Warning: This article contains spoilers about the fourth episode of Downton Abbey’s fourth season.
Each week, Christ and Pop Culture will present an analysis of the latest Downton Abbey episode after it airs on PBS.
Episode One: Downton Abbey: A Job Well Done.
Episode Two: Downton Abbey: Things We’ve Lost.
Episode Three: Downton Abbey: Bring the Light.
This week on Downton Abbey, the pace of the stories has steadied a bit, and with that have come some resolutions to previous events and story lines in the household. Mary shows a moment of emotion, possibly regret, as she writes a congratulatory letter to Lord Gillingham on his engagement; Molesley continues to wrestle within his job status; Alfred applies for a better job; and reconciliation takes place between Anna and Bates. This season seems so far, from week to week, to increase and decrease its intensity; episode four was a seemingly quiet span of time in Downton as we await the happenings of future events.
As with many television dramas, there is in Downton Abbey often a strong presence of the role of family. We watch family members’ personalities, preferences, secrets, and fears on display as they interact with each other. As the seasons have progressed in Downton Abbey, there has been, to a degree, a widening of this family dynamic, in the way that the Crawleys interact and show care for the individuals downstairs, and in the way certain downstairs members interact with each other.
One example from this week’s episode of the downstairs/upstairs family dynamic is how supportive the Crawleys are of Alfred’s desire to test for and secure a better job for himself. He has been a successful footman for the Crawleys for quite some time; recently taking an interest in cooking, he has received instruction from Daisy and has been pursuing another job. The night before his trip, the Crawleys show their sincere care for him, expressing their feelings of pride in his decision and their sadness if he were, in fact, to leave Downton. Even though the Crawleys are Alfred’s employers, they express a certain amount of familial care towards him.
The shock of losing both Lady Sybil and Matthew have carried into this season as we watch Tom and Lady Mary continuing to cope with and grieve their losses. As Tom wrestles with his feelings about whether or not he’s part of the Crawley household without Lady Sybil, we see him begin to wonder what type of life Sybie will have, and whether or not they should both remain at Downton. He considers moving to America, in hopes of providing for their little girl. In the previous episode, we saw how Lady Mary had to take into consideration her son George as she gave thought to Lord Gillingham’s marriage proposal. Is she ready for a new husband, and is she ready for a father figure to her son? In the end, Mary is not ready and refuses Gillingham, and yet she seems regretful of her decision. This week, amidst all the heartaches and unknowns for Tom and Lady Mary, we catch a glimpse of the sweetness of them acting as parents. They’re just sitting, playing, and enjoying their little ones. They are striving to be strong and make wise decisions, knowing that their actions will impact their children.
Joy and sadness are realities in all family dynamics, no matter the status. We have seen this season how Anna’s pain, sadness, and shame have affected her relationship towards her husband. It was only a matter of time before Bates learned the truth about Anna’s troubling secret, credit given to Mrs. Hughes. At first Anna is upset with Mrs. Hughes, claiming that it wasn’t her secret to tell. Anna is afraid that she’s no longer good enough for Bates, that he won’t love her anymore, and that their relationship will remain tainted because of the action done toward her. Mrs. Hughes reminds Anna of Bates’s deep love towards her, and later, once the secret is revealed, we see this love displayed between them. It seems that joys within a family strengthen the bond between its members; in a differing way, trials and sadness can push family members apart. Anna has pushed Bates away in the aftermath of her rape, the reason unbeknownst to him. As Anna and Bates are face to face, as close as they have been for weeks, we see their relationship begin to be restored.
Fear, pain, and grief—and all that those emotions and realities entail—can be hindrances to the closeness of family members. As Anna and Bates begin their long and difficult road of rebuilding, we are aware of an ominous overtone, curious as to how Bates will move forward, and whether or not Anna’s fears will be actualized.
Even though the characters of Downton Abbey are fictional, they depict very real human emotions, situational responses, and family dynamics. We can relate with these emotions and interactions that we witness in Downton Abbey because they are part of our realities; we are a parts of families and have experienced our own moments of joy, of hurt, and of rebuilding, even if we ourselves are not lords, ladies, or footmen.
There are only a few more episodes of Downton Abbey left, and as we near the end of the season, we can wait and hope that in the assumed difficulties ahead the Crawley family will remain committed to each others’ good, responding with kindness and compassion when the moment calls for them, however difficult the situation may turn out to be.
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