Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 2 (PBS)

CLICK HERE to Season 4 Episode 3 (Jan. 19, PBS)

After an uneventful two-hour opener last week, Downton has gone Gosford Park on us here in Episode 2 (E2 on PBS. In UK aired Sept, 2013 this is E3). Don’t forget, Julian Fellowes wrote the Oscar winning screenplay of that Altman directed movie Gosford Park. And so we’re warned from the start. ‘Viewers Discretion Advised’, as scenes may not be bearable for everyone.

Before we move on to discuss that tragic scene, I think there are several good things in this episode. First is, good for plot development, Mary finally has stepped out of mourning. She reconnects with her childhood acquaintance Anthony Gillingham at a weekend house party in Downton. That’s seven months after Mathew’s death, too early? Isobel Crawley may think so. While this is the first time Tom hears Mary laugh, Isobel sadly replies, ‘I find it hard to join in the merry-making.’ Lord Gillingham seems like a decent prospect, but here’s the rub: he’s engaged. Of course, under the pen of Julian Fellowes, that isn’t too big an obstacle.

During that party, Tom feels absolutely out of place. Edna is quick to console. Troubles brewing.

Kiri te Kanawa in Downton

A moving scene is Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the real-life diva herself, appearing as a guest star in this Episode as the real-life Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba upon the invitation from Cora. She sings several arias to entertain the guests. One of them is her favourite, O mio babbino caro, which she dedicates to love and lovers. Kiri Te Kanawa’s mesmerizing voice singing this Puccini aria has made an indelible mark in my movie memory from the Merchant Ivory adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Room With A View (1985). Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley) must have felt an affiliation with this piece since she herself had starred in that legendary film. (Click here to listen and view a short clip.)

Edith has brought Gregson to the party but Robert avoids talking to him, until money is involved. Gregson has done some heroic poker playing to gain back lost ground for Robert who thanks him for ‘saving his bacon.’ Gregson winning back ‘fair and square’ from the dubious poker player Terence Sampson just might have revealed a bit of his past, schemes he learned in his ‘misspent youth’. This person remains a mystery still. Should Edith be more cautious?

As Dame Nellie Melba sings the love aria upstairs, good-natured Anna encounters evil embodied in Gillingham’s butler Green downstairs. I’m afraid from this point on, she will be a changed person. Green strikes Anna hard on the face and drags her into a room. The subsequent rape is hidden from our sight, thankfully, but we can see the aftermath. The charming voice of a diva singing a love aria upstairs is juxtaposed with the unheeded screams from Anna downstairs makes a powerful and ironic dramatic device. Anna has been the bulwark, a pillar of quiet strength and principle in the Series up to now, I can understand the outcries from fans.

Is this too harsh a dealing from Julian Fellowes? I don’t feel this scene is gratuitous or sensationalized. Why, Mr. Bates has been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, William dies from a war wound, Lavinia a casualty of scarlet fever, Ethel has to resort to prostitution and give up her son, Sybil meets her end after childbirth, Matthew crashes out, it’s not the first time tragedy happens to Downton characters. No, I wouldn’t want to see Anna suffer either. But if that is the twist in the plot, I’m eager to see what will happen next. This drastic turn will bring some tension between Anna and Bates as she tries to hide the fact of her wounds, worrying that if Bates knows about it, he will likely do something to Green that will send him back to prison or even hanged. Further, the social stigma of being a rape victim would lead to even more detrimental consequences.

Julian Fellowes has just reminded us that Downton Abbey is more than fashion and parties, etiquettes and zeitgeist of the roaring twenties. It is foremost a world inhabited by humans, with all their tragedies and ugliness.

I’m adding this note in. Some of you have provided stats on sexual assaults and a link to an interview with Joanne Froggatt, all point to the unfortunate social reality that crimes against women are still happening today, and, tragically, the stigma of being a rape victim is just as acute as in the past, while reporting only threatens them even more. Like Anna, they are twice victimized; first being raped, and after, silenced.

Yes, Mr. Carson, this is a topsy turvy world you’ve come to.


Fresh off the press: Season 4 Episode 3 (Jan. 19 PBS)

Downton Abbey Season 4 Opening 2 hour Special

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

18 thoughts on “Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 2 (PBS)”

  1. I’m glad it was only one episode last night. I have to admit it was a little much for my brain to try to fall asleep from. I keep saying I need to watch this show earlier in the day so there is distance between the drama and my sleep…


  2. My husband was almost more distressed than I at the tragedy which befell Anna. When I mentioned it to my mother on the phone this morning, as in “Why did the series have to take this turn?” she thought that it was very apt that the show would record the plight of women servants. They had no voice, really, and what damage was done to many of them downstairs…

    I like seeing Mary take interest in life again, and while I commisserate with her mother, I don’t think Matthew would have wanted either of them to weep forever.

