‘Downton Abbey’ recap: Season 4 begins, and it’s a bummer

January 5

Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore and Sophie McShera as Daisy, must learn to deal with new appliances in the kitchen.

Welcome back, Downton! We’ve missed you so. All the gravel. All the green, green grass. All those Englishy phrases that sound extra Englishy when the English say them. What great fun to see and hear you all again.

Well, maybe fun is not the word. The first installment of Season Four was a bit of a bummer, actually — and a two-hour bummer at that. The season picks up six months after the car crash death of Matthew Crawley, Downton’s heir, husband of Lady Mary and father of baby George.

Lady Mary, with her whiter shade of alabaster skin and dead-to-the-world stare, is a zombie as the new season begins. Her mood is matched by the gloomy weather. Downton has never looked so depressing.

Mary’s in mourning, of course, though mourning would seem to require a heart, and that is one body part she never quite seemed to possess. But we’ll have to give her the benefit of the doubt. Mourning sort of becomes Mary. At least its better than the 50 shades of disdain that used to constitute her emotional range.

But enough about her for now. Let’s check in on a few of the others.

- Poor Lady Edith (I think Poor Lady Edith is her given name) is ever closer to sealing the deal with Michael, the London publisher, who plans to marry her as soon as he can divorce his institutionalized wife. To do that, he plans to move to Germany, where lunacy is acceptable grounds for divorce. Leaving England to become a German citizen in the 1920s seems like a brilliant idea, right? Jawohl. What could possibly go wrong? Good luck, Poor Fraulein Edith.

- Lady Rose will not be moving to Germany. She’s too busy taking up unnecessary room as the Abbey’s resident ditz. I’m not sure what purpose she serves yet other than as a clueless class tinkerer. Who knows, she may fall for her dance hall brawler yet.

- Robert and Cora Crawley, more than ever before, seem to have become part of Downton’s furniture. They look like they can be moved from room to room in appealing fashion but without drawing any undue notice. So far this season they’re in danger of being replaced by Madame Tussaud stand-ins. Sorry, Robert, but you’ve lost the house. Now go eat your pudding.

- Mr. Thomas Barrow is as welcomingly wicked as ever. Up to no-good in the most appealingly sinister way, he manages to rid Downton of the awful newcomer Nanny West and cast suspicion on the lovely Anna in just one episode. And Thomas’s alliance with the equally malicious Edna (whose return really makes you wonder who’s in charge of Downton’s security clearances) promises to be a fruitful one for this season. A quick aside: I actually think it’s a shame Nanny West had to leave. She was malicious in a way that made me wish she had a longer stay. Maybe she’ll return!

- Molesley (and is there a more aptly named character on Downton?) finds himself moaning and out of work again, and the only thing I can think to say is, “It’s not them Molesley, it’s YOU.” I think Molesley’s insufferable self-pity may have been what the English had in mind when they came up with the word “whinging.”

By far my favorite – and most threatening – new character this season is the electric mixer that arrives in the kitchen. Downton’s cook, Ms. Paddermoddy, or whatever her name is, couldn’t be more frightened if she had been an aging newspaper editor asked to start tweeting “Duck Dynasty” recaps. Young kitchen maid Daisy may be unlucky in love, but she’s handy with the new mixer and whips up a delicious mousse. Technology is revolutionizing Downton, and you don’t have to have a master’s in metaphorology to see that writer Julian Fellowes is making some sort of point about how we’re all replaceable and all of us always have been.

But who watches “Downton” for the point-making? Not me. I watch for the fun, and I hope things brighten up a bit next week. I could use a little more silliness and a few more of the Dowager Countess’s withering asides. And I could use a little less time wasted on such completely inconsequential sideplots as Mr. Carson’s long running beef with his old partner from the theater. (I hope everyone drank when Mr. Carson walked through the steam at the train station to finally reconcile with Charlie Grigg.)

Finally, have you noticed that no scene lasts much longer than 30 seconds? It might be set a century ago, but the show is the perfect product for our attention-deficit times. And it might just be the most Twitter-influenced period piece in British television drama history. With that in mind, here are my favorite Downton related tweets from viewers last night.

(You can follow me on Twitter at @JoeHeim)

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Heim is an editor and writer for The Washington Post magazine where he writes Just Asking, a weekly Q&A column. He has recently written about candy, not saving for your kids for college, Downton Abbey, the role of presidents as consolers-in-chief and about Washingtonians personal experiences with gun violence.
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