At the end of last night’s episode of Downton Abbey, I honestly didn’t know how I was going to approach today’s recap. Episode 2 depicted a brutal act of violence on one of the most beloved characters, making all other plot lines seem insignificant and petty by comparison. It was a jarring note that was sharply out of tune with what Downton Abbey fans expect from the show each week. Yes, we were dealt some emotional blows last season with the loss of two major characters, but there was something about this plot twist that seemed so terribly out of place with the rest of the series.
That being said, I will still recap the episode, leaving my personal thoughts on “that BIG thing that happened” for the end.
Warning: Huge, major spoilers ahead!
This week’s episode begins with a house party at Downton, one that makes old-fashioned Robert remember the good ol’ days before the war. The purpose of the party is to help cheer Mary up and continue to bring her back around into society. Anthony “Tony” Foyle (Lord Gillingham), an old family friend, seems to have been invited solely for that purpose. Even though he’s nearly engaged to a wealthy heiress, he doesn’t do much to hide his new-found fancy for Mary.
This causes Mary to go into self-reflection mode, as she tells Anthony that Matthew changed her, and she wonders if she wouldn’t be stronger now if she had been the person she was before Matthew. But later (after she sees Matthew’s old gramophone while dancing with Anthony), she tells Anna she doesn’t know if she is more in mourning for Matthew or for the person she was when she was with him. Hopefully Mary will soon find her footing in her Matthew-less world.
Michael Gregson is dragged out to Downton by Edith, who wants her father to get to know him better. Gregson tries to catch Robert, but as we all know, he’s pretty good at the whole avoidance thing. Robert is also in his usual “let’s throw money down the drain!” form and loses a tidy little sum to another house guest, Terence Sampson. Gregson at last endears himself to Edith’s Papa when he uses some old tricks to outsmart Sampson the card sharp, and wins back all of Robert’s money. So now that Robert likes Gregson, we can anticipate that Fellowes will likely place a new obstacle in Edith and Gregson’s way (besides the whole divorce thing). Because happy endings just aren’t what he’s about these days.
The other house guest, Sir John Bullock, sets his cap at Rose, and we see them interact a bit, but to me it was mostly background noise as I was trying to keep up with everything else that was going on. (Plus Rose still isn’t my favorite….why the heck didn’t she ask Mary if it was okay to use Matthew’s old gramophone? Typical teenager.)
Amidst all this, Tom is feeling like a white-tie-clad fish out of water. The Dowager tries to help him fit in, but he’s bad at the small talk, he doesn’t know the proper way to address people, and frankly, he has nothing in common with them. If Matthew had been around, I’m sure he would have kept Tom company and helped ease him into these sorts of situations (since they were once new to Matthew as well), but without him there, Tom’s adrift. So, cue Edna! What is this woman’s end game, exactly? Does she actually like Tom? Or does she just enjoy messing with his head? I’m going with the latter. At the end of the episode, she brings him a huge tumbler of whiskey, suggests he take it to bed with him, and then decides to join them. Without asking. Given the scene that took place right before this one, I couldn’t help but think there was some sort of horrible theme Fellowes was trying to inject into the episode.
The big upstairs event of the house party was the performance of opera singer Nellie Melba (portrayed by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa), who Lord Robert and Carson could not figure out where to place (given what happened at the end of the episode, doesn’t this seem so immaterial?). She’s above a servant, but below a house guest. Oh, what to do? In the end Cora solves the problem for them by becoming furious at Robert and inviting Dame Melba down to dinner, where she and Robert bond over a shared love of claret. Crisis averted.
While Mary seems to be coming out of her mourning, Isobel is still mired with grief. Penelope Wilton’s portrayal of the grieving mother was in top form this episode. The dinner scene in which she sees Mary laughing was wonderfully done. She knows it’s not fair to think Mary might grieve for her son forever, but at the same time Isobel is having trouble moving on.
While everyone’s having a grand time remembering the good ol’ days upstairs, it’s frantic chaos downstairs to make sure the house party is pulled off successfully. There are visiting valets and maids, though not as many as Carson would like to see (apparently he has yet to accept the newsflash that many aristocrats are feeling the post-war financial crunch), so that means some of the downstairs staff have to attend to the guests. But no one is feeling the strain more than Mrs. Patmore, who has a panic attack while preparing the big dinner and Alfred jumps in to make the sauces (yay, Alfred! For once your character had something else to do besides pining over Ivy!).
But even with all the craziness happening downstairs (Jimmy sprains his wrist while twisting a jar to impress Ivy! Oh, when will the hi-jinks end?), Lord Gillingham’s valet, Green, still finds time to strike up some friendly card games with the downstairs staff, and takes an instant interest in Anna, something Bates is none too happy about. But Anna, being the kind, trusting creature that she is, thinks it’s completely harmless. It turns out to be anything but. While the entire Downton staff are upstairs attending the performance of Dame Melba, Anna goes downstairs for some headache powder. There she is cornered by Green and subsequently beaten and raped. No one is downstairs to hear her screams. Mrs. Hughes later finds her, huddled shaking in a corner. Anna begs Mrs. Hughes to keep what she’s seen a secret. Anna fears that Bates will go after Green and land himself in jail once more. She makes up a flimsy excuse to Bates, saying the bruises were a result of fainting and smacking her head against the sink as she went down. She refuses to walk home with him, and goes out into the darkness, crying quietly.
I have no idea where this storyline is going, but Bates is bound to put two and two together and figure out what happened. I will just be interested to see if he finds out from Anna, or if he figures it out himself. But whatever happens, I have no doubt this event will put a great strain on Bates and Anna’s relationship.
For my part, Downton Abbey has always been a wonderful escape, and while I’m not saying rape is a subject that shouldn’t be discussed or to pretend it never happened in the past, the violent act just felt so out of character for the show. Depending on how they move forward with this, I am concerned about Fellowes’s motives for doing this. Was it just for shock value, or will it have a major, long-lasting (and seemingly devastating) effect on the character? And will that effect be realistic and true to the period? Of one thing I’m certain, Downton has taken a seriously dark turn, and there’s no going back now.
I had some other thoughts about last night’s episode, and I think that Edwardian Promenade covered them very well. Here’s the link to the recap: http://www.edwardianpromenade.com/downton-abbey/downton-abbey-season-4-episode-2-recap-downtonpbs/
What did you think about the episode and the shocking turn of events?