Credit: PBS Credit: PBS

A real prince, a frog prince, a fancy ball, a special baby raised in secret on a farm and a royal chamberpot: The season 4 finale of "Downton Abbey" was a classic British fairytale — a really long one.

At the start of the episode, the servants did a reverse Paul Revere, running around shouting: The Americans are coming! It's Rose's debutante ball, so the family heads to London, along with most of the servants, and also Cora's mother and brother from across the Atlantic, Shirley MacLaine (Mrs. Levinson) and Paul Giamatti (Mr. Levinson). No one is excited to see the forward, crass Americans — with their weird slang and inability to exhale poisonous gas when they speak — except a father-daughter team of peered-but-broke Brits who are out to trade their titles for cash.

The dad throws his daughter at Paul Giamatti but he knows what's up and calls her out. She's shocked because no one is honest in England. He apologizes via catered chaperoned picnic and they come to like each other, parting as friends.Her dad, on the other hand, gets played by Shirley MacLaine and winds up proposing. She denies him because she doesn't care about being "a lady" and also because in America they have Coca-Cola, and in 20 more years, McDonald's.


So they settle for a deal: He can come visit her house on the shore, where she'll pimp him out to her wealthy, snobby friends. I believe in British slang they call that a bollocking. (I know nothing about British slang.)

Never be royals

Just when you're down for a chill evening at the nightclub, there's the Prince of Wales. Not the rap group by that name that has surely existed in someone's suburban garage, but the actual Prince of Wales (or the actor portraying him). The married woman, Freda Dudley Ward, with whom he had a five-year affair, is also there (again, the actor), and Rose finds herself at their table, chatting him up.He'd stayed with her dad, Shrimpy, while visiting India, and had enjoyed his company, in spite of the obvious red flag in his personality, i.e. that he lets people call him Shrimpy.

Somehow, that old card cheat Sampson has weaseled his way into the debutante ball celebrations and winds up overhearing Rose and Dudley Ward discuss a risqué letter she's received from the Prince. Sampson promptly steals the letter from her purse with an intention, everyone assumes, to sell the sordid details to the press. Obviously, this leads to an "Ocean's Eleven"-level heist to steal back the letter and save the monarchy from ill repute.

Robert (Lord Grantham, aka Hugh Bonneville) convinces the menfolk, including Sampson, to play cards, and shoos away the old ladies, while Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Rose and Blake gain entrance to Sampson's flat by providing his doorman with a letter forged by Bates' "friend" i.e. Bates (Brendan Coyle). I think, in this cast, Mary is George Clooney.

But the letter isn't there, so Bates checks Sampson's coat, which he pickpockets while putting it on the poor bastard. Then Bates explains to Robert — what I just told you in half of a sentence — with the length of an Agatha Christie Poirot reveal. Hurrah: The monarchy is saved from scandal, and the Granthams are saved from causing a monarchy scandal. The prince repays the favor by showing up unannounced to Rose's debutante party and dancing with her. Maybe I should start crashing parties, waltzing with the hosts, and then shouting, "We're even!" on my way out.

Noose morals

Another outcome of the Affair affair: Bates is saved from the hangman's noose. Mary was prepared to rat him out for killing Anna's attacker, based on evidence found in another coat pocket: Anna (Joanne Froggatt) donated Bates' coat to charity, via Mrs. Hughes, who found a ticket stub from his trip to London. So, on the day Bates said he went to York — the day the dude "fell into traffic"in Picadilly Circle — Bates was definitely in London.

Mrs. Hughes tells Mary, who causes a fuss about doing the right thing, and her conscience, and how even if that guy was a dick, murder is bad. But after Bates sticks his neck out to help the family help the Prince, she forgives his transgression and pleads loyalty. I guess this means that, by her conscience's law of thermodynamics, a royal sex scandal is worse than rape.

We're with Shirley MacLaine when she tells Maggie Smith (the Dowager Countess) that times are changing. For example, it's gotten a lot harder to break into apartments, kill people in public and hang out with the prince.

White-glove hammer

Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) and Tom Branson (Allen Leech) stay behind at Downton, which is trouble since Barrow hates Branson — because he has to serve the former chauffeur, but really because he needs someone to hate, but really because he hates himself. (I got an A in Psych 101.)

Branson runs into Bunting, the woman he met-cute at the political talk, and she requests a tour of the Abbey. He doesn't want to, but she's pushy, because you know what it's like when women have opinions. She runs upstairs to get the view from the gallery. Branson follows uncomfortably. And then Barrow steps out of the wall like something in "The Shining" and is all, "Can I help you?"

At breakfast the next morning, Branson tries to explain that he hadn't brought that girl upstairs for sex, but Barrow can't really hear him because he's making a scary fist inside his white glove. Then Barrow mentions it to Robert, who says something to Branson, but we'll have to wait until next season to find out what happens, and anyway, look: that royal sex scandal!

Moses in the basket

This episode happens eight months after the last one. Since then Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael): gave birth in Geneva, nursed the baby for a few months, grew totally attached to it, gave it to a random family and came back to Downton pretending she knows French. Fortunately, there's no receipt, so after much depression, hemming and hawing, she decides to get the child back. Not without my daughter!

The plan is for farmer Drew to raise the girl and pretend she was left to him in the will of the poor girl's dead mother, and then at some point reveal to the girl that she's actually filthy rich, and send her into an angry identity crisis. For the rest of the story, watch Maury Povich.

What else? New intelligence suggests that Michael Gregson had a run-in with the Nazis in Munich. Mary's uppity suitor Blake is just like the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast": secretly an heir to one of the largest fortunes in England, and dances really well. Mr. Levinson's valet is sweet on Daisy so he tries to hire her to cook for Mr. Levinson in America but she says no, so Ivy will go instead. Mrs. Patmore lands a dull joke about sardines and maggots — Rose and Mary are not impressed. When Rose was presented to the king and queen, the only place to powder your nose was a chamber pot behind a partition.And the whole staff sees Carson's feet at the beach, a visage so ghastly, Barrow chants "RedRum, RedRum."

Episode grade:A

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