Synopsis: In April 1912, the sinking of the Titanic claims the lives of the two heirs of Downton Abbey. News of their death breaks the heart of Lord Grantham, and also causes stir in his household. With no heir in sight, Lord Grantham’s daughter stands a chance to claim what is rightfully hers, but it would mean breaking the entail that unjustly prevents her from inheriting the title and the estate that comes along with it. Having tied their fortune to the estate, the Crawleys face losing their fortune to a complete stranger.
Episode Summary: In the wee hours of the morning, a telegram arrives with awful news, but one that is not worth the urgency. Those who received it wait until the addressees are sober enough to hear it. By six in the morning the servants of Downton Abbey are all up busy ensuring that the house is tidied up before their masters awake. While eating breakfast, the bells start ringing, and the servants begin attending to their masters’ calls. All tasks were finished on schedule except for the newspaper that arrived late, and for good reason. While ironing the newspaper to dry the ink, the footman William stumbles upon the headline. He immediately calls the attention of the butler Mr. Carson.
The Titanic, the unsinkable ship, had sunk and taken with it the lives of many of its passengers. As the Crawleys confirm rumors of the tragedy they heard from their servants, Lady Sybill hands a telegram that had just arrived to her father. Robert, Lord Grantham, rushes to his wife Cora who at that moment is reading the newspaper, and only finding about the news of Titanic’s sinking is concerned about the friends they know who are aboard the ship only to learn that James and Patrick were onboard the fateful ship, and were one of the dead.
James Crawley was Lord Grantham’s first cousin and heir to the title, while Patrick Crawley was James’ only son. Lady Mary, Lord Grantham’s eldest daughter, is the rightful heir, but her being a woman forbids her from inheriting the estate. Lord Grantham being without a son leaves Downton Abbey without an heir.
John Bates, the new valet to Lord Grantham arrives. Sporting a limp, he immediately receives judging looks from Miss O’Brien, Lady Grantham’s maid. He, however, receives a warm welcome from Anna, the head housemaid. Mr. Bates’ handicap becomes a concern to the servants including the governess Mrs. Hughes, but he ensures them that he can manage.
As per his wife’s request, Lord Grantham shares the terrible news of James and Patrick’s death, and Lady Mary’s reaction to the news disappoints him. Lady Mary is more concerned about her having to be in mourning with her being Patrick’s fiancé even though their engagement has not been announced to the public. Lady Mary is relieved to have been given the choice to choose not to mourn her fiancé’s death, but Lord Grantham could not be more disgusted at learning that her daughter is more troubled at having to be in mourning than knowing the fact that their close relatives have lost their lives.
Mr. Thomas, the first footman who has taken over the job of valet to Lord Grantham when Mr. Watson left, shows Mr. Bates his room. With the servants quarters a couple of floors up, it seems that going up to his room is already a major feat in itself for Mr. Bates. Mr. Thomas then shows Mr. Bates to Lord Grantham’s dressing room, and reluctantly briefs him of their master’s preferences. The first footman is annoyed at having been passed over for the job more so by a man with a lame leg. Mr. Bates notices Lord Grantham’s snuffbox collection, and could not help comment about how these precious possessions are all within their reach, but none of it is theirs. Mr. Thomas is taken aback with Mr. Bates statement.
Robert shares his concern to Cora who defends Mary’s reaction as something any female in her position would share. Moreover, she urges him to challenge the entail that she finds unreasonable. Robert could not explain why the heir to his title should inherit Downton Abbey, but it is the law, and so they must abide by it. The Dowager Countess arrives asking for Lady Cora specifically to speak to her about the current complication left by the deaths of Downton’s heirs. So it seems that is only Lord Grantham whose heart is genuinely broken at having lost his cousin and nephew. The reason for Violet’s visit is to inform Cora that the new heir is Robert’s third cousin once removed, a person whom they hardly know, and she personally has not even met. This upsets Cora who was forced by the Violet’s late husband to sign the contract that ensures the person who has the title to inherit the estate along with the money that comes with it, most of it from her. In her late husband’s defense, she informs her that the only goal of the contract is to protect the estate. He never imagined her not bearing a son. They, however, found a solution in Mary marrying Patrick, and her bearing a son who will then be the rightful heir. With Patrick dead, a complete unknown is going to inherit everything. Although there is a way to save Cora’s dowry, it would mean breaking up the estate, which would therefore lead to the end Downton Abbey. Clearly not the right option to take, the Dowager Countess proposes the only acceptable solution, and that is to smash the entail in its entirety; doing so would make Lady Mary the official heiress of Downton Abbey and Cora’s dowry. The Dowager Countess is opposed to handing over the estate to a stranger, and would do everything in her power to prevent that from happening.
