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Tristram Shandy references aside (look it up – that’s some dinner party trivia free of charge), tonight’s Downton was the bleakest in its three series. Who saw that coming? Poor Sybil; what a horribly distressing scene as she graphically asphyxiated to death while everyone else bickered and stood around looking helpless. It’s like the writers saved up all of series three’s tear-jerking moments and threw them at us in one go.
I feel like I tempted fate by rejoicing that Sybil and Branson were here to stay last week.
Interesting conundrum in that if the Earl had his way and Dr Clarkson hadn’t been present, Sybil would still have died but Robert and Cora wouldn’t be torn asunder. Equally, if Dr Clarkson hadn’t been so incompetent in previous years the Earl wouldn’t have called in a detestable obstetrician and Sybil would be happy and healthy. Probably. You’re all idiots.
As I attempt to compose myself, let’s have a brief, if listless, look at what else happened tonight. Ethel’s been rashly employed by Isabella at the cost of Mrs Bird’s culinary skills. Even if I wasn’t in mourning, I’m not sure I’d really have an opinion on this, except that it’s a shame we may never see Bird and Molesley reunited. But then I suppose the world and Downton itself have moved past the days where a clipped, formal conversation about stains or cutlery could be entertaining.
It’s a long time since Mrs O’Brien and Thomas (or Mr Barrow as he’s so recently become) provided such intriguing viewing. Obviously Mrs O’Brien has some hidden agenda as she directs the new footman into Thomas’s company, but it’s difficult to predict her endgame right now and that’s quite refreshing after weeks of arbitrary bickering between the old co-conspirators. As for Thomas, well he goes for most of a series just looking a bit evil and then suddenly provides an Oscar-worthy five minutes before returning to wicked genius. In one of the best written moments this series, he boasts to the new footman (name?) about his relationship with Sybil and we toss it aside as Thomas being Thomas; but then, when tragedy strikes, we catch Thomas grieving and a rare glimpse of his heart shines through.
Bates is staring freedom in the face as evidence is finally uncovered to prove his innocence. But, what’s this – enemies from an old scrape mean that he’s unlikely to leave prison any time soon unless it’s to meet the hangman’s noose. Sigh.
And finally, both Mary and Matthew continue to fret about the lack of baby bump (though I suspect Mary might not be so keen to get up the duff now). It strikes me, after a teary call with my mum following tonight’s episode, that Tom (Branson not Barrow) might now be headed for Ireland once more – would it be an odd turn of events if the couple with fertility issues adopted Sybil and Tom’s daughter?
Sybil, it’s been wonderful.