Downton Abbey Review: Where There's a Will

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The year is 1922 and Downton is aghast that Miss O’Brien has taken off like a thief in the night, up and leaving Lady Grantham without help.

Whatever will they do? Anna decides to leave Lady Mary in the lurch to attend to Cora and everyone discusses how Lady Flincher stole O'Brien.

And so it begins... another entry for Downton Abbey into the mini-series category for awards season so they don’t have to compete with traditional dramas. That made sense when it was a one-off series, but as we’re on the fourth series (Downton Abbey Season 4 as we Americans call it), it seems strange.

Mary on Season 4

Does anyone really care that O'Brien is gone? I’d like to have seen a party be thrown in honor of her departure, but with Mary still concerned about her “poor little orphan” George, it was enough just to have something else to think of rather than Matthew’s death.

One of the oddities of watching Downton as a Masterpiece Theater production is the premiere is offered as a two-hour presentation. It’s happened before, but never as much as with Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 1 – the two hours together didn't fit well.

The first hour felt fresh and interesting, while the second fell flat. The momentum wasn't matched, and it made for a sluggish two hours overall.

Given that PBS isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with programming during the year that is competitive within the Nielsen market, I can’t help but wonder why they choose to combine installments, thereby shortening the span of time they have available to play with the big boys. Would leaving Downton on for two additional weeks cut into their pledge drives? If anyone is reading, I’m interested to know their reasoning behind combining and shortening the season.

Robert wants to abandon all of Matthew’s plans for Downton’s future, and since Matthew left no will, his half of Downton falls into baby George’s possession. Rather than worry Mary with looking over his business, Robert feels it’s in the best interests of all for him to do that for her. Of course he does. Having never been on board with Matthew’s plans in the first place, it’s difficult not to think that part of him might see Matthew’s death as a bit of a blessing as far as the future of the estate goes.

Tom, lovely Tom, thinks of Mary first and wishes to wait for her input. Cora stands with him in her belief that Mary should be handling all affairs on behalf of her son. It’s easy to see how things might go awry and Robert could end up being put out. His idea is for Mary to concentrate on feeling better by not worrying about anything else, as if crying in her tea will somehow help her get back on her feet.

Unfortunately for Robert, Matthew was far from stupid. Although he hadn't gotten around to a full will since died so shortly after George was born, he did have something in writing leaving everything he had to his darling Mary, knowing fully well his child would be a baby and hardly able to run anything if he were to die. I’m surprised Robert’s head didn't explode. 

The majority of installment was about the women of Downton and how far things have come for them as a class; Mary discovering she's half owner of Downton, Edith having dinner out at a restaurant (with a married man) and Rose and Anna out dancing. Those things just weren't done before the war.

Mrs. Hughes discovered a fellow Carson used to sing and dance with. I know, right? Who reading this can imagine stodgy Carson singing and dancing? Well, apparently he did with a chap named Grigg who looks an awful lot like an older Jack Lemmon. Mrs. Hughes seemed to make it her mission to get Grigg back on his feet, which was a shame, really. Molesley could have used that same upward hand, but she didn’t think to lend it to the man she knew so well.

And yet for as far as people have come, there are still women studying to be lady's maids. Edna Braithwaite, who left Downton under less-than-honorable circumstances after hitting on Tom, managed to make her way back into the house without anyone being the wiser. Once it was done, there was little to do to take it back. Somehow the singing, dancing Carson put it all on Tom’s head and was determined to ensure Lady Cora was never the wiser.

Braithwaite has already found a partner in crime with Thomas and I'm sure we will see them getting into all sorts of trouble before the season is out.

It's difficult to believe that the tone of Downton Abbey feels heavier than it did when the Abbey was being used as a recuperation center for officers during the war, but there aren't as many comical moments as I would expect, and only one laugh out loud comment from the Dowager Countess at Isobel's expense. Since the series has already aired in the UK, it was difficult not to get a peek into what lies ahead, and I was hoping the earlier days would promise some light. Perhaps this is the year of the war of the heart.

There was a lot of talk about romance, and we even learned Carson had once been in love. Could the time be coming for Carson to put the moves on Mrs. Hughes? Perhaps seeing his old friend Mr. Griggs dislodged the giant stick that has been lurking in the darkness on up in there and he'll start to feel something other than disdain for the rest of the household staff. 

For a full rundown of the events of the evening, head on over to the Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 1 recap. If you've missed any episodes of Downton, be sure to watch Downton Abbey online and as always, leave your thoughts about the episode in the comments.

In the meantime, let's take a diversion and opine on whose romantic life are you most interested in. Take the poll!


Editor Rating: 3.7 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 3.6 / 5.0 (78 Votes)

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


It's interesting enough still to want to see what happens, but I think the DA as we formerly knew it, is pretty much over. The writer had to do a lot of redirection when he lost those two characters and think he got a bit carried off track. Anyway, to me, this season 4 makes it more like "Downturn Abbey." It's become something other than what became established in the first three seasons.

@ carole

So true.


ps missed so much that was evidently not included on the dvd for that series. If I'm at all interested now I'd watch the tv show with all the ads!!! No way!


Totally disappointed. Was a huge Downton Abbey fan but after given series 3 thought I'd seen it all until I decided to watch a few episodes on tv, only to find out that series 3 did not include Mary's pregnancy, Matthews Death (?) etc, etc. Unfortunately my husband has given me series 4 and I am not at all interested!!!

