Which character will be brutally killed off this week?
Lord Grantham: You do not love the place yet.
Matthew Crawley: Well, obviously, it's...
Lord Grantham: No, you don't love it. You see a million bricks that may crumble, a thousand gutters and pipes that may block and leak, and stone that will crack in the frost.
Matthew Crawley: But you don't?
Lord Grantham: I see my life's work.
Set in an Edwardian country house beginning in 1912, Downton Abbey (2010—) portrays the lives of the Crawley family and the servants who work for them. Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, has three daughters but no sons. Since (as with most British peerages), the Grantham title must pass to an "heir male of the body" (i.e. a male-line blood descendant of the 1st Earl), Crawley's cousin James and James's son Patrick are the heirs presumptive. Then both James and Patrick die in the sinking of the Titanic. So what will become of the Earl's fortune? This Succession Crisis drives the initial plot of the show, but soon enough there are a host of intersecting plotlines. The Ensemble Cast faces a variety of personal struggles, and everyone has to deal with the gradual modernization of Britain.Much like earlier series Upstairs, Downstairs, the drama follows both the aristocratic family who own the house and the large staff of servants who make it tick. The second series dealt with the effects of World War One on the entire household.The show is named after the large building where the family lives. It is not called Downtown Abbey.
Almost Kiss: Sybil and Branson, many times through season 2, possibly in the last episode of season 1, too. Anna and Bates, also. Edith and Michael Gregson in the first episode of series 4.
Altar the Speed: Deconstructed, somewhat; Daisy feels pressured into going through with the wedding due to William's impending death, and subsequently feels that the whole thing was a lie — she later thinks differently after actually meeting with her father-in-law and takes his advice to advance up the career ladder for the beginning of Series 3.
It's never directly stated, but Bates is more or less this for Molseley since Molesley not only lost his chance at being employed at Downton when Bates returned but also has a crush on Anna, who is in love with Mr Bates.
The dialogue sometimes has a flavour that is not very period accurate. See article here, see also Badass Boast below.
The portrait of life in a noble house — in particular, the intertwining of the lives of upstairs and downstairs residents — is not terribly accurate. Real-life estates the size of Downton Abbey in that time frame had much more separation between the lives of the masters and servants.
Although "If You Were the Only Girl in the World" was published in 1916 (and thus its performance in an episode set in 1918 is not anachronistic), it was not normally performed as a waltz until decades later in real life.
In episode 4x3 the staff plays Racing Demon, or Nertz, which has only been traced back to the 1940s.
What's that Robert? something sounds "a bit dodgy"? Not in 1923, sir.
Anyone Can Die: It’s beginning to look like this after series 3. No one is safe and even main characters keep dying. But it should be noted that this is not driven by artistic decisions but rather by actors leaving the show.
Maggie Smith quipped that her repeated Emmy nominations are the only thing keeping Violet alive.
Appeal to Inherent Nature: Mary argues that she's inherently contrary and that it would be against her character to want to marry anyone who anyone else wanted her to marry. She proves it when, after falling utterly in love with Matthew, she still turns his marriage proposal down, balking solely because marrying him would fix everything and be what everyone wanted to happen anyway.
The first episode when the ominous "entail" is finally explained to those not familiar with archaic inheritance laws. Robert's lawyer almost uses the exact language, "as you well know..." Yes, Lord Grantham would know about how his money, his real estate, his title, and his life's work will descend upon his death and need not have this basic information conveyed back to him.
Matthew is a lawyer who specialises in corporate law. Yet he has to ask his mother whether there's any legal mechanism for him to refuse to inherit the earldom.
In episodes following Kemal Pamuk's death, various characters will go into minor but unnecessary detail about the manner of his death, along the lines of "do you remember the sudden death of that Turkish gentleman?" The ridiculousness of the question even gets lampshaded:
Robert: I think I can be relied upon to remember any guest who is found dead in his bed the next morning.
In the series 2 Christmas Special, Matthew has Robert explaining the practicalities of the Servants' Ball to him, even though Matthew has been the heir of Downton for quite a few years by now and one would have expect him to have been at the ball at least once before. It is possible, however, that this was Matthew's first Servants' Ball. In August of 1914, Matthew left the Village and soon thereafter went to war. Matthew's opportunities to attend the ball were limited for various reasons between the onset of the Great War and early 1920.
Author Appeal: Three journalists have courted the Crawley girls. Richard Carlisle is a newspaper magnate, Tom Branson the ex-chaffeur became a reporter and Michael Gregson the editor fancied Edith.
Badass Boast: Cora's explanation for why she is not that upset over the prospect of having to sell Downton Abbey and move into a smaller house: "I'm an American: Have gun, will travel". Of course, this is something of an anachronism, as, while the phrase "Have X, will travel" was common in newspaper classified ads from the early 20th century onwards, the specific phrase "Have gun, will travel" did not become popularised until the 1957 television series of that name.
Baby Trap: Edna tries this on Branson. It doesn't work.
Beauty, Brains and Brawn: Mary (Beauty) relies on her charm to win potential suitors, Sybil (Brawn) is the most physically active and her personality hardens to match and Edith (Brains) who isn't as pretty or strong as her sisters so she becomes a master organizer.
Benevolent Boss: Robert. Furthermore; all the Crawleys are rather even-handed with the staff to the point where even Lady Violet goes out of her way to pull strings for characters like William, the footman.
Don't let Bates catch you being mean to William or Daisy. Bates also gets his buttons pressed when his estranged wife Vera threatens to ruin the Earl's reputation, as well as the Earl's family and Anna, if he doesn't return to her.
Don't insult William's mother in front of him. Especially not in the same sentence as a belittling remark about the boss' wife's miscarriage.
Robert is the most even-tempered man imaginable until his youngest daughter gets herself involved in political riots. Or if his family decides to eat lunch made by an ex-prostitute.
Never, ever challenge Cora's authority in her house. And when Sybil dies, Cora goes a little crazy when she starts to think that Sybil's death is Robert's fault.
For Cora: Neglecting Sybil's daughter because she's a "halfbreed chauffeur's daughter" and not noble like Matthew and Mary's son because both are her grandchildren.
Carson is a whole panel of berserk buttons.
Anna flatly refuses to have "no proper place" in Mr Bates' life when Vera's final scheme takes effect, and orders him to marry her despite his protests. He doesn't want to drag her into his troubles, but she swears that they "will face [this crisis] as man and wife" and finally lays down the law.
Big Fancy House: The real Highclere Castle has a starring role as Downton Abbey.
Big Screwed-Up Family: By Lady Violet's standards, certainly. For example, Rosamund — a noble lady by birth — married someone of no nobility, and Violet finds no end of chances to pick on her deceased son-in-law; Rosamund's brother, even worse, married an American (albeit one with the money necessary to save/secure the estate and more than willing to adjust to the English ways). With Robert having no sons the family's best chance to keep the estate in the family name is to leave it to a third-cousin who is a middle-class solicitor from Manchester of all places and a perfect stranger at the start of the series. Then there's Violet's niece who is constantly at odds with her husband as well as coming down hard on her rebellious teenage daughter, Rose, who is caught having an affair with a married man. Even Cora agrees with Violet on how badly Susan is treating Rose; this begs the question... are Susan's ways the reasons why "James left" and "Annabelle got married"? Could it have been to flee their mother?
Robert always seems completely unsuspecting when Telegrams of Doom drop into his hands. Granted, the first was a freak disaster, but the second comes amidst weeks if not months of building unease in the global news.
Matthew drivers his Roadster in season 3. The first time as he and Mary return from a trip, and the last he gets into a fatal car collision.
British Accents: There are a fair few examples on offer — from RP (Robert's family and guests), Yorkshire (Alfred and Mr Mason are especially bucolic), Glaswegian (Miss Shore) and West Scots (Mrs Hughes).
British Brevity: Never more than eight episodes in a season, with concluding Christmas specials.
The British Title System / Blue Blood: The series portrays characters that represent the British Peerage (and lesser ranks) at almost every grade, as the following examples show (in order of rank):
King / Queen — George V and Queen Mary
Prince — Edward, Prince of Wales
Duke / Duchess — The Duke of Crowborough, The Duchess of Yeovil
Marquess / Marchioness — Shrimpie and Susan MacClare
Earl / Countess — Robert and Cora Crawley
Viscount — Anthony Foyle
Baron — Jinx Hepworth, Billy Allsopp
Baronet — Sir Anthony Strallan, Sir John Bullock
Knight / Dame (titles accorded and held for life only) — Sir Richard Carlisle, Dame Nellie Melba
Esquire (pure social courtesies, no formal rules governing use) — Matthew Crawley, Charles Blake
In season one, Daisy is the lowest-ranking servant and is not supposed to be seen by any of the family.
