Downton Abbey Season 4 Finale Recap: ‘Tis the Season
This time last year we were barely able to see past our own runny noses, our eyes were so puffed from tears shed over the corpse of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens). But here we are, and boy oh boy are things looking up. The Season 4 finale made its US debut today, nearly two months after it aired in the UK on Christmas Day 2013, it didn’t disappoint.
The episode begins with the news that Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) has just returned from Geneva where get this, she’s been away for eight months. That means she’s had her baby! As she explains to a concerned Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), she was away so long because it was considered best for the baby, a girl, to “be weaned by her real mother.”
Seeing as it’s been more than a year since the baby’s father and Edith’s lover, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), has disappeared things aren’t looking good that he’s still alive. We grow even more concerned once Edith hears he got into a fight his first night in Germany with a gang of “brown-shirted toughs” whom we can assume are Nazis in the making.
With Edith in line to inherit Michael’s possessions because of the power of attorney he granted her before his departure, she feels compelled to give at least half to the child they had together. Aunt Rosamund (Samantha Bond) discourages Edith from this plan, wanting the whole sad business far behind her niece. And so the heartache continues.
By the end of the episode, however, Edith has decided to take that heartache by the horns. She reverts to her original plan: secretly give the baby to a tenant family at Downton so she can see her daughter grow up. Without telling a single member of her family her true plan, Edith sets her sights on Switzerland.
Since so much time has passed since we last visited the Abbey, it means we’re in high summer and right in time for the London Season. Everything is, to use Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern) words, “in a kerfuffle” getting ready for Cousin Rose MacClare’s (Lily James) big debut.
Seemingly fully recovered from her broken engagement to American jazz singer Jack Ross (Gary Carr), Rose flits from nightclub to nightclub. On one such outing she happens to meet the Prince of Wales (Oliver Dimsdale) and makes quite an impression on the famous playboy. The year’s 1923 so this is long before the Prince will give up the throne for one Mrs. Simpson. That, however, doesn’t mean he’s immune to getting into trouble as this episode proves...
The family’s run-ins with the Royal Family continue throughout the episode with Rose being presented at Buckingham Palace. Also in the crowd of party-goers, a new face: Freda Dudley-Ward (Janet Montgomery), whom it becomes very clear has more than a friendly relationship with the Prince of Wales. When a certain letter goes missing (stolen by that one klepto of an acquaintance we met earlier in Season 4, Mr. Terence Sampson) Freda is in a tizzy trying to get it back.
The breaking and entering plan, however, doesn’t work with only the ex-con Bates realizing where Sampson would keep such a valuable letter: on his person. While helping Sampson put on his coat after an impromptu poker game, Bates, a man of many talents, snags the letter and once again saves the family Crawley.
After “accidentally” bumping into the town’s pretty schoolmarm, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) finally asks Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis) out on a date. It only took him months to get around to it, making Sarah feel he’s been “avoiding” her. But those days are done with Tom even giving Sarah a tour of the nearly deserted Abbey.
Unfortunately for Tom, there is one person still left at Downton: Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier). When the conniving underbutler spots Tom and Sarah on their tour while lurking in the shadows, it can’t mean good things for the former chauffeur, particularly since Thomas has more than a chip on his shoulder about taking orders from a former servant, no matter how kind and considerate said former servant may be.
So it isn’t exactly a surprise that upon arriving in London, Thomas promptly tells Robert of who he saw “quite late” on the bedroom gallery, setting Tom’s father-in-law on edge. Bad boy Barrow’s at work once again with the consequences of his little tattle-tale yet to be realized.
Joining Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) and son Harold (Paul Giamatti) on their grand tour of Europe/Harold’s lie-low-after-financial-lawbreaking trip is Ethan (Michael Benz), who turns out to be a delightful new character full of surprises. The puppy-like blond immediately takes a shine to the little-loved Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera), for which we immediately like him in turn. His curiosity and eagerness comes as a stark contrast to the rather dour kitchen’s maid who, she tells him, is “never excited.”
That same straightforwardness gets Ethan a little bit on prim and proper Mr. Carson’s (Jim Carter) bad side with Downton’s main man sternly telling the peppy young American, “You’re a footman, not a traveling salesman.” And Ethan explaining to Carson that he wants to talk “man and man” — priceless.
Ethan’s interested in chatting mano y mano with Carson to make sure Daisy doesn’t already have a suitor. She doesn’t, as we all know too well, and so Ethan begins his mission to add a little excitement to Daisy’s life. And does he! Daisy does such a good job cooking, Harold wants to hire her outright and have her join them in America thanks to more than a nudge from Ethan in that direction. Daisy defers, however, with Ivy Stuart (Cara Theobold) jumping at the chance to head west across the Atlantic.
