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Downton Abbey: Season 3, Episode 4: Carry on, as we all should

January 27, 2013

This week's post needs little introduction... Amie Simon guides us through Downton Abbey's season 3, episode 4, in which more than one thing happened... but does anything else matter?

Over the seasons, Downton has brought us many tears, but never as many as this episode. I hope everyone had a box of tissues and a shoulder to lean on while watching.

We open on Sybil in bed being examined by Dr. Clarkson with a sleepy and anxious family around her. The doctor starts to explain that early labor pains are the body’s way of getting ready, but Cora shushes him because Lord Grantham doesn’t want to hear the “medical details” – in other words, Robert is squeamish about talk involving lady parts. CHECK!

Downstairs, the staff discusses Sybil and her impending delivery, and when new kitchen maid Ivy speaks up saying it’ll be nice to have a baby in the house, Daisy cuts her off when a “DO AS YOU’RE TOLD.”

Ivy = the new Daisy. Daisy = the new Mrs. Patmore, but even harsher. Even O’Brien looks confused by—if not a little proud off—Daisy’s newfound bitchiness.

While Lady Cora has breakfast, she and Robert discuss the arrival of a new doctor to deliver Sybil’s baby: Sir Phillip Tapsel. Robert feels it’s important since Clarkson misdiagnosed Matthew’s condition and missed how severe Lavinia’s illness was, but Cora doesn’t exactly agree. There is some SERIOUS foreshadowing in this scene!

O’Brien encounters a troubled James, who confesses to her that Carson has asked him to wind the clocks, and he hasn’t got a clue how to do that. So, naturally, she points him in the direction of Thomas, who’s “very knowledgeable” about clocks. Wait a minute … what’s O’Brien up to? Why is she pushing James towards Thomas? Are her bangs jealous of his swoopy coif?

A bed-ridden Sybil complains about all things pregnant to Mary, and then asks her point blank if she’s putting off having one of her own. Lady Mary looks confused by this question. Of course she’s not waiting! Well that clears that up. Or does it?

Thomas wastes no time hugging up to James while “helping” him, even going so far as to place his hand on top of James’ to help wind the clock. WHOA, there, Thomas. Getting a little ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? But we all know it’s only a matter of time before this escalates.

Anna finally gets into the prison to see Bates, and the two of them determine that they can prove he didn’t kill Vera because Mrs. Bartlett saw Vera making the poisoned pastry while Bates was on the train back to Downton. Also, the police tested everything in the pantry, so they know the pasty was the only thing tainted. HUZZAH! Bates could be free soon—I mean, if they can figure out how to prove it. (Side note: the best part of this scene was seeing Anna lose it and curse Vera. Such language!)

Isobel decides to take a HUGE risk and ask Ethel to come and work in Crawley House (alongside Mrs. Bird. That will totally work out fine, right?), but Ethel warns her that she’s asking for way more trouble than she realizes with her offer. After all, Ethel’s a ruined woman, twice over. A baby out of wedlock AND prostitution?!?! It’s almost inconceivable that she’s still alive.

At the prison, Craig and Durant notice Bates has been looking a little too happy lately, and vow to find out why so they can wipe the smile off his face as payback for getting them both into trouble. How does no one else at the prison ever see these two scheming? They’re right out in the open, for chrissakes.

Matthew tries to broach the subject of Robert’s money issues with Mary by walking her around the farms surrounding Downton and talking a lot about “investments” and “the middle class”. Silly Matthew! As if Mary wants to listen to you talk about things that are so mundane.

Sir Phillip arrives for dinner and starts spouting off about his childbirth expertise, inadvertently making a remark that causes Lord Grantham to do a spit take, some serious eye rolls from Carson, and a bemused smirk from the Dowager Countess. He confirms that Lady Sybil shouldn’t have any complications, and brushes off Lady Cora’s suggestion that they bring Dr. Clarkson back when the contractions start.

After dinner, Matthew approaches Sir Phillip with a very delicate question about … fertility. Resulting in one of the only things this entire episode that made me laugh. It was SO awkward! The good doctor assured Matthew that a few months of trying without results is nothing to be concerned about. And that “anxiousness” is the enemy of pregnancy. Oh, 1920. You’re doing it wrong.

