As Daisy the kitchenmaid opens up the house a telegram is delivered. It is 16th April 1912 and the Titanic has gone down having, according to your viewpoint, either hit a Mujahideen iceberg or been surreptitiously blown up by agents of Mossad, the yet-to-be-established secret security arm of the yet-to-be-established State of Israel, cunningly disguised as a Mujahideen iceberg and taking with it Lord Grantham’s heir, James Crawley, and his son, Patrick. So who is to be the new heir? Not just to the Duke of Earldom but to Downton Abbey, itself, which is entailed to the title - and before you ask, no, I don't know what entailed means either. Violent, the Dowager Countess, assumes that Robert Peston, the present Duke of Earl and as yet unborn BBC economics correspondent, will break the entail - some sort of seal? A biscuit? Fuck knows - and make an heiress of his eldest daughter, Mary, but Robert is not so sure. He's unsteady on his feet too - probably on account of all the brandy and late nights spent waiting for the Hong Kong Stock Exchange to open. To make matters worse, his wife, Cora, has her own money - at least £13.76 - tied up in the estate, and there is no way to extract it without crippling Downton. Even if Robert could break the entail (a vase of some sort??), or take Cora’s money out of it, would he want to? After all, you can buy a lot of brylcreem for £13.76.
Below stairs, a new valet, John Bates, arrives. Bates was Robert’s batman during the Boer War and Robert welcomes him and is keen to show him to his new cave. However, he looks as shocked as the rest of the servants when he sees Bates’s lump. Will this lump hamper his duties? It's certainly doing something extraordinary to his trousers. Cora’s maid, Edna O’Brien-O'Edna, and first footman, Thomas, who wanted Bates’s job but couldn't afford the second foot, deliberately try to sabotage his first days at work by putting a haemorroid preparation on Bates's lump and then making him balance a tray of scones on it.
Mary was supposed to marry the heir, the late Patrick Crawley, but his death has freed her to move on, so she's toying with becoming either a high class call girl or a professional all-in-wrestler, depending upon which comes with a free lyotard and has half day closing on Wednesdays. She believes her own prospects have changed for the better, especially once she hears that she could be smeared with real lard if she goes into the wrestling lark, and now she angles to catch the young Duke of Crowbar. Her sister, Edith, was in love with Patrick and seethes with resentment towards Mary. The Duke arrives at Downton, ostensibly to present his condolences, but after dinner he requests an interview with Robert Peston, presumably to ask for Mary’s hand and whether or not to stick with his yet-to-be-invented premium bonds or take the plunge on a riskier investment option. As long as it's tax free, he doesn't really give a stuff.
But when he learns that Robert Peston is not intending to challenge the entail (some sort of costumier's accoutrement??) he withdraws his offer, without ever in fact making it. No, I didn't get that bit either, but what do you want from ITV? Bloody Shakespeare???? It was Thomas who brought the Duke of Earl to Downton, luring him with the prospect of the Grantham money, all £13.75* of it, and the promise of ten minutes at the peephole into Mary's bedroom whilst she's trying to get the lid off her tub of wrestling lard. He and Thomas shared a summer dalliance - neither of them can remember the chap's name - and Thomas intends to use this to further his own career, blackmailing the Duke of Earl with his own letters if he has to - although there's only so much you can get for two vowels and two consonants unless you're on an as-yet-univented triple word score. However, the Duke of Earl is one step ahead of Thomas - who only has only got the one foot after all - who can only watch as the incriminating pages go up in flames.
Meanwhile, Robert Peston informs Bates that his disability is interfering with his work and he will have to have his lump either removed or re-fashioned into a useful household appliance such as a nutcracker or some such. Bates seems to take the news well, fainting instantly before slipping into a coma for 3 weeks, but the Head Housemaid, Anna, hears him crying in his room - it's the Brazils, they're always a real bugger aren't they? However, as Crowbar leaves, Robert finds himself unable to let Bates down in this way, especially as he's just bought in a month's supply of shop-soiled hazelnuts on the cheap, and to the amazement of Cora and the servants he asks the valet to stay.
Mary’s fury is matched by Cora’s surprise when they realise Robert Peston has made up his mind and will not challenge the entail (some sort of truss??). He has discovered the identity of his new heir, a distant cousin, and intends to write instantly to the distant young man and invite him to Downton to be distant in person. In Arabic....