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Downton Abbey, the London Season (2013)

Somber as it was during its primary episodes – as the Masterpiece Theatre viewers are discovering (Annie, seriously, your tweets on Sunday made me giggle and spike curiosity of your thoughts), I was still transfixed by the delights of the fourth season of Downton Abbey. With the U.S. DVD release finally happening this week, I figured it was time to share my thoughts on what was the proper finale for season four – the always anticipated Christmas special. 

During the summer of 1923, playing guardians over their headstrong cousin, Rose (Lily James), Robert and Cora (Hugh Bonvillle, Elizabeth McGovern) are preparing to take part in yet another London Season in order for Rose to come out like every other young woman in her social circle. Giddy with excitement over the pageantry and being presented to the monarchy, the family has taken up residence in their London home for the season including select servants, Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Carson (Jim Carter) as well as Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) who is finally beginning to return to her old self over a year past Matthew’s death. Joining in the festivities is Cora’s mother, Martha (Shirley MacClaine) – whose flamboyancy constantly clashes with the Crawley matriarch, Violet (Maggie Smith), and her son Harold (Paul Giamatti) who has never even been to London let alone met his nieces. As American’s the Levingson’s culture clashes greatly with that of the British aristocracy but when the young, Madeline (Poppy Drayton) is pawned off on Harold by her father in the hope that a match will be made between the wealthy Harold (whose money he'd like to use) and Madeline, Harold’s prejudice towards the British slowly begins to fade away...

At the Downton Abbey estate, Edith (Laura Carmichael) is suffering from guilt and second guessing a recent life-altering decision. Attempting to reassure her that her missing lover will be found, Rosalind (Samantha Bond) lends nothing more than affirmation that Edith made the right choice yet Edith’s heart continues to say differently.  Tom (Allen Leech) is still feeling misplaced in the family’s society – particularly with Rose’s London ball imminent and his expected attendance… only his own moral is called into question when – surprise! – Thomas (Rob James-Collier) makes trouble.

Rounding out what was surely a dramatic and sober albeit a necessary season of healing for the wildly popular Fellowes penned series was this 90-minute special and all I can say is – what a treat it was. By the time everything came to a close I was put in a happy mood and I took pleasure in many of the scenes or interactions throughout the episode – Anna is actually smiling again, folks. Aside from one revolution (that could be confirming suspicion or misleading us), everything that happens is pleasing and reveals more about the characters (especially Bates and Mary) we were already sure were loyal and upstanding. Mary is finally returning and even enjoys a bit of playful flirting with her would-be suitor Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) and has an important heart-to-heart with Tony (Tom Cullen). Rose is still a fun presence every episode though I confess I’m growing weary of Tom’s restlessness – his character needs resolution. Since first we met him, he’s matured to a point that he is no longer an outsider but an important member of the Crawley clan yet his constant feelings of inadequacy need to be put to rest. Either he stays (as so many of us wish for) and realizes he is indeed loved and important or he leaves to begin again. Then, of course there is the continued evil shenanigans of Thomas (can I just give a “hurrah” for Baxter – you go girl! Thank goodness someone finally put him in his place even if only temporarily) and then there is Edith. Sigh… I’m not sure she’ll ever understand the ramifications of her choices or will be ever gifted a happy ending. Poor thing may have a beautiful wardrobe but it seems she’s forever falling short of being truly happy.

Speaking of the costuming, same as always, it’s gorgeous. From Rose’s season ensemble to those gowns Edith dons, the beauty in each parlor or ball room spectacle is breath-taking. Those of us who’ve watched from the beginning will probably find the costuming particularly smashing since it’s evolved so much given its range of time frames – at the beginning, we’d just experienced the sinking of the RMS Titanic to now, fully engulfed in the roaring 20’s (further evidenced by the club scenes and Mary referring to Rose as a “flapper”). Furthermore weaving into the script are some cute bits of sleuthing as well as Daisy getting a small albeit darling story, all of which prove what a lighthearted bit of television this 90 minutes was. By the time the final moments rolled around I didn’t wish for it to end and if anything, my expectations are again in a tither over what’s to come for season five – not because the ending is a cliffhanger just because season four did anything but drive me away. Well done, Downton Abbey.

What about you friends, what is your thoughts on the season thus far? Or did you watch it all this week thanks to those marvelous U.S. DVD sets that arrived in our mailboxes this week..?
I'm curious for your thoughts. 
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  1. I've only watched the first season so far. But it's on my list of things to pick up again if I ever want a TV show!

    1. Awesome. Glad you enjoyed S1 enough to keep it on your list, Susan. Hope you continue to if/when you pick it up again. :)

  2. I watched the rest of the season Tuesday evening/night, but I probably should have waited until the next day to watch the feels a bit fuzzy to me, probably because by that point, I was so sleepy. :) I kept getting Madeline and the girl with the prince confused.

    I am so sick of Thomas! I'll admit that I wasn't the biggest fan of Tom back at the very beginning, but he has grown on me tremendously and I hated seeing Thomas make him doubt himself even more. I was glad to see Daisy get her own little plotline, but I really just want her and a boy to like each the same time. She deserves a good romance! My absolute favorite part of this whole episode (and quite possibly the whole season, except for maybe the muddy Mary incident, which I found absurdly funny :) was the very last scene. So sweet. :)

    Overall, I feel the tiniest bit disappointed with this season. It had its moments and it definitely kept me interested (and I still love the characters enough that I'll always continue to watch them), but it just didn't seem as amazing as I had hoped. The 20s costumes are fabulous, though. :)

    1. I don’t blame you for finishing the series, Kristin – my mom and I are often powerless to “just watch one more.” ;)

      Thomas… you’ll get no argument from me there! I don’t miss O’Brien in the least because Thomas is plenty evil (loved that Baxter put him in his place… even if it was just for the moment). Many fans feel the same as you about Tom, he’s someone who has changed a great deal from beginning to now though I really wish he’d settle. He was going to leave, and then he seemed to realize he could be useful to the estate and was “happy,” now he’s back to thinking of America. Ugh. I don’t want to see baby Sybbie leave! Oh. My. Word. I adored that scene with Mary just because it was so against Mary’s character not because it added to the overall story. That ending WAS perfect – Carson and Mrs. Hughes? They are the glue in that downstairs family. (Daisy is a doll and I agree; she needs to get her own romance.)

      Many fans were disappointed in S4. I felt no disappointment with exception to the Anna subplot which I thought was unnecessary and in fact saw it as a great period of healing for both avid fans and its characters. Glad you kept an interest though and are still enjoying it despite the changes – those costumes don’t hurt any of the allure! :)

  3. Great review the season. Have to admit, this season wasn't my favorite...I almost didn't stick with it, but I started to like it better toward the end. :) Some of the usual humor and quippy fun felt a little lost underneath sooo much somberness. In a way, the whole season felt like a setup for season five...but maybe that was just me. Regardless, there were definitely moments I enjoyed! I like how Branson has changed since the early seasons. I used to not care for his character at all, but he's been coming into his own a little more. And I still love Mary--I always liked her even when she was just horrid. :)

    1. Thanks for reading, Melissa!

      I can totally understand why this season wasn't fan's favorite. With exception to the ordeal with Anna, I loved it. I admired the somberness because honestly had things started the same as past seasons, I think that would have been unrealistic whereas Mary's difficulty in moving on was depicted quite well. That being said, now things are starting to cheer up a bit and things moving onwards, I was pleased with this sweet, much more happy episode and am very excited to start anticipating S5. Hopefully it'll be entertaining if nothing else. :)

      Tom is way more mature than he once was, I just wish the guy would settle. And Mary... same here! I've always liked her even when most viewers couldn't stand her. :)

  4. I still need to get caught up with season 4. I'm so glad it ends on an up note!

    1. Me, too, Merry. Overall, despite my one issue with S4, I find it just as lovely as ever. :)


  5. Just out of curiosity, have you watched Season 5 yet? And if so, what is your opinion on the journey they chose to put Rose on?

    God Bless
    Eleanor Rose

    1. Not yet. I'm watching it in a couple of weeks and then will be prepping reviews to coincide with the January U.S. airing on a period review website. I'm both nervous and excited about that, but most of all am looking very much forward to S5! :)

      Did you enjoy this season, Eleanor?

  6. I haven't actually watched it yet, and to be honest, none of the story-lines they included have really captured my interest enough for me to do so, especially with the absence of Matthew (although I wouldn't mind just skimming through and seeing Mary's interactions with Mr. Blake, as well as Carson and Mrs. Hughes...too cute!!)

    However, Season 5 seems to have kicked things up a notch, and I especially enjoyed learning about what they've done with Rose's story...I would watch it for that alone! Can't wait to read your opinions.

    God Bless
    Eleanor Rose

    1. Nothing wrong with not being interested anymore. I know many fans have fallen away - it's still one of my guilty pleasures though. I have to admit it. :)

      I do like Mary with Blake (but I'm not sure she picks him...) and Carson and Mrs. Hughes are all aww...

      Well, if you see it, I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts, Eleanor and as usual, I'll be sharing my (likely) gushing thoughts. :)


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