My Two Cents: This Week’s Downton Abbey

my-two-cents111Downton has raised the stakes with Series 3. Mrs. Hughes had a cancer scare, Lord Grantham almost lost the estate, and Bates is in danger of being shanked at every turn. But they’re all close calls, near incidents.

Episode 4 should have ended with Lady Sybil and Tom Branson cuddling their baby girl, with Cora praising her youngest daughter for a job well done, with Lord Grantham feeling like he made the right choice for the first time in a long time.

Lady Sybil’s untimely death on this week’s episode of Downton Abbey had those of us stateside clamoring for the tissues. As Series 3 of our favorite BBC import is only just being made available in full this week, the tearjerker was a complete shock for Downton’s loyal PBS Masterpiece viewers. But, I have to ask, was killing off Lady Sybil really the best choice?

Carson the Butler called Sybil “the sweetest spirit under (Downton’s) roof”. Lady Sybil brought a certain sense of compassion and reality that Downton otherwise lacks. While Sybil wasn’t my favorite Downton daughter (I’m partial to Mary’s glares and uppity remarks, myself), she kept the Crawley family in touch with the modern world. She was the one to propel storylines like those seen during the war, when she became a nurse to wounded soldiers. She helped a housemaid become a secretary. She, more than Downton’s other characters, fought against the caste system by going so far as to love and marry the house’s chauffeur. But, most importantly, Lady Sybil was able to be kind and generous in a manner which was neither arrogant nor annoying – a manner which Cousin Isobel has yet to adopt. Will Isobel and her charm school for barely reformed prostitutes be our only humanitarian efforts past the grounds of Downton now that Lady Sybil has passed? That seems like a fate worse than being force-fed Ethel’s kidney soufflé.

And then there’s Sybil’s husband, Tom Branson. As the first two episodes of this series have shown, Branson has an Irish temper mixed with distaste for the rich that make him quite an outcast amongst the Crawleys. Will we be able to stomach Branson’s dining room rants without Sybil’s patient justifications? And what will become of his and Lady Sybil’s newborn daughter, now that Branson can’t return to Ireland (and most likely won’t be asked to stay at Downton)?

The irony in Lady Sybil’s death is that she may have been the only Downton-er, upstairs or down, to really live. She worked as a nurse during the war, she married for love despite her family’s demands, and she was the first of the daughters to become a mother. She even wore pants, for crying out loud! Sybil’s life makes the others’ look petty and bored, regardless of how many Ottoman attachés Lady Mary kills in bed or how hard Lady Edith might fight (with her pen) alongside her sister suffragettes.

Therein, however, lies my biggest issue with Lady Sybil’s death: Downton Abbey is a place for people with good hearts. It’s what I love most about the show – they’re all so good. Even Thomas, the villain since Series 1, cried at the news of Sybil’s death. These are good people, true people. The show has hit us over the well-coiffed head with that message since the first episode. It’s why we trust that Anna will rescue Bates from prison, how we knew Matthew would walk again. It’s why we were practically begging for the show’s only other notable death – Lavinia Swire had to get out of the way so Matthew and Mary could just be together already!

No, Lady Sybil didn’t have to die. But my love for Downton Abbey surely hasn’t died with her. So what will become of Downton now that the one with the biggest heart is gone?

Lauren A – Senior Reviewer

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7 Responses to My Two Cents: This Week’s Downton Abbey

  1. jeffkeyz says:

    You’re really gonna cry when ________ dies in the Christmas episode.

  2. karen says:

    ok, I was totally shocked at the death and very saddened as Sybil was the ONLY sister that I liked. Mary is such a uppity snob at times it drives me crazy. And her remark to her sister after the death, saying that “we will never be close”..I wanted to smack her! And the way she is trying control poor Matthew…ugh!
    I don’t agree with your assessment of Isobel. I like her, and the good she is trying to do. I don’t feel she is arrogant at all! As for old man Grantham, the poor bloke is going to be in the guest room for quite some time and he needs to grow a pair and tell the wifey that if she doesn’t want to sleep w him…then she can go to the guest room!
    Sybil was the only normal person in the group and bravo for her to wear pants, marry the help, get a real job and live life!! I will miss you Syb!!

    • laurenattc says:

      So many of my friends loved Sybil, too. I don’t know why she wasn’t my favorite… Mary is such a snob, I love it! But I have to say her comments to Edith after Sybil’s death really made me think twice about her.

      I actually really want to like Isobel, but I think it’s her unwavering persistence that rubs me the wrong way. And it seems like she has strings attached to her humanitarian efforts. Like, “I’ll help you get off the streets, but I also want to control how you handle your affairs with your child”.

      Do you think Cora is justified at being upset with Lord Grantham? I understand her initial anger, but I’ll be curious to see how long he has to stay in the dog house. Seems to me like he did what he thought was best.

  3. Well I guess now we know what happens when you don’t sign on for Season 4…I hate when great shows start losing central characters. I sure hope they have a plan here. I’ve heard about the other death that is coming and I don’t know how I’ll survive it. What in the world will Season 4 look like??

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