Downton Abbey Recap: Bad Medicine

Downton Abbey Joss Barratt PhotographerThis week on Downton Abbey, Sybil gives birth to Robert and Cora’s first grandchild. So why does everyone end the episode looking even glummer than Carson on a good day? Read on to find out!

RELATED | Downton Abbey Season 4 Casting Scoop: [Spoiler]’s Getting a New Suitor!

DOCTOR, DOCTOR | As Sybil’s due date nears, Robert brushes aside Dr. Clarkson and brings in fancypants Sir Phillip to deliver the baby. Big mistake, it turns out. Bloody huge! Though the family’s longtime physician diagnoses the mum-to-be as suffering from eclampsia and wants to rush her to the hospital, Sir Phillip insists that she’s right as rain — and, much to Cora’s chagrin, Robert backs him! Needless to say, as soon as Sybil and Tom’s daughter is born without complication, Robert and Sir Phillip get busy patting one another on the back… or at least they do until Sybil starts having seizures and drops dead! After that, everyone cries — even Thomas, for pity’s sake! — and Cora makes it plain that she blames one person and one person only for the tragedy: her know-it-all husband!

WE ARE DETECTIVE | Prior to the waterworks and all-black period fashion show, Anna tells Bates about her visit to Vera’s neighbor, and he tells her that she’s found the Holy Grail — the testimony that could set him free! Now they just have to get that mean ol’ neighbor lady to repeat what she said to Bates’ attorney before she figures out how her recollection will help him. “On it,” says Anna (basically). She rushes home and informs Robert, who, in turn, calls his barrister to Downton Abbey. Unfortunately, at the same time, Bates’ prison nemeses begin plotting to make sure that he never receives a Get Out of Jail Free card!

KING FOR A DAY | When not worrying about his ability to produce an heir, Matthew busies himself by stewing over how badly mismanaged the estate is. He makes a (pun intended) grave mistake, however, by taking advantage of the aforementioned lawyer’s visit and discussing his plans to set things right — before Sybil’s body has even been taken away! (Timing, old chap! Timing!) Happening upon the scene, Mary reacts so poorly that it’s a wonder her husband doesn’t inquire whether it’s not too late to pawn her off on Sir Richard.

HOLD ME NOW | Flirting with disaster as much as Jimmy, Thomas falls into Mrs. O’Brien’s trap by getting a bit “familiar” with the new footman. Ivy fancies the fresh meat, too, but “James” is as oblivious to her charms as Alfred is entranced by them. And, of course, the concept of subtlety being utterly lost on Daisy, she continues to make her jealousy of Ivy so obvious that, at one point, Mrs. O’Brien all but cracks, “Oh, snap!”

YOU TAKE ME UP | Isobel is reminded that no good deed goes unpunished when she hires Ethel to work in her household — prompting Mrs. Bird to quit! — then tastes her young replacement’s cooking. And, of course, Robert is physically incapable of being proud of Edith when she’s offered a weekly newspaper column. “I’m always a failure in this family,” she sighs. And frankly, she’s not exaggerating.

Okay, your turn. What did you think of the episode? Were you surprised that Sybil was killed off? Will Cora leave Robert over his (very, very) bad decision? Is there any room in Matthew and Mary’s marriage for him to ever be right? And how whimsical is it that I made all the mini-headlines in this recap titles of Thompson Twins songs? Sound off below!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Leah says:

    I knew she was going to die because I am weak and saw it online, but I still welled up. It wasn’t until I saw that Thomas was crying that I realllllly let the waterworks roll. I have a soft spot for him.

    • filmex2000 says:

      We didn’t see this coming either and were absolutely floored.
      I understand now that the gorgeous Jessica Brown Findlay was getting lots of film offers and decided to not sign on again after this season. Apparently the same is happening with “Matthew” who won’t return next year. In many ways, the show has been a victim of its own success, certainly providing a career launching pad for several of the actors.

      In a perfect (viewer) world, these demises/departures would be based on creative storylines and not by contractual decisions of the actors.

    • Laurel says:

      Cried over this–so sad. Did not see it coming. The sweet sister, Lady Sybil, gone. All the reactions were so real. Why this sudden painful loss? What will poor Tom do?

