‘Downton Abbey’ s4e2 – ‘Viewer discretion is advised’

19 Jan

Downton Abbey is “back at full strength” with a big house party of people ready to make an impression.  The coronets have been dusted off, and the white ties are out in force.  What a shame we didn’t get to follow the ladies into London for their wardrobe shopping trip before the big event!  These are some snazzy rags.

Too bad all the people who arrive are not as snazzy on the inside.

But we’ll get to that later.  This is a “parental guidance suggested” episode…and so is this blog post.

Mastermind Edna is using her Jedi mind tricks on Tom…and once again it’s working.  Slightly terrified they’re going to work.  Or they already have.

“You understand me, don’t you?” ~ Tom


“Do any of you ever leave school?” wonders Tom when Lord Grantham blows off his concerns.  Tom may want to excuse himself from further house parties on mental health grounds, or at least bring a life preserver to rescue him from silly duchesses.  I don’t blame him one bit, and I can’t help but feel that if Lord Grantham had been the true man he is capable of being instead of season one Lord Grantham, things may have played out differently for Tom.  The Crawley dudes have got to stick together, especially now there are only two.  This is also proof of the validity of my belief that keeping things secret is never a good idea — if the Lord and Lady knew what had happened with Edna in season three, they would have circled the wagons in a more appropriate and supportive fashion.  And, of course, not hired her back.

Dr. Clarkson and Isobel are still on good terms and as friendly as ever.  It’s nice to see that storyline left open…just in case.

But friendly as she may be, Isobel is still very much in mourning, bless her heart.  It was kind of Granny to stop the carriage to invite her to dinner and a concert, but maybe this conversation demonstrates one of the differences between them.  The Dowager feels a duty to everything, everything except, perhaps, indulging her own feelings of loss.  Isobel feels a duty to her mourning, the cherished memory of her love for her lost son, and a duty to endure it quietly without forcing others to suffer with her.  I’ll repeat my statement from the previous episode: there is no magic timetable formula for grief or loss.  Society may impose timetable rules so that we don’t look too eager to spurn someone’s memory out of respect, but there is NO magic timeline for healing.  Perhaps the societal norms kept Granny from persisting in invitations before this.  And we know the invitation is truly a kindness on her part.  But, in my own impersonation of a Dowager Lady here, one mustn’t impose one’s own views about grief on one who is grieving.  That being said…

Well done, Granny, for caring and putting her oar in.  Well done, Isobel, for being truthful without malice.  Well done, Isobel, for showing love for the living by attending the dinner.  And well done, whoever, for seating Isobel next to Tom at dinner.

The portrayal of Isobel’s grief in this episode is incredibly beautiful and powerful.  It could only have been written and performed by people who understand the abyss of grief.  I was overwhelmed by how well Isobel was able to communicate, so honestly and concisely, about the depth of her feelings.  The moments at the dinner table with her made me wish I had been raised British — I would never have been able to restrain myself from openly sobbing the way she did.  And I doubt I would have been able to restrain myself from lunging at her and wrapping her in a big bear hug the way Tom and Granny did.  It was the restraint of each character that made the moment so powerful.  Sometimes it’s what we do not say or do not do that speaks more volumes than any word or action, and it takes great wisdom to know when it is that time.  It said so much about each character that they did not use the table as a personal stage or their grief as an excuse to treat the world as if it revolved around them and owed them something.  The bond between them all in that moment was exquisitely beautiful.

I’ve just developed a tonic to prescribe for Tom: 1/2 day with Mary plus 1/2 day with Isobel — apply daily, and repeat as necessary until the plague known as Edna is cured forever.

Mary has found a new friend in Lord Gillingham, and I hope he remains a good guy.  They’ve got things in common, and she’s not looking for game-playing the way she used to.  He’s engaged to another girl, the pick of this year’s litter in London society, but he’s looking at Mary like she’s catnip (watch this week’s Picture Shows & Petticoats to see what I’m referring to).  There’s something about a widowed woman that brings out the “damsel in distress syndrome” in a guy.  The more she genuinely relates how much she loved Matthew, the more attractive she inadvertently makes herself to Lord Gillingham.  What guy wouldn’t want someone to love them like that?  It only took a couple of scenes before I was wondering if a certain high society lady isn’t going to get jilted at the altar.  It’s really too early for Mary to be dancing again.  Mary, I hope you’ll TAKE YOUR TIME.  For heavens sake, don’t become a home-wrecker like Edith.

