"Edith's Crisis of Faith" features the character Beverly LaSalle, a transvestite and female impersonator, played by Lori Shannon. Beverly appeared in two earlier AITF episodes, "Archie the Hero" in 1975 and "Beverly Rides Again" in 1976. A friend of the family, Beverly returns to the Bunker home in "Edith's Crisis of Faith" in order to invite them to her scheduled performance at the prestigious Carnegie Hall the week before Christmas. The Bunkers are happy to see Beverly and accept her invitation while Edith, who considers Beverly to be "like family," returns the gesture and invites the performer to Christmas dinner at the Bunker home.
What comes next is disturbing and unexpected. Though the action takes place off camera, we learn that son-in-law Mike Stivic and Beverly are mugged. Eventually we see Mike in the hospital in bandages--he was beaten but will be fine. Mike describes the mugging saying that Beverly had successfully defended him against the gang of violent attackers but then the gang turned on Beverly with a lead pipe. Mike says, "I guess they figured out what he was and they just started smashing him with the pipe." A doctor tells Edith and Archie in the waiting room that Beverly has died. "Just because he was different," Gloria later adds. The rest of "Part 1" sees Edith numb in her grief at Christmas time.
The storyline continues into the following episode "Edith's Crisis of Faith, Part 2" where we see more fully how deeply Edith is affected by the death of her dear friend. Not only is Edith unable to put aside her grief, she finds she can't even be happy at Christmas for the sake of her two year-old grandson Joey. Even worse, Edith who is usually a person of unwavering faith now questions her belief in a God that would allow someone as kind, gentle and good as Beverly be so tragically murdered. She won't go to church at Christmas and even suggests that she may never go back. Archie encourages her to return to church but Edith's disillusioned response is: "Why? What good does it do?" Edith's family is beside themselves trying to cheer her up but Edith is inconsolable. She even runs out of the room when Archie offers a prayer over the family's Christmas dinner. Eventually, Mike is the only one able to offer any comfort to Edith. Mike reminds her that we can't always understand everything. Though Mike's answer is simple, he is actually making a complex point that a crime such as this is beyond reasonableness--it may never make sense. Watching a character as gentle and decent as Edith suffer so terribly is torturous and emotionally draining.
What many may find difficult here is that this deeply emotional and tragic episode occurs at Christmas--the one time of year most people want to feel uplifted, optimistic and hopeful. That may be the exact point the writers of this episode may have been communicating--juxtaposing this sad episode with the usual bright spirit of the holiday. It also makes it difficult to re-watch year after year as we all so often do with Christmas TV sitcom episodes.
However, the tone of this painful episode is handled correctly. AITF had perfected the appropriate manner in which to handle the sensitive issues of the day in previous episodes that dealt with topics such as racism, bigotry, war, politics, cancer, and more button-pushing issues one wouldn't immediately associate with family sitcoms. Even other Christmas episodes of AITF took on hot topics such as Edith's breast cancer scare, the divorce of Gloria and Mike, and my favorite: 1976's "The Draft Dodger" where Mike's friend, a draft dodger on the run, comes to Christmas dinner to share a table with Archie's friend who's son was just killed in Vietnam.
Yet, Christmas may just be the most appropriate time of year to remind ourselves of our desire for a world filled with peace. Hate crimes such as these unfortunately still exist and occur all too frequently. Part of what makes AITF such a groundbreaking show is the fact that its take on subjects such as this are still relevant today. Perhaps the depth of emotion felt in "Edith's Crisis of Faith" can serve as an annual reminder to grab our loved ones even closer and find compassion and acceptance for everyone.
Though a situation comedy, the jokes are never at the expense of the social issue but are aimed squarely at the insensitive fool, Archie Bunker. This show so successfully tackled social issues that many other TV series in the 1970s and 1980s went on to try to do the same thing with varying degrees of success.
UNK SEZ: Thanks so much Joanna for sharing such a wonderful post! I have a strong recollection of this episode as well and you really captured what made it so memorable.
Folks, not only is Joanna one of Kindertrauma's favorite people in general but she is also the author of the books THE CHRISTMAS TV COMPANION and 'TIS THE SEASON TV. You can pay her a visit at her official home base CHRISTMAS TV HISTORY!