    Thanks for highlighting parts of the show (such as the opera) that I didn’t know. xo


    1. Bellezza,

      Yes, I think your mother is absolutely right on that point. Crime against women, esp. vulnerable ones without power and status, the servants downstairs, are more a bad mark on the victims than the aggressors. That’s the most ‘topsy turvy’ sign of the world then, and may have perpetuated even today. I’m sure too that such crimes are not a rarity. That’s exactly what Julian Fellowes’ Gosford Park depicts, among other crimes.

      And yes, A Room With A View… that’s one movie moment I’ll never forget: A young Helena Bonham Carter opening the window with a view towards the Il Duomo in Florence, and Kiri Te Kawana’s captivating voice singing ‘O mio babbino caro’. You must see that film if you haven’t. 😉


  3. I agree with Ellen, it was difficult to fall asleep last night after such a dramatic episode. It will be interesting to see how this plot is carried through the next few episodes; especially, since Lady Mary and Gillingham have reunited. This reunited “friendship” could put Anna in constant danger of Green. Quite the plot twist, indeed.


    1. Jessica,

      O yes of course, thanks for pointing that out… the more Lady Mary and Gillingham is connected, the more chances Green will be at Downton. It will be as uncomfortable to watch as the tragic scene itself. Like in the aftermath, Anna has to pretend nothing had happened and said a cheerful goodbye to Green in front of Bates. Tragic indeed. Thanks for your comment!


      1. I hadn’t thought of that either! There will be plenty of tension as Bates already doesn’t like or may have even been a bit jealous of Green; he’ll have his antennae out for bad behavior. And nothing says bad behavior like rape!
        Besides being afraid Bates will kill Green, Anna was probably also concerned that Bates may have blamed her as well – it’s easy to forget that women were – and still are – being blamed for being the victims of sexual assault. The old ‘what was she wearing, I’ll bet she was drunk’ smears. Check out what Joanne Froggat, (amazing work from her but yes, hard to watch as we love her so) who wanted her character Anna to complain, said about the scene –

        ‘But our historic adviser talked me through remembering being a woman in that time period, and all a woman had was her reputation and that was it. If she lost her reputation she lost everything – her job, her husband, her family.

        ‘And in those days unfortunately the public still had the mindset of “There’s no smoke without fire”, “He’s a man he can’t control himself”, all things we in this day and age find repulsive to think of. But for Anna there’s so much at stake.’

        So much at stake! It’s a dark storyline to be sure but as we know, Downton isn’t exactly a sitcom. So looking forward to the rest of the season and great weekly updates from you, Arti.
        Here’s the link to the rest of the short piece via


        1. Thanks for adding this and the link, Sim. Yes, the historical advisor of Downton sure has it right. However much we’d want Anna to report this and see justice done, or, even in the the absence of justice, see Bates beat Green to a pulp, or the whole downstairs staff rally behind Anna, I’m afraid her options are very limited. Excellent point regarding the unfair treatment of rape victims, and crimes against women. Downton Abbey is certainly brave to take this issue on. As I said in the post, It’s not just about parties, weekends, and fashion.


  4. I enjoyed the show last evening and did not like what happened to Anna, but can see why it is courageous to have it in the show. I read comments that this was what happened – happened I repeat, to women. Well it is still happening. I was reading about the US military on Yahoo News, here is what was said :

    “Despite a slew of new oversight and assistance programs, troubling new numbers estimate that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, according to results of a survey. Of those, fewer than 3,400 reported the incident, and nearly 800 of them simply sought help but declined to file complaints against their alleged attackers.”

    This was for the year 2012, not 1922. I have heard military women complaining that if they report the crime they will be dismissed. So, this is still a major problem, not just an old one.


    1. VB,

      Thank you for relaying these stats to us. It’s utterly appalling, isn’t it? You’d have thought that almost a century later our society would have progressed. What Downton the series is dealing with here isn’t just historical fiction, but still relevant today. Anna is twice victimized, first being sexually assaulted, then being silenced. We as audience of course want to see justice done, but given the social setting at that time, this just might be an arduous task. Like Bates, she is wrongly imprisoned. What tragedy.

