The new season of Downton Abbey begins as O'Brien steals away to ship off to India to become Lady Flintshire's new ladysmaid.
Six months after Matthew's fatal drive, we welcome back the old characters (and one guy from one episode of season 1). Cousin Rose, the aforementioned maid-stealer's daughter, resides at the abbey. Edith still hangs around Sir Anthony Strallan's Younger Brother (As a refresher for those new to my recaps, Charles Edwards, who plays Edith's married love interest Michael Gregson resembles a younger Robert Balthurst, who played Anthony Strallan, Edith's former love interest. And from now, Gregson will be SASYB for short). Mary and Isobel grieve for Matthew. Cora needs a new maid. Robert blunders around the house like he's God's gift to English estates. (It's almost as if he's glad Matthew's dead. When he's alone, he probably twirls his mustache and laughs: "Downton is mine. She's all mine.") Tom has earned his place at the big boy's table as the capable (and handsome) agent. Violet descends every now and again to spout valuable wisdom to those around her.
Downtairs, it's also the status quo. The Ivy/Alfred/Jimmy/Daisy love square is thriving. Thomas (should we call him Barrow now?) stirs up trouble the best he can. Anna and Bates continue their campaign for best couple ever. Mrs. Patmore worries about her two kitchen maids and their high school antics. Carson refuses to have feelings, unless Lady Mary is involved. Mrs. Hughes tries to soften the butler up. Molesley lost his job after the death of his employer. And we see the return of the awful maid Edna, who kissed Tom and made him feel bad for becoming part of the Crawley family in last year's Christmas episode.
In the aftermath of Matthew's untimely demise, Mary drapes herself in black, zombie-like in her appearance and mannerisms. The estate is in turmoil over who will run it, and the eventual death taxes that must be paid. Isobel, like Mary, does not know what to do with herself either. Even the servants -- especially Molesley -- feel the effects of the loss.
Isobel, for some reason, finds herself occupied by a scheme of Mrs. Hughes to help Carson's old friend Charlie Grigg. (You will remember him from the episode in season 1 where he threatens to tell Lord Grantham that Carson was part of a stage duo called "The Cheerful Charlies.") Grigg ended up in the workhouse and writes to Carson for help. Carson throws the letter away, but the nosy Mrs. Hughes reads the letter and -- despite knowing Carson wishes not to have any contact with Grigg -- decides it's a good idea to ask Isobel for help. That is exactly what you want to do after you've lost your only son -- help a random guy get a job in Belfast as a stagehand. Credit to Isobel, who is a much better person than I. Honestly, though, this subplot was weird.
Mary, on the other hand, isn't as easy as Isobel. She needs more coaxing to recover. Tom offers his advice. Carson, at the behest of Tom, attempts to pull Mary into the "land of the living," but she sharply rebukes him for overstepping his boundaries.
How does Mary's father help her? Oh, Robert. He wants Downton all to himself -- that much is clear. And instead of comforting his daughter when she needs it, he tries to hold her back. From the beginning, he wants to keep Mary out of the running of the estate. Since Matthew didn't leave a will, all Mary receives is a small share of Downton -- the rest goes to Baby George, and Robert.
Mary's family pushes her to attend the tenants luncheon in Cora's place, a fact that overwhelms Mary, causing her to leave the dining room in tears, with Robert crowing that he was right all along.
It's Violet that pulls Mary up with a great speech. "Mary, you've gone through hideous time. But now you must remember your son. He needs you very much," she says. "The fact is. You have a straightforward choice before you. You must choose either death or life."
Mary arrives at the luncheon, dressed in purple -- a clear step toward choosing life.
NEXT: Oh wait, just a minute Mr. Postman.