Please note: Since the U.S. premiere of Season 3 was two hours—or two episodes—long on PBS, this episode is known as Episode 4 in the U.S. but Episode 5 in the U.K., where it first aired last fall.
Editor's note: Do not read this recap unless you've seen the episode or are willing to be thoroughly spoiled. If you are spoiled for events beyond this episode, please do NOT post those spoilers in the comments—this recap is the place to discuss what has happened through this episode and no further. Series 3 aired in fall 2012 in the U.K. and is airing as Season 3 in the U.S. now.
Author’s note: This week’s recap is not as linear as it usually is, and some scenes are out of order. As you read, I hope you’ll understand why I chose to write it this way. I felt it was the only way to really delve into what is perhaps, one of the most intense episodes of Downton Abbey yet.
This week’s episode starts with Sybil in labor…sort of. It’s a “false alarm” as Lord G. puts it. Poor Branson is beside himself and is worried sick about his wife. Meanwhile, Sybil is in pain and pretty miserable. Mary sits with her to keep her occupied, and they talk about the baby’s Christening. Sybil and Branson have agreed to bring the baby up as a Catholic, and with their current living arrangements, the ceremony would have to take place at Downton. Apparently, Sybil is not necessarily sold on the idea, but she doesn’t mind it either. Mary tries to convince her that she can decide not to go through with it, but Sybil insists that she wants to do it because it matters to Branson.
Lord G. tells Dr. Clarkson that a Sir Philip Tapsell is stopping by in the morning, and that doesn’t seem to sit well with the good doctor. Well, that’s because Sir Philip is a “town” doctor, and Lord G. trusts him more than ole Clarkson, especially after misdiagnosing Matthew, and not taking very good care of Lavinia. Cora feels bad for the doctor, so Lord G. appeases her by making sure Sir Philip includes Clarkson.
Downstairs, Daisy’s taking her new position very seriously and barks orders at Ivy. It’s cute to see Daisy trying to exert authority. O’Brien’s up to her usual mischief: when the new guy James tells her that he knows nothing about winding the big clock (a task Mr. Carson asked him to do), she tells him to check with Thomas. She also hints at Thomas “really liking” James, and advises him to be on good terms with Lord G.’s valet. Oh oh. Is O’Brien trying to set them up? I have a feeling this is not going to go well, because frankly, I don’t know if James is in fact, gay. And even if he is, I bet you anything O’Brien hopes that Carson catches the two of them or something like that, just to get Thomas in trouble.
Back at the prison, Bates is finally allowed to see Anna, and he tells her to get someone to question Vera’s friend, Mrs. Bartlett, officially. Based on what the woman told Anna, Vera had made some sort of pastry the night she died. Bates tells Anna that the timing of Mrs. Bartlett’s story of when she saw Vera, he was already on his way back to Downton, so he couldn’t possibly have killed Vera. Anna’s worried that the authorities might claim that the milk or flour were poisoned, but Bates assures her that they had checked everything in the kitchen, and had concluded that it was in the pastry. In the meantime, his cellmate and the corrupt prison guard are not too happy with Bates and they hatch a plan to steal his letters and find out what’s going on. They are successful and figure out the connection with Mrs. Bartlett. I’m sure they’re going to do something to mess things up for Bates.
Anna talks to Lord G. about this new development in Bates’s case, and he questions why the police had “missed it so completely.” Actually, I was wondering that myself! Well, the reason is that Mrs. Bartlett hadn’t spoken to anyone about seeing Vera the night before she died. And I guess the police didn’t think to question all of Vera’s friends. They could learn a thing or two from CSI! Any way, Lord G. worries that this woman wouldn’t be willing to tell the truth to set Bates free. So they decide to get a statement from her before she realizes that it could actually help Bates’s case. Lord G. commends Anna on her sleuthing skills. Good grief, she’s clearly better at it than the police!
