Oct 15 2012 11:32am

Downton Abbey Season 3 (Series 3), Episode 5 Recap: Doctors’ Orders

Mary and Edith in Downton Abbey Season 3Please 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.

Need a refresher? Don't miss Naz Keynejad's recaps of the Season 3 premiereepisode 3.02, episode 3.03, and last week's episode 3.04. And now, onto the recap for Downton Abbey Series 3, episode 5:

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.

Sybil in Downton Abbey Season 3, episode 5This 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…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?”

Matthew: “Uh…yes.”

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.

Downton Abbey Season 3 kitchen staffThere’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...

Sybil, Branson, and baby…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.

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Friederike H. Keck
1. Friederike H. Keck
Oh no, JenP and I are both wrong about the person dying. I never thought of Sybil, this is really sad. Lets wait and see, what will happen to little Sybil. By the way Naz, thank you again.
Friederike Keck (Munich)
2. wsl0612
I am so upset, I loved Sybil!
Naz Keynejad
3. nazkey
@Friederike - it was so sad. Seriously, I was crying for most of the show. Yeah, I wonder if the family would be willing to let Branson take their granddaughter and leave DA. I doubt it.

@wsl0612 - I know! Me too. It was so, so sad.
Friederike H. Keck
4. Canucks
To my viewing pleasure, we’ve had several “angelic” characters in DA who were always good, honest, brave, virtuous, never seeking any glory, praise, or attention onto themselves, but exemplifying all that we aspire or wish for in our fellow human beings:

Sybil Crawley-Branson
William Mason
Lavinia Swire
Anna Smith-Bates
Mr. Mason, Sr.

Others may also consider Matthew and Isobel Crawley, John Bates, Elsie Hughes, or even Cora, the Countess of Grantham to be part of such a list. I don’t. These too are good people, but I wouldn’t put them in the same category as the former five.

And we’ve also had our share of the most wretched, duplicitous, vile characters in this series. Among them:

Sarah O'Brien
Thomas Barrow
Vera Bates
Duke of Crowborough
Charles Bryant

One could also be tempted to add Richard Carlisle, Lord Hepworth, or Anthony Strallan to this list. But, once again, these are not quite in the same “league” as the above five.

And top three of the DA angels are now dead.

. . . . . . .

The balance of the DA03 will now attempt to give us the stories of how the remaining vile ones meet their ends, and how the irreconcilable differences (from the get go if you really are honest to yourselves), between M&M and R&C really resolve themselves.

In the pursuit of trying to believe in a good “romantic story,” I think many viewers were lulled into seeing (or wanting to believe) that M&M was really a good fit, and/or that the differences between Cora and Robert were tolerably minor.

. . . . . . .

I have a great deal of difficulty processing that these two sets of relationships are going to go in a positive direction, especially when or if:

M&M find out that they really cannot and will not be able to conceive a child together; and when

A spouse will never be able to forget (or forgive) that the loss of their precious little child was the result of the actions or inactions of the other.

So far, the latter has already happened, and former is most likely to happen—if all the intimations to-date are to be believed.

And once again, to my viewing pleasure, an Anna and Bates Bed & Breakfast at the end of S03 will certainly not take the bitterness out of my mouth, and nothing will bring back any of the fallen Angels of DA.
5. EvangelineHolland
I was utterly devastated last night! Everyone's reactions to Sybil's death were pitch perfect and made me bawl! Chances are she was killed off because JBF wanted to leave, but I'm so furious that Sybil just became a vehicle for plot points for other characters. Am also glad that Cora is giving Robert the cold shoulder, even though she should have been angry with him last season.
Lexie Matias
6. OtterPuff
I was all "No, what? Why?!!"
So sad, I really liked Sybil most of the time.
Friederike H. Keck
7. Taya
The worst part was the reaction of the family to poor Sybil's death... Even I was crying harder than Mary and Edith... How come they could not act properly..?? I was really disappointed.. Very sad episode ;(
Friederike H. Keck
8. JeriMH
I am increasingly frustrated and angry with Lord G as the seasons go by. Sure he thinks he means well, but he's not good at managing money (but this is the way things have always been done!), managing relationships (he totally tried to cheat on Cora with a maid, who then had to leave a good job because of him) or managing his ambitious daughters. And now because of his "managing", his sweetest and probably most promising daughter is dead.

