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'Downton Abbey' recap, Anna's heartbreaking tragedy

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So this is the storyline that divided "Downton" fans in the U.K.

And it's easy to see why. Anna has always been the one "Downton" character, upstairs or downstairs, who we all rooted for and loved from the beginning. She's been through a lot: covering up Pamuk's death, dealing with her husband, Bates, in prison, helping to free him from prison ... not to mention having to dress Lady Mary.

And to see such a horrible thing happen to her is difficult to watch. In the midst of a party upstairs, as famous opera soprano Nellie Melba sings a touching, lovely song, she is attacked and raped by the valet of a visiting guest. 

As Melba sings "O mio babbino caro," dedicated to love and lovers, Anna, who had left the concert (and her husband's side) to find some relief for a headache, is cornered in the kitchen by the valet Green. There were some light moments between the two earlier in the episode (Green seems nice enough -- he organizes a card game for the downstairs crew), and he was laying on the flirting very thick. Anna, being Anna, was pleasant with him.

Green refuses to let her pass him in the kitchen. "You look to me like you could use a bit of real fun for once," he sneers, adding, "Don't tell me that sad old cripple makes you happy" before forcing himself onto her. When she resists, he slaps her.

The editing technique here heightens the sadness. We switch back and forth between the operatic performance and the attack, between the sweet, emotional song, and Anna's crying and extreme violence in a darkened room with no one left around downstairs.

You hear Anna screaming. You hear stuff breaking. You hear sobbing. You see Bates wondering where his wife is. He guesses she fell asleep.

After the concert, Hughes finds Anna, bloodied and frightened, cowering in a room. Hughes helps her but urges her to tell someone. An additional heartbreaking moment: Anna refuses to tell her husband what happened, and says she knows that if he finds out who did this to her, that he would kill him. 

Later, Anna tells Bates that she felt dizzy and must have fainted and hit the edge of the sink as she went down. He notices that she changed her dress.

Then, dramatically and chillingly, Green says goodbye to them both. Anna hesitates but then realizes she must bid her rapist farewell to keep up the act. 

And in the last, utterly sad scene, she won't let her husband touch her shoulder in comfort because she seemingly can't bear it. She walks home alone, crying. 

Bates calls after her and she walks away. 

I can see why this would divide fans (check out one of the many reaction stories to the twist, when it first aired, here). I get that this type of violence is very difficult to watch, especially when it happens to a much-beloved character. But is it enough to make fans really just turn their backs completely on the show?

I'm skeptical. Fans deemed the plot development "unnecessary." Sure, it may be. But it doesn't make it "wrong" to include it in a TV plot. I think it provides an opportunity to show the vast consequences of a rape -- and delve into the mind of the person who was attacked. Furthermore, if it was "unnecessary" for Anna to be raped, would it be necessary for a more unlikable character to be? 

The added dimension of seeing how this will deeply affect the Bates' lives adds an interesting dimension to the show. I didn't find it soap-operay at all -- it seemed to be to be a very realistic depiction of such a horrible moment. Without giving much away, the shock waves of this event will greatly reverberate through the season. 

And upstairs will be affected by it as well. 

Meanwhile...

The rest of the episode takes place during a Crawley house party. What's the reason for the party? They're the Crawleys and that's how they roll.

We are introduced to some new characters, mostly Noble-Born People That The Crawleys Sort-of Know and Must Socialize With. There's the shady Terrence Sampson, Sir John Bullock (apparently the Lord of Really Deep Dimples) and the Duchess of Yeovil (which is, yes, the name of a real place).

Most notably we meet Anthony Gillingham (ahem *Lord Gillingham*; Tony to some) whom Lord Grantham barely recognizes and calls a "glamorous pirate."

I mean, he didn't even have a bedazzled eye-patch, but OK.

Gregson is there, too and Edith strives for most of the episode to get her father to even look at her love. I mean, there is a party and he needs to check on the wine list and all, but Grantham can't even engage Gregson for longer than 10 seconds. 

But our attention is more on Gillingham (eye patch or not). More specifically, on Mary and Gillingham. They get along well, they go riding together (trivia: Mary rides side-saddle) and later dance before she gets emotional after the servants bring down Matthew's gramophone to play some music. 

