Tonight’s episode was the third episode that aired on ITV; however, since Downton always begins on PBS with a two-hour season premiere, the episode where Anna is raped smacks American viewers in the face in week 2. Not that seeing this a week after the premiere of S4 is worse than seeing this two weeks after the S4 premiere, but at least it didn’t seem so breathtakingly sudden when watching along with the UK.
It’s going to be difficult for me to recap subsequent episodes, because the aftermath of Anna’s rape will likely displease a lot of viewers.
I will say right now that I felt it a cop-out to have a fellow servant rape Anna. It’s not an impossible situation, but:
a) a regular servant was more likely to be prosecuted than an aristocrat
b) it supports the largely romanticized interactions between the Crawleys and their servants–just imagine how the show would unfold if a Crawley family friend had raped Anna. Would we see them bow to social pressure to close rank around the aristocratic rapist? Would choosing a side rip the family and staff apart? Would have been very interesting to watch.
However, up until to the rape scene, I classed this episode as Downton’s finest hour. It was very Gosford Park-like in its setting and in its basic plot that could only happen in this upstairs/downstairs milieu. Julian Fellowes’ strengths obviously lie in a self-contained story sustained by a series of overlapping smaller conflicts that culminate in an ending that ties every character together.
Mary has emerged from her zombie-like mourning, but the family decides she still needs some cheering up. A house party is the solution, and a bunch of family friends arrive at Downton to shake things up. The main plot threads occurring during this house party: the appearance of childhood friend Anthony Foyle, Lord Gillingham–who makes a beeline for Mary in the most obvious way–; Sampson the card sharp, who fleeces the gentlemen out of their money; Michael Gregson, who is determined to win Robert over (nevermind that Gregson is still a married man!); Tom’s awkwardness over his place at Downton; and the guest appearance of famed opera singer, Nellie Melba (portrayed by real life opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa).
The Nellie Melba plot made me roll my eyes a bit because famous singers and entertainers had been invited to aristocratic houses and dinner parties since the 1880s and 1890s (the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, caused considerable social disruption when he took up Sarah Bernhardt in the late 1870s). Robert and Carson treating Nellie Melba as though she were a servant was very anachronistic.
Meanwhile, Anthony Gillingham’s valet, Green, stirs up raucous fun belowstairs for the Downton staff, and Anna’s involvement in his games stokes Bates’s jealousy. This jealousy is, however, painted as husbandly concern (or overbearing, patronizing condescension, IMO), and Bates frequently scolds Anna for her interactions with the valet. I guess we were supposed to infer that his stint in prison gave Bates the power to sniff out bad ‘uns, but in the wake of Anna being sexually violated, it came across as “if only you’d listened to your husband.”
Speaking of the staff, the odious Edna Braithwaite once again preyed on Tom’s insecurities–in fact, there were two rapes this episode. Edna getting Tom drunk and sneaking into his bedroom wasn’t the sign of his consent to whatever she planned that night.
This episode had lots of the beautiful dresses, witty dialogue, and social mishaps that characterize Downton Abbey, but it cannot enrapture now that the show has introduced the very serious topic of rape.
Okay, so I lied about not recapping this season. The Twitter party PBS hosts every year always renews my enjoyment of watching Downton despite my teeth-gnashing over various elements when I watch it while it airs in the UK. Livetweeting also makes watching Downton feel like new, so I’m going to write these recaps the night of the PBS broadcast to keep my brain from drifting into spoilers!
Over the course of the past year, we’ve lost not one, not two, but three members of the cast. The departure of the amazing Siobhan Finneran, who plays nasty lady’s maid O’Brien, after season three’s Christmas special, precipitated some hasty writing to show her character’s exit. That is what we get in the opening minutes of the season four premiere, which opens on a foggy and ominously-lit Downton Abbey–coupled with equally ominous music–instead of the familiar wagging tail of Isis. Miss O’Brien packs her bags and leaves Downton in the dead of night, leaving two letters on her fireplace mantle to be discovered in the morning.
