Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Most times I love being able to predict what will happen next on the television shows  I obsess over, but Sunday night was not one of those nights. If you read my recap last week, you might recall I wrote this in summarizing the Anna and Bates storyline:

Anna and Bates: The long suffering couple  is so happy and in love at the moment, you just know whatever comes next is going to be epically tragic. Be afraid, be very afraid.
I had that in the back of my mind when a viewer advisory appeared on the screen before the start of this episode. The downright reptilian Mr. Green’s laser focus on Anna (the wonderful Joanne Froggatt) from the very start told me something bad was going to happen with those two.  I felt it in my gut.
It was the scene in the servant’s hall where Green was sitting in the rocking chair talking to Anna over his shoulder that I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to attack her.’ If you go back and watch it, you’ll see he’s got this predatory look in his eyes. Call it my Irish intuition or chalk it up to my absolute fanaticism for every detail about this show, but at that moment I knew.

Even with that foreshadowing (An irritated, emasculated Bates offered this assessment of the creepy visitor who’d taken a liking to his wife:  “There’s something about him that gets my goat”), I was still horrified watching the long suffering Anna, Downton’s steadfast plucky optimist, being punched in the face,  dragged off by her hair and raped by that horrible man played so convincingly by Nigel Harman. Mercifully, Anna’s rape occurred off-screen but the effect of hearing her screams over a shot of a locked door at the end of long, empty corridor below stairs was positively chilling.
The horror of it all was made worse with the realization that Anna was being assaulted at the same time everyone in the house (including Bates) was sitting upstairs enraptured by a performance by visiting opera diva Dame Nellie Melba (Dame Kiri Te Kanawa). The producers’ decision to cut back and forth between Nellie belting out Puccini (and dedicating her performance ‘to lovers’) to the unheard screaming of a terrified woman a few floors below was, to say the least, quite unsettling.

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the number of shows that have used rape as a plot device lately. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the second part of the far too brutal storyline given to Mariska Hargitay’s character on Law & Order SVU. But this is Downton Abbey for Pete’s sake! The over top events here like the death of a Turkish diplomat in Lady Mary’s bed while surprising, were not at all violent or dark.
After the attack, when Mrs. Hughes finds Anna cowering in the corner beaten and bloodied, it didn’t feel like the Downton  I know and love. It was too gritty, too real. Law & Order: Yorkshire was more like it. Again, the producers mercifully kept the scene short  and when Anna met up with Bates after she’s tried to clean herself up and had changed into a borrowed dress, we’d returned to the show as we’ve known it. But it’s changed. As Anna has, and only time will tell what that will bring.

Rather than post an overnight assessment of the episode, I decided to sit with this development and mull over what I think it does to and for the remainder of the season.  Much of Downton’s appeal for me - and for many of the people I know who love it – comes from its ability to enthrall us as a beautiful, cinematic costume drama and transport us to a simpler place and time before most people gave up even trying to look presentable at restaurants and when most of the conversations we had involved talking instead of texting. Civility – even in a time of war (Remember honor bound William dressing Matthew as they prepared for battle?) –has always been the cornerstone of Downton’s very existence. It’s all about doing the right thing in this world of plummy accents created by Julian Fellowes.  I don’t tune in to PBS on Sunday nights for gritty realism. Sure, I want a well told story, but its escapism I’m looking for. This was not that. In this era of where nudity and sexual situations are all too common place, there is also tremendous appeal in the show’s chaste depiction of love and romance.
In having Anna, the one character at Downton who has never done anything to anyone remotely underhanded or wrong (even Mrs. Hughes fished a letter meant for Carson out of his wastepaper basket and went behind his back last week) be the one to suffer this horrific attack, Fellowes seems hell bent on waking viewers up from their Sunday night reveries. Is he throwing this very well looked after baby with the bath water? I pray not.

