Oh, gentle readers, I write to you now with my eyes veiled by a film of tears—as I’m sure yours are. Or perhaps you are beyond tears, having cried yourself to sleep last night, awoken this morning to tear-stained sheets, wept yet again, and are now bereft of tears.
Oh, the ache! The sorrow! The inestimable woe! For never was there a sadder episode, never was there a tale whose tragedy could compare to last night’s episode of Downton Abbey!
Things started out well enough for everyone’s favorite aristocrats, the Crawleys. The once lithesome and seductive Lady Sybil, she of the willfully political nature, pillowz lips and salted-caramel voice, youngest of the Crawley girls, was great with child and experiencing the first twinges of the birthing pains. So Old Man Clarkson, the village shaman, was sent for in the dead of night. Everything looked just fine, he declared. Lady Sybil’s moist and dry humors were coming into alignment for the blessed event, and all she need do is chew on the bark of a particular tree and all would be well. But Lord Grantham wasn’t convinced. After all, Wiseman Clarkeson accidentally thought that Cousin Husband Matthew would be paralyzed and impotent forever last season despite the fact that he’s a completely indispensable main character on this show. (Also, it’s probably the doctor’s fault that Lanvivia died of Spanish Effluvia.) So, his lordship also summoned Lord Doctor Fillup Capsule to preside over his dear daughter’s birthing with all the modern medical innovation of the early 20th Century.
Downstairs, Thomas was spending his day doodling hearts in his diary and jumping at every opportunity to get close to the sexy new manservant Jimmy. “Oh, Jimmy, I bet there’s nothing you couldn’t do.” Thomas sighed, batting his eyelashes and stroking the boy’s tautly muscled bicep. What a change love had wrought in Thomas’s life! No one had heard a snide comment out of him for weeks, and he was even creepier when he wasn’t being evil! Of course, Miss O’Brien noticed all of this and set about her plans to somehow manipulate Jimbo into Thomas’s arms. Is she playing cupid? Or is this all part of her plan to destroy Thomas for some reason probably none of us remembers anymore.
Love is just running a riot for the underdwellers of Downton! Daisy is also feeling stirrings in her netherparts for goofy old puddle faced Alfred, but he has eyes only for Ivy, the new kitchen wench and the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. To our eyes, she looks like a lump of raw scone dough, bBut this is the pre-supermodel, pre-beauty-industrial-complex, pre-Photoshop era, and to Alfred, Ivy is a gem beyond compare, much to Daisy’s dismay.Burning with jealousy, she starts to take it out on the slatternly new drudge. But this is no way to win Alfred’s affections—and anyway, it appears Ivy’s young loins yearn for none other than Jimmy! Oh, the romantic entanglements of these downstairs youngsters!
Over at the county jail, Bates and Anna have been reunited after last week’s missing-letters fiasco, and it’s back to the business of clearing Bates’s name. Turns out Anna has stumbled onto proof that his evil first wife must have baked herself a poison pie—her plan being to kill herself and frame Bates for murder. But this brilliant, totally natural and believable plot point hinges on the testimony of Bates’s evil first wife’s best lady friend, who hates him and wants him to rot in gaol anyway. Also working against our star-crossed lovers is Bates’s evil cellmate and his prison-guard henchman: They’re plotting to make sure the Mrs. Best Lady Friend won’t cooperate, thus dooming Bates’s to an eternity in jail with them. “Emmys! More Emmys and Golden Globes and Baftas for this quality television show,” Julian Fellowes howls from the den of his manor.
Meanwhile, redheaded tart Ethel hasn’t gone back to prostitutin’, so Cousin Isabel offers her a job. (You gotta wonder why she didn’t just do that before poor Ginger Snap had to sell her baby to its wealthy grandparents. “Logic? How very middle class!” clucks Julian Fellowes.)
Oh, but what will everyone else think, with a former hobag playing house with Cousin Isabel? Well we know what Mrs. Conrad Birdie, Cousin Isabel’s cook thinks! She doesn’t like it one bit and threatens to quit because now the house will surely become a scandalous den of iniquity. And since Cousin Isabel doesn’t seem to mind putting a woman who wasn’t a prostitute out of work, Mrs. Big Bird is sent packing. With her fucked-up priorities, it’s no wonder Cousin Isabel is hated by everyone! As a result, she has to eat at home all the time and Ethel can’t cook. Well, that’s bound to cause some trouble down the line, don’t you think?
So, while Cousin Isabel is home eating Ethel’s oven gristle and Hot Pockets, the rest of the Crawleys are at Downtown Arby’s celebrating the impending birth of Sybil and Branson’s wee babe with Doctor Lord Flipcup Tapwater. Old Man Clarkson is there as well at the insistence of Lady Elizabeth McGovern, though Dr. Lord Tapwater and Earl Grantham were in agreement that the aged quack ought to be kept out of the birthatorium.
Of course this causes tension when, suddenly, Lady Sybil starts, like, bleeding out of her eyes and nobody can agree on what to do. Lord Doctor Tapshoes says everything is fine, it’s perfectly normal for women to sweat blood and cough up toads when they’re getting ready to expel a baby. Wise Old Clarkson, on the other hand, thought they should whisk Lady Sybil away to his hut where he could slicer her open like a Christmas turkey and remove the blessed child. But then the baby just slipped out of the womb while everyone was arguing and it seemed like all would be well.
Later than night, though, the whole house was awakened by Sybil’s shrieks of agony: It seems Clarkson was right all along; the demon Verklemptsia had taken possession of our dear Sybil. The family looked on in horror as she writhed in inhuman torment, her body wracked with pain, contorting in such a strange and frightening manner. “There must be something you can do! It’s the future!” Lord Grantham cried, but Sir Doctor Captoe just slunk into the shadows. “I have no more power here,” he whispered, and faded away into the night.
Sweet reader, we must be strong now, and face the fact that dearest Sybil is gone. Yes, the liveliest soul at Downton Abbey went home to meet Jesus last night, leaving the rest of us confused and adrift. How could such a bright spark be snuffed out so quickly and so cruelly? What will become of Branson now that his lady wife is gone? Will the Crawleys cast him out and whither shall he go? What’s to become of the daughter Lady Sybil has left behind? And as for the rest of us, Dowton Abbey is now a colder, more sober place without the light and warmth of the youngest, most beloved Crawley girl. How can we bear to return to this venerable estate next week? How will we learn to soldier on without here? These are questions we must each grapple with on our own. But for now, we want to remember Lady Sybil at her finest hour: as an 18-year-old debutante on the cusp of womanhood. You know the moment. You remember the frock. Here’s to you, Lady Sybil Carwley: May heaven be filled with aqua pant suits!