BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- After the third season finale of "Downton Abbey" killed off a beloved character -- named below, so consider yourself warned if you're eight months behind in your viewing -- the show will move on in its fourth season, premiering Jan. 5, but it will take some time for the characters to adapt.
Footage from the new season previewed for TV critics showed much upset as Mary (Michelle Dockery) and the Grantham family grieve the loss of Mary's husband, Matthew.
"My husband is dead," Mary says over a Downton dinner. "After all he suffered in the war, he's killed in a stupid car crash. Isn't that enough for me to deal with?"
"You're letting yourself be defeated, my lady," Carson (Jim Carter) advises. "I'm sorry if it's a lapse to say so, but someone has to."
Mary's father, Robert (Hugh Bonneville), says, "She is broken and bruised. It is our job to wrap her up and keep her safe from the world."
But her grandmother, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), admonishes him, "No, Robert, it is our job to bring her back to the world."
Eventually Mary will have several suitors, but there's also a new bond that forms between her and Tom (Allen Leech) because they both have lost their spouses.
"We were aware there is suspicion about Tom's and Mary's relationship," Ms. Dockery acknowledged. "They are very much friends, and he is her brother-in-law. They become close because of what they've both been through in having lost a partner, and Mary becomes far more involved in running the estate with Tom. So we do have a lot of scenes together, but romantically, I don't think it's going anywhere. I hope not."
Executive producer Gareth Neame described a scene among three of the show's widowed characters: Tom, Mary and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), who is also the mother of the late Matthew.
"They all reflect on their great, deep loss," Mr. Neame said. "There's a beautiful scene where just, really, in a line each, they describe how deeply they loved their partners. And before it gets maudlin, Isobel just says, 'Aren't we the lucky ones.' And they talk about how to just have known these deep loves ... makes a life, even if you lose that now. I just think that is a real example of the beautiful approach to life that [series creator] Julian [Fellowes] takes in the writing of the show."
Beyond the reaction to Matthew's death, Mr. Neame said the new season features a real sense of modernity as the show dips deeper into the 1920s. Season four of "Downton" will cover the span of February 1922 to summer 1923.
Mr. Neame said the popular "Downton Abbey" will not continue into World War II in its timeline, but there's also no end in sight, except, perhaps the end of the cast's contracts, which run through season five.
Portions of this column originally appeared online at post-gazette.com in Tuned In Journal. TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news. First Published August 9, 2013 4:00 AM