Life and death weighed in deeply in last week’s episode 4 of Downton Abbey. The birth of Lady Sybil’s daughter and her shocking death overshadowed any of the other plot developments. As the two doctors in attendance stood at her bedside with her family and watched helpless (as did we) as she was overcome with toxemia from eclampsia, I felt that writer Julian Fellowes was using every emotion to rip out our hearts. Sybil was such a kind, sweet soul—a rare commodity at Downton and the world—that her death is doubly hard for all to bear. Here is a link to a lovely tribute video of Lady Sybil created by Masterpiece PBS. Downstairs, the new staff is posturing for position and romance while Miss O’Brien plants the seeds of destruction for her former partner in crime valet Mr. Barrow. Lady’s maid Anna and her husband, former valet Mr. Bates, discover a previously overlooked fact that may overturn his murder conviction of his wife and set him free from jail.
Recap of episode 5 (spoilers ahead)
Lady Sybil has been laid to rest and Downton Abbey will never be the same. The family’s grief and mourning is very acute, especially by her husband Tom Branson whose future there seems uncertain. The baby must be christened and Tom is determined to have her baptized in his own faith. This appalls Lord Grantham who feels her life will be doomed as a “left footer.” Catholicism vs. Anglicism is discussed at dinner upstairs and down and there is a definite division of beliefs. The growing rift between Lord and Lady Grantham over local Dr. Clarkson’s advice to save Sybil vs. the London specialist Dr. Tapsell moves the Dowager Countess to step in and convince Dr. Clarkson to tell her son and daughter-in-law that Lady Sybil was destined to die even with the surgery he recommended. This realization mends the fence and they are reconciled in their grief.
Mrs. Crawley wants to throw a luncheon for the ladies of Downton to ease their suffering and asks her housekeeper Ethel to prepare a simple meal. Ethel is determined that she can cook finer fare than cold ham and a salad and convinces the cook at Downton Mrs. Patmore to coach her. The more elaborate meal surprises Mrs. Crawley and delights her guests until Lord Grantham crashes the party furious that the ladies are endangering the reputation of Downton by associating with a woman who bore a bastard and was previously a prostitute. He insists that they leave immediately, but they refuse. Assistant cook Daisy is still keen on Alfred who is keen on Ivy who is keen on James. Everyone is in love with the wrong person as Mrs. Patmore’s keen eyes so clearly perceive. Mr. Bates’ lawyer interviews his dead wife’s neighbor Mrs. Bartlett and it is not surprise that she has changed her story, most likely tipped off and bribed by that irksome prison guard hounding Bates. Well two can play at this game so Bates threatens his cellmate which turns the tide so the witness can recant and Bates is sprung. It is the only good news at Downton in months.
“Did you hear about Tom’s announcement at breakfast? He wants the child to be a left footer.” – Lord Grantham
It was interesting to see all of the household’s reaction to the Catholic vs. Anglican issue. It helped us remember what era this drama is placed in and how important your choice of faith was.
“My dearest boy. There is no test on earth greater than the one you have been put to. I do not speak much of the heart since it is seldom helpful to do so, but I know well enough the pain when it is broken.” – Violet, Dowager Countess Grantham
A nice mother and son moment from the whisperer of Downton herself.
“You know the trouble with you lot, you’re all in love with the wrong people.” – Mrs. Patmore
Too true – as I mentioned before, Daisy is keen on Alfred who is keen on Ivy who is keen on James. There is another who is also in love with the wrong person too. When will the shoe drop?
“The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk is a dear friend and she is more Catholic than the Pope.” – Violet, Dowager Countess Grantham
Lady Violet is referring to Gwendolen Fitzalan-Howard, 12th Lady Herries of Terregles, The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. She was a Roman Catholic aristocrat whose family was the model for the Marchmain family in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited.
“You are always flabbergasted by the unconventional…not everyone chooses their religion to satisfy Debrett’s.” – Lady Grantham
Lady Grantham is referring to Debrett’s Perrage & Baronetage, a book that is a genealogical reference to the British aristocracy. Austen fans will remember that in Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot “for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage.” He was a puffed up snob. Lady Grantham’s mention of this is a rub to her husband’s snobbish beliefs reminding him of her American roots and values. Well said Lady Grantham.