Edith did manage to talk her parents into including Gregson in the house party, but she can’t get her dad to give him the time of day.  And I can’t say I blame Lord Grantham one bit.  Journalists live to get the story at all costs, and the aristos commonly find themselves at the center of all the gossip.  We don’t even need to say one word about Mary’s close call.  If Edith had half a clue about either of those, she would have tried a little sensitivity and a new tactic.  But clues are very much what Edith lacks.  Dear, Edith.  You give all us gingers a bad name.  Please stop it at once.  Yours truly, me.

But Gregson is a clever man, and he quickly discovers there’s a cheat at the card table…as well as a way to at last get into Lord Grantham’s good favor.  I still don’t trust the man — he lacks essential elements of integrity which bothers me deeply.  Sir Richard’s villainy was far more obvious and easy to spot.  The ones who hide it better are the ones who worry me the most.

Guys like Mr. Molesley who wouldn’t know what a secret was if it bit them on the face are just adorable, though.  Poor Molesley.  Yesterday he was working the road crew.  This morning he was delivering groceries.  Tonight, he’s been reduced to wearing white gloves.  Oh, the shame of it!  “I’ve got me career backwards,” he confesses.  Molesley may the Bates of season four.  I can’t help but root for him, and in spite of his Captain Obvious boringness, he’s just downright entertaining to watch.  Molesley will rise again.  You can’t keep a good man down.

Just like Alfred.  I’m champing at the bit to see what happens now that he’s won an ally in Mrs. Patmore by coming to her rescue with dinner.  Fortunately he’s got enough passion and common sense to not give up on his dreams.  And I can’t wait to see what unfolds with his character.

Now for the part where I get real honest with you.  I had a hard time with what happened at the end of this episode — with the rape of Anna.

Anna’s been in tight spots before.  She’s been up against O’Brien and Thomas for years, and she’s street smart.  It didn’t phase me that a guy servant would try something like that with her.  But I was phased that a character like Anna, standing in a kitchen full of knives, wasn’t able to do a thing about it.  I was phased that it actually happened.  I was phased that it happened to her.  I was up on my feet in my living room, trying to turn the tv off but I couldn’t, knowing Bates will be going to jail again, and praying out loud that Anna would kill her rapist before the end.

If you follow my Twitter, you know that I tweeted in the middle of it to stop watching Downton Abbey.  I won’t delete the tweet.  It’s how I felt.  I’ll never be able to erase it from my mind, and the storyline will be altered forever because of it.

Here’s the deal, what I told Elizabeth when the PSP camera stopped rolling:

1 – I have a super-sensitivity to this subject matter.  I never watch things that include it because it is so horrible and vile and truly, truly evil.  Don’t ask me to.  Don’t get offended when I tell you no.  We all have our lines and our limits, and this is one of mine.

2 – Abuse of any kind will not be tolerated.  Anywhere, anytime.  Period.

3 – As a woman, and a woman who’s super-sensitive to issues of this kind, I live with the concern that the subject of rape will just get lumped in with all the other ills of the world and treated like it’s just another hangnail.  We live in a world where we are desensitized daily, and THAT DOES NOT MAKE THIS ACTION AVERAGE OR ACCEPTABLE.  This is not Thomas telling a lie to manipulate his mistress and get another employee fired.  This is a powerless woman beaten senseless and violated to the core of her being against her will.  Only a truly evil soul finds pleasure in brutalizing someone more vulnerable and defenseless.  An absolute coward.  This man has done this before, and WILL DO THIS AGAIN if he is not stopped, if no one speaks up.

4 – This is hard for me, but I’m going to be honest and tell you that I was truly conflicted.  I believe with all my heart in the power of storytelling.  There are villains, and there are heros.  Hitler lived, and he was real, and he and his followers did deplorable things.  That does not mean that Schindler’s List should never have been made.  Movies and tv are our modern, storytelling vehicles, and without them there would be much less good in the world today.  Much less.  I also believe very strongly in the lesson of Sullivan’s Travels — there IS a purpose to storytelling through movies and tv, and it is to lift us up out of the difficulties and tragedies of life in this world.  Grieving with Isobel for the loss of Matthew helps me deal with grief and loss in my own life…it helps me to connect with other people in conversation over things I’ve never really been able to talk about before, to make sense of things.  Watching Matthew and Mary in love renewed my hope that there is good in the world, that people are capable of change.  Mrs. Hughes and Carson and Mrs. Patmore make me smile on days I deal with difficult people.

