Downton Abbey Review: Wherein Everybody Changes Their Mind About Thomas

Downton Abbey S03E07 / S03E08: “Episode 7” / “Episode 8” (or S03E06/“Episode 6,” according to PBS)

OH. OMG. IT’S HERE. IT’S #FREEBATES TIME, YOU GUYS. IT’S #FREEBATES TIME!

Bates emerged from prison looking pretty freaking dapper for a dude who spent THE ENTIRE SEASON in the slammer. The. Entire. Season. Yes, technically, the Season 3 finale aired tonight. What we’re getting next week is actually the Christmas Special because... I don’t know. I’m sure PBS has its reasons. But anyway, the point is, Bates is finally free, even if it took entirely too long to happen and frankly, just watching him and Anna paint walls was more exciting than anything else the couple did this season.

Except for when Bates got all, “I know what you did two seasons ago with the soap, you awful human being” with O’Brien in order to save Thomas’s ass. I like to think that this means Thomas and Bates can be friends now, but I doubt it. Why can’t those guys just get along?

So let’s talk about O’Brien. Ugh, O’Brien. Ugh. I can’t even make words, just the sound my brother’s cat makes when it coughs up hairballs. The woman really doesn’t have anything resembling an off-switch does she? You’d think she would have learned her lesson that time she, you know, CAUSED A MISCARRIAGE, but no, she remains fairly content with biding her time destroying lives in response to non-life-destroying slights. All season long, we bore witness as she played handsome flirty straight James and handsome sad closeted Thomas against one another, manipulating James for maximum discomfort at Thomas’s intimacy and convincing Thomas that James liked it and wanted to reciprocate. Talk about an HR nightmare.

And yet, considering the time period, the location, and the culture Thomas has found himself stuck in, I thought the response from (most) of the rest of the house was surprisingly gracious. Carson had the harshest words, and the horsewhipping comment was totally uncalled for (not to mention the “revolting” bit and the... well... everything), but he was prepared to give Thomas a decent reference up until O’Brien pulled a few of her strings. He wanted Thomas out of his hair, out of the family’s hair; but he didn’t want him in prison or on the streets which was kind of decent of him. BABY STEPS, CARSON, BABY STEPS TO THE FUTURE. You made it through telephones, man. You can survive anything.

The most unexpected of the “Thomas is gay and that’s okay” responses came from Robert himself, who continued running and hiding from the future between throwing tantrums regarding Edith’s decision to write for the paper and Matthew’s ongoing campaign to save their conveniently inherited fortune from landing in the toilet. Again. OH, and his granddaughter got christened into the Catholic church so he was good for some dignified scowling and passive-aggressive digs on that “foreign” institution. El-oh-el, those “bobbing Catholics.” SO FUNNY.

But when it came to Thomas jumping in bed with James beneath Robert’s very traditional and proper and god-fearing roof, Robert honestly couldn’t have cared less. He went to Eton. You don’t think boys tried to kiss other boys at Eaton? It was no big. “Thomas does not choose to be the way he is,” he said, matching the sentiments of a large chunk of the house’s inhabitants. That’s an impressively progressive stance for a population that just a few decades earlier sincerely believed that pulling one’s pudding led to blindness and insanity because the doctor said so. Also Jesus. Or something.

But hey, it’s 1920. It’s the modern world. We have JAZZ now. AND BLACK PEOPLE OMG BLACK PEOPLE. Lady Rosamund almost had a stroke walking into that club. Edith looked a little green around the gills—but get over it, lady, you’re supposed to be our substitute Sybil! Luckily Matthew had spent some time living on Earth before shacking up in Downton with his cousin-bride, so his fright stemmed mostly from all the dancefloor sexin’, possibly a complication of Mary not letting him “make her untidy.” You know, sometimes the quaint little euphemisms sound so much dirtier than just coming out and saying, “No, we can’t have a pre-dinner quickie.”

