MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EPISODE 4 - PROCEED WITH CAUTION!
I think we need a group hug, my fellow Downtonites! I am supposed to be writing a recap of this week’s episode (the fourth of series three), but I’m too busy drying my tears and blowing my nose (Apologies to Lord Grantham who gets very squeamish when bodily functions are mentioned.) to focus on the task at hand. I shall endeavor to compose myself and carry on. Stiff upper lip and all that. Downton really was at its soapy best this week. There was drama, tragedy, love, loss, new beginnings, and sorrowful endings. Here are my impressions of all the sudsy storylines:
The Young and the Lifeless – The birth of Lady Sybil and Tom’s daughter is center stage this episode. When the hour starts, Sybil is being attended by Dr. Clarkson who assures the fretful family that the mother-to-be is just experiencing some false labor pains, nothing to be concerned about. <cue ominous music> Robert has doubts about Clarkson’s doctoring abilities (Lavinia died on his watch, after all, and he, also, declared Matthew permanently paralyzed and we all know how that turned out.) So, Lord G calls for Sir Philip Tapsell, a fancy London physician who’s helped other aristocratic ladies deliver healthy babies. Sir Philip has a very blasé attitude about Sybil’s condition once she goes into labor. Her ankles are swollen, and she’s babbling nonsense? Perfectly normal! You know how delicate women are! Dr. Clarkson thinks Sybil has eclampsia, which could be fatal to both mother and child, so he urges the family to transfer her to the hospital, where an emergency Caesarean can be performed. Cora is in favor of this, but Robert is on Sir Philip’s side (He doesn’t think Sybil has eclampsia and she’ll be fine delivering the baby at home.) Unfortunately, this is the one time that Dr. Clarkson makes a proper diagnosis. Although Sybil does deliver a healthy baby girl and seems to be fine afterwards, she starts screaming in pain and having seizures a few hours later.
I have to say that Sybil’s death scene is one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever seen on TV. It was truly upsetting, and everyone involved acted their butts off, especially Elizabeth McGovern. While the two doctors stand helplessly by, Cora screams for someone, anyone, to help Sybil. She tells Sybil to hold on, she’s going to be fine, and then after Sybil gasps her last breath, Cora collapses, sobbing on top of her daughter’s dead body. Absolutely heartbreaking, and an Emmy-worthy performance from Elizabeth. I should probably also mention that there are a lot of histrionics from Branson while his beloved shuffles off her mortal coil, but for some reason I wasn’t as affected by his lamentations. A mother’s grief trumps a husband’s, I guess.
If anything good came out of the youngest Crawley’s demise, it was that the loss bonded her combative sisters, Mary and Edith. The anguished ladies hug it out and vow that they will try to be nicer to each other for Sybil’s sake. A really touching moment that was lovely to see. Sadly, this tragedy seems to have driven a wedge between Cora and Robert. She blames him for their daughter’s death because he wouldn’t heed Dr. Clarkson’s warning, and Robert doesn’t disagree with her. I think he’ll be carrying around some major guilt for the rest of his life over this (as he should.)
All My Footmen – Poor Man’s Simon Baker aka new footman, James, has caught Thomas’ eye, and O’Brien keeps encouraging James to ask Thomas for help. This results in Thomas giving James a very handsy demonstration of how to wind a clock. I haven’t seen a scene with that much slashy goodness since Queer as Folk was on the air! But Poor Man’s Simon Baker isn’t feeling Thomas, in fact he’s getting a little creeped out by the valet’s “familiarity” and he makes a comment to Mrs. O about it. She just smiles evilly and encourages him to stay on Thomas’ good side so that Thomas will talk him up to Lord G.
New kitchen maid Ivy, also, has hot pants for James, but he seems to be oblivious to her flirting while she ignores Alfred’s obvious crush on her. Daisy’s pining for Alfred, and she’s mean to Ivy because she sees that Alfred is smitten with the other girl. It’s a love quadrangle (or pentagon if you want to include Thomas) worthy of Melrose Place circa 1993.
I have to give a shout-out to Rob-James Collier for his performance this week. He did such a great job in the scene where Thomas broke down over Lady Sybil’s death, claiming that Sybil was one of the few people in his life who’d ever been kind to him. Nice to see a character, who’s usually stuck in one gear (self-serving) show vulnerability and grief. Anna proved herself to be incredibly kindhearted by offering Thomas comfort in his time of need.
