This doesn’t seem to be a week for the usual bon mots. I don’t know about you Downtonians, but I spent half of this episode in tears. To quote Mrs. Hughes, ‘the sweetest spirit under this roof is gone and I’m weeping myself.’ Me too Mrs. Hughes, me too. But as Carson reminds Daisy, all we can do is carry on…
Ball and Chain: You’re Not Paranoid if Everyone Really Is Out to Get You
Hickory Dickory Dock: Double the Toil and Trouble
Something About Mary: Quite Contrary
The Breakfast Club: Sing Out Sister
Where Do I Begin: Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun
Lord Grantham calls in a big name, Sir Philip Tapsell, to deliver Sybil’s baby. But what did we learn from Sir Rupert last season? These Sirs seem to have oversized egos and a lot to prove, and right from the jump Sir Philip proved it with his dinner table braggadocio and his dismissiveness of having another doctor present. Of course, anyone could be forgiven for being wary of leaving important medical decisions to Dr. Clarkson, given his track record, but this time he called it right and no one but powerless Cora would listen. Robert still bristles at the mention of Tom’s name and leaves him out of any decisions until it is too late, asserting, ‘Tom is not the Master here!’ But when push comes to shove, and everyone is desperate to save Sybil, all Sir Philip can come up with is, ‘the human life is unpredictable’. Sybil then dies a tortured, unnecessary death as her helpless family can only watch. One remembers last season when Lord Grantham said to his wife, “Cora, sometimes you are curiously unfeeling.” Now it seems that he is the one who is curiously unfeeling – or maybe we’ll be generous and say he’s in shock: A few weeks ago we saw him cry like a baby over losing his money, but thus far he hasn’t shed a tear over Sybil. I know I did though. When Cora was talking to Sybil’s body, promising to take care of ‘both of them’ (Tom and her daughter), I totally lost it and was gone the rest of the episode. How about you, Downtonians?
In many ways, Sybil was a little bit of us living in Downton: She was the modern woman. Though born in England, she was really more American than her mother. Even though she was brought up in the luxury of her titled life, she wasn’t held hostage by the attitudes and labels of ‘all that’. Back in season 1, instead of thinking of Gwen as a servant meant for a life of drudgery, she went out of her way to help her reach her goal of becoming a secretary and moving up in life. She then wanted to live a useful life and became a nurse to help the wounded and was a catalyst for turning Downton into a wartime rehab hospital. And, of course, she gave up the manor to marry her true love, Branson, never thinking he was less than she because of accident of birth. She threw off the chains that her father cannot (or will not). But sadly it was the adherence of others to that old “Lord as Master endowed by God” system that contributed to her death. At the most critical moment in her life, ‘Sir’ outranked ‘Doctor’ and just like that she was gone. Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
When Cora says to Mary, ‘would you ask your father to sleep in the dressing room tonight?’, one cannot help but wonder if this will be the end of passive Cora? Will it be the last time she lets Robert assert that he is The Master? Because, in reality, while Robert blusters that he is The Master, he is also just as much a slave. He is a slave to this class system; an antiquated idea with diminishing returns even for him at the top of its food chain. Maybe Robert cannot see that because his whole life has been about nothing but maintaining this facade, this piece of the aristocracy. If it all means nothing, then what has his life meant? Like any mere mention of basic biological terms, it’s one more thing he refuses to face.
Now what will happen to Tom and the baby? Both Mary and Cora promised to fight Sybil’s corner before she died, not knowing at the time that this would be their dying promises to her, and I suspect there will be battles to come with Lord Grantham over Tom and the baby. But what will Tom want? The last image we were left with was of Tom holding the baby, looking very small from the window. It made him look like a prisoner in that big house. Lady Sybil Patricia Crawley Branson, Rest in Peace.
This was not a week for bon mots from Violet either.
5. ‘And when may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage?’
4. ‘If there is one thing I am quite indifferent to it is Philip Tapsell’s feelings.’
3. ‘A woman of my age can face reality better than most men.’
2. ‘We’ve seen some troubles you and I, but nothing worse than this.’
1. ‘Our darling Sybil has died during childbirth like too many women before her. And all we can do now is cherish her memory and her child.’
Downton Dish is written by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper.