by DICK CHENEY
creator Julian Fellowes
The phrase "the land of the living" is uttered so often during the fourth season premiere of Downton Abbey that it is shocking not to find scenes of Matthew Crawley in hell, telling everyone in the pits of Mordor that he still does not require the services of a butler. It takes Lady Mary all of one episode to get over the tragic, sudden passing of her husband, the (probable) father of her son George Crawley.
She immediately starts seeing other guys, most of whom are unemployed and crashing on a couch or in an alley in Redondo Beach. She brings with her little pamphlets on abstinence and a myna bird named Madrigal. "Glycerine" by Bush tingles in the background.
But no, things remain rather gloomy in Mary's castle. The show was wisely stripped of its bravura opening, and it's obvious that Downton Abbey costs a great deal less than it did in the past. Most everyone else has already gotten over Matthew's passing, and we sense that he was not very well liked among his in-laws, Downton staff or the crew on the set of the show.
His frustrated butler is reduced to wandering from manse to manse. Other butlers hate him. "I'm not a mother anymore," Matthew's mother announces. When someone reassures her that she is, in fact, a grandmother, she bristles. That's nothing.
Usually you can keep a large cast of characters fresh by setting up new feuds, but that's already happened so many times here that a new rivalry between Lord Grantham and his mother feels like two hens pecking at each other.
Despite promises that they would live out the rest of their days raising a family, Anna and the wife murderer lurk around the premises like ghosts themselves, reporting gossip to whoever they see fit. They are a worrisome tandem of angels, and they don't seem very concerned about Lady Mary at all.
Replacement Sybil is staying with the family. She is more attractive than the original Sybil, and a lot less attracted to her servants overall, but otherwise exactly the same. Although there are two babies in the house now, no one gives much of a shit.
Stories from the past are supposed to reflect on the present. Observing a golden era reminds us how far we have fallen, and how quickly. Observing the onset of the depression and the rise of Nazi Germany is more along the lines of "geez, things could be a lot worse." While this is a more accurate representation of the past, it's also a lot less fun to watch.
Among the gloom Mary lurks like a specter, her long, horsey, Carly-Simon-esque excuse for a visage drooping almost horizontal. Her father tells her to stay in bed until she gets well. She comes down from dinner to inform everyone that Matthew should have lived for an additional fifty years. All of the servants are poor at math and accept this at face value. "What's the fucking regular lifespan for this period?" a boom operator screams off set.
There is a tendency to destroy something you create if it lingers too long. That's why they have to keep Frank Gehry far, far away from his buildings lest a Howard Roark type situation result, and it is also the reason why Demi Moore gynecologically prevented herself from ever having a son.
I have the finest replacement for Matthew Crawley right here. He is a great man and everyone knows this to be true.
Also, Bates is still guilty and nothing will change that.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location and the former vice president of the United States of America. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about Twin Peaks.
"Everything Will Change" - Near Paris (mp3)
"Believe Me" - Near Paris (mp3)