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Downton Abbey: Season 4 - Final episode reviewed

Downton Abbey

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

THE fourth season of Downton Abbey may have been one of the most controversial but it ended with a whimper on Sunday night (November 10, 2013).

Having shocked many fans with the rape storyline involving Joanne Froggatt’s popular Anna May Bates, the stage appeared to have been set for a tense final 90 minutes that involved seeing whether Bates (Brendan Coyle) would gain some sort of revenge.

Instead, the rapist (Nigel Harman’s Green) was killed off-screen, apparently having fallen victim to an accident involving a pavement and a bus. Bates had mysteriously taken himself off to York that same day, raising suspicions that he may have had a hand.

But that was it. When Downton returns on Christmas Day, months will have passed and, presumably, the question of whether Bates was complicit will continue to hang in the air. And while that may well be intriguing (especially in seeing how it affects the now fragile trust between himself and Anna), it seemed an underwhelming way to have had things play out.

The remainder of the episode was similarly leisurely, much as the season opener had been. Given the show’s success in America, especially, one might have thought that Julian Fellowes and company might have known how to deliver a more telling cliffhanger ending.

Instead, we got something quite self-congratulatory, prompted by Hugh Bonneville’s Robert Crawley toasting the success of his wife in staging the annual fete in his absence.

The remaining drama was mostly of the “gosh, isn’t that nice?” variety, whether it was Daisy Mason’s forgiveness and reconciliation with departing colleague Alfred Nugent, Lady Isobel’s first steps towards possible romance, Tom Branson’s continued steps towards finding a life beyond Lady Sybil or Molesley’s gentle courtship/friendship with another colleague.

Even the other lesser controversial storylines petered out somewhat… with Lady Rose MacClare’s engagement to black suitor/singer Jack Ross (Gary Carr) over before it had chance to turn heads, and Lady Edith Crawley’s pregnancy revelation barely revealed. Although to be fair, the latter storyline will definitely come back as there have still been no answers to the whereabouts of her suitor, Charles Edwards (lost or hiding in Germany).

And then there was the ongoing rehabilitation of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) who has not one but three potential suitors after her – the most persistent of whom are Tom Cullen’s Anthony Gillingham and Charles Blake’s Julian Ovenden. Both have been turned down by Lady Mary, yet both insist on fighting on to win her heart.

To be fair, Dockery has warmed up in latter episodes of this series, after striking such a miserable chord for its first half. Her involvement in both the Anna and Lady Rose storylines proved to be quite telling and Dockery shared some memorable scene with both Froggatt and Carr (the latter of whom finally gave a good account of himself in his potentially final moments).

Affecting, too, was Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol)’s moment with Daisy, in which she revealed how proud she was with her for forgiving Alfred. While, as ever, Maggie Smith’s Violey Crawley was gifted most of the best lines.

But as is increasingly the case with Downton nowadays, the bad or merely mundane moments outnumber the truly good ones.

I can’t help but feel that Allen Leech’s Tom Branson has been particularly poorly served in the script department this series (prone to repetition or silly plot devices), while Fellowes’ has struggled with pacing and tone.

The darker storylines have often been trivialised by the lighter ones that have followed almost immediately after, while the pacing has been leisurely a lot of the time, with certain characters (and Lady Rose especially) struggling to hold any interest.

This season four closer was an appropriately hit-and-miss finale – good at times but frustrating (even irritating) at others. Its ability to consistently grip, let alone retain its status as ‘nation’s favourite’, is diminishing with each passing series.