Jan 302013

I apologize for posting this late, dear hearts. I had some technical difficulties that kept me from streaming the episode a second time and finishing this in time. I promise I won’t keep you waiting for your recaps next week. On the other hand, the afternoon is a much more appropriate time to read this over your customary glass of port brandy, the better to savor the melodrama. And you won’t risk being the focus of an intervention.

Lady_Sybil, Tom_Branson_and_their_baby_daughter

We open in the middle of the night, with everyone gathered around Sybil’s bed. But it was a false alarm, so no need to boil water yet. Well, unless you want to fetch me some tea. “The womb is preparing itself,” Dr. Clarkson starts to explain and Cora, seeing the Earl’s turning green, cuts him off. No need to get all graphic on us there, Doc. Dr. Clarkson was all set to give Robert his very own speculum. Maybe that’s the reason that Robert informs him that Sir Philip Tapson will be the doctor on duty. He’s arriving tomorrow. Dr. Clarkson hides his hurt feelings well. And by well I mean badly.

Downstairs, the servants are all aflutter with their opinions about where to have babies and where to go for a pap smear. I do wish the servants had their own storylines. Right now they’re like those three old guys who sit on my building’s stoop, shooting the shit about everything on the street. Mrs. Patmore would rather not talk about uterii during meals but the new footman, Jimmy a.k.a. James, says, “It’s always a good idea to be prepared.” And Thomas must think he’s talking about condoms because he purrs back, “I bet you’re always prepared.” Or words to that effect, making Carson uncomfortable. Ooh, maybe we will get some interesting storylines downstairs after all. Maybe there’ll be some, ahem, swordplay. In the meantime, Daisy’s turned into a little tyrant, bullying Ivy, the new kitchen maid.

Someone else is crabby this morning. Lady Mary is cranky because Matthew is “determined to shake things up” regarding the mismanagement of the estate. Oh, I hear you, Mare. Budgeting and saving are soooo annoying. Why, everyone knows that all you have to do is ask for what you want and then Poppa, or whoever, goes to the backyard to shake that money tree. And down rain the gold coins and the Platinum American Express cards. Why must Matthew be such a drag? In a lull in the conversation, Anna informs them that she will be going away to visit her husband in jail.

Cora advocates for Dr. Clarkson to attend at the birth but the Earl points out that the good doc has not been batting a thousand lately. He misdiagnosed Matthew and Lavinia. The Earl is right. Dr. Clarkson is thisclose to getting hit with a malpractice suit. But he’ll let him come for the birth just to soothe Cora.

You know what one of Thomas’ hidden talents is? You’ll never guess. No, silly, it’s not popping bottlecaps with his nimble tongue. No, it’s not a light yet firm touch with a massage. Why, it’s clockwinding. This is not a euphemism for something naughty, you filthy cows. It’s literally winding clocks. Anyway, I bring it up because poor Jimmy doesn’t know how to do it and Carson has promoted him to clockwinder. Whoa, this boy’s moving up the ladder so fast, I’m getting dizzy. Anyway, he sorta kinda doesn’t know how to do it, so O’Brien suggests Thomas mentor him. O’Brien’s becoming such a pimp, man. She encourages Jimmy to kiss Thomas’ ass. Well, not literally. Or at least not literally YET.

Sybil is not feeling well, but that’s to be expected, right? “I cannot recommend this to anyone, she tells Mary. And then she steps in it. She asks Mary if she’s waiting for anything to get going with the babies and reproduction and shit. But seeing Mary’s nonplussed expression, she switches to talking about baptizing the baby Catholic. Then she makes some vague and confusing mentions of God and vicars. Anyway, Mary says she’ll be in Sybil’s corner when the time comes.

Cut to Thomas with his arms around Jimmy’s back. “There. You feel a slight increase in the resistance?” he asks. “I think so,” says Jimmy. “Never go past the point where the clock is comfortable,” says Thomas. What, pray tell, is this?! I want my PBS pledge back right this minute! Okay, I’ve jumped the gun. Nothing untoward is going on. Yet. He talks about how you have to find a time when the family’s out of the room in order to, uh, wind the clocks. My! $50 says Thomas ends up using a stick of butter for this particular household task.

Back at her hubby’s side, Anna and Bates figure out that Vera killed herself in order to frame Bates. Now they have to find Mrs. Bartlett so that she can corroborate their hypothesis.

