Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Downton Abbey Series 3, Part 4

This week's installment of Downton Abbey saw the Crawley family tragically, irreversibly changed. And as difficult as it was to see that happen, from a dramatic standpoint I thought it was extraordinarily well-done and, honestly, much-needed. As gut-wrenching as it was to see the impact of such shattering grief on the family, this is something they cannot simply ignore and magically recover from with little lasting effect. This loss has the potential power to change the trajectory of character storylines and reset the future of at least one major player -- and in my opinion, as far the sustainability of the show is concerned, that is a good thing.

But before we talk about the EPIC SADNESS, let's try and get most everything else out of the way first, shall we? First of all, Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt) are happy as CLAMS now that he's back in the good graces of the prison powers-that-be and able to receive letters and visitors. I am not really clear about why his cellmate is BFF's with a corrupt prison guard, and why the care so much about making Bates's life miserable -- probably because I don't really care. I mean, whatevs...FREE BATES already, dangit! *wink* Anna has apparently hit on a new theory that, if they can prove and document it, may actually prove her honey's innocence. Remember earlier in the season when Anna visited Vera's own BFF, who no surprise LOATHED the very mention of Bates's name? Apparently she dropped the clue that Vera was last seen scrubbing pastry dough from her hands -- activity that took place AFTER Bates had left her to return to Downton. So, WAIT FOR IT...apparently we're supposed to believe that Vera POISONED HERSELF in order to ruin her estranged husband's life from BEYOND THE GRAVE. *sigh*

The crazy thing is, in this world Fellowes has created that actually seems reasonable in some strange way. :P So, filled with a fresh sense of purpose, Anna takes her theory back to Lord Grantham who passes it on to his lawyer who will then go see Bates himself, because DANGIT the conventions of the social hierarchy MUST BE OBSERVED!

In other downstairs-related action, Thomas (Rob James-Collier) continues to take more than a passing professional interest in Jimmy (Ed Speleers), Downton's latest footman. O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), ever crafty, continues her long-term game to wreck Thomas for making life difficult for her nephew, Alfred. She takes note of Thomas's interest and does her best to encourage Jimmy to seek Thomas's favor, playing up the latter's influence in the household as Lord Grantham's valet. While Jimmy wants to get ahead, he quickly becomes increasingly uncomfortable with Thomas's "attentiveness." People, when this blows up I have a feeling it is going to be bad.

Daisy (Sophie McShera) seems to be letting the authority that comes with her new promotion to assistant cook go to her head, as she is determined to make new kitchen maid Ivy's (Cara Theobold) life as difficult as possible -- all because Alfred (Matt Milne) is clearly smitten with her. What she doesn't realize is that Ivy only has eyes for Jimmy, and by giving Ivy never-ending heck all she's doing is alienating Alfred by acting like a shrew. POOR DAISY. I am DYING for her to get a little romance on this show and it just kills me to see her feelings for Alfred as yet unrequited. Props to Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nichol) for trying to make Daisy aware of the problem...I love their relationship. :) (Also, I feel so bad for the downstairs takes three seasons for Daisy to get a costume change and when it comes it just involves wearing a cap?! LOL)

Down the road SCANDAL ERUPTS when Isobel (Penelope Wilton) decides to hire Ethel (Amy Nuttall) to work as a maid. While I think it is all well and good that she wants to help Ethel in this manner, how she can remain so clueless about the reaction of others to this news is BEYOND ME. When her housekeeper/cook Mrs. Bird (Christine Lohr) learns that she's supposed to work with an ex-prostitute, she gets the heck outta Dodge, but not before sending a note to her apparent BFF Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) with the scandalous news. Molesley takes the intel straight to Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), who is HORRIFIED, and honestly while the issue at hand is certainly serious, Carson's reaction is hilarious -- when he kept issuing orders that no maid, and then no footman, was to darken Mrs. Crawley's door, I cracked up. Downton is hardly immune to scandalous shenanigans, dear sir. *wink* I loved how Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) was so clearly unsettled by this development, yet tried to downplay the "scandal" at the same time. Awkward. :P

Okay, now to the difficult TRAGIC PARTS of this installment. *sobs* The arrival of Sybil's (Jessica Brown Findlay) baby is imminent, as Dr. Clarkson (David Robb) is called to Downton to assess her early labor pains (any clue how much time is supposed to have passed between this installment and the last? just wondering). Clarkson gives his super expert opinion that all is normal, only to have the air deflated from his happy prognosis by the news that Robert (Hugh Bonneville) has called in a high-end society obstetrician, Sir Philip Tapsell (Tim Pigott-Smith -- look! it's Margaret's father from North & South!). Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is taken aback, but Robert only says what I'm convinced EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER WATCHED THIS SHOW has been thinking, i.e. that Dr. Clarkson knows NEXT TO NOTHING. While I appreciate a character on the show finally addressing that elephant in the room, bringing in a specialist smacks of insisting that an archbishop marry Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary (Michelle Dockery)...a touch of snobbery.

Shortly thereafter Sir Philip arrives, and everyone is enjoying a formal dinner while upstairs Sybil is left with what, one nurse? Nuts. The disconnect between Sybil's labor and the regular society functions below was jarring, to say the least. Cora has insisted that Dr. Clarkson be present to consult (under the guise of not offending him, clever woman). Clarkson is growing increasingly concerned over Sybil's swollen ankles and increasingly muddled state, suspecting eclampsia -- while I cannot fathom the the pain of labor, I'm pretty sure one isn't supposed to hallucinate. It was just MADDENING to watch the smug Sir Philip dismiss Clarkson's concerns wholesale, THE ONE FRIGGIN' TIME THE MAN IS ACTUALLY RIGHT! *headdesk*

A family can be on edge in the best birthing scenario, but outside Sybil's room the situation quickly devolves into raucous contention over Clarkson's insistence that the lives of Sybil and her child are at risk and Sir Philip's assurance that "nature just needs to run its course." Despite the fact that -- in my view at any rate -- Tom (Allen Leech) should've been the one consulted about his wife's care, he is quite understandably nearly out of his head with fear -- and the contention between the pro-Clarkson Cora and the pro-Philip Robert takes SO LONG Sybil delivers a healthy baby girl, and the danger appears to have passed.

But late in the night Mary rushes to wake her mother as Sybil is in the throes of toxic seizures -- Clarkson was right and the eclampsia has taken hold, but advanced so far as to make treatment impossible. People, this scene was gut-wrenching!! Each and every cast member acted the absolute heck out of the moment -- the overwhelming horror of watching Sybil helplessly thrash about, gripped by seizures depriving her of was TERRIBLE. (I've gotta say, though, even if Clarkson and Philip could do NOTHING, I cannot believe that as doctors they'd just stand around like that...yeesh!)

More than Sybil's actual passing, what killed me was seeing the aftermath play out both upstairs and down. Cora's final vigil and promises to her baby girl DID ME IN. Elizabeth McGovern has been given -- at last -- some really strong material to work with this season, adding much needed depth and passion to Cora as both a countess and, more than that, a devoted mother. Likewise the usually almost effervescent Violet (Maggie Smith), always ready with a quip or comeback, is devastated by Sybil's loss -- so much emotion conveyed in just Violet's stance and walk! Maggie Smith, you are superb. I suspect that Branson has gained in Cora an unexpectedly staunch -- and much-needed -- ally in the family, and I look forward to seeing their relationship play out. Branson has been absolutely gutted over these last two episodes, and I'm curious and hopeful that Fellowes will use him as an example, if you will, of a man's ability to transcend social mores and remake himself at the beginning of the twentieth-century.

Downstairs, the ever-faithful Carson, longest-serving staff member, is gutted as he's known Sybil since she was born -- I'm sure looking on all of the Crawley girls as the closest he'll ever come to having grandchildren of his own. I was taken aback by just how deeply Thomas felt Sybil's loss -- clearly the time they spent working in the hospital during the war was a more precious memory to him than I ever realized, its impact powerfully told by Thomas's unexpected tears. Color me shocked, people, but Thomas is actually getting layers this season. I love it. :)

Mary and Edith's (Laura Carmichael) reaction to the loss of their youngest sister was perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious moment of the episode, as Mary exclaims that OMG THE ONLY PERSON WHO THOUGHT WE WERE NICE IS DEAD!!! And Edith is apparently grief-stricken enough she wonders, she actually wonders, DO YOU THINK WE'LL BE NICE TO EACH OTHER NOW? When Mary basically says HECK NO I could've died laughing. While coping with change is a major theme this season, apparently there are some sacrosanct constants where this show is concerned that will remain unchanged. *wink* (Whoops, almost forgot to mention Edith's pre-tragedy big news -- someone wants her to write a regular NEWSPAPER COLUMN!!! You go, girl!)

