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Catching Up with Downton Abbey: Secrets, Scandal, and Resolution (part 1)

December 31, 2012

Have you watched the sneak peek at season three of Downton Abbey on Facebook and thought, I’ve got to catch up by Sunday!? Perhaps you've forgotten which character is which, or why exactly Thomas is looking at the newcomer with that glint in his eye. You are in luck! Guest blogger Amie Simon has thoughtfully reviewed every episode of seasons one and two, and we herewith present them for your reading pleasure. Today, part one, covering season one—a quick read, with a few highlights at the end. Stay with us for part two (Scandal), the Christmas episode (aka “the season finale,” stateside) and a character glossary (especially helpful when tweeting!). Then as the season gets underway, Amie will keep us up-to-date with each episode—in case you miss a plot twist or just want to refresh your zingers.

Please note, these posts are full of spoilers by their very nature. Please don’t say we didn’t warn you. And with that, we bring you: Catching Up with Downton Abbey: Secrets, Scandal, and Resolution.

Save the Date: 1/6/2013. Have you marked your calendar? Show us! #downtonPBS

Season 1: Secrets
The first season starts the morning after the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, and takes us through two years of the family and staff that live at Downton Abbey; where everyone has a secret to conceal.

Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) discover that the heirs to Downton’s estate, James and Patrick Crawley, were aboard the sinking ocean liner and are feared dead.

Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), their eldest daughter, was recently engaged to Patrick in an effort to save the family’s fortune. Now that her intended is gone, the estate must be passed on to the next male heir: a lower-class relation named Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) who, shockingly, has a JOB as a lawyer.

Lord Grantham wastes no time moving Matthew and his mother into Crawley House, a residence more suited to the future Earl of Grantham. While Matthew’s mother, Isobel (Penelope Wilton), adapts quickly to their new lifestyle, he bristles at the stuffy formalities, especially the idea of having a personal valet to attend to his every need.

Lady Cora and the Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith) plan to break the trust so Mary can inherit without wedding an heir, but when that doesn’t work, both women push Mary towards Matthew. Unfortunately, Mary arrives at Crawley house to invite Matthew and his mother to dinner just in time to hear him make a quip about “having the daughters thrown at him” and her heart turns cold. And then warms up later … and then gets cold again. And then they’re engaged!!! Such is the course of Lady Mary and Matthew’s long-suffering romance.

But before the Matthew/Mary roller coaster of love, the Lady’s quest for a new suitor puts her directly in the arms of handsome Turkish diplomat Pamuk, who expires after ravaging her in her own room. This nets herself, maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), and Lady Cora in a web of deceit that must be concealed at all costs to maintain the family’s reputation.

Meanwhile, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) struggles to compete with Mary’s charms, causing a war between the two sisters that escalates into the ultimate betrayal: Edith fanning the flames about the rumor surrounding what really happened the night Pamuk died, with Mary retaliating by ruining Edith’s best chance at a decent husband.

As for Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), she has her own problems, stemming from her struggles to gain independence and support “modern” ideas, such as women being able to vote, and wear whatever they want—like her newly commissioned dress, which is actually a pair of pants.

The whole household is soon thrown into upheaval with the announcement of Lady Cora’s pregnancy! If it’s a boy, that means he’ll be the male heir to Downton, and Matthew Crawley would not longer be in line to inherit … which means Lady Mary, on advice from her aunt, is having second thoughts about marrying him. Basically she breaks Matthew’s heart in a million pieces by waiting so long to accept, then he rejects her, causing the same reaction.

As for the staff, the arrival of Lord Grantham’s new valet, Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), shakes everyone up as they realize that he’s an old friend of the Earl, and that his war injury might make it impossible for him to perform his valet duties. Stuck-up footman Thomas (Rob James-Collier) reacts with particular scorn as he was angling for the job himself, and the rest of the staff is at best, uncomfortable. Only Anna seems to take to Bates immediately, and a complicated romance starts to develop between them.

Speaking of complicated romances: Footman William (Thomas Howes) has a thing for kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera), who has a thing for Thomas, who has a thing for handsome, rich men. Which creates quite a mess, as you can imagine.

Speaking of Thomas, he and Lady Grantham’s maid O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran) love to scheme, especially about how to get Bates out of the house. And when O’Brien misreads Cora’s assistance in finding a new Lady’s Maid for the Dowager Countess as replacing her instead, she concocts the dirtiest scheme to punish her, which results in a tragedy for the family: Cora losing her baby, revealed to be a boy.

The season ends in 1914 with Lord Grantham receiving word that war has been declared between England and Germany, and we’re left knowing that the lives of the people at Downton will be forever changed.

Season one highlights:
Best line from the Dowager Countess: “What is a … weekend?”

Most scandalous moment: Do I really need to say it? Lady Mary’s late-night dalliance IN HER OWN BEDROOM with Pamuk, followed by his sudden demise.

Most romantic scene: Bates bringing Anna a tray of food and remedies for her cold … with a flower! Awwwww.

Most devastating betrayal: O’Brien placing the soap next to Lady Grantham’s tub and causing a miscarriage. That’s cold-hearted, even for her.

Most ridiculous bit of soapy melodrama: Mrs. Patmore falling apart over losing her sight, and being rescued by Lord Grantham forking out dollars for an operation.