Well, we are a day behind with our Downton Abbey Season 3 Episode 5 story because our British correspondent took a day off in mourning for one of the much loved characters in this beloved series. Writer Julian Fellowes in this third series seems to be removing the ‘gloss’ and lifting the veil from many eyes so fans can come to terms with what ‘real life’ is all about. It’s not a sugar coated ‘Hollywood’ version that ensures a happy ever after ending and continuing employment for actors working on what has become one of British TV’s most successful and popular series. Please do not read a word further unless you wish to take in the news of a tragic death and the promise and joy that accompanies new life.
The handsome young couple we all admire for the courage of their convictions and their tenacity, Sybil and Tom Branson, are preparing for her ‘laying in’ and birth of their first child. Her mother Lady Cora is busy shielding Lord Grantham from knowing the gory details about the preliminary birthing arrangements attached to his first grandchild. However we discover that Lord Grantham is not so confident in the local chap, Dr Clarkson, as perhaps the women all are. He has called in a Dr from London ‘Sir Phillip Tapsell’, who will attend the full production the next day. Cora makes Lord Grantham promise he will also include Dr Clarkson, who has known Sybil her whole life. Later on they gang up and tell her it’s not necessary for him to be there, but she insists because she has a great deal of faith in his abilities, despite his not having a ‘title’.
Downstairs Carson is in control, ordering no unnecessary noise should take place on the ‘gallery’ as Lady Sybil is in a ‘delicate condition’ and he also damps down any talk of what is happening at the dinner table. Daisy is still being rude to the new pantry maid and Thomas is being attentive to the new footman (Ed Speleers), who is certainly stirring things up below stairs.
Mary visits her sister Sybil who is waiting for the birth, which has begun to become imminent. She is fretting over the ‘christening’ of her new baby in the ‘Catholic’ church, which would have been a big deal for such a high profile Church of England family. Mary promises her that she will come out fighting on her side so that her wishes will be sure to come to fruition. She wants to ease her mind because she is also worried about Sybil who is unusually fretful, has a stinking headache and reports that her ankles have swollen, all of which are not good signs for a lady about to have a baby, a condition Sybil does not recommend to her sister.
Mary is listening, although she tells Sybil she’s wanting to have one of her own soon, which comes as a surprise as Sybil, like everyone else including Matthew. He believes Mary has shelved that idea for a while to a point that Matthew begins to question whether his war injuries may have left him unable to produce a much wanted son and heir.
As this episode proceeds everyone it seems is in a state of disarray.
Lady Crawley is busy in the village offering the outcast Ethel an opportunity to work in her household so that she can gain a respectable job and reference before she moves on. Ethel knows just how hard it will be and how it will be viewed by the Earl and his family. However Lady Crawley reassures her they are challenges to be faced together and bravely takes her on. Mrs Bird the old faithful retainer won’t work alongside a ‘fallen woman’ so she resigns and leaves, causing indignation up at the big house when Carson and Mrs Hughes find out.
Anna meantime through her patience research has found out the real truth about Bates’s conviction and that his wife was poisoned by the pastry she made when eating a pie for her dinner, which he could never have made. Injustice certainly has been done and so now informed Anna is on the warpath and the Earl summons the lawyer from London to come and help.
Mary and Matthew visit the cottages on the estate he has restored where he endeavours to explain his ideas about management of the estate. He believes Lord Grantham associates being businesslike with being mean or worse ‘middle class’, much like himself, although Matthew believes middle classes ‘have their virtues and husbandry is one’.
Being a product of the Industrial Revolution Lord Grantham is used to a time when money was plentiful. Matthew knows just how much the economy has changed since World War I and is worried if the estate doesn’t have a whole new serious and business like approach to maintaining and upgrading its ways of working then it could come under threat yet again.
At Dinner Matthew supports Edith in highlighting the fact that she has been offered her own newspaper column, to which the Grand Duchess Violet retorts and ‘when may she receive an offer to appear on the London stage’. See, says Edith… she fears hers is a lost cause.
Dr Clarkson is worried, the baby seems to be small and he is concerned about the many symptoms that Sybil is displaying of a rare condition that could cause massive problems if the birth is allowed to present normally and naturally.
He wants her removed to the village hospital to perform a Cesarean section, a procedure he thinks is vital to save her life. Dr Phillip disagrees and an argument breaks out between the two Doctors and Lord Grantham comes down on the side of his London import, especially when Dr Clarkson delivers his deliberations in plain language, that the Earl sees as offensive to his mother’s sensibilities.
The Dowager Duchess brushes his protestations aside, ‘the women of my age can face reality better than most men’.
Dr Clarkson explains that if the birth is allowed to proceed naturally the fits she would endure afterward would be fatal. However the Earl presses on, after all he has ‘hired’ Sir Phillip and he is the ‘master’ here. Making it all about himself, not about the daughter he purports to love. The Dowager Duchess and Cora both tell him its up to Tom, who must be informed of the dangers involved. ‘The decision lies with the chauffeur’. Sir Phillip keeps insisting he is right.
Everyone is worried, downstairs and also down in the village where Lady Crawley is trying to consume a terrible meal produced by Ethel, who has no culinary skills. The family are all confined to the Library when the news come that a girl is safely delivered.
They all rush up to enjoy the magic of the moment with Sybil, who having cradled her baby in her arms announces she just wants to sleep and Sir Phillip insists that everyone leave the room and allow her to rest. Before she leaves Sybil makes Cora promise to help Tom move forward with his life, not just take a mechanic’s job to make ends meet.
The news downstairs is also received with great joy and the staff all go off to bed, but not before Thomas confirms his admiration for Lady Sybil, who is one of the few people in life that has offered him a kind word and encouragement.
Then in the middle of the night everyone is wakened by Mary coming to tell them the news that Sybil is in trouble. The family all rush to her room where Dr Clarkson’s fears are realized she starts throwing the seizures he warned against and that nothing can be done to save their darling girl.
They all finally realize that after much agony she has gone and the awful truth hits home hard. Has pride meant that the Lord has sacrificed the life of his daughter? This can’t be’ he says, ‘she’s only 24 years old.
His wife Cora’s face is stony as she sits beside the body of her dead daughter and she asks Mary to tell him to remove himself from her bedroom and spend the night in his dressing room.
Carson assembles the staff in their night clothes to tell them the shocking news and everyone is overcome with grief and emotion.
It is a tragedy on a grand scale.
The next morning the unsuspecting lawyer from London arrives and while his first instinct is to leave Anna asks that they might talk and discuss the evidence she has uncovered so that he can start work at once trying to free Bates and she relates to him everything she knows.
Matthew realizes it’s not the right time but the lawyer is there and he wants to broach with him the problems he has uncovered with the estate management. The lawyer predicts testing times ahead and that Matthew’s words are ‘music’ to his ears.
They are about to discuss the challenges when Mary arrives overhearing their conversation. She is overcome with the grief and inappropriateness of their timing in discussing the management of the estate and admonishes them both about deciding the destiny of Downton Abbey when here father is unavailable and her sister’s body is in the process of being removed from the house.
The lawyer goes straight to York to tell Bates all the news of Downton Abbey, and like everyone else Bates is overcome with sorrow about Sybil. Cora it slowly becomes clear blames her husband for Sybil’s death and so they will have many trying times ahead.
The Dowager Duchess arrives and sharing a moment with Carson reminisces ‘Oh Carson, we have seen some troubles you and I, nothing worse than this’. She comforts her son telling him that no one is to blame and there is nothing to do now but to cherish Sybil’s memory and her child. Our final vision is of Tom in the window of the great house with his baby daughter enfolded lovingly in his arms.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012