Downton Abbey Series 3 Episode 6 Review — Downton’s Women Find Their Inner Sybil

Downton Abbey Season 3 Episode 6

The central themes of this week’s Downton Abbey seemed to be pardoning and acceptance. Violet concocted a plan to help fix Robert and Cora’s marriage; Bates’ quest for freedom very almost went awry; and the folks of Downton started to soften towards Ethel, despite her recent past. Meanwhile, not everyone approved of Branson’s plan to christen his daughter as a Catholic, the love square downstairs firmly became a triangle, and Daisy received an offer that could change her life completely.

The episode began straight after Sybil’s funeral and, of course, emotions were running high. Cora was still upset with Robert for not listening to Dr Clarkson when he said Sybil had eclampsia, and things were not looking good for the future of their marriage. Violet decided to intervene; she asked Dr Clarkson to lie and say that the chances of a cesarean saving Sybil’s life were much lower than he thought. Now thinking that nothing they did could have saved their daughter, Cora and Robert reconciled.

In the grand scheme of all things Downton, it doesn’t feel like a particularly big lie, and there’s always the matter of when a lie is for the greater good. Violet’s plan has saved Robert and Cora from further upset, but was it the right thing to do? Personally, I found it a terrible idea that only serves to give Robert a pass for his poor decisions. The pain of losing his daughter may be punishment enough, but maybe the guilt would have given him a kick and made him reevaluate his life. From what we’ve seen this week, he’s still no closer to listening to Matthew when he’s trying to share plans for improving Downton.

It took Robert a while to begin to change his mind about Baby Sybil’s christening, if indeed he has. Branson was adamant she would be christened Catholic, since he’s Irish, and Mary told everyone that Sybil had wanted that too. This didn’t initially go down well with Robert (or Carson), but feelings seemed to ease over the course of the episode. I can only assume that this will be debated more in future episodes, because as a way of drawing the Irish conflict into the Crawley home (which I assume was the intent on the writers’ part), this was quite weak. None of the arguments for why Baby Sybil should be christened Catholic or Anglican seemed particularly compelling, but I’m willing to accept that it might have struck a chord with more religious-minded viewers.

Bates’ quest for freedom almost came to an end this week after a prison warden coerced Mrs Bates’ friend into lying about what she had seen. That scary side of Bates came out again as he threatened the prisoner working with the corrupt warden — who arranged for her to lie — and it wasn’t long before the witness was spilling all to Bates’ lawyer. By the end of the episode, Bates’ freedom had been ensured.

While Bates was pardoned, Ethel found some forgiveness. She enlisted Mrs Patmore’s help preparing a luncheon for the Crawley women, much to the annoyance of Carson. His reaction, however bad it was, couldn’t compare to Robert’s. He went to Isobel’s house and asked his family to leave, but in a Sybil-esque display of solidarity and support, they all refused. Back at Downton Abbey, Mrs Hughes even welcomed Ethel in when she came to thank Mrs Patmore for her help.

Downstairs, the love woes continued. New kitchen maid Ivy flirted with Jimmy, and to a lesser extent, Alfred, and even went as far as to wear rouge while in the kitchen (which Mrs Patmore was none too pleased about). Poor Daisy thought she was in with a chance with Alfred when he asked for her help learning to dance, but she soon found out that he wanted to impress Ivy. At this point it seems as if Daisy is right out of the picture with the boys. But which of the boys will Ivy pick — eager Alfred or smarmy-but-pretty Jimmy?

Speaking of love woes and Jimmy, Thomas was still getting handsy with him this week, prompting Jimmy to tell O’Brien that he would ‘go to the police if it’d make him stop’. With O’Brien more than happy to stir the pot, this isn’t looking good for Thomas’ future at Downton Abbey.

It was Daisy who got the most surprising offer in this week’s episode. Her father-in-law Mr Mason asked her to move to his farm, where he would teach her how to run it and make a livelihood, all in preparation of him leaving his farm to her. Of course, this is Daisy, and so she was awkward and unsure what to do. It seems like a great offer, one even Mrs Patmore was envious of, but will Daisy go for it and leave Downton? Only time will tell.