Matthew is starting to talk to Mary about some of the improvements he wants to make at Downton. Apparently, some of the older farmers aren’t able to farm their lands properly, and Matthew feels that it would be more economical to simply give these folks a free cottage, and give their lands to someone who can get the most out of them. But he’s hesitating talking to Lord G. about it, because he thinks that Robert wouldn’t like approaching the management of Downton more like a profitable business, because that might just be too “middle class” for him.
Sir Philip shows up for dinner, and he is really pretty pompous. Apparently, he’s “secured” many a dynasty by helping many a Duchess give birth to boys. He condescendingly agrees to have Dr. Clarkson present when he examines Sybil, just to “soothe” the family’s sensitivities. Matthew corners him for a private conversation. It seems that he’s worried whether the injury to his spine affected his ability to have children. It’s quite an awkward conversation as Matthew hems and haws his way through it.
Matthew: “I wonder now whether the...um…injury…might have affected my…um…I suppose I mean my…fertility, if it…may have limited my chances of fathering a child?
Sir Philip: “Well, is everything working as it should?”
Sir Philip: “Then, why do you think there may be a problem?”
Matthew: “We’re anxious to start a family. We’ve been married a few months without any…um…results.”
Sir Philip: “My dear Mr. Crawley. May I point out the word that gives you away? Anxious. Anxiety is an enemy to pregnancy. Don’t, whatever you do, feel anxious.”
Poor Matthew! He’s actually blushing!
In Edith’s corner, the editor of The Sketch has offered her a regular column, and she’s very excited about it. She’s been asked to submit something once a week, and basically write about whatever she wants. Matthew wonders if she plans on writing under her own name, and Lord G. promptly rains on her parade and tells her the only reason they want to hire her is because of her name and title. Her father’s dismissal of the whole thing is pretty upsetting to Edith; “I’m always a failure in this family,” she says as she storms out of the breakfast room. That night at dinner, Violet is shocked when she finds out about Edith’s new “opportunity,” and wonders when she “may receive an offer to appear on the London stage.” I really hope Edith decides to go against the family and just do her own thing.
Meanwhile, Isobel decides to offer Ethel a job at the Crawley House. Apparently, Ethel is no longer prostituting herself (now that she doesn’t have Charlie to feed any more, she doesn’t need as much money), and Isobel feels that if she works there, she can move on, with a “respectable job and a respectable reference.” Ethel’s being more realistic and questions the Crawley’s overall reaction to her being there. Of course, this doesn’t deter Isobel one bit and she insists that they can face the consequences of Ethel’s employment together.
Well, their first obstacle is Mrs. Bird, who flatly refuses to work with a woman who has chosen “that way of life.” She feels that by working alongside Ethel, her reputation will be tarnished. Well, Isobel promptly fires her! The look on Mrs. Bird’s face when she’s offered a month’s wages is priceless! I guess Mrs. Crawley wasn’t kidding when she told Ethel they’d face the consequences together.
So Mrs. Bird sends a letter to Mr. Molesley explaining the situation, and of course he lets Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes in on it. Mrs. Hughes tries to defend Isobel’s decision to help Ethel, but Carson is adamant that this is a bad idea, and even goes so far as to say that “no respectable woman could be seen entering [Isobel’s] house.” Mrs. Hughes tells them to just let things be for now, since Ethel’s not necessarily a great cook, and things may “sort themselves out.” She’s right, by the way. Ethel is an absolute disaster in the kitchen. Carson agrees, but only under the condition that none of the maids or footmen from the main house go visiting the Crawley House for any reason whatsoever.
There’s a little love quadrangle situation downstairs. Here’s the deal: Daisy likes Alfred, but Alfred really likes Ivy and flirts with her like crazy, which makes Daisy hate Ivy. Ivy seems to like James and she flirts with him like crazy, which makes Alfred not like James too much. James is pretty much smiling at everyone, so there’s no telling where his interests lay. But see, Alfred’s pretty smart. He engineers a little situation where he can help Ivy out of a sticky spot, and basically ingratiates himself to her. Mrs. Patmore is on to the whole thing, of course, and tells Daisy that Alfred “won’t like [her] more for being rough on [Ivy].”
