Monday, January 13, 2014

Downton Abbey Recap, Season 4, Episode 2: The Awful Shocker You Never Saw Coming (spoilers)

Youyoung LeeSenior Editor of Development and Strategy, The Huffington Post
January 12, 2014


Thanks to a three-month U.S. lag time, the third and controversial episode of Season 4's Downton Abbey has already broken the Internet across the pond. And if you've been holding your hands to your ears to avoid spoiler alerts, now you know why. By all means, it should have been a cheerful episode: Downton hosts a party; Mary's new love interest, the dashingly handsome Lord Gillingham, visits; and music blares through the Abbey for the first time, both in the form of a gramophone and a bawdy female opera singer with shades of Anjelica Houston. But new faces also mean new predators at Downton, which has thus far portrayed a rather sugar-coated version of the upstairs-downstairs class dynamic that prevailed in elite British society in the opening decades of the 20th century.

(Warning: the next two paragraphs may be inappropriate for younger readers.)

Anna (Joanne Froggatt) enjoys a mild flirtation with the valet of visiting Gillingham; and at first, Mr. Green appears charismatic, charming, the life of the party, incessantly interested. Of course, Mr. Bates isn't too keen on this Mr. Green person; he pads around the house with a forlorn look on his face, his chipmunk cheeks quivering in rage as he shouts "ANNA!" at the kitchen staff room in an effort to snap her out of it. Perhaps Anna was flattered by the male attention, or perhaps she lost herself in the thrill of playing that weirdly hysterical game of cards; either way, none of it could have prepared us for what was to come next. As opera singer Dame Nelli Melba performs for the household, Anna excuses herself to procure some headache medicine downstairs. Mr. Green, acutely aware of his opportunity, follows her, then violently attacks her and rapes her.

Writer and producer Julian Fellowes thankfully cuts out of the scene early, but not before Mr. Green punches her. Where does poor Anna go from here? Ashamed and battered, she hides in Mrs. Hughes' room, only to make the older head housekeeper promise not to tell Mr. Bates or anyone else in the house about the rape. Even if we buy Anna's reasoning -- that Mr. Bates is a previously tried criminal, and that he would likely get arrested again for attacking Mr. Green -- what was more depressing about this entire situation is the utter lack of places Anna has to go with her information. What rights did lady's maids in the early 1900s have? What job prospects would she have in the future with a rape scandal attached to her name? Anna knows it more than the millennial viewer does: Revealing her rape would scarcely accomplish anything but more scandal. In the worst scene from the episode, Anna is forced to wave goodnight to her sadistic attacker even as she shields her battered face from her worried husband.

Meanwhile, Lord Grantham continues to be an insufferable jerk to everyone around him. His pretentious airs and refusal to acknowledge changing times have almost become the punchline of the show, such as when Cora reprimands her husband for allowing their guest -- a world-class opera singer who has indeed be honored by the King -- to dine alone in her room, because she is "beneath" them class-wise. "Am I the only member of this family that lives in the 20th century?" Cora asks the room. Grantham then blames Mr. Carson for this oversight, Mr. Carson being the only person at Downton who is more classist and old-fashioned than the Lord himself. But at dinner, Lord Grantham can't help but making a snide comment to Dame Nelli Melba as she remarks on the lovely claret wine they are being served, revealing she's a oenophile. "This is going to be a lot less insufferable than I thought," he says, because obviously that's the classy thing to say to a world-class musician you've asked to perform at your house. Dame Melba smiles, because she knows the joke's on the Lord: she has likely been thinking the same thing.


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