Downton Abbey: Season 4 Finale

Deborah Gilbert | February 23, 2014

Sigh. I know, I know. Parting is such sweet sorrow, innit? But let’s not think of tonight as just the end of the season: Let’s think of it as the beginning of the countdown to Downton Abbey Season 5, already in production for its January 2015 premiere. Until then, page with be updated regularly, and the gang will all be here a couple of times a month with my Dispatch From the Downton Abbey Diaspora blog, keeping you up to date and spoiler-free, on all things Downton.

Tonight, as we begin, it is eight months on since all the ladies craned their necks to watch Mary dangle her participles. In the interim, the earth has resumed spinning, Dr. Clarkson has been replaced with a chiropractor, and those participles are still dangling…

The Bachelorette: Burn Baby Burn:
Lady Mary is still hoarding all the eligible men left breathing post-war, and Blake is still getting some toff love from her – though in secret, we suspect she spends endless afternoons in the garden, pulling petals off daisies, saying “your lot, my lot, your lot, my lot…” Clearly she has both he and Gillingham on some sort of odd/even rationing schedule, which seems to go awry on a regular basis. Awkward. But now that Gillingham has let the cat out of the bag on Blake’s stealth wealth, will that turn the tide in his favor? At least she now knows she doesn’t have to keep instructing him on the way things are done. For someone who keeps saying her status is ‘not ready’, she has no problem keeping them both at her beck and call, and they have no problem letting her. The lads are just happy to be on her waiting list. But Mary has bigger fish to fry right now: Namely, the fate of her beloved Anna’s beloved. I’m not really sure why Mrs. Hughes handed her this hot potato (other than the fact that Miss Elsie cannot keep a secret to save her life), but the way Mary reacted to Mrs. Hughes’ news makes one wonder if, at some point over these past eight months, she had got more details about Green’s death (from Gillingham) than she has shared with Anna. Or maybe she’s just always seen his darker side. But now that she has the golden ticket, what will she do with it? Let battle commence. It seems Bates’ strings aren’t so easily pulled as Blake’s and Gillingham’s. And what exactly was that look exchanged between them? It seems Mary smugly thought that, on the strength of her superior eyebrows alone, she could win a dueling stare down with Bates. But she was swiftly, yet subtly, reduced to a blithering heap of aristocratic falderal as she stared into the abyss of his empty eyes, which blinked out, ‘really? You want a piece of me?’ in Morse Code while Mrs. Hughes stood in the hallway and screamed at the foolish girl, “DON’T PULL THE PIN!” A shaken Mary quickly retreated and said to Anna, “Please tell Bates how grateful we are to him. And you. So very grateful. In fact, I was just thinking about changing baby George’s name to Bates in tribute; I’m not sure where George is this week, but when I do come across him, I will do that because Bates Crawley does have a lovely ring to it. Not the sort of ring to summon a servant; just a lovely ring full stop. So please do tell him how grateful we are, and please ask him not to kill me in my sleep.” “Is that all, M’lady?” “Yes, that is all. And please lock the bedroom door on your way out, and slip the key back under. Thank you. So grateful. Make sure he knows. So very grateful.” Of course, after Bates saves the royal bacon, tossing the incriminating ticket into the fire is a no-brainer. So very grateful.