      • Patricia says:

        I didn’t see this coming at all I’m glad I stayed away from spoilers. This was really unexpected. The acting was really good. Everyone’s emotion felt very real.

    • ken says:

      we want her back….do a dallas let the entire season be daisy’s dream…she wakes up next year and ll is well Yeaahhhh Sybil running around the estate with the baby…daisy wakes up sees her…”my God what a terrible dream”///// ok just a thought…..bloody useless pair those doctors…just standing there????????? Kdb

  2. Poppy says:

    I knew it was going to end bad for Sybil when the fancy pants Dr said everything was right as rain. I don’t think I’ve ever cried for a TV show as I did tonight. I would be pissed at Robert too, if I was Cora!

    • Madonna says:

      My daughter and I were devastated! So sad! We know it’s fiction, but it’s a tribute to great writing when you fall in love with the characters. We cried!! We truly loved Sybil! I was interested to see where the Irish suppression story line was going to lead. Without Sybil, it will probably not be addressed! Tom is a great character, so heartbroken. Take heart, the writers must have some great things in store for Dowton Abbey!!!

    • Jessi says:

      I was bawling, even might say a somewhat ugly cry. Usually I am not so invested in characters, but darn this was so sad! Well done writers, well done!

    • filmex2000 says:

      One thing the tragedy spotlighted was Lord Grantham’s fatal belief in peerage, and his innate belief that any doctor that has “Sir” preceding their name must be superior in all manner to one who does not. The manor system is slowly collapsing all about Robert but he is slow on the uptake. Lady Sybil’s death may do more to disrupt this belief system than anything else.

  3. I too had read the spoilers about Sybil, but I was bawling my eyes out! Goodness, so dramatic a death. I’m in Cora’s corner, Robert is being so stubborn & Mary is just like her Father…Mary is annoying me. And poor Edith…hopefully she can find something to do.

    • Alichat says:

      I have to agree about Mary. It’s like she’s brought her bitch back now that she’s married Matthew. She badgers him into giving his inheritance to Downton, then when he’s trying to keep Downton viable, she insults him. And she was rude to Murray…they were just having a conversation. They weren’t making major plans. And good lord, couldn’t she have thrown Edith a bone? Did she have to be so cruel as to stand over her dead sister’s body and proclaim to her only remaining sister that the idea of them ever being close was lunacy???

      • MrTemecula says:

        Mary is such a pill and I love her for it. Moments after losing her youngest sister, and with Edith reaching out to her, she coolly hesitated for a second and flatly says, ‘No.’ For a second, I thought I misheard her, but, nope, Edith kicked in the shin, again. Come on, Mary, let it go, you only have one sister left….that we know of. That was a command performance, Michelle Dockery.

        • Grif says:

          I admit it, I was welling up too. Until Mary’s “I doubt it” to Edith – so startling in that scene that it made me laugh out loud. Then right back to being sad for Sibyl.

        • shanghaiedinlalaland says:

          I think people really don’t get Mary sometimes. The point of that scene is that Mary is honest — brutally so at times. She does love Edith, but they’re never going to be close; there’s too much history between them and probably, they’ve always butted heads because in some respects they’re quite similar. (Edith has just never been able to “out-Mary” Mary. Typical middle-child syndrome.) So when Edith asks if they’ll get along better, Mary is honest. But she says, “let’s love each other now.” Meaning, we won’t always get along but we can be here for one another in this moment. I actually thought it was a beautifully poignant moment.

  4. Peggy says:

    Somewhere I must have missed a spoiler about Sybil and I was totally shocked. Good for Downton Abbey in this age of spoilers to surprise me, I am happy about that but sad about Sybil.

  5. Jimmy says:

    It just goes to show, just because you read or heard some spoilers doesn’t actually ruin the experience. What an excellent episode. The best scene was Violet stopping for a moment at she was overcome by what had happened and Carson standing in the background obviously concerned.

  6. jessieb says:

    I had accidentally read something about Branson that allowed me to put the pieces together, so what really got me tonight were everyone’s reactions – particularly Cora (Elizabeth McGovern was heartbreaking), Thomas, Edith and Mary, and Violet. Maggie Smith is always brilliant, but when she arrived after the fact, that was the best she has ever been. It was the rawest of raw.