Isobel wants to hire Ethel as a maid to help her cook. This way she’ll have a decent work reference when the time comes to move on. Ethel worries that things are going to be a lot more complicated given her last gig, but Isobel is positive they can “face those complications together.” Little does she know that the complications will be intestinal in nature.

Craig and that nasty jail guard gossip about Bates. They’re pissed off that Bates is so cheerful after a visit from his wife, while Craig gets an extra year and the guard has been reprimanded. Oh, oh. Something’s a-brewing.

Matthew and Mary pay a visit to one of the broken-down farms. I guess this is so Mary can see for herself what a crappy manager Papa has been. She grumbles while Matthew waxes rhapsodic about the virtues of the middle-class and husbandry. They have to return to greet Sir Philip, the OB-GYN. Mary also assigns Matthew the task of holding Branson’s hand. Matthew then daydreams about the day when he will be in Branson’s shoes. Well, the way Mary’s been acting this season she’s got all the maternal warmth of a boa constrictor so hold your horses there, Matt.

At dinner, Sir Philip boasts of his obstetrical prowess at getting babies out of a certain Duchess. He makes it sound like all it required was a firm grip and a hearty tug on her uterus, and squeamish Robert nearly spits his wine out. I agree, Robert. The state of one’s inner organs is not proper dinner conversation, particularly given the British penchant for offal and organ meat. The Dowager Duchess encourages him anyway and Sir Philip keeps boasting: “Three boys. And a secure dynasty.” Cue Matthew’s baleful glance at Mary, who is all, “La, la, la.” Sir Philip declares Sybil a perfect model of health and feminine beauty and says there’s nothing to worry about. Then Cora lets him in on the fact that Dr. Clarkson wants to attend the birth. Sir Philip’s not happy, but says “Of course”, in that magnanimous manner that is secretly arrogant.

After dinner, Anna grabs the chance to tell the Earl about the discovery she and Bates made about his case. He says he will call Murray in London and ask him to pay a visit. Every time Robert mentions Murray, I keep thinking he’s talking about Rhoda’s doorman. It’s not that I’m old, kitties. It’s that my knowledge of TV is impressively encyclopedic.

In the meantime, Matthew grabs his chance to have a private consultation with Sir Philip about, uh, his virility. Sir Philip is all ready to boast about being a stud capable of impregnating many a young filly when Matthew cuts him off and explains that he’s talking about Matthew’s ability to sire. Okay, I made that up. But barely. Sir Philip sure is high on himself. Anyway, Sir Philip tells him he has nothing to worry about and that he must be patient. They’re still newlyweds. Seriously, Matthew, mellow out, boo.

Lady Edith has news too! No, she’s not pregnant. She has a job! The editor of The Sketch wants her to write for him. All on the basis of one letter! Okay, maybe the Sketch editor was a fan of Edith’s letter to the Turkish ambassador. I bet that was a gripping tale. Anyway, she is to have a regular column and she can write about whatever she likes! Sort of like Carrie Bradshaw. Oh, God, let us fervently pray that Edith is not as fond of puns and trite insights as Carrie was. Regardless, I’m happy for Edith. I also hope the Sketch editor is sorta hot. By the way, Edith, those drop-waist dresses do nothing for your figure, dear. You and Mary look like Olive Oyl. Robert disapproves. “I’m always a failure in this family,” fumes Edith and stomps out. Matthew says that plenty of respectable folk are writing these days and Robert exclaims, “Yes, mostly drug fiends and sewers.” Gee, I wonder where Edith gets her flair for melodrama.

Back at Isobel’s, her cook refuses to work alongside a tarnished woman. Supposedly working with a former prostitute will make people assume that Mrs. Bird had the same profession. Oh, really, is this a faster way of acquiring job skills than the route I’ve taken? If I intern for Soderbergh will people assume I’m a director? Imma gonna have to get on the stick. Isobel is all, “No one can look at you and think of that, Mrs. Bird.” Ooh, diss!! Isobel gives her a month’s wages. Goodbye and good luck, Mrs. Bird!

Long Al and cute Jimmy James flirt with Ivy. Just as Al makes a cheeky remark about wanting to make it his business to find out about babies from Ivy, who should walk in but our Daisy? She is not amused. My Magic-8 ball predicts a catfight. Anyway, Daisy bosses Ivy around in a most nasty way and Jimmy James is all, Jeez Louise! Then Al flirts some more with Ivy who flirts with Jimmy James who is too busy figuring out how he can get Thomas to keep his hands to himself. Oh, such tangled passions and no one’s getting any! This makes me sad.