      Let’s just hope Julian Fellowes will deliver some poetic justice with his mighty pen. Although many have watched the whole Season, knowing what all these will lead ultimately, I’m hanging in here one week at a time. It’s worth the wait. And, waiting for a week to receive the next instalment helps things to settle and sink in. I’ve appreciated your stopping by and contributing to the discussion. 😉


  5. I’m one of the ones who knew what was going to happen to Anna and by whom. I find it well within context that she wouldn’t report the rape, particularly with Bates as her husband and wondering what might happen with his rage. It will be interesting to see how all this shakes out. Yes, it appears that Green will return to Downton as the Lord Gillingham/Mary story progresses.

    I’m also interested in the Edna/Tom story. I think in the end, Edna will get her commuppance and Tom will find love elsewhere — within Downton or out? He’s in a bit of a bind, given that he is the manager and can’t take off for Ireland so easy as he might like (which from my point of view is a good thing because I do like that character). So, who IS for Tom? A woman from a neighboring estate? Someone else? I don’t think it is Edna, though.

    Loved Dame Kiri — I did see “Room with a View” again recently on cable. Oh, Maggie was so young — they all were! Beautiful juxtaposition of her song and the rape scene.

    Yesterday I saw an article in Slate on Julian Fellowes taking more attacks at the female characters. ( I don’t know if I agree with it in full, since one must put the period into the mix, but it is interesting.

    Arti, do you know the year this is? They jump ahead so much, I’m thinking it is early 30s, but possibly late 20s? I know it’s six months after Matthew. Anyone have a timeline? I’m particularly curious given Michael Gregson’s Germany plans…


    1. MG,

      I like the character of Tom as well. I would love to see Lady Mary and Tom together! I had a feel that those two might be linked from the first episode of the season. They are both widowed, and I think Tom would help Lady Mary holds onto the softness that Matthew brought out in her character.
      I had not thought about Gregson’s move to Germany and the time period. That will be a interesting element to add to the plot. I would love to see a timeline as well.


    2. Just checked a wiki timeline — Series 4 is set in 1922-23. According to yet another wiki timeline (I know — not the most reliable source but the easiest to dig through quickly) Hitler became Fuhrer in 1921 but was incarcerated for several months in 1922. So, he was part of the scene, but it’s not till 1933 when he becomes Chancellor of Germany and establishes the Third Reich. So we won’t see a lot of this in D4 but PBS has ordered up D5. Most seasons cover two to three years.


    3. Thanks for the timeline, Jeanie. I think it’s quite accurate, or else it would have been corrected already, considering it’s on Wiki. Anyway, I think Downton stories and fashion seem to be progressing faster than the times. And yes, I sure hope it will go into the second WW, since there will be more stories and deeper impact. Like in S2, WWI has influenced every character and the story lines just prompted me to read and view books and films of that era. Your hunch about Gregson getting German citizenship could lead to something very drastic. Who knows, maybe he’ll become a Nazi. Ha! Anyway, I’m eager to move on, despite the tragedy of Anna’s. I try not to read any spoilers or see any trailers. So, it’s a weekly fix of intrigue. 😉


  6. Even though Anna’s rape and aftermath were realistic and the scene was well done, I still couldn’t help but feel as though it was done for the sake of ratings, the show needing something big since Matthew is gone and other plot lines are stalled or slow to develop.


    1. Stefanie,

      I know there are two views regarding the rape of Anna, increase rating or within the story context. I don’t feel the two are mutually exclusive. I think it’s a plausible storyline, considering the gender/power inequality, and it’s within the social context. Think back to as early as S1, Thomas Barrow had a gay fling with the Duke of Crowborough, and suffered for it due to such inequality… and similar situation with his attempt with Jimmy in S3, he had to suffer the consequence. Come to think of it, you’re right in a sense that any storyline is created with ratings in mind, or else the show can’t go on, as long as it’s plausible and within the context of the story, not too far-fetched. So that’s why I say Julian Fellowes has ‘gone Gosford Park’ on us. You might like to check that one out. 😉


      1. I know at least one person who stopped watching after the rape! I’m not sure Stefanie that, given the viewers of Downton, that such a story line would improve ratings. They did though I presume want to add drama into Anna and Bates’ lives and they already have a few baby ones!

        I was a bit surprised at Tom’s discomfort. I thought he’d been there long enough do have got over that …

        As for Edna, hmmm …

        Still liking the social commentary.


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