Downton Abbey, Season Four (2013)


Four years in and nothing about Downton Abbey has really changed: in spite of her insipid personality, Mary is still the hottest thing in shoe leather, Edith is still getting a raw deal, and Anna and Mr. Bates seem doomed for eternal unhappiness. One has to wonder if Julian Fellows simply hates them.


The grand old British estate suffers in the wake of Matthew’s death. His widow, Mary (Michelle Dockery), struggles to come to terms with motherhood and being single (and therefore highly desired by all the men in the district, which have returned in full force after the war). She doesn’t want to be happy just yet. Her father, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), meanwhile delightedly takes majority control of the estate, much to the distress of Branson (Allen Leech), who tries to entice Mary into involvement in her late husband’s affairs. An unofficial will complicates matters further.


Isabel (Penelope Wilton) finds her purpose again in helping locals find jobs, Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) steps in to run interference with her eldest granddaughter, and a steady line of suitors traipse in and out of the Abbey, hoping to win Mary’s heart… or at least her hand. Edith (Laura Carmichael) is enticed with notions of romantic grandeur when her married editor, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) suggests obtaining a divorce by becoming a German citizen. And then there’s the downstairs crew, for it seems just when a fragment of happiness intrudes in Anna (Joanne Frogatt) and Bates’ (Brendan Coyle) life, some disaster leaves them reeling. The resident cousin Rose (Lily James) is also interested in mixing things up in the family dynamic by dating a black lounge singer!


I used to adore this show, but with each season, it progressively descends into predictability and absurdity. Previous seasons at least had the good sense not to tread into too heavy of topics – here, we have a rape within the first five episodes and the aftermath spills out over the rest of the season, winding up with Bates once again being suspected of violence in a crime. (Haven't we been through this plot line before?) The rape and its aftermath is handled as clumsily as the writer has handled every other serious issue (such as racism, miscarriages, homosexuality, and death by pregnancy). In that same episode, Branson is plied with alcohol and winds up sleeping with an overly ambitious, scheming maidservant (but there, no accusations of rape are found, since he was merely drunk at the time, and within a couple of episodes the whole mess is forgotten).


Edith can’t seem to catch a break either, since Fellowes has landed her in yet another mess. Is it too much to ask for that the poor girl get a break once in awhile and not wind up the constantly manipulated, seduced, and abandoned victim of various and sundry older men? Unfortunately, the absence of Matthew and Sybil is distinctly noted and no manner of sassy, unlikable potential replacements for the latter quite suit. With yet another cast member preparing for departure as he turns his back on Downton forever (in spite of another season renewal) and a mountain of disappointments, clichés, and recycled plotlines from season one to mull over, one has to contemplate doing the same. The truth is, Downton is becoming far too predictable and soapy, at least for me.


Sexual Content:

A man rapes a woman (drags her into another room, slaps her around, and forces her down – we hear her screams in the hall, she shows signs of emotional turmoil and physical abuse); a major character has a one night stand with a married man, resulting in a pregnancy (kissing, fade-out); a young man tries to put his hand up a girl’s skirt (she slaps him away).  



Occasional profanities.



None, other than the aforementioned physical assault.



Frequent social drinking.

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