This week’s episode of Downton Abbey focused on its inhabitants in the wake of last week’s devastating tragedy. Everyone is trying to come to terms with the death of Lady Sybil and the reminder that nothing can be taken for granted. I thought the series turned out another quality episode to follow up last week’s in both its writing and acting. The family (as well as the audience) needed time to grieve Sybil’s death, and much of the episode was devoted to just that.
Warning: Spoilers for episode 5 ahead!
The funeral is over, the guests have gone, and now it is time for the Crawley family to resume life without their dear Sybil. Tom (who turned in another wonderful performance this week) is grief-stricken, telling a concerned Matthew that his wife is gone and he is past help. Cora’s role continued to have more substance as a grieving mother who cannot forgive her husband for not listening to Dr. Clarkson’s advice. She barely speaks or looks at him, and when she does it is to tell him that his fixation on tradition, with his insistence on hiring a fashionable knighted doctor, killed their daughter. The two parents are therefore left to mourn on their own. In order to help her son, Lady Violet steps in and contacts Dr. Clarkson, asking him to review the evidence and find out what Sybil’s chances were of surviving eclampsia so that the rift between Cora and Robert might be mended and they can deal with their grief together.
In the meantime it becomes painfully apparent that Robert is lost. Even more so than during the war when his house was turned into a convalescence home. All of the traditions, all of things he’s found comfort in as certainties, are crumbling around him. His response to the loss of control is anger and frustration, and he releases it wherever he can. He almost explodes at the breakfast table when grief-stricken Tom announces his daughter (who he’s decided to name Sybil to remember her mother by) will be Catholic. When Robert goes to his favorite daughter to rail against Tom’s “ghoulish” idea of naming the baby Sybil and for his insistence on breaking with the Crawley Anglican tradition, he finds no sympathy. Mary disagrees with him, reminding her dear Papa that the baby is a Branson, not a Crawley.
Robert’s traditionalist boat is further rocked when Matthew brings up the mismanagement of the estate once more, which Robert wants to hear nothing about. Matthew urges him that the time to act is now, that the money to keep Downton afloat is already “leaking through the cracks.” Again, Robert looks like he might explode. But Carson enters before he has a chance to and gives Robert a place to funnel his full wrath when he informs him that his mother, wife, and daughters are all at luncheon with Mrs. Crawley, eating food prepared by a former prostitute.
Robert puffs up his chest and bursts into the luncheon, insisting that every one of them leave at once, blustering on about Ethel’s wayward ways and how Mrs. Crawley has exposed his entire family to scandal as a result. He is put in his place quickly by his wife, who, after learning that Mrs. Patmore helped Ethel, looks straight at him and says she is glad her cook has a good heart and does not judge. When he makes one last attempt to get them to leave, his mother states that it would be a pity to miss such a good pudding. Once again finding himself in events outside his control, Robert exits with a firm slam of the door.
Just when I was ready to smack Robert to make him wake up and get with the program, he has a heart to heart with Mary that brought tears to my eyes. After Mary tells him he won’t win on the christening, and spells out what we’ve observed all episode (“The world isn’t going your way. Not anymore.”), he finally opens up about Sybil. About how he forgets she is gone, and when he sees a newspaper article that will make her laugh or a rose she loves that is in bloom, he goes to tell her, and then he remembers. Mary begs him to tell Cora this, but he knows she won’t listen.
Finally, Lady Violet orchestrates an intervention for her son and daughter-in-law, asking them to pay a call at her house. There they find Dr. Clarkson, who explains that after a great deal of study, Lady Sybil had an infinitesimal chance of survival. Even if they had performed a caesarian, it likely would have put her through a great deal of pain and suffering and she still would have died. At the realization that death was inevitable for their daughter, Cora and Robert both break down, seeking each other for solace. And Lady Violet saves the day once more.
Robert and Cora took up the largest chunk of the upstairs story this week, but there were a few other plot points worth mentioning. Sybil’s death seems to have reminded Mary and Matthew of the uncertainty of life, and that they shouldn’t take their marriage for granted, nor their home. Nice to finally see a scene in which the two aren’t fighting about money, but I couldn’t help but wonder if their memories were completely erased of the previous years of angst they both suffered when they weren’t together–wouldn’t that be reminder enough not to take each other for granted?
