(This article was originally featured on Smitten By Britain on Feb. 26, 2014)
I am very relieved that the only casualty of the 2013 Christmas special is Sampson’s scheme. Rose’s debutante ball along with a visit from the American extended family set the stage for a calm end to Season 4.
Rose’s presentation to society is fascinating from a cultural and historical point of view. Despite the social changes in the early 1920’s, the debutante tradition was very much alive. Young women from aristocratic families were presented at court in front of the reigning King or Queen. This ceremony was the kickoff of the London social season.
Rose put away her rebellious streak and disdain for her parents long enough to impress the court and members of high society. Previous episodes never highlighted a similar rite of passage for the Crawley sisters. Either their debuts occurred before the first season or World War I prevented their social debut. The social occasions around the debut are in many respects just as important as the formal ceremony. Eligible young women often met marriage prospects at balls and other events. Gossip was formed and discussed as well.
Sampson’s theft of the letter from Freda Dudley Ward to the Prince is a disaster worthy of destroying the entire monarchy. Bates is called upon to use the skills obtained in prison to save the day. Not only does the occasion cement his loyalty to the Crawleys and the existing social order, some of the evidence in the Mr. Green situation is also destroyed.
Although the special features several subplots, a minor plot grabbed my attention more than the rest. Harold Levinson’s valet presented a culture clash and moments of character development for some members of the staff. In return for his awkwardness around Carson, he gives Daisy an opportunity of a lifetime.
Harold has tasted food from Mrs. Patmore and others that defies the stereotypes of British cuisine. The butler mixes an offer of employment for Daisy with romantic pursuit. Daisy has no desire to leave the Crawleys or England and declines the offer. Ivy takes advantage of the opportunity and accepts the offer to work in America.
Season 4 ends with the Downton staff enjoying a day at the beach. Compared to the previous Christmas specials, there isn’t a cliffhanger or any lingering expectations. I believe this makes the wait for Season 5 much more interesting.