I’m still befuddled by Sunday night’s episode of Downton Abbey. I’m no stranger to the new age of television drama where a show’s star can go at any moment. But Downton was supposed to be more civilized.
When heir to Downton and World War I officer Matthew Crawley went to war he came home alive. Yes, he described himself as an “impotent cripple” and was told he would never walk again, but it only took a couple of episodes for him to be up and out of his wheelchair, dancing cheek to cheek with the love of his life. So far, none of the tragedies that television drama require had hit the Crawleys’ immediate family or the beloved staff living below. When head housemaid Mrs. Hughes found a tumor, it was of course, benign. And even though the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed 50 million people, when it hit Downton, it only took poor, boring Lavinia who was on her way out anyway.
But how could they take Sybil? Lovely, heroic Sybil. The only Crawley sister who was truly kind. She was not only the moral center of the show, but she was also the rebel. She defied all convention by getting a job as a nurse during the war, running off with the hot and radical chauffeur Tom, then finding her way back to Downton, pregnant and alone, after Tom abandoned her to run from the police.
When she arrives back at Downton, Tom is in trouble and she is about to have her baby. It was obvious that something was about to happen, but it seemed too awful. She was such a forward-thinking, modern woman to have her die in childbirth, as the Dowager Countess puts it, “like too many women before her.” It’s a commentary on the time: even though she was a privileged, thoughtful woman, it was the men in the room who determined her fate.
Now Cora must go on without her “baby,” her youngest daughter, and she’s likely never going to forgive Robert for pulling Master of the House and not listening to Dr. Clarkson when he insisted Sybil go to the hospital.
What will happen to poor (literally and figuratively) scowling Tom, and why is he the surviving member of this couple? But more importantly, how will Edith play Jan to Lady Mary’s Marsha if there’s no Cindy? The plot can’t revolve around the two surviving sisters bickering with no kind of relief.
Sybil was a lovely character, and always a welcome presence on the screen. Tom is annoying. I didn’t miss him when he was in Ireland and I wouldn’t miss him now.
From now on, my Downton tshirt has a newly scrawled message: “Free Bates, Resurrect Sybil!”
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