Spoiler Alert, as always
Before I begin, I thought I would share this cheeky tweet from yesterday — Hugh Bonneville (who plays Lord Grantham) to U.S. Downton Abbey viewers:
To the US tweeps who've managed to avoid spoilers about tonight's ep of #DowntonAbbey – hope you both enjoy it 😉
— Hugh Bonneville (@hughbon) January 28, 2013
Very funny. He's worried about us hating him. And with good reason.
This episode was a watershed moment, as we lost a major charactor. That's right — Mrs. Bird has decided to leave the employ of Isobel Crawley and move in with relatives in Manchester. Why? Because she refuses to work with Ethel, the Fallingest of the Fallen Women Who Have Ever Falled.
In last week's episode, Ethel decided to give bighead Baby William a better life, and turned custody of him over to the Bryants. As she walked away teary-eyed to go to some remote corner of the village and sing "I Dreamed A Dream", we wondered if we would see her again. Well, she's back. She is, after all, Isobel Crawley's pet project, and Isobel isn't about to let Ethel the Fallen out of her teeth until she is respectable, dammit. So she takes Ethel on as a cook, and Mrs. Bird is not pleased.
"I cannot work with a woman of her ilk", Mrs. Bird complains. "Everyone will think I was a woman of the night, too."
But Isobel Crawley was like, "Whatevs", and that was the end of it. So, bye bye Birdie.
Carson, who looks a lot like Sam the Eagle, also isn't sympathetic to the idea of Ethel being a cook to Isobel Crawley and forbids any of the downstairs staff (especially the footmen) from visiting the Isobel Crawley house. It would look bad, he says. But Ethel, it seems, is a very poor cook. We understand when she can't make Canard à la Rouennaise Au Gratin — that was too ambitious. But apparently, she can't even make tea without causing Isobel to blanche. Setting up for a future confrontation, Mrs. Patmore defies Carson and makes a visit at the Crawley house to help Ethel learn how to make food. We only see Mrs. Patmore from the back, but we assume she carried with her Mrs. Hughes' electric toaster.
What else is going on downstairs? Well, Daisy is having a bit of a power play over the new girl. Apparently, William 2.0 only has eyes for the new girl, so Daisy thinks that by bossing the new girl around, William 2.0 will lose interest. Mrs. Patmore sets Daisy straight by saying something harsh — along the lines of "He's never going to like you, Daisy, so you might as well be nice to the new girl." A bit tactless. Perhaps she should have done the Ouija Board thing again if she wants to send Daisy a message.
And the new guy, Jimmy (aka "James" when he's upstairs) is getting creeped out by Thomas. He even goes to Mrs. O'Brien with a complaint: "Mr. Barrow is tooching me soo much, I thaynk I've goot splinters up me bum" — a veiled reference to Thomas' wooden left hand. Or he says something like that. But Mrs. O'Brien, up to no good, urges Jimmy to accommodate Thomas, which means we're in for some more vaguely homoerotic clock-setting scenes.
Meanwhile, there is a glimmer of hope in the Slowest Moving Plot Line™, as Anna has found a witness who will swear that there was a pie on the shelf when she visited Mrs. Bates. Yeah, I don't know what that means either. I also don't understand why Bates has enemies in prison. His former cell-mate — yeah, I get that. But why do some of the guards have it in for Bates? You see, when it comes to this plot line, I have the same problem as Daily Show creator and writer Lizz Winstead:
— Lizz Winstead (@lizzwinstead) January 28, 2013
Anyway, all I can say for sure is that things are looking better for Anna and Mr. Bates, which means we'll probably see him in bed with her before long — hairy back and all.
And that's about it for downstairs. Upstairs, of course, things got really bleak.
Lady Edith got an offer to write a weekly column in a newspaper about whatever she wanted. Unfortunately, the only thing she knows about is (a) whining wistfully and (b) being jilted at the altar by men twice her age. So you know the weekly newspaper column going to be a barnburner of journalistic excellence.
Lord Grantham advises her against it, which means of course that she should do it.
