'Downton Abbey' Recap: Season 4 Finale 'The London Season'

By Chris Baggiano,

“The London Season” capped off what was a lackluster fourth season of Masterpiece on PBS’s Downton Abbey with the most enjoyable and best episode of the season. As all season finales have done, “The London Season” jumped forward a considerable amount of time – about a year – and was more a standalone event than a true season finale.

With most of the storylines resolved, or nearly resolved, in last week’s episode, “The London Season” was allowed to focus on present day events instead of being dragged down into the variety of melodrama that had run season long. Yes, the loose ends of the plot threads from season four were tied up in the episode but they took a back seat to the ceremonial pomp, which is where Downton shines.

However, “The London Season” had a little extra gleam to it as Cora’s mother Martha, with Shirley MacLaine reprising her role, and her brother Harold, played by the wonderful Paul Giamatti, visit for Rose’s debutante. So not only did Downton allow the audience to gallivant from function to function but it gave us Giamatti, to boot. A grand season finale indeed.

“The London Season” was, for obvious reasons, an episode that revolved around Rose more than the other Granthams. Careening from function to function, be it a night out at a swanky club or being presented to the King of England, Rose takes center stage. Even with all the costume changes and Buckingham Palace audience – where the king actually speaks to her – Rose also became embroiled in a royal scandal, which is just the kind of ridiculous circumstance that put the Granthams into some silly sticky situations.

Before being presented, Rose go out to a bar with Madeleine Allsop and Freda Dudley Ward, two other debutantes. Ms. Dudley Ward reveals to Rose a love letter she has received from the Prince of Wales. Unfortunately, Rose does not make the best confidant and she almost announces the letter’s contents to a table that includes both the Prince of Wales and the poker cheat Mr. Sampson. Sampson steals the letter as the ladies and the other men go to dance and so the game is afoot.

When Rose tells Robert what has happened and that she feels responsible a cockamamie scheme is formulated. Robert decides to hold a poker game, including Harold and his rich American-ness, so that Sampson will not be able to say no. While the poker game is on Rose, Mary, and Mr. Blake are tasked to go to Sampson’s residence to find the letter – a veritable A-Team. To get into the house Rose and the gang need a letter from Sampson saying they are granted access and Robert turns to Bates to have “his friend” forge the letter.

Another layer of Bates is peeled away as he is actually the forgery expert and he quickly crafts a letter. Robert also has planned a night out for Violet, Isobel, and Martha but there were no repercussions when Violet and Isobel declined to attend the night of theater.

The plan goes off without a hitch but, alas, Rose and company do not find the letter at Sampson’s apartment. Luckily Bates has a particular set of skills and is there at the most opportune time as the poker game breaks up. As he offers Sampson his coat Bates makes sure to pull the letter from the inner breast pocket of the coat before placing it Sampson’s shoulders. With the letter now in safe hands the Prince of Wales makes a special guest appearance at Rose’s debutante ball and becomes her first dance, making Rose the talk of the town.

The whole plot sounds somewhat silly, and it is, but it is where Downton excels. While there was a chance of some serious repercussions for the Prince of Wales it was a very light hearted and entertaining plot, the kind of which season four has mostly lacked. It was good to see the Granthams completely out of their element amongst this very high-class background.

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