Downton Abbey Season 4 Opening Special

That we use a TV series to mark the beginning of a new year speaks volumes about our contemporary life. However, we are products of our time and culture, and our annual waiting has run its course of patience training. So, let the games begin.

There are so many characters to reintroduce to us that I can understand Julian Fellowes has to write a fast-paced opening. In the first hour, almost all the scenes are like vignettes, spanning 30, 60, or 90 seconds. That means, if you don’t much care for one plot line, like Mrs. Patmore’s ambivalent encounter with an electric mixer, you can just count a few more seconds, you’ll see another character with another dilemma.

Downton Abbey S4  copy

Is it an apt opening? I must say, as with that of Season 3, I am a bit underwhelmed. But I’m sure, as the episodes roll out, I’ll get warmed up real soon. After all, there are so many characters and plot lines, there must be one that I like.

Season 4 opens six months after Matthew Crawley’s very untimely death, 50 years too early according to his widow. Mary’s sorrow has shrouded the first hour of this two-hour special, subtitled ‘House of the Walking Dead.’ So we just hope that Mary will soon take her grandmother’s advice, choose life over death. Violet Crawley remains one of my favourite characters, she beseeches effectively at the right moment, and despite her old age, is more lucid than her son.

We see Robert Crawley’s less than amiable self once again, trying to take charge of grandson George’s share of Downton by sidestepping Mary, all in the cover of protecting her fragile emotions. No malicious intent there but merely convenience over principle. Violet Crawley has once again shown that mother knows best. This has got to be my favourite line of the whole episode, an eighty-something Violet Crawley talking to her sixty-something son Lord Grantham:

When you talk like that I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper.

So it is a rewarding scene as we see Mary finally decides to come out of the land of the dead, crying over the shoulder of not her parents’ but Mr. Carson’s, who has seen her grow up and always has a soft spot for her. That’s one of the few moving scenes in this special.

Mary could have gotten closer to her mother-in-law Isobel Crawley who on her own has to deal with the loss of an only son. Mrs. Hughes has done a kind act, drawing her out of mourning by appealing to her benevolent spirit, while at the same time helping Charles Grigg, Mr. Carson’s former showbiz partner, to get back on his feet. To kill two birds with one stone, or invasion of privacy? Depends on who you ask. Nevertheless, I’m sure at the end of the day, Mr. Carson would thank Mrs. Hughes for intruding into his past so he can find some reconciliation with Grigg.

A character that seems to have turned into a lively spark of the household, hoisting the flag of modernism, other than the obvious, ever bubbly Rose, is Lady Edith. She has taken hold of her life, venturing out to seek her own fortune, or misfortune, in career and in love, disregarding her father’s safe standards. In the London social scenes we see some fresh, Gatsby-eques fashion and set designs. Her love interest, Michael Gregson, is willing to take up German citizenship in order that he can divorce his lunatic wife and marry Edith. There in the 1920’s turning to Germany? I can expect the plot to thicken quite a bit later.

O’Brien’s midnight move is an efficient way to handle actors not renewing their contracts. Now this one is easier to swallow than killing them off. With no obvious villain left to be his partner or rival, Tom Barrow has to shoulder the whole realm of evil plotting against the innocents. But with Nanny West, he just hits it by luck. So now he’s in favour with Cora Crawley. Who’s going to be his next victim?

Mr. Bates has been quiet, while Anna has some adventure as chaperone of Lady Rose to a working-class dance hall. I have not watched any of the upcoming episodes, but I feel Bates and Anna can be given more story and screen time. Let’s say, their strong relationship can withstand some slings and arrows Julian Fellowes wishes to hurl their way.

So what do you think of Downton Abbey S4 E1? Favourite scene and characters? Quotable quotes?


Related Posts:

Downton Abbey Season 4: Episode 2

Downton Abbey Season 3

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey Seasons 1 & 2

Quotable Quotes from Downton Abbey Season 3


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

22 thoughts on “Downton Abbey Season 4 Opening Special”

  1. I confess that I have seen all of Season Four except the last episode, so I am reluctant to make many comments. I did think that the first episode was more like “Downer” Abbey with all of the grief, but I was still thrilled to keep watching.

    You definitely make some great points about the many plot lines. They couldn’t afford to kill off any more characters, so dispatching O’Brien as a runaway maid was a good way to take care of that actress who wanted out.

    As for that traitor, who played Matthew Crawley, I see that Dan Stevens is playing Sir Lancelot in the latest “Night at the Museum” sequel and is in an Adam Sandler comedy…


    1. Cathy,

      Thanks for sharing ‘discreetly’. 😉 I know, we all miss Matthew Crawley, yet I wish Dan Stevens all the best. But quitting DA for Night at the Museum isn’t quite what one imagine to be a big leap. I know, this is only the start. So’s Jessica Brown Findlay who’s in Winter’s Tale coming out soon. I wish they will do well in America. DA too, I hope there will be many more seasons to come.


  2. So much drama can unfold, I don’t know what to think. I do know as soon as the dvd is available January 28th I plan to buy it so I don’t have to stay up on Sunday nights till 11:00. I’m concerned about the slander against Anna. I was pleased that Carson came around at the end and reconciled with his old friend. I was not happy to see that maid come back to Downton. I’m not a good literary critic I’m just a fan…


    1. Ellen,

      So much drama indeed. Everyone has a story to tell. I’ve just got a new HD box and I can record. So that’s convenient… albeit I still want to see it ‘live’.