Sybil is upstairs, out of view, but clearly the time is nigh. Sir Philip attempts to elbow out Dr. Clarkson but Cora has given her word.

Kitchen emergency! Alfred ruins the hollandaise and then when Daisy screams bloody murder, he tells her not to worry, Ivy can manage it. Then he displays some impressive Iron Chef skills and saves the day, making Ivy look good. I guess. To me, this stunt is reminiscent of those doctors who secretly poison their patients only to save them at the last minute, thereby making themselves into heroes. Why, yes, I’m devoted to The Investigation Channel, why do you ask? Anyway, naive Ivy is duly impressed with Al’s tricks of the trade. Mrs. P saw the whole thing but still makes Daisy thank Ivy for fixing it. Then she has a woman to woman talk with Daisyleh: “Alfred won’t like you any better for being rough on her.” Yeah, this isn’t high school, where such mean girl tactics win over the captain of the football team.

Sybil is acting a little strange and this concerns Dr. Clarkson. He points out that this, coupled with her ankles being swollen, could point to a complication. Sir Philip blows him off, “Lots of women have cankles” or words to that effect. Then he goes gangster on us and warns Dr. Clarkson not to interfere. Which comes to show you: White tie alone does not a gentleman make.

In another corner of the Downton universe, Ethel has ruined the kidney souffle. These two words together make me want to hurl, but then again, I’m no limey, so what do I know of such delicacies? Isobel is skeptical, but what can she do?

Sybil and Branson discuss their plans for the future. Branson thinks of going back to being a mechanic but she states they shouldn’t go backward. Sybil looks awful! All right, now I’m worried. Branson looks worried too when she starts babbling about looking at the stars, but Sir Philip tells him not to worry. At this point, Dr. Clarkson and Cora enter. He wants to conduct a urine test, which ticks off sir Philip, but Cora is firm. Sybil keeps babbling incoherently and she is clearly in a lot of pain.

Dr. Clarkson gathers everyone into the study to discuss his concern that Lady Sybil is at risk of eclampsia. Sir Philip poopoos the notion, calling it a rare condition. Branson must make the decision: Should they drive Sybil to the hospital right away or should she give birth at home? Sir Philip says that a cesarean section in a hospital could lead to an infection. But Robert decides Sir Philip’s right. Branson asks for a guarantee from Dr. Clarkson, who admits that there is no such thing. This and Robert’s influence, sway Branson to Sir Philip’s side.

In the kitchen, Mrs. P tries to dole out more motherly advice to Daisy. She’s angry that Al follows Ivy around with “a face like a Basset hound.” Oh, Daisy, that’s what Alfred’s mug is like all the time, babe. Mrs. P says “there’s nothing wrong with one-sided love,” which sounds like the beginning of a great country song. Anyway, who says Ivy is in love with Alfred?

Everyone is tense in the study when Mary announces that it’s a girl! Oh, I was hoping to see some twig and grapes. I mean, frank and beans. Can you tell I’ve gone vegan? Anyway, yes, I was hoping for a boy. Sybil cradles the little baby in her arms and Branson beams with pride. Sir Philip advises rest for Sybil but she wants to speak with Cora about Tom’s future. This not the time to talk, though, although Cora makes a promise she will.

All is well that ends well. Or is it?

Carson breaks the news downstairs and all the servants are delighted. They can go to bed now. Thomas is particularly happy because he knew Sybil best of all, as he boasts to Jimmy. He gives him a clap on the shoulder and Jimmy gives him a withering look. Thomas slinks away, but O’Brien notices. She asks Jimmy if anything’s the matter and Jimmy finally has someone to confide in. He is not digging Thomas’ happy hands. O’Brien tells him to shut it since he wants to be on Thomas’ good side if he wants to move up in the world. Typical response to sexual harassment, man. Poor pretty Jimmy.

Hours later, Mary rushes into Cora and Robert’s room. Sybil’s in distress! She’s clearly in a lot of agony and suddenly starts going into seizures. Sir Philip declares that this is eclampsia after all. Now you tell us, asshole. Everyone panics and screams that the doctors must do something. But it’s too late at this point. She stops breathing, goes pale, and dies. Oh, this is so sad! Cora and Branson can’t believe it and keep begging her not to leave them. The baby cries in her cradle and everyone freezes with grief. Even Thomas is brokenhearted and sobs, “In my life I can tell you not many have been kind to me. She was one of the few.” Oh, that makes me cry even harder!