Fictitious characters aside, who I am REALLY frustrated with is the writers, who have killed off anyone who is really worth rooting for. Season 2 was a blood-bath. And seriously? Sybil? Because really, while she IS nicer this season, Mary is a self-involved twit who wants her own way more than she wants anything that might make sense and Edith is a scheming, self-pitying whiner. The characters with the best intentions/possibilities are killed off and the remainder left to blunder on, same as before, with no one really growing or changing. Blah.

This episode illustrates why, while the series is beautiful to look at and there are frequent priceless moments (usually involving the Dowager Countess), I really REALLY can not love Downton Abbey as much as I want to.
Naz Keynejad
9. nazkey
@Canucks - I always look forward to your comments. You're so insightful! TBH, as much as I love the series, I feel like it needs to end. It feels as though they are dragging things out too much. And I agree with you that the good people are dying off, but sadly, that is the case in real life too. I'm really not happy with the Mary/Matthew relationship this season either. Their views on almost everything are diametrically opposed. They are bickering a lot and I don't see the love any more. Would be interested to see where their story is headed.

@EvangelineHolland - it was awful to watch, let me tell you. I was bawling like a baby. And I don't blame Cora either. I was actually yelling at the TV, telling Lord G. to shut up and let Clarkson take care of Sybil.

@DarthClavie - it was really sad. I was looking forward to Sybil/Branson/Baby living at DA and maybe bringing Lord G. around to the "modern" way of living.

@Taya - I agree. I think Edith showed a bit more emotion than Mary, but that's always been the case. One part that I didn't put in here is their talk at Sybil's deathbed the next morning. While I appreciated Mary's blunt honesty, it was pretty cold-hearted, IMO. Mary's a pragmatist, and I get that, but it would be nice to have her show a little kindness every once in a while, especially to Edith who is constantly "losing" at life.

@JeriMH - Yeah, Lord G. is certainly not a "model" gentleman. Last night's episode was really hard to watch, especially because he was clearly siding with Sir Philip because the guy was a famous doctor for the nobility. It was very wrong, IMO. Also, the Dowager still puts in her quips, and they're fun, but I feel like she's getting more and more out of touch with the new way of life. Having said that, last night, her reaction to Sybil's death was the most poignant of all. Maggie Smith hit it out of the ballpark, and she deserves to be nominated for an Emmy, just for that 10 second moment.
Friederike H. Keck
10. krbaylor618
I am living DA's Season 3 vicariously through this blog, since I live in the States (Virginia), and don't mind reading what happens since the richness of the DA story is also found through the fine acting and scenery.

But knocking off Sybil? Oh, I know the writers had to do it because of JBF seeking to leave the series, but I really enjoyed it whenever she came on the screen. What a beautiful and spirited delight her character was!

I did not see this story plot line coming at all. Wow. I predicted earlier Tom, her husband, would get bumped off because of an Irish Civil War incident and Sybil would have to come back to the house as a young widow with a child. But not this. Poor Sybil...

My copy of DA S3 cannot come soon enough in November. Thanks again for your time each week to provid this wonderful and detailed peek-behind-the-curtain for us non-UK DA enthusiasts.
Naz Keynejad
11. nazkey
You're very welcome. It was an absolutely heartbreaking episode to watch. I couldn't stop crying!
Friederike H. Keck
12. Canucks
Speaking of Edith Crawley ..

It must be said that, during and after the War effort, Edith had always been quite helpful, and meant no ill to anyone. And certainly not to her itch of an older sister!

In fact, putting aside the Kemal Pamuk letter to the Turkish Embassy (in S01E0 during 1913-14), she has done nothing to Mary except perhaps to return the snide comments she had received from her ill-tampered and relentlessly ill-wishing older sister.

