Remember how the previous season opening was a well lit happy blue sky shot of Downton with skippy music? Season 4 is foreboding music over a dark and scary Downton. I know Matthew bit it but it’s not like your precious snowflake Mary died. Unless Downton was also invaded by hordes of vampires it’s a bit much, Fellowes, dial it back 14 notches. (Remember how I’m an American? Between two Doctor Who specials, reading the latest Pink Carnation book, watching several episodes of Midsomer’s Murders, and now this I find myself saying a lot of things that are British. Same thing happens with my accent when I visit relatives in Tennessee. I apologize in advance for whatever crimes against English sayings I’m about to perpetuate.)
Someone is packing up in the dark and leaving notes for “Her Ladyship” and “Mrs. Hughes.” Which means it’s a servant. Clearly it’s going to be O’Brien sneaking off to India by way of Scotland. A baby cries and a new nanny goes to help while Mary just lies in bed being useless. Yes, I know that upper class ladies back then (and today) didn’t parent their own children. Doesn’t mean Mary doesn’t suck.
It’s morning and foggy because even Mother Nature is mourning Matthew’s passing. Sense of perspective, get some, Downton. Anna finds the notes while Mary passes the time posing in varies parts of her bedroom, staring into the middle distance all stoic and stiff upper lip.
She rings for Anna and a helpful graphic tells us it’s now 1922. So ten years have passed since S1 which started the day after the Titanic sunk. No one’s really aged that much in the intervening decade despite all the dead men in their vaginas, wars, more dead people, various scandals involving sex upstairs and down, births, and finally a lot more deaths.
Mrs. Hughes volunteers to tell Cora about the letter, bring her breakfast and dress her but just today. So it was O’Brien that left. Anna offers to be Lady’s maid for both until someone is found because Anna is perpetually helpful and self-sacrificing. They are her only personality characteristics. Those and irredeemably bad taste in people she loves. She tells Thomas about O’Brien on her way upstairs and he rushes off so fast to gossip about it you can see little cartoon motion lines. Soon all the servants are passing the word and gathering to natter on about it. Alfred looks shocked that his aunt would do such a thing. Alfred’s a bit dim, poor thing.
Cora and Robert lounge in bed, discussing the hardships of a Lady’s maid running out in the middle of the night while servants work and their two grandchildren ponder life with only one parent apiece. When Cora says she can’t believe it Robert correctly observes that it’s exactly the kind of thing O’Brien would do. But Cora meant she can’t believe Susan (Rose’s mum/Cora’s cousin-in-law) would do that to Cora. When told that Mrs. Hughes then Anna will be dressing her she slumps down, defeated by the very thought of having to find a new person to help brush her hair.
Carson is raging downstairs, unable to believe no one knew it was coming. Alfred stammers to defend himself, swearing she never told him. Only Mrs. Patmore seems to believe him and she’s kind of a sucker for stupid men.
In the dining room, Edith is as scandalized as Cora. Oh, Edith, you’ve got an extra-marital affair to be worried about, stay out of it. Rose comes in and swears she didn’t know anything about it. Tom (the Irish Chauffeur, not Thomas the Under Butler) suggests Mary join him walking the land but Robert orders him to leave Mary. Yes, we mustn’t suggest that a rich widow with a baby to care for should leave her room at any point. Edith presses Rose again about knowing and she admits she didn’t think they’d go through with it. Heh, poor Rose, completely unable to lie convincingly. That’s going to make all that trellis climbing to sneak out to parties ever so much harder.
Anna tries to give Mary a purple shawl but Mary demands that everything be black. The shawls, the curtains, the mantle – dye it all black! No one has ever been such a devoted widow as she is and the world will know! Nanny brings in the baby, George, and suggests Mary go out with them for air. Mary waves that idea away, depositing a kiss on the kid’s head like it’s a dreaded duty. She also calls him a “poor little orphan” because Mary is a Drama Queen of the Highest Order. I’m sure she’ll pack him off to boarding school the second he’s out of diapers. Anna tells her just that, rather sharply reminding her that orphans don’t have mothers. Mary’s big come back? “He’s not poor either.” OH MY GOD GET DOWN OFF THE CROSS WE NEED THE WOOD FOR THE BONFIRE I’M BUILDING TO KILL YOU. Anna leaves and Mary goes back to staring at the middle distance. If she does this the entire season I am going to do serious injury to myself rolling my eyes.