Downton Abbey Season 4 Finale: We All Float On

At the close of yet another season, the popular drama concludes with a quiet sigh and not a traumatic roar.

I am no stranger to nerdery. I’m a band geek, a theater kid, and an unapologetic fan of all things Harry Potter. But my nerdery took to new heights on Friday night, when I headed off to the Fayetteville Free Library in Fayetteville, NY for their annual Downton Abbey finale party and fundraiser.

I walked into the library and immediately felt at home among my fellow Downton fans. All decked out in our 1920s formalwear, we played Downton Abbey trivia, took pictures and had some refreshments. The crowd was mostly older, and some of the costumes weren’t costumes at all: the man who won the costume contest was wearing an authentic set of tails sewn in the 1920s. The mood was joyous and delightfully nerdy as we all waited for the screening of the finale.

Oh, about that. The finale. I’d almost forgot it happened at all.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been binge-watching House of Cards and immersed in the dark, complex literary references of True Detective. Maybe I was expecting something more exciting based on last season’s outrageous conclusion, with the shocking death of Matthew Crawley at the 11th hour. Or maybe it’s only now that I’m realizing how little this story has really moved along since the beginning of its fourth season.

The season finale took us off the abbey’s lush grounds into the heart of London, where the family was staying to attend Rose’s debutante presentation. In British aristocratic custom, Rose (along with a hundred other young ladies) is paraded before the king, the queen, and eligible bachelors within the upper classes who might like to snatch her up and marry her. All the while the Crawley family worked together to save face for the Prince of Wales, who came to Rose’s after-party to offer a first dance. Is young Rose about to embark on another scandalous romance? Juicy.

But mostly, the episode felt a little bit like a dying balloon. 

In a few moments, it looked able to hold its own and rise again in triumph, defying all the forces of gravity and gravitas pulling it down. The scene in which Mary, Rose and Charles Blake sneak into Mr. Samson’s apartment building to recover a love letter that Samson hopes to use to blackmail the Prince of Wales and his lover was mildly exciting. However, the drama of that storyline is dwarfed by the real story behind Edward and Freda’s affair. Now that is a juicy story.

Meanwhile Mary continues her usual flirtations with the cadre of suitors following her like poor ducklings. Evelyn Napier is now totally off the scene, but neither Charles Blake or Anthony Gillingham is willing to concede. Mary learns that Charles is, in fact, a worthy competitor: he is the heir of a wealthy estate just like her own. This no doubt complicates her situation further, and it is sure to drag on (and on) in season five. 

I am glad to see at the very least that Mary’s priority remains the estate and her son. She doesn’t need a man, really, but in this world she should marry anyway - eventually. Who shall it be? Honestly, I hope a more exciting choice comes along.

New to the show is Paul Giamatti, playing Cora’s playboy brother Harold, an American senator. In an effort to distance himself from the Teapot Dome Scandal, Harold comes to London for Rose’s presentation. Clearly jaded by love, Harold meets and quickly falls head over heels for a British gal, just as his valet falls head over heels for Daisy. Nothing comes from either of these brief trysts, and the Americans leave the scene as quickly as they came.

Thankfully, there are hints that Edith may yet become the strong, independent lady I have always hoped she would be. Linda Holmes at the NPR Monkey See blog wrote a brilliant essay this week on Edith and her decision to bring her baby girl back from Switzerland. Though the whole shamed-into-silence thing still irks me, Edith’s newfound gall is heartening.

All in all, this finale felt a bit like a walk in the park with some of my favorite people. It’s nice to see everyone getting on so well, finding their paths, fighting the good fight, and so on and so forth. The challenge comes in this: though I’m pleased there were no surprise deaths this year, there were also no real cliffhangers. There are no truly pressing conflicts left unresolved. 

Sure, Mr. Bates’ integrity is still up in the air, but I still maintain that he didn’t do it. Frankly, I’m kind of worn out on this whole “Bates is a secret bad guy” idea. 

And sure, we still don’t know what Thomas has over Baxter. But after that sweet scene on the beach, where Baxter found her bravery, stood up to Thomas and admitted to Moseley that she has a past (don’t we all), do we really care anymore?

I’m not alone in wondering if Downton Abbey is nearing its end. At this point, I could stop watching Downton Abbey and be perfectly content. It’s been a wonderful show, with loveable and loathsome characters, and plot lines that alternately made me clutch my pearls, cover my eyes in horror, and cry like a baby for happy and sad reasons alike. And what better way to end than that beautiful moment between Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson by the sea?

But I’m tired. A fifth season is currently in production, and I do plan to watch it when it comes to our side of the pond. I hope Fellowes can float to a pleasing end that feels neither drawn out nor manufactured. I’d hate to see it grow stale. Better to admit that we’ve had some good times and walk away. Like Lady Mary, I think I’m finally ready to move on.

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