Downton Abbey U.S. Season 4 Finale Review: So Is Bates a Murderer? Did Robert Just Mastermind a Petty Theft? Where Does Downton Go from Here?

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Feb 24, 2014

Downton Abbey S04E08: "Part Eight" (the 2013 Christmas special in the U.K.)

Okay, first order of business: We need to talk about Bates getting the cinematic serial killer treatment every ten seconds during this, the episode formerly known as the Downton Abbey 2013 Christmas Special. Bates has been the kindly conscience of Downton Abbey almost since the very beginning; his ability to work was doubted due to his disability, and he proved everyone wrong. His crazypants ex-wife framed him for her murder, landed him in jail, and for an entire season, Bates' storyline revolved around the crappiness of this clearly innocent dude being incarcerated in some Dickensian prison. I'm not  saying the man doesn't have a sketchy past—that's always kind of been implied—but c'mon, the ominous serial killer musical cues sprinkled throughout Downton's season finale were kind of ridiculous. 

At this point, I hope he's a serial killer. I hope he's been playing the Crawley family the entire time. It'd be no more ridiculous than anything else that's gone down on Downton Abbey over the years, and the sudden sinister characterization fits in well with all the hamfisted historical references and Rose and Robert's random B&E caper to save the crown. This was my favorite episode of the season due entirely to its batshit crazy writing. 

And I haven't even addressed the important part (you know, beyond Bates being all... whatever Bates is) which is that Edith had all kinds of baby-mama-drama going on. Why is Edith never allowed to be happy, Downton Abbey? Why? 

In Edith's latest life-experience-of-woe, Gregson was last seen getting in a fight with some men in brown shirts who said the most terrible things (NAZIS. THEY'RE NAZIS.), and Edith traveled with Auntie Rosamund to the continent to pop out a baby in a very hush-hush and dignified manner. But instead of embracing her Get Out of Mommydom Free card, and despite having arranged for her daughter to stay with a nice Swiss couple never to be seen again, Edith eventually decided she wanted her child back. Sort of. I mean, I guess that's a crummy turn of events for the Swiss parents (no really, it is) but yay for Edith being people and having feelings and stuff. She entrusted her baby with a local farmer on the grounds of the Estate, and how long are we giving it before she caves and decides to tell everyone the truth? Oh Edith, our accidental trailblazer. 

Branson also had a crummy time at Rose's debutante party. It's no wonder he and Edith are, like, BFFs now. Apparently Branson is never ever allowed to fall in love ever again. Thomas, who was randomly irate about Branson being in charge of him—it's been something like three years, dude, just stop!—implied that Branson was banging schoolteachers upstairs while the fam was in London. It's true that Thomas has always bristled under Branson's rise in rank, but his displeasure tends to manifest as more of a low simmer, coming out in catty remarks and a generally bad attitude. My theory is that Thomas's sudden anger was born out of a protectiveness for both Sybil's memory and Sybil's child. And it's starting to get sad, you guys, because both Branson and Thomas could use more allies in the house, and if they could just get over themselves, they could probably be good for each other. Maybe. I mean, this is Thomas we're talking about. 

Also, can we please stop with the BAAAW, BRANSON ISN'T A REAL NOBLE/BAAAW, BRANSON ISN'T A REAL REVOLUTIONARY (ANYMORE) stories? It's like no one knows what to do with him these days. 

Finally, in addition to Rose and the Earl stealing a royal love letter, Bates helping, Edith pining, and Branson not being hot for teacher, Cora's American family came to visit because when in doubt, bring back Shirley MacLaine as a guest-star. Joining the Widow Levinson was her son, Harold, who was fresh off of the Teapot Dome scandal and played by Paul Giamatti, which made for an unlikely delight. He started out surly, and admittedly I was all about his general meanness to everyone, including his own nieces... okay, especially his own nieces. And then, as if the show's writers were playing into every teenage boyfriend fantasy ever (which was fitting, since Harold's would-be English wife was basically a teenager herself), beneath that crunchy exterior of loathing and low self-esteem was... sweetness and low self-esteem!

Whatever, I liked him. TTYL, Harold Levinson, come back soon. 

And where does Downton Abbey go from here? The show has already been renewed for a fifth series, and casting is underway. Rose is an eligible lady whose debut in London was a smashing success when the Prince of Wales crashed the party. Is Downton positioning Rose's love life to be the one we're supposed to be obsessed with? SPOILER ALERT: She's not gonna marry Prince Edward. Probably. I mean, Downton Abbey has proven that anything is possible. Who would've thought we'd ever see the day that the Earl of Grantham masterminded a robbery with his niece and his valet?


– More Bates thoughts: Downton made it pretty clear that even if Bates did kill Green, he was totes justified for obvs reasons. That's what made the musical cues and the shadowy lighting feel so out-of-place. Certainly, everyone who's now connected to Green's apparent offing must now struggle with their part, and it's true that vigilante justice tends to be frowned upon, but Downton seemed to struggle with whether or not we should fear Bates, and that whole storyline was just a hot mess.

 Mary is sure that the Prince of Wales will bring more cheeky scandal to the crown before long. TEEHEE, BECAUSE HISTORY. Because just Google "Wallis Simpson." 

– Ivy went to America. *yawn*

– I can't with Mrs. Hughes and Carson on the beach. Somebody help. 

– "This may be my family, but they're not quite my people." Well that's everyone's family, Branson. Srsly.

– The lesson of this finale, of course, was that you should never keep incriminating evidence in your coat pocket. 

-- What are your thoughts about how Anna's story ultimately played out? Did it all wrap up a little too neatly? Are you annoyed that her rape became the catalyst for an all-about-Bates story almost as soon as it happened? (I am.)

