“Downton Abbey” took a dark turn for its second episode of Season 4 on PBS. Warning — don’t keep reading if you haven’t watched the episode yet.
The Crawleys are hosting a house party featuring a performance by famed opera singer Dame Nellie Melba from Australia (guest star Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, doing her own singing). Lord Gillingham is invited and brings with him his valet, Mr. Green (guest star Nigel Harman), who takes a shine to Anna.
Green seems like a fun man, teaching the servants a wild card game and cracking jokes. But Bates is instantly suspicious of him and his suspicions are proven right when Green follows Anna downstairs during the opera performance and beats and rapes her in the servants’ hall.
It’s incredibly upsetting, even with most of the attack happening off-screen. Anna’s screams echo in the halls in a sharp juxtaposition with the singing upstairs that everyone is busy enjoying, including Bates, who is completely unaware of what is happening to his wife below stairs.
Afterward, Mrs. Hughes finds a battered, crying Anna, who begs Mrs. Hughes not to tell anyone. Anna also tells her that the attacker was a random intruder, which Mrs. Hughes accepts but clearly is not buying. And while it goes against every fiber of her being to keep quiet, Mrs. Hughes agrees.
Anna is just so afraid for what it will do not only to Bates, but to the Crawley family. It’s interesting how scared Anna is of bringing scandal down upon the household, which is very in keeping with her character, but also hard to watch because as viewers, we feel reasonably certain that Lord Grantham and Lady Mary would do nothing but stand by Anna, try to help her and try to see her attacker punished.
Joanne Froggatt absolutely knocks her scenes out of the park in the episode and clearly this storyline is going to dominate the season, so while it’s a horrendous act, we do relish watching talented actors like Froggatt, Phyllis Logan and Brendan Coyle work with such meaty material.
Lady Mary appears to get back in the saddle of life — quite literally, in fact, when she entertains Lord Gillingham for an afternoon horse ride. He reveals that he’s attached to heiress Mabel Lane Fox, but you can tell he’s not that enthusiastic about her. Who is he enthusiastic about? Lady Mary, of course.
It isn’t like Mary is throwing herself at him or anything, but she is enjoying being social and laughing again, which hurts Isobel a little. She doesn’t begrudge Mary happiness, of course, but it’s hard for her to watch Matthew’s widow talking and laughing with another man.
Part of Isobel’s problem is how alone she is now. She actually only came to the party because of a terrific guilt-trip by Lady Violet and is clearly having a very hard time finding her way in the world now that Matthew is gone.
Someone else struggling with finding his way in the world is Branson, who is very much a loner without Sybil and being the former chauffeur. The Crawleys dress him up in white tails for the house party (and he looks just smashing), but he doesn’t know how to act and turns to that horrible new maid Edna Braithwaite to open up about his troubles.
Braithwaite, because she is the worst, plies him with alcohol and then takes advantage of his sad, drunken state and they sleep together. Oh, Branson. We expect more from you, Tom.
Finally, there’s a side plot involving Lady Edith’s current paramour, Mr. Gregson. One of the house party attendees, Terence Sampson, is quite the card sharp (read: cheater) and manages to take Lord Grantham (among several other men) for a lot of money. Gregson spots that Sampson is cheating and challenges him to another game, managing to win back everyone’s money by doing a little cheating of his own.
Sampson can’t, however, call out Gregson on his cheating without revealing his own duplicitous actions, so Gregson returns all the men’s money and is the big hero to Lord Grantham, who warms up considerably to his middle daughter’s suitor. Yay for Lady Edith!
Thoughts & Tidbits
- Cousin Isobel is just killing us so far this season. Lady Mary is grieving too, but even in her grief Mary is hard and cold. In contrast, Isobel is making no bones about how she is barely hanging on. She’s so lost and alone and Penelope Wilton is doing an amazing job. Poor Isobel.
- Not much is made this episode of the Downton affairs as a landed estate, but there is the problem of looming death duties owed because of Matthew’s passing. Robert wants to sell off part of Downton to pay them, but Mary and Tom do not agree with him. Lord Gillingham advises Mary to meet with some tax people in London and bring a thoughtful plan to Robert to show him what can be done. It’s wonderful to see Mary taking an interest in the estate. She’s no dummy and could be a real asset, if her father can get over the fact that he’s working in business alongside a daughter.
- Mr. Carson cracks us up — a foreign singer sitting at the dinner table?! The horror!
- Mr. Molesley is back at Downton, working as a footman after Jimmy hurts his hand and Thomas refuses to lower himself to be a footman. Whatever the reason, we like seeing Molesley back, he’s just so … earnest. He’s like a puppy dog.
Lady Violet: “It won’t bring him back for you to sit alone night after night.”
Isobel: “I know. But you see, I have this feeling that when I laugh or read a book or hum a tune, it means that I’ve forgotten him, just for a moment. And it’s that that I can’t bear.”
Violet: “If I’m ever to search for logic, I should not look for it amongst the English upper class.”
What did you think of the latest episode of “Downton Abbey”?