Last night’s emotional episode brought out the best of what Downton Abbey has to offer in its acting and writing. It was a tough one to watch, but the performances were brilliant and restored my faith in the series. So, without further ado, let’s recap and review, shall we?
Warning: Major spoilers for episode 4 ahead!
The episode started out calmly enough. Sybil’s baby is nearly due and everyone is anxiously anticipating its arrival. Lord Robert has brought in Sir Philip, baby deliverer to the aristocracy, even though Lady Cora feels that Dr. Clarkson can appropriately handle the job. I can’t say I blame Robert for doubting Dr. Clarkson’s abilities to some degree, given the misdiagnosis of Matthew last season (which Robert is quick to point out). As a compromise, Cora is allowed to bring in Dr. Clarkson and both will attend Sybil during the delivery.
Meanwhile, Sybil talks to Mary about wanting the baby to be brought up Catholic, and Mary promises she’ll fight in her corner should the need arise. Mary mentions that she wants a family, which seems contrary to her statement to Matthew when they were in the nursery in the previous episode. And Matthew is apparently concerned about his fertility, and brings it up with Sir Philip (though, after the way things turned out, I think I’d disregard his advice if I were him). Matthew and Mary continue to have almost zero chemistry, and spend all of their time talking about money and the estate.
Edith receives an offer to write for a newspaper. She’s excited, but her dear Papa is quick to dismiss the news, stating that they only mean to exploit her and her title. I saw a little glimmer of hope in Edith’s biting remark that no one supports her. I keep hoping she’ll come around to the fact that she needs to get out on her own and make her own happiness. Maybe this is the first step.
Elsewhere Anna and Bates are reunited in prison. And my hunch was apparently correct–Vera put arsenic in the pie and was scrubbing her nails to get rid of the evidence. Mrs. Bartlett’s testimony will set Bates free, but only if they can get it from her before she finds out it will prove the man she despises is innocent. Something tells me that the unfriendly cellmate and jail warden will muddy the waters a bit and drag this storyline out even longer.
Just when we thought we might have seen the last of Ethel, she returns this episode as Mrs. Crawley’s new project. She takes her on as her maid, causing the immediate resignation of Mrs. Byrd. She’s not the only one in an uproar about this turn of events–Mr. Carson hears the news and lays down the law that no maid or footman is to go near Crawley House. Mrs. Crawley has a good heart and she wants to give Ethel a second chance, but I wonder if she’s bitten off more than she can chew. While I’m not the biggest Ethel fan, I’ve actually warmed up to her character a bit since last episode, so I’m interested to see where this goes.
Ethel’s new appointment isn’t the only thing causing a stir downstairs. We’ve got a really complex love…polygon going on here. Daisy likes Alfred, Alfred likes Ivy, Ivy likes Jimmy, and Jimmy likes…? Then of course you have to throw Thomas in the mix, as he likes Jimmy also. Which is of course working to the advantage of Mrs. O’Brien, who is throwing Jimmy at Thomas every chance she gets. I don’t like this game she’s playing, and I feel Thomas is really going to get hurt (and after this episode, I have some sympathy for Thomas, so this bothers me even more).
Daisy continues to walk around with a perpetual scowl and takes out her frustration on Ivy. Mrs. Patmore gives her some sensible love advice (finally the meddling comes in handy!) and tells her that Alfred won’t like her any more for treating Ivy poorly. She also opens her eyes to the fact Ivy likes Jimmy, not Alfred.
But all of these subplots felt like background noise when Sybil goes into labor and Dr. Clarkson expresses concern that all is not well and that Sybil may be suffering from eclampsia. Sir Philip wholeheartedly disagrees, basically telling Dr. Clarkson to butt out and not to worry the family unnecessarily. But as the evening progresses it becomes more apparent that Dr. Clarkson’s diagnosis may be correct, and a decision has to be made. Follow Dr. Clarkson’s advice and Sybil will be rushed to the hospital for a c-section, which may or may not come out all right, but is the only way to prevent her from succumbing to eclampsia. Or follow Sir Philip’s advice, who says he knows he can confidently deliver the baby safely and is still doubtful she has eclampsia.