Mr. Carson informs Lord Grantham of the arrival of Mr. Bates, and is not afraid to share his concern about the valet being up to the task. Curious as to why Lord Grantham had chosen a man with a handicap, the servants soon learn why. Lord Grantham personally welcomes Mr. Bates to Downton informing them that he was an old comrade-in-arms. So it appears that Mr. Bates is an old and dear friend of their master.
Lord Grantham holds a memorial for James and Patrick Crawley instead of a funeral, because their bodies were never found. Right after the memorial, Lord Grantham goes down to business, and on their march from the church to their house asks his lawyer about the new heir. Mr. Murray is happy to report that he did not find anything alarming about the new heir, Matthew Crawley. Matthew is a solicitor based in Manchester whose expertise is in company law. His father, a doctor, is deceased, but his mother is alive, and lives with him. Mr. Murray discusses the details of the entail, and how the heir to Lord Grantham’s title inherits everything except for the sums set aside for his daughters and widow. However, the bulk of Lady Cora’s fortune would unjustly go to the heir as per the law.
Marching home, Edith could not help but be caught up by her emotions with Patrick’s death. This upsets Mary who was supposed to be the young man’s fiancée, but unlike Edith is insensitive to his death. Meanwhile, the kitchen is busy as ever preparing the rather extravagant meal before the Crawleys arrive from the memorial. The head cook, Mrs. Patmore, notices that the salt of sorrel used to clean the brass pots was left on the kitchen table. She asks Daisy to put away the poisonous cleaning implement, and have one of the footmen bring the eggs in the dining room. Daisy manages to have William bring the garnish to the dining room, but mistakenly hands him the salt of sorrel. She is made aware of what she has done when Mrs. Patmore points out that the eggs are still in the kitchen. In a panic, she asks one of the maids to help her, but fortunately William arrives with the salt of sorrel giving her the opportunity to right her wrong.
The servants are equally curious as to the future of Downton Abbey. Mrs. Hughes asks Mr. Carson if anything has been settled, but he gloomily reports that things are far from over. All he knows is that they have found a new heir. It breaks Mr. Carson’s heart to watch the family he loyally serves be threatened with the loss of what is rightfully theirs. Mr. Carson considers the Crawleys as his family. He and Mrs. Hughes sacrificed their personal lives in the service of the Crawleys, and have chosen not to have their own families.
Lord Grantham unaware of Mr. Bates affliction until he had seen him at Downton learns that an old army wound caused his limp. A shrapnel in his knee was not removed severely damaging it, and causing him to rely on a cane to walk. Meanwhile, Lady Cora asks about him to Miss O’Brien who informs her that the man is having difficulty doing his job due to his handicap. O’Brien’s loyalty lies with Thomas who had his eye on the valet job. Thomas who spent the morning at the village having sent a telegram gets an update from O’Brien upon his return. With Lord Grantham and Mr. Murray discussing the details of the entail among themselves, not even Lady Cora has an inkling of what their future will be. Thomas believes that Bates must have heard something, but the man keeps to himself. Thomas is still upset at not getting the job, but has given all hope to being a valet to Lord Grantham knowing that Mr. Bates has become their master’s friend after being his batman at Boers. O’Brien, however, gives him hope.
Mary though only in mourning as a cousin is still annoyed at having to dress as so. This upsets Edith who reminds Mary that she was Patrick’s fiancée. It is the least she could do to mourn the death of a man she was about to marry. Mary bluntly informs her that she was only going to marry Patrick if nothing better turned up. She knows that Patrick would have ended up with Edith who truly loved the young man, and given the opportunity would have married him in an instant. Later, Sybil notices that Mary has become glum, and learns that she has become sad at realizing that she is not as unhappy as one who has lost a fiancé.
Mr. Thomas begins saying unkind remarks about Mr. Bates to Mr. Carson presenting him as someone who is more of a burden than of help. He masks his spitefulness with concerns about the house not functioning, as it should be. With his competency being tested, Mr. Bates assures Lord Grantham that he won’t let him down. He will prove to all concerned that Lord Grantham made the right choice of hiring him as his valet. Meanwhile, Miss O’Brien has been putting in seeds of doubt in the mind of Lady Cora telling stories of how Mr. Bates could not walk when he applied for the job, and how the man struggles in his duties as valet. Cora thinks that Robert has lost his objectivity in hiring a crippled man as a valet. She believes that her husband had only done so to help a comrade despite knowing that the person is unqualified. At last, Robert confesses that he merely wants to give Bates a chance.