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the episode for me came in the final moments, when the seemingly stoic, almost shell-shocked Cora lets loose a brief but jarring verbal tirade blaming Robert for Sybil's death. Their marriage has always been, for the most part, remarkably solid throughout the series' run, so much so that  my heart quakes a bit thinking about this rift. In the show's first two seasons Cora was always the epitome of grace and class -- I don't know if the earlier arrival of her oh-so-American mother played a role in Cora's new fire, but she is fast becoming one of this season's most richly drawn and multi-faceted characters. I love that. And while I am also quite fond of Robert, the man has got to wake up and realize he stands not just in danger of losing his home but his family if he doesn't open  himself to change, and soon. (Though seriously, what was with Matthew thinking the DAY the funeral home or whatever comes to take away Sybil's body is the day to discuss the sweeping reforms he'd like to see initiated at Downton with the family solicitor. As much as Mary and Robert need to wake up and realize the man has a point, that was pretty tactless. :P)

Thoughts? As always I love to discuss! :)


Debra E. Marvin said...

I have to say I laughed out loud when Mrs Bird expressed her concern over her own reputation. Isobel says "No one could look at you and think that, Mrs. Bird."

Oh - I so agree on the point of Maggie Smith's walk across the room. that really tore me up.

Being the disgustingly practical person I am, I didn't see the problem with Matthew telling the lawyer that they needed to talk. No one else was willing and he knew he had an ally right in front of him. Yes, he should have then said, another time... but it really was only a minute of conversation.

I LOVE what they did to add conflict. Cora and Tom will be central figures in this.

Isobel has never really cared what people thought of her since the first Dowager Zinger! "you may call me Lady Grantham."

oh- the cellmate and bad guard mentioned Mrs. Bartlett. did you catch that? Why, and How? makes no sense how they know about her or why they are so after Bates. Will she be silenced or is she the bad prison guard's aunt?

My last tacky comment: that death scene was incredible. (gut wrenching but wow!) I imagine that the 'argument' scene in the hallway had a lot of us adding our own loud voices. I know I was shouting at the screen!


Anne Mateer said...

Oh, where to begin!

I really, really thought Sybil would go to the brink of death and come back, so when she was gone I was STUNNED. I couldn't even cry! Not until Mary and Edith hugged each other. Then I bawled through the rest of the show, especially when even Violet faltered.

I think Cora's anger at Robert is completely justified and I think Mary being perturbed over Matthew's interest in the estate being run better is ridiculous! She's got to let that go. Matthew is right--if she wants her children to live there, then the issue must be addressed, even with grief in the house.

Oh, Daisy! I wanted to say to her exactly what Mrs. Patmore did! I love that lady!

And don't get me started on Mrs. Crawley. I think she is actually more arrogant than any of the ones that live in the big house. She's like a bull in a china shop. I dont' have a problem with her wanting to help Ethel, but to just shrug her shoulders and let Mrs. Bird go was completely unfeeling. And while Mrs. Hughes hated that Ethel gave up her child, she realized the practical reality whereas Mrs. Crawley, who always thinks she knows best, has no idea what reality is for Ethel--although now that she's hired her, she's about to find out! I wonder what will happen with Ethel's child. Obviously that isn't the end of it.

Ok, I'm done for now. Except I'm soooo worried about Bates and worried that Matthew and Mary won't be able to have a baby!

Can't wait for Sunday!

Unknown said...

@Debra - Oh that moment with poor Mrs. Bird was HILARIOUS.

I really don't have a problem with Matthew talking to the lawyer, either...I just think maybe he is a little overwhelmed? And he's letting that impair his judgement...because I would hope that after two and a half seasons with this family he'd realize that he'd get farther making his move(s) VERY QUIETLY. ;)

Isobel is a twit. :P

I didn't catch the cellmate and guard mentioning Mrs. Bartlett -- so there IS a connection! That's interesting...I'm curious to know if this is just a revenge scheme w/ the three of them or if something bigger is in play...??

@Anne - Completely agree with you about Cora! And I do agree with you about Mary -- I just think by this point Matthew would figure out that he'd get a LOT farther playing his cards close to the vest and oh so very quietly, you know?

I LOVE every single thing you said about Mrs. Crawley. She is SUCH a piece of work. Any blowback she gets for her decisions this season is pretty well deserved IMO!

I'm a little more worried that Mary won't WANT to have a baby after this Sybil situation... :P

Kristin said...

Good grief, I'm tearing up again just reading your review! :) I wanted one of the men to beat up the doctors when they were just standing there worthlessly. Sheesh. And goodness, it was shocking to see Violet looking so elderly and frail- so unlike her usual self.

To be honest, I bought the DVD yesterday and had a Downton marathon all evening, starting with this episode and watching through to the end. I couldn't resist...I was going to try and spread the episodes out over a couple of days but once I got started I just kept watching! Let me tell you, I went through lots of tissues. Then I followed it up with my Doctor Who disc from Netflix, which just happened to be the season 4 finale. Many tears all around...clearly I like to torture myself. :)


Debra E. Marvin said...

