Alisande Watches Downton Abbey, Episode 5

The one that made me cry and think about snogging the chauffeur-turned-revolutionary-turned-single-Dad, Tom Branson.
Publish date:
October 15, 2012
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I take it all back. Tonight’s episode of Downton – which Americans should definitely not read about if they don’t want their hearts broken before the series is broadcast stateside – proved strong enough to provoke a reaction from even the most disinterested of hearts.

Tonight, the Crawley family’s moral compass, Sybil – the only daughter to have inherited her mother’s warmth, who believed in suffrage, who founded a hospital for wounded soldiers, and even did something to lessen the class divide when she eloped with the servant she loved – died after giving birth to a healthy baby girl.

Due to medical negligence at the hands of some posh twat Sir Phillip Tapsell, the gynecologist knight of the realm Lord Grantham snobbily hired to deliver the baby, the youngest Crawley daughter died from pre-eclampsia.

Had Lord G listened to the family’s usual doctor (who for the sake of plot devices everywhere, happened to be present) or even his wife, Sybil could have been rushed to hospital for a potentially life-saving caesarian section.

Instead, Lord G took the advice of the horrendously pompous posh doc, and poor old Sybil died, aged 24, leaving several questions unanswered.

What will happen to Tom and the baby? Will Tom defy Lord Grantham and depart for Ireland with Baby Sybil, so he can raise her as a Catholic?

Will he give her to Mary and Matthew, who may or may not be having fertility problems? Will the Crawleys use all their money and influence to take the child away from its father?

Sybil’s death and its aftermath were horrible, but brilliantly acted. Even Evil Thomas, who spent much of the episode flirting with/ sexually harassing Jimmy the footman, broke down in tears, along with the normally stoic Mrs. Hughes.

The most moving performances to my mind came from Branson, breaking down beside his dying wife’s bedside, and Cora promising her dead baby girl that she would take care of Tom and the new grandchild.

She then banished her husband to sleep in his dressing room, openly blaming him for her daughter’s death. I cried for them both.

I know we always expect great things from her, but seriously, how good is Maggie Smith? The short scene where she entered the house with grief visibly etched across her face was an exercise in restrained emoting.

In fact, it was everything Hugh Bonneville’s wooden performance as a should-have-been-ravaged-by-guilt-and-remorse Lord Grantham was not.

Or as Stevie more succinctly put it:

Elsewhere in Downton, we saw girl-on-girl empowerment when Isobel Crawley gave former sex worker Ethel a job in spite of the ensuing scandal.

Her cook, Mrs. Bird quit in disgust, while Carson decreed that Downton’s maids would no longer be able to visit Mrs. Crawley’s place, lest Ethel’s very presence corrupt them. And after all of that Isobel discovered that Ethel can't actually cook.

Daisy, who still seems like an unlikely candidate for any kind of suffrage, continued her journey towards modern womanhood (or at least becoming a character in a bad teen flick) by bullying new kitchen maid Ivy – her rival for footman Alfred’s affections.

Fortunately, Alfred was able to save the day, and show off his unexpected mad cooking skillz in the process.

A couple of things that strike me the Daisy-loves-Alfred-loves-Ivy-but-really-just-sort-of-fancies-being-a-chef situation:

1) Alfred’s cute and all but definitely not the cutest of the downstairs staff (that accolade goes to these two, who were busy fiddling with clocks for most of the episode).

2) Doesn’t Alfred look quite a lot like, William, the now-deceased footman who Daisy was coerced into marrying last season? Why has he suddenly become her type?

3) Alfred’s a really good cook, Ivy’s not. Let’s just wrap this up and have them swap jobs, now, OK? Or send Alfie over to Isobel’s place so he can cook for her and Ethel can go back to being a lady’s maid. Some of the plot developments in this series are really starting to DRAG.

Talking of dragging, Bates and Anna are STILL trying to get him released from prison. It’s been weeks now. Much longer and I’m going to start using their scenes to hoover.

Also, Matthew has upped his torturously slow-burning campaign to start running the estate in a more modern fashion than Lord Grantham would like.

It’s got to happen, it’s inevitable. So, can they just hurry up and have a really good bust-up and move this shit along?

So, did you cry? Rail against Lord Grantham’s terrible choice of gynecologist? It’s occurred to me that if I’d tried to snog Branson when we were at uni I could add a lot more colour to these pieces. Regrets, I have a few.