The best episode of Downton Abbey
season 3 is also its saddest.
Unlike other current Emmy-winning gems like Mad Men
and Breaking Bad
, there's a certain comfort food quality to watching Downton Abbey
. The worst danger in this lavish world usually involves missing starched shirts. At the end of the day, you can count on everyone to gather for a fancy dinner to hear Maggie Smith toss out a witty one-liner.
While war has ravished the countryside and schemes continue to flow freely from O'Brien and Thomas, dear old Downton stands forever unchanged by the passage of time. It's one of the reasons why the danger of losing the house was so tepid earlier this season. I mean, are they really going to lose Downton Abbey on a show called Downton Abbey
So when Lady Sybil, one of the Crawley sisters and main characters of the show, dies in this week's episode, it's quite a shock to the system. We feel as bowled over as Carson to learn that tragedy really could touch Downton in an all-too-human way.
This season has struggled to find stakes now that most of the characters are happy and settled once again in their aristocratic life. Last year, the war upended the whole of British society, including the way of life at Downton, while Matthew and Mary continued their roller-coaster romance. This year, with the war over and Matthew and Mary settled into wedded bliss, the show instead turned to manufactured melodrama to keep the house interesting.
With Sybil's death, the show's drama comes once again from its characters and their interactions instead of outside plot machinations.
The show has been slowly but surely breaking down the indomitable and morally pure Lord Grantham, showing that he is just as fallible and human as the rest of the characters. Between Sybil's death and his inability to run Downton's estate, we're seeing more than his title and kindness; we're seeing Robert's humanity in all its messy multitudes.
Though I am sad we had to lose Sybil, it gives this season the charge it needs going forward. Since season 1, Sybil has always been a great character and truly the nicest person on the entire show. Despite her lack of anything resembling her own storyline this season, I'll be sad to see her go.
As Mrs. Hughes said, "The sweetest spirit under this roof is gone."Upstairs
Before everything gets depressing, the family is gathered and excited about the impending arrival of Sybil's baby. Lord Grantham hires a famous obstetrician, Sir Philip Tapsel, to look in on Sybil instead of Doctor Clarkson. Cora is like, "Nice try, pal," and then just stares at both Robert and the doctor with her giant blue Precious Moments eyes until they agree to let her invite Doctor Clarkson in to consult.
Every time anyone says anything about babies or where they come from, Robert loses all the color in his face like he's about to hurl. I'm pretty sure Robert still thinks babies are hand delivered by storks, even though he's had three children. At one point during dinner, Dr. Clarkson mentions testing Sybil's urine and Robert just about loses his mind. "There are ladies present!" he complains. The Dowager Countess sighs sadly, regretting her decision not to inform Robert that women also occasionally pee.
Meanwhile, Edith gets an invitation to write a weekly newspaper column. Matthew is totally Team Edith on this one, which is adorable. I know Branson and Matthew are the ultimate bros this season, but I wouldn't mind seeing more of Edith and Matthew hanging out. They're sort of delightful.
Just as Edith starts to reform a tiny bit of her self-confidence, Robert swings into the breakfast room to pop that balloon with the pin of cold reality. "That's what you get for trying to have a storyline," he laughs.
Upstairs in the baby birthing section of the house, the two doctors begin to get in a fight over Sybil's care. Dr. Clarkson thinks that Sybil is suffering from eclampsia and needs to be taken to a hospital immediately for a cesarean.
Dr. Phillip, however, thinks Sybil is suffering from what male doctors in the medical community know as the "baby crazies" and thinks it's totally no big deal. Cora thinks that Clarkson is right, because he's known Sybil all her life and also because he is using actual medical terminology. Robert sides with Dr. Phillip, because he doesn't know much about crazy women things, but he does respect fancy doctors.
Unsurprisingly but very sadly, Dr. Clarkson turns out to be correct. Sybil successfully delivers a baby girl and everyone is wildly happy, no one more so than Tom. Wouldn't it figure that I finally find Sybil and Branson adorable in the episode and then she dies? He basically spends all episode looking terrified while he waits for the baby, which is super cute until it becomes super sad.