Cora has a private farewell with her baby and asks Mary to tell the Earl to sleep in the dressing room tonight. “She was the only person living who thought you and I were such nice people,” says Mary. Edith asks if she thinks they’ll get along better in the future and Mary says, “I doubt it.” Man. Is Mary autistic or just on the low end of the sociopathic scale?

And that’s all she wrote, dear hearts. Oh, Anna gets to tell Murray about her discovery and Matthew finally finds a sympathetic ear to his business plans. The latter makes Mary mad. But I want to wrap this up so I can go cry some more. I’m going to miss Sybil’s passion and kind heart.


  14 Responses to “Downton Abbey – Season 3, Ep. 4 – Time Out For Tears”

  1. Thanks – clever handling of the exit planned for the character of the actress who wants to do movies instead of television…er, of the untimely death of Sybil. Thanks, thanks!

    • Oh, is that the reason they killed off her character? It gives DA some legitimate drama. I think the writing this season is much better than last season’s.

      • I agree, Edith and Sybil story lines: devastating 1-2 punch.

        • Plus, the eclampsia reason is a very plausible death unlike Matthew’s bout with paralysis and impotence last season. It was portrayed very believably and it is STILL a possible danger in childbirth.

  2. It looks like Lady Grantham will not easily forgive her Lord for siding with Sir Doctor.

    We think of the Caesarian Section as almost routine these days, but 1920 is not 2013 (nor even 1960).

    I did a little checking. Sir Philip was “right” to say that eclampsia is “rare”. It seems the broad incidence in the UK back then was slightly under 1% (80 cases/10,000 births) – and not always fatal. The pre-epidural ceasarian section was no walk in the park, either. Mortality for that “little operation” was around 10%. Poor Sybil was between a rock and a hard place.

    Of course, with the swollen ankles and albumin in the urine the likelihood of eclampsia goes up. Doc Philip’s nonchalance was definitely at odds with the extreme conservatism exhibited by current medical practice, so we were supposed to be shocked by his demeanor (I certainly was).

    Eclampsia is much less troublesome these days. It’s interesting to note that its causes remain a mystery although prophylactic treatment is much more well-known and effective than it was back then.

    • Actually, from what I read, it’s still the #1 killer in pregnancy worldwide: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/eclampsia-death-downton-abbey-worldwide-killer/story?id=18337984. I don’t get the sense that it’s less troublesome nowadays, only that pre-eclampsia is more treatable, from Wikipedia:

      The treatment of eclampsia requires prompt intervention and aims to prevent further convulsions, control the elevated blood pressure, and immediately terminate the pregnancy—by delivery of the newborn if possible.

      Cesarean section has become so common that we forget that it still carries risks, particularly for the mother’s subsequent pregnancies: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/health/24birth.html?_r=0.

      • I remember our first child’s birth. She was 10 days late and 9-lbs 6-oz. Poor darling was clearly exhausted when she was born with a bruised face. April exhibited elevated blood pressure the day before – which they treated. When that induction did not succeed, we went home.

        The same OB/GYN recommended a Ceasarian delivery (slightly before due date) nineteen months later with my son – he estimated a birth weight of 9-1/2-lbs. It went very smoothly – no hypertension, no labor, no anxiety. Two gray-haired guys, seemingly ultra-competent, at the business-end, anthesiologist at the head epidural in place. Alex was rosy pink when he came out – a relative piece of cake. The OB-GYN “apologized” when his estimate turned out to be one-pound high.

        The radical difference in stress between our two births suggests to me why Dr. Clarkson recommended the surgery for poor Sybil. Seems there was little that was known to effectively treat pre-eclampsia in 1920.

        I see that the ABC-news piece did not mention the Caesarian procedure as a response to pre-eclampsia. I suspect this is because there are a number of less-invasive treatments these days.

        • When I was reading about it, I discovered that there’s a difference between preeclampsia and eclampsia, so that’s probably where the confusion lies. Pre-eclampsia is treatable; eclampsia is much more serious and its treatment is to induce birth or terminate the pregnancy.

          I do think that Fellowes did a great job of showing us that the issue was not clearcut. It was a tough decision and the outcome of either treatment was not guaranteed.

