Downton Abbey: Season 4 Premiere Recap - Lady Mary Finds Her Strength

“Downton Abbey” Season 4 premiered on Sunday night, picking up six months after the death of dear Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens).

As Lady Mary grieved, the rest of the house was thrown into shock over a surprise downstairs departure, Thomas Barrow found a new enemy, Mr. Carson was confronted by someone from his past, Anna joined Lady Rose on an adventure, Lady Edith dined with her boyfriend in public and Tom Branson and Lord Grantham clashed over whether Mary should be involved in the running of Downton.

Here’s what happened to the cast of characters in the show’s Season 4 premiere on PBS’ Masterpiece:

PHOTOS: ‘Downton Abbey’ — Scenes From Season 4

Mrs. O’Brien — Gone, But Still Causing A Stir: Duplicitous right through her very last moment at the estate, “Downton Abbey’s” Season 4 opened as lady’s maid Sarah O’Brien snuck out under a cloak of darkness, leaving just notes to explain her exit. Lady Flintshire (Rose’s mother, whose estate the family visited in Season 3) had secretly managed to woo O’Brien into her employment as she and her husband relocated to India.

Anna found O’Brien’s notes and gave them to Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes, who fretted over how to tell Lady Cora. Gossip ran rampant downstairs, passed from butler to cook to maid, all incredulous at O’Brien’s sneaky departure. Alfred (her nephew) insisted he had been kept in the dark. Lady Cora showed her angry side, using O’Brien’s first name when she told husband Robert/Lord Grantham, “I just can’t believe Susan has done this to me!”

WATCH: Joanne Froggatt Previews Whats Ahead For Anna & Mr. Bates In ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 4

Entirely unsuitable for a lady of the estate to dress herself, Anna volunteered to help Lady Cora until a replacement was found. Lady Edith went to London to place an ad for the vacant job in a posh magazine (and visit her married boyfriend Michael Gregson), while cousin Rose snuck out to a local shop where the ad she placed in a window brought a familiar (and unwelcome) face back to Downton – flirty former maid (who, in Season 3 pursued widower Tom Branson) Edna Braithwaite.

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Lady Mary, Tom Branson & Lord Grantham (Robert Crawley) – Life After Matthew: It was a bleak start to Season 4 for Lady Mary, who was nearly motionless and quite expressionless as she continued to mourn the death of husband Matthew. Baby George provided no comfort. She called her son a “poor little orphan” in front of Downton’s newest resident — nanny West.

Tom Branson tried to help bring Mary back to life by suggesting she play a role in the running of the estate. She was, after all, the guardian of Matthew’s sole heir, baby George (without a will, everything went to the child). Lord Grantham sternly disagreed. He wanted to protect Mary from dealing with “death duties” (inheritance taxes) and the like and he started to make plans to undo many of the improvements Matthew had brought to the estate. The Earl attempted to convince himself (and others) he was doing it all for the good of his grandson, but his mother, Violet, the Dowager Countess, said it seemed like he just wanted sole control of Downton again.

WATCH: Michelle Dockery On Mary’s Life After Matthew & The Men Coming To Court Her Character On ‘Downton’

Mary progressed no further and it prompted Tom to ask Mr. Carson for help. At first, she bristled at Carson’s suggestion she come back to life and get involved in the estate. But, his parting words – “You’re letting yourself be defeated,” took root. After a dinner (where Violet and Tom hinted Mary should show her face at an upcoming luncheon with the tenants) brought out her anger over losing Matthew, she took comfort in Carson. Visiting him in his study, Mary apologized for berating him and sobbed in his arms as he told her she was “strong enough for the task,” and could protect Matthew’s work.

Her next move was to make her first official appearance following Matthew’s death – attending that tenants’ luncheon (Tom grinned).

Not long after that, Lord Grantham found a letter from Matthew (written prior to the family’s Season 3 Scotland trip), which the lawyer confirmed was qualified to serve as a will. “I wish you to be my sole heiress,” it read, leaving Mary – officially — the owner of half of Downton. Tom quickly took Mary under his wing, and shuttled her around the property where she learned her father wants to sell land to pay the inheritance taxes in one lump sum. At another dinner, a new conflict was set up when Mary announced she didn’t agree.

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Thomas Barrow – Out With An Old Foe, In With A New One: There has always been someone around who rubbed Thomas the wrong way (O’Brien, Mr. Bates, Mr. Carson, etc.) and in Sunday night’s premiere, he found a new enemy in the woman taking care of Sybbie (daughter to Tom and the late Sybil) and George (Mary and the late Matthew’s son). Nanny West scolded him for making a sweet little remark to Sybbie after a walk, and she really crossed the line by ordering Thomas about like a (gasp!) servant.

Another run in with the nanny prompted Thomas to stir the pot. Casually, he told Lady Cora that the nanny was “leaving the children to their own devices.” It was a lie, but Cora took heed and walked in on the nanny as she committed a different egregious act – calling Sybbie a “wicked little cross breed.” The nanny dismissed immediately, it was a win for Thomas, and prompted Cora to believe another of his suggestions – that Anna ruined one of Cora’s favorite clothing items and wasn’t fond of her new lady’s maid, Edna.