This was a solid episode that blasted through a lot of points which needed clearing up after last week. That said, it didn’t seem like a particularly important episode; it’ll be interesting to look back when series 3 has finished airing to see whether this episode was entirely necessary. Some of the issues had already been seen to some extent (Ethel, the love triangle), and others felt like they could possibly have continued for longer (Robert and Cora’s relationship trouble, the debate about the christening).

While it was nice to finally get Bates out of prison, that subplot could easily have been reduced to Anna getting the letter about his release; that last bit of will she/won’t she regarding the witness may have added a bit of tension, but the more of this darker Bates we see, the less I want to see him back at Downton Abbey. Still, this episode set up a good base for next week’s episode, which will see Bates back at Downton finally, and the family starting to move on after Sybil’s death.

What did you think of this week’s Downton Abbey? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

  • PagetoStage

    Robert and Carson are clearly representing the old guard, lost and clawing for relevance as the world passes them by too quickly. Both of their reactions to Ethel’s serving the family were not necessarily because she was dirty, but out of concern for the family honor and reputation which they value above all else (and do we still have no idea whether the Pamuk thing ever came out?) and desire to avoid embarrassment and scandal for ‘frolicking’ with hookers. This was 1920 and Pretty Woman hadn’t come out yet, making prostitution cute. It would be gossiped about. Carson’s scene with Mrs. Hughes was simply perfect, a mutual understanding of their respective places in their relationship; something echoed in Robert’s relationships with Cora and to some extent Mary. They adore their men, but recognize that they both have to move forward, and the men, who have no identity beyond their roles in that house, resist change. The women have no other need for careers or usefulness beyond charity work or raising families and getting to vote or own (or inherit) property. Their changes are all hopeful and positive. Not so for men like the earl and butler, who don’t know how to be anything else. Be interesting to have the Lord and Carson have a scene discussing things, but they’d have to be locked in the wine cellar and drunk to be honest with each other and breech the gap. Robert tends to be more open and honest historically,both with Carson and Bates, than Carson, who rarely shares personal feelings with his lordship. Carson seems more in denial with his obsolescence, but I think Robert knows full well he is becoming irrelevant in the world, in his home and his increasingly independent family, and that frustrates him into rash decisions and digging his heels in where Series 1 Robert might have remained confidently more liberal and forgiving. He has lost much and is angry with the world, not his family–though Matthew is being a bit priggish and rude about the estate, and not very considerate of Robert’s feelings and the lord has a right to resist a little. He will come around, because he is basically a goodhearted man, but he is hardly in the frame of mind to deal with more change in his life now. Robert has always treated him with the utmost care and devotion, even over his daughters at times, but Matthew is bordering on arrogant now with his sudden interest in the estate. He went from Mr Spock, “I have no wish to command,” to staging a mutiny in two episodes. What happened to when he offered to just give Robert the money and wanted no control? Had he forgotten that Robert had admitted the bad investment from the start? It’s not like he hid it. Now he chooses when the guy loses a daughter and his marriage is on the rocks to balance the checkbook? Matthew dumped millions into the estate, so it isn’t like they couldn’t afford to pay the paper boy, and it wouldn’t go away overnight. It could have waited. Weird timing just to set up conflict between characters. Unrealistic storyline to me, especially when we consider that when Matthew first arrived at Downton, Robert tried to involve him in running the estate, but Matthew was barely interested. They both are out of character now. I hope Robert and Carson both get some redemption and good moments coming up. Maybe Robert is a good wicket keeper at cricket. He needs some fun. The twenties can’t have been all bad for a rich dude in a cool house. I don’t see him as Mr. Stink anytime soon!

