Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My thoughts on Downton Abbey, S04E03 (SPOILERS!)

Season 4, Epsiode 3 of Downton Abbey was by far the most traumatic episode of the show, in my opinion - and when you consider that the show gruesomely killed off two of its main characters last season, that's saying a lot. But just because it was traumatic doesn't mean we should stop watching. In fact, I think this episode gives us a lot of important things to think about and to talk about. Yes, it was disturbing... but life can be disturbing. And really, there are a lot of important things to assess about this episode. Like I said in the title of this post: THERE ARE SPOILERS in this post. If you don't want to know what happens, stop reading right now.

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I had a heads up to what was going to happen, due to a spoiler someone had posted on Facebook in the form of this status:

jesus fucking christ, there was no need for a double-rape, all the tragic deaths last season were upsetting enough
Immediately I started to try and predict which of the characters would suffer this horrible fate.

Would it be Lady Rose? After all, she's a non-stop flirt with the habit of picking up men in 'unsuitable' venues.

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Would it be Lady Mary? I mean, the previews had shown her flirting with a new male character.

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What about Lady Edith? She and her new beau have certainly come quite close to doing things which would have been deemed wholly improper for the 1920s.

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Maybe Edna, the flirty servant with a thing for Tom?

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I didn't think it would be Anna. Happy, good, kind, sweet, caring, loyal to her loving husband, Anna? I did not think of her AT ALL.

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It never occurred to me that it would be Anna, and yet it was. She was raped by the valet of one of the visitors to Downton. The scene was quite brutal, even though they showed little more than him punching Anna into the face and dragging her off into another room. A lot of thought obviously went into the way this episode was filmed, as this was one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever watched (and as someone who watches SVU and a bunch of other crime shows all the time, that's saying something).

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It never occurred to me that Anna would be the victim, AND THIS IS A PROBLEM. I am an educated, intelligent woman. I know that rape can happen to ANYONE. I know that despite what some folks may say, no one ever "asks for it." Flirting, fooling around, being in an 'unsuitable' place, or behaving in a way that society may deem 'improper' does not make it okay for someone to be raped. EVER. And yet, scroll back up and take a look at the thoughts I had before I started watching the episode. I am really quite ashamed of myself. True, these are fictional characters, but nonetheless I was judging them and predicting their 'rape-ability' based on their flirtatiousness. While I would never, ever judge a woman who was raped, it seems that these sorts of judgmental reactions are built into me. They're probably built into most members of our culture. And that sucks.

Apparently there are quite a few people who are claiming that they will never watch the show again as a result of this:

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Yes, it was disturbing. But denying rape happens isn't going to prevent it from happening. As awful as this was, I applaud the show for addressing something that happens far too often and that many victims are too ashamed to discuss. Anna's heartbreaking reaction, begging Mrs. Hughes to tell no one - not the doctor, not even her husband - had me sobbing in my seat.

Even in our modern society, rape victims are ashamed to talk about what happened to them and worried that they will suffer from the stigma of having been raped. I would like to think that episodes like this will help to open up a conversation about rape, the victims, the perpetrators, and the aftermath. Yes it was hard to watch, but don't let that turn you off from the show.

Oh, but wait! Didn't that Facebook status I quoted above mention a double-rape? Yes, it did. This is another disturbing aspect of this episode - although to me what's most disturbing is how little reaction there is to the other rape. Most comments that I've read have not referred to it as rape at all, and quite a few have expressed shock and disappointment IN THE VICTIM. So who was this second victim?

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Tom. Yes, men can be (and are!) victims of rape. Tom, who was already rather drunk, was plied with a stiff beverage by Edna, who later snuck into his room and had her way with him. (Keep in mind that Tom had already made clear to her that nothing would ever happen between them.)

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Most people would agree that if a man gets a woman drunk and then has sex with her when she's too intoxicated to say no, that counts as rape. Yet why is there so much outrage over what happened to Anna and none over what happened to Tom? While this rape was nowhere near as violent as what happened to Anna, it's still rape. And that's important. And it's something that needs to be addressed as well.

Kudos to Downton Abbey. I'm disturbed as hell. I cried. I had a hard time falling asleep because I couldn't stop thinking about it. But this is something that's important. It's something more people should think about. It's something more people should talk about. And Downton's got people doing that. As Joanne Froggatt (the actress who plays Anna) said,
"I was really proud of the show for tackling a subject like this ... I really do believe that Julian's [Fellowes] written that in a way that is not gratuitous at all, he does very much go on to explore the emotional journey of Anna and Bates. He's done a beautiful job of hitting the right note with it. I think we all just felt a big responsibility to get it right."

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