Violet drops by for dinner. Not used to having electricity, she fusses about at the glare of the lights in the house. Robert offers to install one at the Dower House, but Violet would not want any of it afraid of the vapors she believes it emits. She is not the only one who has not been entirely accustomed to having it in the house for Cora was opposed to having one installed in the bedroom. However, Violet did not visit to talk about the wonders of electricity, but rather to get news about Murray’s recent visit. Robert informs his mother that Murray is not optimistic about breaking the entail. This troubles Violet knowing that they are to lose Cora’s fortune given that her husband made sure that her money is forever bound to the estate that is entailed to Robert’s heir. Violet reminds him that he married Cora, against her wishes, only for her money. She finds it odd that Robert is now willing to give it away defeating the purpose of his marriage. Robert tells his mother that though he did shamefully chose Cora for her money; she has made him very happy. This leads Violet to ask if Robert cares for Downton. Insulted with her mother’s question, Robert answers her that he has made it his career to nurture the house and the estate, and has devoted his life to Downton Abbey so much so that he considers it as his third parent and his fourth child. If that does not show that he cares about Downton then what else would?
Hearing of Patrick’s death, the young Duke of Crowborough shows interest on Mary. This delights Violet, but is still concerned of Mary’s prospects given that the entail prevents her from inheriting Downton. Her son has no plan of breaking the entail, and believes that their only recourse is to save his wife’s fortune, which would also be the ruin of Downton. With the time of mourning over, masters and servants of Downton alike look forward to the Duke’s visit. Mr. Bates insists on attending the Duke’s reception much to Mr. Carson’s dismay. The Duke of Crowborough arrives without a valet, and personally chooses Thomas to attend to his needs during his stay. To help further her friend’s interest, Miss O’Brien kicks Mr. Bates’ cane causing him to fall on the ground making a spectacle. Lord Grantham himself runs over to his fallen friend who declares that he is unharmed, while Anna helps the fallen servant get up. So it seems that Miss O’Brien’s antic has sparked another round of campaigning against Mr. Bates with Lady Cora by her side.
Lady Mary tries her best to entertain the Duke of Crowborough who makes an unusual request. He asks her to accompany him in exploring the little known areas of the house, and insists that they do it in secret. This flatters Lady Mary. They make their way to the servants’ quarters where a locked door that separates the men’s rooms from the women’s bar their way. However, the key is left at the women’s side of the hall with instructions that only Mrs. Hughes may use it. The Duke of Crowborough defies this honesty policy, and leads Mary to the men’s quarters. Though she finds prying disrespectful, Mary is swept by the thrill of their adventure, and allows the Duke to search through Thomas’ drawers. That is when Mr. Bates arrives embarrassing Lady Mary, but not the Duke. Lady Mary apologizes for her actions, which surprises the Duke.
The incident at the Duke’s reception prompts Mr. Carson to finally appeal to Lord Grantham to replace Mr. Bates. Although he does not blame the man for being unable to do his duties, he does make the point that Mr. Bates has difficulty fulfilling what is expected of him. Despite Mr. Bates’ ineffectiveness, Thomas is not an ideal servant either, and Mrs. Hughes knows this well seeing him taking advantage of William who was left alone to stow away all of the Duke’s luggage. William who buries himself with work to keep his mind off of home assures Mrs. Hughes that he does not mind. Seeing that the young man is homesick, Mrs. Hughes brings comfort in saying that he must not hide his longing for home for it must mean that he has a happy home.
Lord Grantham succumbs to the pressures set by Mr. Carson and his wife, and finally decides to let go of Mr. Bates. Mr. Bates, who says nothing about his supposed fall, though not without dignity, pleads for his job, informing Lord Grantham that it is unlikely for him to find another position even in a smaller household. He offers to have wages taken out of his salary whenever an extra footman is required, but Lord Grantham would not allow this. Lord Grantham offers to help him until he finds himself another job, but Mr. Bates would only take money for work he has done. With no solution in sight, Mr. Bates agrees to be relieved of his duties at Downton Abbey. Lord Grantham allows him to stay the night, but he is to catch the train to London in the morning. Moreover, he insists that Mr. Bates be paid a month’s wages.
