If you watched last night (and how jarring was that, to go from the goofball Golden Globes to this?), you know what I’m talking about. Every now and then, Julian Fellowes sees fit to remind us that “Downton Abbey” is not a delightfully subtle and sophisticated comedy of century-old manners dressed up in pretty outfits, but a soap. And, in soaps, utterly terrible things happen, routinely, even to characters we know and love. So, as if it wasn’t enough that poor Anna Bates, played with such sweet honesty by Joanne Froggatt, has had to endure her husband’s murder trial and prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit; but she had to be raped, off screen but obviously brutally, by a visiting valet. OK, Mr. Fellowes, I get it. You want drama; you want an opportunity to remind us that Bates is not just a teddybear but a potentially simmering cauldron of rage and revenge; you want to explore the possibility of Anna keeping a secret from her husband for his own good; you got bored, perhaps, in seeing the couple so happy. But really — did you have to subject us to this, even as Kiri Te Kanewa was singing “O mio babbino caro” so beautifully? Those of us who love the show watch it for many reasons; plotlines like this — miserable to watch, hard to shake off — aren’t one of them. We can watch “Scandal,” or any of a number of shows, for that.
Moving on. Otherwise, this was a pretty enjoyable episode up until the last ten minutes; the house-party scenario, with all the ladies busting out their tiaras, gave us lots of lovely dresses (anyone else note that Edith’s last-evening dress echoed her revealing London dress from the last episode, but much more demurely?) and opportunities for Carson to contribute additional pages to his eventual bestseller, “The World Is Going To Hell in a Hand-Basket, Volume XIII.” To think — an Australian singer dining with Her Ladyship? Posh guests showing up without their maids? A footman making the sauce? (Can we pause for a moment of delight in how Carson would pronounce the word “sauce”?) Cheers to Lady Cora, for being the “only member of this family who is living in the 20th century” and saving Dame Nellie from a lonely supper on a tray; to Mr. Rochester for saving Robert from YET ANOTHER financial crisis (seriously, why is this guy is charge of anything, ever?); to the Dowager Countess for wearing that incredible purple velvet coat; to Isobel, who even in her deep mourning managed to pepper all her dialogue with literary references (you go, Lady of Shalott); and to Mrs. Patmore, for not allowing swearing in her kitchen “unless I’m doing the swearing.” This is why we watch “Downton.” Sigh. (And I’m not mentioning Edna because, sigh, we’ve seen this plot already.)
And what do we think of this handsome fellow? He and Mary seem to be getting along nicely, no? How nice it was to see her laughing with him, just for a moment, at dinner — and how beautifully Penelope Wilton played that scene, too. (Photo courtesy of ©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE)