[Spoiler alert: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Downton Abbey. If you haven't watched it yet, read at your own risk.]
Although Downton Abbey's third season has already played in its entirety in the U.K., a majority of American fans of the series have kept scrupulously ignorant of what happens in order to enjoy watching the series unspoiled. And even for those who already knew what was coming, Sunday's episode was far more horrifying and heart-wrenching to watch than we could have imagined.
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On Sunday's episode, Downton Abbey is a house divided when it comes to the condition of the pregnant Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay). Dr. Clarkson (David Robb), the family doctor, is concerned that she may suffer from eclampsia — a life-threatening complication of pregnancy that causes seizures — and therefore wants to perform a Caesarean section on her at the hospital in order to save both mother and baby. Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), however, hires an obstetrician, Mr. Philip Tapsell (Tim Pigott-Smith), who believes Sybil is fine and that a Caesarean could potentially kill her.
The arguments continue, and ultimately Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) declares that "the chauffeur must decide," referring to Sybil's husband Tom (Allen Leech). Only it's too late, and Sybil goes into labor. When she delivers a healthy baby girl, all appears well. Unfortunately, in the middle of the night Sybil experiences convulsions. It turns out that Clarkson was right, but neither he nor Tapsell can save her now. The whole family watches helplessly as Sybil's airway becomes blocked, she suffocates and dies. "Please wake up, love. Please don't leave me," Tom pleads afterwards.
We can't help be moved by such a devastating scene. Sybil will be missed. She was the sweetest of the Crawley sisters and the most modern one, so we could identify with how she was blind to class distinctions and fell for the liberal-minded chauffeur. Who else's death could even make the selfish Thomas (Rob James-Collier) cry? "Not many have been kind to me," he says. "She was one of the few." Even Lady Violet took a break from her usual sharp-tongued witticisms to mourn and offer comfort to her son.
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When this episode aired across the pond, the show and Leech received an angry backlash from fans who wanted the chauffeur, anyone, to have made the right decision to save Sybil. Like Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), they felt the need to blame, which is part of the anger stage of grieving. And although we've reached the acceptance phase because this is only a TV show after all, we are disappointed. Downton's fairy tale spell has been broken. Reality has intruded, and none of our favorite characters are safe, which has already been confirmed by this spoilery story. Cast members must move on, and therefore their characters have to leave the series one way or another. We would just rather not have them written out permanently in such heartbreaking ways. Got that, Julian Fellowes?
Are you disappointed by Sybil's death? Did you cry? Are you angry?
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9/8c on PBS.