Is It Time To Return To Downton Abbey?

Time after time this show has punched you in the feels. With the season four premiere on Seven last week, many are asking why they should keep watching.

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Warning: contains season three spoilers.


If you want to enrage and alienate your fanbase, a good way to do this is to heartlessly kill one half of your show’s super-couple. For good measure, maybe do this moments after he has met his new-born son. In fact, why not have him die alone? In a ditch?

Watching the death of Matthew Crawley in the season three Christmas special was the emotional equivalent of watching someone beating up a kitten using another beat-up kitten, while listing of all your personal faults with accompanying PowerPoint. But if you think that moment gave you feels, wait until episode three of season four. Because wow.

Unless you’re The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones or Buffy, killing a main character has the potential to also kill your show. When The O.C. lost Marissa, it also seemed to lose the ability to put together a coherent episode. When Angel lost Fred, seven episodes later, everything went to hell. Literally.

This was not the case for Downton Abbey. I know, because I’ve watched ahead; season four, which premiered ridiculously belatedly on Seven on Sunday, finished up last year in the UK — and it’s just as strong, if not stronger, than what came before.

I confess, I was a bit disappointed. Maybe it was just the anger part of the grieving process, but part of me wanted season four to suck. For many, the previous three seasons were built around the will-they-wont-they relationship between Matthew (played by Dan Stevens) and Mary (Michelle Dockery). Once that was gone, what was there to come back for?

But Downton Abbey’s ensemble cast is more than capable of filling the gap left by Crawley’s departure, and the coming complexities of the season were hinted at in the opening moments of Sunday’s first episode. A major character leaves, and the aftermath of a suspected murder begins to tear at another well-established relationship.

Crawley’s absence is expertly handled, probably because Downton Abbey is no stranger to sudden and unexpected deaths. When major characters are written out of a series there is a tendency to either ignore the fact completely, or go overboard with heavy-handed emotions. (Remember when Marissa died, so Ryan ran away and started cage fighting? It made me want to slap the writers across the face with a glove and demand a time refund.)

Mary’s progression through her grief is, in its own way, almost as upsetting as the death itself. But Matthew’s death never becomes a black hole in the series. While mentions of him are scattered throughout, it doesn’t detract from what else is going on. In the rest of the house it is business as usual; all of the normal tragedies are happening forever, with the occasional LOL thrown in.


Thomas, despite having one of the most moving speeches of the series in the previous season, is back in full douchebag-mode, complete with skulking. The kitchen maids get dragged into a love triangle which is more for comic relief than for the inevitable Twilight-levels of fighting about Team Daisy vs. Team Iris. Edith (Laura Carmichael) continues to struggle with the aftermath of giving her illegitimate child up for adoption, and also becomes a stronger, more likeable character. Meanwhile Rose (Lily James) is given a more prominent role, bringing along with her storylines involving the royal family, an insight in to the flapper movement, and an introduction to race issues at the time.

In terms of drama, the show stays on par with what viewers are used to. Some suspected murder here, a spurned advance there. Dinner nearly gets ruined; the usual. Then episode three happens and everything gets stepped up a notch. In the UK, the network was flooded with complaints from shocked viewers.

Yes, the Christmas special hurt you, yes it’s definitely going to hurt you again, and yes it’s tempting to write off Downton Abbey as a result of this. But to do so would be a mistake.

Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s very middle class.

Season four of Downton Abbey screens at 9pm on Sundays, on Channel 7. Catch-up with episode one here.

Elizabeth is a freelance writer with a focus on film, television and pop culture. She edits Subterranean Death Cult, has been published in Film Ink, Metro, The Punch, and Lip Magazine, and tweets terrible puns @ElizabethFlux.