Matthew Crawley comes to Downton as the new heir to the family title, fortune, and home. Robert and Cora hope to marry one of their three daughters — Mary, Edith, and Sybil — off to Matthew to preserve their lifestyle. Matthew and his mother, Isobel, try to fit in with their wealthier relations and often clash with the imposing Dowager Countess, queen of the icy one-liner. As Mary and Matthew begin their “will they or won’t they” relationship, Lady Sybil develops a taste for women’s rights, and Lady Edith whines about everything. (By the way, Mary has a one-night stand with a Turkish guest named Mr. Pamuk, who dies in her bed.) Downstairs, Mrs. Hughes and Carson try to keep the household running; the devilish duo of O’Brien and Thomas do their best to stir up trouble; and Anna falls in love with the earl’s new valet, Mr. Bates, who harbors a secret from his past.
Best Episode: 7
The finale has Mary contemplating Matthew’s proposal, though her dalliance with Mr. Pamuk keeps her from saying yes. Cora miscarries after slipping on O’Brien’s well-placed bar of soap, and the onset of World War I threatens Downton’s way of life.
Edith’s Most Pathetic Moment
Sir Anthony Strallan plans to propose to an eager Edith, but Mary — taking revenge on her sister for alerting the Turkish embassy to Pamuk’s fate — tells Strallan that Edith was just leading him on, so he bolts. —Denise Warner
Those rooting for a Matthew-and-Mary union are thrown a curveball at season’s start in the form of Lavinia Swire — Matthew’s sweetly innocent new fiancée. Mary finds herself tied to domineering Sir Richard Carlisle, after he helps her wriggle free of a blackmail attempt by Mr. Bates’ estranged wife, Vera, who threatened to tell the tabloids about Mary and the Turkish diplomat. (Vera later turns up dead.) Elsewhere, the house is tested by a Spanish-flu outbreak, which ultimately claims the life of Lavinia, among others; Matthew is wounded during battle and (temporarily) paralyzed; footman William dies from war injuries (widowing Daisy, whom he married shortly before passing away); and Sybil decides to leave Downton so she can be with Branson, shocking the family — but pleasing our shipper hearts.
Best Episode: The Christmas Special
On trial for the death of Vera, Mr. Bates is convicted, and we are left to wonder if our dreams for him and Anna have officially been crushed. But the moment that redeems our joy? When Matthew gets down on one knee in the snow and proposes to Mary, who gleefully accepts.
Edith’s Most Pathetic MomentShe falls for a badly burned soldier who claims to be Patrick Crawley, the heir to Downton who presumably perished on the Titanic. Naturally, he’s a con man, and Edith is left brokenhearted yet again. —Sandra Gonzalez
The battle between old and new kicks off in style, quite literally, when Cora’s chic mother arrives from America and hilariously throws down the gauntlet with the conservative Dowager Countess. Matthew comes to the rescue of Downton after Lord Grantham loses Cora’s fortune (damn railroad investments!), but there’s a prickliness to the young Crawley’s attempts at fixing Robert’s mismanagement of the estate. Downstairs, Anna frees a hardened (and kinda sexy) Bates from prison, Mrs. Hughes has a cancer scare, and Thomas is humiliated when sneaky O’Brien encourages him to hit on the hot new footman. And the world wept as two major deaths rocked the Abbey: Lady Sybil, who dies after childbirth, and Matthew, who is killed in a car wreck on his way home from visiting Mary and their newborn son. Oh, the humanity!
Best Episode: 5
The shocking cryfest kills off everyone’s favorite heiress, Lady Sybil, who dies after delivering Branson’s baby. That death lays the groundwork for the season’s emotional high point: a devastated Cora blaming Robert’s poor judgment for the tragedy. Meanwhile, Edith gets a job writing a newspaper column, but naturally nobody supports her.
Edith’s Most Pathetic MomentShe gets engaged to the much older Sir Anthony and, upon finally winning her family’s approval, is promptly left at the altar. [Sad trombone] —Marc Snetiker