Romance! Intrigue! Murder! Americans! Downton Abbey‘s Season Four finale was as jam-packed as ever, accomplishing much but still leaving plenty for its newly commissioned fifth season. What PBS calls the finale is actually the Christmas Special that aired several months after the fourth season finale in the U.K., and like the ones before it, it put its characters in the most splendid of surroundings, pulling out all the stops for a festive episode. Though compared to the last two years, this finale was a lot less taxing on the emotions. Hit the jump for why “I don’t mind lying!”
Aside from the ridiculous, wholly Downton device of jumping forward almost a year, the finale episode went off mostly without a hitch. Jumping forward in time allowed for the show to deal with Edith’s baby bump, but nothing else. Literally every other character picked up conversations they were having, according to the show, one year ago. Downton loves hurtling through time without any acknowledgement of life really moving on or — God forbid — anyone aging.
But, it’s a minor complaint in an episode filled with such spectacle and glittering adornments. The finales (and by that I mean the Christmas Special) always spin off with some new stories since they (usually) take place at such a later air date. The plot about The Return of Sampson, for instance, that led to a very minor “the game’s afoot!” kind of break-in was cute, especially since it tied in Rose’s debutant debut as well as some historical overlap regarding the Price of Wales, his lady friend Ms. Dudley Ward, and the Crawley’s part in it all — a rare episode Downton that connected everyone.
Money and class were a big part of the episode, playing out in a number of different ways: Branson continues to struggle with this newly monied existence, still finding himself in compromising positions with women who make him feel bad for accepting his lotto-winning lifestyle that many — as was seen — would do almost anything for; Ivy snatches up Daisy’s spot to be an American chef (good riddance to a character the show never developed, and good for Daisy to get some flirting in), desperate to “get out” of the English life of service; The Levinsons were bombarded with destitute Englishmen (and ladies) looking for money to support their titles, much like what happened with Cora and Robert; Mary, meanwhile, discovers that her friendship with Blake might look a little more like romance once she has determined that he, improbably, is heir to a massive fortune.
Downton Abbey has alluded quite a bit to the falling tide of the aristocracy (cemented again in a sparing match between Violet and Martha about the future), but has so far stayed away from going too much into the ghastly business of it all. This finale is the most explicit the show has yet been about the need and desire for money, and the role it still plays in the lives of those like the Crawleys. But then it acknowledged (through Isobel’s speech that ) that even in changing times, to dismiss all of the pomp outright is also narrow-minded.
This season has all been about choosing to move forward with the tide. Mary had to choose to live life after Matthew, Edith chose to “go all the way” with Gregson and then come to terms with their baby, Anna had to find a way to live after the rape, just like Daisy is finding ways to move on from the heartbreak of Alfred and her lot in life. Carson and Robert, too, embraced (somewhat) the future, with Robert ceding responsibilities to Mary and Branson, while Carson even stepped into the water holding Ms. Hughes’ hand (be. still. my. heart).
But with so many transitions, there was little room for resolution. Mary is still caught between Blake and Gillingham (which, admittedly, is a story line that should not be rushed), while Edith is still finding ways to make the worst decisions ever. And truly, what the heck happened to Gregson? Is he really gone? It’s been more than a year now without anyone seeing or hearing anything. And Edith snatching her baby back and giving it to one of the estate’s farmers, as she originally wanted to do, is as mad and sad as it ever was. Couldn’t she have ‘fessed up early, faked a secret marriage and a wedding night, and lived on with the baby accepted and in the nursery with its cousins?
Alas, there doesn’t seem to be a happy ending here. And along with that uncertainty is Branson’s uncertainty with his place at Downton, Isobel’s flirtations with Lord Merton, and what exactly Thomas has over Baxter.
But overall, this was a good season and a great finale, one that found its own way of moving on after losing both Sybil and Matthew last year, changing the makeup of the cast and its trajectory in ways fans could not fathom at the time. Like the series that houses them, the denizens of Downton found ways to move forward, and next year will hopefully bring even more payoff to all of the the plots this season set up so nicely.
Episode Rating: A
Season Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
– So Bates really did kill Green, if there was any doubt. Hang him! (Just kidding)
– The costumes were really outstanding in this episode, but Cora’s were out of the park. The dress she wore to the debutante debut was spellbinding — the color, the details, everything.
– Always a pleasure to see the brassy Mrs. Levinson arrive on British shores, although Harold’s non-love affair with money-scheming Madeline was forgettable, and a waste of Paul Giamatti.
– “Your niece is a flapper, accept it” – Mary.
– The Baxter / Molesley flirtation plot is really sweet. So was Daisy and the American butler (the American jokes were, for once, funny instead of offensive), even though it really came out of nowhere. There was never a chance that Daisy would take off to America, but her getting a little thrill — much like Patmore did a few seasons ago — was nice.
– “If the family are like sardines, the staff are like maggots!” – Patmore.
– I like that everyone loves Shrimpy, even the King!
– Not sure I’m totally on board with Ms. Hughes and Carson as an overt couple (why ruin a good thing?), though that last scene and shot were really great. Also, I loved her postcard hints about the beach trip instead of visiting London museums (which would be a nice day trip, though not when you are used to being in quiet, stuffy places all the time!)
– Thomas did nothing but whisper “tell me stories, Baxter …” all season. Hoping he gets better material next year.
– “I’m never excited” – Daisy.
– Branson … don’t get me started about Sarah Bunting. He needs a new type. His dancing with Violet was a nice moment though, and also when she reminded him that these are his people now. Keep him away from that pushy girl!
– What I wouldn’t give to have a picnic like that prepared for me on a whim …
– Hilarious how, when Robert needs a nefarious deed taken care of, he thinks of where he can find the nearest criminal. BAAAAAAATES!
– “What could be more revolting that rummaging through a strange man’s socks?” – Rose.
– If Ms. Hughes agreed with Bates murdering Green, why did she keep prying him about it? And why tell Mary if she had already made up her mind what to do? And why is Mary suddenly on moral high ground after she killed a man, basically, and then moved his corpse?
– “You’re a footman, not a traveling salesman. Please keep your opinions about the catering to yourself!” – Carson.
– Enjoy the London Season until next time, lords and ladies.