One Prison Term to Serve – Yes, the Bates in jail storyline is still going on. Altogether now . . . GROAN Anna thinks that if Vera’s friend and neighbor, Mrs. Bartlett, will give a sworn statement that she saw Vera making the pie that later killed her, it will prove once and for all that Vera poisoned herself and Bates will be exonerated. Problem is they don’t think Mrs. Bartlett will give a statement if she thinks it will help Bates out as she’s still Team Vera. Whatever. Just resolve this painfully boring storyline off-screen and don’t take up any more air time with it, I beg you, writers. Oh, and Bates’ ex-cellmate and one of the guards are still conspiring against him. Why? Who knows? Who cares?
As the Prostitute Turns – A newly child-free Ethel accepts an offer of employment from Isobel, but there’s some major fallout when Mrs. Bird, Isobel’s cook, quits in protest (She has to protect her good name and refuses to be associated with a former ho.) Mrs. Bird doesn’t go quietly either. She sends a letter to Mrs. Hughes and Carson, warning them about the corrupting influence who now resides at Crawley House. Carson is outraged, appalled, and adamant that no one on the Downton staff is allowed to step foot in Crawley House while Ethel is there. Mrs. Hughes thinks that’s a bit harsh, but she agrees that Isobel probably didn’t do the right thing in hiring someone with Edith’s checkered past. Isobel seems to be regretting her decision, as well, since Ethel is a disaster in the kitchen and is doing crazy things, like putting honey in Isobel’s tea (GASP!)
The Cold and the Beautiful – Guess how Lady Mary reacts to her sister’s death? She becomes even bitchier and more judgmental than usual! When she walks into the parlor and finds Matthew talking with the family solicitor about plans to change the way Downton’s run, Mary flips her lid and by “flips her lid” I mean, she gets all pinch-faced and icily reprimands the two men, invites their guest to leave, and accuses her husband of trying to take Downton away from her father while he’s still reeling from the loss of Sybil. Properly chastened, Matthew stumbles over an apology and looks like a kicked puppy (He’s just trying to save your family home, Mary!) If Matthew was too anxious to impregnate Mary before (This was Sir Philip’s diagnosis of why they weren’t having any luck in the fertility department.), then I’m sure that Mary’s tongue-lashing won’t help matters. Of course, they may want to reconsider the whole procreation thing after what happened to poor Sybil.
Days of our Column-Writing Spinsters – Remember way back in the first series when Edith penned that letter to the Turkish embassy telling them about Mary’s involvement in the death of Pamuk? Well, that was foreshadowing, Downtonites! Turns out that our Edith has mad writing skillz. That letter she wrote to The Times about women’s rights last week impressed an editor at some publication called “The Sketch.” That name makes me think this paper is some kind of tabloid, but for now let’s just be happy that someone appreciates Edith and wants to offer her a job as columnist. Way to make a comeback from getting dumped at the altar, Edith! Matthew is thrilled for his sis-in-law, but Robert has to ruin it by saying something negative and more or less forbidding Edith to do it. Such a party pooper! The Dowager Countess is similarly disparaging when she hears about the column. “When may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage?” Come on, Vi, you told Edith to find an occupation. Be supportive! I am really looking forward to seeing how this storyline pans out. It’s about time Edith spread her wings and did something with her life.
I will end this recap with one of Lady Violet’s zingers (Yes, she still managed to lob a few despite the dramatic mood of the episode.)
“If there’s one thing I’m quite indifferent to, it’s Sir Philip Tapsell’s feelings.”
The #DowntonGala party will continue next week with a recap written by Canadian Chick Lit author, Cat Lavoie. If you’d like to check out some fabulous and clever recaps from previous weeks, click on the links below. And please share your thoughts and feelings about episode four below. Thanks for stopping by!
Episode 1 - Laura Chapman
Episode 1 - Elizabeth Marx
Episode 2 - Tracey Livesay
Episode 3 - Meredith Schorr
Episode 4 - Me!
Episode 5 - Cat Lavoie (Coming on Feb. 4th)
Episode 6 - Jen Coffeen (Coming on Feb. 11th)
Episode 7 - Jenny Gardiner (Coming on Feb. 18th)
Episode 7 - Jen Tucker (Coming on Feb. 18th)