1. First of all, the theme music. Gone is the insistent, soaring piano theme that speaks of a nation’s hopes and dreams, and the very fragility of those dreams in the face of inevitable change. Instead, in come the familiar doom-laden chords of “One” by Metallica. It’s a new era at Downton alright.
© Getty Images/Ian Gavan
2. In the first episode, a character becomes so repressed by the British class system that he actually implodes. I won’t tell you which one, but the early stages of this condition involve his upper lip becoming so stiff that his moustache shatters.
3. The family welcomes a new visitor: a coal-haired exchange student from Austria called Adolf Hitler. Though given to sermonizing about Germany’s disgraceful treatment at Versailles, the youth soon ingratiates himself with everyone at Downton, courtesy of his hilarious Charlie Chaplin impression. The jury’s still out on which way the writers will take this intriguing new character, but we’ve already been promised some “big developments.”
4. Watch out for the glaring anachronism in episode 6, when Lady Edith Crawley, responding to news that her Picasso has sold for ten thousand dollars, sends a telegram from her desk that ends, “OMG I can’t believe dis Megalolz YOLO ☺.” It is, of course, highly unlikely that in 1923 a noblewoman like Lady Crawley would have written her own telegrams rather than dictating them to a servant.
5. There are a lot of new characters in season 5. In particular, watch out for well-known British character actor Philpot Scraggs, playing a drunken, confused man who looks directly down the camera lens and shouts, “Straight bananas, is it, Brussels?” and who may have just accidentally wandered onto the set.
6. The members of the Crawley family continue to deal with the big social issues of their day, including: The law which says the poor have to punch themselves in the face whilst addressing aristocrats, the law which states that aristocrats are entitled to use poor people as horses, and the right of aristocrats to hunt poor people if there’s a vowel in the month.
7. It wouldn’t be a major 21st-century drama without the sudden and unexpected death of a main character. I won’t disclose how he or she goes, but let’s just say the three-week-long Charleston marathon in episode 9 comes to a harrowing conclusion.
© Flickr/Nebraska Oddfish
8. Episode 3 is a self-conscious and affectionate homage to Scooby Doo.
9. There’s some subtle dialogue foreshadowing major historical events in episode 4, when Robert Crawley says, “I hear U.S. President Warren G. Harding has a dicky heart. It will certainly be interesting if he dies this August, leaving his scandal-plagued administration to be stabilized by Vice President Calvin Coolidge, a man with the vision to restore confidence in both the White House and the economy to a beleaguered electorate.” To which Lady Branson replies, “Yes.”
10. Long-serving family butler Carson has a secret. Let’s just say it both explains why he survives an accidental shotgun blast in episode 6 and sets up the Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles crossover in episode 11.
11. Episode 5 contains a 13-minute sequence of hands making tea and crumpets in real time.
12. Motorcar fever sweeps the estate in episode 8 with the arrival of the first mass-produced British automobile, the Quiggsley Silver Sprat, which one of the servants blows an entire year’s wages of sixpence on. This plot line climaxes in the terrifying seven-miles-per-hour car chase in episode 10, during which a knee is bruised.
13. Episode 12 deals with the exceptionally harsh winter of 1922-23, during which the residents of Downton keep themselves warm by burning first-edition copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses and old Gainsboroughs they find in the attic.
© Flickr/Jason Verwey
14. It is revealed in the last episode that the entire Downton Abbey story serves as a prequel to Breaking Bad. They’re just taking a r-e-e-ally long run up to things.