The 2013 Christmas Special, also known as The London Season, is the feature length Christmas special episode of Downton Abbey that ends series four. It first aired on December 25th, 2013 on ITV in the UK. It aired as part 8 on Sunday February 23, 2014 in the US on most PBS stations.
Late Summer of 1923 - Rose's coming out ball is at Grantham House after she is presented at Buckingham Palace, with Cora's mother Martha and brother Harold in attendance. Martha has expressed a desire to, in Robert's words, "see another London season before she dies". Lord Gillingham and Mr Blake also attend the ball, still chasing Mary, and mutually antagonistic towards each other.
The Crawley family is implicated in a scandal threatening to engulf the royal family, and Robert must go to great lengths to protect his family and the monarchy. Edith is struggling with a moral dilemma of her own, while Isobel has attracted an admirer. Daisy receives an unexpected invitation, while Carson treats the staff to a day out at the beach.
Late Summer of 1923 - "The American Contingency" - namely Martha and Harold Levinson - arrive earlier than expected to Grantham House, and Cora misses their arrival. Martha has expressed a desire to, in Robert's words, "see another London season before she dies." Harold expresses how uncomfortable he feels in England. He has "never seen the need to leave his country."
Terence Sampson returns unexpectedly to the show. Following his underhanded ways of before, at a party, Rose's indiscretion leads to his stealing a love letter sent from the Prince of Wales to Freda Dudley Ward, the Prince's mistress. When he learns of it, the Earl mobilises the family to get it back, and prevent a scandal; he enlists the help of Bates, who uses his forging skills to get Mary into Sampson's flat. To retrieve the letter, Lady Mary, Rose and Charles Blake break into Sampson's flat, but do not recover anything. Later Bates steals the letter out of Terrence Sampson's coat pocket, and the danger is averted.
Mrs Hughes finds a train ticket for York to London for the day Green died in John Bates' coat pocket, prompting her to question his innocence in Green's death; she tells Mary, and they agree to keep quiet, but later Mary has an attack of conscience and thinks she should reveal it. Only when Bates picks Sampson's pocket as he is leaving, and retrieves the letter and again shows his loyalty to the Crawley family, does she relent and burn the ticket.
The tension continues between Mary's suitors. Mary shares her time going on separate dates with each one. At the ball to celebrate Rose's coming out, Mary is startled to learn from Gillingham that the egalitarian Mr Blake is actually in line to inherit a huge estate from a cousin, so he is more suitable for her than she thought.
The Crawleys host a ball in Grantham House: unexpectedly, the Prince arrives and opens the ball dancing with Rose. She becomes the "darling" of London society.
As a reward for all their hard work, Cora asks Mr Carson to organise a day out for the staff. After originally thinking of ideas such as museum visits, Mrs Hughes encourages him to think of a seaside trip. The two of them hold hands and paddle in the sea.
Harold grows closer to one of Rose's friends, Madeleine Allsopp. She is told to pursue him by her father, Lord Asgarth, as Harold is very rich. After getting to know each other better, Madeleine encourages Harold to have a better opinion of himself. Despite Harold saying that he generally only socialises with girls who expect nothing from him except a diamond bracelet at the end of the relationship, she tells him he would make a good husband, and they arrange to keep in touch by letter.
Branson gets himself in a pickle when Sarah Bunting asks to be shown around the Abbey and Thomas catches them hanging around near the upstairs bedrooms, as they overlook the gallery below. Upon arriving in London, Thomas makes the Earl aware of the 'suspicious' incident.
Lord Merton shows his emotions for Isobel Crawley, and Daisy Mason is admired by Harold's valet, Ethan Slade. Martha is also admired by Lord Asgarth. Lord Asgarth is simply interested in Martha's money, and she turns down his hasty proposal, saying that she has no desire to be married, but will invite him to her home and also invite some of her rich friends - ones who desire to be married to a titled Englishman. Thomas Barrow still tries to pump Phyllis Baxter for scandal, but she resists, helped by Joseph Molesley's support.
Lady Edith has had her baby, Marigold, in Switzerland and returned home, but regrets leaving her there. She ignores Lady Rosamund's protestations and decides to leave her with one of Downton Abbey's tenant farmers, Timothy Drewe.
Behind the scenes
Filming for the episode took place in various locations in London and the south of England. This includes Lancaster House, which was used to depict the interiors of Buckingham Palace when Cora presents Lady Rose to The King and Queen; Goldsmith’s College; the picture gallery in Royal Holloway College's Founders building; the beach at West Wittering in Sussex; and Basildon Park in Berkshire, which was used for the interiors of the Crawley family's previously unseen London residence, Grantham House.