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Downton Abbey: Season Four, Episode Three

“Screaming in the servants’ hall, singers chatting to his lordship, and a footman cooking the dinner. What a topsy-turvy world we’ve come to.”

Mark Twain said, “When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.” One… Two… Oh, the hell with it. Damn it!

I can’t begin to write about how angry I am at the events of this episode. I was really enjoying it, although most of the stories have already been told. I was enjoying it, that is, until the end when this show took a turn from which I am not sure it can recover. I will get to that later. First, let’s take a look at the retread stories that, somehow, worked. In the previous episode, Edith invited Gregson to her parents’ house party “next month,” so I am placing this in late March or early April, 1922.

It didn’t take long for a potential suitor for Mary to show up, did it? Lord Gillingham is handsome, eligible, and suitable. He also seems like an all right guy. I loved the scene with Mary and him riding. Unlike the Mary of old who played games with men who were interested in her, this Mary is just herself. She is surprisingly frank with Gillingham and, probably unwittingly, shows him the best of herself.

Mary is no fool. She understands that Gillingham is interested, but she is not. She is still mourning and dances with him only reluctantly. When Mary sees the gramophone, I was not surprised that she reacted. Even I remembered the dance and the kiss she shared with Matthew just days before he was meant to marry another.

Speaking of suitors, Gregson is certainly proving to be a dark horse. I refuse to write another review in which I discuss what an ass Robert is, but what an ass he is to his daughter’s beau. He is barely civil to the man, that is until said man hustles the hustler and manages to save Robert from yet another financial disaster.

While I like the idea of Gregson having a past in which he was a card player who cheats, it occurs to me that, like Edith, we finally know nothing about him. He is taking German lessons and is already almost fluent? His willingness, nay eagerness, to move to Germany and to take this young woman with him seems so odd. Maybe it’s just my vantage point of knowing what is coming in twenty years, but I do hope Edith gets out of this relationship before she has her heart broken -- again.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Tom, and this episode made me want to give him a huge hug. His discomfort at the party was hard to watch, especially as no one seems aware of just how much he is struggling. As I said, I refuse to discuss what an ass Robert is, but what an ass he is to Tom. The guests are just as bad. Even though she is dancing with him, the Duchess is oblivious to the fact that, back in the day, Tom would have been a servant in the lord’s house, not someone who would have met her niece.

To make matters worse, Edna is playing her game and Tom is responding to it. With both his wife and his best friend dead, I understand that Tom is lonely and his comment to Edna, “You understand me, don’t you” simply broke my heart. The fact that the episode ends with her sneaking into his room leaves me very unsettled.

Isobel seems to have taken a step back in this episode. She was moving forward when she was helping Charlie Grigg, but now she seems to be back in her funk. One of my favorite scenes ever was the brief one between Lady Violet and Isobel on the street. Lady Violet actually calls her Isobel for the first time and seems genuinely to care about her well-being. Similarly, Tom’s comforting her at dinner was a lovely moment, approved of by the Dowager.

The downstairs plots were rather dull and seemed shoehorned in. We already know that Alfred wants to be a cook; we don’t need Mrs. Patmore to have a panic attack. We already know that Jimmy is a show-off; we don’t need him breaking a jar of jam. We already know that Molesley is ungrateful and surly; he doesn’t need to comment on his lot in life to Lady Violet. And, the whole scene with the gloves. Seriously?

Because Cora wants to throw the party of all time, she hires Dame Nellie Melba to sing. The whole idea that this woman would be relegated to her room was just another excuse to show us that Robert is an ass (I can't seem to help myself) and that Cora lives in the twentieth century. At the time, Melba hung out with royalty; she would only have sung at a house party if she were a guest. She certainly would not have put up with being treated like a servant.

Melba was the opera star of her day, especially known for her roles in Puccini’s operas. “O Mio Babbino, Caro” is Puccini and Kiri Te Kanawa, who is one of today’s stars of the opera world, absolutely nailed it. Unfortunately, this performance was rather marred by what was happening below stairs.

I’m not sure what to say about Anna’s rape except that it has enraged me beyond the telling of it. The worst part of it is that Anna was a victim throughout this episode. Bates was crass, controlling, and shouting -- almost the definition of abusive. Yet, the way that Fellowes has set up the rape, Bates‘s instincts were right.

What the hell is Fellowes trying to say? That Anna deserved to be raped? That she should have listened to and obeyed her husband? Even at the end, Anna tells Mrs. Hughes that Bates can never know because of what he might do. She is the victim, yet she is protecting the man who was so awful to her throughout the episode.

I understand that we need to put this rape in the context of the times. I’m sure many a housemaid endured various degrees of sexual assault and that these attacks were never reported. Yet, the whole bit at the end was absurd. Anna tells Bates she has fainted and hit her head on the sink. Why does he let her walk off on her own? He chooses now to allow her some space? Bates may be controlling, but he is not stupid. He must know that something is terribly, terribly wrong.

This episode has left me very upset, both at the rape and the way it has been portrayed. I do hope Downton can recover, but I now have serious doubts.

Bits and Bobs:

— “Stygian gloom” was a phrase I had to look up. The word ‘Stygian’ comes from the River Styx in Greek mythology. As the river was the border between Earth and the Underworld, anything Stygian came to mean dark and gloomy. “Stygian gloom” came to mean a gloom that is about as gloomy as it can be.