Poor Tom, I felt so sorry for him standing there, eyes wide, as the two doctors bicker back and forth, and he has to make the decision that will impact the health of his wife and his baby. It seems that Robert makes it for him though, stating that Sir Philip’s certainty is better than Dr. Clarkson’s speculation.
Sir Philip successfully delivers a baby girl for Tom and Sybil, and everyone relaxes, feeling that Sybil’s out of danger. Cora apologizes to Robert for doubting him and for siding with Dr. Clarkson.
Sybil tells her mother about Tom’s plans to become a mechanic in Liverpool, and how she doesn’t want that for him, that they should be moving forward, not back. She wants to know she has her mother on her side. Cora tells her to rest and they can talk about it later.
Later that night Mary rushes into her parents’ room, telling them to come quick. Unfortunately Dr. Clarkson’s diagnosis proves to be correct. We all watch helplessly along with the family and the two doctors as Sybil dies from eclampsia. Cora and Tom’s reactions are absolutely heart-breaking. The news travels through the house, overwhelming everyone with shock and grief. The performances here were phenomenal, from Thomas crying in the hallway and being comforted by Anna, to Carson’s look of devastation while telling Mrs. Hughes that he’s known Sybil all her life. But the most heart-wrenching of all was Cora’s. She promises Sybil that she won’t let anything happen to her baby or to Tom, that she’ll take care of them both. And she’ll always be her baby (and that’s all I’ll say, so I don’t have to grab the tissues again).
The day after Sybil’s death the family is still in a state of (understandable) shock. Mary and Edith say goodbye to their sister, Edith wondering if they could ever mend their fences now that they are all the other has left as sisters go. Mary: “Probably not.” Well, probably true, but ouch. I suppose we can’t expect Mary to put her bluntness aside, even at the death of her dear sister.
Mr. Murray comes to see Anna about her new information related to Bates’s case (I know he was scheduled to come then–but at this point I was so emotional over what happened to Sybil I didn’t care about this subplot and just wanted to see how the family was coping). While there, Matthew, in a rather un-Matthew-like move, pulls Mr. Murray aside to talk about the mismanagement of the estate. This felt so out of place to me–and I can’t say I blame Mary for being angry when she walks in to find her husband and her father’s lawyer talking business the day after her sister’s death. It was insensitive of Matthew, and seems out of character for him.
We get a fresh wave of tears when Lady Violet enters the house (and another fabulous performance by Maggie Smith). Cora relates that she plans to write Dr. Clarkson a letter of apology for their behavior, that they should have listened to him instead of Sir Philip, and if they had Sybil might still be alive. This was directed at her husband, of course, who at least has the decency to admit that he was not entirely without fault in what played out.
I was sorry the show lost the character of Sybil. While her role has been fairly flat this season, in the previous ones she was so likable, so full of life and spunk, and she really helped to balance out her other two sisters. With her gone, the whole family dynamic is going to change.
It seems the clash between traditionalism and modern thinking, an undercurrent throughout the season, finally burst to the surface with the death of Lady Sybil. Robert calls in a knighted doctor to handle Sybil’s delivery because that’s what aristocrats do. He has unwavering belief in Sir Philip’s abilities. Cora calls in Dr. Clarkson, who may not be knighted, but who knows her girls. She believes in his medical knowledge and that he knows what’s best for Sybil. When the crisis occurs, Robert chooses the traditionalist path, and Lady Sybil becomes a victim as a result. Of course, we know there’s a chance she may not have made it through the c-section, but Robert wouldn’t even entertain the idea. He’s clinging to what few certainties he feels are left in the world. And he’s just had his eyes opened through the death of his youngest daughter. And I have a feeling, or at least I have a hope, that Cora won’t continue to sit idly by and let her husband run the show. It’s time for change to come to Downton.
What an episode! It certainly made up for the somewhat lackluster start of the season. What did you all think?