I like that Rose chick, though. At first she seemed like a brat, and she IS a brat, but she’s a brat who's already grown on me. She’s a walking scandal-waiting-to-happen with her drinking and her sexy dancing and her hooking up with married men. But “Mummy” sounds like a horrorshow, so trainwreck away, you frizzy-haired little monster. Kisses!

So it appears that Downton has reached new heights of modernity, with Robert eventually—though somewhat reluctantly—agreeing to Matthew’s revitalization plans, and even taking on Branson as the estate’s agent; Mary hiring a nice doctor to fix her faulty incubator with science; Thomas being allowed to stay on (and even earning a promotion) despite his perfectly natural sexual preference; and Edith writing about “man things” for the paper as though she has, and this is a really novel idea here, a BRAIN.

Unfortunately, Edith still has crap luck when it comes to love, having caught the eye of her awesome, charming, and attractive editor... who is stuck in a loveless marriage to a “lunatic.” They’re adorable and I love them but I’m really over Edith’s habit of drawing the attention of generally decent guys who end up breaking her heart. Gregson’s tale of woe about the wife he loves who no longer recognizes him and the laws that won’t let him move on is sad and all, but I’m a little apprehensive after Matthew’s tough-love rant to Rose at the jazz club about older men preying on younger women ALWAYS being married to “dreadful women.” I really hope I’m over analyzing the parallel between Rose and Edith. But seriously, Gregson, you hurt her and I WILL cut you.

Seriously.

What did you think of Downton Abbey’s Season 3 finale/not-the-Season-3-finale?



NOTES


– Dowager Countess Sass of the Night: On Ethel cultivating her skills: “But you seem to have so many!” Hooker skills. She means hooker skills. Poor Ethel. Such an easy target.

– Shameless leering at the wardrobe time: So many lovely ladies in red! Also, it looks like Edith discovered lipstick in London. HUSSY.

– Lol, Charles Ponzi shout out. PLEASE DON’T LET ROBERT PLAY THE INVESTMENT GAME ANYMORE KTHNX.

– “I’m not foul, Mr. Carson. I’m not the same as you, but I’m not foul.” This season has done a really great job of making Thomas likeable, sympathetic, and secretly awesome.

– “Now we can begin making babies!” Can you sound like any more of a creep, Matthew? The only thing missing was a suggestive eyebrow waggle.

– Ethel stuff: People were mean to her because of the whole prostitute thing. The Dowager placed an ad in the paper for her. She got a new job near her bastard child. And they lived happily ever after until Charlie turned 18 and his “parents” told him the truth about his “former nanny.” Awkward.

– What do you think about everyone's treatment of Thomas? Was it a little handwave-y? On one hand it's AWESOMELY progressive of everyone, but isn't it also kind of WEIRDLY progressive? To the point of maybe being out of character for most of our characters considering the time period?

– The Adventures of Detective Anna, Super Sleuth: Mission accomplished. Time to pick out curtains. (And make babies?)

Comments (27)
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O please ,we love so much Downton Abbey ,because in America we do not have any thing to see ,only the Crazy Lady s of Beverly Hills or the other town what they do if i have friends like that I do not want any.Well I love Masterpiece Theater ,the only good thing on TV , And Downton Abby is the best in a long time,Thank you.
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Prepare your handkerchiefs America! That's all I'm saying about the finale... I'm soooo waiting for your review of the next episode...
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"You'll make me untidy" was my favorite line of this episode!
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The whole way of Sybil dying seemed wrapped up or glossed over, as well as everyone's attitude towards Thomas and so on. I think that this series does tend to wrap things up neat, tidy, and quick. Maybe it's because they do only 6 episodes a season to keep it simple? On top of that, maybe they want resolutions should the show not continue, as I don't think British programs last like ours unless you are Dr. Who.
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Could someone explain to me what Thomas and now Bates have over O'Brien? Bates says "me'Ladys soaps?" when explaining it to Anna ... I don't follow. Would love a clarification from someone who knows what is being referenced that scares O'Brien so deeply. Thanks
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(Spoiler from previous seasons)