— “High Cockalorum” comes from the game of leapfrog. It has come to mean a person with pretensions of great importance. I had to look this one up as well, but it made me smile. The site I found asks people to tell them why they looked up such an unusual word. Twelve of the twenty people who answered heard it on Downton Abbey.

— I promise you that if my library included a Gutenberg Bible, I would certainly know where it is. Again, I refuse to write about what an ass Robert can be.

— Nellie Melba was so well known that both Peach Melba and Melba toast were named after her.

— If you have ever seen the 1986 version of A Room With A View, Te Kanawa sings the same aria on the soundtrack. Maggie Smith was in that film as well. If you have never seen it, I can’t recommend it to you highly enough.

— Rose’s only role was to flirt with yet another young man. This is quickly getting old.

Well Said:

Lady Violet: “I’m afraid Tom’s small talk is very small indeed.”
Robert: “Not everyone can be Oscar Wilde.”
Lady Violet: “That’s a relief.”

Lady Violet: “If I were to search for logic, I should not look for it among the English upper class.”

Gregson: “I’ve a feeling he’s very good at putting off what he doesn’t want to do.”
Edith: “He’s not as calculated as that.”
Gregson: “How little we know our own parents.”

Jimmy: “Of course it was poker. You can’t lose a fortune playing Snap.”
Molesley: “I could.”

Mary: “You may be surprised to hear that a match which is wanted by everyone can turn out to extremely happy.”

Gillingham: “What about it?”
Mary: “I thought I’d keep Granny company.”
Lady Violet: “Don’t use me as an excuse. If you don’t want to dance, tell him.”

Tom: “Do any of you ever leave school?”

Gregson: “I have won against a card sharp. There is pleasure in that.”

Isobel: “Guilt has the power to make all of us do strange things.”
Lady Violet: “Oh, well, not all of us. Guilt has never played a major part in my life.”
Robert: “Amen to that.”

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


  1. Much agreement. I thought this episode was infuriating and it felt like they were taking the cheap road to drama. Afterward, I was wondering if I was done with this show. Maybe not quite yet, but it was such a huge misstep.

    Room with a View is one of my absolute favorite movies. I own a copy and have watched it many times. It's even on my Favorite Movies list, although I haven't reviewed it yet. Someday!

  2. I've been waiting for this one; I knew you guys wouldn't be any too pleased when you saw it. I still think the season as a whole is marginally better than the third one (which I didn't like much at all) but I can see how this rather squalid plotline might be a dealbreaker for some.

  3. "'Stygian gloom' was a phrase I had to look up."

    Read more Lovecraft! :op

  4. When I read about Anna's rape - and the rest of the season's shenanigans, I knew that I was done with Downton Abbey. It was fun while it lasted but I am not going to watch a decent - although very flawed series - roll further downhill.

  5. I love Room With a View, plus that song will always be associated with the film for me, and therefore not with this episode, which is good.

    You all know I think Bates is a psycho anyway, and this storyline can definitely be filed under Not A Good Idea. I still love the show, as I'm still enjoying all the other storylines, and I have a great capacity to ignore the bits I didn't like and sort of pretend they didn't happen - I completely ignore the slightly creepy way Tom tells Sybil 'don't disappoint me' in season 3 and definitely the whole burning-people's-houses-down-and-abandoning-Sybil part (though in his defense, Sybil seemed perfectly happy with that plan, it was everyone else who was upset). And unlike Tom, my all-time favourite character, I never liked creepy Bates anyway. So this plot isn't going to put me off the show - but it isn't good either.

    It's a shame cause as you say, the rest of the episode is really pretty good! I don't like Gillingham though. He seems totally wet and not remotely attractive to me. But this seems to be just me!

    (Oh and another moment for Tom inwardly thinking 'You remember when MY WIFE DIED? No?' while at dinner with Isobel too. I can't imagine what Isobel's going through, but she could acknowledge that everyone else has suffered too.)

  6. Don't worry ChrisB, Downton CAN and WILL recover from this! At least in my opinion... Don't want to spoil anything for you.

    Part of me thinks they went with that storyline just to add some drama to the Bates' relationship, but as you said -from a historical point of view- it was sadly probably a fairly common occurrence (even more so by someone from "upstairs"), so if they're trying to walk us through history a little bit, then at some point something like this had to come up....

    I really liked Mary with Gillingham! So happy she hasn't completely switched back to pre-Mathew Mary! :o)

  7. On the subject of Nellie Melba, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1918, in honor of her charity work during World War I, and it's pretty much unimaginable that Robert would behave that way toward her. To be honest, even in the 19th century I suspect celebrities like Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt were acceptable (if somewhat edgy) dinner guests.

  8. Yes indeed, well said that this episode is actually enjoyable until the end. I can’t talk about it. I thought Daisy’s and Carson’s reaction to Mrs. Padmore’s panic attack was kind of funny. Also, it was Carson’s fault about Nellie right? Robert was too distracted to pay attention. I liked that little bit where Robert turns to Carson and says “I blame you” and Carson eyebrows go up as no one else’s can. Robert looks more foolish than ever in this episode. Sigh.


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