@ mich

Series 3 did include Mary's pregnancy, however brief given their short seasons, and most definitely Matthew's death. Are you spure you watched the right season to catch up?


I agree....Dumbdown Abbey is a complete bore...much rather watch Doc Martin.


I may be one of a vast minority, but this show PALES in comparison with previous Masterpiece shows -- no depth of character, no consistency of character, boring and predictable plots and, in this season, a hodgepodge of sidetracks to unknown or forgotten characters and unbelievable laughable subplots. Where, oh where, is The Forsyte Saga, or Brideshead Revisited, or Anna Karenina, or Jewel in the Crown?


I am a psychiatrist who values talking as much or more as medicine. The writing of Julian Fellowes is excellent, as is the acting. American drama is utterly disturbed in comparison. I cannot watch it. I have watched all of Downton episodes with my wife and frequently pause the recordings to discuss my reactions to poignant subtleties. The show neither bores nor upsets me. It interests and soothes me that such a fine sensibility as Fellowes continues to produce.

@ Pat Brown

Hello Dr. Brown, Those are lovely sentiments and I agree that British dramas are quite interesting indeed, however I do believe you do yourself a disservice by ignoring the many fine dramas produced by the US. Merely by looking at the schedules of the UK broadcast channels you will see they do not share your disregard for all things American. Although you praised Fellowes, you didn't mention exactly what about the two hours you felt were worthy of discussion and met your description of poignant subtleties. I'd be interested to know your thoughts. Cheers, Carissa


I, too, am rather 'over' the whole Thomas thing. His character needs to go and go quickly. Not sure why this old acquaintance of Carson's came into the picture. As much as I admire Mrs. Hughes, maybe she and Carson need to get a better grip on what is happening downstairs. Not sure about Rose. Seems rather shallow and self absorbed. I hope the season improves. I would hate to say good-bye to Downton and the characters I do appreciate.


I enjoyed every moment and don't understand your issue with a 2 hr debut. Sounds like nitpicking to me. Of course it's a slower paced era. I love that Tom keeps pushing for Mary to have a say and that he solicited Carson's help. Robert is displaying his normal autocratic personality with Cora in the background trying to reason with him. Edith has always been one of my least favorite people, so needy and inferior feeling. I do agree I'm tired of Thomas and his backstabbing but I'm sure there was such a person in such a large staff. Anyway I enjoyed the show, didn't see a lot of change from other seasons and don't really understand people talking about it being boring. It is what it is, life in a manor home in the 20s and I love it. And Maggie Smith had a number of zingers and just her facial expressions speak more loudly than words.


It was a bit slow, but I'm told that the pace picks up around the 3rd or 4th ep so you needn't wait too long. Meanwhile, I didn't see a way to add a quote so here's what I consider to be last night's gem, and who better to utter it than Lady Violet: (to Robert): When you talk like that, it makes me want to ring for Nanny and send you to bed without supper.

@ MrWriteSF

Maggie Smith is the heart of the show. Her lines and facial expressions are priceless.


Glad to see that there are others equally as disappointed as me in this season's opener. I have to wonder if Julian Fellowes has anyone else that he runs his story lines by. Before he killed off Matthew at the end of last season, someone may have suggested that they had already done the story line with young death (Daisy's husband, Matthew's fiancee, Lavina and others?) and death right after a child birth (Sybil). Come on, can you think of a new idea? I think something much more interesting would have been to have a death or some incapacitating illness in Robert. That way we could really see the tangles of alliances in where Downton was going to go, Isobel could be her fun loving self (maybe hooked up with the good doctor) and Cora's character could be developed a little bit more than just her sighing, hand wringing and total cluelessness. I don't know, maybe things will improve, but based on last night's story, I'm pretty unimpressed. And as for the downstairs people- well.. that's pretty weak as well. We'll see.

@ Liza

I think the actor who played Matthew, Dan Stevens (?), wanted to move on to something else. Too bad, too...he was rather nice to look at!

@ Shannon

True, true. I just read something about his wanting to leave and not giving enough notice or flexibility to change the story line... so I stand corrected. Nevertheless, it's too bad he's gone, he made things interesting and true, he was good looking. But so is Branson, maybe more so. It does make for a good Sunday night.

@ Liza

Cora's character could be developed a little bit more than just her sighing, hand wringing and total cluelessness. - I agree…that Cora seems to know so little about her own staff frustrates me. Surely Carson and Mrs. Hughes could have said that Braithwaite caused trouble below stairs with another servant (instead of her making overtures to Tom Branson) and that would have solved the problem., but nooooooooo…….Cora hired her BEFORE speaking with Mrs. Hughes. And that she takes Barrow at his word about Anna (although he was right about Nanny) with NO knowledge of what he's done in the past is just NUTS. She's far too trusting. Lady Marjorie (from Upstairs Downstairs) would never have put up with that BS.

@ MrWriteSF

To me on the Cora thing - I always see it is that Robert has this old school thing of protecting the little woman. He used to say not to let her know when certain things happened. Also, the leaders of the staff, Carson and Mrs. Hughes, seem to be invested with a lot of power over handling staff debacles, even of a more serious note, it being assumed they are supposed to guard the Lord and Lady from contamination with such things.

@ MrWriteSF

Exactly. It's just way too contrived.

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Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 1 Quotes

Tom: She loved him very much.
Robert: And the price of great love is great misery when one of you dies.
Tom: I know that.
Robert: Of course you do. I’m very sorry.

But bein’ a nanny. You’re not one of the family, but you’re not one of us either.