They are doubling up the second to last week this year, and then end with the 90 min finale. I guess we're at the mid way point already. Darn!

I pick up a lot more dialogue because I listen to it online with headphones while doing other mundane computer work. That's how I picked up on the guard's remarks.

Matthew didn't just marry Mary, he married "the firm". If he starts to really wear the pants in the family, he'll be head-to-head with Robert (heretofore his biggest fan).
Like I said...delicious conflicts everywhere. Will anyone be happy by the end of the season?

Kristen--don't answer that!

I'm thinking of a Downton Abbey season 6 - WWII, Dowager Countess Cora, her grandchildren are off to war, Sybil Jr. is a nurse. Edith is living in NYC. After all, it doesn't look like Cora's brother has any heirs... Edith might as well use that house in Newport and be the happiest Crawley girl after all.

Anonymous said...

Your use of the word "gutted" was perfect in regards to Sybil's death & subsequent tidal waves across
I agree on every point--although I did think how the sisters said goodbye was somewhat essence it was very much just "them." And it showed that, less than 24hrs later, they were still processing, numb.
Matthew leaning against the bed post as if in pain watching Sybil die. *Sob*
Tom crying & shaking Sybil, "Please love, please, please don't leave me." *Hiding in pillow now to SOB the night away*
And that ending shot of Tom holding the baby {named Sybil, btw. Nicknamed/referred to as "Sybie" from here on in} was just...gah. Not fair. A beautiful heartwrenching episode...
And you're right--every single person acted the HECK out of their performances in this episode!

Jess said...

Yay! I haunt your blog from Monday morning on ;)
I know what you mean--I'm dying for Daisy and Alfred to work out! Poor Daisy, Ivy comes in at the most terrible moment, doesn't she?
The whole Ethel storyline got strange here, to me. Isobel is so adamant to help her out, practically alienating her own family. . . I'm still rather undecided about the whole thing :S

And omigosh, the frustration at Sir Philip (aka Mr. Hale, lol, that's what I said when I watched it, too ;) ) being so terribly adamant against Dr. Clarkson's valid concerns! I was preparing myself for the death of one of my favorite characters throughout the entire season, but still. . .
Branson broke my heart. I'm so glad he has little Sybbie.
The end.

Oh, I'm glad I'm not the only one who was struck rather oddly by Mary's words after Sybil's death! In spite of it, though, it was heartbreaking when Mary realized it was the last time the three would be together. I didn't even realize I'd wanted to see a sisterly moment between Edith and Mary, but now that it's happened, that's exactly what I've been waiting for.
Poor Matthew, his attempts to fix household management were badly ill-timed. It's rather a bad omen, I think, and sets the stage rather well for that minor plotline.
I thought Mary would murder him when she burst in on him and the err. . . whats-his-name discussing plans!
Can't wait to see your review next week :)

Debra E. Marvin said...

It was incredible to listen to and not watch their faces, just hearing them. While chaos is going on, Tom was just begging her the whole time. Allen Leech has had to cry a few times. I often think it would be very difficult to do.

I've wanted to search online about news of Jessica F. B to find out what's next for her (as I knew what was going to happen, I noticed that she wasn't in the states for the Season 3 cast tour)
BUT I've already been spoiled enough about the ending and I hope there's still some surprises for me.
She's a beautiful girl and brought so much to that role.

Lori Benton said...

I can see all the dramatic possibilities it created (and I care more about Branson now than I did before this ep), but overall I'm disappointed and I don't think that's going to change. I'll keep watching, for now, hoping Branson remains in the show.

Gina said...

"Apparently we're supposed to believe that Vera POISONED HERSELF in order to ruin her estranged husband's life from BEYOND THE GRAVE."

Well, it worked in "Rebecca" . . . :-)

Great review!

Unknown said...

@Kristin - Ohmygoodness, you are hitting it hard this week with the BBC emotional drama aren't you? Tennant's final Who episodes STILL do me in, all these years later.

@Debra - Yep! Only three more weeks in broadcast form!

I agree with you about the Matthew/Robert potential for conflict...hopefully that is explored further! And I REALLY hope Edith gets some drama in her life! :)

@Meghan - The Mary/Edith moment was pretty fitting, wasn't it? ;)

Allen Leech just outdid himself in the emoting department in this episode!! I mean everyone upped their game but his tears and utter devastation...I didn't know he had that in him, you know?

@Jess - Aww, thanks! :) Sorry I have been a little SLOW the last two weeks.

