By Jordan Bartel
The Baltimore Sun
4:45 PM EST, February 23, 2014
Welcome to the Season 4 finale -- downsized in drama and housing.
"Downsized" being a relative term. Compared to last year's finale, when Matthew bit the dust, there wasn't a grand dramatic moment this time around.
To be fair, this isn't quite a "season finale" in the American TV sense of the word. In Britain, this is the Christmas Special, re-packaged and re-promoted as the "season finale" here. It's a bit of false advertising, but we'll take it.
And the "downsized" housing? The Crawleys are in London and their "other home." Not a manse compared to Downton, but can anything be fairly compared to Downton? Still, they're bravely making do! It's at least eight months after the last episode, and the fam is preparing for Rose's "presentation" to society.
Ostensibly, this is what this episode is about -- Rose being formally introduced into the world of the London upper crust. She gets to wear a white dress, curtsy in front of the king and see if he speaks to her (he does! About his dad. Everyone lobes Shrimpy!).
But Rose's presentation's not the most interesting development of the episode. Here's what goes down.
Edith makes another decision
Somewhat oddly, the biggest storyline development is Edith's. We learn she has given birth, weaned the child herself and then given her daughter to a Geneva couple, the Schroeders (we don't actually see them). There apparently wasn't a formal agreement on the adoption.
Edith is deeply saddened and mopey (moreso than usual) and there are hints throughout the episode that she's having second thoughts about this adoption thing.
"I sometimes think we should make more scenes, about things that really matter to us," she tells Mary at one of Rose's 71 presentation-related parties.
Later, she makes up her mind. She's bringing her daughter back, despite Michael Gregson still being missing. Interestingly, we also learn that he was last seen being harassed by Germans in brown shirts, which is, I'm assuming, a reference to the German Brownshirts, who did did the violent bidding of the pre-World War II Nazis. Maybe they hated his newspaper-editor meddling.
(I can't be the only one who, when learning that he went missing in Germany, thought, "Gotta be the Nazis!" as sort of a joke. Turns out it was.)
Back at Downton after all the season parties, Edith convinces Drewe (the pig-man!) to take in her daughter, though she doesn't overtly say it's her daughter (though you'd be an idiot not think it was her daughter). They concoct a plan to explain to Drewe's wife that the girl is actually the daughter of a friend of Drewe's who has died.
How is this going to go next season? How long will the secret be kept? Will her daughter become the pig-daughter?
Mary -- still pursued (of course)
In London, we almost immediately see Tony Gillingham and Charles Blake have polite gentlemanly grabs/spars for Mary's attention. Thankfully, we're spared from having to endure the everlasting wimpiness of Evelyn Napier, who's in France. The "desire" of suitors has gone down to a pair.
It's rather boring stuff at first. Mary still teases Charles about him trying to destroy the upper-class, Tony broods in the background, etc.
But at Rose's ball, Tony confesses to Mary that Charles is not what she thinks he is: He's rich! Like, totally rich and comes from old money and will soon inherit an estate in Ulster, which is apparently a good thing.
Mary is shocked -- this changes the game. Though the audience gets the sense that Charles will win he hand even before this revelation, Mary still plays on.
Let the battle commence, she tells Charles. (Sidenote: No sight of Mabel Lane Fox. I kind of wanted some epic acid-tongue battle between Mary and Mabel.)
So basically, we will presumably have a Season 5 Tony Vs. Charles throwdown. You ready?
Much of the extended episode was taken up with nonsense involving the Prince of Wales, his mistress, Freda Dudley Ward (yes, a real person who really was the real prince's mistress), and a lost love letter from the prince to Freda.
(Another sidenote: The Prince of Wales in this episode is Edward, the Duke of Windsor, who would go on to abdicate the throne to marry Wallis Simpson).
Rose befriends Freda, who shares with her some embarrassingly cute love letter, later to be stolen by Terence Sampson, the shifty card shark from earlier in the season. (Aunt Rosamund brings him to a party. Ew. Are they dating?).
This brings about this scheme to steal the letter from Sampson before he can either blackmail Freda or sell it to the foreign press.
The Crawleys must rescue the monarchy!
Everyone is involved: Robert gets Bates to have a friend forge a note from Sampson that will let Mary and Rose into his apartment to try to steal it. Because of course Bates would know someone who can do that.
Meanwhile, Robert concocts a game of cards to get Sampson out of his apartment. Bates later saves the day by finding the letter in Sampson's jacket pocket.
The point of this was what?
