Last night's episode of Downton was a killer. And lo, a cloud moves in on our glorious Victorian brethren. Everything seemed so great just a few months ago! Mary and Matthew, the co-founders and joint CFOs of the International Tired Club, got married in the world's least exciting ceremony. Edith was starting to get over the breakup with her senior citizen fiancé. Pregnant Sybil and Branson moved back to the estate in a decidedly Full House plot turn. And Downton got its money back and Carson got to hire a bunch of new staff.
Speaking of new staff, a lot is going on downstairs. Thomas has a crush on Jimmy Kent, the new footman/sixth member of One Direction/human Hostess cake. No surprise there. Jimmy's all sorts of crazy, and he's setting an uncomely sexual tone downstairs that's turning Alfred into a player and making Daisy extremely uncomfortable. Daisy, as we've established, has remained 14 years old since 1912 and (in keeping with British tradition) is terrified of sex. But maybe that's just Jimmy's way, maybe he's just a born agitator! He'll make dancing legal in this town again if it's the last thing he does.
Similarly, Daisy is about to knife the new scullery maid, who is also a bit of a slippery type. Sybil is going to labor, and New Kitchenette is all "I want to have a baby too! Also I want to move to the big city! Babies in big cities are so romantic!" and everyone and their mother is like, "SHUT. UP." Upstairs, all the women are still eating breakfast in bed. Except for unmarried Edith, Downton's resident mildewy bath towel. At present, Edith is actually very pleased with herself, as she's secured a position as a columnist for a publication! Finally, something to give her purpose and confidence and brief respite from the cat food-scented corner of her spinsterhood hell. Once she's out of earshot, Matt makes sure to go on record that her new gig is really unimportant. EVERYONE is a "writer" these days. Everyone's posting their shit on the net. Everyone's got an agent and a first-look deal. Edith's not even getting paid! She's basically a teenage blogger and her column is a series of rather formal LiveJournal entries.
Isobel Crawley, who holds a PhD in Busybody Studies with an MA in Mechanics of Puttering About, is still hell bent on helping poor sad guttersnipe Ethel. I do not know why she cares but allegedly she does, so. She's now hired Ethel as a maid, and it's starting to sabotage her. She has to drink Ethel's poorly prepared tea and eat her burned kidney pudding while maintaining politeness. Mrs. Bird even quits because she is not freaking sharing a roof with a woman of the night. Isobel, what is happening? Are you a lesbian? I liked you better when you were volunteering obnoxiously at the war hospital. Can't someone start a new war so you could have something to do? Can't you get a book club together, or start a cooking blog, or do the Rosetta Stone Accelerated French Program, or adopt a shelter animal or something? Jesus Christ. You're worse than Edith! At least she got a vanity job as an Agony Aunt. You've got nothing to show for it but a fridge filled with burned pudding and a slut roommate.
Later that night: Sybil's still in labor and nobody can quite tell if she's severely medically ill or if she's just going through the normal process of squeezing an 8 lb object out of a hole the size of a large carrot. Meanwhile, the Crawleys have accidentally hired two different doctors and they are quarreling like a rather vindictive sewing circle. Bob makes a joke about how obstetricians are like jealous barbers. NO THEY AREN'T, ROBERT. NO. THEY ARE NOT. Cora shoots him a look, like "Bob, I thought we agreed you'd stop at one brandy tonight, why do you always make me into the bad cop, why are you never on my team with this kind of thing?" Bob's hired a fancy new doctor who is all "never you mind, oh ho, ho no, perfectly normal!" Cora and the family doc think otherwise, and want to get her to a hospital for a Caesarean section. Matt's all "Caesar salad? Yum!" Sybil starts crying in a different room, begging the dire question of why in hell would this entire family and both of their doctors would leave a half-dead pregnant person alone in a labor room in the 1920s.
Cora's family doctor is back with a new realm of hysterics, screaming that Sybil's suffering from an acute case of Fragile Pregnant Lady disease! These early 20th century quacks. I'm surprised none of the Downtons have been felled by a premature Victorian era death, like spraining an ankle in a summer rainstorm, or catching cold after walking by an open window, or contracting a touch of acute juvenile leukemia. So while this is nerve-wracking and all, we have to count our blessings because it's really a shocker that one of them didn't bite the dust sooner. At present, nobody is agreeing and it's a whole big mess. Even Dowager Vi is like "can't we all get along" and Bob and the doctors are all, "um, we are men in dinner suits, what do you think? Let's prolong this medical emergency some more please."
The baby arrives and things are OK for awhile. But then Sybil takes suddenly ill and things take a turn for the bad. Long story short, Sybil dies and it is HORRID. Simply horrid. And Branson! Poor Branson. He loved her so much. They were so good together! They may be the only happy couple on television. Most certainly better than Mary "clump of dried glue in a frock" Crawley and her hubbo Matthew "stray piece of linoleum flooring" Crawley. Happier than Cora and Robert. Happier than Anna and Bates, even! But Branson's face while Sybil dies is just awful, so if and when you are in a position to watch this again PLEASE, avert your eyes from Branson's face and plug your ears and think of mundane unrelated activities while humming to yourself. Better yet, turn the TV off and go stick your hand directly on a hot stovetop, that should distract you for a few hours before the horrific tragedy of Sybil comes rushing back like a night of booze-fueled antics on a hungover morning.
Let's talk about something else. Like Matthew. Poor sweet Prince Matthew. This death stuff has raised a lot of questions for him. He's searching for a purpose and coming up empty handed. Life is as benign as a saucer of cream. He's like "I have a wife, and an absolute fuck-ton of money and a gargantuan estate filled with fine china and pristine crockery and jolly frippery and idiots in hats, BUT WHAT ELSE IS THERE? What else can I obtain here? What else can I stick my little pig claws into in this world?" Matt was just about to go back to his sitting room to eat chocolates and have his valet rub his feet when he realized he had a perfect answer -- get maniacally obsessed with Downton. After all, that's what Bob Crawley's been doing for the past 45 years, and look at Bob! He's extremely fiscally responsible, constantly making good decisions, and he does not have a slight weight problem whatsoever. Taking care of the estate is the Crawley/Grantham patriarch equivalent to a dad cleaning out the garage. When nobody appreciates you, you go out there with your industrial-strength vacuum and your power sander and your six-pack of Coors and you go to town on that goddamn garage.
Downton Abbey and all of its helpless courtiers will always need constant cleaning and reorganizing, so Matt's in luck. He tries to get right to it, but his ball-and-chain wife Mary "Patron Saint of Joy-killing" Crawley appears and drags the whole thing down by reminding Matthew that her sister has just died and how could he think about home improvements at a time like this? Oh, Mary. Must you be so dour? I bet you were no fun in college at all. People were probably like "let's drink beer and get rowdy!" and you were probably like "guys, we need to do chores instead." Would it kill you to live a little?
*Sobering moment of truth.* I guess in Sybil's case, it did.