Tragedy Comes to Downton

Saddest. Episode. Ever.

For all the animosity between Daisy and Ivy, the new evidence coming to light to free Mr. Bates, O’Brien’s scheme with new footman Jimmy and Thomas taking shape, Ethel’s new job as Mrs. Crawley’s cook, and Matthew’s desire to modernize the estate, the only thing we can focus on in this episode, because it was so very heartbreaking, was (spoiler alert) Lady Sybil’s shocking death after having her baby.

I certainly didn’t see this twist coming. For all her rebelliousness, I think we as viewers took Lady Sybil for granted.  She was the fun-loving, peace-making sister, following her heart to the unsuitable man, and shaking the very proper core of her family by doing so. She was the progressive soul of the family, pushing the envelope as she embraced the independent-mindedness that was emerging for women during the 1920’s.  But even though she liked to rock the boat, her family was always willing to forgive her because she was and always would be the sweet and loving Sybil.

The question we are left with during this episode (among so many others) is whether or not Sybil’s death could have been prevented.  In true aristocratic snobby form, Lord Grantham brings in Sir Philip Tapsall, a highfalutin doctor who apparently births the babies of the rich and royal.  Lady Grantham is skeptical of this new doctor, thinking longtime family doctor, Dr. Clarkson, would be the best man for the job because he knows the family well when it comes to their health. When she pushes to have Dr. Clarkson on hand, Lord Grantham and Sir Philip balk at such a suggestion, thinking it an insult because the high and mighty Sir Philip apparently knows everything there is to know about medicine.  When Dr. Clarkson becomes alarmed at Sybil’s delirious state and swollen ankles, he warns that he believes she is becoming toxemic and may have eclampsia.  Sir Philip disagrees and Lord Grantham is predisposed to believe him, so he doesn’t heed Dr. Clarkson’s advice that Sybil needs to be brought to the hospital right away for a Caesarian section.  All seems well for a while as Sybil gives birth to a healthy baby girl until she begins to have seizures in the middle of the night.  It turns out that Dr. Clarkson was right, and there is nothing they can do to save her. We watch in shock, along with the rest of family, as Sybil struggles violently to stay alive, dying in the arms of her husband as the wails of her newborn child ring through the Abbey.  My eyes were certainly not dry during this episode.

This turn of events seems to set up a turning point for the Crawleys. Lord and Lady Grantham are both distraught, with Lady Grantham blaming Lord Grantham for Sybil’s death.  How will this affect their marriage?  We already knew this season of Downton Abbey was about change – and such a tragic turn will seemingly plot the course for the rest of the family, especially Branson, who probably expected to have his baby and move to Liverpool to live a humble life with Sybil. Now that Sybil is gone, what will he do?  I suspect the Crawleys won’t want to have their only grandchild far away from them, and they will want to keep Branson and the baby close by.

This episode featured some great lines:

  • When Lord Grantham expresses his displeasure at Edith being invited to write a column in a newspaper, she storms off with a satisfying, Jan Brady-like “I’m always a failure in this family!”
  • The Dowager Countess, upon learning of the invitation to Edith: “When may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage?”
  •  From Mrs. Hughes, on Sybil’s death: “The sweetest spirit under this roof is gone.” (Sob.)
  •  Edith to Mary, after Sybil’s death: “Do you think we’ll get along a little better in the future?”  Mary: “Probably not.”

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