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"Downton Abbey" Episode #3.5 (2012)

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49 out of 50 people found the following review useful:

"The sweetest spirit under this roof is gone, and I'm weeping myself."

Author: Leonard Bast from United States
16 October 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Death has visited Downton Abbey before. Handsome Turkish diplomats, wounded soldier-footmen, and selfless fiancées have met their ends in Downton's lavish bedchambers. We have watched hard scenes before, most recently Sir Anthony's abandonment of Lady Edith at the altar and housemaid Ethel's abandonment of her little boy to his execrable grandparents. We have worried before, over the health of Mrs. Hughes and the fate of Mr. Bates. But nothing, absolutely nothing, has prepared us for the unexpected, utterly heartrending death of much-loved Lady Sybil, the event that overshadows all other developments in episode five.

As with real grief, those mundane developments do not seem important now: the tangled web of lust amongst footmen and kitchen maids, Edith's incipient career as a newspaper columnist, the departure of the sanctimonious Mrs. Bird and her replacement by Ethel in Isobel's household, even Anna's discovery of evidence that may finally secure her husband's release. None of it matters. The most beautiful, the most unconventional, the most progressive, the most generous, the most soft-spoken, and the most courageous of the Crawley daughters has died, her life taken at a moment which should have been joyous: the birth of her and Tom's baby.

To make a horrible turn of events even more horrible, her death was preventable. Dr. Clarkson, the local doctor, long a family retainer, suspects trouble and does all he can to advocate for a caesarian delivery in the village hospital. Robert overrules him, claiming that Clarkson has been wrong too many times before. The earl has brought in a posh physician from London, for no other apparent reason than to add a certain cachet to the proceedings, much as he brought in the Archbishop of Canterbury, in place of the local vicar, to wed Mary and Matthew. Dr. Clarkson, it should be noted, has been right more often than wrong in dealing with Downton's illnesses and injuries, erring significantly only in the instance of Matthew's paralysis. His advice is ignored. Aristocratic snobbery wins the day. Sybil dies, leaving behind an inconsolable family that includes not least her devastated husband and her newly born daughter.

The deathbed scene is magnificently written and acted, played in a manner that transcends the conventional and less realistic deathbed scenes we have witnessed earlier in the series. Sybil (the beautiful and talented Jessica Brown Findlay—oh, how you will be missed) does not go gently into that good night, nor does her distraught family allow her to; they beg, fight, plead for her life. It is a frantic, panicked moment, one where events take control of the participants, a scene of total helplessness in the face of fate. The agonies of Tom and Cora go beyond terror and despair, and we, as viewers, are made to feel every gut-wrenching convulsion along with them. It is nearly unbearable.

Grief throws all Downton off its course. We watch characters we have come to know and care about deal in varied ways with the shock and sadness that we, as viewers, are also feeling. Edith tries to draw closer to Mary, whose response is startlingly cold. Matthew carries on with business, causing Mary offense. Thomas breaks into tears and, for a moment, we understand that a man we usually don't like, is, like all of us, a human being and, moreover, a human being who every day of his life must face an incredible burden of loneliness and hurt. We see Cora begin to draw into herself, relegating Robert to sleep in his dressing room and blaming him for the tragedy. The blame is not misplaced. Robert has become a disappointment, a hidebound incompetent, a man trapped by the conservatism of his own thinking. What in him once seemed honorable now seems passively destructive.

Most of all, we see Maggie Smith as Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Clad in deep black mourning, she enters Downton, aged, weary, leaning on her stick. She speaks to Carson, steadies herself, walks away from the camera, across the grand hall, an embodiment of sorrow, and on her shoulders she carries the grief that we also feel. Then she pauses, lifts her veil, straightens herself, and enters the drawing room to face what she must, as she always has. Life goes on, changing and changeless, at Downton Abbey.

Coda: ITV and the cast and crew of Downton are to be commended for the complete silence that concealed Sybil's death, the leaking of which would have constituted the greatest spoiler of our age. The problem now is, for reasons that have never been made clear and that would doubtless make absolutely no sense whatsoever if they were revealed, PBS in the United States has chosen not to broadcast season three until January 2013! Can anyone seriously think that, three months from now, every American viewer will not have learned that Lady Sybil dies in childbirth? How on earth does anyone expect this spoiler not to ruin the viewing experience for the American audience? In a time of instantaneous communication, there is no excuse for this situation. Whoever's greed or incompetence is to blame, it is regretful and shameful.

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6 out of 42 people found the following review useful:

Downton Abbey Episode #5

Author: dalydj-918-255175 from Ireland
14 October 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The doctor comes to Downton to check in on Sybill and how she is feeling which seems to be fine. Whenever something happens upstairs downstairs must have their talk about it. Daisy seems to be very cruel to her assistant. Sybil tells Mary that the baby is to be Christian but she cannot make it back to Ireland so this baby might not be. Anna goes to visit Bates and he now has his theories about who might have killed his ex in order to save his life. Lady Crawley still believes that she can change Ethel's life. Mary and Thomas go out on a walk to talk about everything happening at the moment. After dinner Anna wants to talk to Robert and at the same time Thomas talks to the visitor about his abilities to have a family with Mary. Edith after her newspaper statement last week gets a job to write for a newspaper weekly even though her father does not allow it like usual. Mrs. Bird has now left because she did not want to work near Ethel. The doctor calls the whole family in because he thinks she is having some problems with the birth. Ethel trying to cook ends up burning the dessert but cannot really do anything about it. Carson finds out about Ethel and does not like the idea. Doctors seem to fight over what is best for Sybil but they all must ask Thomas what he thinks is best for her birth. Sybil then has a baby girl and everyone lives to tell the tale. O'Brien then sticks her neck in check how Thomas is treating the new staff which seems to be too nice even for him. Late into the night Sybil starts to lose it, everyone looks on as she cannot be helped going through all this pain. As she reaches the point of no return everyone notices that this new baby is without a mother because Sybil has died. Downstairs are told about Sybil's death and even Thomas finds it hard to accept. The day of the funeral Anna talks to someone from the prison about Bates's case. Mary walks in on Thomas making a deal for the house but stops it straight away because of the mood everyone is feeling today. This death has even made Violet emotional which is the first time I've seen her like this. Great episode with the death of Sybil surprising and heartbreaking for the character of Sybil being on of my favourites.

EPISODE GRADE: B+ (MVP: Elizabeth McGovern)

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