The majority of the episode centered around the Granthams throwing a house party. It involved inviting a lot of rich people and having fancy dinners. (There were probably a few too many establishing shots of servants setting up). It was a good plot device to get everyone in one place, and to introduce a new prospective love interest for Mary. Okay, so Mary is still grieving Matthew, and Lord Gillingham is engaged, or about to be, but they had obvious chemistry, and the writers kept flinging Gillingham in Mary’s direction at every opportunity they got. Gillingham is fine; I don’t have any strong opinions about him so far.
Honestly, I wish they gave Mary a break in the romance department. Matthew was supposed to be her great love, as people on the show keep saying, so to have love interests already seems forced. Not to mention the first two seasons of the show were focused on Mary’s love life as she and Matthew got together. There are plenty of other budding romances on the show without shoving Mary into one so soon after her husband’s death. There are a lot of storylines for Mary to explore (her relationship with her infant son, her struggle to manage the estate and get her father to listen to her ideas) that I hope get examined, but this episode does not bode well. I’m afraid these plots will get overshadowed by an unneeded string of suitors.
Also unnecessary: Tom’s storyline. Tom has been part of the Grantham family for a few years at this point. We’ve established he’s uncomfortable with their upper class way of life and doesn’t feel like he belongs, but he seemed to strike some kind of balance between the two worlds. I wouldn’t mind revisiting this problem so much, if it didn’t feel like a lame excuse for Edna to worm her way close to Tom. Tom has always seemed like a pretty intelligent person, but all of the sudden he’s a complete idiot, and is willing to trust Edna and let his guard down, as she schemes towards…whatever it is she’s scheming towards. I have no idea what her endgame is. I’m really trying to care about Edna, but I just don’t. She’s not a fun antagonist. She’s just annoying.
Most of the other storylines were recycled. Robert was snobby and narrow minded again- shocking. (Although I did really appreciate Cora telling him off). Mrs. Patmore was stressing out in the kitchen again and Mosley is still looking for a job. Mr. Mosley has always been a supporting character, often for comic relief, and he struggles to carry his own more serious plot. To be fair, Mr. Mosley looking for a job has only been going on for a few episodes, but I have a feeling it’s going to drag on for a few more episodes than is necessary.
But despite the repetitiveness of many of stories, Downton managed to shock (and horrify) this week, when Anna was raped by Lord Gillingham’s valet. It’s one of the darkest storylines the show has featured so far. It isn’t the first time Downton Abbey has had violence. It had some episodes set in WWI, where the battlefields were terrible, but Downton felt like a haven from the ugliness of the real world. There was Bates’ jail drama a few seasons ago, but again, the grimness was away from Downton, and there wasn’t a lot of weight to it (did any of us think they would actually hang Bates?).
There was a realness to Anna’s assault. It happened downstairs, where Anna goes every day for work. It’s a familiar space, and it feels like it should be a safe zone, but it clearly wasn’t. Most of the attack happened off screen, and they contrasted Anna’s screaming with the opera music everyone upstairs was listening to, which made a jarring difference.
The rape was executed in a way that was disturbing, and even though it was more brutal than most of Downton’s storylines, it didn’t feel out of place, or like it was only there for shock value. The horror this scene inspired was augmented by the aftermath, especially when Anna asked Mrs. Hughes for help.
Downton hopefully has a plan and well-thought out development, because otherwise they just put one of their kindest characters through a horrible situation for nothing. The show has a history of trying to tackle more serious issues, and then halfway through not knowing what to. So they either try to distract the audience with gorgeous costumes, Maggie Smith snark and romantic melodrama, or they pull a solution out of thin air and sweep the serious problems under the rug and pretend it never happened. I hope Anna and her story are given more thought and consideration than that. Only time will tell.