Well, after my jolly assertions about "Downton Abbey" last week, we were given an exceptionally sad follow-up. But, to keep spoilers hidden, I will instead talk about some of the other things this jam-packed hour gave us.
There were a lot of subplots scattered throughout the episode that portend interesting things to come, from Edith's column to Isobel taking on Ethel as her latest do-gooder project, to the love triangles (squares? hexagons?) forming in the Downstairs kitchen as well as
Sherlock, Jr Anna getting her big break on the case.
Matthew also stealthily begins talking about "middle class values" (the very idea!) and ideas for running Downton in a way that might actually make it a profit, or at the very least break even. He's found an ally in Murray, and the two politely scheme to try and wrestle away control from Robert (it won't be easy, and Mary doesn't seem to like the idea of it, naturally). Mary has been particularly surly of late, and the questions as to why she and Matthew have not yet produced an heir have seemed to set the couple of edge, particularly when compared to Sybil's pregnancy.
Of course, as for the pregnancy ...
The first time I watched the episode, I was in tears, at the horror Sybil's thrashing death throes, the frustration of everyone just standing around and not doing anything, and also when Thomas broke down over Sybil's death. But upon second viewing, I have to admit that narratively, it was a bold, positive move, and one "Downton" rarely makes. Yes, we lost Lavinia last year, but we knew she had to go one way or another to make way for Matthew and Mary. William's death was tough, too, but I still counter that he wasn't as integral to things as Sybil. Sybil was an early favorite character in Season One with her progressive ideas and pantaloons, and while the time jumps of the second season wreaked havoc on her character (and so far this season she was barely there or noticed), she was still extremely likable.
It's unlikely the show really wanted to go in that direction, though. Rumors had been swirling for awhile that Jessica Brown Findlay wanted off of the series. But as sad as it is to see Sybil, a truly sweet spirit, depart, it may be for the best for the show. It proves that there are real stakes, something I have complained about in the past. Matthew recovers from a spinal injury in no time, Cora beats the Spanish Flu, and all of our core Upstairs players remain intact. But Sybil being snatched, and in such a way, was shocking and devastating.
The impotence of the family versus the arrogance of Sir Philip was also of paramount distress - I think all of us knew something was amiss, and for everything to appear fine and then be completely subverted (much like the Cora/Lavinia swap last season) was probably more surprising, in some ways, than expected. Historically, it was a great commentary on how far things really hadn't quite come. Matthew says "surely, in this day and age..." while the doctors just standd there expressionless and watch Sybil suffocate to death. Hospitals were feared and C-sections a frightening prospect, which is also a strange subversion of the rise of home birth preferences and scheduled C-sections today.
The tragedy certainly cast a pall on all the other proceedings, and the reactions to the grief were very, well, English upperclass of the times. Cora was furious at Robert, perhaps rightfully, but everyone else remained staid, particularly the Dowager Countess, despite her bracing herself as she entered the house. Mary refused to give Edith even a false sense of hope that the two of them would ever get along any better now, and I'm not sure I ever saw anyone hug. The Downstairs reaction, with Mrs. Hughes hugging Daisy and Anna putting a hand on a sobbing Thomas, seemed much more relatable (even with Carson preaching a stiff upper lip).
Dark days at Downton, although Next Week seems to pick things up, with a discussion of the baby being Catholic, Cora still being mad, Bates being even madder, Patmore giving aid to Ethel, and Robert, Flop of Grantham, against the world.
Musings and Miscellanea:
- I thought it was interesting how the staff was expected to stay up and wait until the baby was born. It made sense that they would be woken up to be told of a death, but in many ways it seems strange to prevent them from sleep just for a birth announcement, especially since they had to remain downstairs and weren't exactly part of the celebration.
- "A newspaper column? When can we expect an offer for her to appear on the London stage?" - Violet
- O'Brien encouraging Jimmy and Thomas is for a nefarious end, and I hate to see Thomas get played once again. He should know better than to be so touchy-feely with Jimmy ... unless Jimmy is merely fronting himself as a ladies' man.
- "She was the only person living who thought we were good people." - Mary
- Upon first viewing I was yelling at the TV for someone to do an emergency tracheotomy, which is what always happens on TV shows when someone can't breathe.
- "I am indifferent to Sir Phillip's feelings." - Violet. Hear hear!
- I liked that Isobel called Mrs. Byrd out about not accepting Ethel and needing to leave. I don't understand, though: If Isobel was willing to put Ethel in her employ, then couldn't she have thought of that sooner and saved Charlie from being sent to the grandparents? Couldn't he have been brought up in Isobel's house? She's always looking for people to save!
- So Daisy kinda likes Alfred, who has a crush on Ivy, who has eyes only for Jimmy, who is also being given the eye by Thomas. Oh my.
- I really liked Thomas talking about the clocks; it reminded me of the complex beauty that old wind-ups can have.
- Looks like Bates won't be freed so easily, but I think we can all rest easy that he was indeed innocent.
- I like Alfred having cooking skills and I hope they go somewhere with that.
- So Dr "Quack" Clarkson was finally redeemed! Cora gave good excuses for his miscues in the past, and he was certainly right about Sybil. I guess I have to give him some credit now.
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