But what do you do with rape?

You can’t say it isn’t real.  Rape is real.  It does exist.

You can’t put it in a period costume and cloak it with the excuse “it happened a lot back then, it’s relevant to the period.”  It did happen back then, but it also happened way back before then, and it still happens today.  People still make evil choices.

You can’t say it doesn’t belong in the movies or tv.  Whether you’re like me and believe in the Sullivan’s Travels principle or not, because it is real, it has a place in our storytelling.  The horrors of rape were not excluded from the Bible.  With all my heart I would prefer that it had not happened on Downton Abbey.  With.  All.  My.  Heart.  But it did.

As I told Elizabeth, maybe the Downton Abbey screenwriter has something to say.  Maybe he’s one of those men who wants to speak up for women.  Maybe he’s known someone who has suffered but couldn’t speak for herself, and maybe he wants to do something about it.  Heaven knows what his intentions are.  But how can we talk about the seriousness of rape when we live in a world where sex is so trivial and ordinary?  It’s not something that a girl can just tweet about or post on her Facebook page.  It’s raw and intimate and real, and it’s very much because sex is.  Is this one of the consequences of making sex such a common thing?  Sex is personal and private, but it’s not allowed to be because it’s exploited everywhere.  Does that exploitation alter our view of rape?  “It might be wrong, but it happens, so deal with it, take a pill for it, and go on.”  It doesn’t matter how many shows splash love-lives everywhere, it doesn’t change the truth.  There’s nothing average or ordinary or ok about rape.  Would we be less likely to marginalize the subject over water-cooler discussion of this week’s episode of Downton Abbey if we had one less vagina joke on the weeknights?

Part of my belief in the importance of not having secrets is that I know secrets have power over us because they are secret.  If you’re reading this blog post, and you’ve been raped or abused and you need help, please get it.  Please do not believe that if you keep it secret it will protect you.  Things that live in dark places fester and grow.  They can only be gotten rid of when they are brought into the light.  Tell someone.  There are good people.  There are people who will care and try to help you.  A rapist does not deserve special treatment because he is a family member or friend or employer.  It is not your job to protect them because they are related to you or give you a job.  You do not owe them anything.  Think about the next woman he will rape, and do it for her.  Say something so that she doesn’t have to live with what you live with.  Know that God loves you, that I love you, no matter what has happened to you, and you are not alone.  That secret will only have power over you if it remains secret.

Men, I meant what I said on PSP this week.  You have a voice, too!  Rape/abuse is just as much your problem as ours.  We need the men who won’t put up with that kind of behavior to say so.  To be there.  The world needs more men who are not afraid of making the right choices.  You are important!

What else can you do with rape in the media?

You can use it to sucker-punch rapists.  Make a statement through your story and characters that abuse is socially unacceptable and will not be tolerated.  There’s a very deep, dark circle of hell for those who delight in rape and enable/create rapists…and I hope Mr. Bates can assist this guy in finding it.  And if Lord Gillingham is as decent as I think he is, he may want to lend Bates a hand.

You can use it to prevent a rapist from being made in the first place.  Many times abuse of a person is what creates the monster and drives them to abuse others.  Take a cue from Granny and be interfering — treat other people, including children, with respect and encouragement, and step up when you see that something isn’t right.  Stories can show us how to shape choices and conversations so that we have hope and are not doomed to repeat cycles of evil.

You can use it to show us how to be there for women who are living in the aftermath of rape.  We may not be able to make it go away, but we sure can do something about their here and now.  All the more reason to remember how important it is to be kind to others in general — we never know what the person next to us may be suffering.

This is the only way I know how to process this.  How do you process difficult things?  Did this episode of Downton Abbey mean anything in particular to you?  Will you continue to watch the show?  I’d love for you to share your thoughts (be nice…you know how I feel about abuse) in the comments below.  My love and prayers for inextinguishable bravery are with you as you digest Downton Abbey and wrestle with real life yourself!

One Response to “‘Downton Abbey’ s4e2 – ‘Viewer discretion is advised’”

  1. Urban Wife January 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    I’m not sure I have the proper words for the rape scene. I don’t, actually. As I was reading what you wrote about it, I was just nodding my head in agreement the entire time. Will I stop watching the show because of this scene? I can’t say with certainty that I will, but I definitely have a bad taste in my mouth and have lost a lot of my usual excitement for upcoming episodes. I’m also disappointed in Anna and am hoping she realizes that as Mrs. Hughes says, honesty is the best policy.

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