Edith seems to have this role within the Crawley family. Even her parents expect her to be the one "taking care of [them] in [their] old age", and are none too pleased at the prospect.
Molesley. Poor chap keeps trying to advance his position within the Earl's household. He's valet to the heir, which means he'll almost certainly be valet to the Earl when the current Earl dies, but he keeps trying to move up now, and every time he gets slapped back down, whether by the surprising return of Bates early in series two, or by his own nervous drunkenness at the end. That's not to mention his unrequited crush on Anna (see Always Someone Better), his utter lack of cricket skills after he'd been talking a big game the entire episode, and his hilarious drunken dancing at the Ghillies ball after O'Brien gives him her spiked drink.
Call Forward: After the Crawleys save Prince Edward's bacon by retrieving an embarrassing letter in the Season 4 Christmas special, Mary makes a snarky comment about how Edward, given his character, will probably get himself in a mess again. Edward did just that with the Wallis Simpson affair.
Cannot Keep a Secret: Every time a character confesses a secret to another, chances are the person would pass it on to somebody else, or there would be a third person eavesdropping anyway. You'd think after a while nobody would bother to ask people to keep secrets any more.
Cannot Spit It Out: Dr Clarkson would like to marry Isobel, it seems, but he can't quite form the words in the series 3 finale.
During a conversation with a blind soldier during season two, the writers all but outright have Thomas state that his evil is a mixture of Freudian Excuse and He Who Fights Monsters; in his case, him being a homosexual and a servant, which puts him in the position of having to work for assholes who treat him like shit rather than being in control over his own destiny.
Card Sharp: There's one in Season 4, who cleans out all the rich folks (including, naturally, Lord Grantham) until Edith's new boyfriend figures him out and wins everyone's money back.
Cast Herd: Happens often with the upstairs and downstairs characters.
The Cast Showoff: Lady Mary's singing in Series 2, Episode 4 is Michelle Dockery's real voice; Dockery is an amateur jazz singer in her spare time. (She incidentally occasionally sings with Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Lady Grantham and has the same hobby, but so far the Countess has never sung onscreen.)
The Chains of Commanding: Lord Grantham and Mr Carson struggle to be fair with the people under their charge and neither of them take their responsibilities lightly. Mr Carson even quotes Henry IV on the subject: "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."
Character Check: Mary and Edith discuss their apparently ongoing Sibling Rivalryin the wake of Sybil's death, after spending most of the third season interacting with perfect civility, even being friendly and supportive at times.
Chekhov's Skill: Partway through Series Four we find out that Bates picked up forging while in prison when he uses it to help out Molesley by writing a fake loan contract that said Bates owed him thirty pounds. This comes back in the Christmas Special, when Bates forges a note as part of Lord Grantham's plan to get the letter back.
Christmas Special: One concludes series two (and technically series three and four, though there’s nothing particularly Christmassy or even wintry about them).
Clear My Name: Don't worry, Bates, Anna will save you from your own undying sense of gentlemanly decency and honour.
Comic-Book Time: At times there's an odd disconnect between the amount of time passing in the show (particularly in season 2, with at least a year passing between almost every episode) and the way the characters act like it's happening in real time. It gets weirder when you consider some characters' ages; Daisy's actress has even joked that she must have been ten years old at the start of the series.
During the latter half of series two, Lord Grantham is a jerk to Cora seemingly out of nowhere.
In the series three opener, Robert loses his (that is, Cora's) fortune at the same time as Matthew comes into one. Does that all seem too tidy? Don't worry, Mary immediately as good as demands Matthew's money for the good of the family, and objects so strenuously when he explains that he feels unworthy to take it in the first place that it's uncertain whether they will marry after all.
Conspicuous Gloves: Thomas intentionally gets his hand shot through with a sniper's bullet, earning him a deferment. He returns to the Abbey wearing a black glove to hide the scarring.
Continuity Nod: A few, for example regarding changing fashions. Robert's first purchase of a tuxedo is seen (by Violet at least) as a silly dress-up game; a few years later it's a recognised fashion, though not one regarded as suitable dress for a white tie dinner.
In series 3, Anna can be seen wearing Mary's plain nursing dress from season 2 — probably a hand-me-down gift.
Convenient Miscarriage: This trope befalls Cora in the series one finale, presumably to avert the actual wrench that everyone has been anticipating will be thrown into the resolution of the Succession Crisis. It's still very sad though, and most of the characters wouldn't consider it convenient at all.
Cool Car: Wealthy Edwardians had some quite imposing brass-era limousines and tourers. Not all the cars should be there, though; any number of steel-radiator Ford Model Ts can be seen in the first series, a style that was first offered in 1917 (and likely not seen in great numbers in the UK until after WW1).
Cool Crown: Upper-crust Edwardian ladies wore small, elegant tiaras, and the fashion was also common for other rich ladies in the 1920s. Lady Grantham often wears a light tiara when entertaining.
Cool Old Lady: Violet. "Put that in your pipe and smoke it!". Cora's mother, Martha Levinson also, with her twinkling forward manner and modern attitude
December-December Romance: Isobel Crawley and Lord Merton. At the same time (Series 5), the Dowager Countess is seriously drawn to her old (chaste) Russian flame Prince Kuragin, but is also very seriously conflicted for many reasons.
Defiled Forever: This attitude runs to the heart of the Kemal Pamuk incident. He says he knows she won't cry out because even to be found with a man in her room would ruin her reputation, knowledge he essentially blackmails her with. Sure enough, when the news inevitably gets out it makes it that much harder for her to find an eligible suitor, and she describes herself as "damaged goods".
Poor Anna also seems to believe this of herself after she is raped; fortunately, her husband strenuously disagrees.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Several examples that today are commonplace cause major distress. (Notably, several characters change their attitudes over time. This reflects the changing social mores of the era.)
Woman having a lover before marriage. Or having a baby out of wedlock.
Inter-class marriages are treated with utter horror by the inhabitants of Downton Abbey. (Though they warm up to Branson eventually.)
The notion of a lady undertaking any job harder than trying on a dress or flirting is treated with contempt, especially by the Dowager Countess.
The idea that anyone of high station might take gainful employment rather than just manage the estate is initially disconcerting to all of the Crawleys and most of the servants, as well. Some of them gradually warm up to it.
It's seen as somewhat odd that Matthew would continue his practice as a solicitor, (considered a distinctly un-prestigious middle-class profession in Britain at the time). The problem isn't with him being a lawyer, but rather a solicitor. It wouldn't have been terribly strange had Matthew been a barrister, which was one of the few professions which the gentry could take without shame — particularly because it was the best way to get into politics and pretty much the only way to get into the judiciary. Solicitors had back then little chance of advancement outside of becoming a better-known solicitor (unless they sought to become barristers, which they could,note Having read law, a solicitor is eligible to join an Inn of Court and study to become a barrister. but it was difficult) and they were viewed with a skewed eye by most upper-class English in those days.
They slam this hard in the opening of the eighth episode of the third series, when Carson discusses that Thomas will have to leave Downton because of his homosexuality.
Carson: I cannot hide that I find your situation revolting, but whether or not you believe me I am not entirely unsympathetic. You have been twisted by nature into something foul and even I can see that you did not ask for it. I think it better that you resign, quietly...
Witness the complete reversal regarding Edith's courtship of Sir Anthony. From a perfectly acceptable relationship, indeed superior to Sybil's and surprising for an unfavored middle child, with an older gentleman in the first season, Sir Anthony immediately becomes abhorrent to the family in the third. This is because he was injured in the war and lost the use of his right arm. Overnight he went from a good match to a doddering old cripple.
When we first hear of Rosamund, Mary says she envies her for being a rich single woman in the big city but Robert is offended by what he believes is an insinuation that his sister is an Old Maid.
Denser and Wackier: Every season after the first one. While the first series is a rather understated comedy of manners, the second is much more densely plotted and veers at several times into full blown Soap Opera. Plot lines involve a conman faking a relative coming back from the dead with amnesia, a suicide-murder frame-up, pregnancy of an unmarried woman, a miraculous medical recovery and a rather superfluous affair. Somewhat justified in that the years it covers include World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic, which brought with them a great deal more death and suffering, and social upheaval, than the residents of Downton would have been used to before the war.
Depraved Homosexual: Thomas' encounters with Pamuk and Crowborough. And in the third season, he chooses to enter Jimmy's bedroom and make advances on him while he was asleep and unable to give consent.
Averted when Thomas goes out of his way to save Jimmy from thieves. (Thomas gets beaten up in the process.) He also accepts Jimmy's orientation, and asks if the two of them can still be friends.
Deus ex Machina: The giant pile of Swire money that arrives to save Downton Abbey in series 3. And then the letter from Matthew, tucked into a book, which allows Mary to inherit his property.
Characters in this show seem to have a tradition of writing important letters, and then not mentioning them to anyone, and then the letters get discovered after your death.
Devoted to You: Lady Mary. Which is odd, since she isn't any prettier, smarter, kinder or more interesting than her sisters or Lavinia. Maybe it's the most inexplicable in Matthew's case. Sure, after they get to know each other and laugh together, it's believable they have a connection, but he was enchanted by the first impression she made, a walking, snooty representation of every value he found antipathic who even toyed with him down the line.
Dinner and a Show: Frequently, with the "upstairs" drama often interspersed with the backstage exploits of the servants preparing the meal.
The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Mrs Hughes has a breast cancer scare in series three, and tries very hard to keep quiet about it to everyone but Mrs Patmore. Though they're willing — albeit uncomfortable — to use the C-word, the straightest use of the trope is when Carson tells Cora she's "ill... perhaps very ill".
Disposing of a Body: Not so much disposing as in getting entirely rid of it, but disposing in the sense of secretly moving it to cover up a damning situation when Kemal Pamuk dies in Mary’s bed.
Dogged Nice Guy: William to Daisy. In the beginning, Matthew to Lady Mary. Branson to Sybil.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Classism, sexism and racism are horrible things... but damn, it must be awesome to be a male member of the British aristocracy in those days! Awesome houses, no need to work, servants to order around for your every whim with no real need to treat them as human beings or build any kind of reciprocal relationship. And throwing them the slightest bone of decency makes you look like Father Christmas.
Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Bates to Anna. Ethel very nearly says this to Mrs Hughes when the two discuss how her baby son, Charlie, should meet his paternal grandparents in a nicer place than the hovel in which she and the child were living.
Don't Split Us Up: Ethel's reaction when Major Bryant's parents ask her to let them adopt her baby and have her walk out of his life. She refuses. Until series three, when she gives him to them so he can have a better life.
Double Entendre: "Mr Pamuk, Thomas is going to take care of you tonight" — "Yes, Thomas is always sullen like that but he always cheers up when he sees a gentleman"...
Dramatic Irony: Cora, Anna and Mary carry a dead body from one end of the house to the other, by themselves, and with only Daisy noticing. The following day, after the body has been discovered, Lord Grantham worries about the ladies and female servants' state of mind. After all:
"We must have a care for feminine sensibilities. They are finer and more fragile than our own."
Earn Your Happy Ending: Anna and Bates. He jumped through a ton of hoops to try to divorce his awful wife, and after she was finally out of their way, he was wrongfully imprisoned for her death. By the end of season 3 they're finally able to be together and happy, although of course it remains to be seen how long that will last.
Evil Duo: O'Brien and Thomas. They seemed in jeopardy of splitting up at the end of season one, after Thomas joined the army and O'Brien was atoning for causing Cora's miscarriage, but it didn't last long. As of season three, they've fallen out again over Thomas' mistreatment of Alfred (or something).
Evil Is Petty: Thomas and O'Brien seem to like to screw with each other.
Exact Eavesdropping: Thomas hears just enough of the Countesses' discussion of Violet's search for a new maid to think they're talking about replacing O'Brien. Admittedly, it doesn't help that O'Brien herself overhears the Earl and Countess talking about firing her.
Exact Words: In his revelation about his past to Carson, Mrs Hughes, and Anna in Series 1 Episode 6, he says "Thomas has tried to convince you that I am a drunkard and a thief... Until a couple of years ago I was a drunkard, and I was imprisoned as a thief." He never says that he actually was a thief...and we soon learn that he was not—Mrs Bates had actually carried out the theft, but Bates took the fall (in large part because he was a depressed drunk).
Exiled to the Couch: In the latter episodes of season three, Robert is forced to sleep in his dressing room for several days while Cora is blaming him for Sybil’s death.
Expy: Loads, considering it's basically Gosford Park: The Series. Possibly the most obvious is Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, who is extremely similar to Gosford's Constance, Dowager Countess of Trentham, and played by the same actress.
Famous-Named Foreigner: The name "Kemal Pamuk" sounds suspiciously like a composite of the names of two famous Turks, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the founder of the Republic of Turkey) and Orhan Pamuk (a Nobel-winning novelist), despite the fact that Ottomans didn't have official surnames; and even though some wealthy and powerful families would have unofficial family names, those names would be nowhere near something as plain and simple as the single word "pamuk", which means "cotton" in Turkish.
Fallen Princess: Lady Mary after sleeping with Kemal Pamuk and then having to cover up his death.
Fancy Dinner: There are many of these. Matthew screws up at his first one. Also of note is when they try to hold one of these during the war and are severely affected by rationing. And, as always, we see these from both the perspective of the Crawleys and the servants, in something of a subversion of the trope (including the "screwing up" bit: Alfred screws up his first dinner by using incorrect service).
Mrs Patmore, especially when she was trying to fly under the radar about having cataracts in S1.
Ethel is passionately fiery until she's sacked for having sex; after that, all her fire goes into desperately trying to get either her love-child's father or the father's parents to acknowledge her son and help her support herself.
Averted by Gwen, who has a very sweet temperament, but she can be fiery at times. In Episode 1.03, Miss O'Brien swiped her typewriter and put it on display in the servants' hall. Carson & Mrs Hughes called Gwen on the carpet over it, for no really good or discernible reason, and Gwen finally let it rip in her umbrage and embarrassment:
Gwen: I've bought a typewriter and I've taken a correspondence course. I'm not aware that either one of these things is illegal!
Thomas, when Bates suggests a search for the missing snuffbox which Thomas had hidden in Bates' room.
Anna, when Bates tells her he bought the rat poison he thinks Vera used to commit suicide.
When Jimmy tells Carson that he feel he ought to go to the police about Thomas's homosexuality, this is Carson's response.
For the Evulz: Thomas and O'Brien, and they often have no identifiable motivation. And ironically, the one thing O'Brien at least thought she had a motivation for (planting a bar of soap so Cora would have a fall) is the only one for which she actually shows regret.
Foreshadowing: Sir Anthony's comment in episode 3.02 that "there's never been a safer mode of travel" than the automobile.
When it becomes clear in Series 1 that war is about to be declared, William makes it clear that he's all ready to sign up and fight. Thomas' response?
Thomas: Thank you, Mr Cannon Fodder. Which is exactly what he wound up being: Matthew & William got caught in a cannon blast, with William throwing himself in front of Matthew to try and protect him. Matthew lived; William didn't.
Every time Lavinia had any reason to believe that she and Matthew wouldn't live happily ever after, she started whinging about how she couldn't live without him. Guess what happened when she decided to break it off with him because she realized he loved Mary more than he loved her? (Hint:she died of Spanish flu only a few hours later.)
The Crawley girls. Mary (superego) and Edith (id) always bickered while Sybil (ego) was the peacemaker. This changed in later seasons with Edith and Sybil switching roles.
The Crawley matriarchs. The ultra-conservative aristocrat Violet (Superego) and the liberal, upper-middle class Isobel (Id) always butt heads while Cora (Ego) has to remind them she is Downton's current mistress.
Fully-Clothed Nudity: At least one example; when Kemal Pamuk barges into Lady Mary's room, she is wearing an all-concealing and fairly shapeless nightgown; she nevertheless picks up the covers and holds them to her body to cover it as if she were completely naked. Truth in Television for the time period.
Genteel Interbellum Setting: Starting at the end of series 2, all the boxes are ticked — on the surface. May count as an aversion or subtle subversion, as the social change of the '20s is definitely present — in the background most of the time, but sometimes (such as Series 3, Episode 8) the tumult comes to the fore.
"Get out of Jail Free" Card: Branson's hatred of the institution of aristocracy goes out the window when Robert offers to use the old boy network to get the police off his back. He is motivated to agree so as not to drag Sybil down with him.
Girls Need Role Models: Sybil and Gwen. Whilst Mary and Edith partake in the The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry, Anna pines hopelessly after Mr Bates and Daisy is relentlessly manipulated by Thomas, it comes as a relief to watch Sybil and Gwen form an inter-class friendship based on Gwen's desire to become a typist and Sybil's interest in women's emancipation.
