'Downton Abbey' recap: Heartbreak as Lady Sybil gives birth

  • Sybil, Branson and baby.
Sybil, Branson and baby. (Carnival FIlm & Television…)
January 27, 2013|By Jordan Bartel, assistant editor, b

With all the Branson revolutionary-ing, Lady Edith altar-jilting and Bates jail-rotting, it was easy to forget that Lady Sybil was, you know, about to give birth.

And she does in this episode. But in a huge surprise, she doesn't make it -- dead at 24 after giving birth to a girl.

Yes, we still have something in our eye.

Watching Tom Branson and Cora hover over Sybil, weeping, crying for her to make it and don't leave them was perhaps the most emotional moment of the whole series so far. 

Sigh, how did this happen?

We start this (most heartbreaking ever) episode with the good Dr. Clarkson attending to Sybil in bed. Seems like she has been in pain, but Clarkson reassures the fam that everything is normal. 

Early labor pains, he says, as Cora reminds him that Lord Grantham "isn't a fan of medical detail." Because it's just his youngest daughter giving birth. Who wants to know all the details, right?

We also learn that while Clarkson has been helping (he has been the family doc forever, after all), a certain Sir Philip Tapsell is coming as well. Did the aristocratic set always send for a knighted obstetrician when a family member was about to pump out a child?

I have a feeling that the answer is yes, but immediately Cora and Robert butt heads (slightly) about which doctor to use. Cora wants Clarkson, saying that Tapsell "doesn't know us." But you guys have money, so he knows you! Robert reminds his wife that Clarkson once misdiagnosed Matthew (because he should have seen that a miracle made Matthew walk again) and misread Lavinia's illness signs (because the Spanish Flu was easy to recognize and treat).

This isn't going to go well, even though they agree to have both docs on call. Still, Sybil seems to be getting better even though she "doesn't recommend" pregnancy to Mary, which is sad because Mary clearly is trying to get pregnant (Matthew is worried about their lack of Downton-heir baby, too. He even talks to Dr. Tapsell later about it, in what could be the most awkward chat about fertility ever).

Dr. Tapsell arrives for dinner and -- shock -- he's pretty awful: stuffy and prone to bragging about helping some sort of Duchess give birth to three boys. He reassures everyone that Sybil is beautiful and will be fine. Right.

Even while tending to Sybil, he finds time to talk to Lord Grantham about how much he hates Clarkson being there. One more doctor in the room would be no good! He has helped rich folks give birth for years!

Sybil starts giving birth during dinner and Clarkson immediately thinks something is wrong. She says that Sybil is "muddled," sort of unaware of her surroundings and confused. Tapsell dismisses his concerns as hogwash and country-doctor ignorance. Great move bringing this guy in, Robert.

Clarkson gets more specific, says the baby seems small and he would like to take her to the hospital to give birth via Caesarian section. Robert, in a ridiculous move, doesn't want to get Tom's opinion and completely trusts Tapsell, who says that Clarkson is just overreacting.

Cora makes the most sense here. She says she would have taken Sybil to the hospital an hour ago, but a screaming Sybil makes this argument moot. They all rush to her side. 

While the viewer watches in worry, Mary sprints downstairs to say that Sybil has given birth to a girl that both baby and mother are fine. 

This is where I began to feel like not all would be well: Sybil, still a bit delirious, rambles on to her mom about Tom perhaps taking a job as a mechanic in Liverpool. "He needs to move forward. Will you help me do battle for Tom and the baby if the time comes?" she asks Cora.

Cora: "There's no need to worry about that now. We'll talk about it tomorrow."

Uh-oh. Immediately, you get the sense that Sybil kind of felt like she wouldn't make it and that she was talking more about Tom in the future -- without her around. 

Sure enough, in the middle of the night, Sybil's experiencing pain -- major issues. Clarkson and Tapsell are still around, and join the family in her room, where she's screaming out in pain, holding her head in agony and appears to have trouble breathing.

"Eclampsia," Clarkson remarks immediately; earlier in the day, he said he though Sybil had it. Tapsell puts his hand to his mouth. 

This was rough to watch: Sybil sweating, grabbing her head, starting to convulse. She starts getting seizures. "There's nothing that can be done," Clarkson says somberly.

"Help her! Help her, please! What's happening?!" Tom says, cradling his wife in his arms. He and Cora begin to cry, weep, yell. Robert is stunned into silence.

And suddenly it's all over. One last short breath, and Sybil has died. 

"This can't be. She's 24 years old. This cannot be," Robert says.

And the baby cries.

It was interesting to see the staff's reaction to the news that night, juxtaposed with the family's traumatic event upstairs. Daisy asks Carson what they can do.

"Carry on, Daisy. As we all must," is his reply.

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