The disappearance of O’Brien upsets the family more than Mary’s corpse-like appearance (some on Twitter likened her to Lydia from Beetlejuice!)–Cora is infuriated that Susan Flintshire would poach her lady’s maid and collapses in bed as though without O’Brien around, she cannot even straighten her spine! Rose, Susan’s daughter, who has come to stay with the Crawleys while her parents move to India, bears the brunt of the family’s ire and suspicion. This leads to the spirited and impulsive Rose to place a help wanted ad in the village, thus circumventing Edith’s intentions of placing an ad for her mother in The Lady. Speaking of The Lady…Edith is popping down to London practically every five minutes to meet her secret lover Michael Gregson. He not only has a very swank flat, but he can cook! Edith noticeably blossoms in his company, wearing the most sinful red frock and later, while dining with Gregson at The Criterion, a floaty, sexy, sea green beaded strapless dress with a slit up to here (picture my hand at upper thigh–naughty Edith)! Gregson’s Great Idea for circumventing the law preventing divorce from an insane wife is to become a German citizen…in 1922. Will we be seeing Gregson extending his right arm, palm down, in salute in the nearby future?
While Edith is experiencing her professional and romantic awakening, Mary is drifting about the house, spreading doom and gloom. Robert is content with allowing Mary to wallow in her mourning since it keeps her from taking interest in the running of Downton, as Tom keeps urging her to do. Tom, braving Carson’s sneers whenever he is forced to interact with the former chauffeur, asks Carson to use his close friendship and almost fatherly relationship with Mary to convince her to move forward in life. Mary’s reaction is a given: she cuts Carson to the quick and reminds him of his place. Carson has troubles of his own to deal with, namely the reappearance of his ex-music hall dance partner and erstwhile blackmailer, Charlie Grigg. Grigg is destitute and in the workhouse, and is also desperate for Carson to visit him. Carson has no intention of unearthing his past yet again, but Mrs. Hughes presumptuously fishes the correspondence Carson discarded out of the trash and visits Grigg herself.
Somehow, Mrs. Hughes decides the rehabilitating of the ill and unemployed Grigg is the perfect project to dig Isobel out of her own mourning over Matthew (MATTHEW!!! your recapper weeps). While Grigg is installed in a cozy, warm bedroom in Isobel’s house, Molesley, Matthew’s valet and Isobel’s former butler, is turned out since Isobel sees no need for him! Molesley experiences one bad turn after another, first the humiliation of having no position, then being caught as a temporary ditch digger by Anna, his former crush, and then the sabotage of his butler skills by Violet’s butler. Violet, urged by a concerned Bates, decides to bring Molesley to help serve at a luncheon with Lady Shackleton, who is searching for a new butler. Violet foolishly does not tell her butler about these plans, and he assumes Molesley is his replacement! Poor Molesley. After this disastrous luncheon, Bates devises a way to give money to the proud Molesley by pretending to have borrowed money from the man. The hapless ex-butler/valet can do nothing but accept the money.
In Downstairs world, Thomas hates the new nanny because she does not treat him with proper deference, and schemes to get rid of her by preying on Cora’s completely cluelessness as to when someone is lying to her (geez…maybe Mary should have told Cora that Pamuk mistook her room for his own and then expired when she was taking a bath). Luckily, Thomas’s hatred of the nanny bears fruit: the Kathy Bates look-alike has been whispering nasty nothings into Sybil Branson’s ear, who had the “misfortune” of being the offspring of a former servant. Cora lays the smackdown on Nanny West, discharging the weeping woman that very night. But this moment of backbone is reversed when Cora simperingly congratulates Thomas for being such a fantastic servant. Oh well.
The love square of Jimmy-Ivy-Alfred-Daisy still continues, with Daisy embarrassing herself when she assumes Alfred sent her a Valentine’s Day card. Mrs. Patmore played a role in this embarrassment, but redeems the crushing moment by revealing she sent Daisy the card. Meanwhile, Jimmy is still toying with Ivy’s emotions in order to needle Alfred, and during an outing at a pub, gets her drunk. Rose, absolutely bored with living in the country, takes a jaunt belowstairs by pretending to be a lady’s maid at a thé dansant held for the servants and working class in the area. She ropes Anna into her adventure, and the nosy Jimmy tags along as well. All is fun and games for one-stepping Rose until another young man starts a brawl with her dance partner, Sam, after Rose refuses his advances. Sam sweetly shows up at Downton–Rose’s alleged place of employment–to check on her, and Rose exchanges her silks for a housemaid’s black in order to have a last bit of fun and romance with a servant.