From the inception of these series, Edith Crawley, in words or in actions, has also done nothing for Mary to cohort, flirt or eventually marry Matthew Crawley. Perhaps shortly after “seeing” Mary praying for Matthew in the front-lines (1914-15), she has, in her own ways, always been quite “helpful” for M&M to reach out to one another. I believe she was truly sorry to tell Mary that Matthew was missing, and I believe she was truly happy for her when he did come back.

So, for the last 6-7 years, and certainly from the start of this season, I believe Edith has been trying very hard to approach her older sister to make peace, and on at least 2-3 occasions , has been genuinely seeking the comfort of her older sister. But sadly and rudely she has been rebuffed on every occasion.

After so many years, and after all that has happened and passed among them … for Mary to still say to her younger sister that “they will never be friends” is just truly shocking.

At one level, this says something profound about Mary Crawley who is finally appearing as who she really was/is: a pompous, spiteful, insensitive, selfish and vengeful woman. And a woman, who to this day, has yet to say a simple “I love you” to her husband!


At another level, this show is also beginning to say something about the “darkness” that might lie deep in the hearts and minds of these writers. I get the feeling that these writing folks do have a sense of the “bitter” and the “sweet” but one that might just be a bit outside the mainstream. Perhaps they think that they can again make-up for what might be a failed season with another Christmas Special, with some more dancing, joy and happiness.

As a mainstream viewer, I can assure them that Bates leaving or not leaving prison is simply not going to make too much of a difference anymore: Once you kill the spirit of an audience, no song or dance can get that back.

As Cora once said to O'Brien in early S01, "you are standing periliously close to the edge" my dear writers! I hope your scouts are reading these notes from your audience.
Friederike H. Keck
13. Merryll
As a US viewer, let me add my voice to those applauding you, Naz, for your in-depth recaps. Since we won't get DA until January (or the arrival of Amazon DVDs), you fill a huge void. Thank you.

Fellows most certainly must have been stung by criticisms of season two, hence the more detailed character developments this year. My question to UK viewers is this: do you feel DA is losing its heart?

IMO, DA is, at its core, a soap--a glorious, beautiful, feast inhabited by characters I have grown to adore. One of the reasons I fell in love with it from the get-go was because it had heart: Lord Grantham, traditionalist to the core, cared about his staff, wife and daughters. It was one of the first times I saw a husband from his generation portrayed as in love with his wife, and vice-versa. Sniping amongst the sisters was an irritant, but I chalked that up to sibling rivalry, which probably would be outgrown. The Bates/Anna story was equally compelling belowstairs.

At the core, soaps are about love stories, and we got them is abundance, couples we can cheer for. But love stories need payoffs, which is one reason last year's Christmas episode was so celebrated. Finally, the two lovers found their way back to one another, and we learned that Sybil and Branson were married. (We'll leave Anna abd Bates out of it, since soaps also must have intrigue, and for better or worse, they're our couple there.) Even Lord Grantham and Cora reached an understanding of sorts.

So despite the inevitable twists and turns this season, my question remains: has Fellows deliberately made the relationships more brittle this year? Is it natural, for example, for us not to see newlyweds Mary and Matthew displaying any passion or at least affection? Was the wedding and offscreen honeymoon a satisfying enough payoff for two years of waiting? With poor Sybil dead, are Anna and Bates the only couple left for us to cheer for?

I'm not suggesting that love stories are the main reason DA has gained such a following. It's still great storytelling, and character development has been wonderful, faithful to the period, as far as I can tell. But when I see great storytelling with heart, I'm hooked. Are we feeling that this year?
Friederike H. Keck
14. cay
Yesterdays episode was hard to watch. But more than anything, it was real. Life is truly unpredictable and its always laden with its ups and down. downton like life has its bad moments (sybil's death, Williams death as well as Lavinnia's. Money problems for the estate. Its also had its warm moments. (Mary and Matthew's marriage, Sybils new baby as well as hope for Bates).
i think Jullian has done a good job by keeping it real no matter how heartbraking it has been at times. I cant wait to see where he goes next!
Friederike H. Keck
15. Canucks
For @cay .. I appreciate the sentiments, but we already have enough "reality" in our daily lives! I think we watch these shows to take us a bit out of our reality.

