Tuesday, February 12, 2013

what do you mean downton abbey is almost over?

A lot happened on Sunday night's episode of Downton Abbey, but perhaps the biggest shock of all came when Masterpiece's Laura Linney announced at the end of the episode that next week would be the season finale. Yikes! Say it isn't so.

The series has been renewed for a fourth season, but if you're anti-spoilers, don't go searching the internet for any more information until you've seen next week's finale. And be prepared that all good things come to those who wait, as The U.S. won't get to see the series for another year.

Thomas read all the signals wrong
But back to Sunday's episode, there were quite a few interesting things going on at Yorkshire's Downton Abbey that involved the folks downstairs and up. The major story involved Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier), valet to Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). Thomas has always been an interesting character. At times scheming and nasty, at times vulnerable and touching, always interesting to watch. Thomas is also homosexual, and recently has been exhibiting a very obvious interest, to those who know where to look, in the newly hired footman James (Edward Speleers).

Thomas's former co-conspirator, and now adversary O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), Lady Grantham's lady's maid, has been plotting all season for Thomas's downfall, by planting false romantic hopes in him, and encouraging the very straight James to seek out Thomas for advice. When Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) returned to Downton and his post as Lord Grantham's valet, Thomas was suddenly put in a very vulnerable position. Even though the Earl assured him they would find him a suitable position in the house, he was ripe for O'Brien's nudges, and he made a fast and very unwelcome move on James — with O'Brien's nephew and other footman Alfred (Matt Milne) as a witness.

What ensued was an interesting look at who exactly was shocked by the incident, and, much like the other storyline of "fallen woman" Ethel, a very ominous possibility of no job future prospects looming over Thomas. There were as many folks at Downton shocked by the discovery of Thomas's sexuality (Mr. Carson, Alfred) as there were folks not the least bit put off by it (Mrs. Hughes, Lord Grantham). Things looked very bleak for a while when Mr. Carson, at the prodding of James (nudged by O'Brien) informed Thomas that he would have to leave, without a job recommendation. After working at Downton for 10 years. Fully knowing that without a recommendation he would never get another job. But luckily for Thomas he found an unlikely ally in former rival Mr. Bates and the full support of Lord Grantham, and not just for his wicked cricket skills (although that certainly helped.)

Cricket can solve all the world's problems
Unfortunately homophobia still exists, but being reminded of how far-reaching the consequences could be for someone in the 1920s was a sobering reminder of how difficult some people's lives are just for who they love. Thomas was threatened with destitution, arrest, and the hatred of his peers. But through it all, he didn't apologize for who he is, “I am not foul, Mr. Carson. I am not like you, but I am not foul.” Thomas may have been a piece of work in the past, but in Sunday's episode I was cheering for him.

Not so cool or interesting was a subplot involving cousin Rose and her involvement with a married man. Thomas's gripping story dominated, but a few other cool things happened:
Tom Branson was made the new estate manager at Downton, allowing him and baby Sybil to remain with the family 
Edith took the job at the paper (yay!), but immediately started to fall for her married (in the vein of Jane Eyre's Rochester) editor (boo) 
The coolest, most enigmatic (to the characters, not the audience) threat ever, "Her Ladyship's soap" 
Thanks to the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), Ethel is being given a post near her son, and will be able to watch him grow up
Lord Grantham, inching towards modernity
Was what happened with Thomas realistic for the time period? It's hard to say. Downton Abbey is being created through a modern lens. Lord Grantham's seeming contradictions — his fear of scandal of an ex-prostitute serving the ladies in his life tea, vs. his apparent nonchalance at having a gay valet — may be confusing, but also may make him more realistic. “If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I’d have gone hoarse in a month.” He may finally be mellowing, as he was persuaded to attend his granddaughter's Catholic christening. Son-in-law Branson told him that his strength was his ability to relate to people at Downton. He certainly managed to do that in spades Sunday night.
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