One other note before I begin: does anyone else think its strange to see these little messages from public television sponsors who've donated a lot of money telling us how important Masterpiece is? These people have given tons of cash to air what amounts to a very well produced soap opera. Now, I got nothing against soap operas when done well. Obviously, I enjoy DOWNTON. But this show is popular enough to air on non-public air waves (NBC would kill for its ratings). Aren't there better charities for these rich old coots to give their money to? Oh well, I guess it's like Shirley MacLaine said in the season premiere: "You gotta spend it on something."
On to the show... what a week! We begin with Sybil on bed rest, experiencing what appears to be normal pains leading up to child birth. I'm immediately reminded of what a soothing presence Jessica Brown Findlay is as Sybil. I want to be rocked to sleep while listening to the sound of her sultry voice. Anyway, Dr. Clarkson seems to believe everything is as it should be but Robert wants a second opinion.
Meanwhile, the downstairs love triangle of Daisy-Alfred-James has bloomed into a demented love pentagon of Daisy-Alfred-James-Thomas-New Cook (sorry, I missed her name). Daisy thinks Alfred has his eye on the new lass, so she retaliates by unleashing all the bitchiness she can muster at the poor girl. I'm pretty sure new girl has her eyes on James. She's not the only one. Thomas hasn't failed to notice the pretty boy.
O'Brien, being O'Brien, seizes the opportunity to get revenge on Thomas. She tells James to get in good with Thomas since "he has the ear of his lordship", knowing full well that Thomas will misread his schmoozing as romantic interest. O'Brien, you are the best! And the Thomas/O'Brien war rages on, to everyone's delight. How strange to see Thomas happy, even gushing on about how wonderful Lady Sybil was with sincerity.
Of course, the fawning over Sybil was no coincidence. The DOWNTON writing staff was teeing us up for events later to come. But more on those in a moment, as we've got other, less interesting subplots to touch base with. Like the never-ending drama of wrongly imprisoned Mr. Bates. No one is tired of this! Anna finally figures out that evil Vera committed suicide and framed Mr. Bates for the murder. Just like the audience figured out the second it was discovered the bitch was dead last season. Ugh. At least the pieces are finally falling into place to allow Bates to be exonerated. I swear to the God that Sybil doesn't believe in, if this turgid nonsense is allowed to drag out much further, I will... I will... well, I won't do anything. I'll keep watching but I'll be pissed and keep making snarky comments about this shitty subplot. Take that, DOWNTON ABBEY!
In other news, Isobel hires Ethel to come work in her house. Oh, Isobel. She always seems like she means well and I think she genuinely does but her real agenda is usually to stir up some shit. I mean, has she EVER done a charitable thing that didn't create a clusterfuck? Naturally, Mrs. Bird is none too pleased to be working alongside a former prostitute and worries others may think she is the same. This prompted the best line of the night from Isobel: "No one could look at you and think that." I don't often laugh out loud watching this show but this one got me good. For once, someone other than Notorious DCG gets a scathing line! Isobel quickly accepted Mrs. Bird's resignation, much to her surprise.
Some of you may have noticed that I am not the biggest fan of Matthew. In fact, I often actively hate him. I had an intriguing discussion with a fellow DOWNTON fan recently who was flummoxed by my frustration. It isn't that he's a bad person, it's that he's badly written, as many of the upstairs DOWNTON men are. So imagine my pleasure to see that he displayed some redeeming qualities tonight, including a sensible plan of how to manage the estate so it would remain solvent. His points about the aristocracy and their views towards real jobs were well taken. It often seems that the only working people the Crawleys respect are the ones waiting on them hand and foot. But that's the servant class. And as Matthew astutely pointed out, "Middle classes have their virtues." Nice to be on Team Matthew, for one week anyway.
Matthew is also worried about his fertility. He and Mary have been banging away but no kids yet! Sup wid dat? Matthew frets that his magically cured paralysis may be the cause but recently recruited Sir Philip (who's apparently an obstetrician) assures him anxiety is the true reason his boys can't hit their target. So anxiety during sex makes you temporarily sterile? Now he tells me! Seems I've been wearing condoms all these years for nothing. I suspect that the reality is that Mary and Matthew can't conceive is because they're engaging in that very uptight, British style of lovemaking where the two parties don't touch.
Which brings us to the heart of the episode - Sybil going into labor. Dr. Clarkson and Sir Philip get into a major kerfuffle (technical term) over diagnosing the poor girl. Her ankles are swelling and she's acting delirious, confused about where she is. Clarkson believes she has a condition (didn't catch the name, sorry) which is very serious and may cause fatal seizures. He recommends an emergency caesarian or both mother and child could die. In the other corner, Sir Philip sees no cause for concern. She's all swollen and stressed out because she's having a baby. Bitches, amiright? Robert, being Robert, sides with the doctor dressed in tails. He doesn't even think it necessary to consult Tom, the father of the child, because Robert is the worst. Of course, Notorious DCG sizes up the situation as only she can: "The decision lies with the chauffeur." DCG for the win.
Before there's much chance to do anything, the baby gets born (it's a girl!) and all seems well. Then Sybil starts having seizures and dies. Boom. The show kills off the most likable upstairs character. Clarkson goes all Nikki Finke with a TOLDJA! and everyone is devastated, especially Robert since he now has a dead daughter as proof of what a horrible human being he is.
Soon everyone is emoting up a storm because they know this episode will probably be their Emmy submission. Curiously (but not surprisingly), the downstairs staff wears their hearts on their sleeves and seems more upset. Thomas cries! For reals tears! What a humanizing episode for everyone's favorite lout. Too bad Elizabeth McGovern doesn't take advantage of her big moment. Some people may get mad at me for saying this but I don't find McGovern to be all that great of an actress. She's pretty stiff and mannered, like a robotic Andy McDowell. I hope there isn't a large constituency of McGovern fans out there ready to come after me with pitch forks.
One thing Sybil's death accomplishes - it finally gets Mary and Edith to hug! Now we know what it takes. Did anyone else find it odd that Sybil confessed her atheism to Mary early in the episode (when discussing her child would be raised Catholic) and it was never mentioned after she was dead? Mary didn't even react when she initially told her. Does Mary feel the same way? Is she worried for sister's soul? Who knows. She seemed more concerned with berating Matthew for daring to discuss estate business so soon after Sybil's death.
The episode ended with Cora putting the proverbial smack down on Robert, blaming him for not listening to Clarkson's advice and causing Sybil's death. Yay, Cora! For once, Robert shows some damn contrition. Even with DCG trying to comfort him (because she knows her caustic wit would be fatal in his vulnerable state), he knows he was in the wrong.
Whew... what an hour. Despite the usual Bates nonsense, I think this was a strong episode. The melodrama was handled well, with only subtle manipulations early on. I got to like a few characters I often don't. Thomas smiled and cried. Isobel was forced to eat burnt kidney soufflé. All in all, hard to complain.
What did everyone else think?