(Spoiler alert) I’ve been thinking about the BBC television show Downton Abbey. As beloved as the show is, it also has a ton of dissatisfied customers. Maybe that’s the price of making it big time — the more people love you, the more they also hate you.
Me, I’m wondering what the fuss is about. Here’s the spoiler: Anna the lady’s maid gets raped.
Me, I’m thinking, Great! Conflict, people, conflict! And if fans were disturbed or distraught or uncomfortable or shocked by this turn of events for a most beloved character, well then, I say this proves rather than disproves some good-ass storytelling. (I was shocked too, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t take it personally for criminy’s sake.) Rape is devastating and all too common. Why shouldn’t the show address the issue?
Seriously. We need conflict. Story doesn’t survive without it. Last season folks griped that the show wasn’t as exciting as it had been. I agreed — even though I still loved the show — and I now theorize that part of the problem was that World War I had ended. In the previous seasons, we had a sweeping wartime backdrop and that larger conflict reflected in the lives of the folks at Downton Abbey.
Having a larger conflictual context in which to set your story is helpful. That’s all I’m saying.
Anyhow, so last year folks griped that the show had turned a tad dull, and now the writers add a huge rape conflict and people gripe about that. Apparently, you can’t win.
Also, some gripers don’t like that Lord Grantham–the family patriarch in case you don’t know–is misogynistic. Misogynistic? Really? You’re going to describe Grantham with a word that wasn’t part of the popular culture back then? Feminism had barely slipped off her bra strap, people. Phooey to that. Lord Grantham is a character of his fictional times. Women didn’t do much and men didn’t think they should. That was the way it was with those upper crust Brits — live with it.
Besides, Lord Grantham’s conservatism causes conflicts with his wife and daughters. Conflict, people, conflict!
Also, I’ve read gripes about Edith’s (Grantham’s second daughter, who is not always likeable and has bad luck in the love department) new choice of man. There’s gotta be something wrong with him. Why is she choosing him? Blah blah blah.
I say, Go for it, Edith! We don’t know what the new love is all about, but he seems like a good guy. That right there — that question of whether he’s a good guy — is suspense in action, my friends.
And, for anyone who knows anything about series stories, you know that you have to be thinking ahead to future seasons or books in the series. This means you have to setup stuff now. Edith’s boyfriend? You watch — in a season or two, I predict his story arc will come to fruition. Right now, he’s planning to become a German citizen so he can legally divorce his wife to marry Edith.
Think about it: We’re between world wars. Hitler is about to start his propagandistic rise to infamy. Being German is going to become a thing. A huge thing. Will the boyfriend become a Nazi sympathizer? A spy for the Brits? How will all this impact Edith?
I’m telling you, I love Edith’s new boyfriend.
I’ve also read complaints that revolve around the slimy characters. Without the slimy characters, we wouldn’t have a show! That new lady’s maid? Bring it on, sister! Let’s see you weasel your way into Tom’s affections! Without the slimy characters, the show would just be a bunch of happy people doing their jobs below stairs and throwing house parties above stairs. BORING.
And never mind the boo’ers who claim that Downton Abbey is nothing but a soap opera. Who the heck cares? By definition, soap operas are serial dramas with lots of characters and story lines. I disagree that Downton Abbey has devolved into total melodrama. No way. Downton Abbey is high-end soap opera.
Let’s return to Anna’s rape, which caused an online uproar. The producers did a brilliant job of it. What you have is repeated cutbacks to an opera singer belting out Puccini at the house party upstairs — a song that she had just dedicated to “love and lovers” — that return to glimpses of Anna downstairs with her rapist. Then no more glimpses of them, just views of the vast, empty, gloomy downstairs corridor with Anna’s screams echoing off the walls.
If you’re cringing as you read that — that’s exactly what I mean! This is what good storytelling does. It doesn’t flinch away from the tough stuff.
And, as a result of Anna’s plot turn, I’m back to being interested in Anna and Bates’s (her husband’s) relationship. Previously, they had zippo going on because they were happy. BORING. Now Anna’s traumatized but has to hide it because that’s what women did back then. Plus, she’d like to protect Bates from doing something (like killing the guy) that will land him in jail (again). Yet, Bates knows something’s going on. Conflict, people, conflict!
I love conflict. Conflict is good. Kudos to the Downton Abbey writers for taking a risk — and now I shall stop griping about the gripers. But, man, did it feel good to get that off my chest!
So, are you watching Downton Abbey? What are your thoughts on all of this?