'Downton Abbey' Season 4 Christmas special: A heist for the Prince of Wales

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downton-abbey-christmas-special-season-4.jpgAnother year of the "Downton Abbey" Christmas special and another two-hour offering full of intrigue and wonderful character developments. Spoiler alert -- don't keep reading if you don't want to be spoiled.

Upstairs

The game is afoot with the Crawley family, as they are in London for Lady Rose's coming out. In the goings-on of "the season" in London, Rose is keeping company with Freda Dudley Ward, a young woman who in real life was the mistress of the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII, son of George V and uncle to the reigning Queen Elizabeth II).

A love letter that Prince Edward wrote to Freda is stolen from her handbag by the nefarious Sampson -- the card cheat whom Michael Gregson outed at Downton earlier in the season. Lord Grantham won't have his family partially responsible for more gossip about the monarchy, so Robert's Eleven swing into action to pull off a heist to get the letter back.

In doing so, Bates is actually the hero (he swipes the letter from Sampson's overcoat) and all is right with the world of high society London and the British monarchy. The Prince of Wales even opens Lady Rose's ball because he owes the Crawleys such a debt. There are also a few references made to Prince Edward's notorious wandering eye -- a decade after this episode is set, he will abdicate the British throne in favor of marrying American divorcee Wallis Simpson, leaving Queen Elizabeth II's father, George VI, to take over.

Anyway, embroiled in the heist are both of "Mary's men," as the Dowager Countess calls them. Lord Tony Gillingham and Charles Blake are still very much interested in Mary, with Tony seeming to have an edge because he's "on her side" of moneyed estates versus the new world, as Mary sees it. However, in wanting all the cards to be on the table, Tony reveals to her that Charles actually is heir to an enormous estate in Ulster and isn't quite as against grounds like Downton as he may seem.

As Mary says in the final frames, let the battle commence.

Meanwhile, in what is actually the most compelling storyline of the special for us, Lady Edith is back from her eight-month trip to Geneva. Her baby girl, whom Edith actually weaned in the hospital, is with a Swiss couple, the Schroeders. Naturally, Edith is beside herself, because not only is Gregson still missing (and probably dead), but she actually spent time with her baby and it's all she can think about.

Edith eventually decides she got railroaded into giving the baby away by her grandmother and Aunt Rosamund, so she enlists tenant farmer Mr. Drew to raise the baby under the guise that his friend died and he and his wife will now care for the friend's child.

In a lovely scene, he swears to keep the secret just between the two of them -- and it seems as though he knows the baby is really Edith's, not her friend's, as she claims -- but with both the Dowager Countess and Aunt Rosamund knowing the truth, this is one secret that we fear won't stay secret very long in Season 5.

Downstairs

Tom Branson stays behind at Downton while most everyone else is in London and entertains Sarah Bunting for dinner at the village pub after running into her and inviting her to dine with him. She asks to see the estate (she's only been on the grounds, not inside the castle) and of course Thomas catches them on the second floor balcony.

Thomas, the weasel we all know and love (or love to hate), runs straight to Robert to rat Branson out. When confronted, Branson tries to explain to Robert how innocent it was, but he's incredibly awkward about it and you have to wonder what Robert thinks of the whole affair.

Thomas is also up to no good with Baxter once again, pressuring her to spill the secrets as to what is going on with Anna, Bates, Mrs. Hughes and Lady Mary. Baxter balks at this because she doesn't want to be his informant (and she also doesn't know as much as he thinks she does), but he threatens to out her secret if she doesn't start keeping him more informed.

Luckily, Molesley steps in to buck Baxter up and give her confidence to stand up to Thomas. She eventually decides Thomas can tell her secret, she's not going to cave.

Speaking of the secret, Mrs. Hughes finds a ticket in the pocket of Mr. Bates' old coat that Anna says she can give to the poor. It puts him in London on the day Mr. Green was killed. Mrs. Hughes takes the ticket to Lady Mary, who wants to confront him about it. She changes her mind, however, after he helps the Crawleys in the Prince of Wales letter scheme -- not once, but twice -- no questions asked. She sees how loyal he is to their family and decides to leave it alone.

Anna knows nothing of the ticket and no one tells her, leaving her and Bates to stroll happily on the beach during the staff outing. They seem to finally have a chance at happiness after the ugliness of the season.

Thoughts & Tidbits

  • Martha and Harold Levinson have come to London for Rose's presentation to society, but honestly, they don't add a lot to the special. Paul Giamatti is very good as Harold, of course. He's a playboy mostly because he's wealthy and not so much because he's especially good-looking or smooth, so he's an interesting character and actually rather sad at times. We liked the bit between him and Madeline Allsop, but it was a storyline that could have been explored further or just left out of the special.
  • Martha continues to be all abrasive and modern, but the show does just fine dealing with the changing world without her there to hit viewers over the head with it.
  • Harold's visit does, however, provide a nice storyline for the kitchen staff. He's so besotted with Daisy's cooking (and his valet, Ethan Slade, is so besotted with Daisy) that Harold wants her to move to America and cook for him. It doesn't interest Daisy, though. She's happy where she is, plus she does have William's father and the farm in England, which is perfectly fitting with Daisy's character. Ivy, however, seeing that Alfred is now a chef at the Ritz, jumps at the chance to "get out" of her humdrum life and leaves Downton to cook for Harold in the States.
  • The society balls also present a chance for Lord Merton to continue to woo Isobel Crawley. It's fun to watch how rather awkward she is and how much he loves her boldness and opinions. Here's hoping that's a storyline Season 5 continues exploring.
  • Speaking of new loves, we also love that the show hasn't jumped Tom or Mary straight into someone else's arms. It's nice that they're taking it slow and really giving the characters a chance to explore how hard it is to move on when your spouse dies.
  • Along those lines, do you think Gregson is dead or not? Will the show ever get to the bottom of it? Something we hadn't considered until this episode was that Sampson (the card cheat) was pretty irate with Gregson outing his underhanded dealings earlier this year. You don't suppose Sampson had anything to do with what happened to Gregson, do you?
  • The last scene, where Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson were holding hands and wading into the ocean, was just lovely. We don't 'ship them in a strictly romantic sense, but it's a comfortable love they have and it's nice to see them acknowledge it.

Best Lines:

Ethan: "Are you excited?"
Daisy: "I'm never excited."

Edith: "I sometimes think we should make more scenes, about things that really matter to us."

Violet: "Cora insisted I come without a maid. I can't believe she understood the implications."
Isobel: "Which are?"
Violet: "How do I get a guard to take my luggage? And when we arrive in London, what happens then?"
Isobel: "Fear not. I've never traveled with a maid, you can share my knowledge of the jungle."

Isobel: "Oh, heavens. It's Lord Merton and he seems to be headed in this direction."
Violet: "No doubt to lead you down the primrose path of dalliance [ giggles]."

Going into Season 5, we can't to see what the show has in store for Laura Carmichael. The acting on the series has been terrific all around, but she has really put forth some top-notch episodes in Season 4 and this one was no exception.

What did you think of the Season 4 Christmas special? What are you most looking forward to in Season 5?
Photo/Video credit: ITV