If this Ethel/Isobel story continues in this vein, I may end up liking Ethel more than Isobel...the latter's inability to think out the results of her actions is MADDENING.

See you next week! :)

@Debra - Jessica Brown Findlay has been in a miniseries called Labrynth (I think) -- a time travel piece I'm interested in seeing. Not sure when it is supposed to air here, though!

@Lori - Sorry you are disappointed... :( It's a tough blow. But honestly, if JBF wanted to leave the show I'd rather this happen than her just "disappear" I hope hope hope the scripts really capitalize on this tragedy's potential.

@Gina - HA!!! Good call! :) And thanks!

Heidenkind said...

This was a tough ep. I'm still crying over Sybil. :( So sad. I thought Cora's yelling at Robert was kind of strange, actually. Justified, sure, but she's pretty forgiving. Leave soap bar out for her to slip on causing a miscarriage, fine! Spend on all her money on a bad investment, okay, nbd. I wonder if she's not really blaming herself for not listening to her instincts. Downton is falling apart without Bates!

Unknown said...

@Tasha - I think that's a big part of it -- she kept pushing and then she ceded to Robert and Sir Phillip -- I'm sure she's kicking herself for that, and angry that it came to that point...basically a HUGE mess. :(

Rissi said...


Poor darling, Sybil was the sweetest character... and now Fellowes cruelly took her from us. Poor Tom who loved her so. Poor Baby Sybil who will never know her wonderful mama.

(The only good thing that could come of this? Seeing Sybil - I mean, Jessica as Captain America's love interest in CA2. That would rock.)

As you say, Ruth, from a drama viewpoint, it was very good. Sadly it made us awfully upset at the death of this particular character. :/

Joanne said...

Terrific summary, Ruth, and I'm glad I read all the comments because I did not hear that reference from the prison guard either. I'll have to go back and listen to that part again. I probably missed it because my mind wanders during those scenes -- I've lost interest!

My biggest question as to the future of the show now is.....what is going to happen to this beautiful baby girl??? All sorts of possibilities pop into my head. Tom will not want her raised at Downton, surely. The Crawleys will not want their grandchild raised away from them as she is their link to Sybil. Will Edith find joy in stepping in and being a surrogate mother? Will Mary and Matthew have problems having a baby and want to help raise the baby? Hmmmmmm.

Unknown said...

@Rissi - Jessica Brown Findlay in a Marvel film? Now THAT is an interesting idea!! :)

@Joanne - Thank you! And isn't the discussion great? Love it. :)

For the foreseeable future, as long as Allen Leech is willing to remain w/ the show, I think the idea is going to be that Tom is "stuck" there -- otherwise he faces arrest if he returns to Ireland. Also, something to consider -- he might be more amenable to staying at Downton now, in order to remain close to Sybil's memory?

I suspect the whole baptism into the Catholic church thing is going to be the first point of conflict between the new father and his father-in-law...

Lori Benton said...

I agree, a lot depends on what comes of this tragedy, and how it's handled (especially Tom's character). I'm tempted to get a copy of the DVDs and watch it through quickly.

Unknown said...

@Lori - My Blu-ray pre-order came Tuesday. I'm trying to hold off. :)

Ella said...

Oh gosh. This episode had my heart ripped out and stomped over. You would think that Dr. clarkson would not be consulted so much ( I mean, come on, the guy has had so many misdiagnosises that his license should be revoked!)

However, I think Elizabeth, Allen, and Jessica were given great opportunities to shine, which warmed my heart...It was superbly acted though majorly depressing and sad

Unknown said...

@Ella - I'm right there with you on Dr. Clarkson...maybe him being right in this case was Fellowes's attempt to redeem his past ineptitude?

Charity said...

Can't say I love Cora and Robert fighting -- but she has a point: Sybil's death IS his fault, because he listened to a pretentious jackass of a London doctor rather than the man who knew Sybil from infancy. This is actually the episode where my father said, "I don't like Lord Grantham anymore -- he's a jerk."

I think this was one of the most horrific deaths I've ever seen anywhere -- because there's nothing they can do but stand around and watch her suffocate. =/

Rissi said...

It would have been so cool, Ruth! Now, however, it's been said that Emily VanCamp got the role. Oh, well! She'll do fine. :)

Unknown said...

@Charity - Grantham has had a TON of issues to work through this season, hasn't he? And I completely agree with you about the horrific nature of Sybil's tragic and so intense!

@Rissi - I read somewhere that VanCamp's character might be Peggy Carter's granddaughter or something...that would be kinda cool. :)