Anna finally gets Lord Grantham’s attention and asks for his help in getting the news about what they’ve discovered to a lawyer for Bates. Robert commends Anna for persevering in finding the truth, and promises to enlist his lawyer’s help right away.

A shocking letter arrives from a respected paper editor for Edith, asking her to write a weekly column about the problems faced by a modern woman! GO, Edith! Matthew thinks the news is well done, but of course Robert has to squash it with a “He’s just paying for your name and your title.” Matthew objects, but poor Edith:

“Don’t bother Matthew, I’m always a failure in this family”, she exclaims. Indeed. Nice job, Lord Grantham. Way to make your own daughter feel worse than she already does. No wonder she’s always so bitter.

Back at Crawley House, Mrs. Bird confesses to Isobel that hiring Ethel will cause her departure, as she can’t work with a fallen woman. I’m sure Mrs. Bird thought this move would call Isobel’s bluff, but instead she bids Bird farewell and offers her some severance and some good luck. Backfire!

Things are heating up in the kitchen between Ivy, Alfred, and James. Queue jealous Daisy’s entrance. The younger staff at Downton has all the makings of a great Shakespearean romantic comedy: Daisy in love with Alfred, Alfred in love with Ivy, Ivy in love with James, James in love with … well, I guess we don’t know yet, but it’s certainly not anyone present.

Mary and Edith approach Branson to see how Sybil’s doing, with the Dowager Countess camped out in Downton for good until the new arrival appears. Sir Phillip uses his expert skills to assure them it won’t be long now, and when Cora announces she’d better call Dr. Clarkson, a little battle ensues between her, Philip, and Robert. MORE FORESHADOWING.

Daisy continues her rampage in the kitchen, bossing around Ivy for absolutely no good reason, so Alfred tries to smooth things over by first ruining something Daisy left out, and then teaching Ivy how to fix it, just in time for Daisy and Mrs. Patmore to see her doing it. Sneaky! (Alfred obviously takes after his aunt.)

Everyone anxiously awaits news of the starting contractions, and Matthew brings up Edith’s journalism career, which doesn’t get much of a reaction from anyone except the Dowager Countess. Thus, Edith gets overshadowed by her other sisters yet again.

An alarmed Dr. Clarkson arrives and tries to alert the family to Sybil’s condition; he’s concerned about more than a few things. Unfortunately, Sir Phillip shuts it down, and with Robert’s backup, everyone ignores Clarkson, scoffing at Clarkson’s suggestion that Sybil may have the beginnings of toxemia and life-threatening eclampsia.

Meanwhile, Ethel is making a mess in Isobel’s kitchen and burning practically everything meant for dinner. But despite looking a little disappointed, Isobel graciously lets it slide instead of firing her. She pretty much has to hang in there at this point, since she’s decided to champion Ethel, regardless of her own reputation. 

Branson talks to a sweaty, red-faced Sybil about taking a job with his brother in Liverpool as a chauffer, but Sybil is not having it. Is during labor really the best time to bring this up, man? Can’t you wait until your baby is born?

Speaking of the labor, things suddenly aren’t looking so good. Sybil is rambling on about stars and being “on duty” while contorting in pain, with Sir Phillip is still insisting that everything’s totally normal. Lady Cora busts in and demands Dr. Clarkson run a test to rule out his own diagnosis.

In the midst of the madness, Molesley delivers an important letter to Mr. Carson from Mrs. Bird, explaining the situation at Crawley House with Ethel.

Thrillingly, we actually get to hear Carson say “prostitute” while discussing it with Molesley and Mrs. Hughes, and even though Hughes tries to stand up for Ethel, Carson insists that no respectable woman can now be seen at Isobel’s house. But they all agree to let it lie … for now.

After running his tests, Dr. Clarkson informs the family that he truly believes Sybil is suffering from eclampsia, but Sir Phillip still insists Clarkson is WRONG, especially when Clarkson suggests Sybil go to the “public hospital” and be exposed to all kinds of “common” germs and diseases.

