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:
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
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
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
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.
Labels: Allen Leech Downton Abbey, Anna Bates, Downton Abbey season four recaps, Julian Fellowes defends season four controversial storyline, Lord Gillingham, Michelle Dockery, PBS Downton Abbey, valet Green