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Illustration for article titled iDownton Abbey: /i“Season Four, Episode Four”
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The most interesting plotline from tonight’s episode is never articulated: Edith has what rather looks like an abortion in London, quietly, without telling a soul. It appears that she wrote to Gregson about it, but he either never got it or hasn’t tried to respond. I guess after last week’s sexytimes, there were bound to be consequences—not because that’s realistic, but because that’s how Downton Abbey operates—like Chekov’s gun, except for sex. If there’s sex in the first act, there will be consequences in the second.

Which is more or less how Anna’s storyline has been handled, too, if you think about it. She’s not pregnant—thank God—and it’s hard to compare Edith’s romantic lovemaking to Anna’s brutal attack. But the way the repercussions are echoing through the storyline feel similar. Both characters handle their issues largely in silence: Anna doesn’t have the luxury of total silence, because she has to report to Mrs. Hughes and her nosy husband, but both Edith and Anna show remarkable steel handling their crises.

One of the best aspects of this show is how it subtly highlights just how differently men and women act, based on the rights and privileges they entertain. It’s striking here: Anna and Edith literally carry on their lives in silence. Meanwhile, Bates, Alfred, and even the Yorkshire farmer trying to settle a debt bring their concerns out in the open, front and center, where everyone can see it and respond to it. That, right there, is an example of privilege—an unspoken one, for sure, but the meaning is clear.

That being said, I am giving Downton Abbey a bit too much credit. Bates has been one of the show’s greatest flaws right since the beginning—a violent man we’re supposed to believe has a heart of gold, a man who has shown himself to be manipulative, controlling, and coercive. But the show doesn’t seem to notice his flaws—or, rather, it showcases them as strengths, instead. In this episode, I think we’re supposed to see Bates’ righteous indignation at being shut out from his wife as a kind of virtue; his bullying Mrs. Hughes as an expression of love. I call bullshit. I know Anna loves Bates, and to some degree, that makes it easier to overlook his flaws—but literally, his wife is terrified to tell him because she is afraid he will do something violent. Mrs. Hughes and Anna, on top of their myriad other sufferings, have to maintain a lie to keep Bates in line. And then to go on right away and confront Anna about it—forcibly, again!—and to somehow make it about his suffering! Jesus, Bates, get a goddamn grip.

Anyway, at least he knows now, and doubly, at least he convinced her that she’s not “spoiled” because she was brutally raped. (Although: “I have never loved you more nor been prouder of you than in this moment”? I don’t know about that. Being raped doesn’t make you more noble.) And Bates aside, I stand my ground that Joanne Frogatt’s Anna has brought this dicey plotline from what could have been tawdry, offensive melodrama to a moving character performance on moving past victimization. By the end of the episode, Anna’s moved back to the cottage, and is crying a lot less—so if she’s doing better, I’m more willing to buy the plotline in its entirety.


Otherwise, this is a rather dull episode, to be quite honest. The only other thing of note is that Evelyn Napier returns, which is a delicate, lovely nod back to season one. I thought Evelyn had gotten married to someone else, but maybe he didn’t—certainly, he doesn’t act married, when he checks out Mary in her pretty magenta blouse. There wasn’t enough of him. Hopefully we’ll see more. He, Lord Grantham, Branson, and Mary engage in some estate-related business with a farm that has gone into debt; Violet and Isobel spar over a gardener; Alfred goes to London for the cooking test, but fails; Molesley is still getting screwed in every which direction. The storylines interweave really well—most of the events in this episode take place because a tenant dies of old age—but none of them are all that engaging. Not enough pretty dresses, Downton Abbey.

Stray observations:

  • Everything Edith was wearing in this episode—fabulous. That blue tunic-coat thing, with the matching hat, should be illegal. Also, worth noticing that Isobel and Mary are still wearing partial mourning—purples, greys, and blacks. Everyone else has moved on, I think.
  • Can we please settle, once and for all, how old Daisy is? Her schoolgirl crush on Alfred is adorable, but isn’t she something like 25? (And a widow?)
  • Lord Gillingham is getting married, of course. Even odds he never makes it to the wedding.

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