Anna falls into this category — she's shown to be an incredibly competent worker, a loyal friend and a very dedicated wife. The scene where she demands that Bates marry her in season 2 shows that she's no pushover. Then, with Bates in prison, she doesn't just sit around and mope but finds a way to prove his innocence.
Mrs Hughes. Fabulous at her job as housekeeper, cool as a cucumber whenever there's a crisis and a definite Team Mom to the house staff. In series one she had a chance to marry a man she liked, but turned him down because she realized she was much happier at Downton as a working woman.
Edith starts to move in this direction in series 3, when she follows in her younger sister's footsteps by writing a letter to the Times criticising the limitations of the government's attempt at women's suffrage (which restricted it to women over 30 who owned a certain amount of property). Arguably a way to redeem the character in the eyes of this trope after she spent the first few episodes of the series chasing Sir Anthony and then acting like her life was over when he jilted her at the altar. Either that, or the writers are just giving her the plots that would have gone to Sybil had she not been McLeaned.
Gold Digger: Plenty of them! Robert originally married Cora for her fortune. The Duke of Crowborough is interested in marrying Mary only if she inherits the estate. Lady Edith wanted to marry Matthew so she can remain at the estate and inherit in Mary's place. Mary hedges about accepting Matthew’s proposal when it looks like he might not inherit Downton (influence by another, however). Lady Rosamund points out that Mary is marrying Sir Richard solely because he is rich (which isn't entirely true). The debt-ridden Lord Hepworth wants to marry Lady Rosamund so he can buy back the estates of his childhood home. In the Season 4 finale a broke British lord pursues Martha Levinson and pushes his daughter at her son Harold.
Good Old Fisticuffs: Thomas v William, and our Will valiantly carries the day. You half-expect Mr Carson or some of the other staff to break into applause.
Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Thomas and O'Brien smoke the cigarettes of evil. In one interview with Rob James-Collier he said he feels that was their common bond; stepping out for a cigarette would give them the chance to get out from under the watchful eye of Mr Carson and plot their schemes.
On the other hand, Lord Grantham enjoys a good cigar after dinner, in which he is sometimes joined by Matthew.
Happily Married: Robert and Cora, with some bumps in the road that are always smoothed out.
Rosamund and Marmaduke were, according to all press pack material, happily married until his death.
Violet and her husband Patrick, fifth Earl of Grantham, were this too. Violet gets tearful twice in series three over the mention of his death, so it was a happy marriage until he died.
Sybil and Branson, after a few hiccups in series three due to Tom's actions with an arsonist group that get them kicked out of Ireland are fairly happily married... until, yes, you guessed it Sybil dies in childbirth. There's a pattern here. See it?
And yet again with Bates and Anna until her horrifying rape in Season 4 drives a wedge of secrecy and trauma between them.
Has a Type: Robert has been in a committed, loving relationship with his wife, Cora, for thirty years. He has a brief dalliance, that never goes beyond stolen kisses, with a housemaid who, like his wife, is a brunette with piercing blue eyes and devoted to her family.
Thomas also has a type—and unfortunately for him, his type is selfish, manipulative, unattainable Pretty Boys like the Duke of Crowborough, Kemal Pamuk, and Jimmy.
Hello, Nurse!: Gender-reversed with Jimmy the handsome footman, who gets both the downstairs ladies, the upstairs ladies and Thomas to light up with interest, and causes a disapproving Carson to say that hard work and industriousness is more important than being handsome.
Hidden Depths: Mrs Hughes may be the kindly, practical Team Mom, but she is anything but naive (she was not at all shocked by Thomas' sexual orientation, even mentioning that he was not the first gay man she had ever known), or timid (she confronted Mr Green and told him to his face that she knew what he did to Anna.
Historical In-Joke: While casting about for alternative ways to make money in the third series finale, Robert mentions a chap in America who promises huge returns on investment, some fellow called Ponzi...
Branson and Sybil are prevented from eloping when Mary and Edith, whom Branson taught to drive, chase after them in the car.
O'Brien's goal since the beginning of series 3 was to make Alfred first footman, and decides to take revenge on Thomas when he tries to sabotage Alfred. In her plot for vengeance, O'Brien makes Thomas believe new footman Jimmy has feelings for him, which leads Thomas to enter Jimmy's room without permission and attempt to make advances on him while he is asleep in season three. The end result, though, is that Lord Grantham hands Jimmy the position of first footman precisely to keep him from reporting Thomas to the police.
Holding Hands: Sybil and Branson have a bit of a moment of holding hands in episode seven and again in 2x08, after Robert gives his consent to their marriage.
Hopeless Suitor: Poor Molesley. He's got no chance with Anna, considering how desperately she loves Mr Bates. His interest doesn't last for long though.
For the duration of an episode, Edna is blatantly trying to win the affections of Branson, but eventually he admits that he can’t consider loving anyone other than Sybil.
Larry Grey was this to Sybil in the past, as she admits he was sweet on her but she can hardly remember him. Yeesh. Suffice to say he doesn't take the fact that she fell in love with and married a servant instead of him very well.
Cora getting pregnant... and then losing the baby. And then finding out that it would have been a boy.
Bates and Anna's engagement and subsequent happiness come crashing down when Vera appears.
Edith finally gets engaged to Anthony Strallan, only for him to leave her at the altar.
Sybil gives birth to a healthy daughter, only to suffer a violent seizure and die hours later.
Everyone is worried about probable complications with Mary’s premature labour. She and the baby come out of it fine, everyone is ecstatic... and then Matthew is killed on the way home from the hospital a few short hours later.
I Don't Want to Ruin Our Friendship: Isobel Crawley gives a speech to this effect to Dr Clarkson, without even realising that he intends to propose. She’s citing this as the reason she doesn’t want to consider remarrying at all.
Idiot Ball: Come series three, it's seemingly taken up residence in Robert's brain. First he discovers he's lost Cora's fortune in an foolish investment (and wonders about reinvesting with "this chap called Ponzi"). Next it's revealed he's been mismanaging the estate for years. Then he refuses to consider Matthew's improvements, even though Downton could be lost again if he doesn't. Finally, he hires a useless doctor to treat Sybil purely because he's a knight, ignores Dr Clarkson's warnings about her pregnancy and overrides everyone else's advice to have a caesarean, leading to his own daughter's death.
It made a short outing to Thomas, who ends up outed after losing himself completely over his current crush — this after surviving at Downton for ten years. (Though much of the staff and family mutter awkwardly about having already been aware of his homosexuality.)
If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Matthew to Richard Carlisle, if indirectly. In Episode 4 of series 2, he tells Mary that if Richard Carlisle ever hurts her, he'll have to answer to him. Considering he's now serving as a captain in World War One, this is a warning not to be taken lightly.
Mrs Crawley: And must you always sound like the sister of Marie Antoinette? Lady Violet: The Queen of Naples was a stalwart figure. I take it as a compliment. Mrs Crawley: You take everything as a compliment. Lady Violet: I advise you to do the same. It saves many an awkward moment.
Robert and William want to be soldiers, but they can't. Thomas and Lang dread participating in the war, but they can't avoid it.
The war brings new responsibilities and new purpose to Edith, Sybil, Cora and Isobel, but it leaves Robert feeling useless.
A bit of historical irony: The first three series are built upon the necessity of having Matthew marry Mary and produce a male heir to get around the entail and ensure the fortune and Downton remain in the family. Entail was abolished in England in 1925. Unless Robert were to randomly die at or before age 55, he could have left Mary everything but the title without any problems; Matthew (assuming he lived that long in the alternate universe) would get the title, but nothing else.
Lady Edith's problem with Mr Gregson has a future legislative solution; unfortunately, it comes in 1937 (allowing for divorce in case of desertion after five years' separation where one spouse has a serious mental illness). Poor Edith.
Gregson's solution of going to Germany and becoming a German citizen to access German divorce laws (which allowed divorce for desertion by reason of mental illness) is extreme in hindsight, considering that several American states would liberalize their divorce laws in the 1920s, and under US law divorce only requires residency rather than citizenship—both of which were and are much easier to acquire than German citizenship, especially for an Englishman (for a start, an Englishman would need to learn German to become German; even if American citizenship were required for American divorce—which it isn't—an Englishman hardly needs to learn another language to take the American citizenship examination).
It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Mr Bates to Anna. She essentially tells him where he can shove it, and they get married anyway as she refuses to have no legal standing in his life, whatever happens.
Branson and the other servants are discussing politics. Branson thinks that the outbreak of war will be a good thing for dissolving class tensions. To prove this he points out the capturing of the Tsar and his family. The other staff look horrified.
