Sybil gives birth to a baby girl, but a devastating turn of events shakes the Crawley family tree

By Denise Warner
Updated January 28, 2013 at 03:01 AM EST
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Credit: Joss Barratt/PBS

We begin in the middle of the night, when Dr. Clarkson is attending to the very pregnant Sybil. He says that she’s just experiencing early labor pains, and tells everyone to go back to bed. In their room, Robert informs Cora that Sir Philip will be arriving tomorrow. Cora is upset — Dr. Clarkson has known the girls since they were born and she doesn’t think it’s right to call in another doctor. Robert, however, is unmoved. “I like the old boy, but he did misdiagnose Matthew and he did miss the warning signs with Lavinia.” In defense of Clarkson, how could he have known about the miraculous spinal recovery? And thank goodness he couldn’t save Lavinia. Otherwise, she’d still be around.

The next morning, Sybil, in the midst of complaining about her pregnancy, slyly questions Mary as to why she’s not pregnant herself. And despite Sybil being unable to “recommend this to anyone,” Mary says she’s “dying to start one of her own.” Does this mean more scenes of Matthew and Mary in bed together? We haven’t had one in a while. Some of us are getting antsy.

Back to the baby at hand. Sybil implores Mary to take her side when it comes to the christening, since it has to be at Downton. Tom wants it to be Catholic, which will definitely anger the Anglican Crawley family. Mary tells Sybil she doesn’t have to go along with Tom — it’s her baby, too. But Sybil insists. “I do believe in God, but all the rest of it — Vicars, feast days, and deadly sins. I don’t care about all of that. I don’t know if a vicar knows anymore about God than I do. And I love Tom, so very, very much.” I guess that answers my question about why she married him.

Before dinner, Cora says she wants to call Dr. Clarkson to the house when they are finished eating. Robert and Sir Philip balk at this suggestion, yet Cora insists. The only reason that this is relevant is that Edith offers to drive down to pick Dr. Clarkson up after dinner, and the Dowager gives her a priceless smirk.

NEXT: It’s time to begin

The nurse interrupts dinner — the birth has begun. Dr. Clarkson is inexplicably already there (Edith must be a fast driver) and expresses his concerns to the family — Sybil’s ankles are swollen and she “seems muddled.” Cora is worried, but Sir Philip dismisses Clarkson, and then takes him out into the hall to tell him to stop interfering. (They do also have a funny argument about the size of Lady Sybil’s ankles. Or it would be funny if things were different.)

Somehow, Clarkson is still allowed to interfere. He walks into Sybil’s room and with the power of the Lady Grantham behind him, orders a urine sample. Whatever test Clarkson did was quick, and he tells the family that he thinks that Sybil is at risk for eclampsia. (Wikipedia defines eclampsia as “an acute and life-threatening complication of pregnancy, characterized by the appearance of tonic-clonic seizures.” Clearly, it’s not good.) He wants to take Sybil to the hospital to perform a C-section. (Being English and in 1920, he does call it a Caesarean, though.)

Then there’s a lot of yelling. Sir Philip tells everyone it’s not safe to perform the surgery in a public hospital. And besides, he says she’s not at risk for eclampsia. Robert, who does not to my knowledge hold a medical degree, wants to take Sir Philip’s advice. Everyone else wants to ask Tom.

They do finally consult Sybil’s husband and Tom almost agrees to follow Clarkson’s lead. But when Tom asks if Clarkson swears he can save her, Clarkson says he can’t swear to that. (A sane answer.) Sir Philip whines a bunch, asking Lord Grantham to step in. Robert simply adds to the hysteria. “Tom, Dr. Clarkson is not sure he can save her. Sir Philip is certain he can bring her through it with a living child. Isn’t a certainty better than a doubt?” he says. Cora cries that they should have taken her to the hospital an hour ago. Sybil screams and they rush to her side.

Later, Mary comes downstairs to inform the men of the happy news — it’s a girl.

Before she goes to sleep, Sybil asks her mother to make sure she doesn’t let Tom take another job as a chauffeur. Cora tells her youngest not to worry and that they will talk about it tomorrow.

In the hall, Sir Philip smugly congratulates himself on being master of the universe and urges Robert to forget about everything Clarkson and Cora said and just be happy that there’s a healthy baby.

NEXT: Not so fast, Sir Philip

Unfortunately, Dr. Clarkson was right. Something is wrong with Sybil.

