Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Cora, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith and Maggie… (Carnival Film & Television…)
It's a shame Gloria Gaynor wasn't making records back in 1920, because if anyone needs to drink about seven or eight bottles of wine, throw "I Will Survive" on the Victrola and belt out those lyrics from the bottom of her heart using Lady Mary's hairbrush as a microphone, it's poor old Edith.
The middle Crawley sister has had more than her fair share of hard knocks and humiliations over the years, from her short-lived fling with the farmer down the road to her aborted flirtation with a (likely) impostor claiming to be her dear departed cousin Patrick.
Edith's consistently poor romantic judgment is one of the most heartbreaking and relatable things about "Downton Abbey," a show not always known for its realism or nuanced characterizations. Most of us don't know a Thomas -- thank goodness -- but we all know an Edith.
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Going into Sunday's episode, things finally seemed to be looking up for our Edith. Yes, Sir Anthony is old and has a gimpy hand, but surely there are worse things (just ask Crystal Harris). And as we learned last season, Edith clearly likes being a caretaker, so maybe being an "old man's drudge" (as Violet so kindly put it) isn't really so terrible. Plus, his house has large drawing rooms! What more could a woman want?
The bride-to-be has taken an insistently low-key approach to her wedding, not allowing herself to be bothered about being married by the local minister rather than an archbishop, like Mary. On the big day, Edith looks beautiful -- her dress is absolutely stunning, possibly even better than her older sister's -- and she's relaxed and looking forward to starting a new chapter in her life. In a sign of her contentment, she even suggests posing for a portrait with her two sisters.
But this being "Downton Abbey," Edith's obvious happiness can only mean something horrible is looming on the horizon. Sure enough, Sir Anthony literally ditches her at the altar -- but not before digging the knife in with a little sweet talk.
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It's not clear what triggered Sir Anthony’s last-minute change of heart, or why he didn't break things off in a more gentlemanly manner. Could he have overheard Violet's cruel taunts at the church, or was it Grantham's lukewarm endorsement of their union? (While we're on the subject: Only last season, Lord Grantham was disgusted by Cora's scheme to get wheelchair-bound and impotent Matthew back together with Lavinia to save Mary from a life of drudgery. Why the sudden change?)
More than likely, Sir Anthony fled the from the altar for no other reason than Julian Fellowes needed a little drama. Having three happily married Crawley sisters would radically throw off the "Downton Abbey" equilibrium. Fair enough, but sometimes you have to wonder why Edith draws all the short straws. She wakes up after a day of wallowing and declares her intent to be a "useful spinster." Alas, she sounds more resigned than determined.
"Downton Abbey" is always at its best when it exposes the symbiotic relationship between the upstairs and downstairs worlds -- the way that, despite rigid social stratification, both groups are intimately tied together. That's why I love seeing the staff sitting around, dining on the fancy "pickety bits" intended for Edith's wedding guests and discussing the day's scandalous news. "She could do much better than that broken-down old crock,” says Alfred. They all agree.
Happily it's not all horrible news for the denizens of Downton Abbey. Mrs. Hughes gets a clean bill of health, a development that leaves Mr. Carson quietly singing with joy. And of course, thanks to some meddling by Mary and a miraculous deathbed letter from Lavinia -- who continues to martyr herself even in death -- Matthew agrees to use his inheritance from Reggie Swire in order to maintain Downton Abbey.
Given the stakes at hand -- moving from an absolutely enormous ancestral home into merely a sprawling mansion on impeccable grounds -- it's hard to feel all that relieved, except that it's hard to imagine how "Downton Abbey" would exist without Downton Abbey. The question now is whether Grantham and Matthew will get along as joint masters of the estate, an awkward and potentially problematic arrangement if ever there was one.
Something tells me there are more changes afoot.
--Poor Sybil and Branson. Now that they're married, they don't have much to do other than look pretty -- a task they both perform admirably.
-- This week in Dowager zingers: "If the poor don't want it, you can bring it over to me." "Aren't you a wild thing?"
--So Martha Levinson has already returned to America, apparently. Does this mean no more Shirley? If so, I have to say she was sorely underused.