“The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that’s all there is.” – Mr. Carson
Thank you, Carson. If you lovely Downtonians are feeling a big melancholy this holiday season, you are not alone. Over the last six years we had gotten used to our Decembers being a giddy run up to a new season of Downton Abbey. At this point in December, PBS would be regularly leaking preview clips online, the cast would be staging their annual British Invasion, followed by a flurry of articles, parodies, chat show appearances, and random Crawley sightings around town. And the water cooler talk would turn to divining what it all meant as everyone made their predictions for the coming season. Alas, there will be none of that excitement this year. But, glass half full time, what we do have to look forward to is a 6-Season Downton Abbey Marathon starting Wednesday, December 28 at 8pm on THIRTEEN!(Get the full schedule HERE.)
When THIRTEEN asked me to come up with a list of Downton Abbey’s 13 Most Memorable Moments I thought it would be quite the Sisyphean task, and I was right. Between the big life-changing scenes and the small, subtle details, played out over the span of six glorious seasons, there are simply too many moments to choose from. Below, I give it a go…
Doggie Tush Time!
It’s got to be the most famous rump, doggie or otherwise, in TV history. Every week the piano sounds and Lord Grantham’s best friend shakes her tail in the air like she just don’t care. It’s the conductor’s baton that called us all to attention for six winters. It doesn’t matter that, in the early days of filming, Hugh Bonneville had to carry sausages in his jacket pocket to get her to follow him. What matters is she did – and so did we (no sausages required).
Turkish Taffy: Poor Mister Pamuk, the gift that keeps on giving
The Pamukian Secret, the scandalous tale that pretty boy Kemal Pamuk went out with a bang, not a wimper, and in Lady Mary’s bed no less, reverberated throughout the entire 6 seasons. It affected the lives of everyone in the house, leading to broken relationships, blackmail, prison and even death. But people forget that it was another secret that led Mr. Pamuk to Mary’s room in the first place: Closeted Thomas’ gaydar was on the fritz, causing him to make an incomplete pass at Mr. Pamuk. To avoid ruin, Thomas then needed to buy Pamuk’s cooperation to keep his secret. The fee was leading Pamuk to Mary’s bedroom that fateful night. It was Thomas’ secret that set the whole thing in motion.
Tracking Shots: Introducing Downton Abbey
The cinematography was as much a character in the show as Highclere Castle was. One tracking shot in particular told the story of Downton and was a series highlight: It is from the beginning very first episode where the camera follows young Daisy though the house to stoke the fires, and as she walks (looking around in awe as she goes), place is established; the grandeur of the house, the army of servants, Thomas strutting through, Mrs. Hughes cracking the whip, it’s all there. We know where, who, and why we are.
Heart of Gold: Mary passes on her dress to Anna
Anna was as much a sister to Mary as Sybil and Edith (in many ways, maybe more). In Season 3 Anna started wearing the grey dress Lady Mary had worn all through season 2. A hand-me-down. Something that would have happened between a Lady who was close to her Lady’s Maid. It was never mentioned. It just was, left to us to notice or not. One of the many tiny details that, all combined, made Downton such a brilliant show. Love is in the details. And speaking of dresses and details and love, here’s another blast from the past my Downton Abbey Dish about my visit to the fabulous Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit at Winterthur in Delaware: Part 1, Part 2.
Let Me Tell You ‘Bout the Birds & the Bees: Mrs. Patmore explains the Facts of Life (or tries to)
In Season 1 she tried (unsuccessfully) to explain to Daisy that Thomas was… not a ladies’ man… is a troubled soul… he’s, hello… GAY! In Season 6, when Mrs. Hughes gave her the unenviable task of explaining her preferred sleeping arrangements, to her clueless, impending groom, Carson, she tripped over her tongue until a look of realization and horror finally crossed his face. Well, at least she got there in the end.
Art Smarts: Drawing out the metaphors
Lady Mary went ‘sketching with Annabel Portsmouth’ and a euphemism was born. It was actually a cover story for a dirty weekend (i.e.: sex with Lord Tony the Tiger), which was a risky business since the last time Lady Mary went ‘sketching’ she ended up with a dead Turk in her bed – but she carried on (literally). As it turned out, Tony was not such a great…sketcher. And that was all she wrote – or, drew.
There is Nothing Like a Dame: It’s not over until the Dowager zings!
Can you even imagine what Downton would have been like if we had arrived and not found Violet there? She was an essential, non-negotiable part of Downton, and it wasn’t only because she seemed to always have the best lines. In everything she did, every word, every facial expression, every moment on screen, Dame Maggie Smith gave an acting master class. For six seasons, in a cast full of acting heavyweights, she stole every single scene from every single one of them as handily as she banged her cane on the wooden floor, calling the room to order, like a judge with a gavel. All hail the Queen: Violet Crawley, The Dowager Countess of Grantham!
Charlie Carson, Motivational Speaker
I cannot recall Carson ever offering a pep talk to Sybil or Edith, but as he said to Mary, “even a butler has his favorites”. He was her shoulder to cry on and always on call to boost her confidence, letting her know, “we’re all on your side, M’Lady” (even if by ‘all’ he only meant himself). But his best pep talk came after Matthew’s death, when he risked impertinence to tell her a few home truths she didn’t want to hear. She did not take it well, reverting to ice queen, but soon she realized Carson was right and as she melted into sobs, he assured her, “You have a good cry, and when you’re ready you get to work, because you are strong enough. You are strong enough for the task.” Don’t we all need to hear that from time to time?
