'Downton Abbey' Series 3, Episode 5 (2012) // Words: Tara Joshi
Any questions I have had over the quality of the earliest episodes of this series of 'Downton Abbey' have been thoroughly vanquished in the past two episodes. The light brushes of sweet comedy, the engrossing character interactions and I think, more than anything in the last two episodes, the moments that are just painfully heart-wrenching but stunningly emotional have made these the strongest episodes of the series thus far. Spoilers below.
Episode four saw the hiring of Jimmy, an attractive new footman who has, already in episode five, led to some exciting new dynamics; for the first time in far too long we’re witnessing Thomas getting flustered in the presence another man, which in itself is brilliant to watch. More than that, however, O’Brien is tantalisingly still stirring up her sweet pot of revenge, and clearly trying to push them together in order to oust the pair of them so that her nephew Alfred can rise to the fore at Downton.
In general, all of the love entanglements downstairs are really wonderful and amusing to watch – Daisy pining after Alfred who’s pining after new girl Ivy who’s pining after Jimmy who, as previously mentioned, is getting some unwanted flirtation from Thomas. All of this is excellent.
The other great story downstairs has come in the form of Ethel, the maid who got pregnant during the war. While her storylines can often be drab and drawn out, the decision she makes regarding the future of her child were really tender and evocative to watch. Watching her mishaps whilst working for the always irritatingly holier-than-thou Isobel is fine for now but again, there is a concern it’s going to be unnecessarily prolonged.
The biggest storyline, however, was that of my beloved Sybil and Tom, unable to return to Ireland due to the former-chauffeur being at risk of imprisonment back on his home soil much to his distress. They want the baby to be born back in Dublin but the incredibly captivating episode begins with a visit from old friend Dr. Clarkson, and it’s clear that the birth is happening at Downton - and soon.
However, there begin to be signs that all is not well, and amidst the hubbub of two arguing doctors and an obstinate Lord Grantham, Sybil gives birth to a healthy baby girl and, in spite of all the questions of her health prior to this (she seemed extremely delirious and her limbs were getting quite swollen), all seems perfect. Finally, we think, my two favourite characters, Sybil and Branson, are getting their happy ending.
But, of course, they wouldn’t have placed the seed of doubt over Sybil’s health into our minds without reason, and shortly after giving birth Sybil returns to her state of strange delirium before succumbing to a series of truly horrific fits. The acting by all members of the cast is superb, as they watch on – doctors admitting there is nothing that can be done – and it was with a stunned disbelief and a panging in my heart that Lady Sybil Branson passed away.
Killing off my favourite character is obviously an upsetting move for me, but I can’t be biased in my review – it was a fantastic episode, with some heartbreaking moments and Cora, Branson and Cousin Violet’s reactions especially gave the whole thing a melancholy beauty.
Where Downton is headed next in the series sans Lady Sybil is anyone’s guess, but I’d assume the first big matter will be sorting out the future of the latest addition to the household: baby Sybil.
Watch 'Downton Abbey' for a limited time at itv.com. Find more of Tara's work on Twitter and Don't Watch Me Dancing.