TV Club

Bates and Anna: Why couldn’t she be his mistress?

Stop it with the slut-shaming, Bates.

Brendan Coyle as John Bates and Joanne Froggatt as Anna Smith

Brendan Coyle as John Bates and Joanne Froggatt as Anna Smith

Nick Briggs/Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE

Fellow Abbey-heads,

June, I’ve shared many a dance floor with you and thus can assure readers that you would rock the servants’ ball with your moves. Me, I’d like to teach the Dowager Countess how to Dougie.

I find I have a soft spot for poor Branson. Maybe it’s because June, true-to-form Brit, has it in for the Irishman, while my Boston upbringing means I wear clover-colored glasses. Whatever the reason, I’m rooting for the fellow. I like his confidence in pursuing a girl several social stations above him. I like that he closely follows world events (even if his predictions regarding the health and safety of the Romanov family turn out to be just a smidge off). And he chose an amusing way to register dissent—I would have liked to see that bucket of slop dumped over the general’s head. I wonder if Thomas will take note and, the next time some vicar visits Downton, unleash a glitter bomb.

One oddity, though: How is it that Carson physically dominates Branson in the battle over the soup tureen? Isn’t this the Carson we’ve seen keel over, turn scarlet, and require immediate bed rest? Yet he puts the much younger Branson in a firm half-nelson and frog marches him downstairs. I can only guess that Branson is considering Lady Sybil’s reaction when he refrains from violent resistance. Or maybe he really is a coward.

Bates continues to madden me. First he reconfirms what a sweetie he is, noticing Anna’s new haircut before she mentions it. But then he returns to his abnegating ways, sidestepping her generous offer to be his mistress. You’re crazy, Bates! Stop being a prude! It’s 1917, fer chrissakes—people are dying, the world is changing …. Rip open that bodice and do your thang! (It also annoyed me that he basically tells Anna she’s letting herself down by suggesting they have sex. Stop with the slut-shaming, Bates.)

The most ridiculous Very Significant Look comes when O’Brien asks Branson why he cares whether a general is a coming to dinner. Music swells. Branson stares ominously into the middle distance. Then he snarls, “No reason.” That is some comical foreshadowing. I love Downton when it’s melodramatic, not when it’s a self-parody.

We heard a lot about Sir Richard in this episode but never glimpsed the man himself. I’m eager for his return. I think the machinations between him and Mary promise to be the most sophisticated square-off in the show—two formidable, sharp-elbowed adults sussing each other out with much on the line. I enjoyed the excuse to Google the Marconi scandal, in which Lavinia Swire apparently played Deep Throat to Sir Richard’s Bob Woodward (or would he have been Ben Bradlee, or Katharine Graham?). The incident was the tech-stock, insider-trading debacle of its day, with a dash of anti-Semitism thrown into the mix. Do we see Lavinia in new light now that we know she sold out her uncle to save her father? Or do we simply hate Sir Richard for making her choose?

Threatening you both behind the laurels,

Note: Out of consideration for viewers in the U.S., please do not post Season 2 spoilers in the comments.