Back downstairs, Thomas continues his subtle “advances” towards James and gets a little cozy with him, touching his arm, and whatnot. James doesn’t seem to be too happy with that, and he complains about it to O’Brien. Oh James, you’re barking up the wrong tree there, my friend! This is exactly what O’Brien wants! She tells James that he should encourage Thomas’s friendship so that he can put in a good word with Lord G. But James is still uncomfortable, and O’Brien asks him if Thomas has behaved in an “unseemly” manner. Here we go. O’Brien’s planted the seed now. Let’s see how Thomas gets himself out of what promises to be a heap of trouble.
Sybil goes into real labor but there seems to be a problem. Her ankles are too swollen and according to Dr. Clarkson (who has been summoned, much to Sir Philip and Lord G.’s chagrin), she seems a bit “muddled,” whatever that means. Sir Philips pulls Clarkson out of the room and tells him to hush up and stop upsetting the family. Clarkson stands his ground, however, and tries to get Sir Philip to consider Sybil being in danger of toxemia. I looked this one up. It’s a pretty serious condition, if not treated correctly. Basically, they’d have to deliver the baby as soon as possible to avoid complications like liver and/or renal failure in Sybil! But, Sir Philip doesn’t want to hear any of this and argues that Clarkson is wrong in his assessment. He basically tells Clarkson that if he wants to stay, he has to keep quiet. Well, Clarkson takes his case to Cora, who overrides Sir Philip.
Sybil looks terrible. She’s sweating, and is in a lot of pain. Branson’s sitting by her bedside, trying to cheer her up. He mentions going up to Liverpool and getting a job as a mechanic, but Sybil adamantly refuses, making him promise that they wouldn’t “go back.” She’s very confused and thinks that she’s still a nurse working for Dr. Clarkson.
The argument between the two doctors heats up: Clarkson wants to take Sybil to the hospital and deliver the baby via a C-Section, and Sir Philip is completely against the idea. He doesn’t feel that Sybil is in danger of having toxemia. Lord G. decides to side with Sir Philip, and when Mary interjects that it’s really Tom’s decision to make, Robert completely loses it. He says that he is the master at Downton, he’s the one who’s hired Sir Philip, and therefore, it’s his decision to make. Cora tells him he’s being ridiculous, and that of course they have to talk to Tom. Violet jumps in and says, “Cora is right. The decision lies with the chauffeur.”
Things just deteriorate further from there. I’m going to try and give you a play by play of everything, because it’s really a sitting-at-the-edge-of-your-seat, biting your nails, screaming at the TV kind of scene.
Everyone tells Tom about the situation, who worries about moving Sybil in her condition. Sir Philip jumps in and says that moving her at this stage would be “tantamount to murder.” I really don’t like this guy. Clarkson tells him to 'fess up and tell the family that he’s beginning to see the signs of distress in Sybil, to which he grudgingly, agrees. Kind of, but not really. Tom wants Dr. Clarkson to promise that the C-Section will save both the baby and Sybil, and of course, Clarkson cannot make a promise like that. Sir Philip jumps in and asks Lord G. to take control of the situation, and Robert confronts Tom and tells him to trust Sir Philip. Cora intervenes on behalf of Clarkson and assures Tom that the only right thing to do (and what should’ve been done an hour ago) is to take Sybil to the hospital. Just as they are all standing staring each other down, Sybil screams...
…And it seems that everything’s fine. Sybil gives birth to a beautiful little baby girl. Sybil’s very tired, but right before she falls asleep, she asks Cora to make sure Tom doesn’t move to Liverpool. She wants to make sure Cora’s on her side when she has to confront Lord G. about not allowing the move “backwards.”