It did yield this funny (in historical context) line from Robert: "All the public wants is a happy marriage at the palace. Is it too much to ask?!"
Invasion of the Levinsons
Cora's mom, Martha Levinson has arrived ... to do basically what she did last season -- be very modern and toy with the fragile petty emotions of the Brits.
This time, though, she is pursued by the gold-digging (and super old) Lord Aysgarth, who is bankrupt and looking for some good old fashioned American money.
Martha immediately knows what he's up to, but hilariously strings him along until ultimately turning down his proposal, saying she has no desire to be the latest Lady Aysgarth. Instead, she offers to have him visit her Newport "cottage" (read: huge mansion) where she will set him up with suitable old ladies wanting a title.
So, she won't marry him. But she'll gladly be his pimp. A rich pimp, but still.
And she has another standoff with the Dowager Countess that was a little disappointing and basically amounted to "I'm modern, and your way of life is vanishing" -- stuff we've heard before.
More interestingly, Martha brings along her son, Harold (played nicely by Paul Giamatti), who has never met the Crawley daughters and has just escaped being punished for his role in the Teapot Dome scandal.
Harold's a playboy -- not because he's handsome (again, he's played by Paul Giamattii), but because he's filthy rich. This catches the eye of Lord Aysgarth's daughter, Madeleine Allsopp, who is pushed by her father to claim him as her husband (Aysgarth double attack!).
Madeleine, though, has a heart and knows what she's doing is wrong. Still she actually takes a shine to Harold and his kind, light-hearted ways. This is the kind of role that Paul Giamatti usually plays, by the way (a bit rough around the edges, but with a big heart and sympathetic and what not).
In the end, she decides to remove herself from her fathers schemes, and promises to write Harold. Though this was a random and oddly developed subplot, I found myself wanting to see more of Harold-Madeleine, so kudos Julian Fellowes.
The issue with Thomas
Disappointingly, "Downton" has decided to revert Thomas back to being a one-dimensional bad guy. I expected more after his interesting character development last season with the whole Jimmy Kent situation.
But instead he has reverted to the guy who just tries to get information from Baxter (to no avail -- she finally, emphatically stands up to him and says she wont do his bidding) and being really angry for no reason at Branson.
Apparently, he's seething with anger that he has to serve Branson. So when Branson brings Sarah Bunting home to check out Downton, Thomas concocts a lie to tell Robert, implying that something scandalous was going on between Branson and Sarah in the house while the family was away.
Robert seems upset, and he only hints at what he knows to Branson. But will anything come of this?
The characterization of Thomas has been a low point this year. Do we not know what to do with him any longer? Must we have taken him back to his very old (and tired) Season 1 ways? Also, is there a point to withholding the Baxter Secret?
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SEASON FINALE
Most annoying valet ever: The Jar Jar Binks of the episode was Ethan Slade, Harold Levinson's valet. He's super-wide eyed and forward and really American and loud. And extremely irritating.
Brought in for (supposed) comic relief, we have to watch him try to ask Carson "what's going on" between Alfred and Daisy ("Nothing's going on!" Carson says), not know that he's supposed to be silent while offering food and being generally there.
His one function of consequence is trying to persuade Daisy to move to New York to become Harold's cook. She declines, but Ivy readily accepts. Yes, no more Ivy!
Although, to be fair, we did get this one funny exchange:
Ethan: Are you excited?
Daisy: I'm never excited.
BFFs: How cute are Isobel and the Dowager Countess? They deserve their own spinoff. My idea: Downton finally falls into financial ruin, forcing Violet and Isobel to move in together in a small one bedroom apartment. Working title: "Cramped Style."
This interaction, while the two traveled together to London, was priceless:
Violet: "Cora insisted I come without a maid. I can't believe she understood the implications."
Isobel: "Which are?"
Violet: "How do I get a guard to take my luggage? And when we arrive in London, what happens then?"
Isobel: "Fear not. I've never traveled with a maid, you can share my knowledge of the jungle."
Best moment: How cute was seeing Carson and Mrs. Hughes hold hands as they waded into the sea?
Also coming on Season 5: Will we ever find out what will happen to Bates and Anna and if Bates actually killed Green? In this episode, Mrs. Hughes find a ticket that shows that Bates was in London the day Green was killed. Hughes refuses to tell Anna (or condemn Bates for what he may or may not have done). She shows the ticket to Mary, who also doesn't tell Anna, but makes it clear to Bates what she knows.
Best new couple: Lord Merton, preciously awkward, continues his wooing of Isobel, also preciously awkward. Get on it, you too.
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