O'Brien made Lady Grantham/Cora slip using a bar of soap, when she was pregnant causing her to lose the baby.
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Way back in season 1, O'Brien purposefully left a wet bar of soap out on the floor for Cora to slip on after she overheard Violet and Cora discussing hiring a new lady's maid (there were some other issues going on between between Cora and O'Brien, but that was the last straw). This results in a miscarriage for Cora, who was pregnant at the time, and it turned out that O'Brien's job was never actually in jeopardy anyway.
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Yup! In the first season, Cora got preggers and it was big deal because if the baby was a boy, the estate wouldn't go to Matthew, so everyone could stop trying to get him and Mary together. O'Brien mistakenly thought that Cora was planning to sack her, so as revenge, she left a bar of soap beneath the bathtub. Cora slipped when she got out of the tub and miscarried the baby. :(
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It was fine...? I wasn't expecting a double episode tonight, so, mentally, I was all prepared for Iron Chef America (it was a new Morimoto episode!), but stayed on my loveseat to "finish" the season.

I appreciated how Bates just got right into the mix again without missing a step, with his knowing glances at O'Brien and Thomas. It's like he never left, and only served to remind me that no one else in the servants' areas seems to be paying any attention to anyone.

But I'm with TheGrimAriel and TracyTrouble below about the resolution of the Thomas plot. It's sort of ridiculous contortion to keep him around, and most everyone's A-OK with it? Because of Eton kissing times and past experiences? It's a weird contemporary parallel to draw re: knowing gay men and women and being accepting/tolerant as a result. Or perhaps we're just meant to see the hypocrisy of the upper class here? Fine homosexuality, but good grief, those kooky Catholics!

Given that everything has sort of turned up roses for everyone here, I fully expect that the Christmas special will bring it all crumbling down around them. And, yes, I will continue to mix my metaphors as I please.
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I disliked the double episode. I think we all should have taken a week to mull over the Thomas situation. I was really stressed out with this modern sensibilities vs. historical accuracy situation, and a week of stewing over it may have made the eventual relief more welcome. I still think we'd get to the same place (feeling like they sacrificed authenticity to make it palatable) but perhaps the emotional payoff would have made it worth it.

Let's call our pals in the UK and ask ;).
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PBS always trips me up with their double episodes. Every. Single. Time.

Thomas' storyline was rough because on an I-like-to-think-I'm-generally-a-decent-human-being level, it would have been rough to watch him get tossed out on his ass and screwed over. But on an I-read-history-books level, it REALLY doesn't ring true at all which is kind of distracting when you take into account how hard the DA production team tries to stay true to the time period, and TheGrimAngel and TracyTrouble raised excellent points about the glossing over of unpleasant aspects of history. Downton gets that a lot, actually. :/
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One thing I always liked about DA was how they added modern situations to an old-fashioned setting. Sybil the feminist, Branson the sorta freedom fighter, and Thomas and his less-than-fully-secret sexuality. But Sybil's and Branson's ish always got dealt with in a pretty period-appropriate way, and while I'm super glad Thomas isn't screwed out of a job, it was weird how it just all... resolved. And now it's all back where it started- Thomas got a promotion and that evil glint back in his eye. Not really progress, for the story or the character.

Also, Lord Grantham is such a slumlord!! Did you SEE that hovel Anna and Bates live in??? Not cool, guy. Bates' prison cell was nicer.
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I was kind of appalled by how craptastic Bates and Anna's cottage was. SLUMLORD GRANTHAM.
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At least it doesn't smell damp!
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Which is impressive because it certainly LOOKED damp!
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no comment
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I think, perhaps, you meant Eton.
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Yes. Yes I did. Fixed!
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the best line from the dowager was referring to Branson's brother as a drunk gorilla hahahaaah!!
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Forgive me, but I just CANNOT swallow their "understanding" of Thomas's situation. It's not REALISTIC, this, from men who branded Ethel as some kind of an evil for the "sin" of getting pregnant unmarried and nearly fainted seeing Sybil wearing pants and aghast at the idea of his grandchild being a catholic, will just..."accept" the fact that men can and do love/do men with an understanding nod and a pat on his back? This isn't about homosexuality BTW, because I'm one.

