WITF Talks

WITF Talks is our weekly programming discussion featuring commentary and insights about recent episodes of your favorite shows. Follow along each week as members of our staff are joined by local experts and enthusiasts to share thoughts, opinions, and favorite moments.

Please feel free to submit questions and feedback via email to witftalks "at" witf "dot" org.

Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 4

Written by witf | Jan 27, 2014 10:11 AM

Photo by ©Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE

Above: Brendan Coyle as Mr. Bates and Joanne Froggatt as Anna

Celebrate the return of Downton Abbey and dish about the latest episode with witf Talkswitf's new podcast series. Find out what all the buzz is about each Monday with entertaining recap and commentary from witf’s Fred Vigeant and Katie Lengyel. Plus, take a deep dive into the intriguing world of Edwardian era history with Dr. Jennifer Nesbitt, Associate Professor of English at Pennsylvania State University - York campus. We’ll break down the latest plot twists, one liners and cliff hangers.

The international hit series, written by Julian Fellowes, features an all-star cast including Dame Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, and Hugh Bonneville. Who will capture the heart of Lady Mary? Will Anna and Bates sink or swim in rough waters ahead? Production and costume design continues to stun. The Crawleys, the staff, and life at Highclere Castle. There’s LOTS to talk about!

Downton fans-- share your reactions, predictions and submit questions for next week's podcast. To participate, leave a comment or question below and we'll talk about during the next aftershow.

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  • Jim Foster img 2014-01-28 09:30

    I have a comment about Downton Abbey, which might be an interesting subject for your podcast panel to discuss. In general I am a huge fan of the show. I think they do a good job of exploring the changes that were going on during the first World War and afterward. An example of this is how the family and servants deal with with the coming modern conveniences like telephones and refrigerators. These were great fodder for the characters of Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Carson.

    But, I think the writers may not be handling some of the social issues of the time in a very realistic way. The characters seem to respond to some social challenges in a way that we might handle them today, rather than in a way that reflects the thinking of the time.

    Here are two examples. Mr. Carson learns that Barrow is gay. He tells Barrow, in effect that it is not up to him to judge his lifestyle. While this is admirable, I don't think that someone as traditionalist as Carson would have been likely to deal with the situation in that way. Another example is when Bates finally learns that his wife, Anna, has been sexually assaulted. Rather than considering her to be "spoiled", he instead says that she is blameless and his love for her is not diminished, even enhanced. Again, admirable behavior, but I think most men of that day would not have reacted in that way.

    I wonder if the writers don't trust the audience to see the characters as people of their time, rather than of our modern time. I think part of the mission of the show is to show how the people of the day reacted to the challenges and changing times of that era. I wonder if some of the responses portrayed in the show are really representative of the time. It might have been more interesting to have them react in more traditional ways, and then perhaps see the harm in those points of view.

    Anyhow, those are my thoughts. What do you think?

    • John Brown img 2014-01-28 16:06

      Carson and most of the downstairs staff knows or senses Thomas is not a "ladies man." The term and concept of gay (as we know it didn't exist). Carson was in show business; it could be he encountered homosexual men in his former life and knew such men were no threat to him. As for Bates reaction to Anna's rape, you do qualify your observation by writing "most" men; it's possible that Bates does not have to react as "most" men. As the saying goes, there's nowt so queer as folk.

  • Katie Cibort Lengyel img 2014-01-28 10:33

    I do agree, and I know Jennifer has mentioned on the podcast, that the reactions to Anna's rape were very modern. And I totally forgot about Thomas' outing and how it was handled by Carson. You saw some push back, but really not much.

    After the second episode of this season, I did have some "water cooler" talk with co-workers, suspecting what Bates might do with the knowledge of Anna's assault. I thought perhaps they would have him say "I told you so" because he clearly told her to stay away from Greene in episode 2. I think the way the writers kept away from this reaction was by having Anna and Mrs. Hughes nor fully reveal who the attacker was (though as we know he saw through it).

    I do agree that it seems like the writers went the "safe" route with the reactions to both scenarios you put forward. And I do think it would have been more interesting and added a layer to things if they stayed slightly more true to the time period. In some cases these layers feel desperately in need on a show that seems to be floundering a bit. The show in general walks a fine line between being pure "entertainment" and a true drama that takes on heavy things. Many viewers said after episode 2 that they don't watch Downton for violence, they watch for the period dress and lighter scenarios. For viewers like you and me, Jim, we'd like a little more of the true-to-life drama...but I can see why they would not want to turn off their "pure entertainment" audience. I'm sure it's difficult to cater to both at times, while still moving the show forward.

    Thanks for commenting!! It's fun to continue the discussion with our listeners.

  • Kristine Harrison img 2014-01-29 02:16

    Do you think Bates will do what Anna was afraid he would do when he found out why shes been so strange? Or will the author not write what everyone believes he will do into the next episode of this great PBS Masterpiece?

    • Jim Foster img 2014-01-31 07:48

      My guess is that he will. My partner thinks he will get some of his prison mates to help him find a way to get rid of the guy without it ever getting back to Bates. Her idea makes sense to me. Bates epitomizes the phrase "Still waters run deep".

