SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.
Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Jeremy Webb. Originally broadcast: 14 October 2012, ITV.
New servants Jimmy and Ivy settle in, Matthew has bold ideas about how to run the estate, and Lady Sybil suffers a traumatic labour…
When is it set? Not long has passed since the previous episode, so mid-1920. We’re told that Bates was arrested “a year ago” – and that was in April 1919.
Where is it set? The house. Bates’s prison. Isobel’s house. The estate.
Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Isobel hires former prostitute Ethel to work at her house. The cook, Mrs Bird, responds by quitting because she doesn’t want people thinking that she too is a fallen woman. “Nobody could look at you and think that,” deadpans Isobel.
* Sir Philip Tapsel (Tim Piggot-Smith) is a physician brought to the house to oversee Sybil’s labour. Dr Clarkson gets the hump at being superseded, though is on hand to point out that things are not going well: Sybil’s ankles are swollen and she seems muddled. Sir Philip doesn’t think this is a problem, but Dr C reckons she’s toxemic with the possibility of eclampsia and wants to move her to a hospital. Sir Philip says no and…
* …Sybil gives birth to a girl…
* …then in the middle of the night, Sybil’s in awful pain. It’s the eclampsia that Sir Philip insisted wouldn’t happen. “Once the seizures have started,” says Dr Clarkson sadly, “there’s nothing to be done…” Sybil dies a few moments later.
* Miss O’Brien says Thomas Barrow is a “clock expert”. Well, nearly. (This week, Thomas is enamored with new footman Jimmy and even gets flirty. This makes manly man Jim uncomfortable.)
* Isobel calling her cook’s bluff and accepting her resignation.
* Cora sticking up for Dr Clarkson when he disagrees with Sir Philip.
* Sybil’s death scene is *intense*. For a show dominated by stiff-upper-lipped-ness, it’s raw and emotional to see characters such as Tom and Cora balling their eyes out. After Sybil has passed away, we cut to downstairs: the servants are told and there’s shock all round. Thomas Barrow is distraught because he knew Sybil relatively well.
* The last scene of the episode is Cora coldly announcing that she blames Sir Philip and Robert for her daughter’s death.
* Robert points out that Dr Clarkson misdiagnosed Matthew’s paralysis and missed the warning signs of Lavinia’s fatal flu. Probably not the best idea to draw attention to such things.
* Robert says Sybil is 24 years old. In a series-two episode, which is set just a year before this one, we were told she was 21.
* When Edith is asked to write a newspaper column, she says it’ll cover modern women’s issues – not the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Maggie Smithism of the week: When Dr Clarkson starts mentioning things such as urine, Robert blanches and asks him to remember that his mother is present. She’s not bothered, though: “A woman of my age can face reality far better than most men,” she says.
Mary’s men: Mary tells her sister Sybil that she wants to have a baby soon. While Sir Philip is at the house, Matthew takes the chance to ask him whether his wartime paralysis could have affected his fertility. He and Mary have had no luck after a few months of marriage. Matthew also talks to the family solicitor about his plans for the estate – and Mary’s not happy that he’s doing it the day after Sybil’s died.
Review: At the start of Downton Abbey the regular cast signed three-year contracts. As the end of that period approached, a number of actors decided to move onto pastures new – and here’s the first loss. In truth, Sybil’s never been the strongest character and, after her romance with Tom the chauffeur was revealed to the family, she’s faded into the background. But she gets a good exit: this episode is a barnstormer of melodrama.