A black moment was the return of Edna, the forward housemaid who made Branson so uncomfortable and uneasy in 2012’s Christmas special. Now allegedly trained as a lady’s maid, she takes Rose’s advertisement and applies for the position. Mrs. Hughes had written a great reference for Edna at Branson’s instigation, and its bites her in the behind when Cora is ecstatic over it. Edna’s reappearance in the house signals a new co-conspirator for the lonely evil under butler Thomas, and Thomas, forever hating Bates, uses Edna to undermine Anna’s position as a trusted servant. Cora swallows Edna and Thomas’s tale of Anna’s incompetence hook, line, and sinker. Completely absurd since Cora should trust Anna implicitly after Anna helped her and Mary carry Pamuk’s body out of Mary’s room! But that’s Cora Grantham for you.
Thankfully, Mary the Zombie disappears after the first hour, when she breaks down in Carson’s arms and apologizes for her rudeness, and takes up her position on the estate. Branson is pleased, and takes on the role as Mary’s mentor. Some of his statements about the estate are odd coming out of the mouth of a socialist ex-chauffeur–one would think he now upholds the ways of the manor born. Robert’s desire to hoard control of the estate is dealt a blow when a mysterious letter turns up (always with the letters!) where Matthew, who did not write a will, leaves the control of his investment in Downton to Mary. Thus the show has come full circle, with Mary finally getting what she wept about in season one: a controlling interest in Downton Abbey.
Laura Carmichael shone in the second episode (technically, episode 3!) of Downton’s third season. Alas, she has been just as neglected and underestimated by the media as her character is at Downton, so I hope this episode will garner her a bit of the attention Michelle Dockery and Joanne Froggatt have garnered here in the States! When this season aired last autumn on ITV, the jilting of Edith at the altar by the unfairly bullied and brow-beaten Sir Anthony Strallan brought out pitchforks from the legions of fans who warmed to the pairing and the prospect of Edith finally getting her Happily-Ever-After. Unfortunately, for reasons as yet unknown, Julian Fellowes decided that was not to be. and the circumstances surrounding the jilting soured me on Violet and Robert a bit. Historically speaking, Anthony was a great catch not only due to the shortage of elgible men after the Great War, but because he was well-off, in possession of his own estate, and was obviously fit enough–injured arm notwithstanding–to father children.
Violet was hesitant about the match in the Christmas special, but no one in the family presented any alternatives for Edith’s interest. Based on season 1, I can fully imagine that any of Edith’s tentative suitors were given the cold-shoulder by the family simply because–subconsciously or not–they just don’t value Edith. And if Mary so freely laughed at Edith’s attempts to catch Matthew to Matthew’s face (and he laughed too!), and wagered she could distract Sir Anthony away from Edith, I can also easily imagine her sabotaging the pursuit of any young man who ever showed interest in Edith during social events at Downton or in London. Ironically, Sir Anthony was one of the many suitors paraded through Downton for Mary’s perusal, so perhaps his jilting was a given! But at the end of the day, I want Edith to be with a man who will fight for her hand in spite of the family’s lifelong habit of dismissing, overlooking and undermining her.
Is Mrs. Hughes clear of breast cancer, or not? The ambiguity of her words and sending Mrs. Patmore to whisper the results of Dr. Clarkson’s tests to Carson was confusing.
Edith’s wedding gown was much, much, much more beautiful and flattering than Mary’s.
Glad to see Sybil has some spark left in her character, and that she dared to joke about sex in front of Granny!
I wonder why Martha packed up and left after…what…a week or a fortnight at Downton. Was Shirley MacLaine only available or willing to do two episodes?
Daisy must have a thing for emotionally unavailable footmen!
Cora’s speech to Edith post-jilting was supposed to be reassuring, but it came across as callous. What and why is she being tested? For being the “ugly duckling” middle sister whom nobody gave a fig about? And it was another blow that the family didn’t even have the same kind of conversation about the situation as the servants (go Alfred!)!! The next cut is to Robert moaning about losing Downton and Matthew offering Reggie Swire’s money to him–how rude!
It would have been as interesting if Mary had written that letter (just as interesting as the possibility that Bates killed Vera). She was willing to fleece her maternal grandmother of her fortune, and would do anything to save Downton…
Poor Molesley. He’s already ignored by Matthew and most the servants, and now he’s been pulled into the Thomas/O’Brien War!
Downton is saved by Daisy ex machina! How many miracles and coincidences can this show collect?
If Robert was hard up for cash, why couldn’t he sell their second country estate? No need to downsize when you can sell up.
I’m still an Anna/Bates fan, but putting Bates in gaol was a mistake, especially in light of the contrived plot Anna must unravel to prove his innocence.
Leave your ruminations and reactions in the comments below!