nigel harman downton abbeyFor those of us Downton Abbey fans who can't/won't watch season 4, now airing in the UK, there's been some grim news. First I heard that the new season was blahsville: Recycled plots, no chemistry between the characters. And do we really want to watch Mary skulking around in quiet mourning? Eh, probably not. Just as we were starting to think Julien Fellows had lost it, we caught wind of a shockingly violent storyline in the latest Downton episode. Great news? I don't know ... wait until you hear what that storyline is.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT -- DO NOT KEEP READING IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW!

Of all the twisted plot twists. Episode 3 begins with a warning that there is a scene of violence, viewer discretion, etc. So that probably set everyone to speculating that Fellows was going to kill off another character yet again, I'm sure. What follows isn't a death, to our relief. But it's potentially just as emotionally manipulative.

It all starts when we're introduced to a visiting valet, Mr. Green, who engages in a bit of seemingly harmless flirting with Anna. Then he tries to kiss Anna. Our Mrs. Bates refuses him, of course. She probably would have refused him even if she hadn't been married, and she would have been perfectly reasonable to do so. But Mr. Green is offended or aroused, or apparently both. He hits her and then hauls her into another room and rapes her.

Nigel Harman, who plays Green, says about the scene, "It was a shocking and bold storyline, and something that when I was sent the script and read it was amazed and excited by ... because for a show like 'Downton' it really leaped out as a bold and risky idea." Risky? Sure, I guess. Bold? Hmm.

We don't actually see the rape itself -- thank God. But from what I hear, he's violent about the way he drags her into the room. You can hear him roughing her up, and you can hear her screaming. Then you see Anna emerge, looking traumatized emotionally and physically.

Many fans were outraged. Using violence against women to stir up drama on the series -- it just comes off as exploitative and unnecessary. In the US we have a phrase for this sort of desperate move: Jumping the shark. In an otherwise lackluster season, to throw in this sensationalist bit of sexual violence sounds lazy, the kind of idea you get when you're out of ideas.

On the other hand, the scene probably isn't unrealistic. I'm sure this could very well have happened in any great house -- and if Fellows has any sense of responsibility to his character and his audience, he'll treat this shocking event with the gravity and dignity it deserves. Downton is notorious for tidily tying up conflicts within an episode or two. But I'll reserve judgment until I actually see the series for myself.

Still, just knowing that Fellows went there is disappointing. I think most of us watch Downton for the escapism. That doesn't mean the show can't take on meaty issues and tragedy, but you can push the drama only so far with this kind of show. Death? Yeah, okay. But rape is complicated in ways that I'm not sure the series can handle. I guess we'll see.

How do you feel about a rape scene in Downton Abbey?

 

Image via ITV