The Crawley family and their devoted staff are back in Downton Abbey Season 4
, now airing in the U.K. (U.S. viewers, stick with us! We'll be re-posting Naz's recaps when Season 4 airs on PBS beginning in January.) We're sure you're just as eager as we are to get to it, so without further ado...
Note for U.S. Viewers: Last night's episode of Downton Abbey was aired as “Episode 8” on PBS but originally aired as “Episode 9,” or “the Christmas Special,” in the U.K. in December, when this recap was first posted.
Note: This post contains SPOILERS for all aired episodes of Downton Abbey, including last night's season finale/Christmas special, 4x09. Enjoy!
And we’re finally here! The two-hour Christmas special that will (hopefully) tie up some loose ends (who will Mary end up with?) and give us a nice, uplifting ending to the season. Yes, I’m holding out hope that we won’t have anyone dying at the end of this season!
We start eight months after we left off, with Mrs. Hughes telling Daisy that the two of them will be going to London while the family’s in residence for Rose’s coming out extravaganza. Apparently, the London housekeeper has fallen ill and Mrs. Hughes has no choice but to step in and help. It’ll be fun to see Daisy in London! And Thomas is back to his bitter self, and is resenting the fact that he has to serve Tom, who if he had remained the chauffeur, would technically be beneath Thomas in the pecking order. Oy, Thomas! Seriously man. Give it up!
Meanwhile, a very tired (according to Ivy) Edith is back from Geneva, and is thinking about possibly going to London with the family. She tries to convince Tom to join her, but he claims work. Of course, he’s going to have to go to Rose’s ball, but he refuses to join the family while they’re going through all the pre-ball hoopla. Any way, Edith goes to visit Violet, and we find out that Edith had a daughter, whom she left with a family in Geneva. Violet tries to make light of Edith’s heartache, but completely misses the mark.
Oh, look! We finally get to see Grantham House in London, and it’s magnificent! The family’s all decked out for a night out, and Rose, who seems to have completely gotten over her disappointment over Jack Ross, is begging to go to a nightclub after the obligatory concert and dinner she’s attending with the family. Mary tells Cora to just accept the fact that Rose is a “flapper” and let her do what she wants to do. In the meantime, Cora tells Carson that she wants him to arrange an outing for the staff to thank them for all the hard work that’s lying in wait for them in the week ahead.
Of course Rose gets her way and goes to the Embassy Club with her friend, Madeleine Allsop, who is Lord Aysgarth’s daughter. Apparently, the old Lord likes the nightclub scene too, and as they walk over to his table, they see that he is hosting the Prince of Wales and his mistress, Freda Dudley Ward. The Prince knows who Rose is through her father, and the girls are asked to join the party. Rose is very pleasant (and polite) and ends up striking a friendship with Freda.
Back at Downton, Tom is on his way to the pub in the village for dinner when he runs into Sarah. Just as he asks her to join him, he’s interrupted by Violet who just wants to say goodbye to him before she leaves for London. She gives Sarah a once-over, but then has her driver move on. Over dinner, Sarah asks Tom if she could see the house, and when he takes her over there, she insists on going up the stairs to get a view of the great hall from the gallery. Tom’s very uncomfortable taking her up to the bedroom level, but she just runs up the stairs. As he’s trying to get her to come down, Thomas walks by and Tom starts defending himself and tries to explain the situation. Thomas of course, is acting all congenial, but you can see the wheels turning in his head. He’s found an excuse to make Tom look bad, and we all know he’s going to use this somehow. Sigh.
In London, Charles Blake comes over to the House to take Mary out on a date. Yay! I love that she’s going out with him! They’re going out to have lunch and then to the Summer Exhibition. Meanwhile, Cora’s mother Martha shows up earlier than expected, with Cora’s brother Harold in tow. No one’s at the house to greet them, but just as they are about to walk in, Edith, Mrs. Hughes, and Daisy drive up from the station, so Edith acts as the host. Martha’s her old irascible self, criticizing everything and being generally brash. Apparently, her maid has quit, so now the staff is overtaxed with having to take care of her. Harold’s valet, Ethan Slade, is a bubbly young man and immediately takes an interest in Daisy. Harold himself is not exactly a joyful person and is not really looking forward to anything British, including the debutants and the food!
