When I was nine or ten years old, I watched a made-for-TV movie called Champions: A Love Story. It starred Jimmy McNichol and Joy LeDuc, and even though I have never seen any other performance by Joy LeDuc in the thirty-plus years since Champions: A Love Story, her name is forever etched in my memory because that movie marked me. It was the first time that I wept uncontrollably while watching TV. And honestly? I think I grieved that movie for a solid week. I just couldn’t get past it – it was too much sadness for my fourth grade heart to take.
(And listen. I have no idea why I was watching a made-for-TV movie when I was nine years old.)
(I also watched Dallas and Knots Landing.)
(All I can say is that I was the youngest child by ten years. My parents must have been exhausted.)
Anyway, I have always thought that Champions was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen on TV. Well, that and the time Laura died on Knots Landing, which happened when I was in high school and somewhat more capable of dealing with TV tragedy. And even now, if you were to lock me away in a room and force me to watch an endless loop of Champions, Laura’s death scene, and Terms of Endearment, I’m pretty sure that I would cry until I fainted or at the very least hyperventilated in a most unflattering fashion.
But as of last night, we can add one more contender to the aforementioned list.
Because last night? The fourth episode of Downton Abbey season three looked Champions: A Love Story straight in the eyes, motioned for it to come a little closer, then pointed its finger and said, “Have a seat, amateurs. And watch THIS, Joy LeDuc.”
HERE COME ALL THE SPOILERS HERE COME ALL THE SPOILERS HERE COME ALL THE SPOILERS
ONE MORE WARNING ABOUT THE SPOILERS
I should’ve known, really, as soon as the doctor said that Sybil was doing great and everything looked normal and her body was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. I SHOULD’VE KNOWN. But it wasn’t until the two doctors got into a shouting match – with Lord and Lady Grantham taking different sides – when the part of my brain that has seen way too much episodic television started to think, Oh. I fear that this is not going to end well.
And that scene? With Tom bawling his eyes out on one side of the bed while Lady Grantham begged her baby girl to live? BRUTAL. All I could do was just shake my head and cry. Because who’s kinder than Sybil? Who’s more gentle and more loving than she is? I can’t remember what Mrs. Hughes’ exact words were, but she said something along the lines of “She was the sweetest spirit of anyone in this house.” AND SHE WAS, Y’ALL.
(Yes, I know that she’s fictional character. But just indulge me because clearly I’m having a bit of a moment.)
So anyway. I just needed to share in my TV sufferings a little bit this morning. Because no kidding: my feet had barely hit the floor this morning when I thought about what happened in last night’s episode, and I pretty much wanted to crawl right back between my covers.
And though it wasn’t at all intentional, I just realized that I’m wearing lots of black today.