Downton Abbey fans probably heaved a collective sigh of relief at the end of last night's Season 4 finale simply because nobody died! The tragic death of lead actor Matthew Crawley (played by actor Dan Stevens) at the end of Season 3 rocked the show's millions of fans around the globe with an emotional earthquake which hit high on the Richter scale.
Stevens left the show at the end of last season so he could pursue a movie career. So it's not fair to blame Fellowes for killing off the romantic lead. Fellowes had to do something with Matthew Crawley. If this was an American soap opera he could've had Matthew disappear and leave his wife Mary (played by Michelle Dockery) along with fans wondering if he might someday return. Or if it was the show Dallas he could've simply had Matthew's character fade away and later return in a dream sequence.
The death of Matthew did lead to a romantic duel between Lord Tony Gillingham and Charles Blake for Mary's affections throughout Season 4. Although she began the season grieving the loss of Matthew, she concluded the season in last night's episode saying she now realized she could live life after her husband's death.
Another piece of great news for Downton disciples is the official proclamation there will be a fifth season. The suddenly popular Mary can mull over offers from Gillingham, Blake and any other prospective suitors who may emerge next year. Fans will have an entire year to debate among themselves as to whether either Gillingham or Blake can adequately fill the shoes of Matthew who is credited with saving Downton Abbey during difficult financial times. Fans will recall during Season 1 that Mary's parents were desperate to marry her off to some acceptable suitor after she was the focus of a scandal.
Blake emerged in Season Four as an "anti-monarchist" as he appeared as an employee of Lloyd George's government who was doing a survey to determine which estates could survive in post World War I England. As such, Mary viewed him as a threat to Downton and an enemy. However, after a romantic frolic with the estate's pigs and Blake, they appeared to mesh as a couple. And when the gallant Lord Gillingham in the season's finale reveals to Mary that Blake is actually part of the aristocracy and due to inherit a fortune, she suddenly believes Blake is "one of them (the aristocracy)."
When Mary appeared surprised he would impart information to her which would help his rival, Gillingham replies he wanted to win her hand fairly. Mary of course asked Blake near the end of the show last night why he had kept his aristocratic background from her. He explained he didn't want her to be attracted to him because he was wealthy. So the stage is set for Season Five for the hand of Lady Mary.
Another major plot line seemed to have been brought to a conclusion last night involving whether or not Bates murdered his wife's rapist. When Ms. Hughes found a ticket to London in Bates' coatpocket her suspicions are raised because the stamped date is the same day Mr. Greene, the rapist, fell in front of a bus in London. Did Bates give him a gentle push resulting in his death?
Ms. Hughes is in a moral quandry as to what she should do. Since she is a "downstairs" person, she decides to turn the matter over to "upstairs" Lady Mary to decide what should be done about the incriminating evidence To her chagrin, Lady Mary takes the attitude the right thing to do is to turn the evidence over to the authorities.
Ms. Hughes was horrified and said, "Even if he did kill his wife's rapist, do you want Mr. Bates to hang for it?"
Lady Mary, often referred to as the "ice queen" by some reviewers, replies in a cold voice, "It's the right thing to do."
At this point fans are sure Bates is going to be tried for a second murder. However, when Bates uses his forgery skills to save the Grantham family and the Prince of Wales from major embarassment, Mary does an about face and tosses the train ticket into the fireplace saying that Bates has been loyal to her family and they should be loyal to him.
Another compelling storyline which continued last night was news that Edith's romantic interest Michael Gregson encountered some "brownshirts" when he went to Munich, Germany and disappeared. Was he killed by the brownshirts or merely beaten up? Edith feared he was met an untimely end because a detective has informed her that "his first night there, he took exception to something they said."
Her interest reverts to the baby she had with Gregson out of wedlock. She gave the baby to a family in Geneva, Switzerland. But now near the end of last night's show, she plots with a tenant of Downton Abbey to bring her "secret baby" back to England where she can actually live on the vast estate and Edith can be able to see her.
While Fellowes may be wanting to lead fans to believe Gregson is dead, many fans believe he will make a dramatic return and marry Edith next season. For Edith fans especially, this is the most compelling plot line heading into Season Five.
The Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) delivers one of her typical zingers at Isabel (mother of Matthew Crawley). Isobel said to her, "You take everything as a compliment."
The Dowager responds, "You should too. Saves many an awkward moment."
Shirely McLaine, who plays Lady Cora's mother, arrives from America with her son Harold in tow. When he is greeted by the Grantham family and asked if this is his first trip abroad he replied, "Haven't felt the need to leave America before. Don't really feel the need to now. Watching debutantes not my idea of a good time."
His sister Lady Cora responds, "Maybe you left America to get away from that Teapot Dome Scandal thing" to which her mother replied that they took this trip so as not to hear about that!
The closing scene with Ms. Hughes offering Carson her hand as they step into the ocean off the beach hints of a possibly deeper relationship in the future. Is it possible the conservative butler is loosening up as he heads into his later years? The gruff Carson is noted for being opposed anything which hints at change. His character has made such an indelible imprint on the British psyche, that an actual member of Parliament was recently heard to say to a colleague, "I wonder what Carson would do in this situation."
But of course the Dowager Countess always has the last word. She smirks when Lord Merton appears at an event to see Isabel and says, "Be careful he doesn't lead you down the primrose path of dalliance."
The best news of the finale is that Downton will return for a fifth season in the U.S. on PBS Sunday nights. The bad news is that January 2015 seems like a long wait for the countless Downton Abbey fans!
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