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Death by snobbery at Downton Abbey

By Kathleen Edgecomb and Marisa Nadolny

Publication: theday.com

Published January 28. 2013 1:00PM   Updated January 28. 2013 2:41PM

Dear Marisa,

Can it be less than 24 hours ago I was enjoying the lighthearted, and heartfelt, romp through the early 20th-century English countrside known as Downton Abbey?

Oh how I envied the married ladies having breakfast in bed. I tee-heed when we learned Lord Grantham "doesn't enjoy medical detail." One should never say "womb" in front of Lord G, but it's OK to say "urine" in front of Grandmama. After all, she said, she's probably seen more and heard more than any man .... what an omen.

All the women, upstairs and downstairs, and at least one man, want Jimmy to wind their clocks. Anna may have stumbled on information to free Mr. Bates. Ethel Parks may yet be saved from a life of ruin. And Matthew is worried about his waterworks, you know that spinal bruise from the war.

And then preeclampsia .... eclampsia .... no, no, no.

***

Dearest Kathleen,

As you know, I was growing weary of young Sybil and her Fenian friend Branson. Despite that, I certainly would not have cursed her to a frightening death post-childbirth and him to a lonesome widower's wracked-with-Catholic-guilt life. Indeed, her demise sparked my irrational tweet of the night: "Childbirth is goddamn dangerous. Period."

My English major brain went into hyperdrive last night when the family was all too happily gathered around Sybil's bedside for what they thought was early labor. It was just too sweet and stage-y to stay that way for very long. Any student of story knows that for every yin a little yang must come clattering down from heaven. In this case, the yang-writers kill off the "sweetest soul under this roof" as Mrs. Hughes put it. Dreadful.

Prediction? Mary and Matthew raise Sybil's daughter as their own. Matthew's concerns about the "waterworks" are a red flag if you ask me.

Furthermore, how about Dr. Clarkson gaining his redemption at Sybil's expense? I confess, when I saw him on-hand at Downton, I might've said, "Oh great, here comes Dr. Doom." But those devilish writers set him up for a win he can't possibly enjoy. Brutal.(PS. How weird is it to have a doc in semi-residence, at dinner, in white tie?)

And now the big question: do you blame Lord Grantham a bit for Sybil's misdiagnosis by Dr. Fancy Guy? As the kids like to say, "Sh*t got real" last night between Lord G. and Cora, and for once, I'm with her.

Cheers,

M.

***

My Dear Marisa,

Dear, dear, dear, dear me.

How could the writers do this to us? Everything was fine. Mother and baby were fine. Sybil was wearing a smashing post-delivery blue nightie. She looked spent but marvelous holding her little baby.

But such is life. When you least expect it, you get that call at 2 in the afternoon on what thought was was turning out to be a glorious summer day. Or in the case of Downton, you get roused from bed at 2 in the morning.

While profoundly sad, I refused shed a tear last night on this ficticious family.

And then the Dowager Countess Grantham walked into Downton, dressed in black, regal as always but a bit stooped, and said, "Oh Carson, we've seen some troubles you and I. Nothing is worse than this." And she walked into the house.

I lost it. My husband came into the room and wanted to know what I was watching. He smirked and said it was going to be OK.

I turned to the Real Housewives of Atlanta for relief. And even though they were calling each other "ashy," the ultimate insult -- I turned it off. Poor Sybil.

***

KE,

That very same scene got me, too. Suddenly the Great and Powerful Countess was human—a frail, elderly, bereaved human, dwarfed by the massive halls of Downton. Despite her fierce commitment to the rules of society, the Countess regularly reveals her secret soft heart to the folks downstairs—more-so than she does with her relations up above. I love that about her, and that scene was filmed so beautifully.

The moment I actually teared up though, was when Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore made plans to get a wet-nurse into Downton for the new baby—both doing more than their share of work to make it happen, as though they were caring for their own granddaughter, and both truly rocked by Sybil's death.

