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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User Rating:

Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 (60 Votes)

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


Oh Mary....Mary Mary Mary.... MUST you continue to take pot-shots at your sister when all she wants to do is love you? For those of you not keeping count, Mary has now verbally "tagged" Edith TWICE--including on her misbegotten wedding day. Karma is coming for you milady and it's gonna be a metaphorical gila monster (that's not hyperbole--I inadvertently read a spoiler). LOVED Isobel's backhanded insult to her uppity cook. Poor Daisy. Mrs P is right: being mean to Ivy won't make the footman take an interest in you; if anything, you'll drive him away with your abrasiveness. I wanna see if there are implications for that "doctor" who thought nothing was wrong with Lady Sybil (BTW, do all doctors attend home births in white tie?). In addition to causing Sybil's seemingly needless death, it's led to Robert being banished from the shared bedroom. 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.


"And Lord Grantham? What on earth has become of him during this season? He's unreasonable and subject to fits of insolence." What's happened? Well, the PLOT required him to act like a jerk. So even though such bratty, ego-driven behavior is not in keeping with what we've seen of him in the previous seasons, Julian Fellowes threw it in there -- simply to create drama. This is the hallmark of soap operas. In the past, Dowtonn Abbey has pretty successfully straddled the line between serious drama and ludicrous soap, but with season 3, it seems to have tipped over into the wrong side. I'm very sorry, because it's becoming rather ridiculous. Re Mary and Edith, Mary is just too proud and cold. Neither the happiness of her marriage to Matthew nor the loss of Sybil have softened her a bit.


Hated It When Sybil Died-Liked Her So Sad-Her Death Was Pointless She Dident Have To Die-When They Were All Crying-Couldent Help But Do The Same


Have you not seen the first season? Thomas was secretly sleeping with a man then... He most certainly is gay.


Sorry, just didn't come off as sarcasm to me. I did forget to say though that I agree about Thomas and his breakdown. He was right, out of all of them he probably spent the most time with her and outside of the servant/master relationship.


@Serenity, I know that Bates was Robert's valet. I was being a bit sarcastic in pointing out that it's been so long that he has been gone from the household that his return would ... oh never mind.


Not to be rude but I feel as if you haven't watched the past two seasons. I realize they were a while ago, but still. Bates was Robert's valet, the job Thomas now has. And Thomas has been shown in relationships or at least dalliances with men before, although I do believe those were at the beginning of the series. Anyway, this episode broke my heart. Sybil has been my favorite since the first epsiode and it was crushing to watch her die when she didn't have to. I knew Dr. Clarkson was right and that other guy was just a jerk. Clarkson knew Sybil better than the other doctor. Plus, shouldn't Cora have noticed something was wrong? She herself had three daughters and should know how labor goes. Sir Phillip kept using the excuse that Sybil was merely a woman in labor. It was very obvious that there was something more going on. Tom begging Sybil to breath was heartbreaking to watch, as was Mary and Edith's helplessness. I really wish Mary would get off her high horse. Edith has tried to be friends on several occassions. Edith does whine a bit but she has the right to. She was offered a wonderful opportunity and her father basically told her it was only because she was a lady of the gentry. Every time Edith tries to do something she gets shot down. When she wanted to learn to drive they all said it was ridiculous. When she wanted to help on a farm they said the same thing. When she wanted to marry an older gentleman her father made him go away. I think writing the column will be good for her and I think she will pick up where Sybil left off in being a modern woman. Lastly, Daisy needs some love. Poor girl always falls for the guys who don't like her. I think if she had been given the time she would have loved William. Sadly he passed away before she could and now she is trying to find someone. I don't see why the boys are all over Ivy. She's basically a taller, slightly fuller Daisy in looks. Daisy is less open though it seems. The best part of the night was definitely when Isobel stood her ground and let Mrs. Bird go.

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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