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The Downton Abbey Dish Season 3 Episode 4

British television maven and blogger Deborah Gilbert keeps you in the know with entertaining recaps of each Downton Abbey Season 3 episode. Count down the most memorable scenes from each episode, including the Dowager Countess' best zingers. New episodes of Downton Abbey Season 3 air Sundays at 9pm through February 17.
THE DOWNTON ABBEY DISH – Downton Abbey Season 3 Recap: Episode 4 (aired 1/27/13)

This doesn’t seem to be a week for the usual bon mots. I don’t know about you Downtonians, but I spent half of this episode in tears. To quote Mrs. Hughes, ‘the sweetest spirit under this roof is gone and I’m weeping myself.’ Me too Mrs. Hughes, me too. But as Carson reminds Daisy, all we can do is carry on…

Ball and Chain: You’re Not Paranoid if Everyone Really Is Out to Get You
In this week’s episode of ‘Anna Bates, Girl Detective’, Anna has proven herself to be a regular Trixie Belden. While Mrs. Bartlett claimed she didn’t want to say anything last week, faced with Anna’s earnestness she just couldn’t help herself and ended up singing like a canary. She thought she was only heaping condemnation onto Mr. Bates, but it turned out that what she saw exonerated him. Or at least it would if the police could hear it. Could it be that the former Mrs. Bates was so intent on getting back at her hubby that she didn’t just bake four and twenty blackbirds into that pie; she flavored it with arsenic? That’s quite a lot of trouble to go to to poison yourself. Why couldn’t she have just put the arsenic in some elderberry wine like a normal homicidal old lady? But will the police get to hear Mrs. Bartlett’s story? The good guys move so slowly that we want to scream at them to hurry up and question Mrs. Barlett before the prison’s answer to Thomas and O’Brien get to her. But sadly, they cannot hear us through the TV, and it’s all for naught. Guard Durrant and former cellmate Craig see that Bates looks happy at a visit from Anna and they simply cannot have that. Durrant asks Craig where Bates kept his letters (how many places could there be in that cell?), so they find Mrs. Bartlett – but what did they say to her? Did they know enough to get her to keep shtum on the right information? And here is something else: We still don’t know what was in that final letter Vera was so intent on mailing – who was it too and what did it say? Will we ever find out?

Hickory Dickory Dock: Double the Toil and Trouble
Suddenly we need a venn diagram to sort the relationships downstairs. Daisy likes Alfred but Alfred likes Ivy but Ivy likes Jimmy but Jimmy, well, he’s undeclared at this point. I’m not sure what year “Gaydar” was invented, but Thomas has honed his in on Jimmy, slowly increasing his resistance. Will Thomas find a kindred spirit in Jimmy even though, right now, he seems to find Thomas’ attention worrisome? Does it have anything to do with why he left his last job? Doth Jimmy protest too much about the touchy feely? I don’t know. All I know is that was the most sensuous clock winding I’ve ever seen. Even the clock joined them for a cigarette afterwards. And as always, waiting in the wings to stir the caldron is O’Brien. Whatever she’s plotting, Thomas and Jimmy are moving towards it like lambs to the slaughter. Though given the rare peek beneath Thomas’ oily facade that we got to see again this week, I have a feeling that by the time O’Brien is done we will feel sympathy for Thomas. And speaking of sympathy, there seems to be none of it for Ethel, who has returned as the Disorderly Orderly. Ethel did warn Isobel that her offer of rehabilitation would be more complicated than she was anticipating. First Mrs. Byrd (unwittingly) quit and was sent on her way with the “thanks and don’t let the door hit you in the rear” farewell from Mrs. Crawley. From the look on Mrs. Byrd’s face, she clearly never thought her bluff would be called, but will her letter to Molesley get her the revenge she craves? And what will Old Lady Grantham say when she finds out? The Dowager is nothing if not full of surprises, so I suspect she’ll be forgiving. Carson though, is another story.

Something About Mary: Quite Contrary
Fertility advice from Sir Philip Tapsell: ‘Don’t, whatever you do, feel anxious.’ How does it make you feel when someone says that? Anxious! Great. And tragically, we now know what Sir Tapsell’s advice is worth. While Mary says to Sybil that she’s dying to start one of her own, whenever babies are mentioned, the look that comes over Mary’s face is one of ambivalence. Or is it worry? Is it just the pressure of the weight of dynasty upon her? It might just be the old ‘heir and a spare’ brood mare obligation. How can you make sexy time with your new husband with that expectation hanging over you (not to mention the maid walking in with the tea tray)? It’s no wonder they’re bickering. Seeing them out walking, they don’t look any more familiar with each other than they did before they got married. While Mary always seems to side with her father over her husband, on matters of the estate, Matthew, increasingly, has the face of a man who knows he cannot do anything right in his wife’s eyes. And if Mary was worried before, how will she feel after what’s happened to Sybil?

