During its four seasons, Downton Abbey has never shied away from addressing controversial topics. Way back in Season 1, the unmarried Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) risked her reputation by inviting a man into her bedchamber while, during Season 2, single housemaid Ethel (Amy Nuttall) had a child with a visiting World War I soldier. Now in the show’s fourth series, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) becomes pregnant after spending the night with her love, editor Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards).
As an unwed mother-to-be, Edith has only a few choices, choices made even more difficult by Michael’s disappearance in Germany. Alone and scared, Edith must decide whether or not to keep the child.
Emotionally devastated by the task facing her, Edith eventually confides in her aunt, Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond) during the February 9 episode. She does not want herself and her child to live a life of shame as outcasts from society, but at the same time cannot bear to kill “the wanted child of a man I’m in love with.” Still, she sees no choice but to have an abortion, an illegal practice that takes her and Rosamund to the dark, dirty back alleys of London.
Sitting in the dimly lit waiting room, Edith continues to grapple with the decision at hand. “I just can’t see over the top of this,” she confesses. Heartbreaking sobs echo down the hallway and, after peering around the corner at a distraught woman, Edith eventually changes her mind about the operation.
“This was a mistake,” she tells the nurse and doctor before rushing out the door, Aunt Rosamund right behind her.
Keeping the baby dramatically changes the course of Edith’s life, with obstacles ahead she admits she does not yet know how to face. Will Edith tell her mother and father? Will Michael reappear and, if so, what will he make of the pregnancy? Is there any place for an unwed high-born mother in 1922 English society?
We can answer all of these questions thanks to our roundup of Season 4 but warning, lots of spoilers ahead.