The House is crazy with activity. The family is hosting a dinner that evening, followed by a less formal gathering where others will join them, and end with a supper, so the staff is really busy. Oh, before Daisy left Downton to come up to London, Thomas asked her to give Mrs. Baxter a message. He told her to let Baxter know that he’s looking forward to her stories. When Daisy relays the message, Baxter looks a bit scared, but also confused. I’m dying to know what Thomas has on her. It has to be something pretty significant! Molesley overhears the conversation, and sees the look of panic on Baxter’s face, and you can tell that he’s concerned for her.
Over at the exhibition, while Mary teases Charles about his plots to defeat the upper classes,and they run into Rose, Freda, and Lord Gillingham. Charles and Tony glare at each other a bit, and when asked if they are going to join the party that evening, they have a bit of a verbal tiff, but both assure Mary that they will be there. Ah. I see. So, Mary’s kind of playing them off against each other. Interesting.
Back at the House, Mr. Carson asks Mrs. Hughes to help him with the staff outing. He has some ideas and wants to take the staff to various museums or historical sites. You can see that Mrs. Hughes is totally not in line with him, so she suggests that he present his ideas to the staff and see what they would like to do. Hah! This should be good. When Mr. Carson runs his suggestions by the staff, you can see the absolute lack of enthusiasm on their faces. So, Mrs. Hughes, in a bit of subterfuge, tacks a picture of the beach on Mr. Carson’s bulletin board in his office. It seems that that does the trick! He calls Mrs. Hughes in and tells her that he feels his plans might be a bit too complicated for a day out, so he suggests that they all go to the beach for a bit of relaxation. Yay, Mrs. Hughes!
The evening’s in full swing at the House when Rosamund walks in with Terence Sampson! Remember him? He’s the cad who cheated everyone at cards until Gregson outed him at the house party at Downton! Robert is horrified, but Cora tells him that there is really nothing they could do, so he needs to control himself. And apparently, Sampson is old friends with Lord Aysgarth. He tells Aysgarth that Martha and Harold are filthy rich, which prompts the older gentleman to make a move on Martha, while he encourages his daughter Madeleine to do the same with Harold. She’s not happy about it, but does start making an effort with him. Meanwhile, Mary wants to know why Tony hadn’t mentioned to Charles that he was coming over to the party. Really, Mary? Why would he tell his competition that he was planning on spending a lovely evening with you? Hah!
Rose and Freda plan on going back to the Embassy after supper, and Sampson decides to join them. At the club, Freda shows a love letter she received from the Prince to Madeleine and Rose, and as they sit at their table, Rose mentions something about it. When they all get up to dance and Sampson is left alone at the table, he snatches Freda’s purse and steals the letter! Uh oh!
The next morning, Edith visits Rosamund and updates her on the situation with Gregson. Edith has power of attorney over his business affairs, and Rosamund suggests that she also find out if there’s a will. Edith brings up the baby and how sad she is about having left her behind in Geneva, and Rosamund cautions her that the best way to deal with the situation is to forget about it. But Edith is not convinced.
Downstairs, Mrs. Hughes tells Anna that she’s picking up a collection for the Russian refugees, and would appreciate any old clothes that the staff can donate. Anna promises to look through Bates’s stuff and get rid of the some of the older items, if only to encourage him to buy new things. She brings over Bates’s great coat, and Mrs. Hughes finds a train ticket from York to London in the pocket, dated the same day that Green was killed! Oh no! So Bates was in London that day! Of course, Mrs. Hughes jumps to the same conclusion we all are, and takes the ticket to Mary, basically dumping the decision to let Anna know on her lap. At first, Mary agrees to just let things go, but then she tells Mrs. Hughes that it’s not right for them to keep something secret that might point to the murder of a man. Even when Mrs. Hughes reminds her that this might get Bates in serious trouble, and that he might possibly be hanged for it, Mary refuses to budge, and says that she is going to do something about it. Ugh, ugh, ugh.
