‘Downton Abbey’ Season Premiere Recap: A Time for Changes
Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers about the new season of Downton Abbey, which started airing in the UK Sunday. If you wish to remain spoiler-free until the season starts in the United States, please avert your eyes.
LONDON, ENGLAND — Things are changing. Or, in the words of Carson, “I feel a shaking of the ground I stand on. That everything I believe in will be tested and held up for ridicule over the next few years.”
If the Season 5 premiere is any indication, so much has changed — and is about to change — for each of the characters on Downton Abbey.
But don’t expect a revolution at Downton just yet.
The impression from the first episode on Sunday night is that this season of Downton Abbey will be more political than any previous one, and it will delve deeper into how the changing outside world will impact the characters, both upstairs and downstairs.
Politics, not as usual
In a world where a labour prime minister is in power, Carson is chosen over the Earl of Grantham to chair a committee to build a war memorial, leaving both men equally stunned. “The country’s chosen the labour government. It shows people don’t always get it right,” says Carson.
The changing tides of politics continues to haunt poor Grantham, even at a party organized to celebrate the Earl and the Countess of Grantham’s 34th wedding anniversary. There, Sarah Bunting, an outspoken local teacher and Tom Branson’s friend, stands up to the host himself with the support of both Tom and cousin Isobel.
Before the conversation gets too heated, it is shut down by the Dowager Countess, “Principles are like prayers. Noble, of course, but awkward at a party.”
Meanwhile, Edith continues to feel despair over the impossibility of being with her daughter Marigold and the ongoing search for Michael Gregson.
Although she’s always the outcast, always at the margin of things, and never really involved in the major plots of the home, this might change soon as Edith’s secret is in serious danger. After Edith “chooses to set her room on” (Mary’s words) at the end of the episode, it seems there may be some serious consequences that won’t be easily remedied with a fresh coat of paint. That is, assuming I wasn’t the only one who saw Edith put a photo of Marigold under the pillow before throwing away the book that started the fire.
We’ll soon find out if the bed was burnt as well or if the photo will be found and someone will connect the dots.
Also, if Mr. Drewe, who has been helping out by taking care of her daughter, has put two and two together, how long before his wife figures it out, too? And what about anyone else?
A woman and two suitors
Lady Mary and Isobel Crawley each find themselves dealing with suitors and engaging in some rather interesting conversations with confidantes about their situations.
As the Dowager Countess teases cousin Isobel in a surprising banter about what men really want (from women), she realizes that if Lord Merton’s courtship were successful, it would mean a big bump for Isobel’s status. So the Dowager Countess must play her cards right to keep that under control, starting off with a luncheon to make an assessment of the situation.
Cousin Isobel has a new suitor in the season premiere of ‘Downton Abbey.’
As for Lady Mary, Season 4 ended with a “let battle commence” between Tony and Charles. She hasn’t decided yet — but I have (Tony FTW). So she confides in Anna and she does so in a much more open way than usual.
While taking about the process of choosing the person with whom to spend her life, she points out and focuses on the importance of making sure “that side of things is right before we tie ourselves to someone forever.” She is not as graphic as Lady Cunard’s daughter, but we get the point.
She wants to live in the present, not spend her life regretting the past or dreading the future, which shows how far she’s come from the sad and dark Mary we saw after Matthew’s death.
Tony makes a move, literally, in order to step up his game and get past the kiss phase, when he shows up in her room at night with a scandalous proposal: to get away for a week on their own “to spend the days talking and the nights too.” And she agrees. This Mary is a smart lady.
The secret is out — or is it?
Downstairs, the sneaky Mr. Barrow continues to demand information from Miss Baxter, who is determined not to get bullied any longer, despite his knowledge about her secret past.
So with the support of Mr. Molesley, she confesses her criminal past to Lady Grantham, who is shocked about having a convicted felon in her house — and, even worse, in her room. She blames Barrow for that.
But the real question is why she stole. We don’t know the whole story yet, so definitely isn’t over.
As Cora is about to make a decision about Barrow, he is the one to warn the house about the fire, so he is also safe. And a hero, for now.
Not the same can be said about Jimmy, who is caught in bed with Lady Anstruther by Lord Grantham. Jimmy is certainly someone who is trying to break social barriers and to find common ground between upstairs and downstairs — too bad his methods aren’t quite socially acceptable for 1920s England.
Of course, in this era, socially acceptable is a term with an ever-changing definition.
What did you think of the season premiere of Downton Abbey?
Dani Botti is a freelance writer based in London, England whose work has appeared on English and Italian websites, including gossipandgab.com, 2night.it, and tvseries.co.uk. While her main professional joy remains covering U.S. television shows, she’s also an experienced movie reviewer and on-the-ground reporter, covering the Milan Telefilm Festival in Milan, Italy, and the Busto Arsizio Film Festival.