Nothing. A whole lot of nothing. It was disheartening to see “Downton Abbey,” which so effortlessly charmed us in the first season, fall so flat in the second. Some fans still will not concede this. “I just like watching it,” they whine in defense. “I watch it for the costumes, the domestic details, the dowager countess — all of it.”
Well, who doesn’t? I, too, would probably watch “Downton Abbey” even if it were only about serving dinner each night. (And, mostly, that’s what it is. Would it work just as well as a cooking show on the Food Network?)
The good news is that we can all take a measure of comfort in this latest effort. “Downton Abbey” comes back stronger and more muscular this time, with intriguing and shocking new plots that provide a bit of vital momentum and an uncharacteristically wrenching dose of tragedy when two major characters die — which I shan’t spoil any further, though goodness knows the Internet already has, once Season 3 began airing in Britain a few months ago and just concluded with a Christmas story that contains a dark development.
Before all that, in a satisfying and brisk opening episode, it’s still 1920-ish, pretty much always spring, and Downton is getting ready for the wedding of the century: skeletal cold fish Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), the eldest daughter of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, is at last marrying her distant cousin, the heroic and handsome Matthew (Dan Stevens).
A pall has fallen over the house, as palls must, because Mary’s father, Robert (Hugh Bonneville), has lost the Crawley family’s fortunes to bad investments. In a truly moving scene, Robert confesses this to his wife, Cora, played by Elizabeth McGovern, an actress who often carries “Downton Abbey” squarely on her capable shoulders amid so much silliness and fawning over Maggie Smith’s delectable snootiness as Cora’s mother-in-law, the Dowager Countess Violet. In private, Cora bravely encourages a humiliated Robert to postpone his despair and enjoy the wedding, even if it’s a farewell to the opulence they’ve known all their lives.