In the event, it was an episode full of kindness as Fellowes sought to reset the programme’s moral compass through the interventions of his female characters.
Chief among these was Phyllis Logan’s Mrs Hughes – a woman who, when she isn’t sharing a nightcap with Carson or swishing through the corridors holding keys, devotes herself to sorting out the lives of her upstairs superiors. Mrs Hughes is an old hand at helping out women in trouble – not least Ethel in Series 2 – so it was no surprise that she saw through Edna’s little deceptions, and a relief too, given how sordid Edna’s manipulations of Branson had been.
‘I’ll tear the clothes from your body and hold you down, if that’s what it takes’ was a line that could only have appalled viewers, if revealed out of context before the episode. But in the event, a threat of violence against a female character was a cause for celebration – how quickly things change within a week – and Mrs Hughes’s vanquishing of Edna a victory for wisdom and decency.
But if Edna’s storyline was solved with customary Downton speed, there was no such luck for either Lady Mary, in her grief, or Anna in dealing with the devastating effects of her rape – and rightly so.
Lady Mary is seen by many as an obvious love interest-in-waiting for Branson; but she works well as his ally, not just in estate management, but more particularly in emotional brokenness. When Mary recalls to Branson a time when she, too, felt that honesty would lead to a person despising her, it is a timely reminder of the saga with Mr Pamuk, and of Matthew’s love for her in forgiving her. So it is absolutely right and proper that she should turn down Lord Gillingham’s proposal of marriage.
Gillingham may be one of the many young men in Downton who seem to have survived the First World War with only their money, charm and the looks of a GQ model intact; but he is far too speedy a suitor for Mary, and too compromised in his choice of valet.
Which leads us to Nigel Harman’s Green: a character whom it is a surprise to see sitting at the breakfast table at the start of the episode, and whose very presence feels like a violation of Anna.
There is no getting away from it – Anna’s storyline has brought a thread of brutal domestic realism to a series which previously considered a broken jam jar, or the culinary innovation of an electric whisk, to be suitably dramatic meat for a Sunday night. It is unsettling, as it is intended to be, to see Anna become such a shadow. Silenced by rape, she seeks to hide and diminish herself, flinching from Bates’s touch and requesting a return to the anonymity of the servants’ quarters, where she need no longer be a wife.
By the end of the episode, Anna has still neither told Bates nor taken Mrs Hughes’s advice to go to the police, and, though it is unsettling to watch, it is also right that the series should give her such screentime.
Previously on Downton, cripples have learned to walk and entire world wars have been forgotten about within the space of a few episodes. But the effects of rape do not go away by a commercial break, and if Downton is to treat the subject responsibly, we will have to walk in Anna’s painful shoes for a few more episodes, and indeed series, yet.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 13 October 2013 on ITV.
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