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Lady Edith – Love Continues To Blossom With Her Editor: After trying to cheer up Matthew’s grieving mother, Mrs. Isobel Crawley, Edith went to London to see her editor-turned-boyfriend Mr. Michael Gregson. Some countries allow lunacy as grounds for divorce and Michael told Edith he hoped to get out of his marriage to his wife (asylum-bound Lizzie) by becoming a German citizen. During dinner at a restaurant (a new, acceptable social behavior for women), Edith admitted to being thoroughly flattered that Michael would risk becoming a citizen of World War I aggressor Germany for her. Before they parted, Edith extended her boyfriend an invitation to an upcoming Downton party.

WATCH: Laura Carmichael Dishes On ‘Downton’ Season 4 Newcomers Paul Giamatti & Tom Cullen

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Daisy, Mrs. Patmore, Ivy, Alfred & Jimmy – Kitchen Crushes & New Technology: After the shock of O’Brien’s exit died down, Valentine’s Day caused a stir, as did a new electric mixer (Mrs. Patmore was not impressed!). Daisy and Ivy received cards from unknown admirers. Always trying to wind up Alfred, Jimmy dropped hints that he was the one who sent the card to Ivy (he didn’t), which led to Daisy to assume her card came from her crush, Alfred (it didn’t). Eventually, Mrs. Patmore confessed she sent Daisy the note so her assistant cook wouldn’t feel left out on the day.

Still presumably playing games with Alfred (or perhaps just wanting companionship), Jimmy asked Mr. Carson for permission to take Ivy to the theater. Mr. Carson agreed and the future date was set, leaving Alfred irritated and jealous. “It’s only a bloomin’ play,” he sighed.

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Mrs. Hughes – Meddling In Mr. Carson’s Affairs & The Return Of Edna Braithwaite: After ruffling through his trash, Mrs. Hughes discovered a letter to Mr. Carson from one of his old theater associates, a Mr. Charles Grigg. It prompted Mrs. Hughes to visit the man and she found him in bad shape. Mr. Carson refused to help and was upset that Mrs. Hughes went through his trash. Motivated to get Mrs. Crawley out of mourning and get Mr. Grigg out of his current state, Mrs. Hughes brought the two together. Watching on the sidelines, Mrs. Hughes saw Mrs. Crawley find her fire again as she helped Grigg find a job at the Opera House in Belfast.

Moments before his departure, Mr. Carson (after much prodding from Mrs. Hughes) came to see Mr. Grigg and the story of their strained past was revealed. In their younger years, Alice, a woman Mr. Carson had feelings for, chose Mr. Grigg. Their marriage was a loveless one. Mr. Grigg said Alice admitted she should have picked Mr. Carson. As the train readied to depart, the two men shook hands and parted as friends.

The story of Carson’s past surprised Mrs. Hughes. She also had a shock earlier in the episode when she found Edna Braithwaite – on the sly — had been hired as Cora’s new lady’s maid. In fact, her own reference (the one Tom Branson asked Mrs. Hughes to write in Season 3 after he got too close to Edna) was used to help sway her ladyship. Tom volunteered to tell his mother-in-law why Edna wasn’t suitable for the job, but Mr. Carson said no. He didn’t want Cora to think Tom had been “unworthy” of Lady Sybil. They all resolved to keep an eye on Edna in the future, but Mrs. Hughes called the situation, “a ticking time bomb.”

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Anna & Mr. Bates – Dancing With Lady Rose, Helping Mr. Moselely & The Trouble With Thomas Renewed: Season 4 started out nicely for Anna and Mr. Bates on a personal level (Anna still had to deal with a grieving Mary, professionally) as the lovebirds exchanged Valentine’s cards, and shared a kiss in the hallway.

Anna also found a little excitement when she ventured to York with Lady Rose and attended a dance, where the heiress pretended she wasn’t titled (just “Rose Smith,” a maid). Jimmy, who was there to fetch some meat for Mrs. Patmore, stopped by and swung Anna around the dance floor as they kept an eye on Rose, who did the one-step with a local named Sam, who later tried to court “Rose Smith” unsuccessfully.

During another outing, Anna learned Matthew’s former valet, Mr. Bill Molesley, had fallen on hard times and was heavily in debt (owing 15-20 pounds around the village). Mr. Bates saw his wife’s distress over the situation and approached the Dowager Countess for some charity. Craftily, Mr. Bates found a way to give Molesley the Dowager’s 30 pounds without it seeming like a handout.

But, no good deed goes unpunished. Thomas’ earlier lie to Lady Cora that Anna ruined one of her favorite garments because she didn’t like newcomer Edna, prompted Lord Grantham to talk to Mr. Bates about his wife. To make matters worse, Anna and Mr. Bates saw Thomas and Edna giggling together downstairs. “What’s so funny?” Mr. Bates asked Edna. “Nothing, Mr. Bates. Nothing at all,” Edna replied.

“Downton Abbey” Season 4 airs Sunday nights on PBS’ Masterpiece.

-- Jolie Lash

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