First thing’s first — hoorah, cast of “Downton Abbey”! You took home the ensemble award at the SAGs this past weekend! Woo-hoo! (And who knew Mrs. Hughes could look so glam?) I was so happy for you.
I had to watch your win the next day, sadly. Because we live in a cruel universe, I had to choose between watching your own show and seeing the SAGs live. Since the Better Half is much less of an awards show fan than me (though we enjoy watching them together), “Downton” won out. Rest assured, however, the Oscars will be viewed live. (And on that note, yay Jennifer Lawrence’s now being my favorite to take home the statuette!)
All of that is to say that we watched this week’s episode as it aired around the country, and something has been niggling at me since. Now, of course, comes the MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT. I will be discussing a HUGE PLOT POINT FROM THIS PAST SUNDAY’S EPISODE AND YOU SHOULD TOTALLY STOP NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT BECAUSE YOU WILL COME AFTER ME WITH A HATCHET IF I RUIN IT FOR YOU.
Still here? Splendid.
OK, so how much does it suck that Lady Sibyl is dead but her hothead pill of a husband is still on this side of the grass? While I did find her a wee bit on the earnest side and have found pretty much any Branson-related story arc tedious and annoying, she was still one of my favorite characters. The Better Half and I were aghast and distraught and all the things that Julian Fellowes clearly wanted us to be. That said, as heartbreaking as it was, it did allow for the entire surviving cast to do some really great work. Maggie Smith’s character got to be something other than amusingly acerbic, and Elizabeth McGovern was the best she’s been for the show’s entire run.
But something niggled just the same, and I don’t know if my reaction is too informed by my experience as a doctor in 2013. I found the whole “dueling physicians” bit ham-handed, and obviously in service to this entire season’s major theme — “Lord Grantham is more of a tool than you thought.” Season one he was as noble in spirit as his estate was sprawling, which raised hackles in some quarters (as has been previous discussed hereabouts by my beloved co-blogger). Thus far this season he has lost his wife’s entire fortune through incredibly stupid investing (which every other character who mentions it never fails to call stupid), been revealed to manage his estate ineptly, and now contributed to the death of his youngest daughter because he didn’t want to disagree with and thus offend the snooty upper-crust obstetrician he’d called in to attend to her.
And I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that last bit. Frankly, I had a hard time believing that any physician as smart as that pompous ass doctor was meant to be would fail to recognize that Lady Sibyl’s mental status was clearly abnormal, or that she was experiencing preeclampsia. But I’ve known enough medical providers who’ve made mistakes through arrogance, so I can meet the writers halfway on that. What I really have a hard time believing is that he would ignore the concerns of pretty much everyone but Dr. Fancypants and make a transparently class-based decision that costs his daughter her life.
I found it literally unbelievable.
The one complaint I have with “Downton,” and I know I’m not alone in this, is that it tends toward the preposterously convenient in some of its plot twists. Miraculous recoveries! Sad but timely demises! Much less sad and even more timely inheritances! While poor Lady Sibyl’s convulsive demise was a surprise (at least before the episode began; I knew she was a goner as soon as she mentioned that she had a headache), the events that surrounded it seem calculated to march us where the writers want us to go. I don’t think it’s a big stretch to guess that when the big showdown between Lord Grantham and Matthew comes over managing the estate, we’re clearly supposed to be rooting for the latter by that point. Subtlety is not the show’s strong suit.
But again, maybe my being a doctor is throwing me off as a viewer. To me, the writers may as well have painted “OMIGOD LADY SIBYL HAS PREECLAMPSIA!” in bright red letters right on the facade of the building, and from then on the episode smacked of the Obvious. So what do you, gentle readers, think? Do you think Lord Grantham is such a tool to ignore his wife’s unmistakable distress? Do you think the same character who practically performed Lasik surgery on Mrs. Patmore himself during season one would be just an elitist dick at heart? Am I wrong?