Downton Abbey: Who Do You Love?
Warning: This article contains spoilers about the season finale of Downton Abbey’s fourth season.
Each week, Christ and Pop Culture has presented an analysis of the latest Downton Abbey episode after it airs on PBS.
Episode One: Downton Abbey: A Job Well Done.
Episode Two: Downton Abbey: Things We’ve Lost.
Episode Three: Downton Abbey: Bring the Light.
Episode Four: Downton Abbey: All in the Family.
Episode Five: Downton Abbey: Means to an End?
Episode Six: Downton Abbey: Guilt, Shame, and the Fear of Confession.
Episode Seven: Downton Abbey: People Talk.
The fourth season of Downton Abbey has drawn to a close, with many questions still left unanswered. As we have followed the affairs of the Crawley household, we waited each week to know just a little bit more than we currently do. What ever happened to Michael Gregson? What does Thomas have over Baxter? Did Bates really kill Green, or not? Who will Mary choose in the end? While this season was full of its own roller coaster of emotions, I was glad that it did not end as the previous season had, with a less-than-welcome death.
A lot took place in this episode, and it begins after an eight-month jump in time: Rose’s presentation at the debutante ball has finally arrived; the Crawleys are visited by Cora’s thoroughly modern mother and her brother, Harold; Edith makes plans to bring her child back from Switzerland; Mary continues to toy with the attention of Blake and Gillingham; Molesely encourages Baxter to stick up for herself in front of Thomas’s demands; there are several awkward interactions between Tom and Sarah Bunting; we are left to wonder if Bates did in fact kill Green.
It seems that much of this season of Downton centered on relationship dynamics between the characters, and this episode specifically we see them as being of a very romantic nature. Let’s take a look at a few instances of this.
There continued, even after eight months passed, the love-triangle between Lady Mary, Lord Gillingham, and Charles Blake. The gentlemen keep popping in and out of the Abbey, finding opportunities to express their continued interest in Mary, while patiently waiting for her to make up her mind. In a strange exposure of information, Lady Mary learns that Blake is in fact rich and heir to a sizable fortune. Oddly enough, Lord Gillingham is the one to reveal this information; he wants to keep the fight fair. In typical Lady Mary fashion, she just can’t make up her mind between the two. So, with both men eager and willing and entirely too patient, the battle has commenced. We wait with bated breath for season five to find out whom she settles her affections on.
As Rose’s debutante ball approaches, we see her interacting with several of her girlfriends. One particular friend, Madeleine Allsopp, lands the attention of Yankee Harold Levinson, Cora’s brother. It turns out that Madeleine and her father Lord Aysgarth are looking for a possible match for her, since their family fortune is quickly dwindling. At first, the interactions between Madeleine and Harold are awkward, forced, and a bit stiff, and later they turn into a possible pair. Before the episode ends, Harold asks Madeleine if she will write to him when he returns to America, as if to let her down easy.
Both Isobel and Martha (Cora’s mother) are shown romantic attention this episode. In previous episodes, Isobel has been pursued, in a sense, by Doctor Clarkson, which never took off the ground. Recently, however, Isobel has been responding to the romantic attention shown to her by Lord Merton. It’s hard to say what exactly may come of this relationship, but it was nice to see Isobel responding to the invite to Rose’s ball and following up with Lord Merton to let him know that she was indeed going to the ball. It’s understandable that Mary has mourned over Matthew’s death and is hesitant for a relationship, but it’s interesting that Isobel is so opposed to one herself. Martha, upon her visit to London, has found herself under the romantic gaze of Lord Aysgarth, which makes perfect sense, since he is trying to pair their children together. There’s quite a bit of flirting between the two, but Martha assures Violet (and how enjoyable to see those two interact) that she was just going along with it for fun, meaning nothing by it in the end.
When Baxter first made her appearance at Downton, I was a little hesitant to trust her character. After all, she seemed to be in cahoots with Thomas, and we know we can’t trust him. But, as the season continued on, it became evident that Baxter had grown to care deeply for the Crawleys and found it wrong to spy on them, so to speak. When Molesley was again offered a position at Downton, he returned and has quickly taken a liking to Baxter, noticing her strained and forced relationship with Thomas. Molesley would intervene between the two of them when helpful, and in this finale we very clearly see Molesley’s actions holding meaning for Baxter. As the staff enjoys their day off at the beach, Baxter sweetly thanks Molesley for his help with Thomas. She expresses to him that there were things in her past that she had been afraid of, that she was afraid of them no longer, and that it was Molesley’s strength that had made her strong. It is a sweet moment, made light-hearted when Molesley responds with, “My what?”
But the sweetest expression of a relationship, I think we can all agree, took place (finally!) between Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson. So much of Downton downstairs hangs on these two characters, their care for the staff and their friendship toward each other. We have seen them sit together, share cups of tea, and recall times of other loves, all the while wondering what, if anything, will come of these two. While the staff enjoys their day at the beach, much to everyone’s delight, we see Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson embark towards the beach, exposed ankles and all. Mr. Carson, a bit reserved and unsteady, accepts the offered hand of Mrs. Hughes with the words, “You can always hold my hand if it’ll make you feel steady.” Sigh. They take each other by the hand and step forward into the water together. This moment between them was such a treasure to see, as I’ve developed a certain fondness for these two.
As the seasons of Downton Abbey take place, it is evident that much of the story is centered on relationships, and that is very true in this season as well. But it is not merely as simple a thesis as the importance of a relationship that keeps the viewers engaged. Is it possibly our hopes that each character will settle down with the person who is best for him or her? Early on, we could not wait until Mary and Matthew tied the knot. We were thrilled to see Lady Sybil chose Tom and her desire to love him despite the difficulties that may have followed. When Bates and Anna were finally able to marry, it provided a sweet moment in the series for the viewers. Even Edith, who has had her fair share of relationship difficulties, is fighting hard to remain tied to Michael Gregson, despite his continued disappearance. Each of these instances of relationship mirrors our own sincere desires to be with people who we truly and deeply love. Relationships aren’t just things we have, but individuals we invest in. As hard as it may be for some characters to behave in this way, we can see clear pictures of positive expressions of relationships. As we wait for the next season of Downton, we can wonder what events have transpired, and we can be confident that there will be plenty of relationships beginning, hopefully the kind we can get behind.