Matthew takes Tom on a tour of the estate and shares some of his ideas, and is surprised to learn that Tom has some experience of his own when it comes to farm management. Is it just me, or would Tom and Matthew make an excellent management team for Downton? But I won’t get my hopes up, because Tom seems determined to leave the place as soon as possible.
Edith’s ongoing indecisiveness about the newspaper job continued this week with a quick mention at the luncheon. She is still unsure of what to do with herself, and proposes learning to cook (to her sister’s horrified “Why?”). Please Edith, get thyself to London post haste, and get thee a fantastic job and a life of thine own.
Downstairs also had some difficulty adjusting to change. Carson and Lord Robert are apparently cut from the same cloth, and Carson cannot let go of the fact that Mrs. Crawley has hired Ethel of ill repute to run Crawley House. And Molesley is right there with him. But others, like Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes, are more understanding (except for when it comes to rouge–Mrs. Patmore is having none of that!). And I will admit it–I’m totally invested in Ethel’s story now. Her character bored me last season, and her arc was slow to start this season, but ever since she gave up her darling boy Charlie and has started to turn her life around, I can’t help rooting for her, and look forward to seeing where her story goes.
The love polygon between Daisy, Alfred, Ivy, and Jimmy (and Thomas off to the side) continues. Even when Mrs. Patmore plainly points out that they’re all in love with the wrong people, it’s as if it goes straight over their heads. Maybe if she took one of those copper pots Ivy is always cleaning and banged them over the heads they’d see reason, but I doubt it.
I’ve been feeling sympathetic for Thomas the past few episodes. He hasn’t done one evil or nasty thing. Which means I’m really dreading what must be in store for him courtesy of O’Brien. Because if Julian Fellowes is trying to get us to care about one of the nastiest pieces of work at Downton, it means he’s setting that character up for a major fall.
Daisy of the constant scowl finally had something to smile about this episode. Mr. Mason informs her he wants to give her his farm and all of his worldly possessions. Could Daisy have found a nicer father-in-law? She explains that she plans to stay in service, but Mr. Mason, wise man that he is, asks Daisy if she really thinks that the world will keep turning as it has been for houses like Downton Abbey. She’s got a lifetime of work ahead of her, and she may need to think of some other way to make a living.
The “Free Bates” campaign continues. As I predicted, that no good jail warden got to Mrs Bartlett before Mr. Murray could. Again, why do they hate Bates so much? I understand their current anger (since Bates framed his cellmate)–but why was there an issue to begin with? I really wish that could be explained further. Bates tells Mr. Murray he knows why Mrs. Bartlett did not give the same story that she did to Anna, and that he is going to do something about it. Anna tells him to promise not to do anything stupid, but Bates only says he’ll take care of it.
Bates then proceeds to threaten his former cell mate with a sharp object (where did he even get that?) and tells him he better put things right and get Mrs. Bartlett to tell the truth or else he’ll tell the governor that he and the jail warden were trying to involve him in a drug scheme, which would put the jail warden out of a job and give the cell mate five more years in the clink.
Apparently the threat works, as Anna receives a letter from Mr. Murray saying that he got the statement from Mrs. Bartlett and Bates will be freed. But the process will take a few weeks, which means Bates isn’t out of danger yet. After the threat he made, he should probably watch out for some sort of retaliation. While it would have been nice to have him freed by the end of the episode, it looks like this storyline will be dragged out at least a little longer. Sidenote: wasn’t that a sweet moment between Mary and Anna, when Anna says how touched she is to hear Mary say “we” when discussing Bates’s case and how much Mary cares about seeing him set free?
So much to think about for next week’s episode. Will Robert finally set his pride aside and listen to Matthew’s ideas so Downton Abbey isn’t run into the ground? Has Cora finally forgiven her husband? If (though it looks like “when” from the preview) Bates makes it out of jail alive, and resumes his post as Lord Robert’s valet, what will happen to Thomas? O’Brien’s set her trap, and I’m just waiting to see how it will snap. Will Daisy accept her father-in-law’s offer to leave service and move to the farm? What about Mary and Matthew? I saw the way they looked at little baby Sybil, it’s obvious they both want a family. And what will happen to Tom? Will he make a fresh start in Liverpool, or will he perhaps be convinced by Matthew to stay at Downton? And it looks like from the preview that Edith will finally work up the nerve to become a career woman! But who exactly is this Rose they are introducing next time? Looks like a “Bright Young Thing” to me. Perhaps she’ll teach Edith the Charleston.
What were your thoughts about this week’s episode?