Thin Ice: Noises Off:
Bat Mitzvah girl Cousin Oliver Rose is ready for her debut at the Palace, but the road to Buckhouse takes a detour through The Embassy Club where she meets The Prince of Wales (an old pal of good ol’ Shrimpy) and mistress, Mrs. Dudley Ward. It’s all fun and games until things get rocky after Lady Rosamund unknowingly brings cardsharp Samson to (work) the pre-party party and he rummages through Rose’s new BFF Mrs. Dudley Ward’s handbag (while she’s dancing) and swipes a comically intimate love letter from the future King. Let us review once again: Rose + Dancing = Trouble. When the theft is discovered, Cousin Oliver Rose must ask Robert for help. Lord Grantham fears the Prince of Wales will revive the ways of his Grand Papa, King Edward VII, a prolific womanizer whose many mistresses included Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry, Lady Warwick (the infamous stable bell ringer), Lady Churchill (Winston’s mum), and Alice Keppel (great grandmother of Camilla Parker Bowles, who is best known for her affair with another faithful little chap). Little does Robert know that something worse is coming down the royal pike (in about fourteen years). Right now this monarchist’s concerns are more immediate: If there is going to be a royal scandal, he just wants to make sure it is not caused by The House of Grantham. What to do? Need some assistance of the criminal variety? Who ya gonna call? Jean ValBates, of course. How handy it is to have a semi-sort-of criminal on staff. If this ever gets out, everybody will want one. What next transpires is a farce involving forgery, attempted burglary, bread and butter, confusion from Violet, a plea from Edith, a segue to Isis, poker, a dingy flat, socks, a wild goose chase and pickpocketing – and the joke’s on Samson. Again. If you are keeping score, it’s: Granthams 2, Samson 0. In the end all that matters is that the letter is back in safe hands and Bates has a new wristwatch. Phew! Crisis averted, now let’s party! Cousin Oliver meets the King (is there anyone who doesn’t know Shrimpy?). And just in time for the first dance His Highness and His Mistress crash the proceedings and Cousin Oliver is invited to kiss a frog: How very appropriate that two characters, whose recklessness so often lands them on thin ice, should open the ball dancing to The Skaters Waltz. Impossible things are happening everyday. Mrs. Freda Dudley Ward was, in real life, The Prince of Wales’ first mistress. A married socialite, their affair lasted five years and was well known among the aristocrats and politicians of their set; and they remained close until he met Wallis Simpson in 1934, at which time Mrs. Dudley Ward was summarily dismissed by a Palace operator. She died in 1983, having never spoken publicly of their affair. But while the (allegedly) fictional Mr. Bates was handy in retrieving this particular wayward letter, in reality, one of the thousands of love letters ‘adoring little David’ wrote to his ‘darling Fredie Wedie’ did fall into the wrong hands, and the contents made public, when it was put up for auction a few years ago in London which, we can assume, is what inspired the giggles of Cousin Oliver Rose. Do you think Bates read it before he handed it over?

Damn Yankees: What the Heck Do We Care?:
The American contingent returns! Dame Levinson jumps the pond dragging reluctant son Uncle Milburn Pennybags along by the ear. She’s trying to keep him out of Dodge until that Teapot Dome business settles down, and they are greeted by a double act who would like to settle them down – small world! We know Lord Billy Aysgarth is a con as soon as we find out he’s friends with Mr. Samson. His game isn’t cards, however.  It’s trying to find a buyer for his title, and pimping out his reluctant debutante daughter, Madeline. Call it a family business. Unfortunately for them, both objects of their ‘affections’ can smell a love rat from across the street. Is it my imagination or is the character of Martha more defined this year? She is one part Queen of Sheba and one part Judge Judy, and she can dangle men on a string just as well as her granddaughter Mary can. It’s a little hobby she’s picked up. Of course, confused Lord Billy Aysgarth cannot understand why she wouldn’t jump at the chance to buy some rank – and so does Violet. From the moment Martha sets foot in the drawing room, Violet snipes and it is on: Handbags at ten paces. But it is that last strike at the Dowager, about the rise and fall of their conflicting worlds that clearly drew blood. Poor Violet. Milburn Penneybags may have a problem of a different sort. Despite reading her and her father correctly (and crudely), and to her face, he seems to have fallen for Madeline in spite of himself. Will next season find yet another American washed up upon the British shores? Perish the thought!

Jungle Love: Primrose Lane:
Lord Merton just happens to be in the neighborhood quite a lot, doesn’t he? And he makes Isobel a bit nervous. Are those the butterflies of early love? Did she really go to the ball to see Lord Merton? Isobel was the only woman at Cousin Oliver’s ball who couldn’t keep time to the music by rattling her jewelry, but might she end up a bedecked Lady after all? And would the prospect of leaving her natural habitat for a Countess Coronet cause her the same conflicted emotions it causes Branson? Branson has got his own tangle; Miss Bunting, a spunky little snob who knows just how to push his buttons. Her “and I’ll bet you say you haven’t changed”, hits him right where he lives – his fear of being a sellout, an outsider, of setting a foot wrong and being tossed out on his ear. Life for Branson (I mean Tom) remains a walk on the high wire. It is why he fears Thomas. Given the close proximity with which he used to work with Thomas, he understands his methods more than the family does. Asserting himself to the staff is tricky and the deviously bitter Thomas plays on that. Branson is the only member of the family to be bullied by staff, and when he finally finds a way to uncomfortably stand up, he is repaid with a report to Lord Grantham. Even though Violet assures him that this is his place and these are his people, Branson is still trying to find a way to remain in the family while going forward with his life. It is an aspect of moving on from grief that Mary will never have to deal with. It is probably just one reason why he finds a kindred spirit in Edith. And by the way, who wants to bet that Thomas’ gallery ‘patrol’ consists of him snooping in the family’s bedrooms while everyone is out of town? Amiright?

To Sir With Animosity: Free At Last:
Thomas is flexing fists of rage. Not only does he have to call former co-worker Branson, ‘Sir’, but he also seems to have lost control of his ACME Ladies Maid Spy Robot. She refuses to tell him a story. Baxter has sussed by now that something has gone on with Anna and Bates, but she refuses to sing, even under threat. She has become immune to Thomas’ oily whispers, and it was Molseley who broke the spell. Will Molesley and Baxter become more than friends? And we still don’t know what Great Secret it is that Thomas knows and has been holding over her, but we know the boy can hold a grudge. So should we assume we will find out more next season?

You’re Gonna Make it Afterall: A Few Good Men:
She got there in the end. Sort of. At least, it may be as close to ‘there’ as luckless Edith is allowed to get. Back from eight months in Switzerland, where she left her secret baby It with Baroness Schrader, Edith returns to hold herself together on the outside while wanting to scream on the inside. On the plus side, those Crawley girls have no trouble losing the baby weight, do they? Now, more pieces of the puzzle fall into place. We find out what was on that paper she signed: It made her Editor Charming’s Power of Attorney, allowing her to make decisions at the newspaper and run his affairs in his absence. And we find out more of what may have happened to him: An altercation with a gang of Brownshirts in Munich is the last anyone knows of him. But when she and Aunt Rosamund are discussing a possible inheritance, if he is dead, one is left thinking there is another piece of this puzzle that has not been mentioned: The loony wife. What happens to her? Will she inherit Gregson’s estate? Or will Edith inherit her (via the Power of Attorney)? But those questions will have to wait for another day. For now, it is all about Edith wanting to find a way to keep her baby girl close by, and thanks to words of encouragement from Branson, she finally stops doubting herself. Branson is her natural ally; in a way, he is the voice of Sybil in her life, and his pep talk gives Edith the strength to fight her corner, on her own terms. She is tired of being shoved aside and rolled out flat. She wants to make more scenes. No one, including Aunt Rosamund, will make life decisions for her. Mmm, mmm, oh no Miss Thing: Lady Edith Crawley is not having anymore. She whips that neck around, turns on her heel and heads for the Continent on a mission, causing a confused Cora to turn to Rosamund and say, “Who farted?” It is now back to Plan A: Farmer Pigman. He says his doting wife will be up for it, so he’s gonna sit right down and write himself a letter and make believe it came from ‘a friend’. Edith does not have a great history with farmer’s wives, but one hopes for the best and thinks that, for now, Mr. Pigman understands who Edith’s ‘friend’ is, and the fix she’s in. Is he as trustworthy and compassionate as he seems? Will this remain their secret? Already Rosamund knows; and now what did she have to say to explain Edith to Cora when she left them standing at the ball? And Violet won’t be far behind, and one suspects that Branson already has a strong suspicion as well. And what about Editor Charming? Is he gone forever? If he is, will knowing that he didn’t abandon her, but rather was taken from her, be any comfort to Edith?