Sybil has a few conversations with Mary and Cora about how much she loves Tom and wants them to move forward, not backward. She also tells Mary that she wants the baby to be baptized Catholic, which she knows will be a bone of contention with her very non-Catholic father. The whole time, Sybil's biggest concerns are for Tom and her burgeoning family, which is all very sweet and very Sybil of her.
Hours after the baby is born, Sybil begins to go into seizures while the two trained medical professionals in the room just stare at her. I mean, I get that nothing can really be done at this point, but isn't there anything they can try besides standing and staring? I saw Jack Shephard do an emergency tracheotomy
with a pen on Lost
one time. They couldn't at least try something?
Tom cries, Cora cries, Edith and Mary cry and yet somehow Downton manages to not drown in a vat of tears. Edith and Mary stand over Sybil and realize it's the last time the three Crawley sisters will be together.
"She was the only person who always thought you and I were such nice people," Mary says in one of the episode's saddest and yet most hilarious lines. Edith asks if they can try to get along better, and Mary basically shoots her down because she's Edith, but they hug anyway.
I manage to hold it together until Cora goes to talk to Sybil on her deathbed, to say that Sybil will always be her baby girl. Then it's all tears for me. When did you guys start crying? Because every single person who watched this episode cried, I'm willing to bet nonexistent money on that.
Even the Dowager Countess has a mini-breakdown in the foyer before pulling herself together. She tells Robert not to blame himself, but it's clear that Cora already does. I'm sensing their marriage is about to go through a supremely rough patch.
When a beloved character dies, it's hard to put much stock in some of the thin downstairs storylines. Ethel goes to work for Isobel, and everyone says the word prostitute about a million times. Also, apparently you can catch prostitute just by being in the same room as a former lady of the streets, so Carson has quarantined Isobel's house until further notice. While Carson is laying down the law, Ethel is so terrible at cooking she can't even make a cup of tea right.
Meanwhile, O'Brien tells Jimmy to suck up to Thomas if he wants to get further in his career. Thomas, however, thinks that Jimmy is into his weasley ways and starts hitting on him in a really awkward and uncomfortable way. Who knew winding clocks could be filled with so much uncomfortable and unrequited sexual tension? Jimmy certainly didn't, but O'Brien pushes him to continue being nice to Thomas.
Speaking of Thomas, his reaction to Lady Sybil's death is perhaps one of the saddest and most poignant moments of the episode. Who knew Thomas had a heart? The show remembered the connection the two formed last season and pay it off in a heartbreaking way.
In The Bates Boring Jail Storyline o' the Week: Anna realizes Vera's friend implicated Vera in her own poisoning, thereby making it a suicide. It's pastry, my dear Watson!
Bates' cellmate is shady and working with a guard who I cannot for the life of me understand. Seriously, not a single word that man says is intelligible. Which is fine, because this is still all really boring. Wake me up when Bates gets out or someone gets shanked.The Mary and Matthew of It All
Matthew is wondering if his under-sergeant Crawley is still working, if you know what I mean, because Mary still isn't pregnant. Much like Robert (in 1920) and the House of Representatives (in 2012), basic parts of the human anatomy are just too icky to name aloud. Still, Dr. Phillip assures Matthew that his downstairs neighbor is probably working completely fine and he should stop stressing about it. Still, given the doctor's track record, Matthew should maybe seek a second opinion.
Matthew is also continuing his streak of bad timing by choosing the day after Sybil's death to talk to their lawyer, Mr. Murray, about the estate. When Mary overhears the conversation, she is furious. Matthew, dude, the telephone has officially been invented. You have no excuse for this nonsense.
What did you think of this week's episode? How shocked were you at Sybil's death? Are you angry the show killed her off? And at what point in the episode did you start crying? Share in the comments!
Want to keep up with all the dirt upstairs and downstairs? Then do as the Dowager Countess would do and add Downton Abbey to your very own watch-list so you'll never miss a dinner party. Download the BuddyTV Guide for free for your phone. (Image courtesy of PBS)