The Breakfast Club: Sing Out Sister
That Downton breakfast table is THE place for news (it’s no wonder Edith doesn’t want to sleep in). This morning we find out that Lady Edith has been invited to write a weekly column for The Sketch; a column about problems faced by the modern woman. Problems like: What do you do when the farmer’s wife catches you rolling in the hay? How do you handle the humiliation of being left at the altar? Or, what happens when your schemes to bring down your big sister don’t work? This last one brings up an unanswered question: Lord Grantham is always so dismissive of Edith and her hopes and dreams that one wonders, does he know about the letter Edith wrote to the Turkish Ambassador all those years ago? From what I can recall, all we know for sure is that Mary knows. Daft as he is, Lord Grantham very well could have found out (if not from Mary then maybe through Aunt Rosamund). Is that the answer to why he always belittles Edith’s achievements? Or was he always this way? Either way, Edith is finally speaking up. She has developed an edge; she is tired of her family undermining her confidence and relegating her to failure status. Maybe Cora was right. Maybe the testing has made her stronger – and we are starting to feel for Edith in spite of ourselves. But all of these things pale in comparison the problem she’s about to face: This one is not modern at all; it is as old as the ages and will require all her newfound strength. Who will she be when she is no longer the middle sister?

Where Do I Begin: Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun
In retrospect, I suppose the fate of Lady Sybil and Branson was sealed as soon as their theme music was written. Those melancholy violins wafting through the air whenever their eyes met should have been our first clue; we should have known their love story was always destined to end in tears. And maybe, deep down, we suspected it would all along, but who could ever have thought it would end like this? This was harrowing.

Lord Grantham calls in a big name, Sir Philip Tapsell, to deliver Sybil’s baby. But what did we learn from Sir Rupert last season? These Sirs seem to have oversized egos and a lot to prove, and right from the jump Sir Philip proved it with his dinner table braggadocio and his dismissiveness of having another doctor present. Of course, anyone could be forgiven for being wary of leaving important medical decisions to Dr. Clarkson, given his track record, but this time he called it right and no one but powerless Cora would listen. Robert still bristles at the mention of Tom’s name and leaves him out of any decisions until it is too late, asserting, ‘Tom is not the Master here!’ But when push comes to shove, and everyone is desperate to save Sybil, all Sir Philip can come up with is, ‘the human life is unpredictable’. Sybil then dies a tortured, unnecessary death as her helpless family can only watch. One remembers last season when Lord Grantham said to his wife, “Cora, sometimes you are curiously unfeeling.” Now it seems that he is the one who is curiously unfeeling – or maybe we’ll be generous and say he’s in shock: A few weeks ago we saw him cry like a baby over losing his money, but thus far he hasn’t shed a tear over Sybil. I know I did though. When Cora was talking to Sybil’s body, promising to take care of ‘both of them’ (Tom and her daughter), I totally lost it and was gone the rest of the episode. How about you, Downtonians?

In many ways, Sybil was a little bit of us living in Downton: She was the modern woman. Though born in England, she was really more American than her mother. Even though she was brought up in the luxury of her titled life, she wasn’t held hostage by the attitudes and labels of ‘all that’. Back in season 1, instead of thinking of Gwen as a servant meant for a life of drudgery, she went out of her way to help her reach her goal of becoming a secretary and moving up in life. She then wanted to live a useful life and became a nurse to help the wounded and was a catalyst for turning Downton into a wartime rehab hospital. And, of course, she gave up the manor to marry her true love, Branson, never thinking he was less than she because of accident of birth. She threw off the chains that her father cannot (or will not). But sadly it was the adherence of others to that old “Lord as Master endowed by God” system that contributed to her death. At the most critical moment in her life, ‘Sir’ outranked ‘Doctor’ and just like that she was gone. Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

When Cora says to Mary, ‘would you ask your father to sleep in the dressing room tonight?’, one cannot help but wonder if this will be the end of passive Cora? Will it be the last time she lets Robert assert that he is The Master? Because, in reality, while Robert blusters that he is The Master, he is also just as much a slave. He is a slave to this class system; an antiquated idea with diminishing returns even for him at the top of its food chain. Maybe Robert cannot see that because his whole life has been about nothing but maintaining this facade, this piece of the aristocracy. If it all means nothing, then what has his life meant? Like any mere mention of basic biological terms, it’s one more thing he refuses to face.