As previously mentioned, joining the “American contingent” this Christmas is Uncle Harold, a very rich man who doesn’t like the very rich. Shortly after his arrival, Harold meets Rose’s friend and fellow English beauty Madeline (Poppy Drayton). It’s not exactly a surprise they meet; Madeline’s father, the plotting Lord Aysgarth(James Fox), makes sure his lovely daughter is thrust into Harold’s way as often as possible.
“I’m used to it,” the jaded American tells Madeline while they twirl around a ballroom. “Use to what?” she naively asks. “Fathers wanting me to dance with their daughters.” But Harold’s brashness eventually offends Madeline, who seems sweet if easily cowed by her overbearing father. To make up for it, Harold invites her for a picnic in the park, also bringing along mother Martha and Lord Aysgarth, who has gold-digging schemes of his own.
But where Martha is able to outmaneuver Lord Aysgarth, Harold finds himself falling for Madeline. Thankfully, the young socialite’s intentions seem pure enough with her own feelings for the world-wary American businessman appearing to grow throughout the episode. They leave things on a letter-writing basis but, as we’ve seen before, the written word can do wonders on Downton Abbey.
In one corner, we have Lord Gillingham, Anthony Foyle (Tom Cullen). In the other, Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden). Both continue their fight for Lady Mary’s heart, a prize the widow isn’t giving up easily. Throughout the finale, the trio keep crossing paths with Tony and Charles barely able to keep from fisticuffs on more than one occasion.
Eventually, both men get dragged by the heartstrings into the family’s plan to save the Royal Family. Despite their help, however, Mary continues to keep the boys at arm’s length. “Oh Tony, I wish I knew. I feel so cruel,” she tells Lord Gillingham of how she’s “dangling” him, Charles, and, yes, even Evelyn Napier (Brendan Patricks) gets a shout-out.
“My destiny is to save Downton for George,” she continues, prompting good man Gillingham to reveal that Charles isn’t a social outsider as Mary has always thought. He will, in fact, someday inherit one of the largest estates in the land and, Tony says, “be more eligible than I.” When Mary asks Charles about his shared background with her, he says he kept it all under wraps because “I wanted to win you by myself.”
So has he? Mary simply tells the men to “let battle commence.” Or, you know, enter yet another round.
Mr. Green Continues to Cause Trouble From the Grave
Mr. Green (Nigel Harman) may be dead and gone — and good riddance! — but his ghost continues to haunt the lives of those at Downton. When Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) finds a ticket stub to London in Mr. Bates’s coat pocket from the day Mr. Green was killed in Piccadilly, she becomes suspicious that he was indeed behind the twisted valet’s fatal accident.
For some inexplicable reason — blame a lifetime of service and loyalty — she goes to Mary with the latest development. Although Mrs. Hughes insists she stands behind anything Mr. Bates may have done for his wife, legal or not, Mary struggles to keep the suspicious secret. Surprising, we know.
Only after Bates gets the family out of the jam with the Royal Family does Mary realize she must stay loyal to the valet and his wife. And so she tosses the incriminating ticket stub into the fire and, we hope, ends the Mr. Green chapter of life at Downton Abbey.
Early in the episode, Cora charges Mr. Carson with arranging an exciting outing for the staff to thank them for their hard work in London. Of course, Mr. Carson doesn’t exactly have his finger on the pulse of what’s fun, listing museum after museum to go visit, dusty ideas that don’t exactly inspire enthusiasm among the staff.
Finally, though, Carson settles on taking the group to the beach after some strategic postcard placement by Mrs. Hughes. It’s there that we conclude this episode’s finale, out in the bright sunshine and fresh air, far from the miasma of death and destruction cast during Season 3’s same episode. Perhaps Julian Fellowes had some metaphor about the everlasting nature of the sea he wished to impart. Personally, we’re just happy everyone’s still alive.
More power to Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and Lord Merton (Douglas Reith) as they continue their dance around one another. Although surprisingly demure when it comes to the blooming romance, Isobel does seem intrigued by Lord Merton’s advances. If only Matthew could see his mama now.
Let’s give an award to that two-woman sparring match that occurs between the Dowager and Martha. In a face-off between the new world and the old, the heavyweight acting legends perfectly capture the struggles society faced in the 1920s as centuries-old traditions faded away while the new world grew stronger. A round of applause for Dame Maggie Smith and her equally talented American counterpart, Shirley MacLaine!
Quote of the episode: “Suppose I fall over,” a trouser-wearing Mr. Carson says as he grabs Mrs. Hughes’s hands and wades into the sea.