The new mother starts seizing in the middle of the night. The room becomes chaotic. Cora is crying, Robert is yelling again. Sir Philip doesn’t really know what is going on or what to say. Mary starts shaking her sister. Edith just stands there like a deer in the headlights. Matthew is astounded that something like this could happen in 1920. At least they all still look elegant in their pajamas.

Robert becomes indignant with Sir Philip. “You were so sure!” “The human life is unpredictable,” Sir Philip says. That’s what you get, Robert. For not listening to your wife, or your daughter’s doctor.

As Tom begs her not to die, Sybil goes limp. And suddenly, we’re all devastated. Rest in peace, dearest Sybil. (Rumor has it that Jessica Brown Findlay wanted to pursue a career outside of Downton. But did Sybil really have to die? It would have been easy to keep her around, right? Just figure out a way to send Tom and Sybil back to Ireland and then there’s always the possibility that she could come back. Oh well.)

The downstairs contingent hears of the news. Thomas is particularly affected — he tells Anna that Sybil is one of the few people who was ever nice to him. I guess they really bonded over that blind guy who killed himself back in season 2. (I shouldn’t be so harsh; I actually felt bad for Thomas here. He so rarely shows his human side.)

Cora wants a moment alone with Sybil’s body and she asks Mary to tell Lord Grantham to sleep in the dressing room. (Uh oh.) Cora promises her lifeless daughter that she will take care of Tom and the baby.

After they take Sybil away, Cora says she’s going to write to Dr. Clarkson to apologize. “Because if we’d listened to him, Sybil might still be alive. But Sir Philip and your father knew better and now she’s dead.” Robert is definitely not off the hook.

(If Julian Fellowes wasn’t British, I’d say that this was one giant metaphor about the dangers of American politicians trying to legislate women’s health issues. Or am I stretching it just a bit?)

NEXT: Yes, other things happened, too

Isobel and Ethel: Isobel hires Ethel to work around her house, so that she may have a respectable reference. This doesn’t sit well with Mrs. Crawley’s cook, Mrs. Byrd, who up and quits because she doesn’t want to work with a former prostitute. The scorned cook writes a letter to Molesley, who tells Carson that Matthew’s mom has hired a women of ill repute. Carson orders Molesley to keep the maids — and the footman — from Crawley house.

Thomas: He’s getting very flirtatious with Jimmy (who does, as some of you point out, look exactly like Simon Baker). With his hands on Jimmy’s shoulders, showing him how to wind a clock, Thomas tells the new footman to “never go past the point where the clock is comfortable.” From Jimmy’s reaction, Thomas should take his own advice.

Alfred, Daisy, Ivy and Jimmy: Daisy likes Alfred. Alfred likes Ivy. Ivy likes Jimmy. Jimmy likes to flirt. Throw in Thomas’ affections for Jimmy and we have a love pentagon.

Anna and Bates: When Anna visited Vera’s friend Audrey Bartlett a few episodes ago, she did pick up vital information — that Vera was cooking the pastry that contained the poison that killed her after Bates had left. So he couldn’t have poisoned her. Now all they have to do is get Mrs. Bartlett to give a statement. That won’t be easy, since Bates’ old cellmate Craig and the corrupt guard Durrant are out to sabotage him.

Matthew and Mary: Before Sybil’s untimely demise, Matthew corners the visiting Sir Philip to ask if his spinal injury might have affected his fertility. The doctor wonders if everything is working properly, and when Matthew assents that it is, he tells the Downton heir not to worry — there should be babies in his future. And speaking of the future, with Murray at Downton to talk to Anna about Bates, Matthew pulls him aside to discuss the management of the estate. Mary interrupts their conversation, and she’s not too happy with her hubby, accusing him of trying to take Downton away from her father the same day he lost his youngest daughter. Mary, Mary, quite contrary. How will Downton grow?

Edith: Based on her letter to the editor, she’s offered a weekly column and storms out when Robert insults her at the breakfast table. “Don’t bother Matthew, I’m always a failure in this family,” she says as Matthew tries to defend her. (Robert is definitely being a jerk, which comes as no surprise. Poor, poor Edith.)

And now for the Dowager Countess’ best quotes:

I hate to get news second-hand. — on wanting to stay until the baby is born.

When may she expect an offer to appear on the London stage? — on Edith’s job offer.

A woman of my age can face reality far better than most men — after Robert chastises Dr. Clarkson for discussing the contents of Sybil’s urine.

So how will we ever recover from Sybil’s death? And how many boxes of tissues did you go through tonight?

Episode Recaps

Downton Abbey

The war is over, but intrigue, crisis, romance, and change still grip the beloved estate.

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