This week on Downton Abbey, the women ran the show (as they so often do). Sex, in its many considerations, was also a star, though mostly in a negative light. Things are changing, but as Aunt Rosamund reminds us, some things will always stay the same. This season’s third episode was nicely paced, and featured a number of long-range arcs, as well as some satisfying episodic resolutions. Too vague? Then hit the jump for why “it’s better to have a broken heart than a broken neck.”
Downton Abbey has often treated sex with suspicion, and it is a typical device for the distress of one or more characters (the only act more damning is childbirth). No sexual act so far though is as horrific as what Anna went through last week, when Gillingham’s valet beat and raped her. For such a terrible thing to happen to anyone is devastating, but to hear Anna say to Mrs. Hughes, “I feel dirty. I can’t let [Mr. Bates] touch me because I feel soiled” is a new level of sadness.
Unfortunately, Anna’s decision to hide the truth from Bates (for arguable reasons, through her lens) is something Mrs. Hughes can do nothing to fix — which is why it was so incredibly awesome for her to be able to bring the hammer on the witchy Edna later, regarding her ruse with Branson. Whether or not she and Branson even had sex is up for debate I suppose, but Mrs. Hughes’ keen eye (and nose for the unscrupulous) found Edna out, and threatened her enough to send her running off in the night. It was a quick and satisfying end to a character who should have never come back in the first place, but at least she served the purpose in this hour of giving Mrs. Hughes one triumph (in addition to her gift to Carson; more on that later).
Even “as mysterious as a bucket” Edith had sex incorporated into her story in (so far) its only triumphant incarnation this season. She signed some papers she didn’t read (trouble…) and, bolstered by her belief that Gregson is actually moving to Munich in his quest to be with her, compromises her position by sleeping with him, and sneaking back into her aunt’s house in the dawn. This isn’t to say that Edith shouldn’t be a character acting under the new liberal notions of the era, but did Rosamund’s admonishment act as a prescient warning? Was all that talk of pregnancy out of wedlock elsewhere foreshadow an upcoming scandal for Edith?
While the Gregson story line is one that has been developing over a long period of time on the show, Mary’s interaction with the impulsive Gillingham is one that illustrates the series’ issue with burning through plots too quickly. Gillingham basically stalked Mary for three days before proposing to her (and while he was engaged to another woman). What did he expect from her? It’s only been six months since the death of the love of her life. While Gillingham seems like he is earnest, the timing is all wrong. While his character did help bring Mary back into the world (and force Isobel to come to terms with Mary moving on, paving the way for more suitors), the timeline was a little absurd. But of course, what else is new? (Matthew’s spine, anyone …)
This season’s third episode was once again about moving forward, but also knowing limits. The only person who can’t move on is Anna, and for good reason. Her interactions with Bates though, and his belief that this is somehow his fault, is truly heartbreaking. As everyone in the house notices Anna’s change in demeanor, the truth is sure to come out, as do most of the Abbey’s many, many secrets.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— The little character moment with Carson regarding his lost love Alice was very sweet. Naturally, Mrs. Hughes has become Downton’s therapist again, acting as everyone’s confidant and doling out advice and fixes as fast as she can. Her getting the frame for Alice’s picture was a nice moment in her friendship with Carson. Their alliance is one of the strongest and most comforting on the show.
— The kiss Mary gave to Gillingham was kind, given how kind of crazy / selfish he had been about the whole ordeal. It really wasn’t romantic so much as manic … even though I do think his heart was in the right place.
— “If we only had moral thoughts, what would the poor churchmen have to do?” – Violet.
— Scenes like Carson’s tales of the Cheerful Charlies, or of Alice. just augment how little we know about some of the other downstairs characters, namely Ivy. While Jimmy and Alfred both got arcs devoted specifically to them last year, Ivy remains a mystery, mostly just running around with her arms caked in flour while Jimmy and Alfred flirt with her.
— “I’ll tear the clothes from your body!” – Part of Mrs. Hughes’ empty, but effective, threats to Edna.
— As a Thomas apologetic, I really loved the scene when Daisy was honestly confiding in him, and Ms. Patmore yelled at him for leading Daisy on. That is so like 5 years ago, Patmore! Thomas’ reaction was priceless. Poor Daisy, she unfortunately doesn’t have anything to do though besides meddle in the love triangle. Once again, Downton struggles to find roles for its myriad characters.
— There was good development this week with Isobel’s story, and I’m glad to see that her friendship with Clarkson is flourishing. Isobel is a character the show never seems to know what to do with, and now without Matthew, it seems even more difficult. But giving her a “cause” again both adds historical context to the time period, and led to some very nice moments (like her being noble with Gillingham).
— “I hope you find a way to make friends with the world again” – Violet.
— More beautiful gowns and nightgowns on Cora this week, le sigh.
— I almost forgot about Rose and Jack Ross! The previews have been touting that scene for months. I hope there is more to it. Him singing “a rose by any other name …” as she left was A+
— “The business of life is the acquisition of memories, and in the end, that’s all there is” – Carson.
— There are so many shows on Sunday nights now, I don’t get time to read the comments for all of my reviews. If you want to talk Downton or any other TV, feel free to find me on Twitter @keeneTV.