Matthew Crawley is worried about his er, um, "down there" and ability to have a child. Fortunately, there is a doctor in the house (two of them actually — more on that in a moment), and so he has a conversation about his er, um, fertility. Look, I know it is only the 1920s, but a man who spent time with salty soldiers during wartime, and a medical doctor, should have been able to get through that conversation better. What a bunch of nellies.
Anyway, it's no surprise that Matthew doesn't approach Dr. Clarkson about his er, um. Dr. Clarkson, after all, was the one who misdiagnosed the severity of Lavinia's illness. He was also the one who told Matthew he would never walk (much less er, um) again. So Matthew approaches Sir Phillip, another doctor invited by Lord Grantham to oversee the imminent birth of Tom and Sybil's child. Unfortunately, it turns out that we may have found a worse doctor than Dr. Clarkson.
Because what happens shortly thereafter is epic. As Sybil goes into labor, Dr. Clarkson argues that she is succumbing to Eclampsia. Sir Phillip insists that Sybil is fine and her labor is coming along normally. Dr. Clarkson says he knows the size of Sybil's cankles, and they shouldn't be that big, and Sybil needs to go to the hospital for a C-Section right away. But Sir Phllip insists that Sybil's labor is healthy and normal.
The family wavers about what to do, and it gets frustrating. Finally, Lord Grantham decides to follow the medical advice of Sir Phillip, which is to do nothing because Sybil is fine. The baby is born. It's a girl, and she will grow up to be Margaret Thatcher (spoiler alert). Sybil is fine, and she and Tom discuss where the baby should be baptized. Sybil drifts off to sleep and all is well. Until….
During the night, Sybil's neck and cankles have gone off-the-wall crazy, and she struggles to breathe. Both doctors huddle in a corner of her bedroom, exchanging shocked glances while the family stands at Sybil's bedside yelling "DO something". The doctors kind of look at each other ashamed, and look into their hands. Then Sir Phillip comments on the wall color: "Is that off-white or eggshell? You know, I can't tell the difference"
Tom pleads with the doctors to save his wife, to which Dr. Clarkson looks down at the rug and says "Uh, uh, that's a really nice pattern. Did you buy that in London?"
Both doctors are silently greatful that medical malpractice hasn't been invented yet.
Anyway, Sybil dies. And there's much sadness both upstairs and downstairs. Tears drop everywhere.
And by the way, five seconds of screen time showing the Dowager Countess walking in an aggrieved state, not saying a word, shows why Maggie Smith deserves every award she's won.
Sad as it all is, it's not too early for recrimination and bitchiness. Lady Mary chews out Matthew for an ill-timed conversation with the family lawyer about how the estate is being mismanaged, for example. But mostly, everyone is mad at Lord Grantham for his decision to bring in, and then take sides with, Sir Phillip rather than Dr. Clarkson. Cora turns Lord Grantham out from her bed — it's one thing to lose the family fortune due to his bad decision-making skills, but when family members start dropping off — well, she has to draw the line.
Even America's Sweetheart, Katie Couric, is pissed:
I want to kill Lord G. Not sure I could forgive him and that arrogant idiotic Dr!Ok it's official I need a hobby! #downtonabbey
— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) January 28, 2013
So it looks like Lord Grantham is going to be in the doghouse for a while. And rightly so. Everything he believes and thinks is wrong. This probably means Bates is guilty as hell.
There was also an odd scene where Mary and Edith, the two surviving sisters, bond. But Mary, who is becoming a real pill, did in such a perfunctory way, as in "Well, we're sisters so let's just hug now because our other sister is dead"… or something like that.
And what about Tom and the baby? Will they stay at Downton? I can't imagine the family letting the baby go away. So will Tom hang around and be with his daughter? Or will he leave the baby at Downton while he goes off to fight the revolution?
I think he should hook up with Lady Edith and become a pair of journalist crimefighters. Or better yet, go into town and hook up with Ethel (and become lower-class cast-off crimefighters). Hope he likes redheads.
Congrats to the cast of Downton Abbey for winning Outstanding Performance By An Ensemble In A Drama Series at the SAG Awards last night.