Now what will happen to Tom and the baby? Both Mary and Cora promised to fight Sybil’s corner before she died, not knowing at the time that this would be their dying promises to her, and I suspect there will be battles to come with Lord Grantham over Tom and the baby. But what will Tom want? The last image we were left with was of Tom holding the baby, looking very small from the window. It made him look like a prisoner in that big house. Lady Sybil Patricia Crawley Branson, Rest in Peace.

Dowager Countessdown

This was not a week for bon mots from Violet either.

5. ‘And when may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage?’

4. ‘If there is one thing I am quite indifferent to it is Philip Tapsell’s feelings.’

3. ‘A woman of my age can face reality better than most men.’

2. ‘We’ve seen some troubles you and I, but nothing worse than this.’

1. ‘Our darling Sybil has died during childbirth like too many women before her. And all we can do now is cherish her memory and her child.’

Downton Dish is written by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper.

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  • http://twitter.com/LaurieNelson20 Laurie Nelson

    The minute I saw that Tapsell was acted by Tim Pigott Smith, I knew Sybil was in trouble.

    • Ish Kabibble

      Yep, the old villain from Jewel in the Crown…

      • http://www.facebook.com/louismunozjr Louis Muñoz

        Especially when he seemed so amiable, I knew to get the hankies ready!

  • Elaine Hill

    the Quotes from Violet which you highlighted leaped out to me also

  • Gin

    This episode was so much more moving than the first 3. Cora was beginning to seem irrelevant, or at the least superficial, like when she told O’Brien how disappointed she was in her, even though O’Brien displayed genuine confusion when confronted about nonexistent plans to leave service (Thomas’ doing). Cora was becoming unlikable.

    But her anguish and despair over Sybil’s dire circumstances and her husband’s refusal to listen to her maternal ‘gut’ about the proper course of treatment really touched a nerve, as did the words she spoke to her daughter after she’d died. Tissues were in order for the first time this season.

    Well done!

    • http://www.thirteen.org/program-content/downton-dish-season-3-episode-1/ Gotham Tomato

      Yes. I had known this was coming. I had seen a spoiler online months ago and so I knew Sybil’s fate, but even so I was TOTALLY caught up in it. I also kept hoping for a different outcome!

      • http://www.facebook.com/louismunozjr Louis Muñoz

        ” I also kept hoping for a different outcome!”One mark of a great show is when even spoilers can’t spoil the fun of watching how the show turns out. (Spoken like a true Eastie, right? LOL)

      • http://www.thirteen.org/program-content/downton-dish-season-3-episode-1/ Gotham Tomato

        @Louis: LOL, yes. In the end, it was so well done that it didn’t matter that I knew what was coming.

  • CatKinNY

    I’m a Labor and Delivery nurse, and I diagnosed poor Sybil before Dr. Clarkson did. I sat here anxiously wishing I was there – I could have saved her so easily, merely by giving her MgSO4. Sybil was my favorite, and I loved watching her try to explain the real world to her often clueless family. I know Mary and Cora will honor her dying wishes and fight for a Catholic baptism and to keep Tom and the baby in the bosom of the family.
    Watching Thomas, the Valet, break down so completely at the news just added to my admiration for the way Julian Fellows writes this most complex of characters, and for the skill of the superb young actor who brings him to life. While I despise him for his pettyness, for the pleasure he takes in the troubles of others, I find myself feeling sorry for him far more than I should, and last night we cried together.

    • http://www.thirteen.org/program-content/downton-dish-season-3-episode-1/ Gotham Tomato

      Interesting to see someone who delivers babies check in! What year did that treatment start being available? If Sybil got to the same point she did in this episode, where the doctor had missed the signs and she started having the convulsions, would she (nowadays) be able to be saved?

      • CatKinNY

        It was first used in 1906 and had become a popular treatment by the time of Sybil’s pregnancy, but was by no means a standard treatment. It didn’t become the gold standard until the mid 1980’s (though I’ve never seen anything else used, personally), and some people were still using anticonvulsants, like diazepam prior to then. Some people were still using Valium! Using any kind of ‘drug’ on a pregnant woman will effect the fetus, and that’s what makes magnesium sulfate so superior – it’s just a mineral which relaxes muscle by disrupting the chemistry at the molecular level resposible for muscle tissue contracting in the first place. Obviously, this makes the management of labor itself a bit more complicated, but oxytocin stimulates uterine muscle tissue specifically, allowing you to work around that problem, though there is a higher C/S rate associated with PIH (pregnancy induced hypertension). It’s not benign, don’t get me wrong; it is possible to overdose and stop breathing, so it has to be carefully managed and monitored; post partum patients must remain in L&D while on Magnesium Sulfate for this reason.