Back at Crawley House in the village, Lord Merton visits Isobel to see if she’s planning on going to London for Rose’s coming out ball, because if she is, he would go as well. It’s very cute to see Isobel nervous around a man. Any way, she says she’s not going to go at first, but a few days later, she changes her mind and writes to Lord Merton to let him know that she’s going to be in London for the ball. He shows up at her house to thank her for writing him and to see her off as she joins Violet on the way to the station. This is so cute! He’s clearly interested in her and she’s like a little blushing school girl! When Violet shows up and bemoans the fact that Cora insisted she travel without a maid, Isobel assures her that all will be well, because she knows how to handle things like getting the porters to load and unload the luggage at the station, etc.
Violet: “Can’t you even offer help without sounding like a trumpeter on the peak of the moral high ground?”
Isobel: “And must you always sound like the sister of Marie Antoinette?”
Violet: “The queen of Naples was a stalwart figure. I take it as a compliment.”
Isobel: “You take everything as a compliment.”
Violet: “I advise you to do the same. It saves many an awkward moment!”
Ha ha ha! These two crack me up. They’ve clearly become the best of friends, but they just don’t want to admit it!
Rose’s presentation day is finally here and as she curtsies to the King, the Prince mentions that she’s Shrimpie’s daughter, and the King ends up having a nice conversation with her about her father. Later, Rose runs into Freda who tells her the letter is missing. Of course, this is a great calamity and can make great trouble for the Prince!
At the dinner following the presentation, Harold tells Madeleine that her father is wasting his time “courting” Martha, because any money Martha has reverts back to him when she dies. He also tells Madeleine that he’s not the right sort of man for her. Madeleine is terribly embarrassed, and Harold is not happy about having hurt her, so he decides to invite her to a picnic the next day to apologize. Martha, Violet, Isobel, and Lord Aysgarth join them, and Harold ends up being very frank with Madeleine, letting her know that he really didn’t mean to upset her, but wanted her to know that he’s not the marrying kind. They end up striking a friendship of sorts, and she stops pretending to flirt with him, which of course, he finds very endearing.
That afternoon, Rose tells Robert about the letter, and lets him know that she blames herself for Sampson’s even knowing about the letter. Robert gets upset and decides to come up with a scheme to steal the letter back from Sampson’s rooms. They let Mary and Cora know what’s going on, and come up with a crazy plan to invite all the men, including Sampson, over for some poker that evening, and send Mary, Rose, and Charles Blake over to Sampson’s rooms to retrieve the letter. They need a note from Sampson to the porter to let them in, so Robert asks Bates if he knows any forgers from his time in prison. Bates tells him that he’ll take care of it, takes a letter that Robert received from Sampson and presumably takes it over to his friend to forge a note. But Bates is forging it himself! Hah! Seems our Mr. Bates has learned a new thing or two in prison!
Any way, the family decides to keep this away from Martha, Violet, and Isobel and complicate an already frankly ridiculous plan by asking Rosamund to invite the ladies to go to the theatre and then have dinner with her. Well, since the ladies had been off on a picnic during the day with Lord Aysgarth and Harold, they excuse themselves from another outing in the evening, all except Martha who accepts the invitation. They end up having to let Violet know what’s going on, and she’s just as anxious as Robert. The little band of thieves fail to find the letter in Sampson’s rooms, and Rose sends a message down to Bates letting him know that their scheme didn’t work. Bates decides to step in, and tells Mr. Carson that he’ll help with the coats when the guests are ready to leave, and as he helps Sampson put on his coat, he steals the letter from him! Clearly, Sampson was not stupid enough to keep a treasure like that out of his sight, and kept it in his coat pocket! Bates to the rescue again! Wow! Bates really has learned a lot in prison! Another upside to this whole scenario is that once Mary hears of Bates’s assistance, she decides to forget about the ticket stub and throws it in the fire. Phew!
Oh, before everyone leaves the card game, Charles tells Mary that he’s delighted with the fact that she called him for help when she was in trouble, and asks her to give them a chance.
Mary: “Are you sure? My lot’s going down and your lot’s coming up. Is that a receipt for a peaceful co-existence?”
Charles: “I wouldn’t put it like that. I’d say I believe in the future, and so could you.”
I really, really like him. I also find it really amusing to see how Mary is blatantly “dating” two men, especially since the men clearly know each other, and have had a sort of a friendship in the past. It’s a bit bizarre to see Tony give way to Charles after the card game, or for Charles to have given way to Tony at the dinner party. And I love how Mary’s not really encouraging either one of them especially, and is very frank with both about how unsure she is about her feelings.
In the Edith corner, she goes over to Rosamund’s house again to give her an update. Apparently, Gregson was attacked by a group of “brown shirts” when he arrived in Germany, but nothing else is known. Any way, Edith tells Rosamund that she can’t let go of Michael’s baby, especially if he’s willed her his money. She’s clearly conflicted, and even though Rosamund tries her best to get her to stick to the original plan, Edith is conflicted. When Robert asks her if she’s okay, she tells him that she would never do anything to hurt him. This is curious. I wonder what she has planned? I bet she’s going to get her baby back. But, how is she going to explain it to everyone?
And we’re finally at the much anticipated ball. The House looks absolutely amazing, and everyone looks beautiful. Right before Robert steps in to open the ball, the Prince shows up and asks Rose for the first dance. What an honor for her! Turns out that Freda told him Rose just did him the greatest favor of his life (she is, of course, speaking of the letter), so he came over to repay her. Violet corners Tom and reminds him that the people he sees at the ball are his people now, and that they are his family. He tells her that while they are family, they’re not quite his people. She tells him that that is a challenge he must overcome, and he challenges her back by asking her to dance! It’s really great to see Violet support Tom like that. Later, as Tom’s chatting with Edith, he tells her that since the two of them are the rebels, they should always speak their minds and stand up to the family. I don’t think he would’ve said that to Edith if he knew what was going on with her. Edith immediately walks over to where Cora and Rosamund are talking and tells them that she’s going back to Downton in the morning. Rosamund immediately recognizes that Edith has made up her mind, and tries to subtly dissuade her, but Edith won’t budge.
Well, Lord Aysgarth takes the opportunity of the beautiful setting to ask for Martha’s hand, which she promptly refuses. She tells him that she is not interested in becoming the next “boring” Lady Aysgarth, and instead, invites him to visit her in Newport where she’ll invite other older ladies who would be interested to meet him. Hah! And, Madeleine reassures Harold that regardless of what he thinks of himself, he’s kind, intelligent, and worthy of finding a good woman to marry. Harold’s clearly touched and it’s really sweet to see Madeleine’s honest appraisal of him. Over in the corner, Isobel and Violet are standing together when Lord Merton starts walking over. Isobel gets really nervous and Violet teases her that she’s going to be taken “down the primrose path of dalliance.” Of course, when Merton asks Isobel for a dance, she accepts, to Violet’s smirking delight! Tee hee! Any way, as Violet is leaving to go to bed, she runs into Martha and they have another sarcastic debate, where Martha lets Violet know that she turned Aysgarth down because she is “not interested in becoming a great lady,” and get a final jab in by telling Violet that the old ways are out, and that she’s the face of the future. Ugh. I’m not a big fan of Martha. I mean, fine. We get it. You don’t like the old fashioned way things are run in England, but do you have to rub it in at every single turn?
Back at the ball, it seems that Mary has promised to spend time with Tony first, so they dance the first dance and then step away to have a private talk. While Tony continues to plead his case, he’s not as forward as Charles:
Tony: “I don’t suppose there’s any progress on whether or not it’s going to turn out well for me.”
Mary: “Oh, Tony, I wish I knew! I feel so cruel dangling you and Charles and even Evelyn on the end of a string.”
Tony: “You didn’t refuse Charles either, then?”
Mary: “I tried, but he wouldn’t have it.”