For @Merryll .. and others who are contributing to this conversation .. I think the key to DA's early success was one of "balance." That is, balance of mystery, intrigue and resolution; balance with love gained and lost; balance of longing for love, finding some, and sometimes not; balance between humour and seriousness in talk; balance of tradition, modernity and change; balance of strength and weakness; balance between goodness an badness, upstairs and down. I think some of the commentary we read, write or hear about in DA during S02 and S03 is because some viewers are finding things might be evolving somewhat "unbalanced."

Another issue with DA that is emerging is that finding of these balances are taking too long, and extending to too many episodes or seasons .. which, in effect, is making the story more like a "soap." I think the stories of these type really need faster and tighter "resolutions" and/or more skill in establishing the delicate balances I raise above within a reasonable time frame. Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfiled Park, etc.]

Finally, if anyone is "listening," let me extend another bit of advice to DA writers. In my part of the world, we have a saying which goes something like this:

"If all the traffic is coming your way, you just might be in the wrong lane!"

And for @Naz .. look what a community you have created! People around the world, some having watched, some hoping to, some liking, others not so much ... the evolution of this one extended family's story. And through your columns, you have created a larger one! You should be proud.
Friederike H. Keck
16. JeriMH
@Naz, I agree that the Dowager is increasingly out of touch, but from her character's point of view, how could you not be? She grew up in an era of horse-and-carraige, dress-for-dinner, long-standing tradition. She is now growing old in a time of invention - telephone, trains, cars and planes... can you imagine your world changing that much in a lifetime? I see her as not so much "out of touch" but rather digging in her heels in the face of a world spinning out of control.

I worry about the entire Downton series though, I don't really see any emerging plot lines that I actually care about. I'm losing interest in Bates/Anna because he seems like he keeps making dumb decicions (knifing the cellmate in the next ep?) Mary/Matthew are together but she is still a brat. Tom might stay interesting (big Irish revolution coming up in 1921) but he also keeps making dumb decisions. Blah blah I'm passionate and argue about everything blah. I can not get into the below-stairs love quadrangle. Maybe the imposter Patrick will come back for Edith? Maybe Lord Grantham will die and leave Matthew as the earl?
Naz Keynejad
17. nazkey
@Canucks - I think that Mary is ultimately a pragmatist. Maybe too much so, but technically, she's been raised to be the successor/heir to DA (yes, I understand that she was meant to marry, and that her husband would run DA, but in reality, it's her inheritance). She's cold and harsh, but I don't think she's that way because she doesn't have a heart, I think she's that way because she's been brought up to be that way. Does that make sense? And, no, I've never heard Mary tell Matthew that she loves him, so I agree with you there. The scene between her and Edith was really a bit too much, IMO. It reminded me of the scene between her and Carson last season. I think that when Mary is in a highly emotional state, she lashes out, and her comment to Edith was another example of that. On the other hand, what she told Edith was the absolute truth. Brutal, yes, but the truth nevertheless. I love these discussions btw!

@Merryll - I agree with you that DA is predominantly a soap. I also feel though, that the storylines have run their course. The show needs to come to some sort of a resolution before it gets caught up in too many soap cliches. One of the things that I miss this season is the historical references. There was so much going on in the world at that time, and I miss the writers tying all of that back to the characters. We'll see how they wrap things up this time around, but I feel that it really does need to be wrapped up.

@cay - watching Sybil die was seriously one of the hardest things ever. The entire sequence was written really well, and it certainly had emotional resonance. I'm wondering what's going to happen to everyone after this too, because it's a pretty big blow to the family, IMO.

@JeriMH - I worry about the series too. Some things are just getting dragged out too long (your Anna/Bates example is a perfect one). And, Edith's constant failures with love are getting a bit tedious too, IMO. I guess we'll see where it goes, but ultimately, I think this is probably going to be the last season. We'll see!

