Monday, January 28, 2013

Downton Dish, Season 3, Episode 4 recap: "The sweetest spirit under this roof is gone"

What can I say? I cried buckets. Telling myself that these were made-up people in a classy soap opera did not help. Everyone loved Sybil (even the maleficent Thomas was crying). And how apropos that her visionary name should be carried on in her daughter. Here's The Guardian:
Frankly, I'm gobsmacked. This incident, unprecedented in its seriousness in Downton history – Mr Pamuk notwithstanding – demanded some incredible acting performances. Everyone rose to the task admirably, but it seemed almost cruel to the actors. One minute they were gossiping about kidney souffles, stopped clocks and poisoned pastry, the next they were witnessing the death of one of the house's most loved characters.
"You are my baby, you always will be. Always my beauty, my baby" says a bereft Cora to Sybil's lifeless body. Along with her wrenching grief comes a cold, bitter anger at her husband, whom she blames for ignoring the advice of a posh doctor over the family physician ("Sybil doesn't have thick ankles"), who knew Sybil from birth. "If we'd listened to him, Sybil might still be alive, but Sir Philip and your father knew better and now she's dead."
Sybil was the first sister to cross the great class divide; obviously by marrying the chauffeur but also in other ways, such as nursing during the war and asking Mrs Patmore to show her how to bake a cake. Edith is showing nascent signs of breaking out of her gilded cage by writing to the newspaper, while obdurately classbound Mary remains hostile to her husband's attempts to bring the estate into the 20th century.
Moving over to the Bates plot line: can anyone help me understand why his Iago-esque wife Vera would want to kill herself? The fact that framing him would put him in the slammer hardly seems sufficient. ("Motiveless malignity"?) And how do Bates' cellmate and his guard friend know enough to forewarn Mrs Bartlet not to spill the beans about the pastry under Vera's nails? Why fret, you ask—we all know he's getting out eventually. Right you are!
If you love Downton Abbey, be sure to check out these three pages of related books and DVDs (the Season 3 DVD set is just around the corner), as well as our Downton Forum!


  1. so where will Syblil's baby end up???

    1. Who's to say? Liverpool (where she'll acquire quite the accent) or Dublin (ditto)? Or to stay at Downton to be influenced (one hopes) by her suffragist-leaning aunt?

  2. My friend Mary Beth posted these thoughtful observations on Facebook in response to the episode:
    Ode to Lady Sybil
    I went back and looked at the scene again and was struck by the quality of directing, acting, and editing. Which isn't to dissect it coldly but to appreciate from a professional viewpoint [she and her husband are opera singers] just how we came to be so moved. And that doesn't even give credit to the heartbreaking situation itself: pregnancy complications (very possible and therefore did not seem contrived to me), pompous doctor with his head up his ass caring more about his ego in a turf war than his own patient's welfare, dim bulb Dad having ANY say over decision-making and then, true to form, making the wrong one. I'm starting to REALLY dislike Lord Grantham: he's been on the wrong side of EVERY issue so far this season. And then at the end to say "There is some truth to what [Cora] said", when by all rights he should be gouging his eyes out in remorse a la Oediupus, and I don't care that we are supposed to think that he is bearing his epic grief stoically; he doesn't convey the impression that he even understands just how stupid his aristocratic assumptions are so how can he take full responsibility for his part in the disaster? Then we are left with the overt expressions of grief of the rest of the family: husband, mother, sisters, and the men: Robert uncomprehending, Matthew understanding well enough to close his eyes either in horror or prayer, and the doctors numb with the knowledge that there is nothing they can do to save Sybil. Did you also find it interesting that as you go up in class the in-the-moment response to the fact of her dying becomes more and more repressed? The servants' reactions were the most generous and spontaneous. It was so poignant to compare husband Tom (former chauffer) and Thomas the valet as they poured out their grief. The dowager countess (Maggie Smith) bridged the classes so eloquently in her little scene with Carson the butler, and then almost breaking down from grief as she walks away. What do you think of Lady Mary's character development? For the second time she shot down Edith's attempt to patch up their broken relationship. Was she just being realistic? How sad that siblings keep themselves stuck in old patterns, but then they do have a kind of template of pushing unpleasant memories away and never confronting them? Since I don't know the end of the season, I can only guess at the foreshadowing: Cora championing Tom for Sybil's sake, and punishing Robert by withholding sex (I guess that will do, since there never seems to be an icepick around when you need one!) And is Thomas getting more sympathetic to set him up for homosexual intrigue to come? (No spoiler alerts please; the question is rhetorical).
    I see some FB posts from friends who couldn't get into DA from only watching the first episode. Their friends tell them to watch three before passing judgment. There's no reason why everyone should like the series, as long as they don't denigrate it or those who love it just because they don't. And that's all I have to say about that (said Forrest Gump).