It’s November 1916, fifteen months after the end of series one. Matthew is fighting as an officer in the Somme. And he is newly engaged to… Miss Lavinia Swire.
Back at the Abbey, Mary pretends she doesn’t care about Matthew by flirting with newspaper mogul Sir Richard Carlisle. Eager to do their bit for the war, Edith starts riding tractors around and Sybil trains as a nurse - but not before Branson admits he’s got a bit of an Uptown Girl thing going on and has feelings for her.
In other matters of the heart, Bates tells Anna he loves her and plans to divorce his evil wife. But their joy is short-lived when Mrs Vera Bates turns up at the Abbey, planning to expose Anna’s part in that mucky Mary/Pamuk business unless Bates leaves with her right this second, which he does.
Some time later, war is taking its toll. The village hospital is overrun with wounded soldiers and Downton Abbey is turned into a convalescent home. Isobel Crawley starts bossing people around. Violet gets cross.
Then comes terrible news: Matthew and footman William have both been injured fighting at the front. William’s injuries are fatal - he asks scullery maid Daisy to marry him. She doesn’t love him but grudgingly says ‘I do’ anyway so he’ll die happy in his bed.
Matthew’s in a grave way too. A serious spinal-cord injury means he’s paralysed from the waist down and will NEVER be able to walk again (until later in the series, of course). Lavinia insists his injury changes nothing, but Matthew sends her away, leaving Mary to play nurse.
While Mary is wiping Matthew's brow, a badly burned Canadian officer arrives at the Abbey claiming to be Patrick Crawley, the heir who supposedly drowned on the Titanic, but no one believes him (apart from Edith, but no one listens to her) so he leaves.
Meanwhile, Vera is still hanging around trying to blackmail people with the tale of Pamuk, so Mary confesses everything to Carlisle. He promises to help her, and does, silencing Bates' horrid Mrs with a legally binding contract. But you don't get something for nothing, even in Downtonland. The price? Mary must agree to marry him.
That Vera, though, she just won’t pipe down, so Bates heads to London to sort his mean old wife out. Upon his return he learns that she has died, allegedly commiting suicide to try and frame him for her murder. What a cow.
The war ends and Downton begins to return to normal. Matthew – surprise, surprise - begins to get feeling back in his legs. And, despite knowing that Mary still loves him, he presses on with his marriage to Lavinia out of duty. Lavinia, none the wiser, is thrilled.
Branson proposes and Sybil makes the frankly shocking decision to cross class boundaries and marry a lowly chauffeur. As preparations begin for Matthew and Lavinia’s wedding, Sybil horrifies Cora and Robert by sharing her own happy news. Lord Grantham (like any good dad would) tries to bribe Branson and threaten Sybil, but neither of the lovebirds will be swayed.
Then, Robert becomes very badly behaved and crosses some class boundaries of his own, very nearly getting it on with new maid Jane. She flees the Abbey soon after and, feeling pretty sheepish, Robert gives Sybil and Branson his blessing.
Days before his wedding, Matthew finds himself alone with Mary. They acknowledge their feelings for each other and, knowing they can never marry, kiss… with lovely Lavinia seeing and hearing it all. Cripes.
Moments later, though, Lavinia falls ill with Spanish Flu and the wedding is delayed. The little lamb tells Matthew that she knows he and Mary love each other. She suggests they call off their engagement, but he refuses. Her illness worsens, though, and she dies, uttering with her parting breath that her death is best for her beloved Matthew.
Downton’s heir, now racked with guilt, tells Mary a relationship between them is impossible. Impossible, I say. And everyone is sad.
As Bates comes under fire for the death of his wife, Anna suggests they marry so she can support him as his wife. Good excuse there, Anna. With the help of Lady Mary, the pair wed, spending their first night together in a guest room at the Abbey. They don’t get much of a lie-in, though, as Bates is then arrested for the murder of his wife. Dun, dun, duuuuuuun…
Eight months later, it’s Christmas at the Abbey and a lot has changed.
Despite Robert’s shining character reference, Bates is convicted for the murder of his wife, while Lady Sybil and Branson are married, living in Ireland and expecting a baby.
Lady Mary is at the end of her tether when it comes to her sleazy fiancé Richard Carlisle (journalists, eh?), and in spite of his threats to expose her sordid secret, she leaves him.
She runs straight into the arms of Matthew and tells him the truth about her night of passion with Pamuk. Matthew is shocked. Understandably. (And probably a little concerned about their future sex life.) But he soon decides he can see past her indiscretion and proposes.
As the snow falls outside Downton Abbey, she accepts.
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