Monday, January 6, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 1 Recap & Review (SPOILERS!)

The season opener of Downton Abbey sticks closely to one of my favorite themes: somebody does something crazy, offers a ridiculous explanation for it, and all the eyewitnesses act like it's perfectly normal with variations on, "Oh, okay!"

Fireworks fly when Lady Rose goes to a dance, immediately attracting a lower-class beau. Naturally she can't divulge the truth. "My name's Chelsea Barnacle!" she says. "My parents are Fred and Ginger Barnacle, long-time hoofers who appeared in 'Tapping Your War Wounds Away,'" she says. "I'm an audiologist and part-time undersecretary to the Director of Defense," she says. "I work at Downton Abbey!"


Anybody who's ever been to a bar knows this isn't a mistake actual people make. It's not hard to make up a workplace. Horse's Head Tavern. The Bureau of Incidental Furnishings. Margarine: A Unique Boutique. It's like only writing down two digits when you give somebody a fake phone number. Still, we're shocked when the man appears at the Abbey to reconnect with the lass. It's the first time somebody's been manly on Downton Abbey since Carson and Lord Grantham's periods synced up.

Lady Grantham needs a new lady's maid, since the last one left during the hiatus. This subplot sags a bit. They ask around, ask some more, then put a sign in a shop window. Hours pass. Anyone entertained by this segment of the program would be on the edge of their seat perusing Craigslist.

Finally a woman of questionable repute appears. "You should hire me," she tells Lady Grantham. "Look -- I have a reference from a member of your staff!"

"Why not?" asks Lady Grantham. I mean sure, the letter could have been forged, but who's got the time to double-check? She's got stationery to scent and harpsichords to pluck.

Now master-less, Molesley takes a job tarring the street, becoming the first working-class character on TV who absolutely could not get laid. The job doesn't suit him: in his head he's training parakeets. Sad-sack Isobel Crawley spots him and knows she must act. She wants to give him money ... but how? He'd never accept charity.

The saintly Bates comes up with a strategem. They'll forge an IOU saying Bates owes Molesley 3000 pounds, then get the cash from Maggie Smith. It works perfectly. When presented with the IOU, the money and the explanation that everybody just plain forgot about the loan, Molesley happily accepts what would be $42,500 in today's currency. "Wow," he says, "whaddaya know?"

We sense that the new, chubby nanny has a hidden secret -- and she's in charge of the manse's innocent lambs. Our suspicions are confirmed when she tells one of the babies it's a "half-breed." She has us hissing at the screen until she gets canned six seconds later. "YOU'RE FIRED!" screams Lady Grantham. "GET YOUR THINGS AND GET OUT!" "Sorry," says the Bond-worthy villain in valuable seconds she could be using to overturn the bassinet, "my bad."

Carson gets an odd note in the mail. He goes pale reading it. "NO!" he shrieks. "NOOOOO!" He clutches his chest and, with eternally-nosy Mrs. Hughes watching, he crumples the note, tosses it in the trash, and immediately exits stage left. It's a bit hard to admire a TV series that would be four minutes long if somebody'd had a paper shredder.

In the end, though, mostly what we feel is frustration. After busybody Isobel Crawley fetches the writer of the crumpled note, we discover that he'd once had a song-and-dance act with Carson, à la I Love Lucy's Mertz & Kurtz. Carson refuses to meet him. We don't care either way, but now we're waiting for the stiff old codger to break into song. Perhaps the crowd downstairs could coax him into singing "Am I Blue (Or Is It The Ammonium Nitrate I Use To Clean Lord Grantham's Hat)?" Maybe during dinner he could break into "By The Light Of The Silvery Moon (I See A Chip In The Soup Tureen. You Are SO Fired, Layabout!)."

After 182 minutes of talking about responsibility comes four minutes of violins. Carson finally goes to meet his ex-partner as the man is catching a train to Scotland. Seems they'd fought over a lady. "She told me she'd really loved you, and regretted losing you," Kurtz says.

Carson thinks about wiping away a tear, but this is a TV railway platform so there are three extras nearby. "Gosh," he says, as he heads back to a stack of cummerbunds that need cleaning, "who'd-a thunk it?"

Still, kudos to the creators. They certainly got the series back on track. After waiting nearly a year for Downton Abbey to return, it only took two hours to reignite the exact same feelings we had at the height of the last frenzied season:

Could. Not. Give. A. Fuck.


Yet Another Steve said...

Brillliant. And mean. Unbeatable combination! I look forward to weekly recaps now.

RomanHans said...

Meanwhile, did Downton Abbey take a huge leap forward in time? I thought it was the Victorian era, and now one of them is a flapper. Next season I'm half expecting Lady Mary to win a badonkadonk contest.