We continue our countdown of my favorite 1970s Christmas TV episodes with 1977’s “Edith’s Crisis of Faith” from All in the Family.
I feel like a bit of a broken record here, but again, All in the Family was an excellent sitcom about a bigoted man in Queens named Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) who allows his daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers) and her liberal husband, Mike (Rob Reiner) move in with Archie and his wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton), while Mike continues his schooling. It’s one of the most acclaimed sitcoms of all-time, and therefore, you could easily argue for, like, four episodes of the series to make this list, but I held myself to “just” two.
The two episodes that I at least considered were Season 2’s “Christmas Day at the Bunkers'” (the show began as a midseason replacement, so there was no opportunity for a Christmas show in the first season), where Archie screwed up at work, leading to his Christmas bonus being rescinded (as it was needed to help pay for his screwup). Archie is depressed all through Christmas for letting his family down, but in the end, no one really cares, as they know Archie works hard for the family. It’s a well done episode, but it didn’t exactly stand out THAT much.
The next was Season 4’s “Edith’s Christmas Story,” where Edith discovers a lump in her breast during Christmas. It turns out that it wasn’t cancer. This was a great episode, but it dropped the Christmas connection SUPER quickly, so I really don’t consider it as much of a “Christmas episode” (don’t even get me started on the Bunkers visit to California late in the series, which is TECHNICALLY a Christmas episode, as well).
So that leads us to Season 8’s “Edith’s Crisis of Faith.” Beverly LaSalle (Lori Shannon), the renowned drag performer, is visiting with Edith, and Edith invites Beverly to spend Christmas with the Bunkers. Beverly agrees. Beverly also offers the Bunkers VIP tickets to Beverly’s upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall. Archie, of course, is put off, but Archie and Beverly had a weird relationship, where Archie clearly DOES like Beverly well enough, which is saying a lot for a bigot like Archie.
Anyhow, tragically, when Mike walked Beverly to the subway, some punks assumed that they were a gay couple, and attacked them. Beverly saved Mike from possibly being killed by tackling the guy who was about to brain Mike, but instead, Beverly drew the focus of the attacks, and was murdered.
This leads to Edith feeling as though she can no longer believe in a God who would allow something like this to happen to such a kind person, so she stops going to church, and she refuses to even celebrate Christmas. Ultimately, it is Mike, who, while an atheist, admits to his mother-in-law that he has always admired her faith. He then tries his best to help her make sense of things, partially by explaining that perhaps the point is that NO one can understand it:
Mike: “Ma, who you mad at?”
Edith: “I’m made at God.”
Mike: “You think that God was responsible for what happened to Beverly?”
Edith: “I don’t know. All I know is that Beverly was killed because of what he was. And we’re all supposed to be God’s children. It don’t make sense. I don’t understand nothin’ no more.”
Mike: “Ma, did you ever have a subject in school that you didn’t understand?”
Edith: “Yeah. Algebra. I hated it. I couldn’t understand it, so I dropped it.”
Mike: “But you didn’t drop out of school, did you? … Ma, what I’m trying to say is that… maybe …maybe we’re not supposed to understand everything all at once. Maybe we’re just supposed to understand things a little bit at a time.”
Mike then explains that the family needs Edith, and his words get through to her, and she is back to her normal self by the end of the episode.
It’s a dark subject matter, but I think it still had a festive message in the end.