So, that was the big terrible Downton Abbey event that those in the U.K., and those Stateside who pirated the show early, have been gasping about for a few months. Some of us watching last night may have already been spoiled — damn you, Wikipedia! — but it probably came as quite a shock to most. It's arguably the biggest thing to happen on the show so far, so let's take a moment to issue a big SPOILER ALERT to anyone still not caught-up. OK. Everyone still reading who wants to be? Great, let's talk about it.
Poor Lady Sybil. The youngest of the Crawley daughters (now a Branson) was ready to give birth, though it wasn't the happy, excited scene we usually see in stories like these set in modern days. No, nearly a hundred years ago giving birth was a dicier prospect, even with the wealth and access of a family like Sybil's. So there was a lot of dark tension in the air, as the Crawley family doctor, Clarkson, became concerned about Sybil's progress, but was met with skepticism by the fancy nobleman doctor, Sir Philip, whom Lord Grantham had brought in from London. Robert, perhaps distrustful of Clarkson after he wrongly assessed that Matthew would never walk again and failed to properly treat the doomed Lavinia, wanted the best care he could get for his daughter, but alas his faith was ultimately misplaced. After a mean fake-out that had mother and child (a girl) healthy and happy post-labor, Sybil began suffering seizures associated with eclampsia, just as Clarkson had feared she would. And then, rather quickly, she, well, died. Yup. In a wrenching, genuinely frightening scene, Sybil's family looked on helplessly as she seized, Branson and Cora in particular pleading with her to stay with them. Elizabeth McGovern, often off-puttingly stiff and affected, did some of her best work in these moments, as did Allen Leech. A terrible scene, but oddly one of the show's technical highlights.