(This article was originally featured on Smitten By Britain on Jan. 21, 2014.)
Spoiler Alert: Since this post is titled “Mid-Series Review” I would hope it’s obvious that plot details will be discussed, but just in case, here’s the obligatory spoiler alert.
Series 4 of Downton Abbey is roughly halfway through on PBS.
Series 4 of Downton Abbey is roughly halfway through on PBS. Fans have felt a mix of anger, grief, and joy during the first few episodes. So far this series has lived up to my expectations despite the departure of two beloved characters. Although there are still five more episodes to go including the 2013 Christmas special, there are quite a few developments worthy of reflection and analysis.
Mary’s grief and recovery is a key point in every episode so far. During the series premiere, she was depressed apathetic. She had very little energy to take care of George and business affairs held no interest for her. Even the most ordinary daily tasks resulted in emotional distress.
Through not so gentle convincing by many, she overcomes her depression and becomes more active in Downton’s affairs. Mary was named Matthew’s sole heir, she has to steer the estate through the payment on the death duties as well as investment in future development.
Mary is also under social pressure to move on from Matthew. Several men are lining up to be her husband, however Mary knows she is no where near ready to move on in that way. As the season progresses, fans can expect to see more suitors attempt to win Mary over.
Branson is still struggling with his place in Downton. Although he works alongside Mary to manage the estate, socially he still feels like an outsider. He is constantly questioning his ideals and current beliefs. Edna returns to the servants hall in order to entice him into a romance he is not ready to handle. On the other hand, a wealthy widow eyes Branson as a potential spouse, which also makes him uneasy.
Edith and Rose this series push the limits of society at the time. Edith has had her ups and downs with love, and these past few episodes are no exception. Although Michael Gregson loves her, he is already married to a woman in an insane asylum and a divorce can’t be granted.
He is establishing residency in Germany in order to gain a divorce, but this is far from a guarantee of permanent happiness. During Sunday’s episode, Edith and Gregson spend the night together, something which has the potential to complicate her life even further later on.
While Edith is with Gregson, Rose finds her own ways to push the limits. She hangs out in dance halls and men continue to chase after her. Slowly but surely she is tipping the line between polite and impolite society. She wants to be a flapper, but knows she can’t completely make the leap. A new character this series, black jazz musician Jack Ross, presents another possible outlet for Rose’s rebellious instincts.
The biggest plot point in the servant’s hall this series is a highly upsetting one. Anna was attacked and raped by Lord Gillingham’s valet. On top of facing the horror of what happened, she is scared of losing Bates to jail once again. Anna knows that if he finds out he will kill for justice and revenge. Because both Anna and Bates spend most much of their working day upstairs, others are starting to notice that their relationship is heading south. It remains to be seen if Anna will ever tell Bates the entire truth.Anna’s troubles highlight how much worse gender inequality was at the time. Many fans believed the writers of Downton crossed the line with this plot. I believe however the incident was true to what female servants faced at the time. Many female servants who were victims of sexual violence were punished with termination or social shame while their attackers avoided jail or the death penalty.
Elsewhere downstairs, Alfred appears to be the next servant reaching to improve their situation. He is serious about becoming a chef. A rare opportunity presents itself in an ad for candidates for a free training course led by top chefs. Daisy resents Alfred’s chances because she realizes her feelings for him will never go anywhere.
Since O’Brien’s departure, Barrow is fishing for allies and information he can use as capital. Although he may be back to his old ways, he can be praised for spotting signs of Nanny West abusing poor Sybbie and George.
Series 4 so far has given viewers a lot more of the character development and drama they expect out of Downton Abbey. I expect the rest of the episodes to make us laugh as much as it makes us cry.