        I didn’t want to bring this up, because I understand why her death was written the way it was, but the convulsions are not, by themselves, dangerous to the mother, who can go without any new oxygen intake for several minutes, though prolonged seizure activity can kill an in utero fetus. Once delivered, your main concern is the same as with managing an epileptic seizure – preventing the patient from hurting themselves – ie the dread biting off of the tongue, or more commonly, smashing their head into something hard. Eclampsia can still kill, and quickly, by causing a cerebral vascular blow out, but the patient will sit bolt upright, say ‘My head is about to explode”, fall back unconscious and be dead within minutes from massive intracranial bleeding, but this is caused by the hypertension, and is SO rare, that I suspect an adjunct underlying vascular problem must be involved, as there is with any aneurism. I worked for years at the busiest L&D on the entire planet and only saw it once.

        Do you remember Dr. Clarkson asking to test Sybil’s urine for protein? The proteinurea he found is indicative of kidney malfunction, and it’s the tip of a viscious spiral that can still be fatal, but it’s not quick, and it’s not dramatic. The very high blood pressure impedes normal kidney function by interfering with the glomerular filtration rate, so protein begins to appear in the urine, and the amount increases as the disease progresses. The body, which is “aware” of things like this, begins to send less fluid to the kidneys to deal with, shunting it instead to the interstitial space (the space between cells), so it ends up causing swelling – hence Sybil’s swollen ankles (though in real life, it would have been everywhere- face barely recognizable, rings that must be cut off, veins that can’t be found under swollen tissue). This is usually as far as things go, and once delivered, these symptoms quickly go away; within 24 hours, the patient begins to pee like the proverbial race horse and is back to normal in another 24, but not before they beg you to reinstall the catheter you took out, because when you’re peeing a half a gallon an hour, you don’t have time for much else.. The unlucky few who continue down the path of disease progression go into HELLP syndrome (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low platelets); again, post delivery, the vast majority will completely recover within a few days, but a very small subset will progress into DIC (diseminated intravascular coagulopathy), referred to as ‘death is coming’ in ICU’s, because when not associated with pregnancy, it’s almost always fatal, since loss of the ability of ones blood to clot is fundamentally incompatible with life. Most of these women will also bounce back, though they may spend close to a week in the L&D recovery room, but a tiny, unlucky fraction will begin to ooze bood from their noses, mouths and everywhere else, especially internally, and they will die. This is an extremely rare, very slow, undramatic and messy way to go, so no script writer would choose it.

        Gee, I’ll bet this is a lot more than you wanted to know; I miss teaching medical students!

      • http://www.thirteen.org/program-content/downton-dish-season-3-episode-1/ Gotham Tomato

        Holy cow! There’s a lot to that, but I guess the reality is that they had to write her out so no one was going to save her no matter what. Thank you for explaining all this!

      • http://www.facebook.com/louismunozjr Louis Muñoz

        Thanks for those insights and info!

      • CatKinNY

        My pleasure, Louis. Thanks for that article about Thomas. For some reason, after the first few episodes, where I hated him, I began to have a good deal of empathy for him – oh, yeah, the reason is skill, on the part of both Rob James-Collier and Julian Fellowes.

  • bruth

    What has happened to Mary’s fiancee – the tycoon. I wonder if he had anything to do with Bates’ wife death. He warned her she shouldn’t mess with him.

    I, too,found this episode far more tense and emotional. The acting was extraordinary.

    • http://www.thirteen.org/program-content/downton-dish-season-3-episode-1/ Gotham Tomato

      I’ve been wondering about what happened to him as well. Has he spilled the beans or is he still holding those cards for a more opportune time. I’ve also wondered if he was the person Vera mailed that last letter too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/louismunozjr Louis Muñoz

      I, too, have found myself wondering since last season about him.

  • Pamela

    I thought Edith’s being left at the altar was hard to take (although I saw it coming), Sybil’s death was gut-wrenching! So unfair, so unnecessary. But it points to the arrogant certainty of people like Sir Tapsell who think they have all the answers. It will be interesting to see if Cora will be able to forgive Robert over time; after all, he has also lost his daughter as much as Cora.

  • Paula

    Too many tears this episode. Sybil was always my favorite and ironically the strongest of the three sisters in so many ways. The tears where about over until the Dowager Countess shows up so visibly shaken and then steals herself before going into the family. Then it was waterworks all over again. Maggie Smith deserves an award based just on her performance in the last 10 minutes of this episode.

    • http://www.thirteen.org/program-content/downton-dish-season-3-episode-1/ Gotham Tomato

      Yes, Maggie Smith just keeps bringing it to a higher level, doesn’t she?

