Downton Abbey, Season 3

Lady Edith’s Dress Looked Great, but Otherwise Things Didn’t Go So Well
Talking television.
Jan. 15 2013 11:28 AM

Downton Abbey, Season 3

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Lady Edith suffers culture’s cruelest act.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

In the first part of this week’s TV Club discussion, Seth Stevenson pointed out that Downton Abbey has a habit of cheating viewers out of wedding receptions. We didn’t get to see Matthew and Mary’s big bash, Sibyl and Tom’s nuptials happened off in Ireland, and two other weddings—Edith and Sir Anthony Strallan’s and Matthew and Lavinia Swire’s—didn’t come to pass. (Thanks to Virginia Paisley for reminding me about the last one via Twitter.)

In some ways, this is too bad—I would’ve loved to hear Tom Branson’s best-man toast at Mathary’s nuptials, and oh to see the dowager countess cutting a rug with Dr. Clarkson—but I must also give Downton’s creators credit for knowing where the true dramatic tension lies: in the wedding ceremony itself.

Weddings are, essentially, a live performance the celebrants pay to star in. Live theater is so exciting because at any moment things can easily go spectacularly wrong (and occasionally transcendently right), and weddings are thrilling because there’s always a chance that someone will interrupt the ceremony to declare his love for the bride-to-be, or that the groom will screw up the bride’s name, or that the bride will run away with a guy on skates.

Advertisement

The church scene was beautifully done. Edith looked lovely, so radiant and happy. (I agree with commenter LexiLuthor that her wedding dress looked better than Mary’s.) Her “Good afternoon” to Sir Anthony was warm and loving, his “Good afternoon, my sweet one,” similarly touching. And then, out of the blue, he pulled the plug.

Perhaps it was precisely because she seemed so sweet and open—we know she isn’t always so kind—that he decided he had to break her heart. His insistence that she would be happy “only if you don’t waste yourself on me,” seemed heartfelt, and he did seem to be wiping away tears as he fled the church. But why did he have to humiliate her so?

Jilting one’s betrothed is culture’s cruelest act. It’s relatively common in prime-time British soaps—I remember seeing similar scenes in Coronation Street and EastEnders—but in America, leaving someone at the altar is mostly the province of sitcoms. On How I Met Your Mother (a show that, like Downton Abbey, is locked into its premise by its title), Ted Mosby was dumped at his own wedding by Stella and later drove Victoria to leave Klaus at the altar to run away with him. Perhaps it’s not so humiliating over here: Back in 2011, President Barack Obama announced that the Republican leadership had “left me at the altar a couple of times.”

Edith, however, seemed truly mortified. Now she knows that her family members were plotting against her, poisoning Strallan by repeatedly telling him he should call off the wedding. Even her grandmother thought she should wish him well and let him go. If Edith really wants the “different life” she asked Anna for, she should high-tail it to America, where her family will find it far more difficult to meddle in her affairs.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

John Oliver Debunks the Miss America Pageant’s Claim That It Gives Out $45 Million in Scholarships

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 1:37 PM Subprime Loans Are Back! And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 2:55 PM Nuptial Expert Sarkozy Worries About Gay Marriage and the Family
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM Escaping the Extreme Christian Fundamentalism of "Quiverfull"
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 3:16 PM Watch the Best Part of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On the Run Tour
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.