  7. Glenn says:

    Wow… I don’t even watch the tease for next weeks show and you folks are trying to find out what happens before it airs. To each his own!
    I did not realize this was my favorite televison show until tonight. It was absolutely brilliant and heartbreaking. Masterful writing and acting. Thank you Michelle Obama for putting this wonderful show on my radar.
    I blew through two seasons in three weeks and became very spoiled. Now I have to wait another seven days to see whats next!
    Thank you Jessica Brown Findlay! You were magnificent. I look foward to seeing what you do next.

  8. Spencer says:

    At the beginning of the episode, I knew nothing good could happen but I still couldn’t help but sit slack-jawed at the brutal scene. That was by far the best-acted scene on the series, and I really think Cora (can’t remember the actresses name…) deserves an Emmy for her part where she spoke to Sybil. That was utterly heart-wrenching. Fantastic.

  9. Tess says:

    Tonight’s episode was both fabulous and heartbreaking at the same time. So many of the already amazing actors on this cast elevated their acting on this episode. This episode was a tearfest…and like others, I inadvertently saw the spoiler about the death but I was still not prepared for losing Sybil even though the episode set up her fate early with the doctors debating her condition.
    Side note: I’m so happy they won best ensemble cast at the SAG’s tonight. So deserving. Tonight’s episode was a prime example of just how good they are and how good the show is.

  10. valeriel40 says:

    Noticed and LOVED what you did with the Thompson Twins songs!
    If there were ever any doubt as to the high caliber acting on this show, tonight’s ep would have settle it. Fantastic jobs all ‘way round.

  11. Linda Loose says:

    I am done with Downton. Of all the people to die, surely Sybil, the most interesting and sympathetic character, was not the one to choose. Julian Fellowes has used this conflict between the doctor who is an upper class lord and his middle class counterpart in the worst possible way. What is next? I couldn’t care less.

    • Rob says:

      He didn’t “choose” to kill her. The actress chose to leave to pursue other roles. That tends to happen on British shows.

    • Chuck Finley (AJ) says:

      What’s next is a lot worse than Sybil biting the bullet. You might as well quit lol. I for one applaud period dramas that are TRUE to the period. It wasn’t uncommon for this to happen then. People die, get over it.

    • Tamim says:

      As much as I loved Sybill, I like how British shows are often not afraid to kill off a character when the actor decides to leave. American shows often send the beloved character some place “happy” or else fake kill them so they can bring them back if their contract thing doesn’t work out (Criminal Minds anyone?). Also, if the goal of the show is to create amazing drama, Sybill’s death was very good TV – not a pleasant story for people who loved Sybill, be very emotional and great acting all around. I’m glad Julian Fellowes made full use of the actress’s choice to leave – better than sending her on some unknown crusade somewhere to write back the occasional letters and to ultimately die off screen.

  12. Pierre Gigois says:

    I avoid spoilers because there are so few surprises in entertainment these days, so few indeed. I agree with all the comments here…this cast is outstanding. They are so good that I am finding myself getting genuinely irritated with many of the characters, from the obvious ones (Lord Grantham) to less conspicuous members (Matthew can be so inept at times). When a cast of characters has me so convinced, that’s something magical.

    I worry about the later seasons of very popular shows as they tend to be artistically compromised (likely an attempt to capture a broader viewer base). I hope that Downton Abbey stays the course.

    • shanghaiedinlalaland says:

      It doesn’t because of cast defections. Downton had the potential to really come into its own and dominate in awards season (the SAG tonight could have been the first of many) and I doubt that will happen now.

    • twentythree says:

      I think that good shows almost always fall into the trap of eventually turning the characters into caricatures–seizing on the things that the fans love and exaggerating them to the point that they become irritating and ridiculous! (I call it the Remmington Steele factor…)

    • Bob says:

      British actors on television series are used to a completely different experience than their American counterparts. Most British TV series do not go on and on for six, seven or more seasons, only two or three. Many shows only have about six episodes in a season. The actors are used to performing in a role for a short time, then moving on to something new, as we’ll see at the end of this season.