Yes, last season Sybil and Matthew died, just like people do in real life, but in making a rape the major storyline for one of the show’s most beloved characters, Fellowes is entering tricky territory, which I’m sure he knows. As any soap opera fan knows, rape has factored heavily into the plot. The most famous (infamous?) of all happened on General Hospital back in the eighties when the show’s pretty blonde heroine, Laura Webber (Genie Francis) was attacked by disco owner Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) which somehow led to the characters improbably falling in love and getting married (30 million viewers, including yours truly) tuned in. In too many instances, I’ve found that these types of storylines feel exploitative and manipulative. I’m not saying Fellowes was wrong to go here. It will all come down to how the story unfolds.
For now, Anna’s story just clearly registers as shocking. But  Anna and Bates’ story could become equally sudsy as the couple inevitably pulls away from each other (Anna has sworn Mrs. Hughes, the only one who knows about the attack, to secrecy). She (rightly) fears that if Bates found out, he’d kill Green and with his prison record, he’d be sent to the gallows for sure. Of course, we know that in 1922 no woman in service could dare tell the authorities about a rape without risking everything she values in her life – her reputation, her relationships and her job.

The question remains: how will this play out during the rest of the season? The soapiest of all twists would be, of course, if Anna got pregnant and couldn’t know who fathered her child. Please, let this not be the case. The other question is with Lord Gillingham figuring prominently in Lady Mary’s attempt to restart her life, will Anna be forced to exchange pleasantries with her attacker on future visits. I’m thinking yes. Will Anna be able to keep this secret from Mary, the same woman that pleaded with her to help her move the body of her dead lover from her bed in the middle of the night and wore her to secrecy?

At the end of this episode, after the attack, the monster called out his good-byes to Mr. and Mrs. Bates as he left thanking them for looking after him setting the stage for his return. We felt Anna’s pain and humiliation and if there’s one other gritty moment Downton viewers have to endure, let it be a suitably bad end for Green.
I suspect we haven’t seen the last of him and that seems dangerously close to the possibility of an over wrought storyline. I leave it in the more than capable hands of Julian Fellowes who has said many times happy characters don’t make for the most exciting storylines.  We get it, you love to keep us on our toes. But please, until the inevitable reveal to Anna’s nearest and dearest, go easy on us for a few episodes.

In other developments:
Against the backdrop of a Gosford Park-like house party, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) continues her tenuous attempt to find her way back to life and finds a very willing (and handsome) guide in Lord Tony Gillingham (Tom Cullen) or, as Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) inexplicably described him, “the handsome pirate.”  Despite being involved with “the heiress of the season, the aforementioned employer of Anna’s rapist is clearly smitten with the widow Crawley. (Mary smiles for the first time after Matthew’s death while flirting with him over dinner eliciting a whole host of reactions from the family). After trying unsuccessfully to get other couples to join them, they go out riding alone while talking of death, taxes and fortuitous matchmaking.  “Sometimes I don’t know who I miss more: Matthew or the person I used to be,” says Mary. Tender-hearted Tony tells her she’s lucky having experienced a “great love” in Matthew but our heroine (using her best cut glass accent in this scene) isn’t so sure. She tells him that she might be happier had she never had her cold exterior melted by her late husband. “He changed me,” she said.  But, “We can’t go back,” says Tony. “Apparently not,” she says in reply.

