Warning: There are spoilers throughout this post.
Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith Crawley is a dim-witted bore who has frustrated us all for six seasons in a row. Yet somehow, in the final episode of the show, she gets to live happily ever after, marrying Berite Pelham who is — for the most part — a nice guy who is fabulously wealthy and in possession of a title that outranks the rest of the family. (Bonus: he does not jilt her at the altar.) But her ascent sidelines the true queen of the show: Lady Mary.
In response, much of the Internet has reacted something along the lines of: “Hooray! The good girl gets the happy ending!” To be fair, in the final season Edith suddenly becomes kind of cool and not so hate-able. She takes charge of the newspaper she inherited from her dead lover and asserts herself as a formidable force at the paper by firing her no-good, mansplaining chub of an editor and replacing him with fun and hot female employee. She finally puts down her foot and insists that her kinda-secret daughter should live with her — polite society be damned!
But let’s not forget that for five seasons googly-eyed Edith was drab and awful. She is the middlest middle child ever, by which I mean she spent much of her time so distracted by petty jealousies towards her older and younger sisters that she didn’t know who she was or what she actually wanted. Like that time when she wrote to the Turkish embassy to rat on her older sister for being involved with the death of an ambassador. Or that time when she yelled “Slut!” at her sister in the middle of a hallway.
She spends a majority of her time unlucky in love — which almost makes her endearing, if her taste in men weren’t so cringe-worthy to begin with. She falls for a significantly older man who leaves her at the altar, just after she falls for a man who pretends to be her cousin and heir to the estate by wrapping his face in bandages. Her Prince Charming, despite his fabulous wealth and title, is a dopey-looking mama’s boy with an overbite.
Even her parents willingly admit that she is a frustrating bore:
Robert: ‘Poor old Edith. We never seem to talk about her.’
Cora: ‘I’m afraid Edith will be the one taking care of us in our old age.’
Robert: ‘Oh, what a ghastly prospect!’
Yet for some reason, the writers decided the final season would be all about Lady Edith and that it would be perfect to give her the happy ending. They even managed to make her kind of likable, which is akin to saying that eating a handful of sand isn’t so bad after all if you can wash it down with a Capri-Sun.
The final season felt like what would have happened if Edith had slept with all the writers to bribe them into writing nice things about her and to force Mary into acting like a person she would have hated.
Flashback to when Mary was the center of the universe, and it was marvelous.
Mary was a badass. In the first season, she finds herself in bed with a Turkish ambassador before he suddenly dies in her arms — literally. Instead of screaming and awaking the house like ninny Edith undoubtedly would have, she recruits her mom and maid to help her drag the body back to his bed to save herself from scandal and ruin.
But for whatever reason, Mary suddenly pivots an entire 180 degrees from the snob-we-loved-so-much, to a woman who decides to marry only for love — titles and wealth be damned. In the final season, she professes her love for an amateur race car driver Henry Talbot, whom no one — save for Tom, the former chauffeur to and widower of Lady Sibyl — thinks is good enough for her.
This is not the Mary we’ve come to love so much who refused to accept the love-of-her-life Matthew Crawley’s proposal because her mother’s unexpected pregnancy could have upset the line of succession and left him without a title. If title-less Matthew was not good enough for Mary, than a title-less Henry Talbot certainly isn’t, either.
Mary has always been a self-centered bitch throughout the entire show — particularly regarding Edith — but her cold put-downs were deliciously wicked. In the last season, however, Mary becomes positively villainous towards her younger sister. When she spills the secret of Edith’s illegitimate daughter to Bertie with the hopes of wrecking their engagement, Mary is acting like a cartoon version of herself who becomes a prop for Edith to tear into.
The writers themselves even admitted in a recent Vanity Fair interview that they were hesitant about making Mary so mean, even questioning whether that plot-line was even a possibility for her character. Watch how uncomfortable actress Michelle Dockery is in an interview about the final episode when she haltingly says she “hopes the audience will be content with the finale for her [Mary].” (Umm, we’re not.)
For Mary fans like myself, watching the once-dowager-of-Downton-to-be devolve into a monstrous villain and a finally un-snobby, simple lady who is fine living a quiet life in Downton without a title, is a sad and unfortunate turn in the show. Her demise into mediocrity is worsened by the fact that tawdry Edith gets to have her cake and eat it too.