  13. Reblogged this on Mi Casa and commented:
    Watching this episode brought to surface a great many things I already feel perplexed over, beginning with voices heard and silenced. I cannot help but think that Cora Crawley’s life is now going to be a living nightmare, albeit tempered by the silence women endured during that time and in that social ambiance. How can a mother stay silent and not force her own mother’s intuition to act on her daughter’s behalf, regardless of what her husband might have said? Even in relative silence there is power in a woman’s voice, particularly in service of those she has given birth to. Why didn’t she put her foot down and force what she felt to be the guide in deciding against no C-Section? I will never understand silence, especially when lives are in the balance.

    • Tamim says:

      Keep in mind the time and the attitude towards women. Cora was outspoken because she was American, but as a British Married Woman her role was to defer to her husband in all matters. She could voice her concerns, but his vote was the final one. Tom had the legal choice, but he was also suffering from the mental stress that many spouses feel when their loved one is suffering an emergency. Also, back then it was rare to question one’s doctor – and Lord Grantham brought in a Royal Doctor – as if by merely being Royal made someone better at their job (a point I think Fellowes was trying to make.) Dr. Clarkson may have had the right instincts, but not the right support. Don’t blame Cora. If that royal puffed up ******* doctor hadn’t been there I believe that Dr. Clarkson would have 1. had much more access to his patient. and 2. would have given Sybil a C-section MUCH earlier. The Royal Doc wasn’t even checking her urine for protein!! I have the suspicion that Dr. Clarkson would have performed that check as a standard routine – He’s already been shown as more accepting of modern medical procedures if the practice is sound – but the Royal doctor seemed offended by the idea that “Lady Sybil” could even be considered to have a mild illness much less a serious medical condition. I lay the blame squarely at the feet of the pompous doctor – medical malpractice.

  14. cjeffery7 says:

    your whimsy is ASTOUNDING.
    i realize people didn’t know as much, medically, as they do nowadays, but in such a case i’d think i’d consider listening to the woman who’d given birth to 3 children – nothing like motherly instinct and experience…. just sayin’.

    • Bob says:

      Well, women didn’t have much of a say in 1920s England. They couldn’t even vote yet when this season takes place.

    • Allison says:

      What fellows is showing is how far we have come, and as Cora’s mother says England is behind the US. It is not Whimsy, but the hard fact that this is how things were done back then. What I love about the show is how it shows the social issues of the 1920’s and how far we have come. it was a different time and Fellows has done everything to show us that is the case. As crazy as it is the male doctor would be assumed to know more than then a mother who had given birth. Broadwalk Empire also has similar issues discussed.

    • passinthru says:

      But that’s exactly the point. Remember the time in which this is set. Men ruled- women were to be seen and not heard, and being a woman of the “noble class” didn’t matter- you just got to be fabulously dressed while being ignored. And class really ruled- a “doctor to the Royals” will always be listened to over a middle class doctor.

  15. Cry – I haven’t reach that stage yet – I’m still mad. I cursed the doctor & Lord Grantham…… and I do mean cursed.

  16. Paige says:

    I knew about her death and I was still sobbing by the end. The most poignant moment: when Maggie Smith pauses in the hall and her face breaks for a second before going on. That just broke my heart.
    Of all the characters to die, I think Sybil was the one to go. I loved her character but I think she had hit the ceiling in terms of development. Having her die sets up the problems between Cora and Robert; and of course Tom — now his wife is dead — does he stay? does he go? Is he welcome at Downton? What is his future role? And the baby — where does she go — with Tom wherever or will there be a custody fight.

  17. Shayna says:

    I WILL NEVER FORGIVE ROBERT CRAWLEY OR THAT DOCTOR!!!! I was weak and looked at spoilers so I’ve known for months but I am even more angry that I was when I first read that Sybil died. I was bawling and the scene with Thomas and Anna just killed me.

  18. GeoDiva says:

    Didn’t know about Sybil ahead of time, but figured it out before it happened. Agree that Mary is a total b!tch and poor Edith. Can we all vote to have the prison storyline end? It is boring and I honestly don’t care any more. I want my Anna and Bates of Season 1 back!!

