Downton Abbey fans will be relieved to know that no one dies (Christmas Special 2012) and no one is arrested (end of Series 2), but then no one proposes (Christmas Special 2011) and no one is pregnant (Christmas Special 2011). There is a suggestion of romance and the hint of the events that will lead to World War II (you knew that was coming, right?). What was for the British a Christmas Special number three, is for us just the conclusion of “Downton Abbey” Series 4 (Part 8).
So what kind of tea is brewing in the summer of 1923? Everyone who’s important is giddy about the London Season which is the title of the special. The previous Christmas Special was “A Journey to the Highlands” which also meant the sudden departure of Matthew. The first Christmas Special was actually about Christmas and called “Christmas at Downton Abbey.” Apparently, there is a Grantham House in London that wasn’t sold because Matthew brought enough money to save it.
If you’ve been faithfully following this series, you might be surprised. No one pregnant? Sure the Tom (Allen Leech) and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) pregnancy was an added bonus to Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens) finally getting engaged in the 2011 Christmas Special (set in December 1919 an January 1920), but wasn’t Lady (who wasn’t acting like a lady for that one night) Edith (Laura Carmichael) was pregnant just last episode, but that was in August of 1922. We have jumped forward to the summer of 1923. Yes, Downton Abbey fans, what would spoil the gentility more than a pregnancy in Switzerland and seeing the sweat and swearing that comes with the delivery of a baby, and one that is a bastard in legal terms? The writers of “Downton Abbey” wouldn’t do that even to the tragic Lady Edith. Lady Mary makes it clear that she still heavily resents Lady Edith.
Lady Edith is back from Switzerland, having improved her French (but not her German). She begins dressed in purple, which could be considered half-morning. Lady Edith misses her baby and wants to bring the baby, not exactly to Downton Abbey, but close enough that she might peek in on it every now and then. The child is a girl (and no threat to Mary and Matthew’s baby boy in terms of inheritance) and Lady Edith wants to leave the child in the care of a local farmer. Lady Rosamund is bothered that Edith means to go back on her agreement to leave the child with a Swiss couple.
So far, the scheming Thomas has no clue. We also learn more about Mr. Gregson’s disappearance. He had a bit of a confrontation with what they called brownshirts at the time. They’ll soon get another name in the 1930s.
Thomas (Rob James-Collier) does resent Tom who married up for love and you know that’s something Thomas doesn’t quite understand. While everyone has gone to London, Tom brings a school teacher Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis) to Downton Abbey and to get a better view of the grandeur of the hall, they go upstairs to the gallery. Although they are just viewing the hall, Thomas sees them and decides to use this bit of information with some insinuation. Thomas implies to Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) that Tom had taken liberties with this woman, a virtual stranger, in the bedroom.
This isn’t the only scheming Thomas is involved in and he expects Miss Baxter to come up with some secrets from Lady Grantham, Cora. Baxter has befriended Molesley (Kevin Doyle) and he encourages her to be brave.
Lord Grantham has really too much to think about and scandal is very much on his mind. He’s back from America with his wife’s wayward brother Harold Levinson (Paul Giamatti) and his mother-in-law Martha (Shirley MacLaine) in two. Martha, who is Shirley MacLaine on sour lemons and sarcasm, has brought Harold along to distance him from the Teapot Dome scandal.
Harold finds a young lady to interest him (Poppy Drayton as Madeleine Allsopp), but really…would a girl that good looking look at Harold? Her father, Lord Aysgarth has little money and pushes Madeleine to pursue Harold while he pursues his mother, Martha.
Harold is actually the least of Lord Grantham’s concerns. Lady Rose (Lily James) is coming-out–not of any closet and not in terms of revealing her romantic inclinations with the suave but untitled and decidedly black Jack. She’s being presented to the Prince of Wales. (Oliver Dimsdale) Yet before her official presentation to the Prince, she gets to meet the Prince of Wales at a night club.
The Prince of Wales at that time might have viewed this debutante custom as a means of measuring up just whom he would be scandalizing high society with by next season. This sets up a nice contrast. Tom is a low-born, but well-mannered and honorable, but at the top of society, the Prince of Wales is high-born and not wise. He has sent a letter that could cause a scandal and Rose has let it slip in front of the villainous card sharp Lord Sampson that Freda Dudley Ward (Janet Montgomery) has it now…in her purse. Lord Sampson is left at a table watching the ladies purses and coats and swipes the letter.
Lord Grantham learns about this and has luckily brought Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), Carson (Jim Carter) and Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) down to London. Bates will use his criminal skills and this allows Lady Mary and Rose with the protection of Mr. Blake to play private eyes, snooping around Lord Sampson’s apartment. Yet to no avail. Lady Mary is already involved in the Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Mr. Bates problem and suspicions are raised about Mr. Bates and his whereabouts when a Mr. Green was killed. Will there be more espionage in Lady Mary’s future?
That’s not all, Mrs. Levinson’s maid has left and apparently one needs to have a “skin like a rhinoceros” to serve her according to Harold Levinson’s too-forward American valet, Ethan (Michael Benz). Ethan takes a shine to Daisy (Sophie McShera) who unfortunately doesn’t return his interest even when it opens up an opportunity, one that Ivy jumps at.
Isobel (Penelope Wilton) gets an inquiry about her attendance to the ball from Lady Mary’s godfather, Lord Merton (Douglas Reith). Lord Merton has become acquainted with Isobel at tea with Violet (Maggie Smith) and walked Isobel home. I think we’ll be seeing more of Lord Merton.
Of course, Mary is still being pursued by both Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) and Mr. Blake (Julian Ovenden), but Mr. Blake seems to have some connection with Mrs. Dudley Ward. And just when Mary finds reason to like Mr. Blake better.
Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) had promised the staff a day out as a treat after the ball at Grantham House. At the ball, because Mr. Bates have been able to find the letter, and bring it to Lord Grantham, apparently the Prince of Wales shows Mrs. Dudley Ward’s gratitude by appearing at Rose’s coming out ball. He and Rose open up the dance floor. Tom dances with Violet.
Mrs. Hughes gently guides Carson away from museums and the like and to a short seaside staff trip. Daisy might have sent away Ethan, but Carson and Mrs. Hughes are seen holding hands at the seaside and Molesley and Miss Baxter seem to be getting on well.
Series 5 looks like there will be more romance–both upstairs and down, and, of course, German-related intrigue and tragedy. Masterpiece Theatre “Downton Abbey” Series 4 concludes tonight on PBS at 9/8 C p.m. Afterward, it will be available VoD on the PBS website or the PBS YouTube channel.