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'Downton Abbey' was a fixer-upper this season

"Downton Abbey" ended its fourth season on a high note Sunday with a bit of Sherlockian sleuthing and a trip to the seaside. The lighthearted, heartwarming finale was just the palate cleanser fans needed in the sour aftermath of Matthew Crawley's death last year. Now we're hopeful and eager to catch up with the Crawleys and their servants when "Downton" returns for a fifth season. The journey to t
Image: Downton Abbey, Season 4
Nick Briggs / Carnival Film and Television

"Downton Abbey" ended its fourth season on a high note Sunday with a bit of Sherlockian sleuthing and a trip to the seaside. The lighthearted, heartwarming finale was just the palate cleanser fans needed in the sour aftermath of Matthew Crawley's death last year.

The story lines of \"Downton Abbey\" season four left viewers wanting ... but the finale fixed that.Nick Briggs / Today

Now we're hopeful and eager to catch up with the Crawleys and their servants when "Downton" returns for a fifth season. The journey to this point, however, has been bumpy and painful. If we were the chauffeur driving season four, here are the potholes we would've avoided for a better ride.

'Law & Order: Downton Abbey'
Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Bates' story line had become monotonous — let's not forget that torturous "you've got mail" bit in season three. But "Downton" creator and writer Julian Fellowes missed the mark by borrowing from the "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" playbook with Anna's brutal rape by a visiting valet. It was a gratuitous and sensationalistic stunt in a period drama that functions best as a comedy of manners.

What if instead Bates was suspected of murdering Mr. Green for simply flirting with his wife? We all know Lord Grantham's valet is capable of it — that simmering rage beneath his mild-mannered exterior is what makes him such an intriguing character. And it's really too bad a suicide note wasn't an element in the first Mrs. Bates' death. Imagine the implication when he'd show off his surprising forgery skills! (Hey, that's another potential ripped-from-the-headlines idea. Remember Stephen Colbert's master forger on "L&O: Criminal Intent"?)

Mopey Molesley
Dear "Downton Abbey": Stop trying to make Molesley happen! It's not going to happen. We're siding with Mr. Carson on this one — he didn't deserve a second chance (or, to be more accurate, a fifth chance). Nor does new lady's maid Baxter hold any appeal for us. Introduced as Thomas' reluctant co-conspirator with a shady past, she sided with the sanctimonious Moseley and froze out Mr. Barrow. What's the fun in that?

Kitchen love triangle
Daisy loves Alfred. Alfred loves Ivy. Ivy just loves fun — which was nonexistent in this story line. No wonder she left to cook for Harold Levinson in America! As for Chef Alfred, we'd rather watch a soufflé rise than see him learn how to make one. He was only interesting as a pawn in his aunt O'Brien and Thomas' domestic warfare.

Wasted Thomas
Thomas' role as the Downton mustache twirler was subsumed this season by a real villain: the rapist. Disappointed by his "spy" and the staff's overall good intentions (What. Ever.), the underbutler was sidelined — and even dispatched to America for most of two episodes. He got his game back in the finale (you are so busted, Tom Branson), but for the most part Thomas was criminally underutilized this season. If there had to be a downstairs love triangle, Thomas — not Alfred — should've been at the center of it.  

Where's your daddy?
The Downton Jan Brady's baby mama drama was a highlight of the season. But the disappearance of Lady Edith's love Michael Gregson has us flummoxed. Did Bates kill him too? The Case of the Missing Magazine Editor has gone on far too long, and we'd pay a visit to 221B Baker Street ourselves if we really cared if it was solved. Frankly, we're more interested in his wife. Be honest: Wouldn't you love to see her escape from the asylum and try to burn down Downton, à la the first Mrs. Rochester?

Liven things up
Look, if Fellowes is willing to toss convention out the abbey window with a violent rape scene, why not reanimate the dearly departed? Wouldn't you love to see Mr. Carson's face when Matthew, Sybil, Lavinia and Mr. Pamuk crash a dinner party? At least Mrs. Patmore wouldn't have to scurry to find extra portions for their unexpected guests. 

Which one are you again?
First of all, how could the Downton heiress tell all her new suitors apart? We sure can't. It would've been really helpful if one of them were blond or ginger. Some personality wouldn't hurt, either. Evelyn puts the "nap" in "Napier" and Tony Gillingham is just a sap. Charles Blake is a splendid and apparently rich chap, willing to throw not only mud but money at Mary. So why didn't she just say yes? Must we watch this contest continue through another season?