Repeatedly, from all three directions in the Mary/Matthew/Lavinia triangle, though of course a jumped-up commoner like Richard Carlisle wouldn't have so much decency. Lavinia even dies telling Matthew that now he can be with the woman he loves, and it's implied that in the last Ouija board scene it's Lavinia guiding Matthew and Mary to be happy together.
Anthony Strallan pulls it off with Edith, claiming that not only is he too old for her but that he couldn't let someone so young and lovely spend their life as nursemaid. The irony is that, as Edith's parents gloomily point out, she is likely to end up this way regardless.
Just Eat Gilligan: All things considered, the household would run a lot smoother if those in charge just got rid of Thomas and O'Brien. And we see this in action in early series 2, when Thomas is fighting on the Western front... but it doesn't last.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Dowager Countess fits this trope; underneath the cold exterior she does care, and is utterly shattered when Sybil dies; she ends up hobbling across the hall, adjusting her veil and looking, for the for the first time in the series like a devastated old woman who has just lost her granddaughter. It's a sad sight, to see someone so powerful in tears! That's how bad things are — and you know things are bad when even the Dowager Countess is crying.
Thomas at first. A bit less so after a genuinely horrendous time in the medical corps. By the end of series 3 he's been swindled out of all his life savings and threatened with prison, and when for the first time ever he does something selfless he's beaten up by two thugs. It's safe to say that karma caught up with him.
O'Brien: she caused Cora's miscarriage, informed Edith about Kemal Pamuk's death in Mary's bed, told Vera that Bates had broken his promise and came back to Downton (as well as creating another avenue for the Pamuk scandal to potentially ruin Mary's life), almost got Thomas sacked or worse, caused various smaller problems and NOTHING has happened to her.
Kick the Dog: Mary's brutal passive-aggressive mockery of Sir Anthony at the garden party. While Edith definitely deserved to be taken down a peg, her suitor did not, and it verges on What the Hell, Hero? level cruelty.
Kissing Cousins: Second cousins Mary and Patrick were informally engaged, though they didn't have much say in it; Edith was in love with Patrick. Mary and Matthew are fourth cousins, but this is only very technically this trope; fourth cousins have only marginally greater risk of genetic problems than unrelated couples (which on average has the same level of genetic risk as fifth cousins).
Know When to Fold 'Em: Robert and Cora eventually stopped fighting the entail after seeing Matthew might actually make a good Earl. This displeased Mary greatly.
The Lady's Favour: Mary gives Matthew her figurine to bring him good luck and asks him to bring it back when saying goodbye before Matthew goes to the war.
Lampshade Hanging: Robert occasionally comments on the unnecessary amounts of drama in his household. When he figures out about Marigold being Edith and Michael's daughter in Season 5, and Cora asks him to keep quiet about it, Robert muses that it's rather nice to be in on one of the secrets in the house.
Everyone, even the Crawleys. The Crawley women basically have only three evening dresses that they rotate through every episode.
Lampshaded by Branson when he and Sybil first return to Downton Abbey after their wedding. Many are shocked to learn that Branson does not even *own* anything fancier than his usual jacket, let alone any true formalwear.
In commentary, Jim Carter (Carson the butler) notes that, until the cricket match in season 3, he has two outfits — one for day scenes and another for evenings.
Literal Metaphor: In Season 4, after the visiting Mr Blake helps Mary save Downton's dehydrated herd of pigs.
Love Triangle: Quite a number. There are three sibling triangles: Edith being in love with Mary's late arranged fiancé Patrick, Edith pining for Matthew, whose interests lie in Mary and vice versa, and Mary incorrectly thinking that Sybil has developed a small crush on Matthew after a Rescue Romance. Mary was also interested in Napier until Kemal Pamuk came along. Then there's William crushing on Daisy, who's crushing on Thomas, who's gay. And then there's Molesley's mild interest in Anna, who's already in UST-territory with Mr Bates. The third series has the Love Quadrilateral of Daisy -> Alfred -> Ivy -> Jimmy, with Thomas also making his own moves on the latter.
Lampshaded by Mrs Patmore: "You know the trouble with you lot? You're all in love with the wrong people."
Miss O'Brien and Thomas slander Mr Bates on more than one occasion in an attempt to get him fired.
Edith spreads Mary's scandalous affair with Kemal Pamuk, causing Mary to lose favor with potential suitors and leaving her future and reputation in jeopardy. After learning of this, Mary screws up Edith's budding relationship with Sir Anthony.
Thomas tries to stir things up by telling Molesley that O'Brien is planning to quit. It's only down to Poor Communication Kills that the rumour gets as far as it does before being quashed, and all it achieves is to make her dislike him even more.
Also Thomas, surprisingly, after the blinded Lieutenant Courtenay commits suicide.
Thomas, Branson, Robert and Carson at Sybil's death.
Man Versus Machine: In Season 4 the Abbey gets an electric mixer for the kitchen. Daisy, who isn't very bright, is thrilled, but Mrs Patmore observes correctly that electric appliances like that are going to put them out of jobs eventually.
Thomas expects to shock and disgust Mrs Hughes. She is understanding.
Mistaken for Terrorist: When an important general is dining at Downton Abbey in Season 2 during the war, Tom Branson hatches a plot to attack him with something concealed inside a soup tureen. When the other staff catch onto his plan, they assume that he has a gun or a bomb and intends to murder the general. Instead, the tureen contains ink, engine oil, cow excrement and other icky substances to render the general Covered in Gunge.
Kemal Pamuk. In-universe, too. Turned out to be a short-lived and creepy jerkass.
Starting with series 3, Jimmy. He eventually grows a personality (albeit one of a peacock) and a plotline (albeit one of a jerkass Casanova).
Multigenerational Household: Although technically the Dowager Countess has her own house, she's at Downton so often that by Series 3, you have four generations under one roof.
Mundane Made Awesome: Alfred's cooking class is given a soundtrack more fitting for an impending war.
My God, What Have I Done?: O'Brien first only seems to show moderate guilt when she knows that she is the direct cause of her mistress's miscarriage, but the look of this trope is truly visible on her face when she learns that Cora had never intended to get rid of her and she's now caused them exquisite pain for no reason whatsoever.
Lord Grantham went to New York to find his bride. A significant fraction of the first series' drama comes from the fact that her money can't be separated from the land and title, 30 years later, as they only had daughters.
In later episodes, their money is gone and the money Matthew has he won't give to the estate, so the impoverished posh people need to find some more new money.
No Hero to His Valet: Thomas to the Duke of Crowborough, although this is more to do with the fact they've been having an affair and the Duke dumps him. Subverted with Bates and Robert.
No Periods, Period: Subtle but devastating in the form of Robert's absolute squeamishness about all things feminine. Throughout the series, even the mildest reference makes him recoil in disgust...a trait that ultimately plays at least a partial role in Sybil's death, since he's too disgusted by the finer details of the matter to listen to expert advice about action that might have saved her.
Not Good with Rejection: The family's disappointment after the Duke of Crowborough didn't ask for Mary's hand was understandable, but they (and even the servants) behaved like they were entitled to a marriage between Mary and him. Like not proposing to Mary was a slander on his part towards the family, and not a polite rejection he had every right to. Of course, in part this was because of how obvious he made it that he was only interested in marrying Mary for money.
The Not-Love Interest: Daisy and Mrs Patmore are inseparable, and the most important person in each other's lives (especially in Daisy's case, who is learning all her life skills from the older woman).
It's largely a mother-daughter sort of relationship.
Not So Stoic: Bates. Robert. Even Carson gives Mary hugs when she needs them.
Nouveau Riche: Rosamund's late husband Marmaduke was the grandson of a manufacturer. Sir Richard Carlisle is a newspaper man.
Oblivious to Love: Daisy to William. Mary appears to be oblivious to Matthew's growing interest in her in early episodes. And Isobel, bless her, manages to give the "I Don't Want to Ruin Our Friendship" speech to Dr Clarkson without ever being consciously aware that he wants a Relationship Upgrade! That, it must be admitted, takes a special kind of obliviousness, or possibly tactfulness.
Official Couple: Mary and Matthew. From the start, the romance between these two characters has been one of the primary focuses of the series and the back and forth nature of their relationship has served as a major conversation topic between the rest of the characters.
Officer and a Gentleman: Matthew, once he enlists as a captain in the British army during World War One in season two. It is also revealed that the Earl was this too.
Offscreen Moment of Awesome: In the Christmas special the Crawley family play charades, whilst Richard sneers at them, telling Lady Grantham that he would never allow himself to look so foolish. His turn is next, at which point Violet says: "how soon your maxim will be tested". Unfortunately, we never get to see how he handles it.
