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Bates may go bad when 'Downton Abbey' returns

It's not going to be all tea and crumpets when "Downton Abbey" returns for season four, actor Brendan Coyle, who plays beloved valet Bates, revealed to TODAY in an exclusive preview from the UK set.

"We can't give anything away, but there's a very dark and very serious dramatic twist," Coyle told TODAY's Andrea Canning.

There are rumors aplenty, including rape and murder ... and that Bates may go bad. (Well, he does have a murky past and a prison record.) And it wouldn't be "Downton" if there wasn't some legal red tape making everyone's life difficult.

"Matthew, we believe, died without a will," said Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), "and that's a major problem."

Matthew Crawley, as fans will remember, was the catalyst for conflict from the first season, when Downton was seemingly left without a male heir to the title. Digging into the family tree uncovered the unassuming lawyer, who slowly grew to like the idea of becoming a lord. Alas, following his marriage to Mary (and the birth of their son), he was killed at the end of last season in a car accident after actor Dan Stevens decided to leave the show.

"His departure gave us something very interesting for Mary to do," said show co-creator Julian Fellowes. "We are allowed to accompany her on her road out of the trauma and out of the grief."

  • Slideshow Photos

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    'Downton Abbey' season four

    The new season kicks off on Jan. 5 in the United States. See what's in store for the people upstairs and downstairs at the grand estate.

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    The cast -

    Big change is in the air in season four of "Downton Abbey." Though most of the cast is back, several beloved faces will be missing -- most notably Jessica Brown Findlay's Lady Sybil and Dan Stevens' Matthew Crawley, whose characters died in season three. Siobhan Finneran, who plays O'Brien, left the show between seasons.

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    Lady Mary -

    Lady Mary (played by Michelle Dockery) may be a new mom and widow since husband Matthew died in the season finale, but come the new year, she's going to have "more than one love interest," the actress said.

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    The Crawley women -

    The ladies of Downton Abbey -- Mary, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Edith (Laura Carmichael) -- will be down one Crawley sister when the show returns. Lady Sybil died last season.

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    Tom Branson -

    Branson (Allen Leech) lost his wife Sybil last year after she gave birth to their little girl, also named Sybil. But the family finally embraced him and made him the estate's agent. Lord Grantham was very resistant to change last season, so Branson may have his work cut out for him -- along with being a newly widowed dad.

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    Serving men -

    The men downstairs -- footman Alfred (Matt Milne), footman Jimmy (Ed Speleers), Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and underbutler Thomas (Rob James-Collier) -- will all be back in season four. But former trouble maker O'Brien won't be around to stir the pot this time.

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  • 'Downton Abbey' season four

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    Mr. Carson -

    Butler Mr. Carson will continue to be a stickler for proper etiquette and behavior at Downton Abbey, but don't expect him and good pal Mrs. Hughes to get all lovey-dovey. "No. No. We still have a very nice working relationship," Phyllis Logan, who plays the head housekeeper, said at the TV critics press tour this summer.

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    Daisy -

    Sophie McShera's Daisy was a pill last season, being a brat of epic proportions toward new girl Ivy. The actress teased at TCA that her character will still not be the most pleasant of people.

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    Thomas -

    Scheming underbutler Thomas is losing his nemesis, lady's maid O'Brien, this season. With her gone, "Thomas will get a little more control back this time and start to run things his way downstairs," executive producer Gareth Neame told TODAY.com.

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    Single parents -

    In-laws Mary (with baby George) and Tom are single parents this upcoming season. A clip shown at TCA hinted that the relationship between the two will grow, but strike any thoughts of a potential romance from your heads. "Romantically, I don't think it's going anywhere," Dockery said.

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    Lady Rose -

    Wild child Lady Rose, the Dowager Countess' great niece, is back again. In a clip shown at TCA, Rose tries to get maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) to be her chaperone for an event in the village, that may not be exactly appropriate for someone of the young lady's station.

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    Charles Blake -

    One of the new men in Lady Mary's life this season will be Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden). According to TV Guide, he'll make his first appearance in episode 4. "He's modern-thinking but does not share the family's sentimentality about the past," Neame told the magazine. He also said that Mary and Charles aren't going to like each other when they first meet.

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    Jack Ross -

    Get ready for some jazz this season. The drama will introduce Jack Ross (Gary Carr) in the third episode, according to TV Guide. "Ross is very positive, ambitious and charming," Neame told the magazine about the singer from Chicago.

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    Lord Gillingham -

    Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen), an old family friend, will make his debut in the second episode of the season. "She hasn't seen him since she was tiny," Dockery said of the new character at TCA.

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Meanwhile, American celebrities are making their presence felt on the show. Shirley MacLaine first showed up last season, and next year will feature Paul Giamatti as Lady Cora's brother. So who else would the cast like to see guest star?

"I would start with P. Diddy," said Coyle.

"George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray," Bonneville added.

And what about Matt Lauer or Al Roker? "I'd like to think they would be very high up in the servant hierarchy," laughed Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Cora.

"Downton Abbey" returns on Jan. 5 on PBS.


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