Good morning, Catherine!
I know we can’t do our customary chat for this episode of Downton, but I’m going to address my recap to you anyway—because oh, how I wish I could talk to you about the things that happened in Episode 2! Even with some distance from the episode, I still have mixed, confused feelings about the whole thing, and holding you in my mind as an imaginary conversation partner helps, even if you can’t talk back (for the time being).
So, let’s just get it out of the way, the big, HORRIBLE thing that happened in Sunday night’s episode of Downton Abbey.
Anna Bates was raped.
I actually knew it was going to happen before I started watching the episode. I missed Downton on Sunday—I watched the Golden Globes instead—and by the time I sat down on Monday to watch, I had already read some spoilers. As a result, the episode had a different tone for me than it did for those who watched it on Sunday night—what they must have experienced as a delightful, effervescent party episode punctuated, at the end, by something awful, I experienced as an hour of ever-growing dread.
And oh, how dreadful it was. To those who experienced the episode spoiler-free, Anna’s polite interactions with the valet Mr. Gillingham, must have seemed innocuous enough. But as someone who knew what was coming, I observed these interactions and couldn’t help but wonder what, exactly, Julian Fellowes was suggesting here. That for the mere sin of being kind to a man who wasn’t her husband, and having a bit of raucous fun at cards, and going downstairs alone to get some aspirin, Anna somehow—it makes me nauseated to even write it—deserved it? Is Julian Fellowes engaging in victim-blaming?
Yuck. Yuck yuck yuck.
Of course, none of this is to say that a topic like rape should be off-limits to a show like Downton Abbey. There were, perhaps, aspects of the storyline that were appropriately handled—Anna’s reluctance to tell anyone, even her husband, resonates with something The Stake heard in our interview with rape survivor advocate Christa Desir: that most sexual assaults go unreported and unprosecuted, then and, sadly, now. And Anna’s shying away from her husband’s touch in the episode’s final scenes give us some hint of the emotional consequences of rape, both to the victims and to those who love them.
I just wish the show had handled the lead-up to the rape better. Rape is never—NEVER—the victim’s fault, and if this episode suggested otherwise with regard to Anna, well, that’s not good.
Catherine, I’m interested in your opinion on this—and I’m guessing we’ll have ample opportunities to discuss it as the season moves on, since I’m sure this storyline isn’t going anywhere. My hope is that future episodes will prove my concerns about Fellowes’ perspective unfounded, and avoid any suggestion that he approves of victim-blaming. But we’ll see. I’ll be watching this plotline like a hawk—as I’m sure will you, and most of Downton’s displeased fans.
Other things happened in this episode, of course—though with the major horrible thing that happened, they kind of faded into obscurity for me. One by one:
• The belowstairs love quadrilateral continues to bore me silly. Alfred and Jimmy competing to see who can open a stubborn jar of preserves was a low point.
• Braithwaite, despite our desires to the contrary, isn’t going anywhere. Tom’s feeling out of place in his new life, and Braithwaite, perhaps, sees an opening. As the episode drew to a close, we saw her plying poor dejected Tom with a stiff drink and sneaking—I think?—into his room. I find myself growing a bit more interested in this plotline, almost in spite of my better judgment.
• When Mary asked Gillingham (the lord, not the horrible rapist valet) to go riding, I couldn’t help but think of poor Mr. Pamuk from Season 1. This conversation also was the occasion for this episode’s Unintentionally Hilarious Double Entendre from Mary: “I haven’t been riding in ages. I’ll be sore in the morning.”
• I love how nice the Dowager is being to Isobel. They still trade barbs occasionally, but they seem to be settling down into a phase where their differences in perspective are the foundation of a vital friendship. God knows Isobel needs a friend—she’s not taking Matthew’s death very well. Speaking of which, can’t Isobel and Doctor Clarkson fall in love already? I’m a Isobel/Clarkson shipper. Cat, if you agree, maybe we could popularize one of those TV romance portmanteaus—I suggest #Clarksobel.
• I actually enjoyed the Edith plotline in this episode, with her scheming to get Lord Grantham and Gregson to be buds. I figured out that Gregson was a hustler about halfway through—but I still enjoyed seeing his scheme play out. I suppose I just like to see Lord Grantham shown up—he’s such an ass these days that it’s nice when he gets proven wrong.
Well, that’s it! I’ll see you next week.