Last week's episode of "Downton Abbey" had me wondering if the period drama had lost some of its umph. For the first time since I started watching the PBS series, I found myself getting, dare I say it, bored.
Then Sunday night's episode came along, and I fell in love with the show all over again.
I've never been a big fan of Sybil, as my recent story about TV's five most annoying daughters will attest. I found the youngest Crawley sister to be a bit too perfect: beautiful, selfless, kind, generous, utterly unswayed by the finer things in life despite being raised surrounded by them. In other words, she always struck me as too good to be true and far less interesting than her two sisters, Mary and Edith.
That's not to say I wanted Sybil killed off, or that I wasn't moved to tears watching her convulse and die after giving birth. Well played, "Downton." You have my full attention once again.
The real beauty of last night's episode was the reaction Sybil's death sparked both upstairs and downstairs. I wanted to put an arm around sobbing Evil Thomas (usually, I just want to slap him). It was excruciating to watch Sybil's politically strident husband, Tom Branson, holding their baby daughter, alone, by the window. Loyal-as-a-German-Shepherd Cora wanted to kill her husband, Lord Grantham, for his arrogance in ignoring Dr. Clarkson's advice and, in doing so, possibly costing their youngest daughter her life. And it was heartbreaking to watch Edith try to use the disaster of her sister's death to mend fences with Mary, only to have Mary essentially tell her she still doesn't like her and probably never will. Ouch. Lots of pain to go around last night, and it made for riveting television.
Sybil's death resets the table and opens up a slew of potential storylines. Will Branson stay put at Downton or will he go? Will he take the baby? Who will the recently widowed father hook up with next (not that he's thinking about that just yet)? Will this drive a permanent wedge between Cora and Lord Grantham? So many possibilities...
I've seen the whole season already, and without giving anything specific away, keep your seat belt fastened: another shocker is on the way. (If you've googled "Downton Abbey" season 3, there's a good chance you know what I'm talking about anyway.) But as monumental as that shocker is, the season finale (airing Feb. 17 on PBS) doesn't live up to last night's. I can't think of an episode in "Downton" history that does.
It's poetic justice that perhaps the best episode ever of "Downton Abbey" aired the same night its remarkable cast won a SAG Award. Julian Fellowes couldn't have written it better himself.