Okay, Julian Fellowes. My hopes that the rape plot-line would be treated in a manner respectful of a horrible crime have been fulfilled. We all suspected that Mrs. Hughes would eventually tell Mr. Bates, and so she did. She even respected Anna’s wish that the identity of her attacker remain unknown. The scene in which Mr. Bates tells Anna he knows is absolutely perfect. Shaking with anger, he tells her that Mrs. Hughes has told him what happened, when and where. Anna reacts with anger as well, that her “secret” and her “shame” has been found out. Very quickly, Bates makes it clear that his rage is caused by the fact that she was violated and attacked in such a brutal way. “Why do you talk of shame?” he asks her, tears in his eyes. “I do not accept that there is any shame in this.” When she says that she fears she is “spoiled for him,” he ftakes her face into his hands and says “You are not spoiled! You are made higher to me, and holier because of the suffering you have been put through. You are my wife. And I have never loved you more…”
When this whole horrible rape storyline began, I was furious that such a crime against women would be exploited for entertainment value. I anticipated an entire season of angst between Mr. and Mrs. Bates, a pregnancy, dripping with drama. But in the space of four episodes, the show has explored Anna’s fear, isolation, loss of self-respect, loss of self-worth, and her willingness to sacrifice everything to keep what she feels as shame from hurting those she loves. Thankfully, they allowed Anna a confidant in Mrs. Hughes, and made that confidant brave enough to help Anna by keeping check on her health and telling her support system about the crime committed against her. The writers allowed Anna’s husband the absolutely perfect reaction: refusing to accept that there is shame or dirtiness in Anna because she was attacked, crying of anger not at her, but because she had to suffer, and assuring her that what she has gone through has not made her weak, less, or dirty, but stronger, higher, and holier.
There are still holes to poke in the way this was dealt with. Is it perfect that everyone is focused on how another man (Bates) will react Anna’s rape? Can something be said about how Bates as a man intimidates Mrs. Hughes to get the information. Does it suck that Anna has to defend her attacker to save Bates’ neck? Would it be great if someone had gone to the police with this? No, yes, yes, and yes. But this is after all a TV show, and I am very relieved that my fears of exploitation have been assuaged.
And as this is a TV show, let’s move onto the fluff and fun!
One of the new “couples” on this show that I absolutely love are Dr. Clarkston and Isobel Crawley. No, they are not actually together, but the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene in Isobel’s drawing room was a perfect representation of an old married couple. She was admitting that she did not feel accepted by the family, he was trying to reassure her. She continued whining, and he responded with the perfect Husband Eye-Roll. She then sighs and flop on the couch. The only thing missing was her saying “I’m fine.”
The other new “couple” is Isobel and the Dowager. Finally, FINALLY in this episode we get some zingers from the Dowager! She’s been pretty tame all season, but in this episode everything she says is hilarious. The blossoming kinship between these two former enemies is both funny and heartwarming. Each scene between these formidable actresses is sparking with fire, humor, and talent. “Wars were waged with less fervor.”
At last, we see some the downstairs staff venturing into the working-class world outside of the Abbey. In this episode, the kitchen girls help prepare Alfred to take a test for admittance to a culinary course in London. “Is there anything I should know about London?” asks Steady Freddy. “There’s a great deal, dearie,” answers Mrs. Patmore, shaking her head. It’s adorable to see everyone from love-struck Daisy to stoic Carson encouraging this Alfred’s effort. Spoiler – he doesn’t pass his test, but thank goodness because we will be treated to more cutie Daisy trying to win her man.
(Speaking of Steady Freddy, the Ivy/Jimmy exchange when she chastises Jimmy both for making fun of Alfred and not having any ambition is further proof that the Love Rectangle is the reincarnation of Carson’s Past.)
New-fangled gadgets and new-fangled people show up downstairs in the form of a refrigerator, sewing machine, and shady ladies maid. At least this one is tied to already-evil Thomas and not trying to find the evil in sweet Tom. After drooling over her American orange juice and declaring her undying love for a brand-new employee, Lady Grantham marches downstairs to bully Mrs. Patmore about the refrigerator. When questioned about her unwillingness to accept any modern inventions, the wonderful cook confesses, “I would like to be rid of me corset.” Love. Her.
Moving upstairs, Mary has tons of suitors and suitors who are bringing suitors!! And the cutest purple top in the world! AND, she’s snarking at Edith again! Vintage Mary is back!!! After blotting a tear for Lord Crazy Boringham’s engagement announcement, she practically runs into the arms of her old beau Evelyn Napier. I’ll say this for Evelyn: he has a much classier way of acknowledging Matthew’s death than her last suitor. May we only hope that Mary doesn’t Pamuk Evelyn again when he brings his new buddy to the house next week.
Oh Edith. Your man has gone AWOL and you’re sneaking off to the doctor’s office after your one-night stand. Please please allot more time to this melodrama. I can’t wait.
Also upstairs, we see the adorable children! Mary doles out an extra ten minutes of her extraordinarily busy day to spend with her son, and looks to Tom for reassurance that the children are happy. Whew.
Speaking of Tom… Tom, please don’t leave. No one wants you to go. Even Robert loves you, as evidenced by his confession that he will genuinely miss you and little Sybie. Robert looked so much like Henry Higgins leaning on the mantlepiece and admitting in his staid English way that he cared, that I wanted him to break into song:
to the tune of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”
I’ve grown accustomed to his face,
He almost makes the day begin.
I’ve grown accustomed to his brogue, it’s becoming rather vogue.
The tails he wears to show he cares
Are second nature to me now.
Like breathing out and breathing in.
I was serenely aristocratic and content before we met.
Surely I could always be that way again, and yet.
I’ve grown accustomed to his rants, accustomed to his hats,
Accustomed to his face.
I’m very grateful he’s a plebeian and so easy to forget
Rather like a habit one can always break and yet
I’ve grown accustomed to the trace of the Irish in the air,
Accustomed to his face.
At the family luncheon, Lord Grantham stated “If we don’t respect the past, we’ll find it harder to build the future.” This line seemed like the thesis for this episode. Although TV shows must always move forward as art reflects life, watching Episode 4 reminded me of what I love about Downton Abbey. We had lots of juicy zingers from the Dowager, fabulous clothes, suspense, heartache, romance, scenery, and the drama of family. Even the luncheon scene was representative of respecting the past to build the future: we’ve never seen the family dining alone for this meal, but the repartee and feel of the scene brought us back to the heart of Downton.