Thanks again everyone, for coming by and commenting. These are great discussions!
Friederike H. Keck
18. femlawyer
I agree with all of you. I think this is the last season. Dan Stevens is in a Broadway play, the Heiress, (saw a preview last week- brilliant!), and wants to stay in the US with his family. In addition, I firmly believe that Fellowes detests women- most of the men (with the exception of Thomas and one-half of Robert, are saints) and most of the women are impossibly self-centered and sometimes nasty- (with the exception of Sybil and Lavinia, whom he kills off, Mrs. Hughes, and Anna, who is made to suffer forever.) Do you think Fellowes is gay? If soldoesn't surprise me that he doesn't think much of women!
Friederike H. Keck
19. Laurie2
Folk, what I don't get is why Sybil, who couldn't wait to get out of DA--where I thought she felt genuinely stifled--and live independently, according to different values, less classist, more modern values, then wanted to stay at DA, freeloading on her family, against whose values she had been, and very much agaisnt whose wishes she married the family's chauffeur.

But then she doesn't want him to go back to being a car guy, a mechanic! Why ever not?! They'd be independent of her family and on their own, if he did that! But no, she suddenly had to become class conscious! She wanted to freeload on her family, on whose wealth she has no claim, but still wanted to impose on them her hubby's wishes!

Branson is a revolutionary, very much against what the DA family/his wife's family stand for, but still comes running to them, when, all on his own, without his wife even knowing all of the facts, he gets himself into trouble, while she is preggers. Her father has to use his influence to get him out of the worst of that pickle! And now, he wants his child to be baptized in the RC faith, in DA! And so did Sybil. I think the self-respecting thing for them to have done is to want to leave ASAP for Liverpool--or wherever he can get a job, a mechanic's job or ANY job--where they can live independently, on their own earning(s) and resources, without being a kept man/people, living under Lord G's roof, on Mary and Matthew's money (it's Matthew's fortune that lets the family still own and reside in DA, and he wouldn't have kept it were it not for his wife's tireless efforts to save her ancestral home, which will, someday, be their rightful inheritance), according to their own values, and Branson's religious convictions (since Sybil appears to have had none of her own), independently, without using Lord G's influence, exactly as they saw/see fit, according to their lights.

That's what I would have expected of them. And that I could respect. But not this! Even if S's family WANTS to help, S/B should politely express appreciation and firmly refuse and live their own lives without being, in any way, indebted to her family. They should live like other pregnant nurses, married to fugitives, whether they be journalists/chauffeurs/mechanics, and not fall back on S's family.

When Lord G told her there will be no money, if she married the chauffeur, she scorned getting any money. That was back when Lord G actually had money. Now he doesn't. The family's fortune belongs to M/M. What I would have expected (and what I could have respected), in S/B would be their going to DA breifly for family weddings and funereals, from which they would return quickly to their own happy lives, lived according to their own values, wishes and convictions.

But the writers wanted them to be in DA to cause tensions, create melodrama, to keep the story going for the soap opera addicts for whom they have written this show. As a result, I find it difficult to respect S/B. Lord G's reaction to B, his poiltics, and religion is to be expected. S/B wouldn't have to deal with it, if they didn't come running to him for shelter, protection, his influence, paying their medical costs, living expenses, being kept...

They could do exactly what they want, if they, like all other nurses and mechanics, with no powerful connections and wealth, payed their own way, fended for themselves. If they want to freeload on her family, then they can't do what they want! And having rejected her family's wishes, values, they shouldn't be coming back for help and to live with them, even temporarily! What could S have been thinking?! She wanted to marry the handsome chauffeur, poopoohing her father's money--when it existed, that is--but now wants herself, the chauffeur, and their child, to be supported by her family, when her father has essentially lost his fortune, and wants her family to bail that self same chauffeur (now journalist) out of the mess he's made of their lives, support her, him and their child, and pull him and their child up socially, but all according to the chauffeur's religious and political convictions, while living in DA, sponging off of her family!

