'Downton Abbey' recap, Anna's heartbreaking tragedy

It's one of the darkest episodes in 'Downton' history

  • Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt).
Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt). (Masterpiece Classic/Carnival )
January 08, 2014|By Jordan Bartel | Assistant editor, b

So this is the storyline that divided "Downton" fans in the U.K.

And it's easy to see why. Anna has always been the one "Downton" character, upstairs or downstairs, who we all rooted for and loved from the beginning. She's been through a lot: covering up Pamuk's death, dealing with her husband, Bates, in prison, helping to free him from prison ... not to mention having to dress Lady Mary.

And to see such a horrible thing happen to her is difficult to watch. In the midst of a party upstairs, as famous opera soprano Nellie Melba sings a touching, lovely song, she is attacked and raped by the valet of a visiting guest. 

As Melba sings "O mio babbino caro," dedicated to love and lovers, Anna, who had left the concert (and her husband's side) to find some relief for a headache, is cornered in the kitchen by the valet Green. There were some light moments between the two earlier in the episode (Green seems nice enough -- he organizes a card game for the downstairs crew), and he was laying on the flirting very thick. Anna, being Anna, was pleasant with him.

Green refuses to let her pass him in the kitchen. "You look to me like you could use a bit of real fun for once," he sneers, adding, "Don't tell me that sad old cripple makes you happy" before forcing himself onto her. When he resists, he slaps her.

The editing technique here heightens the sadness. We switch back and forth between the operatic performance and the attack, between the sweet, emotional song, and Anna's crying and extreme violence in a darkened room with no one left around downstairs.

You hear Anna screaming. You hear stuff breaking. You hear sobbing. You see Bates wondering where his wife is. He guesses she fell asleep.

After the concert, Hughes finds Anna, bloodied and frightened, cowering in a room. Hughes helps her but urges her to tell someone. An additional heartbreaking moment: Anna refuses to tell her husband what happened, and says she knows that if he finds out who did this to her, that he would kill him. 

Later, Anna tells Bates that she felt dizzy and must have fainted and hit the edge of the sink as she went down. He notices that she changed her dress.

Then, dramatically ans chillingly, Green says goodbye to them both. Anna hesitates but then realizes she must bid her rapist farewell to keep up the act. 

And in the last, utterly sad scene, she won't let her husband touch her shoulder in comfort because she seemingly can't bear it. She walks home alone, crying. 

Bates calls after her and she walks away. 

I can see why this would divide fans (check out one of the many reaction stories to the twist, when it first aired, here). I get that this type of violence is very difficult to watch, especially when it happens to a much-beloved character. But is it enough to make fans really just turn their backs completely on the show?

I'm skeptical. Fans deemed the plot development "unnecessary." Sure, it may be. But it doesn't make it "wrong" to include it in a TV plot. I think it provides an opportunity to show the vast consequences of a rape -- and delve into the mind of the person who was attacked. Furthermore, if it was "unnecessary" for Anna to be raped, would it be necessary for a more unlikable character to be? 

The added dimension of seeing how this will deeply affect the Bates' lives adds an interesting dimension to the show. I didn't find it soap-operay at all -- it seemed to be to be a very realistic depiction of such a horrible moment. Without giving much away, the shock waves of this event will greatly reverberate through the season. 

And upstairs will be affected by it as well. 

Meanwhile...

The rest of the episode takes place during a Crawley house party. What's the reason for the party? They're the Crawleys and that's how they roll.

We are introduced to some new characters, mostly Noble-Born People That The Crawleys Sort-of Know and Must Socialize With. There's the shady Terrence Sampson, Sir John Bullock (apparently the Lord of Really Deep Dimples) and the Duchess of Yeovil (which is, yes, the name of a real place).

Most notably we meet Anthony Gillingham (ahem *Lord Gillingham*; Tony to some) whom Lord Grantham barely recognizes and calls a "glamorous pirate."

I mean, he didn't even have a bedazzled eye-patch, but OK.

Gregson is there, too and Edith strives for most of the episode to get her father to even look at her love. I mean, there is a party and he needs to check on the wine list and all, but Grantham can't even engage Gregson for longer than 10 seconds. 

But our attention is more on Gillingham (eye patch or not). More specifically, on Mary and Gillingham. They get along well, they go riding together (trivia: Mary rides side-saddle) and later dance before she gets emotional after the servants bring down Matthew's gramophone to play some music. 

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