(I wrote this review during the British Broadcast of Episode 1. In the US, episodes 1&2 were aired together, so this review only covers half of the American broadcast. Unfortunately wedding craziness is going to keep me from reviewing the second half for the time being.)
What a joy it is when you venture back into a show and the premiere episode of the current season is even better than the last… even if it is permeated with mourning.
Spoilers to follow.
Episode One of Season Four takes Downton Abbey away from Soap Opera territory and deals with the aftershock of Matthew’s death in a respectful, insightful way. Mary and Isobel are allowed to have their deep, pervasive grief, while the rest of the family moves on and argues over how best to help these two still in blacks. It’s no surprise that Lord Grantham takes on the coddling role that lends no aid to Mary, while Tom (who knows this road all too well) sees most clearly what will help the new widow. Once again we get to see the depth and sweetness of Carson’s affection for Mary, and that she really does treasure him (even if her pride and hurt still get in the way, she is learning humility).
Edith comes out as perhaps more likable than ever, which is surprising seeing how disappointed I was in her after the Christmas episode. She and Gregson do not seem to have taken their relationship beyond the occasional kiss, and although the words ‘living in sin’ are mentioned, Gregson does seem serious about going to whatever legal lengths he must to give Edith the respectability of honorable marriage… even if that means relocating to Germany! (Downton Abbey, are you thinking long term? Are you already prepping for the NEXT war? Oh dear…)
The babies are the highlight of this episode in their brief screen time. It is utterly adorable to see Thomas’s affection for Sybbie, and shocking to see his accusations be legit for once!
O’Brian’s departure was handled as well as it could, and Edna… well I’m reserving judgement, which is more than I would have said during the last episode. So we’ll see.
I still don’t particularly care about the Jimmy/Alfred/Ivy/Daisy quadrangle (or is it a pentangle if you add Thomas into it? GAH) but I cared more about Ivy as a person than I’ve ever done before. Mrs. Patmore and Daisy both had brief but poignant roles in this episode. I loved Mrs. Patmore’s admission that she’s afraid of the new technology and Mrs. Hughes comfort. And Daisy’s valentine? “I may not have a follower, but I do have a friend.” Airpunch!
Grigg’s reappearance was a bit of a shock, but definitely exactly what Cousin Isobel needed. Bravo Mrs. Hughes for unfailing compassion and insight.
Thankfully they didn’t give Rose much this episode, which is necessary for the viewers who are still getting used to her. I’m glad that we’ll get to see more of her next week, however! And Bates and Anna, although honestly it’s just lovely to see them happy for awhile.
(Since episodes 1&2 were aired together in the US, episode 3 of the UK broadcast will be episode 2 for the American audience. Confusing, wot? This may make it harder for American audiences to be warned about a scene in this episode, given that all of the warnings are tied in with the words "episode 3." Anyhow, the episode of Downton Abbey airing on January 12th, 2014, will contain a scene that most viewers believe is more disturbing than anything ever shown on the show. I am not going to post details here, but if you want to know more, you can read my warning on tumblr. No character names are given, but the situation is explained.)