Under the Boardwalk: Rolling in the Deep
Just thought of another Downton Abbey spin-off idea While the Crawleys are in London for the season, the downstairs staff share a house down the shore. Anyone? Anyway, PollyAnna is back to her old self, though we don’t know how she got there. After a roiling season, she was really just an accessory as everything was tied up in a bow. I’m thinking someone should have followed Edith’s advice about making more scenes, and made a few more about how Anna moved on from her attack to get where she is now. But I suppose that’s neither here nor there: It’s all about Bates. Why did he keep what looks like it could be incriminating evidence in his coat pocket when he could have easily tossed it in any trashcan between London and Downton? Was it a trophy? Why else would he have lied about being in London that day? Is there a completely different secret there? But in the end, love means never having to say, ‘I’m innocent’, so all it took to square things up over the donated coat was a penny lick. Say what? Old-fashioned Bates was using an outdated term for an ice cream cone (in the same way my grandmother, all her life, still referred to the refrigerator as the icebox). Due to concerns that they spread disease, actual penny licks were banned in London in 1899, thanks to a bill introduced by Lord Bloomberg. A penny lick was a small scoop of ice cream served in a thick glass holder that made it look like there was more there than there was. After one would lick out all the ice cream, one would hand it back to the vendor who might or might not wipe it off before filling it again for the next customer. Eeeuw! Elsewhere… One is worried about our Miss Daisy, who has such low expectations in life that the attention of a man she wasn’t even interested in, Uncle Pennybags’ valet, has her feeling giddy. Or maybe she’s just happy she got rid of Snooki by sending her off to America in her place. Forget about the American Dream: Call it the Yorkshire bait and switch. So then there were two: All that is left of the quadrangle now is Daisy and Jimmy. And by the way, if Jimmy were smart he wouldn’t smirk at Carson comparing him to Wat Tyler, who ended up with his head on a pike. Just sayin’…But let’s not bury the lede: That thunderous rumble you just heard was the sound of about seven million Downtonians across the country jumping up and down in front of their tellys at the sight that ended tonight’s season: Carson and Mrs. Hughes holding hands as they walk into the deep end!!!!! Will they take the proverbial plunge?? Damn you, Fellowes!! Why couldn’t this have been a cliffhanger for episode 4?? Now, you are going to make us wait ten long months to find out the answer?!? Suppose a bomb goes off? Suppose we are invaded by space aliens who disable our cable? Suppose we just can’t wait? All I’ve got to say is, this cliffhanger better not end with an accidental drowning!!!! You can afford to let us humble Downtonians live a little, can’t you? Here’s a thought: Mr. Selfridge premiers March 30 on Masterpiece – couldn’t Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes (maybe) wander into the store and shop for a ring? It could happen. Don’t say no right away. Sigh.

Dowager Countessdown (Madam Dowager’s best zingers from each episode):

7. “I’m too tired for an evening of second hand emotion.”

6. “Is that American for hello?”

5. “How curious these phrases are.”

4. “I know I can trust you to steer.”

3. “I feel as if I spent then whole night trapped in the cast of a who dunnit.”

2. “Can’t you even offer help without sounding like a trumpeter on the peak of the moral high ground?”

1. “I advise you to do the same. It saves many an awkward moment.”

Goodnight Sweetheart, Well It’s Time To Go:
Stop back next week for the Season End Review. And ‘til then, I hope you’ll all respond to the pledge appeal that followed the show tonight. The bold-faced names listed as sponsors at the top of the show are truly terrific, but it is all of us downstairs who provide most of the funding for these fabulous programs. If you have enjoyed this season of Downton Abbey (and I know you have), why not drop a few shekels in THIRTEEN’s tip jar? You’ll be glad you did!