The end of season four of “Downton Abbey” has lots of little inside jokes. Just as Elizabeth McGovern got to utter the word ‘ragtime’ a few weeks ago (she was nominated for an Oscar in that movie), Maggie Smith had a similar moment tonight in the final 90 minute episode. When the Dowager Countess said she felt she’d spent the whole night in a whodunit, she might have been thinking of “Murder by Death” (1976) or “Death on the Nile” (1978). She was in both whodunits to much acclaim.
Creator-writer Julian Fellowes had a lot of fun introducing the scandal plagued Prince of Wales who would one day become the resigned King of England, aka the Duke of Windsor. The Crawleys go to great lengths to spare the Prince from another public scandal involving his mistress, a married woman. When it was all resolved, one of the Crawleys observes that this won’t be the last time Edward will be in trouble. Indeed, not. Mrs. Simpson is still more than a decade away.
Shirley MacLaine and Paul Giamatti guest-starred as Lady Cora’s (McGovern) mother and brother, the Levinsons. They are described as incredibly wealthy, and we know they’ve bailed out Lord Grantham a couple of times. They are also probably Jewish and modeled on the Rothschilds. This is never mentioned. But the Dowager Countess sneers at them so, and not just because they are American. MacLaine seemed more at ease this time in Downton. Giamatti felt like he’d been on the show all along. He was an easy fit, and will probably get an Emmy nod for his work. He is just damned good at almost everything he does.
I don’t know how Julian Fellowes does it, and believe me I’ve asked. He writes all the shows, keeps all these characters straight, and mostly on track and true to their personalities. It’s sad to see Ivy leave for the U.S. but it’s time for new servants and kitchen help. One of the best lines of the night came from Daisy, who told Giamatti’s valet: “I don’t get excited.” The glaring differences between the Brits and the Americans is something Fellowes loves playing with, language especially, as evidenced by the Dowager Countess’s shock at almost every new phrase she hears.
Because Season Three had the two big deaths, Fellowes ended Season Four sweetly, with Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson hand in hand tip toeing into the sea (the future). What a lovely note. But Season Five will obviously address Edith’s situation with the baby and Gregson; Mary’s decision on a new mate; and how Branson will grapple with moving on but staying part of the Crawleys. January 2015 seems like eons away.