Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 2: I don’t even know any more, you guys

January 13, 2014 @ 7:31 pm | Filed under:


Spoilers below.

I don’t have the heart to do a full recap right now. That was a horrible turn of events, wrenchingly depicted, and I’m upset on about fifty different levels, not least of which is a fear that this plotline is being played for drama only and won’t succeed (even if it wants to) at taking a really meaningful look at that issue, which ought never never never to be played for drama only.

I will say this: even before we arrived at that terrible point, I was frustrated as all get-out by the way Anna and Bates were being made to behave. I say “being made to” because their interactions felt absolutely contrived, not organic. His cantankerous jealousy, her obliviousness to the villain’s obvious flirting. (And what are we to make of THAT? The price of friendly banter? Infuriating, and treads perilously close to suggesting her behavior played a role in what happened next.)

I set too much stock in TV relationships; this is a running joke between Scott and me. For a couple of seasons of The Office, I took it very hard if there was any whiff of trouble of a certain kind between Jim and Pam (after they were together). I welcomed organic challenges to their relationship—smooth sailing does not gripping viewing make—but I wanted believable challenges, not manufactured ones. And for many seasons, that show was remarkably successful in placing organic obstacles in their path. It was fun and refreshing to see them as allies and co-conspirators. So often, television seems to feel that as soon as the long-yearned-for romance is realized, it must Get Rocky and Face Threats. The Office accomplished something unusual in presenting us a strong Jim-and-Pam team that endured many years before a writerly wedge was thrust between them. (And for the record, during that final season, I kept hollering at Jim to SHOW PAM THE FOOTAGE. It was all there, his dogged devotion. My satisfaction when he finally listened knew no bounds.)

In Downton, I’ve taken a similar pleasure in the Anna and Bates relationship. They’ve weathered trials together, united. And now, even before the rape (it pains me to write that word so casually, as a plot point, which is my much larger problem with this episode than the subject of this paragraph), we’re shown little tendrils of doubt and discord coiling between them, and I don’t buy that for a second. Not to go all Kathy-Bates-in-Misery on Julian Fellowes, but, well, Annie Wilkes, whatever else her failings, did have a sound understanding of story.

Kathy Bates in MiseryMr. Bates would never embarrass his wife in public!

But even that, the hamhandedly portrayed strife between Anna and Bates, seems almost inappropriate to complain about after what happened next. As for everything else that happened in this episode, I hardly know how to feel about any of it. I mean, how can there be a rest of the episode after what happened to Anna? I’m supposed to care about Jimmy’s sprained wrist and his oddly ambiguous behavior toward Ivy? About Robert’s deep discomfort over dining with a (gasp) world-famous opera singer?

I liked Lord Gillingham but am, like Isobel, not quite ready to watch Mary edge toward a new romance. Two episodes on, perhaps. For now I’d rather watch her duke it out with Lord Grantham over the estate. I did enjoy their conversations and was happy to hear the tartness return to Mary’s voice. Much better than Zombie Mary.

Boy, the good doctor hovers mighty close to Isobel’s side these days, doesn’t he?

Does anyone who talks to Tom remember that he, too, has lost a cherished spouse?

Molesley. I just. He’d be much less pathetic if he’d stop talking about how pathetic he is. But it rings true to character, at least. Molesley never has done himself any favors. Grumping aloud to the Dowager while serving dinner was a bit of a stretch, however.

I cared a lot about the Edith and Mr. Gregson storyline, until I didn’t. Trouncing the card sharp might have been an entertaining thread in another episode, but the show’s final moments retconned the rest of it for me, rendering all the mini-dramas frivolous.

Someone who’s seen the rest of the season, tell me it’s worth hanging in there for.

P.S. We’ve been discussing it over on Facebook, too, if you’re interested.

My previous Downton Abbey recaps, which are usually more recappy than this one

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12 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Donna Boucher says:

    Very well put.
    Oh the picture of Annie really did make me laugh. My friend in Switzweland still
    Loves the show and she has seen it all. She is quite discerning so I have hope. I’m guarded like you. I feel the storyline is
    Just too crass and vile.

  2. Sheila says:

    Close your eyes and plug your ears for a few more scenes and everything will be fine, but trust me, it gets outlandish for a while there. As in “they’re doing WHAT?” I do wonder how some of these plotlines are thought up, they seem so contrived.

    Or you can do what I do and focus on the clothes. And the food. And that gorgeous house. lol

  3. Margie says:

    I cannot bear to see the Edna/Tom thing play out.

