The biggest storyline touching on morality in Season One of Downton Abbey is the storyline involving Lady Mary and the Turkish diplomat, who visits her home with an English friend of his who is courting Lady Mary, then steals her heart away.
The diplomat, Kamal Pamuk, comes to Lady Mary’s bedchamber in the dead of night, led by the treacherous footman Thomas. He enters her room to shock on the part of Lady Mary. She had only hours before pushed him away when he tried to passionately kiss her downstairs.
She wildly protests and prepares to scream. He tells her screaming would not help her–that she is already compromised. In the society in which she lives, perhaps he is right. She had been noted flirting with him downstairs. It might just be that people would believe he had been invited to her quarters . . .
At this point, it is hard to explain what happens next in the light of modern values. She acquiesces to his advances and kisses him back when he kisses her. The cameras cut away with no sex and no nudity onscreen but it becomes obvious later that Lady Mary and Pamuk had relations, as he subsequently dies in her bed.
The rest of Season One has this storyline woven in and out of its fabric, as Daisy, the cook’s assistant, observes Lady Mary, her mother, and the maid Anna moving Pamuk’s body back to his own bed.
The story eventually comes out, first among servants in London, then later in the Turkish Embassy.
It is always whispered as a rumor, however, and becomes a major issue of morality when Lady Mary falls in love with her distant cousin Matthew Crawley.
Matthew proposes and Mary hesitates. Matthew eventually concludes that she is waiting to see whether he will inherit Downton Abbey or her own family will keep it.
In actuality, Mary is hesitating because she believes she owes it to Matthew (not to her father) to explain that the rumors being heard in London are actually true and that she has given up her virtue before marriage.
All of this is reinforcing of Christian morality, that sex belongs within marriage.
It is possible to our modern minds that Mary’s sexual encounter might fall under sexual assault, as it was definitely coerced. She was led to believe she had no escape so she might as well relax and enjoy it.
The main point that I see is that the show holds up morality as an ideal, and shows that consequences accrue when God’s law is set aside, for whatever reason.
For that reason, I will watch this show, when I choose not to watch about 95% of the shows out there today with their muddled values.