  • Elizabeth Boyle img 2014-01-30 19:16

    Jim- yes I agree about social issues, from the Greek dramas on, there has been a theme of depicting Morals. But these days it is so much more tiresome. Can't we see some of the bad old days, and allow us to use our own brains to contrast. In the same vein..It will be interesting as Tom is thinking of going to America, mainly for his daughter's sake, no matter how well she is raised, will always be thought of as the chauffeur's daughter. He is right about that. Like Lady Rosamund said to Edith regarding the modernizing of society, some things will not change- and in deed they have not to this day. In America little Lady Sybil would be a potential belle of society, in England she could never overcome her circumstances. What instability and vulnerability to the future running of the manor that would bring? Poor Mary needs to learn the job pretty fast and not fall for some "toff" opportunist in the mean time. She needs to rule with an iron fist,I think she could, or all will be lost. (plenty of potential brass but needs to get in touch with it, and not be turned into a goose by "love" or desire to be rescued) Remember really rough times are a-comin'! The Weimar Republic started to get their bum kicked in 1920 by you know who, Mein Kampf was published in 1925. No place to set up house keeping. The boom and bust of the depression and WWII. Interesting, eh? Once in Germany will Michael stay and be swept into the bohemian artsy society of Berlin, the temporary center of letting the good times roll..? The ease at which he "sussed out" the rat (card shark) at the house party hints at a shady past, humm, could he heed a calling, or be a hero? ...Ah well, on we go!

  • Janna W img 2014-02-02 00:15

    Hi again. Just getting around to catching up. And unfortunately tomorrow night is the Superbowl so DA will have to wait until next Saturday for me to catch up.
    As for these 2 episodes, I like so much of what you talked about. I also agree somewhat with the comments of Jim Foster. My guess is that the producers are just not making that edgy a show. There would be lots of uncomfortable scenes if they were to take the route of what more typical responses would have been at that time.
    Jennifer's comment about the rape of Mary in relation to the reaction to Anna's rape is very apt. There are probably a whole number of reasons why people reacted much more strongly to Anna's assault than Mary's. Partly it was the women's response. Mary seemed to be more mortified by the death and her soiled reputation than the forced sex. And she recognized and took some responsibility for her leading the guy on. Of course we say now that that is no excuse for the guy but back then it may not have been the same. Plus there just wasn't the violence involved as with Anna. The guy forcibly had sex with Mary; it was about sex. Mr. Green assaulted and raped Anna; it was about power and humiliation, like most rapes.
    But now that Bates knows, at least the tension between him and Anna is released. I agree Bates exhibited some real sinister feelings but what I expect is that whatever he does will be very covert (things he learned in prison) and not a direct attack on Mr. Green so that no one will ever know it was him. It is unsettling to see that side of such a loving man however.
    I wish Edith would get a break and I fear that she won't. Nothing good can come from Gregson going to Germany. And when she went to see the doctor in London.... I did feel that Rosamund was too harsh in her comments to Edith considering that she was taken for a fool by that guy who was sleeping with her maid! Who is she to judge! If anyone should be a supporter of Edith it seems that Rosamund, a sort of outcast from the Crawley family, would be one.
    I was puzzled by Edna just giving notice and walking off into the night. It seems that when Mrs. Hughes called her on the carpet that if she kept her mouth shut she could continue on until she found herself somewhere else to go. With her sudden departure it seems obvious that her only motivation in returning to Downton was to snare Tom. Not a very smart girl. But I am glad to see her gone. Didn't like her at all. Funny how she and Thomas turned on each other at the end after they had been so smug to start with.
    Then we come to Baxter. I think that Thomas has something on her that compels her to comply with his requests to spy. It cannot just be that he got her the job because that seems as if it would not last too long in effectiveness. We'll see how it turns out Thomas as time goes on. You would think that he might have learned that it rarely got him anywhere when he was going behind people's backs. He has been caught and humiliated several times but his deceitful, malicious nature seems to be back. And I still wonder why he and Carson are not more at odds since Carson is still top man. God forbid that something happen to him and Thomas takes over as Butler. Now there would be some interesting downstairs happenings!
    I don't want to see Tom leave but I think that it would make great sense for he and Sybie to go to America. Maybe when Cora's mother visits something will happen there and the show will become bi-continental! And Rose is only going to get in more trouble. When is she going to come out? And I don't think we have seen the last of Gillingham because he and Mary have unfinished business as well as Bates and Green.
    I have a question about the historical use of names downstairs. They have talked about the strict use of first and last names and titles. For example, it is Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes, and Mrs. Patmore. The other "higher" servents (under butler and valets/ladies' maids) are referred to by their surnames and all the "lower" servants go by their first names. Except that O'Brien was Mrs. O'Brien downstairs and just O'Brien upstairs. Or am I wrong? And do they refer to Mr. Carson just as Carson upstairs? I understand the penchant for strict rules, especially downstairs because this was the only way they had of displaying status among themselves. But I wonder, are all the women actually widowed or divorced, hence called Mrs? Or did women in those positions always go by Mrs. because Miss was not as respectable? Or did they use Miss even at Mrs. Hughes' and Mrs. Patmore's ages? I just find the whole tradition interesting because the lower classes were just as concerned with having hierarchies as the upper classes were with proper titles and addresses. I remember when they had a show on PBS where a modern family went to live as a family at the turn of the century. The wife complained that she spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out the seating charts for dinners because they had to be done strictly by the rules of stature and title.
    Talk again after the next episode.

  • Janna W img 2014-02-02 00:27

    I am not sure how "still" those waters are in Bates. He does have waters running deep however. I was never completely convinced that he did not kill Vera. He has certainly shown that he is capable of quite nasty actions. I remember thinking during the whole time he was on trial and in jail, that he never once actually said that he was innocent of murdering his wife. They all just believed that he was. So I have always wondered what really happened to Vera, and what Bates is actually capable of, despite the fact that he does love Anna completely.

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