Downton Abbey – “Episode Three”
Before last weekend’s episode of Downton Abbey began (the fourth season is currently on the air over here in the UK, for those unaware), a voiceover declared a warning of “scenes that some viewers may find disturbing.” Bear in mind that this is Downton Abbey, where large portions of episodes are spent discussing which food to serve and panic ensues over spilt salt, so you can understand why people on my Twitter, including me, were intrigued as to what on Earth was going to happen to warrant such an ominous warning. Let’s just say that the warning was entirely justified.
So let’s get right down to it: Anna is raped. She’s slapped, dragged into a room, and horrifically assaulted off-camera, with her screams still audible, by a newcomer to the show. It’s dark and it’s awful, and it takes the relatively calm and collected proceedings that come before and casts a pitch-black shadow over everything. Even when Matthew met his end in a car last Christmas the show wasn’t this dark. It hasn’t been this sombre since Sybil’s tragic end last season. But whether the show harnesses the potential it has to make this storyline fulfilling and not heading the way we think it’s all heading remains to be seen.
For the time being, however, it’s safe to say that the storyline has generated its fair share of controversy. Viewers have been labelling the scenes as shock value, seemingly done for no other reason than to provide artificial drama to spice up proceedings. I don’t agree. Yes, Anna being placed into a situation so horrific is not something I find easy to watch. Yes, it feels like the opposite of what I normally expect Downton to be. Yes, I have strong fears the show will take the storyline into predictable territory, because I highly doubt it’s capable of doing anything else with it. But let’s not try to pretend that rape didn’t exist in the period Downton takes place in, that innocent women weren’t beaten and violated. It may not be something we like to see on our television shows, but it exists nonetheless. It can happen to anybody, male or female, strong or weak, big or small, and as much as it distresses me, I don’t deny the show’s right to have gone there.
That’s not to say that I don’t have issues with it, however. For a start, I can look into my metaphorical crystal ball and immediately tell you that Anna is likely to get pregnant, that she may even be doubted by her husband when he inevitably finds out due to her quietness on the matter, and that this will all explode in the Christmas special. I can also tell you that should that happen, I will be extremely disappointed in the show for taking a storyline with serious potential for Anna’s character and the show as a whole and drowning it in soapy plot twists. Nobody wants to see the storyline become that lazy and predictable. Nobody.
The storyline has already happened, there’s no undoing that, but the key here will be in how the show handles it from this point on. I would really like to say I have confidence in Julian Fellowes and the rest of the team handling this storyline with care, but I just don’t. And that makes me very sad.
EPISODE GRADE: B+
The Originals – “House of the Rising Son”
Last week I stated that The Originals’ actual pilot, aka not the backdoor effort that took place during The Vampire Diaries’ fourth season, didn’t impress me at all. It was full of needless exposition for an audience that they didn’t need to explain anything to, it re-used scenes from said backdoor pilot, and it made it very clear that having Klaus serve as the show’s protagonist wasn’t going to be destined for good things. But I also stated that instead of casting a judgment on the show based on an episode that was mostly something I’d already seen, I would wait for the second episode.
Well now that second episode has aired, and fortunately I come away with stronger feelings about the direction the show seems to be heading in. “House of the Rising Son” is not only a much tighter effort on the whole, but it also continues to play around with the role of protagonist in a similar way to last week’s pilot. The latter explored the idea of Elijah serving as protagonist, before a stake through the heart drove him back into secondary character status, while the former interestingly zooms in on Rebekah, who finally joins her clan in New Orleans after spending a summer of threesomes with Matt Donovan. The results are mostly mixed.
Of course, all this playing around with the role of protagonist begs the question: just who is this show’s main character? Many unsurprisingly assumed that Klaus would fill that role, turning into an antihero in order to make him work as such, but the first two episodes of the show outside of the backdoor pilot have relegated him to secondary status. I don’t expect it’ll continue in this vein forever, but I strongly believe Klaus being this show’s main character would be a mistake. I appreciate any effort to convince me that I’m right.
