Downton Abbey: Just Wondering, But…?

FYI: THIS IS NOT A FAKE SPOILER ALERT!  OR A REAL SPOILER ALERT!  THERE ARE NO SPOILERS HERE!

This is just me processing last night’s show and wondering what the future will hold for season 4 of Downton Abbey, which is of course one of the soapiest shows ever created.

And for that, Julian Fellowes, I thank you.

OK, well maybe there are some spoilers, but FAIR WARNING if you didn’t see last night’s episode yet!  What are you waiting for?  Here!  Here’s the link so you can watch it online!  Get back to me once you’re caught up.

Now bear this in mind…I have no basis for this except my own speculation…no insider secrets, no connection to anyone associated with the show (oh, how I wish!) (BTW, did you know Maggie Smith is referred to on set at The Notorious M.A.G.?  She tried to change it to Snoop Maggie Mags but it didn’t stick.  I heart her too much.), not a scrap of insight into what the future brings, so if I’m right, then WOO HOO, ME! and if I’m wrong, then who cares anyway?

So, Thomas.  Thomas, the scheming footman/valet at Downton Abbey, has finally been dragged out of the closet by his own doing.

In England in 1920, this was serious.  It was scandalous, sure, but that would have been the least of Thomas’s problems.  It was criminal.  The Buggery Act was in place in one amended form or another from 1533 until its full repeal in 1967, though progress did see its halt as a capital (i.e., death penalty) offense in 1861.  So at least Thomas wouldn’t run the risk of being hanged when found out.  He could just be imprisoned.

Anyway.  Here’s the thing: with all of Lord Grantham’s many recent bloviated, patriarchal posturings–about the Catholics, say, or about the advent of business sensibilities and the management of his tenant farmers, or about Communists, or about his daughter working in journalism, or about his reliance on the advice of the posh trendy titled doctor who didn’t know his daughter over the advice of the country doctor who did which ultimately ushered in his own child’s death, or about the ex-hooker working as a cook in Cousin Isobel’s house–he was surprisingly compassionate when he heard about Thomas kissing Jimmy in the middle of the night, talking about how Nature has shaped him into what he is.  He not only didn’t fire Thomas, he promoted him, protected him from the police and told Carson, “If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton I’d have been hoarse in a month!”

Indeed.

I believe in equality for the LGBT community and frankly can’t believe it’s still a topic for legislation.  And I know this is a TV show that isn’t necessarily lauded for its historical accuracy.  But.  Lord Grantham’s attitude seems incredibly progressive, particularly in light of his reaction to anything that pushes the boundaries of patriarchal propriety.  So what do we think?  Was this Lord Grantham’s one moment of enlightened clarity?  Was this the one way in which his humanity comes through and he rattles the chains of oppression?  Or!  Now that Thomas is beholden to him, back in his employ and deeply, deeply in his debt, will season 4 see Lord Grantham exert his power over Thomas?  Has Lord Grantham stuck one well-heeled toe out of his dressing room?  Reminder: this IS a TV show that’s pretty heavy on the melodrama, so if I were asking what would make for the soapiest plot twist this would be it.  What do you think; will Thomas and Lord Grantham make the love that dare not speak its name?

And OMG, what would O’Brien do about that?

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5 responses to Downton Abbey: Just Wondering, But…?

  1. jp

    Rob James-Collier is just so good as Thomas, that as diabolical as the character can be, ya just can’t help but feel for him. And the actor really let us see Thomas’ terror and vulnerability in this episode. I loved how the show let us see what a terrible, crushing fate it was to be a servant and to be TURNED AWAY WITHOUT A REFERENCE.
    I think, however, that the writers are inconsistent on Lord Robert’s degree of jerkiness. Wasn’t he the same guy who forgave Mary her Mr Pamouk scandal and told her to go off to America and marry a cowboy just a season or so ago? So it was a bit head-snapping to see him revert back to Lord Upholder of All Things Snobby and English with such ferocity in the last few episodes. So, yes, the tolerance he expressed for Thomas WAS inconsistent with Robert’s more recent attitudes, and yet of a piece with open-mindedness he’s demonstrated in the further-off past.
    Plots demand conflict, and I think we can forgive the writers for sacrificing character consistency in service of keeping the story going in interesting directions.

    That said, Robert’s Eton quip gets my vote for Best Line of the episode.

    And get ready to grasp your throat and SCREEECH over next week’s big surprise. (If you don’t want it spoiled, stay off the internets). Although that twist–like the Lady Sybil shocker–is driven not so much by the narrative, but by the performer wanting out of the series to pursue other options. DAMN YOU, LURE OF THE FILM INDUSTRY!

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    • beyondpaisley – Author

      I’ve known the shocking finale for weeks. As for Lord Robert, this season he’s been blossoming into the supervillain/upholder of the patriarchy. You may say to forgive them their inconsistencies but I say inconsistencies in serialized TV are the hallmark of the writers building up to Something. I’m just saying that Lord Grantham’s increasing sense of powerlessness may cause him to act out in unexpected ways. They wouldn’t film things if they weren’t important.

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    • marjorie

      Interesting idea, but not one that occurred to me. Although he is quite comfortable having another grown man dress him in his jammies every night and presumably undress him again. His intervention on behalf of Thomas (inexplicably referred to as “Barrow” this episode) seemed to be open mindedness in the service of maintaining tradition –the cricket match.

      I had been thinking that Thomas had been displaying more humanity since he lost his shirt investing in that hoard of useless provisions. He reacted like a real person, as well, when Sybil died. Like any soap that goes on long enough, the villians become saints, or get amnesia, or their long lost twin shows up….

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      • beyondpaisley – Author

        I read one recap that asked the question (and I paraphrase), “Would Lord Grantham want to retain a “body servant” (i.e., someone who literally works on the person, dressing, undressing, etc) that he knew was gay?” And sure, Bates is valet now but they’ve thrown in this twist that Thomas is actually his boss now, so…how’s that going to work? I mean, I’m not saying I’m right, wrong, whatever. I’m just looking for the soapiest plot twist in all the land. I feel like the humanization and martyrdom of Thomas is just the beginning of mega-melodrama in store for him, that doesn’t involve him plotting in the back yard over cigarettes. Though his looming presence in Bates’s barn was kind of creepy.

        And you’re right, Lord Grantham did pretty much obsess about that cricket match.

        One more question: is it just me, or does this whole Daisy/Alfred/Ivy/Jimmy love mismatch make you want to pluck your own eyes out?

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  2. […] Last week I predicted Thomas would become the unwilling sex slave of a deeply closeted Lord Grantham, though I did say that would in all likelihood take place in series 4 so I’ve still got the potential to be right.  This week he showed himself to be an ardent defender of…Jimmy, the guy who almost got him fired, which two years ago would have made for Thomas’s engagement in an unfathomable amount of connivery resulting in someone’s public humiliation and/or possible dismissal from service. […]

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