And what was B thinking, when he got them into this mess, which makes them dependent on her family? Her family didn't engineer their dependence on itself, B did! He is hot-headed and doesn't think things through. Because if he had, he'd have known he'd be imprisoned for attending meetings, where it was decided to burn down an Anglo-Irish castle, and being on the scene when it happened! And if that wasn't irresponsible, what is? The man's married to a young woman, who's a foreigner in his land, and pregnant!

If S/B are going to freeload on her family, then of course they must comply with her family's wishes/rules/expectations. They can't have it both ways. How childish of them to want it both ways! They are not toddlers! In E6, B's going to get the RC baptism he wants beacuse Sybil is dead and key members of her family want to honour her wishes. My point is that living in DA, freeloading on S's family, it is amazing that S/B would want to impose or think of imposing on her family in ways that are profoundly shocking and uncomfortable for her family! They are not living in their own place, for crying out loud! And they should be! Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home! A home of one's own, in England--until one can return to one's flat in Dublin--where one may live independently, according to one's own beliefs and values, doing what is right for one's own spouse, child and self.

If Sybil found comfort in DA, and wanted full acceptance of her hubby by her family, she should have married a man who could have given her a home like the one she grew up in and who would have fitted in with her family. Otherwise, she should have jumped at the opportunity to go to Liverpool, where they could be on their own.

I agree with everyone who has said it's time to end the show. It can't go on beyond this series. As it is, many people--myself included--are watching it only to see beautiful people in lovely period clothes in pretty settings. That's all it comes down to, if you ask me.

Oh, alright, I'm disgusted. I admit it.
Friederike H. Keck
20. Devine
@Canucks: RE: Cora's line to O'Brien in Season 1: it's actually "perilously close to the wind". I only remember because I love that moment.

I agree that this season has been something of a disappointment. "Bates and Anna can't communicate!...for like a whole episode!...and nothing else comes of it!" "Oh man, these bad guys in the jail sure are bad guys!" "Let's kill the best person in the family!" "I thought burning a big house down would be awesome till I saw the family crying!" "Our financial worries and moral standing are saved by the most convenient letter of all time!"

This show used to be amazing for not letting plotlines drag interminably. Nope, Bates/Anna is dragged out beyond any possiblity of caring or suspense.

I'll tell you what I've liked in this season: O'Brien sticking it to Thomas. The blow-up is going to be enormous when it finally happens. I also like Thomas being upset over Sibyl's death, one of like two human moments for him in the entire show (the other is his talk with the blinded soldier who committed suicide in Season 2 and the surrounding fallout).

I'll still be watching, though.
Friederike H. Keck
21. HollyP
I cried buckets of tears on this one. T.T I couldn't believe JF killed Sybil! Even Thomas can't hold back his tears! Conflicts abound. What will happen next?! Btw, is Jimmy the fellow who played Eragon (worst movie adapted novel)?
Friederike H. Keck
22. Joellyn from NY
Daisy...Ivy...anybody else notice the sweet tip-of-the-hat to the names of the servants in the original Upstairs Downstairs series?
Friederike H. Keck
23. DA Syndrome
I am a fan of downton abbey. I live in the USA so the show is just starting its season 3 beginnings. However, I don't mind reading about the episodes, it gives me the ability to focus on the music, the colors, the wardrobe changes, the mood changes, tones, facial expressions anything that is significant and symbolic in the presence of the situation other than the dialogue. I actually enjoy reading your recaps. They are full of detail, gobbits, and commentary. Well done, well written. Now with the up and coming episodes, I know what to expect and reading spoilers will not render my attention and emotions effortless!
Naz Keynejad
24. nazkey
@DA Syndrome - I'm glad you're enjoying the recaps. Thanks for stopping by and commenting :-)
Friederike H. Keck
25. Shelly Wymer
I'm a little confused. You describe episode 4, yet call it episode 5. Did they leave one out here in the states?
Heather Waters
26. HeatherWaters
@Shelly Wymer -- Sorry for the confusion! In the U.S., the premiere was two hours, or two episodes, long. So last night's episode was the 5th hour of the show (and was episode 5 when it originally aired in the U.K.), even though it's listed as episode 4 by PBS here in the U.S.
Friederike H. Keck
27. LottieS
@Laurie2 : Family is family, and young people, because of their youth and inexperience, tend to get themselves into situations where they need help.

