'Downton Abbey' Recap: Sybil and Branson on the Run
'Downton Abbey' Recap: Sybil and Branson on the Run
Morgan Glennon
Morgan Glennon
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
This week on Downton Abbey, Branson and Sybil go on the run from the law like the Bonnie and Clyde of arsonists. That is, if Bonnie was pregnant and completely unaware of what was going on and Clyde just watched houses burn down and cried a lot. As a crime duo, they're a little lackluster.

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Meanwhile, Ethel returns to rehash her baby storyline from last season, but now with added prostitution! The house hires a new handsome footman, and before you can say 'sexual harassment' everyone is giving him the naughty eyes. Edith writes a letter to a newspaper and Lord Grantham yells at her for trying to have a solo storyline.

And in the single most important plot point in the episode, Mrs. Hughes gets a toaster and almost burns down Downton, to tie us handily back to arson. Carson stares at this newfangled contraption and dies inside, while Mrs. Hughes merrily adds another piece of bread into this devil's bread box.

While entertaining, this is a surprisingly thin episode in comparison to the previous three. It's more a journeyman episode, setting up storylines which will undoubtedly take us into the next stretch of the season.

Perhaps I'm not as gripped because I'm not super invested in the relationship between Sybil and Branson. Plus, I've never really cared much about Ethel, to be honest. But I could watch Mrs. Hughes make toast all day.

Upstairs

Now that the silly inheritance/poverty storyline has been neatly settled, it's time for Matthew to open up another can of worms. That can of worms being Downton's apparent mismanagement. You mean the guy who lost all of the family fortune isn't good at managing money? Matthew, you are shocking me to my very core! Even the Dowager Countess, once told of the situation by Matthew, is like, "Eh, that tracks."

Poor Lord Grantham is undoubtedly going to take this badly if last year's midlife crisis is anything to go by. His only job has been to live in a big house and not go broke, and he seems to be continually failing at it.

Meanwhile, the big drama of the episode belongs to Sybil and Branson's evasion of the law. Branson turns up in the rain on Downton's doorstep, having left Sybil behind in Ireland to high-tail her pregnant butt home on her own. This might not seem romantic, but then I guess you've never heard the popular 1920 ballad "Love Means Abandoning You to the Police After I Burn Down a Castle." Romance just worked differently back then.

It turns out Branson was part of an Irish rebel plan to burn down a castle because of social justice reasons. As little as I like it when Branson goes on rants about rich people, I would appreciate at least a little background on the sociopolitical situation of Ireland at the time. If the show could spend its first few episodes endlessly going over arcane British inheritance laws, you'd think it could afford some space to help viewers understand why Branson so often acts like a jerk.

Despite the fact that Branson wasn't actually the fire-starter that torched the castle, he was there, and seeing the poor rich people watching their house burn down made him feel some feelings. So he spends a lot of the episode crying and feeling bad, but also unable to imagine life without the crusade in Ireland.

Sybil shows up, still approximately 80 months pregnant, and is shocked to learn that Branson went to meetings where the attack was discussed. Still, Lord Grantham manages to get them a pretty sweet deal, keeping them out of jail as long as Branson stays out of Ireland. If he steps foot in Ireland, however, he'll be thrown in the pokey faster than you can say, "Not another Bates!"

While all this crime drama is happening, Edith decides to take up the feminist mantle once held by Sybil and writes a letter to the newspaper about women's suffrage. It's published, leading Lord Grantham to have a heart attack about ... something. Not sure what the big deal is here. My guess is Edith gets all Gloria Steinem within the next few episodes and starts burning her petticoats.

Downstairs

Bates and Anna gloom around, thinking their love isn't as meant-to-be as they first imagined. Neither are getting any letters from the other, which obviously means something is afoot. Turns out Bates' cell mate is a bad customer who has been stopping his letters from arriving.

So Bates throws in with some other prisoners to set his cell mate up using the very same evidence he tried to plant on Bates last week. Take that! As the episode ends, Bates and Anna happily read their pile of letters as a corny fade-out helps them share the screen.

Seriously, for the love of God, would someone break Bates out already? Anyone? These plotlines stop all narrative momentum every week. Maybe Branson can burn down the jail? I'm surprised the Dowager Countess hasn't swanned in and smuggled Bates out under one of her giant hats.

To the chagrin of Alfred, or as I like to call him, 'Ginger Godzilla,' Downton hires a new handsome footman. This new footman, Jimmy, who Carson renames James, is a bit cocky due to his face-parts being somewhat symmetrical.

"He looks like a footman in a musical revue," the Dowager Countess remarks. I'm not sure what that means, but I would watch a musical about footmen so hard you have no idea. It would be like Newsies, only with bouillon spoons. They also hire a new kitchen maid named Ivy, who ruins Daisy's moment with Alfred.

In an annoying rehash from last year, Ethel finally tells Cousin Isobel why she's come to visit. And it's not just so Isobel can say the word prostitute 10 times per minute. It's so she can finally go through with giving Charlie completely away to his horrible grandparents, so they can raise him with privilege.

It's very sad, and probably would be sadder if we hadn't seen the exact same scenario play out the season before with a different outcome. It's like one of those 'choose your own adventure' books, only every choice ends in soul-crushing disappointment. With Isobel's crusading nature and love of the word prostitute, I'd expect this isn't the last we'll see of poor Ethel.

The Mary and Matthew of It All

Mary and Matthew have a relatively quiet episode. While Matthew giggles like a little girl in the background, Mary tells Carson he should hire the hot footman to give them all something to look at. This scene is completely precious because while Mary is cracking jokes to an uncomfortable Carson, Matthew is sitting in the background like, "My wife is so funny!"

When Mary comes back from the doctor, he asks if she has any news a little too eagerly. She doesn't, but it seems Matthew is already looking forward to an addition to their little family.

Does this presage a pregnancy storyline for Mary, too? Or will we find out Mary is having difficulties having little blue-eyed babies? Only time will tell. Until then, we leave Matthew and Mary relatively happy, at least by Downton standards.

What did you think of this week's episode? Were you happy to see Ethel back? What did you think of the Sybil and Branson shocker? Sound off in the comments!

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(Image courtesy of PBS)



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