I have no idea what to say. I am sure you are all feeling the same way I am after watching what just happened: To say it was disturbing and upsetting is an understatement. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll have trouble sleeping tonight. It all starts out reassuringly enough though, with Isis back in the tail-wagging seat, lulling us into a false sense of security. So I suppose we’ll start there…
Whatever Edna Wants, Edna Gets – Boop Boop Diten Datum Whatem Choo
To quote Sir Charles Brown, ‘AAAAARGH!!!!’ Well, that didn’t take long. So much for keeping out of trouble. This is like one of those horror movies where you’re screaming ‘DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!’ at the screen but, of course, they can’t hear you and they walk into a chainsaw. And so it was with Branson. After days of being stuffed into a monkey suit and hit on by a cougar Duchess looking for some hot Irish caveman action, the house party made poor Tom feel like a fish out of water and crazy Edna was lying in wait, ready to reel him in. All she had to do was drop a big drink in Branson’s hand and he started swimming upstream to spawn. At least, that’s what we’re left to think when we see her let herself into his room to have her wicked way with him (do these people never lock their doors?). So yes, it doesn’t look good, but maybe I’ll be like one of those Downtonians who didn’t want to believe that Matthew was really dead. Yeah, that’s it. Maybe the next episode will begin by cutting to a scene inside Branson’s bedroom, a few minutes after Edna walked in, and they’re just sitting there playing Canasta (#HeresHoping!) . I blame this on O’Brien. She was many things, but with her noodle bangs and moustache twirling she was no femme fatale. But she’s gone and we want to explain to Tom that the only thing that her replacement, the predatory Edna, understands about him is that he’s an easy mark.
Old Friends – Bookends
Who would have thought, way back when, that we would see the relationship between Violet and Isobel go from acerbic to tender the way it has? They are still (as the Brits say) like chalk and cheese, and they bicker like an old married couple, but it makes us smile to watch this relationship grow from Hatfields and McCoys to Oscar and Felix. Quite remarkable really, and to a different degree, the same goes for Violet’s relationship with Branson (though he seems to have lost sight of it this house party weekend – and we wonder how long it will last anyway if she finds out about Dame Edna). Last week we saw Violet trying to coax Mary past her grief, and this week we see her making another attempt to encourage Isobel, but keeping just enough of the old vinegar so as she doesn’t get suspicious. Well played Violet. Well played.
Luck Be a Lady Edith – We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
So Lady Edith finally gets Editor Charming up to her place to see her etchings (or… van Dycks). Gregson is pretty insistent he wants to get to know Lord Grantham better, but his attempts to get past Robert’s avoidance systems are unsuccessful until… did someone mention cards? It turns out he’s a gambler (NickyArnsteinNickyArnsteinNickyArnstein) who’s rather slick at playing the innocent (RedFlagRedFlagRedFlag) and slices and dices Card Sharp (or Card Shark in American) Mr. Sampson quite nicely. But was that con artist simply caught by a more sophisticated con artist? His rather adept passive/aggressive threat, ‘it wouldn’t be in your interest to cross me’ would have made Tony Soprano (or, at least, Dr. Melfi) quite proud. Gregson’s explanation to Edith was merely that he, ‘revived a dubious talent from my misspent youth.’ Misspent youth? I want to hear more about this misspent youth. Is there a criminal record involved here? Is there a connection between the misspent youth and the loony wife? Is he not really the Editor Charming he seems to be but rather Editor Nefarious who sees Edith as an easy mark? Does he have a brother who’s a Canadian mummy? Don’t they know how I worry? Yes, he did behave nobly; winning Robert and the rest their notes back, but did he do that because he really is honestly noble, or only to catch a bigger fish in the end (the same way he played Sampson)? Yes, color me suspicious that this is just a sleight of hand of another sort – this is, after all, Edith’s luck we’re talking about here. Will she ever be a Sadie? And what’s the deal with Lord Grantham and the gambling? Hello! How many other ways can they find for Robert to lose the farm? I suppose that poker is no less a gamble than any of his other anything-but-work schemes, but still. And now he suddenly thinks Gregson is a ‘decent cove’ (AKA chap) – illustrating yet again that for Lord Grantham, it’s all about the Benjamins. But given how off-base Lord Grantham usually is in his judgments about, um, everything, as soon as he decides that Editor Charming is a decent bloke, I start to see red flags. How about you? Anyway, if you’re keeping score, that’s one bacon saved and one Gutenberg Bible lost. Do you think His Lordship auctioned it off to pay the electric bill without telling anyone? Have you ever heard anyone mention a Downton librarian before? Why have we never seen him in the servant’s hall? Is he one of those who sits at the ends of the table and doesn’t speak? Whatever. That’s enough questions for now. My suggestion for the next house party: Full contact Mah Jongg. I’m there.
