This post contains spoilers. Don’t read if you haven’t been watching the latest season of Downton Abbey.
I’ve been reading spoilers as the new series of Downton Abbey goes along. One of the big ones–inciting hysteria on Tumblr and on message boards–was that Sybil, the youngest Crawley daughter, now married to Tom Branson the ex-chauffeur–would give birth soon and then die.
I was skeptical of this development. I lurk on message boards and Tumblr rather than participate because of the panicky fangirl mob mentality that often sweeps through. People post, proclaiming (rather masochistically) “Sybil’s going to die! How? Why? You can’t do this to me, Julian Fellowes!” As if it was personal.
I’ve had favorite characters killed off on TV shows. Charlie on Lost, for instance, at which point I did kind of lose interest in the show. I was satisfied with how he died though–doing something for the greater good of the Losties. And the Reichenbach Fall episode of “Sherlock” left me devastated, then intrigued.
Sybil died in last night’s episode. She gave birth to a baby girl, said she felt tired and went to sleep, then started seizing. It’s probably the most brutal death we’ve seen on Downton Abbey, with Cora, Tom, Mary and Edith all calling to Sybil to “breathe, love, breathe” and “Don’t leave me” and wailing to the doctors (Dr. Clarkson and Sir Phillip, who was brought in by Lord Grantham) to “do something.” Earlier, Dr. Clarkson had said that he thought Sybil was exhibiting signs of eclampsia.
I was shocked by the death. It was graphic for Downton. I hadn’t really thought that they’d kill Sybil, of all the characters. It was very sad. But I’m not angry about it. I imagine one of the hardest things for a TV writer to deal with is writing around actors’ schedules, their comings and goings.
Some reactions say that the death was unnecessary–but if the actress wanted to leave or couldn’t fit the shooting into her schedule, then what else was Fellowes supposed to do? Others say that they find the writing lazy or too much like other deaths that have happened earlier. Maybe, but the impact of Sybil’s death will be much greater than past exits on the show. I’ve been trying to decide if I thought the writing was lazy or not, but not knowing how it follows through the series yet, I can’t really say right now.
When I started watching Downton Abbey, I fell in love with the whole show. And yes, over time, I’ve found that I have my favorite story strands more than I like others, but I still really enjoy the whole fabric, even the most outlandish of storylines. So I’m not going to go into denial that Sybil is not dead because I don’t like it. I’ve done that in the past–it’s great inspiration for fanfiction–but I don’t feel that compulsive need this time. She’s a fictional character, one that is not my own. (I know. I’m being so balanced about this.)
I’m looking forward to kick-ass acting from the rest of the cast and meaty stories for Sybil’s widower.
But that’s just me.