  19. bakermom says:

    So they throw a bone to the looser quack doctor by making him right finally, but then ignoring his advice. Before now hubby n I really wanted hin gone. He couldnt do anything right. I stay away from spoilers, even with a daughter in england whos seen it all. But i suspect Mary is using some kind of birth control. Remember Mathew saw her coming from doctors. Im still stuffed up from boo-hooing over sweet sybils death.

    • Templar says:

      ITA about the Dr. He has been proven wrong twice before [ the farmer with Dropsy and Matthew’s paralysis] which somewhat mitigates Robert’s deferring to the Royal Dr. That being said, Robert is beginning to look like a real loser. He married Cora, not for love, but for gain. He blew through the family fortunes with bad investments and mismanaged the estate to a point where it can’t support itself. He takes no part in the government. He’s a peer but does not sit in the House of Lords [on reflection that may be a blessing]. He is uninvolved while life goes on around him, yet he opened doors for the son of the maid he wanted to dally with. I’ve gone from admiring him in season one to feeling contempt for him now.

      • Tamim says:

        The thing I like about the Country Doc is that, he may have been wrong, but in the Dropsy case he did give in, he was just nervous and unfamiliar with the treatment. But he wasn’t snotty about outcome – he was actually very concerned about his patient and pleased that he would live. With Matthew, he truly believed that the spine was damaged. They had no MRI, I’m not sure if X-Rays were around yet (When did Madam Curie and her husband do all that work?) and if they were HE didn’t have one. He could only make a medical diagnosis based on the symptoms he could see and the typical situation. Not giving “false-hope” was a well-reasoned medical decision during that time. Modern medicine makes us reach for the impossible because it happens all the time; not so much back then. BUT, once Matthew walked the Doctor did explain everything. I think he is simply more cautious than other Doctors. He doesn’t have a superiority complex about his medical degree or his position in society – which was why Lord Doodoo and his Royal Poofy Doc were able to over-rule Country Doc’s medical advice until it was too late.

  20. Karen H in NC says:

    No one has mentioned what they think will happen with the baby, Tom and the Grantham’s. I see a big fight coming. Tom, Irish patriot that he is, will want to return to Ireland…with his child. The Grantham’s, dead set against Tom and his rights as the baby’s father, will want to keep the child with them as the baby is their first grandchild. Any discussion on this?

    • Mary Ann says:

      If Julian Fellows keeps true to the time period, Tom will most likely lose any kind of custody to the wealth of his in-laws (and at the time it would have been better for the child) and return to Ireland, either to blow himself up in a raid or drink himself to death before age 30. I could definitely see Cora taking up the role again as child rearing compassionate – something she could put her whole self into and ignore Robert completely.

    • Snsetblaze says:

      Tom can’t go back to Ireland. That was the deal that kept him out of jail. However, he had talked about going to his brother’s. My guess is they will find a role for him at Downton so he stays close with the kid. The only question is – will he get a new love interest at any point?

      • Bob says:

        Well, he can go back, he’ll just be arrested. Not too great for the baby. But if he wants to have the child raised in Ireland, he may try to meet with his family before he gets carted off.

  21. Mo says:

    I accidentally stumbled across the big spoiler about Sybil’s death just a few hours earlier, but didn’t know how or when before the episode aired. I assumed it would probably have something to do with the pregnancy or birth, and when they mentioned her symptoms I knew. I still bawled like a baby when it happened (cursing these idiotic men the whole time), then bawled some more with Thomas, and again when Violet had to pause before joining the family, and again before the end just for good measure. And probably some more after that… I can’t remember because I was just a wreck by then. Dang, that’s some good TV there. I hated it, but it created so many dramatic possibilities.

    • Bob says:

      Just wait until the final episode.

