the comments below with your thoughts.