She goes on to tell him that she doesn’t feel it would work with Charles because he wouldn’t understand that she was brought up to save Downton and keep it going for little George.
Mary: “Charles is on the other side of that struggle. He’s an outsider who resents the very people I come from. Even if he loves me, how can we pull as a team?”
Tony: “Of course, I should sing and dance to hear you say that, but you seem to have caught the wrong end of the stick with Charles.”
Mary: “What do you mean?”
Tony: “Charles is the heir to his father’s cousin, Sir Severus Blake. He is to inherit the Baronetcy on one of the largest estates in Oster (sic).”
Wait … what?? Wow! Okay, I like Charles even more now. Any way, Tony asks Mary if hearing this news makes a difference, and she tells him that knowing Charles is on the same “side” as her definitely makes a difference. But, she tells Tony that she’s still not sure, because a year ago, she felt that she was going to be alone for the rest of her life, but that now, she knows that’s not the case, and would like to celebrate the fact that she has a life to live.
Early the next morning, when the ball finally ends and Mary’s walking Charles out, she asks him why he didn’t say anything about his heritage to her, and he says that he didn’t want her to know, because he wanted her to like him for himself, and not his future title and inheritance.
The next day, Edith is back at Downton with Mr. Drewe. Basically, she plans on going back to Geneva, getting her baby back, and having Drewe adopt her. She tells him that they need to stick to the story that the baby’s parents are dead, and that’s why Drewe has adopted her. She tells Drewe that the baby belonged to a friend of hers, but Drewe figures out the truth, and tells her that the secret should just be between the two of them, so he will tell his wife that it was a friend of his who died, and bequeathed the care of his child to him. This is both a good and a bad idea and I’m dying to see how they deal with this development next season!
In a bit of a minor plot line, Slade’s interest in Daisy increases, and he even goes so far as to ask Mr. Carson if it’s okay for him to pursue her. Since Harold apparently really loves the food he’s been eating at the House, and since Daisy’s the one who’s cooked most of it, Slade recommends that she join them as Harold’s chef in New York. She ends up turning him down, but Ivy jumps at the chance and tells Slade that Harold doesn’t really know who’s been cooking the food, and that she can pretty much cook everything Daisy can. Between the two of them, they convince Slade that this is a good idea. When Mrs. Patmore asks Daisy if she’s okay with giving up this opportunity, Daisy says that she’s totally fine with it, and that she loved having a young man be interested in her the way Slade was. It’s very cute, and it shows how Daisy has grown as a character.
Oh, just a quick recap about Thomas: after his failed attempt to finagle his way into the back seat with Tom as they are ready to leave Downton for London, he ends up telling Robert about Sarah’s visit, only he makes it sound like some clandestine thing that Tom was doing. Robert talks to Tom briefly about it at the card table, but Tom doesn’t get a chance to really explain the situation. It’d be interesting to see where this goes next season.
Downstairs, Molesley overhears Thomas threatening Mrs. Baxter again, and tells her that she shouldn’t let him get away with it, and that whatever it is he has over her, she should know that there are others (like him) who are there for her. This gives Baxter the boost she needs and the next time Thomas tries to threaten her, she basically tells him off.
The episode ends with Mr. Carson, his trousers rolled up, scared to walk in to the water at the beach, and Mrs. Hughes telling him that he can hold her hand and that in fact, he can hold her hand any time he needs a bit of support. Aw! So cute!
And that’s it! I have to admit that I was a bit miffed about there being no real conclusions to Mary’s situation with either Tony or Charles, and that the entire episode with Anna was swept under the rug as if nothing happened. But, overall, it was a nice, upbeat episode and it definitely beat last season’s ending!
Downton Abbey fans, take note! The book Behind the Scenes of Downton Abbey may well be relevant to your interests—it's full of Season 4 goodness.
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Naz Keynejad is an avid reader, copy/story editor, and is currently working on her Masters degree in English literature. She’s a self-professed literary nerd and has a “thing” for period dramas. She will watch anything as long as it’s filled with British accents, suppressed sexual tension, angst, and of course, period costumes. Oh, and there has to be tea. Lots of tea.