  3. I didn’t know that the actress playing Sybil wanted to leave, so her death came as a shock. So sad. It’s been written (and is no secret) that this is the last season for the actor playing Matthew. I wonder how they’ll deal with his disappearance,since his character is a lynchpin to the series.

    Although I’m sad at Sybil’s passing, I do think it gives DA the dose of reality it needed. Eclampsia is nothing to sniff at. Unlike other episodes where major problems solved themselves within the hour (Mrs. Hughes has cancer! No she doesn’t! ). I also wonder about the possibilities of the other characters situations now that Sybil (and eventually Matthew) are out, I hope they’ll also be realistic, and don’t tie things up neatly (e.g if Branson were suddenly to fall for Edith, she would become instant stepmom to the new baby). DA often solves major situations casually, and I think Sybil’s passing will help that aspect. I will miss her independence and revolt though. I looked forward to her casting her first vote. I bet we’ll see more of the independent streak through Edith, although I find Mary less likeable with every episode. (Her snotty attitude toward Edith after Sybil’s death was appalling).

    • I agree with Therese – I think Mary is a ‘snot’…I don’t understand why Matthew is all ga-ga over her personally. 😉 Not that the character isn’t fun, but she is pretty heartless…Edith is so lost, but entertaining, for sure – I’m looking forward to seeing where her career goes! And I wonder if Mrs Hughes lied to say she doesn’t have cancer..we never saw her meet w/the doctor to go over her diagnosis…

      It’s lovely soap-opera…something I swore I’d never care about! 😉 I want to see more/learn more of the character of Mrs Levinson…is Levinson the name of her daughter? Is Cora Jewish, or did her mother marry a second time, to a Jewish man? This would be another fun aspect to dig into! (especially with the new possibly Catholic baby girl)…..

      I’m rambling…sorry…

  4. (I hate to point this out because you are a very entertaining writer, and yes I do think you have a great knowledge of classic TV, but….Rhoda’s doorman was Carlton. Murray was Mary Richards’ deskmate in the newsroom)

    • Hah!! Thanks for correcting me! I appreciate it! The Nick at Nite section of my brain got bumped lately.

  5. Thanks for this! Your reviews are always on point and so funny!

    This episode was interesting; I never want to see it again, but I also love it and see it as a counterpoint to S2, E7. Specifically, I’m referring to how the patriarchy of the time is explored in both episodes.

    My critique of S2, E7 is that it basically says women can only be happy with the help of men. Mary finds happiness only after Robert and Matthew forgive her for Mr. Pamuk, and Daisy is able to finagle a promotion only with the help of Mr. Mason. Lady Rosamund’s maid, who is the first to encourage Daisy to stand up for herself, is exposed as a hussy and giver of bad advice. Fun to watch, but benevolent patriarchy is BS.

    S3, E4 is the opposite. I really like how Robert’s status as both aristocratic and male makes him assume he is in charge of his adult daughter’s medical care. Then, the writers cleverly show how a more progressive-minded man of the era might actually handle the situation the same way: When Robert reluctantly hands the reins over to Branson, he just sides with Robert. It’s suggested that, if a woman (Cora) was able to have a say in how Sybil’s labor was handled, she may have lived. It never even occurs to anyone to check and see if Sybil is lucid enough to maybe have some input in this decision. So our beautiful suffragette dies having no say in what happens to her own body. Horrific to watch, but they got the malevolence of patriarchy right.

    P.S. Apologies for the Gender Studies 101 vocabulary. I don’t know a good synonym for patriarchy.

    • The men themselves were not malevolent.

      Dr. Tapsell was arrogant overbearing, overconfident.

      Dr.Clarkson was concerned, emotionally engaged,

      Lord Grantham scared – understanding his role as decision-maker until his mother sets him aright and shoves the decision onto “the chauffer”.

      Branson scared and bewildered – grasping onto the doctor with the higher authority.

      As for patriarchy as an institution – the men form a generational divide during a time of flux. The elders, all authority figures by virtue of birth and/or profession, almost certainly hold to tradition – women should not vote or hold property (though the law concerning the entail came into question at the genesis of the show). They feel that women’s actions should illuminate their men in a favorable light and not directly influence affairs. The Heir (Matthew) hews much less strictly to the usual strictures. Branson, the Irish revolutionary, probably does as well. His malevolence focuses on the wellborn – and even this is tempered when he realizes that the wellborn suffer when their homes are violated.

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