Episode 01.01 is the first episode overall and first episode of the first season (Series in the UK) of the UK-US produced Period Soap Drama, Downton Abbey.
Written by Julian Fellowes and directed by Brian Percival, this episode introduces the major characters, as the stories begin.
The opening scene focuses on a telegraph operator at his machine as he is doing his work. Next there is a train that is chugging up the train tracks.
Within one of the third class cars, we meet a man named John Bates, a veteran of the South African Boer Wars, who is on his way from London, where he had lived, to a new job in Downton, a rural farming village located in the Northern Yorkshires of England.
The village's postmaster and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Wigan, would receive a telegram that would rattle them immensely. The postmaster wants it delivered right away, but his wife quashes that suggestion saying that their employee, Jimmy, would deliver it when it was ready to be delivered.
Meanwhile, at Downton Abbey, the large castle home that serves as the ancestral seat of the Crawley family, and is also the most prominent building and the crowning jewel of the small village, the new day begins as the servant staff, who had been up since six in the morning, is busy cleaning.
A bevy of servants are cleaning up from the previous night's party (it is presumed) and are preparing the home for the new day. The house's head of the servants was a man named Charles Carson, who had been a part of the household since he had been a junior footman many years previous. He took his job as butler very seriously and truly worshipped the ground that the Crawley family walked on.
Striding down the hall of the Servants quarters with her ever-present keys jangling is Elsie Hughes, Downton's stoic head housekeeper. An exacting, yet kind woman, she takes great pride in her job and sees it as her life. Unlike Carson, she did not worship the family (she would let her true feelings about the family be known when she wasn't thrilled with them on many occasions).
While at their breakfast, the bells, the reason the staff works as hard as they do, begin ringing in earnest, as Lady Mary Crawley, aged 21, calls her lady's maid, Anna. At this point, Anna served as head housemaid, as well as the lady's maid for not just Mary, but also her two younger sisters Lady Edith, aged 20 and Lady Sybil, age 17.
The servants read about the sinking of the Titanic, and the deaths of those aboard. Meanwhile, walking down the staircase of his majestic home, comes Robert Crawley, the seventh (and current) Earl of Grantham. This man is the lord of the manor and the head of the village he lives in. A man who exudes power and prestige. He is married to Cora Crawley, an American heiress, whom he married to save his estate.
His daughters, Mary, Edith and Sybil are stunned at the death of those on the Titanic.
However, two other deaths would rock the family to the core. Sybil delivers the telegram which would announce the death of Robert's first cousin, James Crawley, and his son, Patrick, who were the heirs presumptive of the Downton estate. Patrick was engaged to Mary, but was loved by Edith (Mary had no feelings for Patrick, and was only engaged to him to assure her future, while Edith genuinely loved him, but her feelings were dismissed by the rest of the family as she wasn't like Mary, or like her younger sister, Sybil). This devastating news would lead to a mourning period.
Due to the death of James and Patrick, the next in line to the earldom was Robert's third cousin, once removed.
Downstairs, the kitchen of the Abbey is a continuous hub-bub of activity. Led by Mrs. Beryl Patmore, the longtime cook, she rules the roost over a bevy of kitchen maids, most notably Daisy Robinson, the combined kitchen/scullery maid, who, like in all households of a similar set-up, is the lowest rung on the domestic hierarchy.
Mistakenly giving a bowl of salt of sorrel (which is a poison used to clean brass pots which had been brought to the kitchen by Mr. Lynch, the stable man) to footman William, Daisy realizes a bowl with egg in it (for the chicken and the sauce, which was cooked for the family's lunch after church) was on the kitchen table. She sees William bring the bowl of salt of sorrel down and Daisy, relieved, gives him the bowl with the eggs.
However, the appearance of Bates, as the new valet to Robert, would lead to a lot of resentment, especially on the part of Thomas Barrow, the first footman, who was working as Robert's valet, after the departure of a Mr. Watson, who had previously been Robert's valet. Upon Bates' arrival and installation as Robert's valet, Thomas would be demoted back to First Footman.
This prompts Thomas, and Sarah O'Brien, Cora's lady's maid (or personal maid) the two most scheming members of the Servant staff, to begin plotting to undermine him in the hope of getting him removed from Downton, permanently, and Thomas to be returned to his role as valet.
During a visit by a Duke (who had been invited by Thomas), O'Brien would deliberately kick his walking stick (Bates had suffered a leg injury during the Boer war, where he served as Robert's batman, or personal assistant) out from underneath him, causing him to fall on his face in the gravel. She would then gossip to her mistress about his disability.
Because of O'Brien's gossip and the pressure of the other staff (instigated by Thomas), Robert would reluctantly fire Bates, but he would change his mind after he realized that Bates was owed more than what he had been given.
It would be later revealed that said Duke, The Duke of Crowborough, had once had a homosexual dalliance during a London season with Thomas. Now, it is clear to state that at that point in time, homosexuality was a criminal offense in the UK (it would eventually be decriminalized in 1967 with Same-sex marriage becoming law in 2014), and if word had come out that Thomas and the Duke's relationship had even occurred, the both of them would have been arrested and had been jailed immediately.
Thomas had blackmailed the duke by letters the latter had written to the former, with the hopes of becoming his valet. However, this blackmail attempt blew up in Thomas' face when the Duke grabbed said letters and threw them in the fireplace, burning them. Thomas left the room in a petulant rage, and stormed off to cry.
Cora and Robert's formidable mother Violet Crawley, the dowager countess of Grantham who had been the chatelaine of Downton for thirty years until Cora came in as the new chatelaine (she did not much like Cora because of Robert marrying her to get her considerable dowry), had been working and scheming to smash the entail, which ties Cora's dowry with the title of Earl of Grantham. This had been done by both fathers (and Robert would marry her to help save Downton from financial ruin).
The problem is that the law stated that the title would be available to only male heirs (this law would later be repealed many years later to put an end to situations like this). Cora had not had a male child, which really aggravated the situation. Had Mary married Patrick, and would have produced a grandson, honor would have been satisfied, according to Violet.
Their aim was to make sure Mary, since she was the first-born child, would become the heir of all. While she would not get the title, she would receive her mother's fortune.
Meanwhile, many miles away in a townhouse in Manchester, we first meet Matthew Crawley a solicitor, and his nurse mother, Isobel Crawley Grey. A letter he would receive from the Earl of Grantham would end up changing their lives for good or ill. He is revealed to be Robert's aforementioned third cousin, once removed. As such, he is the next heir presumptive of Downton Abbey.