He Works Hard For The Money – Hardly Working
It seems like this season’s Downton Abbey drinking game should be to take a drink (not you Branson…or Ivy) every time Mr. Molesley turns up with another job. This week he’s delivering for Mr. Bakewell. Unfortunately, it seems that all his assorted odd jobs are a come down from his position with Matthew. Even Daisy feels sorry for him, which is almost as odd as Carson, who lives in a dingy little room in the attic, feeling sorry for Lady Raven who has lost her fortune and is now living in a dingy little house north of the park – demonstrating yet again that the downstairs crew can be every bit as snobby, if not snobbier, than their societal betters upstairs. And so it follows that when Carson hands him the pair of footman’s gloves, Molesley rather looks like he’s just about to be slapped across the face with them. Then showing bad form, he incurs the wrath of Carson by bringing his problems into the dining room – blithely unaware that when someone asks, ‘how are you?’, they don’t really care to hear you say anything but ‘fine’. Tune in next week when Molesley gets a job at the Ripon Dairy and invents milk cartons; the first one featuring pictures of little George and Sybbie.
Spin the Bottle – Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (AKA Jimmy and Ivy and Alfred and Daisy)
Little known fact: Flow Charts were invented in 1921 and while there is nothing in the literature to confirm this, I believe we can prove they were invented by Gwen, former Downton housemaid, now upwardly mobile secretary – because these four have got to be the reason flow charts were invented. And now this lovesick quadrangle has claimed its first victims: Mrs. Patmore’s jam jar and Jimmy’s pride. It’s sad that Gwen’s proper place in organizational history has been overlooked, but at least she got a nice card from the old gang. In other news, Carson has to call in the guy from Downton’s IT department after Mrs. Patmore blew a fuse. Dr. Clarkson thinks it is an issue with her battery overheating from running too many apps at once (he is quite prescient in that way). His suggestion is to delete Angry Birds. Pray for her.
Pilgrim Soul – Back in the Saddle
As the season changes from black to purples, Mary is slowly taking two steps forward, one step back as a house party brings a motley collection of aristocrats to Downton for an elaborate sleepover. Of course, this is no typical sleepover where everyone sits around talking about boys, eating popcorn and making crank calls. It would seem rather redundant (and maybe a little awkward) for this lot to dial a number and ask ‘have you got Prince Albert in a can?’, when Prince Albert might actually be there, down the hall, in the can, but I digress. As everyone arrives, Robert is (as usual) off the mark, mistaking Lord Gillingham for a pirate, while completely missing the real pirate in the room (Mr. Sampson). This young Lord gave up his big house and is living in the Dour House – much like the Canarvons, the real-life Lord & Lady of the manor who live in a cottage elsewhere on the estate and let out their fabulous family seat for weddings and tourists and Downton Abbey filming. Early chit chat leads Lord Gillingham to his first fumble: Clearly he is not on Twitter or he would have already known that Lady Mary is a widow. But what would happen if Lady Mary married Lord Gillingham and had another son with him? Her first son, George, would become Lord Grantham, with the big house and her second son would become Lord Gillingham with the Dour House and the land. Could this become Masterpiece’s next big hit, Downton Abbey: The Next Generation? Pledge now for the Season 1 DVD, available in January 2029. But one gets ahead of oneself; first thing’s first – he’s (maybe) close to being engaged but yet obviously taken with Mary, and things are going swimmingly until Cousin Oliver brings Matthew’s gramophone down to the gallery so everyone can get footloose. Mary runs off at the sight of it, retreating back to Matthew’s side of the bed. Is it the memory the gramophone brings or, like Isobel, not being able to bear the sudden guilt of catching herself starting to move on? Either way, with his own experience it seems that Lord Gillingham could become, at the very least, a useful estate advisor. Might he and Lady Mary become a show that flops?
And now to the unavoidable…
Bludgeonings of Chance – Unconquerable Soul
Last season, Mrs. Hughes referred to Sybil as ‘the sweetest soul under this roof’, but I think I’d have to disagree with her on that. I think that title has always belonged to Anna, and that is just one reason why this episode was so horrifying; because this character is so loved. She is the little train that could; the personification of that voice in the human spirit that allows us to have courage in disappointment, and try again. It would have been upsetting to see this attack happen to any character, but even more so PollyAnna because she is such a pure soul, and a moral compass in this community of characters. I have to say that I knew this attack was coming (as I’m sure some of you did as well). When Downton Abbey was broadcast in the UK, I fastidiously avoided social media, and tread very carefully on the internet throughout the entire season, so I would not hear any Season 4 spoilers. But the attack on Anna was the one spoiler I could not avoid because it generated so many complaints from viewers in the UK. It became a huge news story that I accidentally came across. But even though I knew it was coming, I still jumped up and gasped when Green threw that first punch. The brutality just took my breath away.