In the War, William and Matthew get cut off from their unit and surrounded by Germans for three days, without being captured or seriously wounded. They somehow make it back to their own lines but get listed as MIA in the confusion.
Mrs Hughes is actually a spinster — she uses "Mrs" as a courtesy title.
This is the reason why the family wanted Mary (who begins the series in her early 20s) to be married off as quickly as possible, "before the bloom is quite gone off the rose", as the Dowager Countess puts it.
Later, Edith is the one fretting over this, once one sister is engaged and the other married and pregnant. And then she's left at the altar by a man twice her age — that's got to sting. And after that, her next beau is married, his wife is institutionalized, and with it being 1920 he can't divorce her on the grounds that they have no possibility of a real relationship.
The Oner: Episode 5 of the second series has an absolutely gorgeous tracking shot showing the wounded soldiers moving into Downton Abbey. It's only a little over a minute long, but that's quite lengthy for a 45 minute episode.
One Steve Limit: Skimming the full character list reveals a few common names (e.g. Charles, John) given to more than one character, but given the setting, most male characters are referred to by their surnames anyway. A minor exception concerning two major characters occurs when the family start addressing Branson as "Tom", which is similar to Thomas. (But conveniently, Thomas has been promoted by now to the point where he's "Mr Barrow.")
Anthony Strallan and Anthony Gillingham, who are fairly prominent love interests for Edith and Mary respectively.
Opera Gloves: The various actresses wear these throughout the series in scenes where they're dressed in formal outfits, starting from episode 1 where Cora is seen putting on a pair of long black gloves while dressing for dinner. (Very much Truth in Television, as properly dressed men and women of the middle and upper classes were expected to wear gloves as accessories to almost everything except bathing suits and sleepwear during The Edwardian Era.)
Oop North: The working-class characters tend to have local Yorkshire accents, with the middle- and upper-class characters having applicable RP accents. Although, it should be pointed out that Robert is still a Yorkshireman born and bred, it's just that people of his class, no matter where they are from in England, always have RP accents, never regional ones. It's down to schooling and immediate family/peer influences.
Old Flame: Prince Kuragin, for the Dowager Countess Violet. The attraction is clearly still there, on both sides, but she has a large number of inhibitions, including (1) the fact that his wife might yet be alive in Hong Kong, (2) she isn't sure if it's quite proper for people of their age to marry, and (3) the simple fact that he is a refugee with nothing.
Orbital Kiss: Mary and Matthew. Branson and Sybil in Season 3 after she returns to Downton from Ireland.
OOC Is Serious Business: When Thomas expresses angry solidarity with an injured William, the entire kitchen stops and stares.
Pair the Spares: Edith and Sir Anthony were leaning to this direction, up until Mary spoils it at the garden party. However, he reappears in the Christmas special and they eventually get engaged, only for him to leave her at the altar because he thought she'd be throwing her life away.
Parental Favoritism: Poor Edith. Her mother's hard-pressed to finally choke out something about her being "helpful" as she pets and praises the beauty of her other two daughters, especially Mary. Lampshaded by the parents:
Robert: Poor old Edith, we never seem to talk about her. Cora: I'm afraid Edith will be the one to care for us in our old age. Robert: What a ghastly prospect.
Carson also admits that Mary is his favorite of the three.
See episode 2x02 for a stellar example; Thomas briefly returns to Downton Abbey after what is implied to be a few years at the front, gets in a few choice insults and leaves to work in the village army hospital without appearing to have changed at all; however, while there, he becomes emotionally attached to a young lieutenant with gas blindness, reading his letters, encouraging him to keep fighting and very nearly coming out to him after speaking about his own difficult past. When the soldier is due to be transferred against his will to another medical facility, Thomas goes to bat for him against the head of the hospital, and after the man's suicide is seen sobbing uncontrollably in a store cupboard.
In the first Christmas special he combines this with a Kick the Dog moment when he kidnaps the dog Isis in the hopes of gaining a promotion for finding his Lordship's lost dog. Isis gets out of the shed where she's been locked, and Thomas frantically searches the woods but can't find her anywhere. When he gets back to the house, all covered in dirt, he's told that a child found Isis and brought her back. He actually pets the dog.
When Thomas dances with Daisy, just because she expresses a wish to learn. Even O'Brien smiles.
When William lies dying, Thomas expresses support for him. much to the shock of everyone else present. He says he doesn't know what they're so surprised for, and points out that whether or not be likes William, they're both working class boys, and later enlisted men, and they get a lot of the same crap.
After young Sybil dies in childbirth, Thomas walks out of the kitchen in a daze and weeps by the stairs, having earlier expressed fondness and friendship from their time working side by side in the hospital. He's still visibly shaken by it in the next episode.
In the second Christmas special, Alfred reveals Thomas still refuses to hear a bad word against Jimmy (despite him nearly sending Thomas to prison and making homophobic remarks about him in front of the other staff), and when Jimmy is attacked by thugs on his way home from the fair, Thomas intervenes and is attacked in his place when Jimmy runs away. He not only doesn't reveal the reason he was attacked to anyone else on the staff, but he asks Jimmy to be his friend — suggesting Jimmy might become a Morality Pet for Thomas in season 4.
O'Brien gets a few Pet the Dog moments when she's the only one to really sympathise with Shell-Shocked Veteran Lang, as her brother went through the same thing.
O'Brien's obvious reluctance to testify against Bates.
When the Countess sees a bereft valet (made to feel useless because of his employer's insistence on doing things by himself) and asks him to take her cup.
A particularly lovely one from the otherwise terminally crotchety Mrs Bird who, after reducing Daisy to tears on learning that she's put soap and aniseed into the dinner (to make the family miss the currently-absent Mrs Patmore), then tells her to dry her tears, saying: "there's worse crimes than loyalty".
Pimped-Out Dress: And hats. Ladies' hats were probably more elaborate in The Edwardian Era than in any other period before or since. The women's evening gowns are simple in line, but often very heavily decorated. Once again, spot-on; from 1909 or so on, women's dress, particularly formal gowns, moved toward very simple, classic lines reminiscent of the Empire/Regency period as opposed to the elaborate styles of the 1890's and early 1900's. Interestingly and probably not coincidentally, corsets began to fall out of style at this time, to be replace by brassieres and girdles.
Lord Grantham: I'm not asking you to abandon your beliefs, Alfred. Just to introduce a little kindness into the equation. Alfred: Am I not to stand up against evil? Lord Grantham: Evil? Thomas does not choose to be the way he is. And what harm was done, really, that his life should be destroyed for it? Alfred: Well— Lord Grantham: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Are you without sin, Alfred? As I am certainly not.
The Roaring Twenties was indeed more accepting of homosexuality and thinking more modernly about several topics than the later decades.
In Series 4, Jack Ross, a black jazz singer, has a relationship with a Marquess's daughter, young Lady Rose — something which would have been unthinkable in 1921. She's mostly in the relationship to spite her mother (though she does love him) and most characters react with a protective concern towards Rose and politeness to Jack, but are far less reactionary to his presence than they would have been in real life. Only Rosamund and Edith actually express strong feeling —
Rosamund: It's a pretty pass when you have to be rescued by a black band-leader.
Edith: Granny, is it really suitable that Rose has brought this man here?
Quit Your Whining: Violet (amiably...for her) says something to this effect to a recently jilted Edith who's worrying what to do with her life.
Rags to Riches: Matthew and Branson each, via the means described under the trope below. On a lesser scale, in series three Robert has bankrupted the estate and there are plans to downsize (they would still appear rich and classy by modern standards, but to them it might as well be poverty), until Matthew comes into (another) inheritance and catapults them back to wealth. (At this point begins Matthew's — and later Branson's — ongoing campaign to modernise the estate and turn it into a profitable, modern agricultural enterprise. It works.)
Rags to Royalty: Branson, after he marries Lady Sybil. It starts out as the opposite, with his wife being "cast down" by the match, but when he's forced to flee his native Ireland and Sybil dies in childbirth, the family take pity on him and his daughter and take them in.
Rebellious Princess: Though she's not quite royalty, Lady Sybil is a rebel who is interested in politics, supports women having the vote, wears trousers, consorts with servants and in series 2 goes so far as to — shudder — actually get a job as a nurse, not to mention marrying the socialist Irish chauffeur, which her father has a hard time coming to terms with.
Rescue Romance: Played with after Sybil's rescue. Mary assumes that Sybil has a crush on Matthew, but it's Branson who's interested in Sybil.
Revenge: Lady Mary and Lady Edith just seem to chase each other in an endless circle of one-upmanship that increases in cruelty at every new level.