Lady Edith bent on stirring things for Lady Mary brings up his sister’s adventure at the attic in the afternoon. Lady Sybil comes to Mary’s defense, and also Violet who supposes the Duke to be a student of architecture. She gives the Duke an open invitation to inspect her cottage that she declares to be designed by Wren for the first Earl’s sister. It was a failed attempt to distract Lord Grantham, and Lady Edith’s incessant chatter about the two’s exploits is causing discomfort to everyone including Lady Cora and the Dowager Countess who are bent on pairing Lady Mary with the Duke. The servants seem to be looking forward on the pairing to work as well. Mr. Carson believes that Lady Mary, the heiress of the Earl of Grantham, could someday be a duchess. Him calling Lady Mary an heiress causes Mrs. Hughes to ask if the proposed change in the entail has finally been decided, but Mr. Carson was merely expressing his opinion on the matter. He believes that it is only just that the eldest daughter of the Earl of Grantham should inherit the title and Downton Abbey. Meanwhile, news of Mr. Bates’ sacking has reached the servants, and Mr. Carson insists that Mr. Bates is leaving without a stain on his character. William expresses his opinion believing that Mr. Bates need not go for he does not mind the extra work to help him out. Thomas volunteers to be Lord Grantham’s valet, but Mr. Carson refuses his offer given that he is already attending to the Duke. So it seems that his and O’Brien’s plan is a bust. Anna could not help but feel sorry for Mr. Bates who excused himself from dining with the other servants that she asks permission to bring him food. She finds the poor man crying in his room, but pretends not to have heard his sobs.
Lord Grantham has never been a fan of the Duke of Crowborough, and he makes it plain when the Duke begins to show interest in their family’s private affairs. He believes him to be an opportunist whose only goal to is to be Lady Mary’s husband that he may take part in the young woman’s fortune when she inherits Downton. The Duke, however, is disappointed to learn that Lord Grantham has no plans on fighting the entail. Lord Grantham believing the young Duke to be only after Lady Mary’s money bluntly tells him that her daughter’s settlement when she marries is more than respectable. This catches the Duke off-guard who insists that Lord Grantham has misjudged him. He has no interest in Lady Mary, and this he shows when he refuses the young woman’s company. He must have done so knowing that there is nothing to gain from carrying on a relationship with Mary given that she will not inherit Downton Abbey. This brings a smile to Lady Edith’s face, but a short-lived one when her comment backfires on her. The Duke was not lying about having no interest on Lady Mary for he is a homosexual who has taken Thomas as his lover.
Little did anyone know that the Duke’s visit was prompted by a telegram from Thomas eager to know the business about the entail. Having drawn out Lord Grantham’s lack of plan to fight the entail, the Duke shares this startling information to his footman lover. The penniless Duke has to find an heiress for it is clear that Lady Mary will not be one. It seems that all were counting on Lady Mary’s succession to the title even Thomas who hoped to become the Duke’s valet on top of him being his lover. Seeing that the Duke has turned against him, Thomas threatens him with damaging proof of their relationship, but the Duke was on to him. So it is now known that the Duke’s adventure in the attic was not mere folly for he purposely pried in Thomas’ belongings to find the love letters that were the only proof of their scandalous relationship. Now, all that is gone for he, in front of Thomas, throws it into the fire to burn.
And so Lord Grantham has decided, Lady Mary will not be Duchess or heiress. He has finally put his foot down, and had come clean on his decision not to put up a fight for her daughter. Lord Grantham does what his conscience tells him and believes that his duty to Downton Abbey comes first, and choosing the welfare of her daughter is nothing short of betraying the estate. Still, Lady Cora could not fathom her husband’s decision, and would have been satisfied with her daughter becoming a Duchess despite knowing that the Duke was nothing but a fortune hunter. It is not surprising that she would be satisfied with that arrangement for she herself married one. Fortunately for her and Lord Grantham, the two of them eventually fell in love with each other. Though tolerant of her husband’s decision, Lady Cora makes it known to Lord Grantham that she has not given up the fight.
Catching the same train to London, Mr. Bates hitches a ride with the Duke of Crowborough with Lord Grantham’s permission. The Duke seeing no prize in pursuing Lady Mary wastes no time to leave Downton to seek another wealthy bride. Moreover, he has burned any proof of his homosexual relationship with a footman that would have been the end of him. Lord Grantham bids farewell to Mr. Bates then as though struck by his conscience runs after the car and asks Mr. Bates to return to duty as his valet.
Meanwhile, in Manchester, Michael Crawley is having a meal with her mother when he receives a letter from Lord Grantham. It is a letter that will change their lives forever.
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