    2. Interesting Ellen … The series hasn’t started here in Australia yet, but we ordered the DVDs about 3 months ago and have seen all but the Xmas Special.

      Arti, my husband’s comment was that there was too little plot this series, that it all seemed like it was being set up for the next series. I sort of see what he means but it didn’t worry me. I love the clothes and, more, the evocation of social change. I don’t care much for drama in the plot. I abhor the Barrow plot line.


      1. WG,

        Yes, I think what appeals to me is the social change and thus, women’s status and more equality between classes. I’m not sure how much story Julian Fellowes will string out from these themes, but Edith’s London trips exude some Gatsby-esque, jazzy styling, which is quite exciting. And agree with you… Barrow has become a two-dimensional character that just prods our loathing. (That’s why O’Brien left the show, I read somewhere)


        1. Fair enough .. Re O’Brien. Without giving anything away, I also like how it explores the “estate” culture … The ruling families and their land management, as this series goes on.


  3. I need to buy the show on DVD because I had trouble following the English when they spoke quickly. I did like the quote you mentioned about sending Robert Crawley to bed. As usual I liked the clothes. In those days, even to go to the store, women wore lovely clothes – you should come to the mall near where I live – all the young girls wear jeans and tight tee shirts and many are overweight, as for the guys, their trousers are way too big for them … I also like hats. When in New York in November – it was cold – I bought a hat at the NY Public Library shop and wore it every day! This afternoon I received a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law, a book by Alan Furst called “Mission to Paris.” Have you read any of his books? I think I did get an older one of his at the library sale but it is still in the pile.


    1. VB,

      You’re totally right about the fashion. We’re getting more and more casual nowadays, and less elegant… but we’re enjoying more comfort and freedom they never had. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the set design and Edith’s 1920’s period fashion. Let’s just hope the stories are up to par. As for our winter, think we’re sharing the cold regardless of our location. We’re in it together. I’d love to see that hat you bought in NYC. And, thanks for intro. me to Alan Furst. I haven’t read his books but will watch out for them.


      1. VB, on your remote you should have a closed captions button. Make sure to turn it on if you are having trouble with the language and you can read along when you need to. I have to do that when I’m watching some dialects that aren’t so familiar to me — usually upper England/Cockney/Yorkshire/Welsh, sometimes Irish or Scot. It’s easier than getting the DVDs unless you want them anyway!


    1. Esme Cococroissants,

      LOL… PBS should consider the many early-to-bed viewers. I know DVD’s for S4 are out in some parts of the world already, don’t know about your area. You’re most welcome to join in our discussions after viewing the episodes. 😉


  4. I must admit it took me a while to get on the DA band wagon…but alas I was very ill with the flu over Christmas and all I could do was sit or lie in bed. Therefore I took the time to watch the entire first and second season. Now I understand the attraction and I am looking forward to having time to watch season three. I have started recording season four on my DVR and will wait to watch it until I have finished last season.
    Thank you for the synopsis! Now I’m off to see what the Crawleys are up to~ 🙂


    1. Courtney,

      You’re most welcome to come by the pond here, throw in your two pebbles to make some ripples after you’re all caught up. I’m sure you’ll finish S3 in no time. 😉


  5. What a kaleidoscope of plots! I suppose that’s what first episodes have to be. I haven’t watched and will probably wait until the season is available on DVD to watch at my leisure. I think Violet gets the best lines.


    1. nikkipolani,

      These are only the major ones, there are still the tangled love quartet downstairs, and some others I haven’t mentioned. Yes, I can see watching at one’s leisure could be most enjoyable, but can you wait though? 😉


  6. I’ve had some computer problems and have been dying to comment on this one! I won’t say I was disappointed in the opener, but it was slower than I had hoped. Still, they had to catch people up and set up the plot lines for the season (Rose, that wild and crazy girl, the newest Thomas schemes, the conflict between Robert and the younger generation, Edith and Gregson, etc.) I won’t share any spoilers I HAVE read (but they are both fascinating and disturbing!), but I haven’t read much about Edith other than what was set up here. My prediction is that Gregson is hiding something (so avoiding the Downton party and eager to get to Germany — is it really because of the wife? Will he be wrapped up in the soon-to-occur National Socialist movement? That could be one of the interesting ones.

    Not as many zingers as usual, but I sure did like the one you pulled by Violet to Robert. I’ll have to remember that one, just to use around the house!

    Well, I know what I’m doing every Sunday at 9 for the next few weeks. All this and Sherlock starting January 19. And new “Call the Midwife” coming in March. I love my PBS Sundays!


    1. Jeanie,

      Thanks for not telling me the spoilers. I try not to view any trailers for S4. Just want to be surprised… but of course it’s hard in this media saturated world we’re in. I also like to watch the weekly installments too, vicarious experience with the millions. I’m recording the whole series, so I can rewatch on my own as well. And I’m excited about Sherlock S3 too… lots of good things kicking off in Jan. on PBS. You’re always welcome to stop by the pond and throw in your pebbles. 😉


  7. I must reveal I have seen the entire season already including the one that aired on Christmas which turned out to be a really all around good episode, the best one of the season. I did find myself underwhelmed for the first episode. I could say more but I will refrain 🙂


    1. Stefanie,

      I’m surprised to hear there are many who have seen the whole S4 already. Well I must thank you for being very discreet in your comment. Glad to know the show will end in a pleasant note… anything is better than being killed off in a head-on collision. Considering it’s only 1920’s, what’s the odds of that in a quiet, country road? I’m all eager to view the rest of the episodes. Still like the old fashioned way of waiting for the serial week after week. 😉


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