This post contains spoilers for Downton Abbey, season 4, episode 3. Don’t read this if you haven’t been watching or actually care about getting spoiled.
Also, as Australian comedian Tim Minchin says, this is one of my rare (ha!) but fun rants.
I watched the 3rd episode last night with great anticipation. Downton Abbey was hosting a house party, the famous kind that one reads about from the Edwardian era. Lots of aristocratic guests troop up to a country house, taking walks in the formal gardens, eating rich food, riding, shooting, seeing a world famous opera singer perform. These parties are what houses like Downton did.
But then something brutal happened: Anna, one of the most beloved characters on the show, now Lady Mary’s maid, went down to the kitchen to get something for her headache, and a visiting valet who had shown interest in her blocked her way upstairs and beat her and raped her.
Everyone else in the house was upstairs in the hall, listening to Dame Nellie Melba (a real historic figure) sing.
And it made me feel squicky. The rape wasn’t on-screen, but a closed door and Anna’s screams were heard. It almost made it worse.
I’ve been getting into Breaking Bad–at the moment, I’m toward the beginning of season 4–and I don’t have a problem with the violence on that show. Then again, a show about a meth manufacturer is not going to be sunshine and rainbows.
I’ve said before that I like the injection of reality among the fantasy in costume dramas. And surely, assault on women was part of the reality of the past–heck, it’s still a reality now. Think of the young male master macking on the servant girl trope. And back then, if a servant girl ended up pregnant, she got fired. So, yeah, it’s reality for the time period and Downton Abbey is addressing this problem of assault on females. Sure.
But why was this even necessary?
I didn’t mind it when Sybil and Matthew died. I thought Pamuk dying in Mary’s bed in season one was kind of comical. So I’m not sure why I’m suddenly squeamish about this new development in Downton Abbey…other than that it feels like drama for drama’s sake. Anna and Bates are married now; I think there’s enough inherent drama in personality clashes and in Bates’s shady past and whether or not Anna wants to wait to have children. After all, once there’s a baby, she’d have to quit her job. Family planning was very new in 1922. Since the show can’t exactly explore this issue through Mary (a widow), that leaves Edith or Rose or Anna, right?
So why not go that route instead? That’s reality for the times, too.
I don’t often watch Downton Abbey and go, “well, if I were writing this show, I would…” They’re not my characters, it’s not my historical era, it’s not my story. But in this instance, I think it touches on my own modern city-bred paranoia. Or maybe it’s that the statistics say that 1 in 4 women are raped or sexually assaulted. Or maybe it’s that I know a 1 in 4. Or that male writers seem to go the violence-against-women route when they run out of viable ideas. Or that, without a story of my own being written right now, my overactive imagination is running in circles.
See? No story being written equals me going crazy. It’s like the anxiety disorder comes back in full force when I’m not writing.
I just didn’t see how it was necessary and tone-wise, found it extremely jarring. I’m sure the plotline will continue to play out and I want to see how it is handled. I won’t stop watching Downton because of it. I’m not that much of a reactionary when it comes to fictional characters, but it still makes me uncomfortable.
Also, the bit with Edna slipping into Tom Branson’s room made me uncomfortable, too. It happened after the rape and after Mrs. Hughes found Anna beaten and sobbing, however, so everything after that scene didn’t quite compute with me.