Rich Bitch: Mary and Edith, usually to each other.
Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Robert fits this trope, as it is revealed in series three that his poor management of Downton has bankrupted the estate, and it is the former solicitor Matthew and chauffeur/sheep farmer’s nephew Branson who reorder the running of the estate to bail it out.
Riches to Rags: Sybil undergoes this by marrying Branson, although it's an unusual variation in that it's her choice and she welcomes her new lifestyle and claims that she is happy to be “just Mrs Branson”. (This is a very weird occurrence also in that it is synonymous with Branson’sRags to Royalty rise.)
This looks like it is going to happen when Robert loses Cora’s fortune and it looks like theyre going to lose Downton — they wouldn’t be reduced to anything like 'rags', but they would have to suffer a major reduction in their standard of living. Luckily, this is averted at the last minute.
Right for the Wrong Reasons: In series 4, Thomas accuses one of the nannies of mistreating the children just because he takes a dislike to her. Of course, Cora should go up to hear her side of the story at precisely the moment that she's telling baby Sybil to "shut up, you filthy little half-breed" because she's keeping her blue-blooded cousin awake.
The Rival: Isobel Crawley to Violet Crawley. This seems less so during Series 3, as they seem fonder of each other and even decide to get a car home together. Even less so when Isobel nurses Violet back to health in Series 4.
Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: A recurring theme is the polarisation of the household between the more modern members who want to embrace change (notably Matthew, Sybil and Edith upstairs; Gwen, Thomas and Branson downstairs), those who would rather leave it the way it is/return to the past (Robert and Violet upstairs; Carson downstairs), and those happy to compromise (particularly Cora, Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore). Things start to reach a head in series 3, as Matthew and Robert are now co-owners of the estate and have wildly different ideas about how to run it.
Rule of Three: Used In-Universe. After the sinking of the Titanic and the death of the Turkish gentleman, Daisy is certain that something else is bound to happen. It takes two years, but sure enough... Maybe people should listen to Daisy more often. Cruelly averted in series three, though, when tragedies come in four.
Branson turns down Robert's offer of a bribe to abandon Sybil.
Ethel refuses to give her baby to Major Bryant's wealthy parents, as she believes it's better for him to grow up with a poor but loving mother. This is later averted in a redux of the same situation.
Matthew refuses Reggie Swire's inheritance claiming that it would be "taking money under false pretenses" as Reggie didn't know the truth of him and Lavinia. Of course, after two episodes he's given a convenient excuse for accepting.
Shipper on Deck: Carson, Cora, Robert, The Dowager Countess, Rosamund (although perhaps in part out of guilt for shooting it down the first time), possibly Branson, even Isobel and Anna, even Lavinia, at the end of her life...at this point, is there anyone who doesn't ship Mary/Matthew? Apparently so, for Martha Levinson isn't fond of them to begin with, but it grows on her.
Maybe Edith. Sir Richard.
Mary, for her part, ships Anna/Bates rather blatantly.
Isobel for Sybil/Branson in S2. Matthew jumps on board in S3. (And they do need the support).
Cruelly subverted/deconstructed with O'Brien in series 3. After discovering that Jimmy not only suspects that Thomas has a crush on him, but is revolted and a whisper away from reporting him to Carson, she starts encouraging Thomas that Jimmy feels the same way. This hearsay evidence is enough to convince Thomas to sneak into Jimmy's room half-undressed and kiss him as he sleeps.
Shipping Torpedo: Daisy is not fond of anyone Alfred flirts with. Also, in Season 2, everyone towards Tom and Sybil, and Violet and Rosamund towards Matthew and Lavinia.
Ship Tease: If Carson cheerfully singing "She Stole My Heart Away" whilst polishing silver after Mrs Hughes is declared cancer-free — while that lady looks on biting her lip and beaming like a giddy schoolgirl — isn't this, then nothing is.
And then in the 2013 Christmas Special Carson and Hughes holding hands on the beach.
Shirtless Scene: Branson gets a partial one in season 1 and then a full one in the 2012 Christmas Special.
Also Jimmy's when Thomas happens to stumble upon him undressing...
Shot at Dawn: The fate of Mrs Patmore's nephew, for cowardice.
Mrs Hughes makes a parallel between Ethel's story and The Scarlet Letter. Violet doesn't get the reference but says it sounds "most unsuitable" (trust the Dowager Countess not to know anything about American literature!).
There was in fact a real Earl of Grantham. The title was created in 1698, but became extinct upon the Earl's death in 1754, because he had no surviving male heirs. Ironically, this also averts the trope of did not do the research, for the press pack states that the First Earl of Grantham (in the show) became earl in 1772, eighteen years later.
Though it's played for laughs, acting was seen by many at the time to be just as disreputable a profession as Carson believes it to be.
It may seem to views like an Ass Pull to have Lavinia die of the Spanish flu rather than Cora, especially when the latter was initially responding worse to it. However, part of what made the 1918 flu unique was that, unlike other strains, most of the deaths were from teenagers and young adults with healthy immune systems. When the 1918 flu killed, it was most often the result of a cytokine storm, i.e., the immune system overreacting to the flu and drowning the patient in their fluids. This was more likely the more robust the patient's immune system was—and younger people tend to have stronger immune systems than their elders, and this showed up in the fatality rates: 99% of fatal cases of 1918 flu in the US were in patients under 65, and half were in patients aged 20 to 40. (At the time of the episode, Lavinia is in her 20s and Cora is 50.)
Sibling Rivalry: Between Mary and Edith. Culminates most viciously in the end of the first series when Mary learns that Edith ruined her reputation by informing the Turkish ambassador of the circumstances of Mr Pamuk's death, and ruins Edith's prospect of a good and happy marriage in revenge.
Sleeping Single: Averted by Robert and Cora, despite the fact that "really smart people sleep in separate rooms". Until series three, when Cora refuses her bed to Robert because she blames him for Sybil’s death. They do have separate bedrooms, and this is where Robert’s gets some use.
Slipping a Mickey: Larry Grey does this to Tom at one dinner early in Series 3; he is roundly condemned for it by everyone, especially his father.
Lady Mary's unfortunate dalliance with the Turk wasn't just unlucky, but very nearly a social disaster, and not merely because he died.
From the second season, housemaid Ethel loves a man in uniform, and when caught with one is sacked without notice and without references. The gentleman has to put his trousers back on. Pregnancy leaves her destitute and him... mildly inconvenienced when people try to rub his nose in it.
By the third season, Ethel has become a prostitute. It goes as well for her as you might imagine when she asks for help. Her son's grandparents are divided: the grandmother is sympathetic and caring, the grandfather heaps her with recrimination and hatred. When Mrs Crawley takes her in as a maid (and later cook), her cook has nothing but contempt for her and eventually leaves Mrs Crawley's service over it. Lady Violet doesn't care for it either, and eventually helps Mrs Crawley get her a position in London, away from the village and its gossip.
Cousin Rose's mother even calls her a slut in the 2012 Christmas special for wearing a dress in the latest fashion. Lady Violet, of all people, defends her ("Dear me, that's not a word you often hear among the heather"). Amusingly, she then says she has no place to criticise when in her youth she had once worn the latest fashions of the 1860s and '70s:
Violet: Oh, my dear, in my day I wore the crinoline, the bustle, and the leg-of-mutton sleeves; I am not in a strong position to criticise.
Lady Edith in Season 4 is called out by Aunt Rosamund for spending the night with Gregson. Rosamund eventually helps Edith give birth to a child discreetly in Switzerland.
Small Reference Pools: The writers were wise making the sinking of the HMS Titanic as the starting event for the series considering it is the one Edwardian Era historical event that is widely known with the general English speaking public that would logically make such a big impact on the nobility.
Gender Swapped with Baby Sybil. It's the mother who dies in this case.
When Matthew is killed in an accident right after the birth of his son we’re even treated to a shot of an unsuspecting Mary holding their baby in the hospital right afterwards to close out the episode.
An ambitious redhead that doesn't want to stay in service but go out and make it big. Where have we heard that before, Ethel? Although there are some differences: Gwen's ambition ran only to the much more realistic goal of becoming a secretary; Ethel wants to be a movie star. And Gwen actually works toward her goals (with some help from Lady Sybil), while Ethel seems to think she should just be handed them. In turn, the ends for each of their characters are also very different.
After Sybil's death, Rose seems set to take her place as the upstairs "modern girl", although, in true Mash fashion, there are clear differences between their characters (Sybil was an idealistic reformer and Rose is a party girl).
