'Downton Abbey': The Punishment of Lady Edith

Last night wasn't just a night of teary triumph in Hollywood. It was also a night of teary heartbreak in rural England, as the second installment of Downton Abbey's third season aired on PBS and further punished an already terribly mistreated character. Read no further lest ye want spoilers.

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Last night wasn't just a night of teary triumph in Hollywood. It was also a night of teary heartbreak in rural England, as the second installment of Downton Abbey's third season aired on PBS and further punished an already terribly mistreated character. Read no further lest ye want spoilers.

Poor, poor googly-eyed Edith. She was all set to marry the elderly cripple of her dreams until her beloved Sir Anthony literally at the last moment possible — they were standing there at the altar — said he couldn't shackle the poor young thing to a life caring for the likes of him. So he bowed out and walked away, leaving Edith standing there like a jerk and her grandmother and father quietly (or not so quietly, in Granny's case) relieved. Oh Edith. Will anything ever work out for her? Sure she behaved rather bitchily in the first season, but she's been unfairly paying for it ever since. Homely (I mean, the character is supposed to be, the actress isn't), unloved, kind of annoying — she's the ultimate sad-sack middle child, and Julian Fellowes just could not resist denying her a little more happiness last night. Perhaps they're setting her up for some grand redemption later in the season? Sexy-pex actor Ed Speleers is joining the cast starting next week, so may he's for Edith? (If he's not for Thomas, that is.) Let's hope so, because the Continued Misery of Lady Edith is beginning to feel a bit lopsided and cruel.

The rest of last night's episode played out in similarly high-drama fashion. More people found out about Mrs. Hughes's cancer worries, mostly because Mr. Carson is such a busybody. Hughes got in a funny line last night, shaking her head at how Carson "worships" the noble people upstairs, a remark that seemed to sting the reserved head basement-dweller ever so slightly. One thing unclear about this storyline: At the end of the episode, Mrs. Patmore gave Carson the news that Hughes simply had a benign cyst, that she was cancer free. But did we believe that? Didn't it sort of seem like they just told him that to get him to stop worrying? I don't know. Other recappers seem to think that Hughes really does have a clean bill of health, but I'm not sure I buy it. Maybe there was something I missed, though. I also must have missed the moment when Mrs. O'Brien and Thomas went from sneaky allies to all-out enemies. I guess it was around the time that Alfred showed up and became O'Brien's pet. Whatever the impetus, they're completely out to destroy each other now, though so far in typically mild Downton-style ways. Oh no! Molesely told Cora and Robert that O'Brien is leaving even though she isn't! Quel scandal! It was unclear what Thomas's end game was with that one, but no matter, the issue had been sorted by the end of the episode. But now O'Brien is rip-roaring mad, and Thomas would do well to remember that there is one rather significant, Jodie Foster-esque thing that she knows vaguely about Thomas that could get him into some real trouble. We'll see if Downton "goes there" as Degrassi does, but his sorta-open secret situation seems bound to come to a head (heh) eventually.

The money manner seems to have been mostly resolved, meaning that the clan won't have to move out of their fancy castle. Matthew finally agreed to take the money from Lavinia's dead dad, only after a very convenient letter arrived absolving Matthew of all guilt. It turns out that Daisy the kitchen mouse had gotten a letter out just before Lavinia died, one in which the poor doomed girl explained to her father that Matthew did not love her but was resolved to marry her anyway out of duty. Papa Lavinia respected that, so he wrote a letter saying, "It's cool, son, take my money." This all felt rather fortunate and last-minute, and I can't tell if it's misreading this show to think that maybe there's some funny business afoot. I mean, this isn't Lost, after all. Oftentimes things on Downton are exactly what they appear. But I smell something distinctly fishy in this case. While we work to uncover that potentially nonexistent mystery, Matthew is going to become co-lord of Downton, meaning Mr. Carson's head is going to explode and everyone in the town will comment on how progressive it is for two men to be living together as co-masters of their castle. Thomas especially!

All told, last night felt rather meandering, didn't it? And so far the season as a whole does too. I mean, concrete things are happening, problems arising and resolving, but there doesn't seem to be any central thesis at work. I suppose there never really is on this show, but this season in particular seems geared toward hitting high emotional watermarks at the expense of smoother pacing and, I don't know, complexity. Now that a lot of the innate social problems are gone — Matthew and Mary's will they/won't they, Sybil's attraction to a radical commoner, Anna and Bates's cute coming together — Fellowes has to invent all these big external problems for the characters to grapple with. Some of them work, but others feel a heavy-handed and overly blunt. The struggle for Downton's financial future especially. I get that they're trying to move Matthew into more of an awkward leadership role, and that probably some juicy tensions will arise from that development, but this Lavinia's dad-ex-machina, if genuine, is a silly way to set those gears in motion. Here's hoping that now that the big practical problem has been nominally addressed we can go back to the smaller, subtler drawing room conflicts of manners and decorum that, oddly enough, are far more entertaining on this show than the big stuff.

Sadsack of the Week: Man it is just a constant war between Edith and Molesely for this pathetic title. Edith should probably win this week because of the whole left-quite-literally-at-the-altar thing, but Molesely's rejected offer to play a game with Alfred really took the pity cake this week.

Best Loaded Look: Daisy's hots for Alfred are fun to watch, though they do feel a bit familiar to the William story. The other way around, of course. Let's say that Anna's look to Daisy while Daisy was asking her about a 1920s version of women's lib and mooning at Alfred was the best knowing look last night.

Best Maggie Moment: The entire scene of Lady Grantham riding in the car out to that little shack the family owns was wonderful, especially her reaction to Isobel saying that she often rides in the front seats of cars.

Biggest Groaner: The very convenient letter from Lavinia's pa hit so many of the Matthew-needs-to-hear-this notes that I will suspect it was a fake until definitely proven otherwise.

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