Mary is single, O'Brien is gone: 'Downton' season 4 prep starts here

The upstairs-downstairs drama of "Downton Abbey" doesn't start for another four months, but there's already plenty of spoiler-free teases — and photos! — out there to tide fans over until season four kicks off in January.

'Downton Abbey' season 4

Carnival Film and Television

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.

Last season delivered quite a few surprises: the estate was going broke, Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) died after giving birth to her little girl and Matthew (Dan Stevens) was killed in a car accident as he raced home to tell the Crawleys about his new baby boy and heir to Downton, George. And after the finale aired, Siobhan Finneran, who plays scheming lady's maid O'Brien, revealed she wouldn't be returning.

With all those major developments in just nine episodes, no doubt the effects will be felt in season four. It was already revealed that the show will pick up in 1922, just months after Matthew's death. What else do we know? Take a look:

Lady Mary
Mary (Michelle Dockery) will be dealing with the sudden loss of her husband and being a single mother, but there will be quite a few handsome new suitors on the scene ready to help ease her pain. "It's difficult for her to move on and even see men that way," Dockery told us at the TV critics press tour last month. But hard or not, Mary "still needs to find a new husband," the actress said. "It's very frowned upon to be a woman without a husband."

The new faces
There will be several new characters next season (check out the slideshow for some of the new faces), with some being potential love interests for the newly widowed lady. They are:

  • Lady Cora's brother, Harold, played by Paul Giamatti, will be introduced in the finale. According to Entertainment Weekly, his character is a bit of a playboy.
  • Family friend Lord Gillingham, played by Tom Cullen, will be introduced in the second episode, according to TV Guide. He'll be visiting Downton for a big party.
  • Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden), an associate of Evelyn Napier's (Brendan Patricks), will be introduced in the fourth episode.
  • Jazz singer Jack Ross (Gary Carr) will make his first appearance in episode four, according to TV Guide. This is the first black character in the period drama.
  • Nellie Melba, played by Kiri Te Kanawa, will appear as a singer at a party the Granthams are throwing. Melba was an opera singer in the '20s.
  • Valet Green, played by Nigel Harman.
  • Duchess of Yeovil, played by Joanna David.
  • Lady Shackleton (Harriet Walter) is an old friend of the Dowager Countess.

The estate
Lady Sybil's husband, Tom Branson (Allen Leech), will find himself in a similar boat to Mary's, though he won't have to face the same societal pressures to find a new spouse. Like the icy lady of the house, Branson will be struggling with being a single parent, but the two will have each other to lean on. More than that, the new parents will be working together to get the estate's finances in order, a task Matthew began last year. "(Matthew's death) could be the making of Tom Branson," executive producer Gareth Neame told "He's becoming an increasingly senior figure within the characters within the show."

But there could be resistance from Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), who balked at some of his late son-in-law's proposed changes last year. "He kind of doesn't really want (Mary) to get involved, but actually she does want to get stuck in — and do what Matthew would've been very proud of her doing," she told us.

Where will the servants' drama come from now that O'Brien's gone? Why, shifty Thomas, is quite likely. The lady's maid and underbutler had quite a fallout last year, but just because one of them's gone doesn't mean there will be peace downstairs. Neame told us that with O'Brien out of the picture, "Thomas will get a little more control back this time and start to run things his way." We're not sure the devoted servants of Downton are going to be pleased with that.

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


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