Downton Abbey season finale recap: London Calling

As Rose is presented at court, Mary refuses to choose between her men, and the Crawley family finds themselves in the middle of a potential royal scandal. Meanwhile, evidence that Bates did kill Mr. Green comes to light. Plus, a visit from the Americans!
Ep. 08 | Aired Feb 23, 2014

Nick Briggs/PBS

It's finally time for Rose's presentation at court. The entire family is in London for the festivites, but it wouldn't be a Crawley family get together without some drama. Unfortunately, questions that have been building all season -- who will Mary choose? Where is Michael Gregson? Is Tom really moving to America? What does Thomas know about Baxter? -- haven't been answered.

One thing did bother me a great deal -- this episode picked up eight months after the last episode, yet it seems as if no time has gone by at all, plot-wise. Everyone has been in a stasis (except for Edith, who had a baby). Thomas is still bothering Baxter for information. Lord Merton and Isobel's relationship hasn't developed any further. Mary's men are still waiting patiently for her. Is that weird for anyone else?

This season's "Christmas" episode feels a lot like last season's "Christmas" episode -- except for the momentous, series-changing death. Set away from the Abbey, there's a focus on the love lives of two characters we've never met (this year, it was Harold and Madeleine, last year Shrimpie and Lady Flintshire), a man scheming to marry a woman for reasons other than love (Lord Aysgarth and Martha in season 4, Mr. Tufton and Mrs. Patmore in season 3), romance for Isobel (she's more accepting of Lord Merton's advances than she was of Dr. Clarkson's), and an outing for the downstairs contingent (a visit to the beach is the new "fair in Thirsk").

This year did have Mary breaking into someone's apartment, so at least that is new. Let's start with that confusing scheme.

During the London season, Rose and her friend Madeleine Allsopp visit a nightclub and encounter Freda Dudley Ward and the Prince of Wales. (The one Guy Pearce played in The King's Speech, for clarity's sake.) Freda, historically and on the show, is the Prince of Wales' mistress. (Not to be confused with Wallis Simpson, however.) Freda and Rose become fast friends, and -- during another nightclub outing -- Rose jokes about a letter that Freda has. Mr. Sampson, the card sharp who cheated many of the Downton men out of their money before Michael Gregson won it all back, is with the party at the time, and reaches into Freda's purse, stealing the letter.

Freda realizes the letter is gone and asks Rose if she took it. Rose didn't, and appeals to Robert. Does he think Mr. Sampson could have stolen it? Robert does indeed. When Rose reveals it was love letter from the Prince of Wales to Mrs. Dudley Ward, Robert freaks out. He thinks the Crawley family will be the ruin of the monarchy, and insists that they recover the letter. Robert comes up with a very complicated plan to break into Mr. Sampson's home. It involves Rosamund taking Martha, Violet and Isobel to a play, while Robert and Harold play cards with Tony, Tom, Lord Aysgarth -- who will bring Mr. Sampson. How will they get into Sampson's flat? With a forged letter from Bates, duh! (Although, I'm not sure Robert and Rose know Bates forged it himself.)

As the men play poker, Charles Blake takes Rose and Mary to retrieve the letter. Unfortunately, it's not there -- not even in the sock drawer. And they return to Grantham House empty-handed. But Bates, upon hearing the plan failed, has an idea. He offers to send the men off, and helps Mr. Sampson into his coat. Bates later reveals he used his pickpocketing skills to grab the letter from Sampson. The monarchy is saved! (And clearly, Bates learned a lot in prison.)

Freda, very grateful to have the letter back, brings the Prince to Rose's ball. All is well. (Until David becomes the King and then abdicates to marry Wallis, of course. That's a whole other story.)

Aside from breaking into apartments, Mary also has her hands full with Charles and Tony. Both make their intentions clear, again. And she tells them both she's not ready. But get ready for the twist! It turns out that Charles is going to inherit a baronetcy, making him more eligible than Tony. The tide seems to be turning toward Charles, unfortunately, doesn't it?

On to the mystery of Mr. Green. Mrs. Hughes asks Anna if she has any old clothes to donate to Russian refugees. Anna offers up Mr. Bates' old coat. Mrs Hughes searches the pockets and finds a train ticket that proves Mr. Bates was in London the day that Green died -- not York. She keeps the information from Anna, but decides to tell Mary for some reason. Mary has a crisis of conscious -- it's another man's life, even if he was despicable. However, because Bates helped with the great break-in, Mary decides to throw the ticket into the fire.  We still don't know if Bates actually killed Green. Perhaps we never will.

NEXT: Edith and everyone else...


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