I never thought I’d say this, but I miss O’Brien.
At the start of Sunday’s sluggish season four premiere of “Downton Abbey” we learn that the sour-pussed, prickly maid has fled the manor, “like a thief in the night,” opines Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville).
O’Brien, the master manipulator who once played a very dirty trick with soap, decided to leave England for India, where she was to take a job as lady’s maid to Susan MacClare (rambunctious Rose’s mother).
I’ve watched three episodes so far this season, and I can safely say that downstairs isn’t the same without O’Brien. Not only was she was the perfect partner in crime/occasional nemesis for Thomas (Rob James-Collier), she would have lobbed some much-needed acerbic one-liners at her love-sick colleagues who are becoming less charming and more annoying with every episode.
Of course, the real reason O’Brien left had nothing to do with the show’s storyline and everything to do with the actor, as was the case that resulted in Matthew Crawley’s (Dan Stevens) overturned roadster at the end of last season. (Unlike Crawley’s exit, O’Brien’s departure leaves open the possibility that she could come back.)
“I signed up to do three series and that was all I wanted to do,” Siobhan Finneran told London’s Daily Mail last year. “I had great fun doing it but I just didn’t want to do it any more. I decided this before we even did the last series. When I stop loving something, I stop doing it.’
When I stop loving something, I stop watching it. I’m not yet at that point with “Downton.” It still captures an unmistakable sense of place, it’s lovely to look at and creator Julian Fellowes writes some of the best dialogue on broadcast TV. But the two-hour premiere was the show’s weakest season-opener by a long shot. While things pick up in episode three, it still feels like something at Downton is missing this season — something that goes beyond O’Brien and Matthew Crawley.
What did you think of the season premiere? And who do you miss more: O’Brien or Matthew?