This isn't another "step", it's more like sky-rocketing into space. It would've been a heart-warming thing to see, given the period, unrealistic no matter what, but in this case? Just stupid. This whole season they've been kind of pig-like and then suddenly...SUDDENLY IT'S- ALL-FINE-IT'S FINE-THOMAS-YOU'RE-LOVED! GOSH.
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But at the same time, Ethel was (I think?) fairly new and not well known, and a woman, as others have said below. And Thomas has been there for 10 years, and has been Lord Grantham's valet for awhile now, so it's a closer relationship. I still agree that it's not necessarily period-appropriate. I thought that everything made sense enough with the characters to give him a reference and let him go, but the whole twist it into a promotion thing was too much. But I don't know how they'd keep his character around otherwise, so, you know, tv rules.
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This kinda got me also. I find it extremely odd for Robert to easily accept Thomas whereas he went all mad when he found out about Ethel. It could be gender bias but I still find it hard to believe that a character like Robert would be so hypocritical. Sure, Thomas' scandal wasn't public yet and Ethel's was, but he handled the situation a lot nicer. We all know Robert only cares about the illusion of 'things are fine and dandy' so maybe hiding the scandal and keeping that illusion is more important than upholding is conservative views. But I still find it quite out-of-character.
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It's all soap operaish you know. Brits can do it too. With respect to Thomas, I think Lord Granty can put up with men (even that sort) but not women progressing. So he tries to at least still assert some power in his position (protecting Thomas) eventhough businesswise, it has now fallen to the new generation to run DA.
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Agreed; politically correct British tv is rewriting history to appeal to today's tastes. Sadly it means that the suffering of people from the past is being ignored because it's deemed somehow unacceptable to remember. I just don't understand why; if someone's been pilloried and/or ostracised because of their religion, colour or sexuality then we shouldn't be 'glossing' over it. it's more likely that not only would Thomas have been fired with no references, he would've been reported to the local police and no doubt locked up too as an 'unnatural'. I also think he would've gone to extreme lengths to keep his sexuality under wraps because of this.

As a Brit myself I find our current fixation with PC tv annoying in the extreme as it's rewriting so much of our history that it finds 'distasteful'. As a history buff I find that unacceptable; but as a woman with a homosexual cousin and a lesbian cousin also, I find it disgusting that others like them have had their suffering glibly 'erased' from history merely to appease the liberals of today. Without the suffering of my cousins predecessors and the fight for their rights that ensued because of it, my cousins wouldn't even *have* the freedoms they do now. why ignore that?
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Well said. I felt like this was a cop out because they couldn't bear to show how horribly Thomas would actually have been treated and feared backlash. It's important to confront the sins of the past, and I felt like this season was all about that: not being afraid to let beloved characters (OK, mostly Robert) look like jackassses in the name of historical accuracy. The class struggle IS important. The treatment of women IS important. If they wanted to make a big show of homosexual tolerance, it should have been an upper class character. Boys kissing Robert at Eton can be overlooked but the same is not true for a servant.

It would have been exceptionally painful to watch Thomas be tossed out, just as it was painful to watch Sybil die because her father was permitted to make her medical decisions. Why acknowledge one but cheat the other?
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Exactly!
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I agree with you; the class struggle of the time, the struggle of women to be seen as more than mere chattel is of course important. But if you're going to show that then why not show the reality of homosexuality?

As you say, for the upper classes it was conveniently ignored; most looked the other way and married their 'wayward' sons of to some poor unsuspecting female with an order to produce and heir and then they didn't care. But for working class homosexuals and lesbians it was far, far different and an utter nightmare.

Sadly these days tv companies, particularly here in the UK, fear unfavourable feedback by the liberal leaning left - probably even more than they fear similar feedback from the gay community itself. Therefore the suffering that would really have taken place is glibly ignored and history rewritten to be casual acceptance. it annoyed me beyond belief - I actually hurled abuse at the telly I was so mad.
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