Downton Abbey Week 4 Synopsis

First off, DO NOT READ any further if spoilers bother you because there’s at least one huge event that I will write about. Though, fans in the UK saw it in October and I’m sure other people have been writing about it in the last several days. Myself, I’ve been almost inconsolable since I saw the episode. Read below to find out why…

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The episode opens with several scenes about Sybil’s pregnancy. She’s close to giving birth. Everyone’s up in the middle of the night and Dr. Clarkson has been summoned, but she’s fine for now. A specialist, Sir Phillip, will arrive in the morning, though the family is divided, with the ladies particularly wanting to include Dr. Clarkson, their family doctor, in the birth, and Lord Grantham wanting the society specialist because he felt like Dr. Clarkson misdiagnosed both Matthew and Lavinia.

Downstairs, they’re atwitter at the baby’s imminent arrival, up in the middle of the night as well. Ivy, the new kitchen maid, has the attention of both Jimmy and Alfred, much to Daisy’s dismay. Mrs. Patmore astutely observes that Alfred won’t like Daisy any better for being rough on Ivy. Poor Daisy! Always fighting for position and attention. It’s very likely that Ivy is actually interested in Jimmy, but both of the new footmen follow her around like puppies.

Ivy’s not the only one interested in Jimmy. Thomas is very “familiar,” in Jimmy’s words to O’Brien, when he teaches him to wind the clocks. O’Brien encourages Jimmy to stay in Thomas’s good graces, which makes me wonder what she’s up to. I’m sure when her plan finally plays out, it will be truly devious. But poor Jimmy, in the meantime, is trying to find his place and feels uncomfortable, a pawn in the game between Thomas and O’Brien.

Mary and Matthew are at it again, still arguing about Matthew’s determination to better manage Downton – after both Mary and Lord Grantham insisted he step in. Matthew’s concerned about the future of Downton, not just for their own sakes, but for their children. Who he’s very concerned about, stopping Sir Phillip when he arrives to ask him if his spinal injury could’ve impaired his ability to have children. Uh oh… What if the heir can’t have heirs?

The Anna/Bates story line is interesting as Anna has doggedly found the proof of Bates’ innocence, as Mr. Murry congratulates her. However, the portions that take place inside the prison are downright incomprehensible. I have no idea why Bates’ cell mate and the one guard are plotting against him so viciously. Did I miss something? Please tell me if I’m alone on this and it makes sense to you.

Mrs. Crawley has hired Ethel, which causes her housekeeper Mrs. Bird to quit, and also ruffles the feathers of Carson, Molesley and a tiny bit less so, Mrs. Hughes over at Downton. Poor Ethel is trying so hard, but is struggling with the cooking and making tea. And poor Mrs. Crawley keeps biting her lip.

Edith is offered a column and discusses it over breakfast with Matthew and Lord Grantham, then later with the Dowager. She seems almost amused by her family’s arguments against whatever direction she wants to pursue.

Quite a lot of the episode is various scenes of the family and staff waiting for Sybil to give birth, intermingling in various configurations, and the two doctors disagreeing over whether anything is wrong with Sybil. At which point, when Dr. Clarkson keeps stressing that he’s concerned, I started to worry about Sybil.

And then comes the moment I was truly concerned about my favorite character, when she asks Dr. Clarkson if she’s on duty, delirious and confused. She’s already had one conversation with Mary in which she elicits a promise from Mary “fight her corner,” defending Tom’s decision to give the baby a Catholic christening. And then, after the baby is born (It’s a girl! Both mother and baby are fine! But are they really??) she has another conversation with her mother, Lady Cora, asking her, “Help me do battle for Tom and the baby.” And when she says, “I just want to sleep, really,” my heart absolutely SANK. The dread I felt for half the episode hardened into absolute certainty that Sybil was doomed, perhaps the baby too.

There are celebratory moments – Lord and Lady Grantham kiss exhuberantly, the servants cheer and are relieved, including Thomas, who tells Jimmy that Sybil is a “lovely person.”

And then. Mary wakes her parents in the middle of the night and every family member – and I mean EVERY family member – gathers around Sybil’s bed as says, “my head” and goes into seizures while both the doctors look on in horror. You know it’s a bad sign when the only people in the room NOT trying to help someone are the two medical professionals.

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Another spoiler line, just in case you didn’t believe me before.

And then Sybil dies. I knew it was coming and I still felt shocked and devastated. It was a beautiful (if absolutely wrenching) scene, well-played by all the actors. Branson, Lord Grantham’s reactions in particular were tough. But the singular most eerie and horrific moment was when the baby started fussing from the other room and everyone fell silent, realizing that Sybil was truly dead and her daughter would have to grow up without her. I’m getting chills just remembering it.

Cut to another moment of shocked, devastated silence as the servants learn that Sybil has passed and their various reactions. Especially Thomas’s, who leaves the room and starts sobbing, “the sweetest spirit under this roof is gone,” and Carson who says, “I knew her all of her life,” absolutely dumbfounded.

Cora, alone with Branson and Sybil’s body, swearing to her daughter that “We’ll look after them both,” and then her growing, quiet, certainty that Lord Grantham is to blame for ignoring Dr. Clarkson.

The sisters have several great moments in this episode, but none better than Mary and Ethel standing by Sybil’s body and Ethel asking if they would get along better now since they’ve lost her and Mary, being Mary, says pragmatically and honestly that they probably wouldn’t. Then proceeds to say, “Since this is the last time we three will be together in this life, let’s love each other now.”

The servants discussing how to feed the baby without Sybil broke my heart. The Dowager saying to Carson “We’ve seen some troubles you and I,” and him responding, “Nothing could be worse,” broke it again.

And then? The image of Branson in the window, holding his baby, uncertain without Sybil and trapped in this grand life he didn’t want, demolished me.

The sweetest spirit under the Downton roof, and my favorite character on the show, is now gone.  Where can we possibly go from here?

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2 thoughts on “Downton Abbey Week 4 Synopsis

  1. I’m with you! This was devastating. Even reading this post brought back some emotions! I’m all for dramatic tv shows but there was something so lovely and whimsical about this show that I have loved for so long and this just added a new dimension that I didn’t necessarily need in this show! oh well, very well said and I’ll keep watching. I feel so bad for Tom as well!

  2. When it was looking like the Crawleys might lose Downton, I wondered if they were going to continue the series with new characters, the new owners of Downton. I suspect, between Sybil’s death and the likelihood that Mary and Matthew are going to have trouble conceiving, they may still be going in that direction for the next season. I wonder.

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