Angel of Death: So many difficult goodbyes
Death always seemed to shadow the great house, right from that morning at the telegraph office when we heard the first words spoken, “Oh my G-d!” The body count was rather high: Deaths included poignant William’s, convenient Lavinia’s, and controversial Matthew’s – the ghosts in that place could host a regular Saturday night dance party in the Great Hall. But I think the most memorable death scene had to be Sybil’s from preeclampsia and medical hubris.
Atticus helps Rose keep her cakes out of the rain
Lady Oliver Rose meets her Prince in a most unconventional manner; she raids a bakery on behalf of her Russians and stumbles across Hot Hebrew Hunk Atticus Aldridge. He wasn’t a doctor, but (as they say in the East End of London) he was a bit of alright – and he liked cake! Who could say fairer than that?
Lady Mary and Charles Blake get piggy with it
Who knew, when perennial bridesmaid Evelyn Napier brought Charles Blake to Downton that he and Mary would fall for each other? OK, so we all knew. (Except Evelyn who should have learned his lesson with Mr. Pamuk, but whatevs). Evelyn was a glutton for punishment if ever there was one. At first Blake was immune to Lady Mary’s charms but once he saw how she could haul water he was hooked. Blake helped save the bacon, and Mary did a sexy little egg scrambling dance in return. Quite the Full English!
Step in Time: Anna walks alongside Mr. Bates
There was an instant spark between Anna and Mr. Bates. But it was in that scene early in Season 1 where Bates limped down the stairs, and Anna sympathetically limped down the stairs alongside him, that we knew this relationship was going to go the distance, albeit slowly.
If Looks Could Kill: John Bates, serial killer…or not?
We were never really sure. There was always an air of mystery and, dare I say, danger about Mr. Bates. But when Mr. Green returned to Downton and sat down at the breakfast table, arrogantly joking about that night, and Nellie Melba’s singing, he swanned right into Bates’ laser site. Bates glared across the table at Mr. Green with such a force his fork trembled with righteous anger, and we knew he was a goner. We just didn’t know how, but we knew.
Many Happy Returns: The reappearance of Gwen
After housemaid Gwen left to be a secretary at the end of Season 1 we never saw her again, so it was a fun surprise to see her return to Downton, this time through the front door, as a success story in Season 6. When bitter Thomas tried to wrong-foot her at the dining table, it backfired and Gwen got to explain how she went from housemaid to executive, all because of Sybil, “her kindness changed my life.” And so it did. It was the perfect way to allow Sybil to be part of the final season and a reminder of the power of kindness.
One Day at a Time: The Nemesisters work on their relationship
Lady Mary and Lady Edith spent all the years we knew them sniping at each other, in degrees both great and small. By the end of Season 6 though, even after Mary drove a stake through her engagement (making that the second of Edith’s engagements she drove into a ditch), Edith finally had the confidence to take the high road, whether Mary deserved it or not, and in this touching scene explained why, “Because in the end you’re my sister. And one day only we will remember Sybil or Mama or Papa or Matthew or Michael or Granny or Carson or any of the others who have peopled our youth; until at last our shared memories will mean more than our mutual dislike.” Could peace in the Middle East (at last) be far behind?
Dashing away with the smoothing iron she stole my heart away: Carson and Mrs. Hughes fall in love
The relationship between Carson and Mrs. Hughes had to set the record for slow simmer. It took thirteen years (and who knows how many before we joined the story) to go from nomance to romance, and for a while it looked like the pilot light went out entirely. Thankfully they got there in the end, and the scene that set the stage was when Mrs. Hughes gets all verklempt as she overhears Carson singing in celebration after she’d gotten the all-clear from Doctor Clarkson. T’was priceless.
Buddy Picture: The lasting friendship of Carson and Lord Grantham
And speaking of romance, there was also a bromance – the one between Carson and Lord Grantham. And the scene that said it all was the one, in Season 2, where the episode ended with the two of them standing in Downton’s front double-doorway, gazing out at the future, or the past, or just the scenery. We don’t know which. All we know is they stood there together, shoulder to shoulder, and all was right with the world.
Such Good Luck!: Lady Mary and Matthew say goodbye at the train station
If all a steam engine ever did was appear in this scene, it would have been enough. In episode 1 of season 2, when Mary stood on the train platform to give Matthew her own private goodbye (and good luck charm) a million Downtonians screamed, “TELL HIM!!!” at their TV screens. Like so many great scenes, it was as much about what was not said, as what was said. More than their meeting, or proposal, or George’s birth, this scene told their story. Sigh.
OK, so that was 18 memorable moments, not 13. Math was never my strong suit (I should have taken classes from Miss Bunting). But 18 is a lucky number, a ‘chai’, 18 it is. Even with all this I had to leave out O’Brien’s soap, Jack Ross, all those disastrous dinner parties, Lord Grantham wrestling with Orange Julius, and Edith’s attempt to burn the whole joint down – not to mention that Carson’s eyebrows should have a listing all their own as well. There have been just too, too many good times to choose from! As Isobel would say, “Aren’t we the lucky ones?”
What do you think Downtonians? Do you have a favorite scene that I left out? If so, please join in the conversation in the comments below and let us all know what it is!