  4. Louise says:

    I didn’t watch. I heard from a broad span of friends (seriously, my extremely conservative Christian neighbor all the way over to my hugely libertarian-almost-anarchist cousin) that they were DONE with Downton after that episode, and I decided to read a recap before watching. I am SO GLAD I did. Because there are dark things I can tolerate in my entertainment, and there are dark things I cannot, and rape is one of those things I cannot (neither is child abuse, which I think is why the bit with Sybie and the nanny, so casually brought in and then discarded, troubled me so deeply). Especially – oh, so much especially! – rape for the sake of a dramatic shock, which it seems this was (given Downton’s past history of doing things solely for drama, and never following them through to any kind of satisfactory make-you-think resolution).

    I was on the fence about Downton before this, honestly, simply due to the laziness of the writing and penchant for cheap thrills over genuine character development, and now I’m done. There’s plenty of entertainment out there that I can watch (or read) and enjoy without forcing myself to endure something like that.

  5. Karen Edmisten says:

    Well, thank you for hitting nearly every nail on the head, Lissa. I can just nod and say, “Yes, yes, exactly that,” to all of it. Sexual assault should never be used just to stir up drama and tumult, and everything about Bates and Anna (and many other things) rang false in that episode.

    As for the arguments of some viewers that such violence was a part of life then and is now, well, yes, of course, but that’s really beside the point. This is a particular kind of show — originally, anyway, it was a well-written soap opera, but I can’t really say “well-written” anymore — and this important, painful issue is being used in, I think, an egotistical way by the writer in order to Address an Important Issue, In His Own Words. My older daughters both read Laurie Halse Anderson’s *Speak* and we discussed that — a lot to discuss, and so well done, and worth reading. But this, on Downton Abbey, handled as it was? They don’t even want to watch the episode.

    Also infuriating was Edna’s final scene, slipping into Tom’s room.

    I can’t abide a writer who has condemned his characters to puppetry.

  6. Amy says:

    Yes! I really miss that transcendent quality it used to have, before the all the shock value plot lines. You can have drama for life’s sake (for lack of a better term in my sleep deprived brain), not just drama for drama’s sake. It’s a rare show that can pull it off, but we sure need it in this world!

    And thank you Karen, I’m off to look for another book! 🙂

  7. Ellie says:

    Such a disappointment. My poor mother could not sleep Sunday night. I heartily second what Louise above and Karen as well wrote. Such plotlines have their time and place and *of course* represent real life, but that is not really the point here … Take Call the Midwife — I don,t know if you watch it, lissa? — which deals with dark and difficult subjects in every episode, but that show does it **so well**, beautifully and movingly written and produced and acted. I can watch that show with my 11 and 14 year olds, but DA? Definitely not.

    Lissa , I can really relate to what you say about becoming invested in tv couples (happens to me, too, with book series’)! Especially some of the couples on ER (I feel quite nostalgic now, as that was some time ago). And then i’d get upset when the writes would do Bad Things just for the sake of it!

    I liked DA so much to begin with but the writing seems to be increasingly cavalier and that’s just plain shoddy.

  8. Meg says:

    I saw the Christmas episode in England two weeks ago while visiting family. Opted to watch it because I was so fed up with the show after last season that I didn’t care about spoilers. I quite enjoyed it, though, and was looking forward to coming home and seeing the whole season! But right now, I really can’t see how they get there from what we saw on Sunday night.

  9. lesley austin says:

    Thank you, Lissa, for saying almost everything I would have liked to…and more. I’ve read everything here and at your facebook page and am just feeling so saddened and weary. Silly for something that we watch voluntarily and supposedly for pleasure.

    I truly had to refrain from throwing something at the television as I realized what was coming and ended up hitting the sofa until my frustration and anger had dissipated…especially for Anna, but also the Tom/Edna situation…and Thomas going bad again…the nanny episode put away already…so much.

    At the bottom of it all, tho’, is realizing that everyone involved with the show obviously don’t really understand why we watch. It’s not for the drama, it’s for the relationships and our relationship with the story. How can we ever have the same feelings about Downstairs now that this dreadful thing has been manufactured to happen there? How can we keep caring about certain characters if they keep being made to behave in such unbelievable ways? As you said, when they went on about Jimmy’s wrist and getting back at the card sharp, I was shouting at the television…how could they think any of that mattered to us? Do they think that our attention spans are so short?

    I don’t even know anymore, either…

  10. Pippi says:

    I’ve watched all but the Christmas special. I hate the Anna — Bates storyline. I feel like they just threw it in there to create tension and it sickens me every time it comes up. As for the show, I keep watching despite its many flaws — each time I feel like I have to find out what happens next. I even theorize along the lines of “well, they can’t let this happen because the writers would never allow it — it would impede the story too much…” (Sorry for being vague — I’m thinking about a specific plot line there but I don’t want to give spoilers) And then I have to watch and see if I’m right. I think it’s like watching a train wreck.