Later that night, when the annoying Lady Rose (Lily James) makes Alfred (Matt Milne)retrieve Matthew’s gramophone from the attic and invite the partygoers to join her in the great hall for a dance the couple join a few revelers in the great hall for a dance.  Mary tentatively takes Lord Gillingham’s arm and all seems fine until she spots the relic from her past  obviously remembering that night when she and Matthew swirled around in each other’s arms in that very spot to “Pops Goes A Million” and kissed until Lavina broke up the fun. She flees to her bedroom leaving Tony without a partner.
Tom (Allen Leech), who had seemingly found his place within the family and had even finally made a friend of Robert, took ten giant steps backward in this episode having fallen into the clutches (the hyperbole is intentional --- I hate this predictable and sudsy storyline) of the dreadful Edna Braithwaite (Myanna Buring). After promising Carson and Mrs. Hughes, that he’ll keep his distance from the house maid-turned stalker-turned-ladies-maid, he inexplicably confides in her telling her that he’s “never felt lonelier” among the Grantham’s guests trying to remember which title to use while dancing with ancient dowagers. When his claim, “I don’t belong here” falls on deaf ears with Robert he finds solace in a huge tumbler of whiskey conveniently supplied by Edna who tells him to drink up and sleep it off. Who didn’t see it coming when the wily witch knocked on his bedroom door asking, “Are you awake?” and slipped inside.

I’ve also got a funny feeling Lady Edith (the increasingly interesting Laura Carmichael) isn’t getting her happy ending this time, either. Her would be lover (More potential for sex at Downton -- make it stop!) Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) joins the group for the house party and after several missteps to ingratiate himself to Lord Grantham, hits the jackpot when he beats the card sharp Sampson that fleeced Robert the night before at his own game. Michael then blackmails the cheater into signing over the promissory notes he secured off the perennially clueless master of the house and his guests with threats of exposing his fellow cheat. Robert, relieved to not have to tell Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) that he’s lost yet another chunk of her fortune, decrees Gregson “a decent chap” having “saved his bacon.” When Edith asks how her soon to be German citizen boyfriend (“I’m getting fluent!”) pulled off this miracle of miracles he tells her he simply “resurrected some forgotten skills from his misspent youth.” Uh oh.
The episode’s most moving scenes came courtesy of  Penelope Wilton, whose restrained, heart breaking portrayal of a widow mourning the death of her only son, has been nothing short of perfection. When Violet’s (Maggie Smith, who is at her best opposite Wilton here) sees her walking in the village, she asks her driver to pull over so she can ask Isobel to join the family at dinner to hear Dame Nellie sing. Isobel explains that it doesn’t feel right to “hum a tune” or even read a book because in those minutes, “It feels like I’ve forgotten (Matthew) and it’s that which I can’t bear.” Replies Violet: “It won’t bring him back sitting home alone night after night,” says Violet imploring her to join the party. When she does come to dinner and finds herself witness to Mary’s flirtation, Tom tries to reassure her that not everyone is “making merry” and takes her hand. Violet recognizes his kindness with a knowing nod.

Things are pretty lively in the kitchen this week as Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) nearly gives herself a heart attack while whipping up soufflés for sixteen guests and turns her apron over to aspiring chef Alfred for the night, Jimmy (Ed Speleers) injures his wrists while showing off for Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Ivy (Cara Theobold) leaving Carson (Jim Carter) without a second footman for the party. The task was too beneath Thomas ( Rob James-Collier) so sad sack Moseley (Bernard Gallagher) takes time out from his new job as Bakewell’s delivery boy and put on the white gloves to help out. “It’s no secret I have come down in the world,” he tells Carson as the former valet begrudgingly accepts this final humiliation. By the time this season is over, something tells me he’ll have plenty of company.



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Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG poor Anna, I am almost certain that she is going to be further humiliated by becoming pregnant by her attacker...I hope she confides in Lady Mary, as I am sure that she will have her new admirer take "care" of Anna's attacker... Thomas needs a spanking for falling into the web of that spider of a ladies maid, who also has it in for Anna...although we loathe to see a rape inflicted on one of our favorite characters, I am pretty sure this was as common an occurrence in that time period as it is in todays society, and worse for the women back then as they never really received any sort of justice...I cannot wait until the next episode and I wish that Lady Edith, would be swept off her feet by a wonderful man and save her from this soon to be German citizen- I just do not see him as the man for her...and I feel she is so desperate to be in love she is willing to settle...

January 14, 2014 at 10:00 PM  

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