How many gentlemen does it take to fill the void left by Matthew Crawley? A whole bunch will get the chance to try on the new season of Downton Abbey. "The loss of much-loved characters is real dramatic rocket fuel that enhances our storytelling," says executive producer Gareth Neame. "As much as people were devastated by the loss of Matthew — with some people almost grieving as they would for a real person — those are the dynamics of this show." No one is suffering more than widowed Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery). "We do see quite a bit of the Mary she was before she met Matthew, that icy iron-maiden quality," says Neame. "It's going to take an awful lot to get her back to life." She'll get some help from three handsome men when Downton returns to PBS's Masterpiece on January 5.
Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen)
The dashing Lord Gillingham, an old family friend, comes to Downton for a lavish house party in the second episode and offers Mary advice on inheritance taxes. "Mary is not looking for anyone to replace Matthew, but she is, of course, a beautiful, eligible young widow, so inevitably there is going to be quite a lot of male interest," Neame says. "Gillingham is a very useful friend to Mary at a time when she's not able to make decisions."
Jack Ross (Gary Carr)
In the third episode, Mary's loved ones convince her to leave the house; she accompanies Branson, Rose and Aunt Rosamund to London's Lotus jazz club, where they meet this suave singer from Chicago. "The spine of the new season is how Mary moves from total bereavement into turning to life again," Neame says. "Ross is very positive, ambitious and charming. And we get to see him perform."
Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden)
In Episode 4, Evelyn Napier returns to Downton for the first time since his Turkish friend Kemal Pamuk died in Mary's bed back in Season 1. He brings along a new associate, Charles, to help Downton run more efficiently. Mary and Charles instantly dislike each other — kind of like how Mary first viewed Matthew. "There's a bit of a difference," Neame says. "Mary objected to the law making Matthew the heir to Downton. Blake is someone she just doesn't like. He's modern-thinking but does not share the family's sentimentality about the past."