TV Club

Lady Edith left at the altar: Downton Abbey at its finest.

Another week, another great wedding sequence.

Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Cora, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith, Dame Maggie Smith as Lady Violet.
Elizabeth McGovern as Lady Cora, Laura Carmichael as Lady Edith, and Dame Maggie Smith as Lady Violet

Photograph courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Ltd. 2012 for Masterpiece.

Editor’s note: For the benefit of American readers who haven’t yet seen Season 3 of Downton Abbey, please do your best to avoid spoilers when commenting.

June Thomas: Chaps, will you join me in my campaign for justice for Lady Edith? This episode left me fuming. Mary’s happiness seems to be the only thing that matters in this household. Mary gets whatever she wants—an archbishop to perform her wedding, her husband to accept a legacy that makes him uncomfortable so that she can live in the house she wants to, despite its impracticality—while everyone else gets to decide what’s right for her sister Edith. I think Edith was right when she said that she and Anthony Strallan would be “so terribly, terribly happy,” but a campaign of undermining by the rest of her family pushed him to abandon her at the altar. I hope they are all thoroughly ashamed.

Dan Kois: Oh c’mon, June. I also feel bad for Lady Edith, who saw the one time things in that house were finally about her go terribly, terribly wrong, but Sir Anthony is a putz. What kind of a jerk lets her family undermine him so? And anyway, that wedding disaster was such a stupid, great Downton moment—I screamed with laughter when he muttered, “I can’t do this.” And poor Edith! Spinsters do get up for breakfast, but they should fix their hair. I can just imagine the googly eyes!

Seth Stevenson: June, you are right that Lady Mary is approaching insufferable queen bee territory. But Dan is also correct that the entire Edith wedding sequence was some dang good Downton. I, too—somewhat uncharitably, I realize—cracked up when the ceremony only got as far as “Dearly beloved, we are gathered—.” (This is the second consecutive Downton reception we’ve been cheated out of. My mom emailed me last week to complain that we didn’t catch a glimpse of Mary’s. And then they rolled up the rugs on Edith’s before it even began.)

Thomas: Let’s make that three wedding receptions we were swizzed out of. Remember, Lady Sibyl’s Fenian nuptials were also denied to us.

Stevenson: This almost felt like Edith’s supervillain origin story. When Cora said “you are being tested” as a handheld camera hovered over Edith sprawled in bed and weeping? I imagined the rage within Lady E mutating until lasers shot out her googly eyes, incinerating Mary and Sibyl and burning Downton to the ground.

June, how did you feel about this week’s downstairs saga? They wrapped up Mrs. Hughes’ health scare lickety split—I’d thought that would last all season.  

Thomas: I’m glad that Mrs. Hughes’ lump turned out to be benign. The detection and treatment of breast cancer circa 1920 is rather a gloomy subject even for a show that leaves lovely ladies at the altar for laughs. I’m much more interested in the potential below-stairs courtship of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes. I hope they only learn each other’s forenames when the vicar reads them out during the wedding ceremony. Dashing away with a soothing iron, indeed.

Kois: The sight of Carson singing merrily to himself once he heard Mrs. Hughes was OK warmed my heart. Hers, too, it seemed. That will nicely counter the thermonuclear war that Thomas and Mrs. O’Brien seem to be about to wage. I’m pretty excited about that—if ever there was a couple that deserved mutually assured destruction, it’s them.

Stevenson: I can’t seem to work up much excitement over Thomas and O’Brien’s endless Spy vs. Spy battle. I feel like I’ve seen all their tricks before. I do enjoy watching sad-sack Molesley endure an endless string of indignities. He’s the downstairs Edith. Even Alfred the novice footman—aka tall, 1920s Landry Clarke—doesn’t hesitate to walk all over him.

The main question I have coming out of this episode: What’s left to resolve? I didn’t feel much sympathy at the thought of the Crawleys being forced to downsize to a slightly less massive mansion. (Though I liked the idea of a succession of increasingly diminutive names. Downton Place. Downton House. Downton Shack. Downton Pop-out Trailer.) But even that uncertainty has been taken care of. Other than at last finding Edith a suitable match, and either freeing or killing off Bates, remind me what we’re waiting on at this point?

Thomas: Well, it looks like we’re being set up for another rerun: The question of what Ethel the housemaid-turned-prostitute should do with her son.

I was torn about the scene with Isobel and her fallen women. There’s a lot to admire about Matthew’s mother, who regularly steps out of her comfort zone to improve the lives of the less fortunate, but she’s also more than a tad condescending. I took a tiny bit of (guilty) pleasure in the working-class women’s mockery of her—though in true high-Tory style, Julian Fellowes had the woman who made fun of Isobel be a lazy good-for-nothing who is constantly demanding to be handed a fish rather than signing up for fishing lessons. Oh, but how I sighed when Ethel showed up among the slatterns. I always had a soft spot for this particular ginger maid, who was treated poorly by her baby daddy’s parents, but once is enough for that story line.

Kois: But maybe the return of this ginger maid augurs a return of the other, even cuter ginger maid, Gwen Dawson, though hopefully not as a visitor to Mrs. Crawley’s Home for Aged Prostitutes.

Stevenson: Oh that Gwen Dawson. Fetching times four. I like to imagine her steadily ascending the class ladder until she reappears in Season 9 as the barrister handling Mr. Bates’ seventh appeal trial. (Quick aside on Mr. Bates: The scene where some sort of contraband is planted in his bunk made zero sense. Why didn’t the guards search his person when it wasn’t in his bed as they’d expected? Epic frame-job fail.)

Kois: Seth, I wonder about this, too. When they visited the possible future Downton Place, I got a bit excited, because for me the issue undercutting this whole plot point about whether the family might lose Downton Abbey is that of course the television program is called Downton Abbey. But then I thought, maybe Julian Fellowes will pull the rug out from all of us, force them to live in this still completely gigantic mansion with a mere 8 servants, and rename the show Downton Place!

Alas, no. But honestly I am not at all worried about the future. Are you seriously asking if Julian Fellowes can find some other wringers to put his characters through? I’m certain he will, and that they will be as pleasingly absurd as the Bandaged Stranger and the Missing Dog.

Stevenson: You’re right, Dan. We have many more delightfully implausible frolics ahead of us. I’ll be awaiting them while munching on champagne-basted asparagus and Calvados-glazed duck. Until next week.