published Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

David Cook: Groundhog’s Day at Downton Abbey

No one is sure quite who she is. Or what to do with her. An object of sympathy more than affection, pity more than pleasure, she has endured hit after hit of rejection only to get hit once more on Sunday night.

Lady Edith.

The perpetually forgotten middle sister of the Grantham estate, Lady Edith found herself in the center of Sunday’s “Downton Abbey’’ episode. About to get married, on the best day of her life, the applause and flowers and champagne and smiling Carson, and what does she get?

Jilted. Scorned. By a man so old and wilting he ought to rejoice over a glance from her, not to mention a vow of matrimony.

“Edith, who has neither luck nor luminosity, neither her older sister’s stones nor her younger sister’s sweetness, or either of their beauty, is a true personification of ‘Downton’s’ aristocratic worldview: We are not created equal,’’ writes Willa Paskin of Salon.com.

Hmmm. Then maybe the story around Edith is not really about Edith at all.

It is an odd thing to think that so many millions of Americans love “Downton Abbey.’’ Sure, they love it over in Britain too, but they should: It’s their story.

But it’s not ours.

We Americans killed the king. Not literally, but metaphorically: by crossing the ocean, dumping the tea, starting a revolution, we left behind aristocracy and royalty in return for democracy.

All men created equal.

A phrase Lord Grantham will never utter.

Had “Downton’’ been set in America, the Edith-plot never would have worked. She may have been alone at the wedding altar, but her character would have been cast in such an underdog way that such a loss would only be temporary. Momentarily. Within an episode, she’d be pulling herself up by her riding bootstraps.

(We have a long history of American, un-British underdogs. Can you picture Rocky Balboa at Downton?)

But cast as an aristocrat, Edith’s future is uncertain. Would it surprise you, Downton viewer, to think that she’d remain unwed, join the social reform movement of cousin Matthew’s mother, or ally herself alongside the Dowager?

Whoops. Can’t do either of those. Both her sisters have already filled those spots.

But if Edith was American, she’d have revenge. Or even truer love. Or a convertible riding off into the sunset with Thelma and Louise. Something victorious. Something independent.

Which is why I think the fate of Edith will determine the identity of “Downton Abbey.’’ Kind of like Groundhog Day.

If Edith remains jilted, stuck in place, alone in the house of lords, then Downton’s soul is truly British. Aristocratic, where fate is determined.

If she finds love, or pursues her own happiness, then the show is American.

My prediction? She gets out of town. Leaves with Shirley MacLaine, bound for the one place where she can find freedom to be who she wants to be.

Edith will come to the States.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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