This week on Downton Abbey, a dinner party brings with it all sorts of drama, romance and heartbreak. While a dashing young gentleman sets his sights on Mary and she begins to cheer up a bit, Anna suffers a horrifying assault.
One of the major issues with the previous season of Downton Abbey was how dark the show became after killing off beloved characters. If anything, this fourth season has been operating in the shadow of one of the show's biggest losses, as all the characters try to recover in a world without Matthew Crawley.
Finally, Mary starts to slowly work her way out of her funk, so it must be time for something else horrible to happen to one of our favorite characters.
This time it's poor Anna, and the sexual violence she suffers in this episode is shocking, upsetting and depressingly hard to watch.
It's undoubtedly true that women servants in this time period were probably often the victims of horrible attacks such as the one Anna faces. They also most likely didn't have much chance of seeking justice, thanks to their low position in society.
Even today, rape cases are far from a sure thing, and victim-blaming happens all the time. I can't imagine what it would have been like for a woman in the 1920's, when Edith kissing her boyfriend in a restaurant was considered somewhat scandalous.
Of course, we know the Crawley family would go to bat for Anna and wouldn't stop until justice was served. They never gave up on Mr. Bates, even when things were looking very dire for his chances of escaping prison.
But Anna, probably correctly, realizes Bates wouldn't be able to let the justice system mete out punishment. He would definitely kill whoever had hurt Anna, and that would land him with the death penalty. So Anna forces Mrs. Hughes to keep her secret and flinches away from Bates when she sees him.
This is a horrible thing to do to Anna, who has already suffered so much throughout the course of the show and had finally found some measure of happiness. It's not that dramas, even escapist ones like Downton Abbey, should shy away from hard topics. But right now, Downton is already dealing with the repercussions of the deaths of two major characters. Things in the Abbey are already gloomy enough without adding horrific sexual violence into the mix.
Perhaps the show will use this horrible moment to tell a grounded, compassionate story about surviving a terrible tragedy. But with everything that has already befallen the residents of the estate, is this really the correct time to introduce a storyline this dark and upsetting?
The Crawleys have thrown a huge house party and pretty much everyone is invited. Even Edith's beau, Mr. Gregson, is in attendance, although Robert is studiously avoiding him like he might be carrying some poor person plague.
Also in attendance is Lord Gillingham, who is blandly attractive and immediately takes a shine to Mary. Unfortunately for him, Mary's still not quite over Matthew, as seen in her freak-out when they bring down his old gramophone.
"Sometimes I don't know who I'm most in mourning for: Matthew or the person I used to be when I was with him," Mary says sadly. Although we've seen a reemergence of the old ice queen Mary, truthfully Matthew has thawed her too much for her to go back to the way things were completely.
She says as much on a ride with Lord Gillingham as they talk about love. The two immediately begin to bond, even though Gillingham is already engaged to one of the richest heiresses on the open marriage market. Of course, it's as hard to resist Lady Mary's charms as it is to live through them. So by the end of the episode, you can tell Lord Gillingham is pretty smitten.
On the ride about the estate grounds, Mary confides her woes about the estate and the death duties they're struggling to pay. Apparently, the one historical lesson we're going to learn in season 4 of Downton Abbey will be archaic English upper class tax code. How exciting!
Meanwhile, Robert is making more poor financial decisions when he gets roped into a game with Mr. Sampson, an obvious card shark. Gregson decides to attend the game in the hope of winning Robert's affection as a future son-in-law, but Robert is not even close to bonding.
Having lost a vast sum of money, Robert goes upstairs to have Cora yell at him about dinner arrangements. As Cora fumes that Robert refuses to eat dinner with Dame Nellie, a world famous singer, Robert wanders around the room picking up items he might be able to pawn later. "Just for giggles, my darling, how much do you think I could get for your family heirloom mirror?"
Thankfully, Gregson is much smarter than Robert and figures out Sampson's cheating ways. He cheats the cheater and manages to convince Sampson to waive all his IOUs in exchange for his silence. This impresses Robert, mostly because now he never has to tell Cora about the stupid thing he did. Someone really needs to take the checkbook away from Robert, he is absolutely terrible with money.
With all the rich and snobby members of society cluttering up the house, Tom begins to feel out of place. The English upper crust makes him uncomfortable, what with all their weird rules about titles.
"If I were to search for logic, I should not look for it among the English upper class!" Violet wisely tells him. After feeling out of place, missing Sybil and having a bit too much to drink, Tom is easy pickings for a manipulative Edna to prey upon.
Meanwhile, Carson and Lord Grantham are shocked they have to invite the kitchen staff up to the performance of the world famous singer. "The kitchen staff! Sitting in the same room with us like they're actual people! What will they think up next?" And then both shake their heads at the decay of society.
Speaking of the kitchens, Mrs. Patmore gets so nervous about the huge dinner party that she has an anxiety attack right in the middle of preparing the food. Thankfully, Alfred is a future Gordon Ramsay in the making, only with less cursing, and he jumps right in to finish the meal.
Because they're short-staffed, the house has to bring on Molesley as a footman for the dinner. Molesley, who just last week was basically working on a chain gang, wonders if being a footman is below his station. Oh, Molesley, it's hard to feel bad for you when you're being such an idiot.
What did you think of the episode? Were you shocked by Anna's rape? Did you think the material was too dark? Sound off in the comments!
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on PBS.
(Image courtesy of PBS)