Downton Abbey is often criticized for sugar coating the lives of the servants of this era, but they did not sugar coat this. The show has also been criticized for this plot twist, with some calling it sensationalized, but I disagree. It was shocking and brutal, but so is rape. The horror was sketched broadly but not pruriently – the camera (smartly) did not follow into the next room. I would have agreed with the critics if it had. We saw only the start of the violent confrontation, and then its aftermath. That was enough to serve the story. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I will ever enjoy that piece of music again, at least, not for a long time. The juxtaposition of the rape set against the ubiquitous, O Mio Babbino Caro, the Puccini aria that launched a thousand pasta commercials, was (I assume) meant to say something about Anna’s fears. In the aria the character is saying that she will die if she can’t be with her love, and that is, essentially, what Anna was pleading to Mrs. Hughes when she discovered her afterwards: Her fear was that Mr. Bates would murder Green and be hanged. But why didn’t Mrs. Hughes ask ‘What happened?’ when she walked in, even only as a reflex? That was odd. And why did Anna leave by herself afterwards, walking home in the dark? That, I couldn’t figure out. One would have thought she’d be afraid he’d be out there. But I suppose the safe sanctuary Downton has always given her is gone now. Will it ever come back? And that was one of the great ironies of this: When Good Samaritan Anna needed help herself there was no one there.
Has there ever been anyone there? I’ve suddenly realized that we don’t really know much about Anna or her life. I can’t recall her ever mentioning any family, can you? Could it be there is no family? It was common for girls to go from orphanages into service, so maybe that is her story. It seems that so far this season, the narrative has been to pull the rug of security out from under Anna and show that, despite her most favored nation status among servants, she still is, in fact, just a servant at the end of the day. Last week she was, incomprehensibly, treated as suspect by Lord Grantham on the false word of newbie Crazy Edna, and this week even Mary questioned her a bit peevishly about the gramophone. And on top of that, we are (sometimes) starting to see something different in her face when she looks at Bates. As happy as clams as they are, there is some pause there that wasn’t there before. But she loves him and in the immediate aftermath of the attack, her biggest fear seemed to be protecting him from what his reaction would be and losing him again because of it: She would die without her love.
It remains to be seen how the aftermath of the rape is handled. Even though I had heard about the attack in advance, I have not heard anything about what comes next, so I will be watching it all unfold – and I’ll be rooting for Anna to triumph, and Green to get what he deserves. Hopefully the show avoids the most predictable storyline; the one that’s been played out on countless other dramas. Even though she told Mrs. Hughes that no one else must know, will Anna tell Mary? It seems like she will have too. If a relationship with Lord Gillingham is going to continue for Mary, he’ll no doubt be returning to Downton with Green and that is where something will need to be done to protect Anna from further trauma, and that is where the secret might come out. I would hope Mary goes to bat for Anna in the way she should. Somehow I’m confident she will. And who knows, maybe caring for Anna would help Mary the same way helping Mr. Grigg get back on his feet helped Isobel. And if Mrs. Hughes puts two and two together, as she is so good at, she will know who the perpetrator was anyway because she saw him returning to his seat. But will there be justice for Anna? If true to the period, there likely won’t be. In reality, even Mr. Bates aside, it is understandable why she would hesitate to report the crime; for fear of the stigma, the fear she would be blamed (as she likely would be); her innate friendliness would be used as a weapon against her, and before forensics it would be her word against his. And she is a female servant; the most powerless of the powerless. The reality was, with no safety nets, servants were vulnerable to abuse of all kinds. Often a reported rape would only cause the woman to lose her reputation and her job (and her home), if she brought scandal on the house. How will Anna handle this?
And that is the story going forward: The most optimistic of people has suffered the most soul shattering of crimes. What will happen to that spirit? Who will stand up for her? What will happen to her marriage and to her life? I think Anna would say that it is not what was done to her, but rather how she survives that is the story.
Dowager Countessdown(Madam Dowager’s best zingers from each episode)
– “Guilt has never played a major part in my life.”
– “Don’t use me as an excuse. If you don’t want to dance, tell him.”
– “If I were to search for logic, I would not look for it among the British upper class.”
– “It won’t bring him back for you to sit alone night after night.”
– Oh, you would!”
While I thought tonight’s episode was absolutely horrifying, it was well crafted. It is in situations like this that I often feel that successful television creators/writers like Julian Fellowes become victims of their own talent. If they didn’t create characters real enough for us to care about, they wouldn’t have to take the heat when they then write the tragic things that befall them. For fans to be outraged when bad things happen to fictitious characters says Fellowes is doing his job really well (as are the actors who make them breathe). It is the double-edged sword that they have to deal with.
What do you think about what transpired in this episode, Downtonians? Please post your comments here and let us know what you thought about it all. I have a feeling Downtonians are going to want to talk about this one.
New episodes of Downton Abbey Season 4 air Sundays at 9pm through February 23. Find out all the ways you can watch new and old episodes
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