  • baabteach

    I loved Trixie Belden!

    • http://www.thirteen.org/program-content/downton-dish-season-3-episode-1/ Gotham Tomato

      Me too!

    • Joanne

      I couldn’t sleep all night, this episode so shook me up. The nicest of all the characters, why did she have to go? Simply did NOT see that coming or I would have tissues at the ready. Incredibly acted, you felt you were in the scene with them in Sybil’s birthing room. Some amazing acting, perhaps the best of the season. I hope Cora NEVER speaks to Robert again, his arrogance has done him in this time. He never liked Branson, never accepted him….and this is the result. How can he live with himself? His star fell with his bad investments putting his estate in financial jeopardy, and now his star will be forever buried with Lady Sybil. RIP sweet Sybil, let snobby Robert rot.

      Btw, great column, Ms. Gilbert, appreciate your take on Downton. Very perceptive

      • http://www.thirteen.org/program-content/downton-dish-season-3-episode-1/ Gotham Tomato

        Thank you! I’m glad you’re enjoying The Dish! As for why did she have to go– the actress wanted to leave to do movies, and when that happens on a continuing drama they are always left with the choice of what to do with the character. I hated to see Sybil get killed off too, but maybe they didn’t want to lose both Sybil and Branson, and killing her off would be the only way they can keep him (so let’s see if he stays!)

  • Al Abrahams

    Another great “Dish, Deborah! I’m a 70 year old, English born American male. Pretty well centered and balanced–but also lost it last night. This may, in fact, be the soap we know it is in many ways but the acting in the scenes of Sybil’s passing were among the most harrowing, chilling and heart rending I’ve ever seen. It felt almost as if we Downtonians were watching another families hell-on earth and shouldn’t be there observing. We’re fortunate to have your column to vent our emotions with other like-minded viewers. On a positive note, perhaps Bates will FINALLY prevail as we know he should and must. The rest of the cast were as brilliant as ever. Believe it or not, I usually don’t remember my dreams–but last night all I dreamed about was this episode.Almost eerie! In all, that’s what great writing, acting and directing is all about!

    • http://www.thirteen.org/program-content/downton-dish-season-3-episode-1/ Gotham Tomato

      Thank you Al! So many great performances and it’s all so absorbing, even the trivial scenes. Cora’s talking to Sybil’s body was what did me in. I couldn’t stop crying.

  • Marlene

    I can’t help it– I don’t like Bates, and that sinister sly smirk of his. He can rot in jail I hope Anna finds someone else her age. It was so sad when Sybil died, it was very well acted. Yes Lord Grantham deserves to sleep in the dressingroom! I also want to see Mathew get some backbone, tell Mary to shut-up, and confront Lord Grantham about the poorly managed estate.

    • http://www.facebook.com/louismunozjr Louis Muñoz

      Paradoxically, Lady Mary is in many ways the most conservative of the three daughters, and perhaps the one most caught up in the old system, especially now, so not a huge surprise the way she’s resisting Matthew’s lame attempts to grow a backbone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/louismunozjr Louis Muñoz

    Tears, oh, how many tears I shed on Monday! (Didn’t get to watch on Sunday.) But first, congrats on another AWESOME “Downton Dish” recap, loved it!
    So, no great bon mots from our Dowager Goddess, but… that “increase the resistance” line had me howling!! And by the way, how much does the actor who plays “Yummy,” er, I mean, “Jimmy,” look like a young Simon Baker?!
    Re: Thomas, there’s an interview with Rob James-Collier in this month’s “OUT” magazine. For those wondering what storylines are coming up, the article doesn’t have any true spoilers – let’s just say there’s some “good stuff” coming up. Here’s the link: http://www.out.com/entertainment/television/2013/01/03/rob-james-collier-downton-abbey.
    Sybil… SIGH!! One of the comments below talks about how she was the most modern, the most American, and perhaps the strongest of the Petticoat Junction clan. It was indeed hard to see her go. Speaking of spoilers, one of my FB friends had posted a picture of her on his wall, without a commentary, and so I guessed she was going to that dearly departed land in the sky, and as Laurie Nelson put it, the moment I saw our old friend from “Jewel in the Crown,” I knew she was a goner!
    So, can’t wait to see what happens with our Lord and Lady, and with the rest, and in the meantime, enjoying the DISH sooooo much, and all the great commentaries below! Gracias, Granthamites!

  • jeepers creepers

    I agree, the minute I saw that Tapsell was Tim Pigott Smith, I didn’t like him. I remember him in “The Jewel In The Crown” As an actor I wonder how he feels about it.

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