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'Downton' takes newfound freedoms

By Kim Halpin
On January 26, 2014

If you haven't heard about "Downton Abbey" yet, you might need to reassess your television watching life.
The British sensation has captured the hearts and T.V. sets of fans around the globe for the past four years. If you don't trust my opinion, the show is now broadcasted in over 100 different countries and has won awards on several continents, so it must have merit.
Despite the short season lengths by American standards, writer Jullian Fellows manages to pack quite a punch into each week's episode, and with over 20 characters to follow, you're bound to find at least one storyline that interests each viewer.
The fourth season, which kicked off earlier this month, picks up six months after the shocking ending of season three. One of the most undoubtedly favorite characters, Mary Crawley, is still deep in depression after losing the one man that she feels really saw and brought out her good side. Fellows took the loss of Mathew in stride and I can't take my eyes off Mary as her character has become so much more dynamic as she tries to come back "to the land of the living," as Lady Grantham said.
Season four is giving viewers a very different picture of the Crawley household as it moves further into the 1920s. Perhaps the newfound freedom that this decade brings to the characters inspired Fellows to take more freedom in the subjects the show takes on as well.
Characters this season aren't just struggling with which wine to pair with dinner or who their next beau is. In the third episode, three characters had their first brush with issues of race and it was immediately clear who came down on which side. The young and vibrant cousin Rose was enamored by the black jazz musician who came to her assistance, but the interaction caused distress to her chaperones Tom and Aunt Rosamund.
Fellows doesn't stop there. For the first time, a disclaimer message was required at the beginning of the second episode due to a horrific scene when a visiting valet raped a favorite lady's maid, Anna. The episode is such a departure from the old style of "Downton" that it caught many viewers off guard.
The new decade is opening up doors for many of the characters and it's entertaining to see where the doors will lead. Edith has her new, slightly scandalous affair with her editor Michael Gregson, which could for once lead to happiness for Edith. And with Rose in the house, the family is brought into the middle of the roaring 20's with new music, new dancing and new rules for dating.
The only element missing so far this season has been Mary and Tom's interaction with their children. Now that Mary is coming alive again, shouldn't she turn her attention to her child that she neglected for the first six months? Of course, it's difficult to show entertaining interactions with a six month old, but it's distressing how little interest she is still showing in George.
All three of the previous seasons are available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, so it's not too late to jump in now if you're interested.

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