Downton Abbey: Season 3, Episode 4 Recap

Deborah Gilbert | January 28, 2013

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.

<- previous episode next episode ->