The 10 Best Downton Abbey Episodes
If dreaming of the possibilities of a big-screen return to the lives of the Crawley family and their staff has you feeling nostalgic, here are the ten episodes that every fan should watch again before the movie comes out. And if you’ve never seen the show, they also make a perfect primer to get you up to speed. Be forewarned: Spoilers abound. These are the Downton Essentials:
1. EVERYONE SAY “ENTAIL!” (THE SERIES PREMIERE)
We are introduced to the Crawley family and their extensive staff at Downton Abbey as news of the Titanic reaches them. (The news is personal as the Crawley heir, a distant cousin, has perished aboard the ship.) New arrivals come to Downton and new alliances are formed as intrigue rules both family and staff.
Why it’s essential: If for no other reason than it establishes the lifestyle the Crawleys spend the rest of the series defending from the advance of modernity.
BatesWatch: Establishing a roller coaster of drama which will follow him until the series end, Bates is hired, charms Anna, is tripped by O’Brien, gets fired, and then gets rehired.
The quote: “Are we to be friends then?” “We are allies, my dear, which can be a good deal more effective.”
2. MR. PAMUK MAKES HIS ENTRANCE—AND A QUICK EXIT (SEASON 1, EPISODE 3)
Evelyn Napier comes calling with the unexpected Mr. Pamuk for a hunt at Downton. Housemaid Gwen wants to become a secretary, forcing many conversations about her decision. Edith makes her play for Matthew. Pamuk forces himself into Mary’s bedroom and then dies on her.
Why it’s essential: Mr. Pamuk’s death is the event that sealed Downton Abbey’s fate as a must-watch series. It’s easily one of the most shocking moments in the show’s history. It haunts Mary for years and spawned a half-dozen storylines until she could finally put it behind her.
BatesWatch: Bates buys a “limp-corrector,” which does anything but what it advertises. Mrs. Hughes makes him throw it in a pond because she’s practical that way.
The Quote: “No Englishman would dream of dying in somebody else’s house.”
3. ISOBEL TAKES OVER (SEASON 2, EPISODE 3)
Downton throws its doors open as a convalescent home for officers, forcing tremendous changes to the status quo. Isobel is power-hungry. Edith makes herself useful. Violet and Rosamunde want to know Lavinia Swire’s secrets. Mary pretends Richard Carlisle makes her happy. Tom Branson tries to ruin dinner in the name of socialism. William proposes to Daisy before shipping out. Ethel plays a dangerous game.
Why it’s essential: The sudden shift of focus is a great shot in the arm for the series and also weaves the events of the war directly into the fabric of the show. This is Downton running on all cylinders, with a ton of scintillating plotlines unfolding upstairs and down.
BatesWatch: Anna tracks the self-exiled Bates to a pub in Kirkbymoorside and learns to use a curling iron (on Mary).
The Quote: “We can’t leave all the moral high ground to Sybil. She might get lonely there.”
4. THE ONE WHERE IT SNOWS (SEASON 2, EPISODE 9)
Christmas at Downton! Sybil is pregnant and Cora talks Robert into weary acceptance. Carlisle is dispensed with, his dignity barely intact. Mary faces her past head-on and receives forgiveness and understanding. Mr. Mason asks Daisy to be his daughter. Matthew finally pops the question. Plus: The servants' ball! Thomas dances with the Dowager!
Why it’s essential: Because Matthew getting down on one knee in the snow is the most romantic moment of the series and one of the best payoffs of any storyline.
BatesWatch: Bates gets a last-minute reprieve and everyone is relieved that he only has to spend the rest of his life in jail. Anna decides not to leave Downton after all.
The Quote: “You’ve lived your life and I’ve lived mine. And now it’s time we lived them together.”
4. THE UGLY CRY EPISODE (SEASON 3 EPISODE 4)
Matthew clashes with Robert over plans for the estate. Edith lands a magazine column about the problems facing modern women. Isobel offers disgraced housemaid Ethel a job, forcing her cook to resign. As Sybil goes into labor, Dr. Clarkson argues with the visiting Sir Phillip Tapsell over how to proceed. Sybil dies in front of the entire horrified family.
Why it’s essential: Sybil’s legacy and memory will go on to haunt the series until the very end, but her death scene was also the most devastating and wrenching to watch in a series full of them. Elizabeth McGovern and Allen Leech are heartbreaking as they helplessly watch her go.
