Downton Abbey Review: Goodbye to a Lady

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It's difficult to appreciate the smaller stories that appeared in episode 304 of Downton Abbey, when the life of a beloved character was hanging in the hands of an arrogant interloper and ultimately lost to that very man. That's right. Tonight we lost Lady Sybil in childbirth. The worst part was that her death was in vain.

Whoever the hell Sir Phillip was, Doctor Clarkson had known the girls since birth and his experience and knowledge of Sybil could have saved her life. As he laid very plausible medical questions on the table, Sir Phillip tossed back quips such as "Well, maybe she has thick ankles. Many women do." Guess what, Phil, DR. CLARKSON HAD SEEN SYBIL'S ANKLES ALL HER LIFE!.

And Lord Grantham? What on earth has become of him during this season? He's unreasonable and subject to fits of insolence.

Lady Sybil

When his wife and the husband of his daughter were begging for her to be taken to the hospital and looked after properly, he had no right to stomp his feet like a child and demand his word be heeded just because he was the man of the house.

The false alarm of happiness at the birth of a healthy baby girl for new parents Sybil and Tom was ominous, as Sybil talked to Cora about Tom's future, trying to ensure she would do what was best for him and not allow him to take matters into his own hands. She was still not in her right mind, and the description was apt as she pounded at the pain in her head later that evening. Once it was too late, as they all watched Sybil succumb to ecalmpsia, it was difficult to feel anything but anger toward the Earl of Grantham.

There were tears at Sybil's death, of course. But it was the reaction around Downton that brought the buckets. Thomas Barrow bawling, without thought for himself, was surely a scene to behold. It brought out a side of him we've never seen, and allowed me to open my heart to him just a little bit.

Cora, oh Cora. A part of her had to look back upon that conversation she had with Sybil before she went to sleep, so happy at the birth of her granddaughter, and realize it was her last. She knowingly spoke to Sybil one last time, after her death, calling her her baby, assuring her she would look after her husband and daughter as she promised just hours earlier. It was the last time she would ever be alone with her baby girl, and she was infused with pain, wanting to cherish the last moments. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking.

What could possibly mend the rift between Cora and Robert after what happened on that fateful evening? Even though nobody seemed to understand what Cora was talking about when she said Sir Phillip and Robert were the cause of Sybil's death, Robert himself understood. No doubt he'll spend the rest of his life regretting the things he did wrong. I don't envy the uphill battle he will have to fight to win back Cora's affections and trust, nor the replaying of that night over and over throughout the remainder of his life.

Even in the wake of losing their sister, Mary still couldn't promise to like Edith in the future. It was rather upsetting, as she appears unwilling to budge even slightly, but without reason. Yes, they're different, but there is hardly a gulf between them. We've seen Edith hold out the olive branch more than once and in return she gets exchanges as you can see in one of the Downton Abbey quotes that follows. I wonder what cataclysmic event, if not the death of a beloved sister, could possibly move Mary to reach out to Edith.

Mary: She was the only person living who always thought you and I were such nice people.
Edith: Oh Mary. Do you think we might get along a little better in the future?
Mary: I doubt it. But since this is the last time we three will all be together in this life, let's love each other now, as sisters should. | permalink

Other things around Downton:

They seem so petty in comparison to the loss of Lady Sybil, but there were some other items of note. Here we go!

  • Can you even imagine living in a world when the winding of a clock came down to a certain member of the staff? So certain that it would be wrong for a valet to do it, and it would be the absolute marking of the first footman? Keep in mind, this was occurring less than 100 years ago. We might complain about the lives we live now, but contrast to how things were our opportunities are boundless.
  • Edith was asked to write a column in a local Yorkshire paper, but even then Robert and Violet made her feel foolish. Something big has to be coming her way. Yes, Sybil died, but Edith is left to suffer the indignities of being the unfavored Lady of Downton.
  • After Isobel offered Ethel a job, it gave me great joy to watch her gently shuffle Mrs. Bird out the door, even giving her a backhanded insult by assuring her nobody who looked at her would ever assume she was making her living as a lady of ill repute.
  • Poor Daisy was still watching Alfred and Jimmy prance around Ivy in the kitchen. Mrs. Patmore rightly pointed out that Alfred wasn't going to like her more for being mean to Ivy, so it was kind of pointless to take it out on her. It would be nice to see Daisy and Ivy become friends instead of the kitchen girls always fighting each other for the newest men on the canvas. It's a dog eat dog world in there!
  • Poor Matthew. He was worried about his fertility because he and Mary aren't starting a family after just a couple months. Geez, dude, give yourself a break! It takes about a month to find out so two months in isn't really the time to start worrying!
  • Bates finally realized the key to his freedom with the information he received from Anna's detective work. The poison Vera ingested was in the very crust she was using to bake a pie while Bates was on a train! He couldn't have put the poison in there, because the pie had already been baked. Or something. Okay, I didn't really follow the logic, but for them it was an aha moment. I can't even remember what Bates did when he was free. Will Carson be out of a job when he's out of prison?
  • Matthew wants to start running Downton like a business. Renting out land for farming and such. Something tells me that will be a sticking point between he and the family, but they have to get their financial situation in order, and nobody seems to have come up with a better idea. He doesn't want to put anybody out, just start using the land. Aristocracy must give way to the middle class.
  • Was Thomas snuggling up to Jimmy when he was helping him with the clock? Are we about to be introduced to the first homosexual story line on Downton? I surely got that feeling, as did Jimmy, from what I could ascertain. It would explain a lot about why Thomas is such a pain if he's been hiding a part of himself and was afraid to open up.