We also learn that Gillingham is nearly engaged to someone named Mabel Lane Fox (which is tragic, name-wise). Mary calls her "the greatest heiress of the season" in her very snobbish, 1922-snarky Mary way. I would eventually like to see Mary square off against other heiresses in some sort of battle royale of the acid-tongues. She'd totally win. 

Gillingham has quickly taken a shine to Mary (take that, Mabel Lane!), and later asks her out on a date. She says she's flattered and laughs to the delight of Branson, who remarks that it's the first time she has laughed since Matthew died. Isobel, still deep in grief for her son, watches the scene sadly. 

No no, Branson

Speaking of Branson, there was a bit of rehash this episode of his whole, "I don't belong with high-class people" plot lines from, well, all previous episodes he has ever been in. Yes, it's clearly weird for him to have to make small talk with the duchess and wear fancy cothes all the time (he just wants to be out with the farmers, dang it!), but I thought he had moved past it all. 

Instead, we see him mope around, tell Lord Grantham he has let him down with his behavior and whine that he doesn't belong. No-good Edna lurks in the shadows and is ready to pounce. She asks if they can be "friends," she's there with a large glass of whiskey to give Branson when he's moping in some room. 

"You understand me, don't you?" Branson asks Edna.

"I'd like to think so," she says. 

If this conversation sounds familiar it was because I'm pretty sure the exact same thing was said between the two last season. Branson, she's awful.

So it's dissapointing to see Edna sneak into Branson's room later. Well, we don't actually see the two together, but you know it's them. "Are you awake?" Edna asks before sneaking in. Tom! You can kind of predict where this will go. 

The latest Lord Grantham battle with modernity

Besides disagreeing with his daughter about how to handle taxes and land better, Robert sort of unwittingly lets Carson decide that Dame Nellie Melba, the singer, who is, again, world famous, shouldn't eat with the family and guests upstairs, but in her room. Alone. With food on a tray.

Cora is outraged and puts a stop to that, but Robert still doesn't expect her to, you know, be a human being with intelligence when she sits next to him at dinner. What changes his perception? The fact that she knows about wine. Sure. 

Best related Carson line: "An Australian singer?! Eating with her ladyship!" 

Best Dowager Countess lines

On Branson's lack of small talk skills: "Not everyone can be Oscar Wilde." -- Lord Grantham

DC: "That's a relief."

On music choices: "I prefer Bartok." -- Isobel

DC: "You would." 

After Branson says he's confused and frustrated by social rules: "If I were to search for logic, I should not look for it among the English upper class."

No explanation needed: "Guilt has never played a major part in my life."

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS FROM EPISODE 2

More proof she's awful: Edna's insubordination is sort of ridiculous. After Hughes requests that she helps one of the guests, Edna says "I'm not sure I have time." Edna, it's your job. 

Scariest moment: Patmore having a little heart attack as she panicked in the kitchen. It gave me a little heart attack, too. Love me some Patmore. 

Already annoying storyline: More Ivy-Daisy-Jimmy-Alfred weird love rectangle situations. Jimmy trying to impress by opening a jar and then falling on his back? Already done with this. 

Most annoying Edith moment: On Gregson talking about learning German to prepare for his move: "I can't get over the fact that you're doing all this to be with me." Get over it, Edith. He's doing it. 

Lady Rose's only purpose this episode: "I love jazz!"

Most touching Mary moment: Confessing to Anna that, "Sometimes I don't know whom I'm most in mourning for: Matthew or the person I used to be when I was with him." Anna reminds her that she's strong. 

How Gregson gets in Robert's good graces: He figures out that Sampson is cheating with cards, wins back the money everyone lost  and gives it back to Robert, Gillingham and Sir John. Later, Robert tells Cora that he likes Gregson because he behaved "gentlemanly." Translation: "I like him because now I don't have to tell you that I gambled more of your money away."

Most puzzling confession: Gregson tells Edith that he was able to expose Sampson because he "revived a dubious talent from my misspent youth." Like, he was a street urchin?

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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