An illustration of a female character from Downton Abbey.
Illustration by Destiny Hall-Harper, The University of the Arts

Here Are the Best Episodes of ‘Downton Abbey’

A list of the best episodes throughout the seasons to watch in preparation for the upcoming movie, ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era.’

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An illustration of a female character from Downton Abbey.
Illustration by Destiny Hall-Harper, The University of the Arts

A list of the best episodes throughout the seasons to watch in preparation for the upcoming movie, ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era.’

Though the show ended in 2015, “Downton Abbey” still reigns supreme in viewers’ hearts. Created by Julian Fellowes, the compelling British drama had a successful run of six seasons on PBS. Set in the early 20th century, “Downton Abbey” opens with the Titanic sinking and goes on to depict other historical events like World War I, which provide the backdrop for the personal lives of the British aristocracy as well as the servants who live downstairs.

Alongside the triumphs and devastation, the world is modernizing with the use of the telephone and new women’s fashion, while the aristocracy simultaneously starts to lose its status and relevance, making way for a new social order. “Downton Abbey” fans were thrilled when a movie came out in 2019, also written by Fellowes, which included most of the original cast and was based on all that had happened in the characters’ lives since the show’s end. Its sequel, “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” will premiere in theaters in May. While the first film focused on the royal family visiting Downton, the sequel will center on the Dowager Countess’ inherited villa in the south of France. In all the anticipation for yet another addition to the world of “Downton Abbey,” let’s look back on some of the best episodes from the original series. Spoilers ahead.

Season One, Episode Five

This episode perfectly showcases the tension between the main characters. Each of their personalities shines through as the plot thickens. Though the story is set over a century ago and in an enormous abbey, the characters are easily identifiable in the people we interact with in everyday life, and the drama is reminiscent of that of the modern-day. Mary and Edith Crawley are at each other’s throats, with their sibling rivalry continually intensifying. Mary, the eldest, is headstrong and cold but undeniably beautiful and charismatic. Edith, the middle child, is more reserved with a quieter personality but unfortunately suffers from bad luck, particularly with her suitors.

In contrast, from the moment Mary meets Matthew Crawley — a distant cousin — it’s clear that they have chemistry. As the new heir to Downton after Mary’s fiancé died aboard the Titanic, Matthew would have been the perfect husband for her from a practical standpoint, allowing the abbey to stay in the family. However, Mary does not want her destiny dictated to her, and her vast amount of pride tends to get in the way of her happiness. Meanwhile, Matthew’s mother Isobel butts heads with Violet — the Dowager Countess and matriarch of the Crawley clan — over the annual flower show. Isobel often squabbles with Violet as the two have drastically different views.

During this episode, she points out the unfairness of Violet winning “Best Bloom” every year simply because of her status. But, in a surprising plot twist, Violet gives up her title to a deserving villager, showing she may be softer than she lets on. Then there’s the mischievous footman Thomas Barrow, who teams up with the equally shady lady’s maid O’Brien, to harass the new valet, Mr. Bates. The servants’ mischief shows how they are people too, full of hopes and fears. Plus, Barrow is undeniably entertaining as the resident pot-stirrer — because every show needs one.

Season Two, Episode Nine

It’s almost Christmas and the servants decide to have fun with a Ouija board in an attempt to communicate with the other side. Daisy, the young kitchen maid, meets with Mr. Mason, the father of her deceased husband, who had succumbed to fatal war injuries mere hours after they were wed. Kind Mr. Mason asks her to remain in his life, despite his son’s passing, which is touching to Daisy as her own parents are gone. Sybil, the youngest Crawley daughter, writes to her mother from Ireland to tell her she’s pregnant. She is in Ireland with Tom Branson, with whom she has eloped.

Sybil’s elopement is such a shock because Branson is the chauffeur for the Crawley family, and in marrying Sybil, his status is elevated from that of a servant to a member of the aristocracy. However, Branson is a radical young man who had never doubted Sybil’s love for him and was confident that their vastly different social statuses would not deter them from being together. Sybil is the kindest of her sisters, never hesitating to help out, whether it’s to secure a job interview for a servant or aid wounded WWI soldiers.

Sybil and Branson’s love story is beautiful, and with a child on the way, the second season of “Downton Abbey” is wrapped up perfectly. However, the best moment comes when Matthew finally proposes to Mary, even after she’s told him her secret and all hope seems to be lost. Mary accepts his proposal as the snow begins to fall, a perfect moment of pure bliss. After everything that happened between them, Matthew and Mary will finally be wed, making it a true Christmas miracle.

Season Three, Episode Eight

A lot of drama goes down at the annual cricket match involving Barrow. Throughout the series, Barrow struggles with keeping his sexual orientation under wraps, which at the time, could warrant an arrest. He struggles, developing romantic feelings for straight men or for men who aren’t ready to acknowledge their sexual orientation, resulting in many tense situations, such as when the police arrive at the cricket match. During these times, the show explores the nuances of Barrow’s character, showing what lies beneath his sarcastic quips and petty behavior.

Violet’s great-niece Rose is also introduced, and it becomes clear that she enjoys a wild lifestyle of drinking and dancing at clubs in London. Rose is a fun character, sparking new life in the show and, of course, creating drama. She’s the perfect embodiment of the 1920s, the era of positive changes for women and their perceived roles within society. Finally, Mary reveals that after undergoing a small procedure, she and Matthew are now able to have children, creating a new chapter in their lives that together they’ll unfold.

Season Six, Episodes Four through Nine

In the final season of “Downton Abbey,” the drama doesn’t wane — far from it. Tensions are at an all-time high between Mary and Edith, their rivalry coming to a head when they have it out during their worst fight ever. As the series concludes, the two reconcile, with Edith telling Mary that one day, they will be the only ones to remember everyone they’ve lost — including Matthew and Sybil, who have passed away — and everyone they could lose.

We also get many adorable, domestic moments between the butler Carson and the head housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, who marry in one of the show’s sweetest plot twists. Both are no-nonsense but have huge hearts. Their marriage proves that love is amazing, no matter when one in life finds it. Mary and Branson continue to work together managing Downton Abbey, a surprising but nonetheless incredible team. Mary’s new love interest, Henry, expresses his feelings for her, and her initial rejection causes him to believe it is due to his financial situation. But, in a heart-wrenching scene, Mary confesses to Violet that she’s afraid Henry, who enjoys racing cars, will die in a car crash as Matthew did.

It’s important that Mary confides in her grandmother as the two share many similarities, like being strong-willed and determined to get what they want. Mary does end up happily married to Henry, and she discovers she is pregnant with her second child. Lastly, Carson retires as the butler, with Barrow stepping in as his replacement with renewed purpose. There couldn’t have been a better ending to “Downton Abbey” or its movie. I can’t wait to see what “Downton Abbey: A New Era” will bring.

Writer Profile

Debbie Aspromonti

Hofstra University
Literatures in English

Debbie is a senior Literatures in English major at Hofstra University. She loves to write and is passionate about books, Broadway musicals, social issues and the law.

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