 On a shallow note (and are there any notes but shallow ones when it comes to Downton?), Rose's dresses were stunning.  

What'd you think of the Season 4 finale? How about the season overall? Where do you think Downton should go next? 

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  • Aeidail Aug 04, 2014

    I can see a lot of how people have complained that Anna's story is really Bates's story. But for me, it makes sense that Anna would want it to be about anything but her. If it's about her, then it has to be real and she has to deal with it. As long as she can keep it a secret, as long as she can 'carry on', she can pretend that she's ok. But crying in the corridors and hiding in dark rooms is so much not a part of her character that you can see it is definitely affecting her. But it is her nature to suffer in silence. Maybe they could have handled it differently. But it wouldn't be much like her to make a scene or even really admit to anything happening beyond what was absolutely necessary.

  • chartah May 31, 2014

    Wish Thomas could find a new boytoy soon!!

  • badaly May 04, 2014

    I loved Harold and Madeline. I hope to see more of them. They work great together. And please give a love interest to Branson ... a lady, someone who is an aristocrat because now he is one of them. I am sick to see him involved with a maid or a school teacher. By the way I HATE that school teacher, she is irritating!!!!

  • badaly May 04, 2014

    PS: Isabel and Lord Merton are great. I want more of them together

  • shootingstar609 Feb 25, 2014

    My first, and only, reaction to the final scene with Carson and Mrs. Hughes was "oh my gosh, he has feet!"

    I don't believe Bates did anything sinister in York. I'm glad that the story has been wrapped up, or so it seems, because it was casting such a dark shadow over everything else. Bates and Anna are supposed to be the happy couple of the "downstairs" since we all know no one else is having much luck in that area. As for the Thomas-Branson interactions this episode, I'm not sure why Thomas felt like he had to be such a pain in the ass. I was waiting for Branson to ask "what is this really about?" Being rude to Branson is one thing, but telling Robert about suspected activities between Branson and Miss Bunting is completely another. I loved the scene between Martha Levinson and Count Aysgarth where she agrees to have him over for tea at her house in Newport and she'll find some rich widows for him to court. He seemed momentarily taken aback, but then agreed. I am so glad that one of Ivy or Daisy is going to America or somewhere, their bickering is getting tiresome. I love how quickly Robert thought of stealing the letter back to protect the Crown and that so many other people were in on the scheme. They could be a very successful band of con artists if they wanted to be, ha ha. And Bates "knows" someone that can forge handwriting, of course forgetting to mention that it is him.

    Does anyone else like Charles Blake a lot more than Tony Gillingham? I feel like Gillingham thinks he deserves Mary because he's from the landed gentry and Blake isn't, or doesn't live like he is and it's a pretty unattractive quality.

    "She (Edith) entrusted her baby with a local farmer on the grounds of the Estate, and how long are we giving it before she caves and decides to tell everyone the truth?"= about 2 weeks. But I hope she finds Gregson soon or at least some answers about what happened to him. If she goes to Germany and encounters some unsavory characters in brown shirts, that could be an interesting storyline.

    "Also, can we please stop with the BAAAW, BRANSON ISN'T A REAL NOBLE/BAAAW, BRANSON ISN'T A REAL REVOLUTIONARY (ANYMORE) stories? It's like no one knows what to do with him these days."= I think it's a reflection of the fact that he doesn't really know what to do with himself these days, he doesn't know where he fits into everything. Different people keep trying to pull him in different directions and he keeps letting them. I think he needs to figure out what HE wants to do and where HE wants to go. As much as I would hate to see him go, maybe he should go to America. It's like the Crawley's wealth and status are enabling him to waffle and not to have to figure anything out. It's nice that they were there after Sybil's death to help out and offer stability, but maybe he needs to be away from the Crawleys to figure out what type of person he really is.

  • paintcan Feb 24, 2014

    Loose ends:
    - are we sure Anna is not having footsie Green's baby? I guess the time leap there at the end took that possible story line away.
    - Mary's fit of conscience over Bate's possible Piccadilly murder was too fast and totally unbelievable.
    - Molesely (sp?) kicked Thomas around pretty good in last two episodes. Is Thomas going to take that lying down? Or maybe another killing in the offing? Who kills whom hmmm.
    - Will Carson and Mrs Hughes be sharing quarters next year ??

  • Vamps Feb 24, 2014

    I want a spin off with Lady Grantham, Isobel Crawley and Martha Levinson just talking and interacting with one another.

  • kjnohr Feb 25, 2014

    By Lady Grantham, I'm assuming you mean Violet rather than Cora. And yes, that show would be hilarious!

  • adinashuttari Nov 05, 2014

    It would be like The Golden Girls...but in a Downton Abbey turn-of-the-century-and-a-whole-lot-of-other-stuff style.

  • Vamps Feb 25, 2014


  • BabeRuth Feb 24, 2014

    Downton Abby just contrasts how awful broadcast TV in America has become. Look at the low-life trash stories and liberal social engineering we suffer here and the quality that it could be. Has our society fallen so far that America Idol is the standard for commercial TV?

    Do we need to pay cable channels like FX and AMC to get a better quality of show? Is Nexflix the new outlet for quality?

  • dref22 Feb 24, 2014

    Scandal, Downton Abbey...Rape in soaps isn't working, Please stop it, TV shows.

  • noelrk Feb 24, 2014

    Even if I have decided I'm done with the show, leaving it with Carson and Hughes holding hands in the surf was pretty much the best way to go out anyway.

  • leungkora Feb 24, 2014


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