Sybil's marathon pregnancy is finally at an end and against that backdrop, Mary and Matthew are still dancing around the issue of having a child of their own; Mary because it seems like she's not sure she's ready, and Matthew -- who very much wants one -- because he wonders if his war injury might have affect his… um, potency. Meanwhile, Sybil tells Mary her dilemma: Now that they won't be able to return to Dublin in order for the baby to be Catholic, they'll have to have the christening at Downton, which could be a bit controversial. This also leads Sybil to confess that while she believes in God, she's not nearly so sure about organized religion. Mary promises to fight Sybil's corner if need be.
Hey, remember how Vera's suspicious behavior involved scrubbing that pie out of her nails? Much as I did, Bates clues in on that and he and Anna realize that Vera meant to ensure the end of Bates' life by taking her own. Anna takes the news to Lord Grantham, who, while thrilled to hear it, cautions her that Mrs. Bartlett may not tell the truth if she realizes it could set Bates free. Murray -- who I guess is Lord Grantham's attorney as well as his financial adviser -- comes to Downton to confer with Anna and then heads to the prison to talk to Bates. He promises to do what he can, but unfortunately one of Craig's co-conspirator guards realizes that Bates has gotten some good news and reads his letters to find out what it is; the upshot seems to be that they're pretty confident that an interview with Mrs. Bartlett won't, well… bear fruit.
When Jimmy James gets tasked with winding Downton's clocks, O'Brien sees an opportunity to send him Thomas' way and soon, Thomas is trying -- well, to wind something quite different. Jimmy James figures out what he's like soon enough, but O'Brien -- playing a long con I can't yet identify -- warns Jimmy James not to make an enemy of Thomas.
Much to her credit, Isobel hasn't given up on Ethel even now that she's given up her child and she has her over to Crawley House. Ethel tells her that she hasn't gone back to hooking at least, and Isobel surprises even me by offering Ethel a job working with Mrs. Byrd. Ethel wonders about the reaction of the people at Downton (I'd be more worried about Mrs. Byrd, myself), but Isobel won't be denied and Ethel is extremely grateful. Mrs. Byrd quits in protest and heads back to Manchester, but not without sending a letter explaining herself Molesley's way, who relays the news to Carson. Mrs. Hughes prevails on him not to let the news go any further -- at least for the moment -- thinking that maybe Ethel won't last in the job; given how she can't even seem to make a decent cup of tea, Mrs. Hughes might be in luck.
Daisy is horrible to the new kitchen maid, Ivy, which is even less surprising now that she's getting attention from Alfred and Jimmy James both. Using his cooking skills, Alfred pulls a little trick to make Daisy think Ivy's saved her ass and although Mrs. Patmore's hip to what's happening, she doesn't let on, and even tells Daisy being nasty to Ivy isn't going to make Alfred like her any better. It's absolutely true and yet I kind of like her better this way.
Edith's letter leads to her being offered a weekly newspaper column, but Lord Grantham sniffs that it's only happened because the editor is interested in her name and her title, which, while probably true, is unkind enough that Edith takes real umbrage to it. As usual with Edith, though, that development will be lost amidst the other events of the episode.
Matthew uses the fact that some of the farmland at Downton has fallen into disuse, ignored by the tenants supposed to be working it, as the catalyst to talk to Mary about the mismanagement of the place. He eventually brings it up with Murray, but Mary catches them and castigates them for the timing and as you'll see, she's got a point.
Now, the big news. Sybil is having early labor pains and, with reasonably good reason not to trust Dr. Clarkson's assessment that nothing is wrong, Lord Grantham brings in an obstetrician, "Sir Philip." When the labor starts in earnest, Clarkson becomes worried, because Sybil appears mentally out of it and when the doc gets Sir Philip alone, he worries that it's toxemia (or preeclampsia -- pregnancy-induced high blood pressure). Sir Philip, however, pish-poshes the diagnosis and tells Clarkson to stay out of it, but Cora intervenes to allow Clarkson access. Soon, he's advocating to get Sybil to the hospital for a C-section. However, as the C-section comes with its own risks, Lord Grantham wants to stick with Sir Phillip's opinion, but everyone else feels the decision should be Branson's. A real and desperate fight ensues, with Cora convinced that they should go with Clarkson's recommendation and Lord Grantham just as convinced Sir Phillip is right, leaving poor Branson in an absolutely impossible position, so it's not surprising that inaction wins out.
Sybil gives birth to a girl and everything seems fine, but before she goes to sleep, she urgently tries to talk to Cora about Branson and the baby's future. Whether it's because she felt what was coming or not, in the middle of the night, she awakens and has the most horrible fits and seizures of eclampsia. Although this might not be fatal in the modern day, the family can do nothing other than to watch Sybil pass away right in front of them. Not that everyone isn't distraught -- including the servants when they're rousted out of bed -- but Branson and Cora in particular are absolutely inconsolable, as is Thomas, who felt a special bond with Sybil from when they worked in the hospital together. When she's recovered, Cora promises her daughter's corpse that they'll look after both Branson and the child, but before the episode ends, she's announced to the entire family that she blames Lord Grantham for Sybil's death. Even though the Dowager Countess tries to tell him otherwise, it's clear he feels the same way. I can't lie -- this was an absolutely devastating episode and I just hope I can write off my tissue consumption for the full recap.
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It's nighttime at Downton, and after a quick shot of him entering and ascending the stairs, we see Dr. Clarkson attending to Sybil, who's apparently been experiencing pre-labor pains. However, he announces that whatever was happening has stopped and smiles that the blessed event is still in the future...
...and then, with the women in tow (you'd expect this with childbirth issues, but once again we see how the women of this show are a hardier lot than the men by a wide margin), he emerges onto the landing and announces that Sybil is fine. In fairness, of the men, it's only Branson who looks a real wreck, but when Dr. Clarkson goes on that the early pains are a sign that the womb is preparing itself for childbirth, Cora cautions him that Lord Grantham doesn't enjoy frank discussions of what she calls "medical details," but I think actually means "goings-on below the Equator." They all resolve to go back to bed, but Lord Grantham oh-by-the-ways that "Sir Philip Tapsell" will be arriving at Downton the next day and from the way Clarkson stiffens and sniffs that that's fine, "if you think it advisable," I'm thinking that Clarkson is the Absolutely Fabulous hairdresser of Edina's with the inferiority complex to Tapsell's Nicky Clarke. Before everyone dissipates, though, Branson asks Clarkson if there's really nothing wrong and Clarkson assures him there isn't. I'm going to try my best to limit references to the episode's future events, but it will turn out to be ironic that on first view I was thinking "Yeah, I've heard that from you before, guy."
Downstairs, new girl Ivy says she'd rather have a baby in a hospital, "with all the modern inventions," but Anna takes the con side in this little impromptu debate, saying that she'd rather be close to the people she trusts. After a bit more of this, Carson ends any further discussion, but before he sends them to the day's work he cautions them to curtail any noise in Sybil's vicinity. Ivy smiles that it'll be exciting to have a baby in the house, to which Daisy practically spits, "It won't make much difference to you." The attitude is obviously uncalled for, yet I kind of like it. I mean, she's no less transparent here than usual, but at least her usual whining has been replaced by some steel. Daisy adds that Ivy should get back in the kitchen and after she stalks off, O'Brien sardonically notes in Ivy's direction that she supposes that message got through. And my feeling is that if you're being nasty enough to impress O'Brien, you're doing something right.