RECAP: Tragedy Strikes on DOWNTON ABBEY

If you missed the turbulent events of Sunday's episode of DOWNTON ABBEY, this recap will fill you in. But fair warning: this show was not for the faint of heart!

A solemn day at Downton Abbey. What should have been a joyous occasion, the welcoming of a new baby into the Crawley family, turns horribly wrong when Lady Sybil begins to experience the symptoms of eclampsia. Trouble aRose Early on with an argument between Dr. Clarkson and the obstetrician Robert Invited to carry out the delivery. In fact, Sir Philip Tapsell's presence was controversial from the first; while Robert wanted to leave the birth to him, Cora was adamant about Dr. Clarkson being included in the process. The feud between the doctors escalated when Dr. Clarkson detected the symptoms of eclampsia and urged the family to transfer Sybil to the hospital for a Caesarean section, which Sir Philip considered not only completely unnecessary but also extremely dangerous. Before any decision could be made in either direction, it was too late and Sir Philip had to carry out the natural birth.

At first it seems Dr. Clarkson's concerns were unwarranted. Waiting in the Library, the Crawleys and Tom breath a sigh of relief when Mary enters and delivers the news that both mother and child, a baby girl, have come through the labor and are healthy.

Sybil, however, must sense that she is not at all well. As the family retires to bed for the night she stops her mother. She tells Cora of a plan Tom discussed with her before the baby was born. His brother in Liverpool offered to help him find work as a car mechanic again. But Sybil does not want this backwards step for her family and she turns to Cora to ensure their well being. Lady Grantham promises to defend them and then, beaming with pride, leaves her youngest daughter to rest.

But rest is soon disturbed. A panicked Mary wakes her parents, telling them that something is wrong with Sybil. Upon entering her room they find her in a feverish fit. Dr. Clarkson had indeed been correct; eclampsia takes hold of Sybil and once seizures begin, nothing can be done to save her. While her mother and husband kneel by her bedside, desperately pleading for her to come through, she struggles to draw breath and then, suddenly, stops writhing. At that moment, the brilliance of Julian Fellowes and the cast shines through. The raw emotions and heart-wrenching reactions of everyone in the room moved me to tears. Tragedy of this scale hasn't hit Downton since losing William last season. Though no less distressing, it is a sad fact that war goes hand in hand with loss, so that death did not take me completely by surprise. Sybil however, had only just started her life with Tom, and until the labor was perfectly healthy. I was left feeling the same as Lord Grantham: "This cannot be."

In the wake of her death, the Crawley's struggle to say goodbye to Sybil. Edith and Mary put aside their differences to pay respect to their sister in one last moment together. Cora takes time alone to let "[her] beauty and [her] baby" go and reaffirms her vow to care for Tom and the new baby. But her overwhelming sense of loss has left her bitter towards her husband, as it was he who supported Sir Philip in his diagnosis and in his decision to carry out a natural birth; so much so, in fact, that she forces him to sleep in a separate room. Robert does recognize his mistake but he cannot be held accountable. He undoubtedly acted in what he believed was Sybil's best interest at the time, as did all parties involved. The Dowager Countess, who in this episode shows more wisdom than wit, offers this advice "No one is to blame...all we can do now is cherish her memory and her child."

Downstairs, the news of the loss is equally heartbreaking. Even the most unlikely characters mourn Sybil. In a rare moment of tenderness, Thomas copes with his grief and takes comfort in Anna's compassion. He reflects on one of Lady Sybil's most exceptional qualities- she was kind to all, regardless of class and popular opinion. Even Thomas, who has proven undeserving of such treatment throughout the series, was regarded as an equal with affection while the two worked together during the war. But the staff pushes on, arranges for a nurse for the baby, and plans for life without "the sweetest spirit under [Downton's] roof".<


There were some light notes during the episode. Firstly, Lady Edith is offered a regular column in The Sketch. Though her father and grandmother still disapprove, perhaps this can provide her with the sense of self-worth she has been seeking since being left at the altar.

Probably the best news is the fact that Anna and Bates discover a way to overturn his case. Anna's persistent interviews have unearthed evidence, which if handled correctly, incontrovertibly prove Bates' innocence. In Anna's discussion with Mrs. Bartlett it was revealed that the last time she saw the late Mrs. Bates was just after her husband had left her. Vera seemed frantic and was scraping pastry from underneath her fingernails. This queer bit of information could secure Bates' freedom. He explains to Anna that the police had determined that the poison that killed Vera was in the pie she ate and that everything else in her kitchen had been tested and cleared. Since Vera had not begun to make the pie until after he left, Bates could not have poisoned his wife. With this information in hand Anna and Bates consult with the Crawley's lawyer, Murray, who urges extreme discretion until they get a statement confirming the evidence from Mrs. Bartlett. For if she were to find out her story could set Bates free, she would be less than compliant. But keeping the news hush-hush might prove difficult as the sinister Craig and his corrupt guard accomplice continue to plot against Bates, and the appearance of good news spurs them on.

Murray, while at Downton to see Anna, also gets Matthew into a bit of trouble. He had set out to discuss the management of the estate with the lawyer after Sybil's baby was born, but the unfortunate circumstances should have changed his mind. Still, he goes ahead as planned and though Murray is pleased that there will be changes in the future for Downton, Mary is appalled to discover the two men talking business at such a fragile moment.

Trouble is brewing downstairs as well. It seems a Midsummer Night's Dream-esque unrequited love pentagon is developing. While Daisy still pines after Alfred, he is preoccupied with his feelings for Ivy. Meanwhile, Ivy is actually keen on Jimmy, as is Thomas. I'm not quite sure whom Jimmy is after, but it doesn't appear he or she lives at Downton Abbey. All the while, O'Brien is plotting something devious to bring down Thomas, pushing a more than reluctant Jimmy at him at every possible turn.

Molesley also delivers a bit of disturbing news to Carson. Mrs. Bird, the cook at Crawley House has resigned due to the fact that Isobel has hired Ethel in order to give her a chance at bettering her life. Carson is concerned that this decision will ruin the reputation of the house and forbids the maids and footmen from visiting. Mrs. Hughes, on the other hand, thinks the issue might resolve itself, as Ethel is not a trained cook and may not be entirely up for the job. It seems her suspicions may prove correct, as already Ethel has burnt a dinner and incorrectly prepared Isobel's tea.

What will go down at Downton Abbey next week? How will the Crawleys coexist with Tom and his daughter without Sybil? Will Cora forgive Robert for his poor judgment? Will Anna and Murray be able to negotiate Bates' release? Tune in Sunday, February 3 at 9 PM ET/CT on PBS to find out.

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Lauren Robbins Lauren Robbins is a 23 year old from New Jersey. She graduated from Bucknell University in 2011 with a double major in Art History and Classics and a minor in French. For the past year and a half she has been interning at various museums in New York City, including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The South Street Seaport Museum and The Museum of Modern Art. Her writing can be seen on MoMA?s blog Inside/Out.