      • shanghaiedinlalaland says:

        Yeah, but see, Sybil’s death was good drama. Very sad, but it was a death that, unfortunately, worked with the narrative and was accurate for the period. It was “organic” if you will (even though what precipitated it — the actor’s decision to leave — was not). … What happens at the end of the season I can’t even call a tearjerker because, first of all, it was cynical and punishing (and to send that ep out on Xmas night in the UK is BAFFLING). Second, it’s such a crushing blow to the narrative structure of the show … I mean what exactly will be the point of DA in S4 or S5? What compelling story — for the estate, which is the focal point of all these narrative threads — must they tell now that the one they’ve been building to for 3 seasons was snatched away? I don’t think they know. Oh sure, they’ll find something. They’ll invent threats to the estate, weave in more timely topics from the ’20s, etc. But that doesn’t give them a vision or a center of gravity and those elements are what’s missing as a result of what happens in the finale.

  22. BonesForever says:

    This episode was truly heart wrenching. I hadn’t seen any spoilers, so I only had a feeling it would come about that way because they were making such a big deal with the London doctor about how great Sybil was doing, and totally pooh-poohed the family doctor’s diagnosis. Maggie Smith was especially wonderful in her grieving scenes, and Elizabeth McGovern was so touching in her scene of “saying goodbye” to her dead daughter. The acting was wonderful throughout, but so tragic.

  23. J says:

    Pretty easy to see coming if you look at the previous episodes’ obvious positioning of Tom’s story vs. Sybil’s as the one to follow, not to mention the borderline non-existant screen time she’s had this year. Guess she wanted off the show.

  24. Pokie says:

    I cant remember the last time I cried so terribly for a character in a tv show or a movie. I knew about Sybil’s death ahead of time because I accidentally read a spoiler. The acting was marvelous and authentic. And then Thomas cried and I lost it all over again.

    • Tamim says:

      Until this episode I really didn’t like Tom very much – he was cute, but his attitude just made me want to take him aside and say “you won’t think this way in ten years kid, trust me!” I was not expecting him to learn some of life’s lessons so hard and so fast. The way he responded during Sybil’s death just broke my heart and I must say that my opinion of him rose a great deal (like a LOT). Also, I loved hating Thomas and had a hard time seeing anything remotely appealing in him, but now I think I love him too a little bit. This episode could have been called the “Redemption of Tom and Thomas.” I look forward to more character development from these two.

  25. Whatever says:

    Robert Crawley is definitely getting on my last nerve !
    First he trashes Lady Edith’s newspaper column opportunity.
    Then he brings the arrogant Sir Phillip in to take care of Lady Sybil and totally ignores both Dr.Clarkson and his wife Cora when things start to go south.
    Looking at the coming attractions for next week it looks like once again Robert is going to be a MAJOR douche AGAIN ! This time about the upbringing and religious affiliation of the baby , Ugh !

  26. passinthru says:

    Though I was sad to see Sybill die, it was nice to see Thomas show some humanity and genuine feeling for someone.

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  28. Judy says:

    As a devoted fan of Downton Abbey I have learned my lesson!
    Never again will I read ahead (Wikipedia) or try to find out what’s coming from blogs and “news posts”. Found out more that I wanted to by searching for news about a possible Season 4.
    I “enjoyed” the last episode tremendously just because it was so well written and acted but I wish I hadn’t known what I did.
    Season 4 is coming and I will know NOTHING.
    Cudos to Elizabeth, Michelle, Maggie and Jessica for riveting performances.
    I find so little of merit to watch on TV that this is an especially welcome treat. I look forward to every Sunday evening’s airing of Masterpiece Theater.

  29. stef says:

    I am over Lord Grantham! He really is incompetent. From mismanaging the estate, to kissing the maid, to siding with the stupid Royal doctor. he can do no right. And Mary seems to be following in her fathers footsteps. Bullying Matthew to giving up his inheritance and walking around because she is going to be “Lady of the Manor” one day. She is nasty. I’m done with these two…but in a way that makes me want to watch what horrible choices they make next! Thank goodness it is a large home and there are other interesting and good people in the show.

  30. Jessica T. says:

    I sobbed and sobbed. I knew it was coming as soon as the doctor saw that she had edema. I had pre-eclampsia with both my sons. They were both premature, 33 weeks and 26 weeks. It brought back a lot of awful times.

  31. That dumb doctor. Lord Grantham is stupid. They should have listened to the other doctor. If only Tom made the decision faster. But still, all the blame is on that doctor and Robert. Cora is right.