Catch up on what has happened in the sprawling world of Downton Abbey. Watch a short video recap for episode 4 or read the full synopsis below.
Devastating news from the front rocks the very foundations of Downton Abbey, and it is up to the Dowager Countess to buck bureaucratic protocol and bring Downton's men home. In an unwelcome return, Vera Bates threatens to make public the scandalous story of Lady Mary's ill-fated indiscretion. Desperate to contain the story, Mary appeals to the savvy opportunist Sir Richard Carlisle.
Mary is not the only woman to consider hard sacrifice. Some will make it against their will, some will be denied a chance, and some will refuse. Daisy may buckle from its pressure, while Lavinia desperately wishes for such a burden. Sybil must push back. And Cora, preoccupied with the running of the home, cannot see that a sacrifice may already have been made.
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
In the heat of the battle of Amiens, amidst shot and shell, Matthew and William dive into a crater for shelter. But a blast hits, William attempts to protect Matthew, and both men lie motionless in a muddy pool.
Word arrives at Downton that Matthew has been seriously wounded and is being sent to Downton. William is also severely wounded, but has been installed in a hospital miles away because he is not an officer. Determined to bring William home to Downton, and with no help from the by-the-books Dr. Clarkson, Violet pulls all the strings she holds. Accompanied by Edith, she retrieves the young man from Leeds, learning there that William's wounds cannot be overcome; all that can be done is to make him comfortable among those who love him before he passes.
Mary is galvanized into action, preparing to meet Matthew upon his arrival. She is determined to help nurse him despite his shocking condition and a grim diagnosis soon revealed: a transected spinal cord. Lavinia arrives, grateful to Mary, and together they and Robert learn from Dr. Clarkson that Matthew will never walk again. But to Robert alone the doctor reveals that Matthew will never be physically able to father children. At Matthew's insistence, Mary compassionately breaks the news of his paralysis. In spite of Mary's bright focus on his future with Lavinia, Matthew forces Lavinia away, urging her to think of him as dead, in order to spare her a childless future burdened by his caretaking.
All the worry about the men has O'Brien concerned; she admits to a rather scornful Thomas that she should never have written alerting Vera Bates that her husband had returned to Downton. Meanwhile, Anna and Bates, blissfully unaware, pray for William and Matthew, feeling guilty over their good fortune — with most of his money, Bates has paid Vera for a divorce, and the Decree Absolute, or official dissolution of marriage, is expected any day. But instead, Vera arrives, announcing her plans to sell the scandal of Lady Mary and Pamuk to the newspapers and ruin Bates and Anna along with the family.
When Anna divulges Vera's plans to Mary, Mary knows the only person who can possibly contain the story is Carlisle, and she is forced to appeal to him. She ventures to London and tells all to Carlisle, who humiliates Mary but doesn't reject her; rather, he is thrilled with the shift of power in their relationship. He will use his newspaper to make an exclusive deal to buy Vera's story, but then suppress it, only too happy to have Mary in his debt. The deal is quickly executed, with Carlisle warning Vera that he will ruthlessly punish a broken contract. When Vera learns of the story's suppression, she is livid; she vows that she will bring Bates down. Carlisle passes Vera's threat along to Mary, whose reputation he has saved, and who is now completely in his power. Without consulting her, he prints an announcement of their engagement.
William is comfortably installed in one of Downton's bedrooms, where his father is joined by members of the family and staff in visiting and tending to him. Daisy is more anguished than ever at having led him to believe she loves him, but Mrs. Patmore urges her to let him die believing it. William soon learns that he is dying, and asks her to marry him right away, wanting her to receive a widow's pension when he dies. She reluctantly accepts, feeling all the while dishonest, untrue, and like a thief.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes learns that Major Bryant will be returning to Downton for a visit with his fellow officers. She informs Ethel, who is barely making a life in a country cottage with her infant, thanks to help from Mrs. Hughes, who is supplying her with food from the house. Ethel urges Mrs. Hughes to pass a letter on to Bryant, who has ignored her earlier letters. But Bryant rejects the letter, leaving Mrs. Hughes to give Ethel the bad news. At the house, Robert authorizes the hiring of a new maid to replace Ethel, the war widow Jane Moorsum. Carson didn't bother Cora with the matter because she was too busy with the house.
Branson informs Sybil that the Russian revolutionaries have killed the Tsar and his family. But rather than feeling disillusioned with the cause, he turns the news into an argument for sacrifice, urging Sybil to make a sacrifice of her family and run away with him. Isobel returns from France and finds Mary at Matthew's bedside. She is moved by the love evident in Mary's nursing of her son.
William is dying. Violet pressures the reluctant Vicar into performing a deathbed wedding and, surrounded by the servants and family, William and the torn and guilt-ridden Daisy wed. Then, peacefully, he dies.