Outside of the ongoing experimentation with the show’s protagonist, “House of the Rising Son” gives me strong feelings that with the right direction, The Originals could potentially be heading somewhere good this year. New Orleans is a significant change in atmosphere from Mystic Falls, the lack of anything resembling a high school makes the show feel darker and more grown up than its brethren (even though they’re pretty much the same in terms of tone), and I’m genuinely interested in seeing where the show’s central storylines head to in the coming months.
The show’s second episode is by no means perfect, and there’s still too much obvious exposition scattered here and there that’s frustrating to watch, but at least my confidence in the show’s future is considerably stronger than this time last week.
EPISODE GRADE: B+
American Horror Story: Coven – “Bitchcraft”
Let’s be blunt about American Horror Story for a moment: it’s either a show you love or hate. There’s no middle ground. Not here. Either you appreciate the show’s committal to absolute insanity every week or you find it impenetrable. Personally, while the show never used to be anything approaching my radar, since Asylum it’s become one of my favorite things to watch. It’s batshit crazy, but the kind of crazy that’s intoxicating.
In the premiere of American Horror Story’s third season, subtitled Coven, the level of crazy that’s dished out is enormous. The episode opens with Kathy Bates playing famous serial killer Madame LaLaurie, whose attic doubles as a sadistic torture chamber for her numerous black slaves. Then there’s Taissa Farmiga’s character with the vagina of death, Jessica Lange smooching somebody to a very early grave, and the aforementioned LaLaurie dug out of her grave almost two centuries after being buried there…ALIVE. And let’s not forget Frances Conroy dressed as…I don’t even know what. “Bitchcraft” is a ridiculous episode that sets up the framework for what is most likely going to be equally as outrageous from beginning to end, yet as always with AHS, it’s oddly fantastic.
That being said, as much as I find the episode a decent opener, it is certainly not without issues. For a start, the exposition is glaring at many points, and it uses certain members of the cast (Conroy, Rabe, even Paulson) a little too sparingly considering their potential, though I’m sure that will become less of an issue as Coven continues.
Also, I find some of the show’s apparent attitudes to male characters off, as the men in the premiere are either in servitude (Spalding), tortured beyond description, rapists, or dead. I’m all for a season of female empowerment, especially with this cast, but that doesn’t mean the men in the show have to be seen in such a manner. But with my concerns aside, however, I’m mostly enthusiastic about what the rest of the season will bring.
As I said at the beginning, I can completely understand why some people’s reactions to American Horror Story are overwhelmingly negative. If the show sees an area it could get away with going to, it will go there, insanity be damned. But to some people, such a tendency to careen wildly here, there and everywhere is too much to handle. I accept that. To me, on the other hand, American Horror Story is one of the most unique shows on the air. It gets to reinvent itself every year, turning every premiere into a pilot and every finale into a series finale, and it’s one of the shows I consistently get excited about watching every week. It’s craziness that’s not good for the soul, but if it means I get to see Kathy Bates fed an immortality elixir under the belief that it’s a love potion, my soul can get tainted as much as it likes.
EPISODE GRADE: B+
GRADES FOR OTHER EPISODES I WATCHED THIS WEEK:
Once Upon a Time – “Lost Girl”: C
The Good Wife – “Bit Bucket”: A-
Revenge – “Sin”: B
Homeland – “Uh…Oh…Ah”: B+
Sleepy Hollow – “The Lesser Key of Solomon”: B+
Mom – “A Small Nervous Breakdown and a Misplaced Fork”: B-
Castle – “Need To Know”: B-
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “The Asset”: B
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “M.E. Time”: B+
New Girl – “The Captain”: A-
Person of Interest – “Lady Killer”: B
Sons of Anarchy – “The Mad King”: B
Arrow – “City of Heroes”: B+
The Tomorrow People – “Pilot”: D+
Law and Order: SVU – “Internal Affairs”: B+
Nashville – “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It Now”: B-
The Vampire Diaries – “True Lies”: B+
Parks and Recreation – “Doppelgangers”: B
Grey’s Anatomy – “Puttin’ On The Ritz”: B
Parenthood – “Nipple Confusion”: B
Scandal – “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”: B
Elementary – “We Are Everyone”: A-