Despite the fact Downton Abbey aired in the fall in the United Kingdom, I did my best to avoid spoilers, and I was utterly surprised at the death of Lady Sybil. I truly had no idea she was going to die and that made this episode very powerful.

However, I know some of you LOVE to be spoiled. You lucky dogs, there is some major Downton Abbey Season 4 scoop revealed about Series 4 and 5, so read at your own risk! In the meantime, would you blame Robert if you were Cora? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


Also, I hope that Cora keeps Lord G away from her bed for a good long time, because he's a fool and he is clearly partially responsible for his daughter's death. I am also wondering, along with the reviewer, why Branson was such a mess and so worthless during his wife's labor and delivery. The men all seemed to be stupid and the women ineffectual for some reason. And yes, please, lets bring the prison Bates/Anna storyline to a close, please, soon! It is getting a bit tedious. I am with the folks who think Isobel is a true heroine for hiring Ethel and basically telling her prejudiced snooty old cook to take a hike. I would also like to see Mary soften up a bit towards her only living sister. It's time to bury the hatchet, Mary, and allow for forgiveness.


KansasGuest, I'm not sure I agree with you regarding Sybil's prenatal care. Sybil essentially renounced her inheritance in marrying Tom and while Robert did provide her with "some money...not much", I doubt it would have been sufficient to pay for doctors; only at Downton Abbey would her medical care be of no cost to her (with Robert presumably picking up the tab).


What a horribly depressing and gut-wrenching episode! I sobbed so hard when Cora called her dead daughter her "baby" because that is what I think of when I look at my teenage son; in my heart, he's still my baby boy, born 2 months premature via an emergency c-section. I can't imagine the pain and suffering of women in labor back before they had modern medicine and Neonatal Intensive Care Units and spinal blocks or other medication to make the mother more comfortable and make labor bearable. Just devastating. And I find that I dislike Lord Grantham more and more this season, as he seems to be an overly prideful idiot who can't run his own estate and believes every snotty Sir Whatever who comes along, just because of his class, regardless of whether he's a decent physician.


...and no comment board would be complete without "Jeremy" whoring himself for DISH.


You asked if we'd blame Robert for Sybil's death if we were Cora. YES! But to be fair, if *I* were Cora I wouldn't have stood for all that "I'm the man of the house" crap. I would have said, "You may be the man of the house. But, you have no experience giving birth to the children who live here. I do and have, and you need to listen to ME, your wife who has given you 3 healthy children." Goodness, Cora asserted herself quite well during WWI when the house was turned into a convalescent home. Plus, it was shown that Robert wasn't comfortable with the details of childbirth. IMO, Robert would have let Cora lead in this situation just because it dealt with childbirth.


CONTINUED FROM BELOW...That O'Brien sure knows how to get to Thomas. I don't think there will be any gay romance on DA since Jimmy seems to like the ladies. But, Thomas' unwanted interest could get him fired. Can't really blame him or Ivy though. Jimmy looks like a young Simon Baker (on CBS' THE MENTALIST) when he smiles, which is always a good thing.


CONTINUED...In Sir Phillip's defense, Sybil's prenatal care was all over the place literally, and no woman has exactly the same labor as another. I've given birth twice, and my labors & pregnancies were nothing similar to my sisters'. If Sybil had any sort of prenatal care, he doctor was probably back in Ireland along with any medical records that could have shed light on any symptoms related to toxemia/eclampsia. What it really came down to is that Robert demanded that his word be honored during the delivery when he had nothing to do with it. Wasn't it a little uncharacteristic of Tom, who has had no qualms about getting in Robert's face before, being a dithering mess during the entire delivery? Of all people, I would have thought he'd be the one to say, "GET MY WIFE SOME HELP, DAMMIT, OR I'LL DRIVE HER TO THE HOSPITAL MYSELF!" He was a chaueffer after all. But, this is Julian Fellowes' drama, and Lady Sybil is dead. Too sad. That O'Brien sure knows how to get to Thomas. I don't see how his infatuation with Jimmy, the new footman, will go anywhere if Jimmy is attracted to the ladies. But, it may get Thomas fired. BTW, I think Jimmy looks like a young Simon Baker (THE MENTALIST) when he smiles, which is not a bad thing. Can't blame Thomas or Ivy one bit for flirting with him!


Such a good episode with a heartbreaking development for the family. I don't see Robert or Mary's attitudes as being a "sudden change" at all for the characters. During the course of the entire series (all 3 seasons), it's been clear that these two stand for the traditional ways of the aristocracy. They are being dragged, kicking & screaming, into a more progressive era by their family members & their financial situation. They seem more prone to *react* to situations rather than act before things get really dire. Unfortunately, in Sybil's case, this tug-of-war between aristocratic know-it-all (represented by Robert & the doctor in white tie) and doing what mother knows best (represented by Cora & Dr. Clarkson) resulted in a thoroughly preventable death...CONTINUED ABOVE


But Thomas IS gay; remember we saw him talk to a male houseguest about their summer romance? The guest was titled, I think, and told Thomas in no uncertain terms theirs had been merely a fling. Thomas was hinting he wanted to be the man's valet.


(continued) Thomas, so you DO have a heart after all? I haven't seen you weep like that since that blind soldier committed suicide. Meanwhile, are you SURE flirting with the footman is the best career move? Anna / Bates...oh just END this ridiculous story line already.

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Downton Abbey Season 3 Episode 4 Quotes

I think he harks business with being mean, or worse; middle class, like me.


You better ask Mr. Barrow. He's the clock expert. He's the clock expert, but of course, it's quite wrong for a valet to do it.

Miss O'Brien