Oh no! Sybil wakes up in pain and starts having a seizure a few hours later. The entire family’s in her room (along with the two doctors) trying to calm her down, but it’s not working. All of a sudden, the arrogant Sir Philip is not so sure of himself any more. Clarkson tells Lord G. that nothing can be done once the seizures have started. Everyone is just frantically trying to do something—anything—to help, but it’s a hopeless situation. Sybil’s thrashings slow down, but she can’t breathe, and as the family watches horrified … she dies.
Oh, what a horrible, horrible ending for Sybil. And for Branson and his newborn baby too! This is all Sir Philip’s fault. What a quack!
Cora sits by Sybil’s body and promises to look after both Tom and the baby. Mary comes in to try and coax her to go to bed, but she won’t leave.
Mary: “It’s time to go to bed, Mama. You’ll need some rest to face tomorrow.”
Cora: “Not just yet. This is my chance to say goodbye to my baby.”
She then asks Mary to ask Lord G. to sleep in his dressing room. Clearly, she blames him for what’s happened to Sybil. This is going to cause a big rift between them, I’m sure.
Downstairs, the staff takes the news badly, but Thomas is more affected than the rest of them. He and Sybil bonded when they worked together at the hospital during the war, and he just can’t seem to hold his grief in. He goes off to cry and Anna follows to try and comfort him. This is the first time I have seen Thomas have a real human moment; one that is not self-serving.
Thomas: “I don’t why I’m crying, really. She wouldn’t have noticed if I’d died.”
Anna: “You don’t mean that.”
Thomas: “No. No I don’t. In my life, I can tell you not many have been kind to me. She was one of the few.”
It’s moments like these that reminds me how close this group of people really are to each other, and regardless of their social situation, they really are a tight-knit family.
The next morning, Mary and Edith kiss Sybil on the forehead as they say their goodbyes before her body is taken away. Violet comes over, clearly distraught. It’s the first time I’ve seen her lose her composure as she leans against the wall and her face crumbles. This is so, so sad. The family is simply overwhelmed by grief as they gather together in the drawing room. Everyone except Tom is there, and when Violet asks about him, Edith says that he won’t come downstairs, and won’t tell her if he wants anything.
Cora: “He wants his wife back, but that’s what he can’t have. I must write to Dr. Clarkson and have her sent down before dinner.”
Lord G. : “Darling, there’s no need for that.”
Cora: “I should. I want to. I have to apologize for our behavior.”
Mary: “What? Why?”
Cora: “Because if we’d listened to him, Sybil might still be alive. But Sir Philip and your father knew better, and now she’s dead.”
The ever-practical Violet tells Robert not to blame himself for Sybil’s death. She tells him that all they can do is cherish her memory, and take care of her child. Robert tells her that regardless, there is truth to what Cora said about his part in the whole ordeal.
There are a couple of asides with Mr. Murray visiting and talking to Anna, and consequently visiting Bates in prison to discuss his case, but it isn’t anything significant. He also speaks to Matthew about the running of the estate and Mary interrupts them, shocked that they would be discussing business the morning after Sybil’s death.
The last shot of the episode is Branson, standing at a window looking out over the estate, with his little girl in his arms.
Next week, tensions between Cora and Robert haven’t eased, and she won’t let him back in their bedroom. Branson is insisting that baby Sybil (yes, they named the little girl after her mother) be Christened as a Catholic, which doesn’t sit well with Lord G. Mrs. Patmore is secretly going over to the Crawley House against the express orders of Mr. Carson. I imagine she’s only going there to teach Edith how to cook. Let’s hope it’s a lighter episode than this week’s! I haven’t cried this much in a long time.
Can't get enough Downton? Look for The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis, a behind-the-scenes look at the show available now.
Naz Keynejad is an avid reader, wanna-be writer, editor and self-professed geek. She has a “thing” for period dramas and will watch anything as long as it’s filled with suppressed sexual tension, angst and of course, period costumes. Oh, and there has to be tea. Lots of tea.