'Downton Abbey' returns: 7 things we learned

Story highlights

  • The popular series returned to PBS Sunday
  • There was plenty of hot action
  • Thomas Barrow stirs up trouble

This story contains spoilers about the season 5 premiere of "Downton Abbey."

(CNN)"Downton Abbey" turned up the heat for the premiere of its fifth season on PBS Sunday night -- quite literally, as flames licked at the carpet in Lady Edith's room.

But the heat cranked up in other ways now that some of the characters are loosening their collars in the liberating year of 1924.
After the depression associated with season four's character deaths and controversial assault scene, season five returns to the show's original recipe: overlapping storylines of scandal and intrigue, garnished with genteel manners and delightful stingers from the Dowager Countess.
    Let's untangle this season's storylines, shall we?
    Edith's secret stirs up trouble
    Taking the leap and falling in love with Michael Gregson gave Lady Edith Crawley only a brief glimpse of happiness before he suddenly disappeared in Munich, leaving Edith alone and pregnant with little hope that his fate was anything but grim.
    Her illegitimate daughter, Marigold, is a toddler now, and living on the nearby farm belonging to Timothy Drewe. While Drewe quickly figures out that the child is Edith's and not that of a "friend," his wife grows suspicious of her frequent visits and suspects that Edith has a crush on her husband.
    Poor Edith. The middle sister is always so misunderstood.
    "Let's spend the night together"
    It's a game for the eligible Lady Mary Crawley's hand in marriage. In season four, Charles Blake and Tony Gillingham were duking it out for Mary's favor -- in a gentlemanly way, of course. Now, Tony is upping the stakes.
    In tune with the show's theme of change in the air, Tony approaches Mary with a "scandalous suggestion" after she admits to being in love with him -- albeit in her "cold and unfeeling way." In order for Mary to be sure about him, Tony thinks they should spend a week getting to know each other -- talking during the day, and spending the evenings together. He states it plainly: "I want us to be lovers."
    "Downton," you're making us blush.
    Thomas and Baxter's tangled web
    Ever since underbutler Thomas Barrow helped Phyllis Baxter get a job last season as lady's maid, he's been lording his knowledge of her terrible secret over her, threatening to tell if she doesn't share information with him (specifically about Mr. Bates). Empowered by Molesley's suggestion, Baxter shares her secret with Lady Grantham before Thomas can. The big reveal: Baxter stole jewelry from her previous employer, framed it as a burglary and spent three years in prison.
    Is that it? No one seems to think so, and Baxter isn't budging on that front ... yet. But Lady Grantham allows Baxter to stay for now.
    When Thomas tries to approach Lady Grantham, she calls him out for allowing a convicted criminal to work in Downton and considers firing him. But all is forgiven when Thomas discovers a fire in Edith's room, saves her life and alerts the entire household. Everyone is saved, the fire is extinguished quickly and Thomas comes out smelling like a rose, again.
    Lady Anstruther ... or should we say, Mrs. Robinson?
    Dashing young footman Jimmy Kent has been secretly corresponding with his former employer, Lady Anstruther.
    She invites herself to Downton for tea, claims the car isn't working so she'll have stay the night and then ends up in bed with Jimmy. Lord Grantham discovers them during the fire and tersely informs Carson that Jimmy should seek work elsewhere.
    To say "that escalated quickly" would be putting it mildly.
    The Dowager Countess will not be unseated
    The Dowager Countess enjoys needling Isobel Crawley about Lord Merton's increasing attentions towards her until she realizes that if Isobel marries Merton, the Dowager herself would be unseated as the lady of the county. She plans an elaborate luncheon to distract Merton with Lady Shackleton and remind Isobel of Dr. Richard Clarkson's affection for her.
    "I like to help when I can," the Dowager says and the smile that follows is cheekily evil.
    Haters gonna hate
    School teacher Sarah Bunting has her eye on Tom Branson and the sparks seem mutual.
    When Lady Rose tries to push the matchmaking and invites Sarah to the Grantham's 34th anniversary dinner, things don't go as planned. Instead of making a good impression, the outspoken Sarah and unmoving Lord Grantham clash over politics. Afterwards, Lord Grantham tells Tom that he thinks Sarah will be a bad influence on him thus making him a rebel and a "hater" again.
    The times must be changing when folks are being referred to as a "hater."
    Carson saves the day, again
    Although there was no hint of the possible romance that sparked between Carson and Mrs. Hughes at the end of season four, he fulfilled his duty to Lord Grantham.
    The villagers want to build a war memorial to those they lost in WWI, but rather than elect Lord Grantham as chairman, they choose Carson. Grantham insists he's fine with the decision, but it wounds his pride and Carson knows it.
    When Sarah brings it up at the anniversary dinner to embarrass Grantham in front of his guests, Carson steps in to help. He tells them that he accepted the position, but on the committee's condition that Grantham serve as patron. What Carson doesn't tell them: that it was his condition, not the committee's.
    Carson may possibly be the best wingman an earl could ever have.