This week on Downton Abbey
, Mary valiantly rescues a pig, the Dowager Countess has a close call, Rose continues flirting with disaster in the form of Jack Ross and Edith makes a tough choice about her pregnancy.
This has certainly been a dark season of Downton Abbey, even for a show that routinely features death, war and whatever hairdo O'Brien used to sport. In the few episodes thus far, we've dealt with rape, unplanned pregnancy, missing lovers, racial tension and the depression which often follows a major death.
When the Dowager Countess came down with a fever, I thought for sure that Dame Maggie Smith's character was saying sayonara to the show as well. And without the Dowager Countess' witticisms and well-placed snobbery, the show would be a real slog to get through. Thankfully, this isn't what happened. But it is telling that so much of the joy has been siphoned from the show.
Television shows must have drama to survive, especially glorified soap operas like Downton. And yet there's a difference between drama and melodrama. So little of the death and heartache of the last few seasons has worked to push the show to develop new storylines, to explore new ground or to push the show in a different direction.
Like the estate at the center of this period piece, Downton Abbey remains mostly unchanged. The times and the circumstances of some of the characters may change, but the format of the show and the way the characters move through their world is altered very little. Perhaps this is the point showrunner Julian Fellowes is trying to make; more likely he doesn't want to shake up a proven formula too badly.
Bates Puts the Pieces Together
Maybe the most egregious mistake this season has been the fate which befell Anna. A victim of horrendous sexual violence, the show has since spent scant time delving into how this violence has affected Anna. It hasn't dealt with how sexual assault was treated or looked upon at the time, or what recourse a woman in Anna's position would have had in reporting her assault.
Instead, the storyline has revolved entirely around the implications Anna's assault has on Mr. Bates. When not focusing on how Anna's rape affects their marriage, the show points out Anna isn't reporting her assault because Mr. Bates would be sure to kill Green and end up back in the slammer for good.
If this was a story about the shame victims of sexual assault feel, or the limited resources available at the time, these might be interesting avenues to tell us about how things have changed and how they've stayed the same. Instead, it's a very narrow storyline about one woman married to a kind-hearted yet somewhat murderous ex-con. Joanne Froggatt is doing wonderful with the material she's given and really elevating the little she has to work with, but it feels as if the rape was thrown in to spice up the drama. And that's just gross.
So this week, Mr. Green returns and Mrs. Hughes handily tells him off. However, because he's a cartoon villain, he spills to Baxter that he was in the kitchen during the opera singer's performance. Mr. Bates overhears, of course, and slowly begins to plan the perfect crime. While Mr. Green stupidly spells out to anyone with a brain that he was behind the assault, Bates begins to sharpen his cane into a shiv. Shank you later, Green!
This week is all about the upstairs family, as all the drama above decks hits an all-time fever pitch. While Robert takes off for America with Thomas to solve Harold's dilemma, all hell breaks loose in his absence.
Rose continues to see Jack Ross, ducking away to go on romantic boat rides with him. "Rose, the world will never understand our relationship. Are you sure you care this much about me, a relative stranger you met five seconds ago, to deal with all the blatant racism and classism sure to follow?" Jack asks, heart on his sleeve.
"Oh, sure! Also, my mummy will hate it! I mean, that's totally not the only reason I'm into you. You're also very handsome. But to be real, it's mostly about the parental rebellion. And love!" Then they make out, because apparently Rose's beauty makes up for her startlingly idiocy. Jack Ross is a super cool lounge singer, there is no way he hasn't met girls prettier, cooler and with more common sense than Rose. This relationship makes no sense to me on any level.
Meanwhile, Mary is stuck at home with Charles Blake and some pigs. Blake keeps sassing Mary and she keeps sassing him back, so I immediately start a countdown clock to their eventual sexing. The only mystery is whether he'll live to tell the tale.
One of the pigs is near death from dehydration, so Mary and Blake bring water back and forth in buckets to save the pig's life. Unfortunately, Mary's pig-related heroism also ends up getting her very, very muddy. Watching Mary run around in her formal evening gown in the mud to save a pig might end up being the highlight of this whole season.
If I had to sit through all the stupid Ivy-Daisy-Alfred-Jimmy stuff for this, I have to be honest and say it was all worth it. Mary literally throws mud at Blake's face. There is mud throwing! Then she offers to make him eggs. This is the weirdest foreplay ever. It's like an alien has momentarily taken over Mary's body, but Blake is way totally into it.
In less adorable storylines, Edith is trying to figure out what to do with her pregnancy. Her immediate thought is to have an abortion. Does this mean we're going to get into the struggles of reproductive health in the early 1920's? Will we find out how hard it would have been for women to receive an abortion, especially when they were illegal and therefore often unsafe? Nope! Some of these issues are casually alluded to, but Edith finds a doctor essentially off-screen and then makes the decision not to go through with the abortion without the audience seeing more than a waiting room.
We do get some insight, however, into how hard it would be for Edith to be a single mother. Basically, it would have been downright unthinkable. Her reputation would have been ruined, she wouldn't be welcomed into any respectable houses and she certainly wouldn't be able to make a decent marriage for herself. Her life, for all intents and purposes, would be over.
Despite wanting to keep the baby, Edith realizes fully what that would mean. Still, her decision not to go through with the abortion means she might have to tell someone besides Aunt Rosamund what's going on with her. Can you imagine how her family would react? As usual: Poor Edith!
In another nerve-wracking story, the Dowager Countess falls ill and Isobel refuses to leave her side. The combination of Violet and Isobel has always been a winning one, and it seems like the show is increasingly going to that well this season for comedy. Thankfully, the Dowager Countess lives to snark another day!
Thomas is still blackmailing Baxter into telling him all the house dirt. This time, he wants to know why he's going with Robert to America instead of Mr. Bates. Molesley notices Thomas talking to Baxter and seems to be catching on that she's uncomfortable with whatever is going down. I'd love to know more about Baxter's deep, dark secret instead of continually revisiting the boring love square.
Speaking of that boring love square, Carson, Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore are as tired of watching these terrible people squabble as I am. They decide to hide Alfred's visit from Ivy and Daisy, instead putting him up in town and telling him everyone at Downton has the flu. But Alfred shows up at Downton anyway, crushing what little remains of Mrs. Patmore's spirit. I feel you, girl, I feel you.
Ivy is super nice to Alfred after realizing just how terrible Jimmy is, something Thomas really could have told her a lot sooner. Besides the amazing Mrs. Patmore, there aren't a lot of mental heavyweights down in those kitchens.
Elsewhere Around Downton...
-- Isobel takes Tom to a political gathering where he has a meet-cute with a girl. Will this spell love?
-- Lord Gillingham stops by Downton, but doesn't do much except creep on Mary. Get it together, man, your competition is helping her save pigs.
-- It seems the private investigators have discovered that Michael Gregson checked into his hotel and then never returned. So I guess it wasn't all just a long con to get into Edith's pants.
What did you think of the episode? Which of Mary's suitors is your favorite? What do you think of how they're handling Anna's rape storyline? Sound off in the comments!
Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9pm on PBS.