“So there’s a country boy inside the revolutionary?” – Matthew Crawley
“Not much of one.” – Tom Branson
“You must hate it here.” – Matthew Crawley
“No. I don’t hate it, but I don’t belong here either.” – Tom Branson
Both Matthew and Tom are outsiders at Downton who have married into the family. This bromance between the two son-in-law’s is developing nicely though it is a bit harder for them to accept the revolutionary Fenian former chauffeur than a middle class former attorney as family.
“I expected her to deny everything once she realized that her testimony would release me.” – Mr. Bates
Mr. Bates’ last chance at freedom does not look promising. Depending on the honesty of his dead wife’s neighbor Mrs. Bartlett who hates him is a long shot.
“Of course, if Mrs. Patmore wants to spend her time frolicking with prostitutes.” – Mr. Carson
“Do I look like a frolicker? – Mrs. Patmore
Caught in the act of visiting Ethel at Crawley House by the disapproving Mr. Carson, Mrs. Patmore back peddles quickly and offers the perfect comeback! Ha!
“It seems such a pity to miss a good pudding.” – Violet, Dowager Countess Grantham
Huzzah! Prostitutes and pudding prevail at Downton! A very tense scene with Lord Grantham crashing the party at Crawley House is softened again by a bon mot by the Dowager Countess. So perfect.
“A fool and his money are soon parted, and I have been parted from my money so I suppose I am a fool.” – Lord Grantham
Again, Lady Mary is discussing money matters with her father. This time she is running defense for her husband Matthew and brother-in-law Tom. She mentions she is always on her father’s team, but this time he is wrong about disapproving of the Catholic christening of baby Sybil, and Matthew’s concerns about the mismanagement of the Downton estate. Both Lord Grantham and Mr. Carson are traditionalists hanging on the past. Is there a message here that Fellowes is foreshadowing?
Nourishing our bodies and souls are key themes in episode 5 tonight. Food and religion. Two popular topics often debated but never agreed upon.
We see food preparation and its importance in stature through housekeeper Ethel’s desire to improve herself and impress her employer and the ladies at Downton when she makes a fine meal for luncheon and surprises them all. She takes a risk and is rewarded until Lord Grantham imposes his unyielding traditional values while attempting to banish his family from the house because of Ethel’s tainted past. I love the reaction by the Dowager Countess when he uses the “B” word to shame Ethel and Mrs. Crawley for inviting the ladies to lunch. Priceless!
Food is also an important plot axis in Mr. Bates’ fate too. The newly discovered fact of poisoned pie that his wife baked for herself that her neighbor Mrs. Bartlett mentions might set him free. And, Daisy the assistant cook who thinks she will spend her whole life in the preparation of food may have another option when her father-in-law offers her his tenancy at the farm including equipment and money. She would be an heiress of sorts – not on the scale of the Downton ladies – but still quite a step up from kitchen duties and a life in service. Now, let’s Segway to another dinner at Downton where the topic of religion is so prominent. The local vicar’s opinions of Catholicism vs. Anglicism is not only startling to today’s ears but to some family members in 1920 too. It was a great way for screenwriter Fellowes to show us how religion, values, character, and food are so important to all and how things have not changed as much as they should have in one hundred years.
I was a bit taken aback by Lord Grantham tonight. He has never been one of those cool, calm, stiff upper lip Englishmen types that the nation is so famous for, but geesh, his temper really blew in all directions: mad at Tom, mad at Lady Mary, mad at Matthew, mad at Isobel etc. The only family member who didn’t get their ears boxed was Lady Edith who is usually the whipping boy in the family! I presume it was amplified by the grief of the loss of his daughter Lady Sybil. It was interesting to see Lady Grantham deal with her own grief in the totally opposite way by being controlled and quiet – dolling out her anger in small bursts focused on one person, her husband.
The death of Lady Sybil was a deep blow to the series and I was concerned about how they could move past it. She was such a sweet character and so admired. Only the good die young.
Images courtesy © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE