Downton Abbey’s 5 Craziest Plot Twists

Downton Abbey

The Downton Abbey withdrawals are already starting to kick in, so I figured the best way to put off the inevitable is to revisit some of the show’s most shocking plot twists– and trust me, there have been some doozies.

Once upon a time, the stately series reserved the high drama for special occasions (like the first season finale) and relied on small shocks like Sybil wearing pants to dinner to create tension, but in season two the– freshly pressed by Mr. Carson– gloves came off and Julian Fellowes offered up one wacky twist after another. While part of me mourned the pleasant understatement of season one, the rest of me was busy basking in the soapy goodness.

Fair warning: there are lots of spoilers below, so if you’ve been planning to marathon the show, you might want to avert your eyes now.

1. The return of Patrick.

Downton Abbey Patrick

When Patrick, the original heir of Downton Abbey who was thought to have drowned on the Titanic, showed up on the Crawley’s doorstep not only badly burned, but also sporting a pesky case of amnesia, I was torn between the urge to giggle and the urge to give the show a standing ovation.

Over the top? Absolutely, but it was such an unexpected turn of events I couldn’t find it in myself to hold it against them. Besides, it gave the always underused Edith something to do and Mary the excuse to bust out some truly shocking smackdowns as she accused Patrick of being an imposter…which he most likely was, but he inconveniently disappeared into the night before we could find out for sure.

2. Matthew is paralyzed! No, wait, now he’s not.

Downton Abbey Matthew

It only made sense for the World War I setting to lead to a few tragedies at Downton, but I never expected for one of those tragedies to involve Matthew losing his ability to walk and to have children. The tragic blow rocked the Crawley family and Lavinia, but it was Matthew and Mary’s heartbreaking responses to the news that left me wiping away tears.

The doom and gloom only lasted a couple of episodes before Matthew made a miraculous recovery and leaped from his chair just in time to catch Lavinia mid-trip. It turned out the doctor had made a misdiagnosis and now our boy, Matthew is back on his feet and ready to resume his heir-in-training duties…unless the mysterious Patrick resurfaces, of course.

It may have been emotionally manipulative, but the melodrama made for some truly delicious TV viewing.

3. Lavinia dies of a broken heart…I mean the Spanish Flu.

Downton Abbey Lavinia

Poor, goodhearted Lavinia, she was doomed from the start. Matthew and Mary have been destined for coupledom since they first met and immediately hated each other. Everyone knows that’s TV code for true love.

Still, Lavinia was a sweet girl, the kind willing to give up her life to stay by Matthew’s side even after his injury, but alas, her devotion couldn’t stop Matthew from putting his newly regained ability to slow dance to good use by taking Mary for a twirl while his betrothed was confined upstairs with a mild case of the Spanish Flu. Lavinia happened to pick the very worst time to make an appearance downstairs and catch Matthew not only kissing Mary, but confessing his lingering feelings for her as well.

Her health took a sudden turn for the worse after that (perhaps aided by her doctor prescribing her lots of aspirin), and with her dying breath Lavinia told Matthew it was probably all for the best because at least he could be happy now. Lavinia, if you weren’t dead, we would need to have a long talk about your self-esteem issues.

4. Mrs. O’Brien in the bathroom with the bar of soap.

Downton Abbey O'Brien

Season two doesn’t have the corner market on craziness, back in season one, Lady Crawley’s dutiful (but conniving) maid, O’Brien, set the gold standard for plot twists when her anger over the possibility of being replaced led her to leave a bar of soap next to her mistress’s bath ensuring she would slip and miscarry her child and in the process she took away the only chance Lord Grantham and Lady Crawley would ever have of producing an heir to Downton. It still stands as the most jaw-dropping and emotionally raw moment of the series and the real kicker is Lady Crawley still doesn’t know her devoted servant is responsible for her tragic “accident.”

5. Robert and Jane, standing in a closet, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.

Downton Abbey Robert and Jane

Robert was supposed to be the long-suffering, forever faithful husband, then he went and made out with the new maid, Jane– several times– and he even got her kid into an exclusive school. There for a while it looked like Lady Crawley might get replaced, especially when she was stuck upstairs battling the Spanish Flu while Robert was contemplating sleeping with Jane. If Lavinia hadn’t died she and Lady Crawley could have started a support group.

Robert’s belated midlife crisis seems to be behind him now and at least something positive came out of the experience: he found a way to make peace with his youngest daughter running off to Ireland with the chauffeur. Somehow I doubt that will soften the blow for Lady Crawley if she ever finds out about his dalliance though.

Honorable Mention: The sudden (and ill-timed) death of Mr. Pamuk.

Downton Abbey Mr. Pamuk

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr. Pamuk’s untimely demise in Mary’s bedchamber. The show has managed to squeeze enough drama out of that one plot point to carry us through two seasons now and despite being a bit out there, it’s a story that has been played with the utmost seriousness. The scandal managed to illuminate the rigid social norms of the period and provide some much needed character development for Mary, who wasn’t a particularly sympathetic figure when the show began. Like every story on Downton Abbey, the Mr. Pamuk drama has had lots of twists and turns, and even a few stalls along the way, but it has been an awfully fun ride so far.


It’s hard to believe, but despite Downton Abbey consisting of only two seasons and sixteen episodes so far, there are plenty of plot twists I didn’t have time to mention. Downton Abbey season three is still a long way off, so let’s get nostalgic: tell me which twists shocked you and which ones left you rolling your eyes. I want to hear all about your favorite (and least favorite) moments in the comments section.

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