    The romances downstairs really seem forced with little chemistry so far. Maybe they’ll develop, but things seem to move too quickly, even the episode scenes themselves this series seem to start in the middle and end before they are complete. As Violet once said, “I hate Greek drama where everything happens off stage.” Leave the horny young’uns and let Carson and Elsie have a fling. It is at least realistic. And what the hell is O’Brien’s problem already? Just pushing the nephew doesn’t warrant what she is doing to her former friend. What happened between them? Greek drama–offstage.

    Bates need to go home. It is hard to rustle up a fig for the prison cast. And the man needs to get to his long suffering wife, and maybe have a beer with the lord, who could use a friend to tell him to get over himself and get on with his millionaire lifestyle now that Downton is saved again and his immediate heir is in place (at least for now). Perspective, Robert. You haven’t been in prison for a crime you didn’t commit (probably). Smile and bounce the baby, Grandpapa. I’m hoping Robert hands the Bates’ the keys to one of their fancy houses for a bit of a honeymoon. Be a nice gesture since he admitted on the stand what Bates said about the ‘preferably late’ Mrs Bates and nearly got the man hanged. (Ya couldn’t have conveniently forgotten that one, Robert? Really?)

    The star was Violet, who has suddenly shown herself to be more liberal (and likable) than her son. (Where did that come from??) In honesty, when Robert lost his money and the estate was endangered, I half-expected Violet to suggest he divorce Cora and marry young (English) money again. She never seemed to like Cora, or understand that Cora and Robert did love each other. She was the one most focused on tradition and propriety and suddenly she has become the flag bearer for the family at all costs. Remember when she said Mary could be forgiven her trespasses with Pamuk because ‘she is family’? A dig at Cora, who was not. Yet, suddenly Branson is Tom and welcomed with open arms and checkbook at dinner. Or is it just Americans she objects to? It was wonderful to see her plot to save the Granthams marriage, but one wondered why when she has openly disliked Cora for three decades, and when was it that she decided to accept her son’s love for his wife? Was it Sybil’s death? Seeing his pain at the estrangement? What was behind her own heartbreak that she spoke of? More Greek drama. 

    They don’t seem to know what to do with Isobel either. For crying out loud, hook her up with the doctor and let them have a storyline. I don’t get Ethel, and never cared about her son, however cute he is. We knew little about her or the baby daddy or his parents. It distracts from other story lines. She seems to exist only to have gotten Mrs Hughes a story last series, and Isobel one now. What’s next? She marries Branson to keep him around? And will Branson’s brother court Edith? WIll the editor guy do it? She needs a story; maybe she’ll be Nelly Bly and go undercover as a hooker. Take that, Papa!
    And how will we part ways with Matthew should the series continue into #4? 

    • Anonymous

      What a well thought out comment!

      I have to admit I really like Isobel and love that she has things to do that don’t involve romance. Too many couples would make this show sickly quite quickly, I fear.

      and do we still have no idea whether the Pamuk thing ever came out?

      See: the 2011 Christmas episode.

      • PagetoStage

        Thanks. Re: Pamuk, I know Robert and Matthew found out, but did Richard ever ruin Mary publicly in the papers as he threatened? I don’t recall any talk about that this season in ep1. It seems to have gone away. If not printed yet–or even if it had come and faded, would that make the Crawleys more concerned about bad publicity and resurrecting the whole affair again by associating with Ethel and her ilk? (And there must be some relief on Robert’s part that his daughter did not come away from that night with a bastard child, and he risked one of his own if he had done the deed with that maid. Too close to home for him. I’d love for Violet’s past pain to include a possible unknown bastard child half-sibling for Robert. Those aristocrats often took mistresses, especially if they had arranged marriages No inheritance issues for illegitimate kids, but it brings the upstairs/downstairs class issues to bear.) I agree with your point about too many romances, maybe that’s what I dislike about the downstairs quadrangle this year. I guess I just don’t like Ethel and the baby story, and feel Isobel needs another project, preferably one that puts her again at odds with Cora and/or Violet. Three capable hens are formidable rivals. I like Isobel’s confidence and sass.