Take a Third Option: Several, of course, but most significant is the Dowager Countess' effort to repair Robert and Cora's marriage after Lady Sybil's death in Series 3. The nub of the dispute was that Robert had believed Sir Philip Tapsell that Sybil's troubles around delivery time was more or less normal and that her best chance of survival was to leave her alone; Cora, on the other hand, believed Dr Clarkson's assessment that the confusion, etc., were symptoms of toxemia (i.e. pre-eclampsia) and that she could be saved by having the baby by Caesarian section. Violet convinces Dr Clarkson to say, in essence, that both he and Sir Philip were wrong: that yes, it was toxemia, but on the other hand the Caesarian was extremely unlikely to save Sybil, and she would in all likelihood have died no matter what the doctors did. As awful as the assessment was, it helped Cora stop blaming Robert for Sybil's death, so the plan worked.
Technical Virgin: Kemal Pamuk promises Mary she'll still be a virgin for her husband. God only knows exactly what happens before he keels over and dies in her bed.
Rest assured, nothing untoward occurred. According to the script book, they cut out the line, Pamuk: "Or mine. But a little imagination, a phial of blood hidden beneath your pillow. You wouldn't be the first." According to his commentary Julian Fellows deeply regrets this cut and never intended for there to be anything unimaginable happen to Mary.
Tempting Fate: In series 2, Anna and John Bates can't stop telling each other how in love they are and how happy they are going to be. Cue something horrible to keep them apart in the same episode.
Thanatos Gambit: In series 3 Anna figures out that Vera Bates poisoned and ate her own pie in order to frame Mr Bates for her murder.
Used in a unique and strictly platonic sense between Thomas and O'Brien. He's attractive, young, gay and snarky; she's a plain, stern woman in her forties, and it generally seems as if their only interest in each other stems from a mutual desire to cause trouble. However, it's rather sweet when you find out that they have consistently and faithfully stayed in touch with one another during his years at the front, and she appears to genuinely worry over his welfare and displays a great deal of happiness (for her) when he returns safely from the war. Though this all pretty much goes out the window in series three, when they’re carrying a Conflict Ball.
Notably averted between Mary and Edith; in the first series the two oldest Crawley sisters genuinely loathe each other and have no Aww, Look! moments to soften it. Following the death of Sybil after giving birth in the fifth episode of the third series, Edith asks if she and Mary can ever be friends. Mary responds "No. But here and now, we'll pretend".
The second season does give one moment, when Edith tells Mary about Matthew being MIA, not out of a desire to hurt her, but because she genuinely believes Mary ought to know. It's not much, but it is something after how much they're been at each other's throats.
Throwing Off the Disability: Matthew goes from experiencing confusing tingling feelings to becoming fully erect (what are you sniggering at?) in the course of one episode, barring the occasional Hand Wave that he'll need to "take things slowly". Though the way time works on this show, the space between the two episodes could have been months.
Time Skip: Several times at regular-spaced intervals throughout. The first series begins in 1912 (sinking of the Titanic) while it ends in 1914. The second series begins two years later in 1916 and ends in 1919. There’s a one-year gap between the series three finale and the same seasons Christmas special.
Tomboy: Lady Sybil is less interested in ladylike pursuits than her sisters, dislikes fiddly corsets and skirts and eventually begins wearing ankle-length culottes instead of a dress.
Took a Level in Jerkass: Robert in Season 3 seems to become vastly more arrogant and reactionary while his mother, formerly the show's token conservative, mellows somewhat and is given more chances to Pet the Dog. A lot of the change seems to stem from his disapproval of his former chauffeur now being a member of the family, his wounded pride at having to take Matthew's money, and his general creeping irrelevance to the household as a whole — he still feels all the same responsibilities as patriarch of the family, but regularly sees his opinions ignored or mocked as outdated.
Took a Level in Kindness: O'Brien. Edith, after caring for the injured soldiers staying at Downton. Mary also grows far nicer over the course of the series (as Matthew points out at the end of series three). Violet in series three.
Unexpected Successor: Matthew Crawley goes from being a Mancunian lawyer to the heir of the Earl of Grantham and his estate, thanks to a couple of casualties in the line of succession and the current Earl's lack of a male child. Not that either Matthew or Robert are thrilled about this at first.
Edith; Mary's the eldest and Sybil's the tearaway, but Edith is just the unassuming, dutiful Middle Child, and nobody pays her much attention. Lampshaded in the Comic Relief parody when she is introduced as "Daughter Number Two".
Robert's unfavorite son-in-law, hands down, is Branson for most of Series 3. He might not have been thrilled about Strallan as Edith's choice of husband, but at least he was friends with the man, and he thought of Matthew as the son he should have had. But he didn't even go to Sybil & Tom's wedding and cut Tom out of the decisions concerning his wife's treatment during childbirth. Decisions which ultimately led to her death.
Sybil also becomes this by association in Season 3. She and Cora are still on affectionate terms, but Robert is blatantly disapproving of her marriage and life choices.
Wartime Wedding: William leaves to fight in WWI and asks Daisy to marry him when the war is over; she doesn't love him and wants to turn him down, but accepts because Mrs Patmore tells her that William should not have to go to war heartbroken. He is mortally wounded in the trenches, and marries Daisy hours before his death because he wants her to have a widow's pension.
Webcomic Time: While the first two series quite explicitly take place over eight years (April 1912 to January 1920), the characters tend to act like it has been a shorter period of time, and the younger characters do not seem to have aged eight years. In particular, (nearly) eight years go by with none of the Earl's daughters getting married. At their ages, in that era, this would be a huge problem — although the war provides some excuse for the delay, it's still cause for scepticism.
In fairness, it is considered a huge problem with Mary, though Robert is not aware of her, uhm, past. It's less emphasized with Edith, as both Robert and Cora seem to have decided early on she's nigh-on unmarriageable. Sybil was just barely of marriageable age before the war, and winds up marrying Tom almost immediately after it.
A few of the actors have alluded to the time issues in the show. Dame Maggie Smith commented in an interview that "she must be about 110" by the show's last season, and Sophie McShera has joked that Daisy must have been about 10 when the show started. (Note that it's All There in the Manual on the Dowager Countess' part; she was apparently born in the 1840s, which would make her in her 60s at the start of the series and in her 70s or 80s by Series 4).
The ante-penultimate episode of series 2 — where to start? Richard tries to pay Anna to spy on Mary, Carson finds out and refuses to work for him; Matthew gets almost total use of his legs back over the course of about ten minutes, and Violet wastes no time in trying to set him back up with Mary; Ethel bursts in on dinner to present her lovechild to its grandparents; Bates reveals he bought the rat poison his wife used to kill herself; Thomas invests all his money in a black market business and gets screwed over; Sybil elopes with Branson and her sisters chase her down and bring her back to the house.
There’s the series three Christmas special, when Matthew is brutally killed in an automobile accident in the final seconds... right after everyone started breathing a sigh of relief that the succession was finally in the bag.
Wham Line: Even if you knew this was coming, the last line from the first series changes everything:
Wham Shot: At the end of 4x07, Green nonchalantly reveals to the whole table, thanks to a little prompting from Baxter, that he came downstairs during the Nellie Melba concert when Anna was raped. The final shot of the episode is Bates, who had been led to believe that Anna's rapist was a burglar who broke in; his hands are trembling and he is glaring right at Green. Bates knows.
Mrs Patmore forced Daisy to pretend to be William's sweetheart as he went to war. It started with Daisy giving him a picture and ended with a deathbed marriage. Daisy got increasingly unhappy with the lie and ended up calling the cook out for it.
When Mary walks in on Matthew and Mr Murray discussing the management of Downton on the morning after the death of her sister, Sybil, she rather gently chews them out for their poor taste.
Cora blames Robert for Sybil's death after he makes the wrong call in a case of conflicting medical advice, and he accepts that there's some truth to this, despite Violet's attempt to comfort him.
Ethel when she gets involved with Major Bryant. Anna even tried to warn her.
Will They or Won't They?: Mr Bates and Anna, Matthew and Mary, Branson and Sybil, and Robert and Jane. Edna and Branson. Answers in order: They Do, They Do, They Do... until something terrible happens, They Don’t. They Don’t.
Whole Plot Reference: The flower show conflict is almost a straight rerun of the Best Picture-winning 1942 film Mrs. Miniver (except that the old man is not killed in a German air raid the same night).
Zany Scheme: All of Thomas' schemes to become Lord Grantham's valet, but plotting to steal and then return his beloved Labrador, Isis, takes the cake. Zany, perhaps, but note that this was the scheme that ended up getting him the job. Lord Grantham was so touched by Thomas spending all night out searching for his dog, that he decided to give Thomas a try after all.