And how about Thomas overcome with emotion at the news? I nearly fell over, and thought it some ploy to get some comfort from James, but on second glance, he seemed sincerely distraught about Sybil. I didn't think he'd ever reveal any authentic vulnerability. Amazing.

And this, my dear, is why Downton won a SAG award last night for best TV drama cast.

But really, I've got to know if you think Lord G. shares some blame in his daughter's death. I officially do. He interfered where he shouldn't have and browbeat others to get his way--all in the name of "not hurting Sir Philip's feelings." Really? This is all about social rank. Lord G. goes with his fellow nobleman because he distrusts the opinion of a commoner, who's--gasp!--Scottish. I'm calling malarkey here. Plus, the man can't even handle the words "womb" or "protein in urine." How in hell is he allowed to weigh in on serious medical decisions?

-M.

***

Dear Marisa,

There were beasts throughout this episode, but there were also those surprises of grace and affection, which you pointed out.

Was Lord G to blame? Not sure. But why didn't Cora assert herself. She was forcefull enough in the drawing room when she wanted the good local doctor to be present at the birth.

Why was Branson so quiet? The dowager was right: "The decision lies with the chauffeur."

And afterwards — who cares, Matthew, about business. And Lady Mary, for godssake cut Edith a little slack. At Sybil's death bed you can't tell Edith you will try to be a better sister to her? Did Mary even cry?

Leave it to Grandmama to be the voice of reason: "We try to find someone to blame ... all we can do now is cherish her memory and her child." Let's see how that goes

What we need is for Edith to start writing that newspaper column: "Problems faced by modern women.'' If she writes what she knows, I think she'll have a lot of fans.

I'm spent.

***

My dear Ms. E,

True enough. Cora's most certainly throwing some blame on herself while throwing a bucketful onto her husband—I hope the dressing room to which he's been banished has heat!

And poor Branson! He's thrust into a family he can't relate to at ALL, and now his only source of comfort in that house is gone. Even if he had been more assertive, I'm not sure if anyone would have listened to him.

I agree that Mary was a total twit when Edith appealed to her to maybe be less of a robot going forward. Those cruel writers even manage a diss in the heat of untimely death. Craziness. Edith will SO sort her out in print. Count on it. She'll use Mary as the poster girl of Repressed Woman or something.

BUT, Mary looked pretty horrified as Sybil lay gasping for breath—methinks Matthew's going to have to wait some time before she clears him for baby-making takeoff. (Note: one of our colleagues here in the newsroom suspect she's secretly using birth control; between that, Sybil's death, and Matthew's suspected issues down below, I don't think we'll have that "secure dynasty" Sir Philip was so keen on at dinner.)

Thank goodness for Grandmama—she reliably keeps it real and with the way things are progressing at Downton, the family's going to need regular reality checks Violet-style.

Finally, I wish I cared more about Bates and the Case of the Poisoned Pastry. But I don't. Sue me.

-M.

***

I hope Bates rots in jail. He did it

-KE

***

I love it when you condemn people to hell!

-M.

***

And what about Mr. Uppity Head Butler, condemning poor Ethel and forbidding all his staff from visiting her. He's a butler for godssake! Hired help — just like Ethel. Will she ever find redemtion for doing whatever she had to to keep her little boy alive? Another topic for Lady Edith's column.

-KE

***

K,

Excellent call—Edith's going to write the hell out of that topic! But you have to admit it was pretty funny when Carson indignantly states, "Mrs. Crawley has hired a prostitute to manage her house." Classic British understatement.

Anyway, after all that sad stuff, I'm going to supply our readers with a bit of mirth. I present a fun quiz that determines which Downton character you "are." To my delight, I scored a Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham.

To those who missed last night's episode, watch it here, courtesy of PBS.

-Dowager Countess M.

***

I took the test and I'm Bates! Going to have to rethink that whole he-murdered-his-wife theory...
 
-KE

Watch "Downton Abbey" with Kathleen, @edgecombday; and Marisa, @TheMDesk on Twitter.

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