Yes, I know, there's been a great deal of Downton-blogging lately. But as they are starting to film the new series soon, I thought I might as well air my predictions before there are any leaks about what actually will happen in it. Well, that is my excuse, anyway. After this, I'll try to save the Downton topic - barring the odd coy reference - until the series starts again, but I can't promise success.
So here are some possible plot lines which might lie in wait for us in series four:
Close but no cigar for Lady Mary and Branson: They are both bereaved, both single parents, both have a vested interest in modernising Downton and both have fond memories of Matthew. It would seem a perfect match and nicely ironic, considering how Mary tried to dissuade Sybil from having anything to do with "the chauffeur". And yet... Emergency update: I originally claimed that Branson and Mary wouldn't get together because it was forbidden by law to marry your dead wife's sister, but I've since checked, and it appears this law was repealed in 1906. Nevertheless, I don't believe they'll become an item: it would be too much frowned upon by the family. However, they will grow closer and become firm friends.
Thoroughly modern Edith: It was made pretty clear in the Christmas special that Lady Edith will become her newspaper editor's mistress. Unlike Mary, she has no reason to harbour any warm feelings for the institution of marriage. The affair will probably be conducted from the Crawley family's London residence, and possibly Edith will become pally with the bohemian crowd, like Elizabeth in the original Upstairs Downstairs. A Bloomsbury connection could come in handy for later plot developments. I'm not sure the newspaper editor will turn out to be Edith's one true love, though: she'd better double-check that "mad wife" story.
Jimmy gets entangled with Lady Rose: There's nothing inevitable about heartbreaker Jimmy ending up crossed in love himself: one of the refreshing things about Downton is that it's no cautionary tale. Surely, though, this storyline is too good to miss, what with a ditzy young well-born woman looking for adventure in the house. I doubt if Jimmy would fall in love with Rose in earnest, but he might fancy himself as the new Branson, and be severely shaken when she lets him drop. She's no Sybil, and will not sacrifice her future for a cute manservant. Callous Jimmy-handling will lead her into more manservant-trouble, though, as the jealous and protective Thomas is bound to launch a nasty anti-Rose campaign. He may find a surprising ally in Ivy.
Rose's suitors generate drama: The Earl and his lady will do their best to get Lady Rose married, as they have more or less promised her parents. Consequently, Downton will be teeming with her suitors. At least one of them will most likely end up falling for Mary. Also, I shouldn't be surprised if one of the suitors turned out to be a really bad lot: it's been a while since we had an upstairs Downton villain.
Anna and Bates start a family and this time there will be no birth trauma. Downton viewers are in dire need of some family bliss, so Anna will deliver a baby without anything bad happening to the child, the mother or for that matter the father. But there will be some smaller problems: she will have to stop working, and the family must live on Bates's pay alone. Will they leave Downton and buy a small hotel, as Bates imagined so lyrically they would in series two? Will they heck. This couple will only leave Downton feet first and are, let's face it, a shoo-in for the positions of butler and housekeeper once Carson and Mrs Hughes retire (if Anna can find help with the children). But let's not get ahead of ourselves: this won't happen until the very last Downton series, which hopefully is a long way off.
Alfred leaves - but may possibly fall for Daisy first There's a Swedish schoolgirl rhyme that goes "I'm in love with a guy who's in love with a girl who's in love with a guy who loves me" (it rhymes in Swedish, but that doesn't make it poetic). The footman-kitchen maid crushes of series three roughly followed this pattern, except Jimmy didn't fall in love with Daisy (that would really have brought things full circle, considering her infatuation with Thomas in series one). These love intrigues came across as a little tepid compared to Thomas's doomed passion for Jimmy, and possibly nothing will come of any of them. Then again, if Daisy hangs in there, even thick Alfred might realise she's a better catch than feather-brained Ivy. For one thing, she will eventually take over her father-in-law's farm. That's a "career in food" waiting right there, and if Alfred himself can't see it, his loving auntie will and may push him in the right direction.
A housemaid and/or a nursery maid make their mark: Since Anna became a lady's maid, we haven't seen a lot of the Downton housemaids, excepting bolshie Edna in the Christmas special. It's time one of them moved to the foreground again. Also, with two babies in the house, it would be surprising if we were to see nothing of what goes on in the nursery. The nanny might emerge as a new lead character among the servants, but my money's on the nursery maid.
Thomas and Miss O'Brien are reconciled and once again become the perfect double act: Well, a girl can dream, can't she? With bone of contention Alfred leaving, why should they go on fighting? Neither is very "popular downstairs", and they need every ally they can get. Besides, they wrote to each other during the war, for pity's sake. Surely a friendship like that can't just die? I realise, though, that everything hinges on how Miss O'Brien tackles any danger that might be heading Jimmy's way. If she harms Thomas's precious Goldilocks, then the bridges are truly burned.