Ben Adams, Peter Fenzel, and Matthew Wrather recap Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 3.
Content Advisory: This episode discusses a depiction of a disturbing sexual assault in the show.[audio:http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/archive.org/download/oti-recap-downton-abbey-s04e03/oti-recap-downton-abbey-s04e03.mp3]
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What did you think of this episode? Sound off in the comments below.
The term I would most use for the feeling of this episode was uncomfortable. That sounds like it trivializes the subject matter, but I think it actually speaks to a level of seriousness that the other Bad Things that have happened lacked. When a character dies at the end of the episode you get to have a big catharsis and go away from the show and have a good cry before coming back to all the delightful jests and things in the next episode. And, though you feel sad, you still feel comfortable–even when the characters don’t. Comfortable would honestly be a fair term for the tone of the whole show thus far.
This episode denies the audience that comfort. We watch a very disturbing thing. Then the episode doesn’t end. And on the face if it, it doesn’t change in tone. You could edit out five minutes of this episode and not recognize it as any different from any other episode I found myself laughing at Lord Grantham after and then hating myself for it–he doesn’t know what happened but I do. I was squirming on the couch for a lot of the last 15 minutes of this one. I used the term “whiplash” when talking about it with my girlfriend and at the time I kinda meant it as a criticism but she convinced me that that it captures the “five minutes ago, my life was completely different” reality of these situations.
I didn’t think of it at the time but I think this interacts in a very interesting way with Violet’s story earlier in the episode. Violet doesn’t feel comfortable enjoying…more or less anything, now that her son is dead. It feels like a betrayal. And you feel for her but I think as the audience you are supposed to be on the side of the Dowager Countess and root for both Violet and Lady Mary to be happy again. It shows you Violet tensing, hurt, to hear Lady Mary laugh and you sympathize but you want Lady Mary to laugh.
Then, suddenly the show hits you with something very painful and then gives you opportunities to laugh and enjoy yourself and you are in Violet’s position–and now your joy feels like a betrayal.
Setting aside normative claims, I will say that this episode was very effective at what it set out to do.
(And just to throw in a “well actually” coda, Understanding Comics is by Scott McCloud)