Thursday, March 27, 2014

Masterpiece Theatre: Downton Abbey Series 4

When we last saw Downton Abbey, we were left with Matthew Crawley's lifeless body lying in a ditch after crashing his car on the way to deliver the news about his newborn baby boy to the rest of the family.  Viewers the world over were left heartbroken and wondering if the show they loved would be able to sustain the blow.  As a new season dawns, they awaited with baited breath the results the tragedy would bring.

The new series starts 6 months after Matthew's death, but the effects are still being felt.  Mary has become almost ghost like and is apathetic towards everything and everyone, including her son, George.  And while Lord Grantham insists that they should keep her hidden from the world to protect her, others, including Lady Cora and the Dowager Countess, do their best to bring her back to life.  Within a couple of episodes they have succeeded and Mary takes her place in helping to manage the estate and preserve it for George.  It isn't long before she attracts new admirers like landholder and equal Lord Gillingham, Charles Blake whose prejudices against the upper classes make for interesting conversations, and devoted Evelyn Napier who reappears from way back in Series 1.

Everyone else in the family is facing changes too.  Lord Grantham is still struggling with accepting the new methods necessary to keep Downton viable.  Edith finds herself in an extremely difficult situation after her "fiance" Michael Gregson disappears while in Germany.  Isobel slowly comes out of her mourning and finds local causes to champion.  Rose is constantly on the search for ways to have a good time, and soon finds herself in a very unconventional relationship.  And Tom is struggling to find his place in the family after the loss of Sybil.

Below stairs, life is just as complicated.  Kitchen maids Daisy and Ivy are constantly at each other over relations with the footmen.  Ms. O'Brien's sudden departure makes way for new ladies maid Ms. Baxter who is forced to report the goings on upstairs and down to Thomas due to some secret he holds over her.  Mr. Molesley struggles to find a job after losing his position due to Matthew's death.  And one horrible moment threatens to wreck Anna and Bates' marriage and makes us question everything we ever thought we knew about his lordships' valet.

Whew!  Ok, so there was a lot that happened this series, and in many ways I am still trying to process it all.  In the end, it kind of ended up being a Jekyll and Hyde type season.  There were aspects that I loved, and others that I wasn't too crazy about.  Let's start with the good stuff.  As much as I hated seeing Matthew go, I kind of liked seeing Mary get back to her old self and play these men against each other.  One does have to wonder if poor Evelyn Napier will ever learn NOT to bring competition with him if he wants to woo her.  Personally, I'm kind of liking Charles Blake, mostly because he doesn't flatter and moon over Mary the way Gillingham does.  And seeing the wealthy and prim Mary covered in mud and pig sh*t made me smile for some sadistic reason!  I also loved it when Isobel got back on her feet and started taking on the Dowager Countess again.  Those two have always provided the best scenes and their time together really hearkened back to the glory days of Series 1.  Other little things I loved about this series were Paul Giamatti's turn as Cora's brother (I REALLY hope he comes back!), Molesley's knight in shining armor to Ms. Baxter, and the staff's trip to the seaside.

And now for the not so awesome things.  I get that it is hard for Branson to find his place with the family.  But really, the guy needs to either pick his politics back up and give them all hell day in and day out, or he needs to embrace the fact that he is now with the upper crust.  Whatever he chooses, he needs to just stop whining about it.  This series also lacked a real villain as Thomas was just plain boring.  It seems he isn't capable of true villainy without Ms. O'Brien there to join him.  There has to be a very good (and plausible) reason as to why Michael Gregson fell off the face of the earth and didn't once reach out to Edith.  And please, Mr. Fellows, just let Bates and Anna be HAPPY already!!!  Every time we think they might get to settle down and open that pub you throw some new horrible situation at them.  Pick on someone else for a change!

Overall, this series fell in the middle for me.  While there were great moments that reminded me of the good old days of Series 1, there were just as many that fell into the cliches of Series 3.  What I can say is that the it got better as it went along, so if you find yourself bored or disappointed with the first few episodes be sure to stick around and see the whole thing.  I am feeling a bit more optimistic at the end of this series than I did at the end of the last two and am looking forward to what Series 5 brings.  

See my other reviews here: Series 1, Series 2, Series 3


Hannah said...

Hmm... I saw the first couple of episodes from S4 and I was really bored by them. Even my mother doesn't watch the show these days and she was a much bigger fan of DA than I ever was. But your review has definitely made me consider giving the show another shot.

I can't remember if I've asked you this but have you seen 'Call the Midwife'? It's the BBC's most popular period drama show these days and I happen to like it more than DA.

hopeinbrazil said...

Season 4 recently made it to Brazilian cable TV and I was able to watch it (I missed season 3 all together.) I have to say I'd be much more likely to watch this season over again (unlike one and two) because of the grace people showed to one another. Edith could have been rejected by her grandmother, but wasn't. Carson forgiving his old burlesque partner. Molesly and Miss Baxter, Mary toward Anna, etc. etc. The Rose and Anna stories were the fly in the ointment, but probably necessesary to keep the story more realistic than syrupy.