Sir Phillip says he can bring baby and mother through the birth by doing things the natural way, while Clarkson recommends taking Sybil to the hospital immediately to perform a C-section, which would reduce the risk of seizures caused by eclampsia. Seething with superiority, Phillip says sending Sybil to the hospital now would be like “murder,” so Branson caves and lets Sir Phillip do it his way.

Shortly after, Mary runs downstairs to deliver the news: Sybil and her new baby daughter are both doing just fine. Hooray! Everybody beams with happiness … except Clarkson who is still worried.

Thomas is continuing his pursuit of James under O’Brien’s watchful eye when Carson arrives with good news about the delivery. Even Thomas looks pleased, and gives James a compliment while putting his hand on his arm—a gesture that puzzles James. Ever the opportunist, O’Brien asks him if anything is wrong, and continues to encourage James to suck up to Thomas since he’s so close to his Lordship. She even lets it slip that she hopes James isn’t implying Thomas might do anything “unseemly.”

But then, oh no! Sybil does indeed have eclampsia! The whole house wakes up to Sybil crying in pain and convulsing—which brings us to the hardest thing I’ve ever had to watch on Downton Abbey: Sybil’s suffering, the family panicking, the doctors shaking their heads, and eventually, the death of the Crawley’s youngest daughter with everyone watching it play out.


As the family tries to process what happened, Carson tells the staff, and both Daisy and Thomas break down. I don’t know about you, but seeing tough-as-nails Thomas disintegrate into sobs was more than I could handle. I used up two boxes of tissues, no joke. Anna even gave him a comforting squeeze.

And as if that weren’t ENOUGH already, we then get to see Cora talking to her dead daughter and promising to look after Tom and the baby. Mary tries to lure her away, but Lady Grantham prefers to be alone—with one parting wish: for Mary to tell Lord Grantham to sleep in another room. UT-OH.

And then as if THAT weren’t way past enough, we have to see Tom (Tom! Can I hug you? Repeatedly?!?!), Edith, and Mary tearfully say goodbye to Sybil’s body, and the two remaining girls make a pact to love each other “as sisters should.”

Amidst all the sadness, the lawyer arrives to speak with Anna and sort out what can be done to further investigate releasing Bates. Matthew snags a word with the lawyer after, and gets caught by Mary while trying to discuss the financial ruin Downton is in. Mary then throws a tantrum about her father not being there, and hammers in the point that her sister just died. Watch out Matthew! The daggers coming out of her eyes toward you look deadly.

The lawyer then goes to visit Bates, promising to do what he can to get a statement out of the unwilling Mrs. Bartlett, and Craig and Durrant watch on, plotting their revenge.

The Dowager Countess arrives at Downton to grieve with the family, and Cora makes her displeasure with Robert known by saying something about apologizing to Dr. Clarkson for ignoring his advice, and then kicks Robert while he’s down by laying the blame at his feet. Ouch.

The episode ends with Branson holding his new baby daughter while looking tearfully out the window.

Aw, geez, Julian Fellowes. Did you have to go there? I don’t even have a witty way to wrap this one up; I’m so devastated about poor, poor Sybil. I’m not sure I can get over this one.

How about you?


Highlights from this tough, tough episode 4!

Best line from Dowager Countess:

“When may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage?” (Re: News about Edith’s offer to write a weekly column.)

Most scandalous moment:

Isobel giving Mrs. Bird her walking papers in order to let Ethel have a respectable job. The nerve!

Most romantic scene:

Anna and Bates realizing together that they have a way to release him from prison! No kissing, but plenty of tears and longing looks.

Most devastating betrayal:

Lord Grantham brushing aside the opinion of Dr. Clarkson and listening to stupid Sir Phillip. Augh! ROBERT.

Most ridiculous bit of soapy melodrama:

Cora tearfully saying she has to write a letter to Dr. Clarkson IMMEDIATELY to apologize for ignoring his advice and causing Sybil to die. Over-the-top much?


Click here to read Tara Austen Weaver's post about eclampsia.


Additionally, PBS has provided the following contact information for those seeking more information about eclampsia, pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome, which are truly life-threatening conditions that are still major threats to maternal and infant health today:

Toll Free: 800-665-9341

Phone: 321-421-6957