The fourth season of Downton Abbey began Sunday, January 5 — leaving eagerly awaiting fans feeling bittersweet. The absence of the British drama left a hole in dedicated fans weekly Sunday night routine, however the two-hour premiere returned with a fashionable, yet classically subtle bang.
The last few minutes of season three shocked fans with the death of a favorite, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens). After the heartwrenching passing of Lady Sybil earlier in the same season, fans were still fragile and ultimately disheartened. A loyal lover of Mr. Crawley myself, I was hesitant to watch the premiere, with reservations about how much I could like it without the presence of my, and many others, favorites.
I was fortunately proved wrong.
After a somewhat lacking previous season, the new one started with the abrupt departure of a major character, Mrs. O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran). Most of the family was still mourning over Matthew – especially Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), who resumed to her season one stoic behavior. After fans had begun to grasp the fact that the show would, in fact, still go on without Matthew, it began.
Downton Abbey is created and originally broadcasted in the UK, and this season has already aired there. The “first” episode was actually two, a poor decision. If the episode had ended with Mary throwing off her morose, zombie-like expression and putting on her “half-mourning” dressing gowns, the episode would have obviously been more concise, but also more satisfying.
Downton’s usual 30-50 second scene times are enough for our short-attention span, but the nearly two hour premiere dragged on, without commercials. For those unfortunate enough to be without a DVR or TiVo, it could have been tedious.
Although it was too long, all of it was fulfilling. Relationships began to shift between several characters, with the reintroduction of two – Edna and Rose. Several subplots continued the “soap-opera” style the show often holds and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) continuously dropped withering asides. The show is changing, although its direction isn’t quite clear as in past seasons.
It’s important for Downton to return to its usual hour-long episodes and develop more straightforward character plots. However, whether changes come or not it will most likely maintain growing popularity in the United States – as Americans can’t resist its Anglo appeal and its ability to make them feel more classy.