Downton Abbey tackles abortion (SPOILER ALERT)

downton-abbey-wallpaper-8SPOILER ALERT!!! I’m going to be discussing last night’s episode of Downton Abbey.  If you haven’t seen it yet, and are still planning on watching it, STOP READING RIGHT NOW.





Okay.  Are those of you still with me okay with a spoiler?  Good.  Let’s get going with this post then.

We started watching Downton Abbey when it first came to America.  In the first and second seasons, it had everything an anglophile history buff could desire:  A ridiculously gorgeous setting, breathtaking pre-WWI fashions, solidly good acting, and an interesting plot-line that followed the upstairs and downstairs life of an aristocratic household on the verge of a war that exacted a great toll on England and fundamentally changed the British landscape.

And of course, it had Maggie Smith, who is a delight in every single scene.  As the Dowager Countess, a proud, loving woman struggling to accept all the changes in the world, she is witty, acerbic, and an absolute low-key comedic joy.

Downton Abbey is now in its fourth season and is dragging us through the 20s.  When I say “dragging,” I mean that pejorative deliberately.  The show has bogged down into being a classy, costumed soap opera.  I still watch for the costumes and for Maggie Smith, but otherwise it’s mostly a yawn.  Something interesting happened last night though.

As some of you may already know, the Earl of Grantham’s upstairs family began the series with three daughters:  Mary, the beautiful, snotty oldest (now a widow); Sybil, the beautiful, free-spirit youngest (now dead); and Edith, the ordinary looking, catty, uninteresting middle child.  Edith has consistently been unlucky in love, including being dumped at the altar.

Things finally started to go well for Edith last season when she met a handsome newspaper editor/publisher who fell in love with her.  The only problem was that he had a mad wife (shades of Mr. Rochester) and couldn’t divorce her to marry Edith.  Eventually, he decided to move to Germany (a scandalous thing to do immediately after WWI) and become a resident there, so that he could get divorced.  Sadly for Edith, he has since disappeared in Munich, and we don’t know what’s happened to him.  (By the way, if you’re British and do know what’s happened to him, please don’t tell me.) Even worse for Edith, she’s just discovered that she’s pregnant.

One of the threads in yesterday’s convoluted plot (complete with a boring rape story line) was Edith’s decision to go to London to get an abortion.  It’s obviously a difficult decision for her.  The aunt with whom she’s staying forces her to reveal her plans and, instead of being angry at unmarried Edith for being pregnant, is compassionate, and tries to talk her into having the baby.  Edith, though, is terrified of being a social outcast.  She loves the father, she wants the baby, but she cannot bear the thought of complete social ignominy.

So off they go to the abortionist.  I assumed that this would be the point where a compassionate 1920s doctor makes a speech about the evils of illegal abortion.  Instead, after being admitted in a clean, unadorned waiting room, by a clean, unadorned receptionist/nurse, Edith realizes that having the abortion will cut her off from her family just as surely as having the baby will.  She would no longer be able to stand going into the nursery where her niece and nephew live.  This promise of future regret overwhelms her . . . and she leaves the abortionist.

In a show full of hackneyed soap opera twists and turns, I did not see this one coming.