- "You have a straight forward choice before you. You must choose either death or life."
- —Violet Crawley.
Episode 4.01 is the first, feature length episode of series four of Downton Abbey, being an hour and a half long. It first aired on the 22nd September, 2013 on ITV in the UK, where it received 10.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched series opener of the period drama. In the US it aired on the 5th January, 2014 on PBS  with a similarly impressive opening, attracting at least 10.2 million viewers, and beating out every other Sunday night drama. It should be noted that on PBS episodes one and two were run back to back as a single two hour installment.
Set in February 1922, the episode opens long after Matthew's funeral. Mary and Isobel are still in mourning for him, especially Mary, who is still wearing black and is having difficulty bonding to her son, George. Violet is determined to bring Mary back to the world, even Mr Carson tells her she's letting herself be defeated. Violet suggests Mary start to take an active role in managing the estate, with Tom as her guide but Violet and Robert disagree on how best to see Mary through her grief.
Below stairs, hearts seem set to be broken as Jimmy Kent finally takes an interest in Ivy Stuart. Mr Carson has an unwelcome reminder of his past and Mrs Hughes sees an opportunity to help a grief-stricken Isobel. Thomas Barrow is up to his old tricks, only this time he has the children's nanny in his sights.
February, 1922. Downton Abbey is dark and sombre, with Mary still in mourning for Matthew who has been dead six months, the grave stone just going on his grave. Due to Matthew's death and the large sum of death duties to be paid, the previous plans for improvement to the estate that Matthew and Tom had have been abandoned. Robert is trying to shield Mary from the world, whilst Tom and Cora both think that getting her involved in the running of the estate would be a good idea. Tom asks Mr. Carson for help and asks him to give Mary advice. He does so but she rejects his advice and says he is forgetting his place thinking it is suitable for him to give her advice. She later apologises to Carson for this and bursts into tears, crying on his shoulder as he hugs her.
O'Brien leaves Downton in the middle of the night, going with Susan MacClare to India as her lady's maid. This leaves Cora without one, and both Mrs. Hughes and Anna help her out until a new one is hired, which may take some time.
Rose, feeling guilty for her mother taking O'Brien away from Cora, pays to put a card in the post office window asking for applicants for the lady's maid job, not telling anyone that she has done so. Edna Braithwaite sees the card and applies. Cora and Rose meet her in Ripon and Edna is not truthful about why she left Downton or why she couldn't come to Downton for the interview, saying it was her own decision to leave and that she looks after her sick aunt and can't get away. Rose encourages Cora and Edna gets the job. Mrs Hughes, Tom and Mr Carson are dismayed that she has again got a job there after previously being made to leave, but Carson insists they can't say anything and decides they should instead watch her closely and make sure she stays in line. Mrs Hughes nonetheless feels Edna's return sounds like a ticking bomb.
Nanny West makes an enemy of Thomas after telling him not to touch Sybbie. She later tries to give him orders and he ignores her. After she tries to tell him his place, Thomas gives a false report to Cora, telling her that Nanny West is neglecting the children and leaving them unsupervised. Cora later goes to check up on the nanny due to this report and overhears Nanny West insulting Sybbie about her parentage. Cora sacks her on the spot and tells her she must leave in the morning.
Charles Grigg sends a letter to Mr Carson as he is in Ripon Workhouse and desperate for help. Mrs Hughes goes to see him after she reads the letter that she has taken from Mr Carson's waste paper bin without his knowledge. Mr Carson refuses to help him and Mrs Hughes asks Isobel to help Grigg instead, trying to appeal to her old desire to help the less fortunate of society. She does so and it helps to bring her out of her grief and remember she can be kind and useful.
Edith goes down to London on the train to see Michael Gregson. He is throwing a party for her to introduce her to his literary friends, including Virginia Woolf. He has plans to try and get a divorce from his wife and asks Edith if she would live with him in Germany, as it is possible to gain a divorce from a mentally ill spouse if you live there. Edith and Michael later dine at the Criterion they talk about how he can divorce his wife and marry Edith if he becomes German. Michael tells her he loves her and they kiss, Edith saying she doesn't care that they are in public.
Mr. Molesley is looking for a job since Matthew's death but has been unsuccessful. He has to leave Downton and move in with his father, Bill. Molesley asks Isobel if he can have his old job back as her butler. Unfortunately she says she does not need a butler. Violet is meeting with an old friend for luncheon Lady Shackleton, who might need a new butler. Violet asks Molesley to help with the luncheon and so show his skill off to her and perhaps be hired as Lady Shackleton's butler. Unfortunately Violet's butler, Septimus Spratt, thinks Molesley is after his job and sabotages the efforts.
Ivy and Daisy both receive Valentine's Day cards and are unsure who they are from. Jimmy Kent hints that Ivy's is from him, and asks her to go out to the pub without permission and not on their days off, something that could get them into trouble. They come back late, with Ivy ill through drinking too much; she says that Jimmy kept buying them. Both Alfred and Anna help Ivy whilst Jimmy looks disgusted at her being sick and steps back. Both Anna and Alfred ask Jimmy what he was trying to do and he says nothing, that it's just that she isn't used to the drink. Alfred accuses Jimmy of only flirting with Ivy because he likes her and asks Jimmy to tell Ivy who the card was really from.
Daisy thinks that her valentines card was from Alfred, who she has a crush on, and that Ivy's card was from Jimmy. Mrs. Patmore asks Alfred to tell Daisy that he was the one who sent the card to Ivy and she tells Daisy that it was she who sent Daisy the card. Mrs Patmore had an idea that Alfred would sent Ivy one and didn't want Daisy to feel left out. Daisy is clearly upset but tells Mrs Patmore that she may not have a follower but at least she has a friend. The only Valentine's card Jimmy really sent was to his former employer, Lady Anstruther, whom he mentions has returned from France.
With encouragement from Tom, Mr Carson and Violet, Mary leaves mourning and attends a luncheon hosted by her father for the estate's tenant farmers and supports Matthew's decisions.
- ↑ Downton Abbey, ITV Press Centre, 12th Sept, 2013.
- ↑ Downton Abbey scores 10 million viewers... But it's still beaten by The X Factor, Liam O'Brien, The Independent, 23rd September, 2013.
- ↑ Breaking News: "Downton Abbey" Season 4 Will Begin on "Masterpiece" on PBS on Sunday, January 5, 2014, the Futon Critic, 14th May, 2013, 07:10 AM.
- ↑ 'Downton Abbey' premiere breaks ratings record at CNN Entertainment
- ↑ PBS runs Downton Abbey without commercial interruption.
- ↑ Press Release: Downton Abbey Christmas 2012, ITV.com, Wednesday, 26 December 2012, 7:56PM
- ↑ Downton Abbey, Episode 1, Press Centre, itv.com, 11th September, 2013.