BatesWatch: Anna visits Bates in jail, where he tells her that he will ultimately be exonerated by pastry crust.
The Quote: “Let’s love each other now, as sisters should.”
6. DUNEAGLE DAYS (SEASON 3, EPISODE 7)
The Crawleys travel to Duneagle, the Scottish estate of cousin Shrimpie, aka Lord Flintshire. The holiday is filled with gorgeous Scottish vistas and highland balls, but the Flintshire household is a deeply unhappy one. Mary gives birth to a baby boy and Matthew feels a moment of pure joy and love just before his exit.
Why it’s essential: For the grandeur of the Duneagle holiday, but also because the Crawleys experience a moment of happiness and self-reflection as a family before tragedy hits again.
BatesWatch: Anna surprises Bates by serving beer at a picnic and secretly learning a Highland reel.
The Quote: “That is the thing about nature. There’s so much of it.”
7. ROSE DANCES WITH THE PRINCE (SEASON 4, EPISODE 8)
Everyone’s in London for Rose’s coming out. Cora’s mother and brother come from America but are overshadowed by the Prince of Wales scandal that engulfs the family. Tom takes Miss Bunting to the second floor. Edith ensures baby Marigold a life near Downton. Carson and Mrs. Hughes take their shoes off and wade into the water.
Why it’s essential: Court intrigue, London nightclubs, and more tiaras than you ever thought you could handle. Its high royal glamour and scandal, with the Crawleys in the thick of it. It's Downton Abbey at its most fun.
BatesWatch: Bates forges a letter and saves the monarchy with his pickpocket skills. Anna finds a train ticket in a coat which naturally makes her suspect Bates of murder.
The Quote: “Your niece is a flapper. Accept it.”
8. LADY MARY GETS A HAIRCUT (SEASON 5, EPISODE 6)
Rose introduces the family to Atticus and everyone pretends like they can’t see she’s in love. Violet visits Prince Kuragin, an old love exiled from Russia. Thomas has been injecting himself with quack medicine to make himself not gay anymore. Mabel Lane-Fox wants Tony Gillingham back and sizes up Mary’s new haircut. Edith gets confirmation that Michael was killed by Nazis, takes Marigold away from the Drewes and runs off to London.
Why it’s essential: Some cracking good plotlines were off and running as the show finally shook the doldrums of the war and a succession of character deaths. Michelle Dockery got to swan around looking like a 1920s Vogue cover, and that’s never a bad thing
BatesWatch: Bates thinks Anna doesn’t want to have a baby with him because he found the family planning book she bought for Lady. Anna is thrilled to learn that her husband didn’t kill anyone.
The Quote: “I think she’s splendid.” “I think she’s cracked.”
9. ROSE’S WEDDING (SEASON 5, EPISODE 8)
Rose and Atticus face off against their families as they marry. Prince Kuragin wants to run away with Violet. Branson is planning to take Sybbie and leave for America. Denker tries to take advantage of the new footman but Thomas steps in to get revenge. Daisy is getting an education and becoming unhappy with the quality of her life. Mary has regrets about Tony Gillingham.
Why it’s essential: The Rose period of the show comes to an end, leaving the romantic fates of Mary and Edith to consume the direction of the series.
BatesWatch: To shake things up, Anna gets herself arrested for murder while Bates looks on.
The Quote: “Love may not conquer all but it can conquer a lot.”
10. EVERYONE (BUT MARY) GETS AN ARISTOCRAT! (SERIES FINALE)
Edith and the lovable Bertie overcome his mother’s objections and become the new Marquess and Marchioness of Hexham. Isobel kidnaps Lord Merton from his family. Violet gives Cora her blessing. Carson is forced to retire and passes the torch to a humbled Thomas. Mary loves her life as the wife of the guy who owns the local car dealership.
Why it’s essential: Because no one deserved a happy ending more than Edith and because everyone else got happy endings too, ending the series on a glow of happiness and a grateful eye to the future.
BatesWatch: Anna ruins Lady Mary’s sheets and rug.
The Quote: “Never you mind. We’re sisters. And sisters have secrets.”
Want to catch up on the show? Downton Abbey is available to stream on Amazon, or, if you'd prefer, the series is also available to purchase on DVD or Blu-ray.