Sybil ran off to marry the chauffeur in a sudden heady rush of young love, passion for politics, rebellion against her father, against class distinctions, and maybe even disgust at M's willingness to marry solely for money and social position (remember that horrible newspaper magnate she was engaged to). Maybe a young man she had her eye on was killed in the war.

Either way, they did live independently...until his political involvements escalated into terrorism, against people exactly like Sybil's family' no less! Once that happened, nothing could or would ever be the same. If not for the baby, Sybil might well have left him and returned home, having learned a hard lesson. Of course, Branson seems repentant about the human cost of his terrorist activities. We have to take into consideration that young people tend to follow their hearts and not think things through.

What is all this about 'sponging' and 'freeloading'? It is natural for young people to turn to family in time of trouble! The birth of a child alone makes a young girl want her mother with her, not to mention that Branson is in serious trouble with the law. Whether it is pleasant to acknowledge or not, one of the benefits of the class society in which they live is that Earl Grantham has connections which Branson now needs, unless he wants to be hanged or languish in prison for the rest of his young life.

Downtown is a family home, a large estate with plenty of room for extended family. There are separate houses all over the estate, as well. Everything is not black and white; being completely independent has its benefits as well as its liabilities. Staying connected with family, whether in the same town, as co-owners of a family enterprise, or actually under the same (in this case very large) roof means compromise, but has its benefits, as well. To coexist family members make allowances for one another. Branson wears the dress clothes expected of him, the family tolerates his religious and political views. Matthew chose Branson for his Best Man, acknowledging that they both are outsiders in the family, with emphasis on "in the family". Branson wants to work to support his family, but he does not need to go to Liverpool and start at the bottom, which is what Sybil meant by "going backwards". It will be interesting to see what unfolds.
Friederike H. Keck
28. mimi c
i couldn't handle the departure of Charlie leaving his mom especially when his small hand reached out to touch her........geeze
Deb Wolf
29. dkal85
Just received Season 3 in the mail yesterday & watched it all. Wow.
Naz Keynejad
30. nazkey
@dkal85 That's awesome! Feel free to go to the final episode recap and comment. It's the Christmas Special one :-)
Sandy Pochapin
31. Sandypo
Maybe I missed it but I was surprised that no one commented on how phenomenal Maggie Smith was in this episode. The scene where she enters DA and speaks to Carson like an equal, and then struggles to walk across the hall -- how many actors can act an entire scene with their back to the camera? She is magnificent! And this is not the final season of DA, btw -- that's already been clarified in the media.

So sad to see Sybil die like that and hear them imploring her to just breathe. I think she didn't want Branson to go back to being a mechanic because he was going to be a journalist in Ireland and she wanted him to keep pursuing his dreams.

Thanks so much for your detailed recap. Sometimes I can't understand the actors between the accents and occasional quietly spoken lines so it helps to have a chance to pick up the small things I know I missed.
Jamie Brenner
32. jamieloganbrenner
I was away last week and so just watched this episode last night. Good lord. @Sandypo, you are so right: that moment when Maggie Smith is filmed from behind walking away was maybe the most masterful of the entire series.
Naz Keynejad
33. nazkey
@Sandypo and @jamieloganbrenner - I agree with both of you. She was brilliant in that scene. So much said without uttering a word!
Friederike H. Keck
34. Living Abroad
Very sad. My aunt died of Toxemia after her baby was born, so this whole episode brings back a lot of very sad, sad memories. What makes it even worse is that it has divided Cora and Lord G on top of everything else. They had such a wonderful relationship, but this is going to test them.
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