Downton Abbey: series 3 episode 6


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: 21 October 2012, ITV.

Sybil has been buried, but the family disagree over her baby daughter’s future. Also, Cora’s still giving Robert the cold shoulder, Mrs Patmore helps Ethel cook a feast, while Alfred and Jimmy both flirt with new kitchen maid Ivy… and Thomas flirts with Jimmy.

When is it set? A few days have passed since the last episode, so we’re still in the middle of 1920.

Where is it set? The house. Isobel’s house. The village. The prison. Violet’s house. Mrs Bartlet’s house in London.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* There’s mention of a wet nurse called Mrs Rose, who’s looking after Sybil and Tom’s infant daughter.
* Daisy goes to visit her father-in-law, Mr Mason, and he asks her to help run his farm. He wants her to be his heir. Daisy is typically ungrateful. 

Best bits:
* The family assume that Sybil’s daughter will be christened, but then Tom says she will be raised Catholic. “He wants the child to be a left-footer!” says Robert, disgusted.
* Isobel, in an attempt to cheer up Cora, invites her and “the girls” to lunch. But she hasn’t spotted that Violet is also in the room. “Do I count as one of the girls?” asks the Dowager, and Isobel flinches.
* Violet’s flustered reaction when Robert reveals that Ethel worked as a prostitute: “Well, you know, these days good servants are so hard to find…” Meanwhile, in a fuck-you to Robert, Cora treats Ethel with respect. (As a rule, the female characters are much more sympathetic towards Ethel than the men.)

Worst bits:
* In the argument over what religion the baby should be brought up in, Mary reveals that Sybil told her – on the day she died – that she wanted her child to be Catholic. Convenient. It’s almost like Sybil knew she was being written out.
* The servants discuss religion. “What do you feel about transubstantiation?” Thomas asks Alfred sarcastically.
* The Mr Bates subplot continues to drag. This week, his solicitor attempts to disprove the evidence of a key witness. The moment when he achieves it happens *off-screen*.

Real history:
* Robert says there hasn’t been a Catholic in his family since the Reformation.
* Mr Mason has seen the future: “Do you think these great house like Downton Abbey are gonna go on, just as they are, for another forty years? Because I don’t.” He’s not wrong.
* Mrs Hughes says that Sybil was a “bright young thing”. The phrase was a nickname given to rich socialites in the 1920s. Their scene was typified by parties, booze, drugs and dancing. Sybil was admittedly a bit of a rebel, but the label is still a bit of a stretch.

Upstairs, Downton: Ethel’s storyline is reminiscent of the Upstairs, Downstairs character Sarah (Pauline Collins), who starts out as a domestic servant, then sleeps with a ‘better’, leaves her job, has a child out of wedlock, and – controversially – returns to domestic service.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Violet wants Dr Clarkson to tell Cora that he couldn’t have saved Sybil. “So you want me to lie and say there was no chance at all?” he asks. “Lie is so unmusical a word,” she replies.

Review: The episode begins just after Sybil’s funeral: everyone is dressed in black, and religion dominates proceedings – especially an anti-Catholic prejudice.

Next episode…


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