SPOILER ALERT: Contains plot details from last night’s DOWNTON ABBEY
This isn’t so much a post about DOWNTON ABBEY as it is about our attachment to fictional characters. And why drama and storytelling is so powerful.
I’m a fan of DOWNTON ABBEY. It’s rollicking good soap opera fun. Everyone is so mannered and foppish, and Maggie Smith is so droll and amusing. I never felt a strong connection to the show. It’s not like I can identify with the second footman or Lady Mary. Or dress like the Earl of Grantham. As I watch the show I do find myself wondering how they heat the place or why Elizabeth McGovern has only one expression?
There are a lot of storylines and some are more interesting than others. (Get Mr. Bates out of prison already and allow Edith even one moment of happiness please.)
But I was unprepared for what happened Sunday night. And even more unprepared for my reaction. They killed the youngest daughter, Sybil. And I cried. A fictional character on a mini series and I was sobbing. Sybil was the sweetest of the three grown daughters, but in a way that kind of made her the least interesting. They had to give her a revolutionary husband to spice things up. But in many ways she was the soul of the family, the pure heart and moral compass.
From a dramatic standpoint this plot twist makes sense. The repercussions will set off conflicts and complications that may drive the series for the rest of its run.
But I hate it!
Give me a less dramatic show but keep Sybil. I don’t care if storylines are hard to come by. Mr. Bates can rot in prison for all I care. What if suddenly there’s this mystery cure and Sybil… yeah yeah, I know.
These are all completely irrational reactions. But that’s what happens when you really have an emotional investment in characters. And as a writer, to me that’s the highest goal. I’m primarily a comedy writer so yes, I want to make the audience to laugh, but even more important, I want the audience to care. I want to touch them emotionally.
I think back to the death of Henry Blake on MASH. An entire nation was stunned and devastated. No beloved series regular had ever been killed before – especially on a sitcom. It caused quite an uproar, but producers Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart stood by their decision. People die in wars. People you know. People you love. Gene and Larry received thousands of angry letters and they personally answered each and every one.
What’s Julian Fellowes’ email address?
I’ll be interested to see where the series goes from here and how they cope with such a tragic turn of events and … oh hell! I’m still just wrecked. How could they kill Sybil? I loved Sybil. I didn’t know it until they killed her but I did! It’s not fair!
And I love that a television show made me feel this way.