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'Downton Abbey' recap, Season 3, Episode 6, Thomas gets caught

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The Thomas and Jimmy situation just got real(ly sad). 

Yes, a lot went down in this two-hour penultimate episode of Season 3. It all felt, at times, a bit laborious (this was two of the U.K. episodes, for some reason, smashed together), but it advanced several plot lines a great deal.

And gave us double dose of biting, hilarious Dowager Countess comments!

I'd like to start with the sad case of Thomas Barrow, so often the evil glaring villain. I had a friend a few weeks ago tell me how much she hates -- hates! -- Thomas. And yes, he's often pretty awful and smokes a lot and evil-y schemes while smoking a lot.

But in this episode, it's hard to not feel sympathetic for the bloke. And yes, I said "bloke." Hey, it's a British series. Give me a break. 

As the house is prepping for a Downton cricket match (the house vs. the village!), things heat up for Thomas. After a few episodes of O'Brien scheming against her former BFF, partly because Thomas refused to mentor her nephew, Alfred, and partly because she's, well, O'Brien Mistress of the Devil Dark, her plan to ruin him came to fruition.

Already on edge because Bates is back and will be taking back his old valet job, Thomas lets his guard down with O'Brien after she calls he and Jimmy a "cozy couple." Yes, all Thomas did was give Jimmy advice, but O'Brien is the queen of manipulating even the most inconsequential of events, twisting them to her benefit.

She tells Thomas that Alfred told her that Jimmy is always going on about how great Thomas is. Thomas dismisses the news, but the seed is planted. And O'Brien can see that, as she smiles to herself. 

Later, Jimmy and Thomas are alone in the kitchen as Jimmy vents his anger of being passed over as first footman in favor of Alfred and the fact that Carson hates him. "Well, I love you," Thomas tells him, in a friendly way. But still, a little heavy handed here. Jimmy reveals he's pretty much alone: his parents are dead, no brothers or sisters, etc. 

He leaves and O'Brien is around the corner, swooping in to say that she knows what's up between the two. Thomas dismisses this again, saying that Jimmy is "a proper little ladies man." You can tell that Thomas is being respectful and has no intention of trying anything with Jimmy, as much as he'd like to. 

O'Brien sharpens her dagger, repeating that Alfred tells her how much Jimmy talks about Thomas.

"If Alfred says Jimmy is interested in me, he's lying," Thomas reiterates. 

"Oh dear," O'Brien says. "Is it supposed to be a secret?" And she leaves. This is kind of the worst that O'Brien has behaved ... and she almost killed Cora's baby with a cleverly placed bit of soap.

Her plan is realized. Thomas sits alone in the kitchen, torn about what to do and overcome with attraction to Jimmy (even though Jimmy is a whiny little you-know-what. I hate to say this, but Thomas can do better).

Thomas angrily gets undressed and stews in his bedroom a bit before walking slowly into the hallway and into Jimmy's room. Jimmy's asleep as Thomas creepily hovers over him. Tension mounts as Alfred returns from the movies with Ivy, and we see Thomas lean in for a kiss just as Alfred walks into the room he shares with Jimmy.

"Get the hell off of me!!" Jimmy yells (1920 gay panic!) and Thomas, surprised and scared, mutters something about how he thought there was something between the two.

"There's nothing between us except for my fist," Jimmy says. Thomas is devastated, retreating back to his room.

The next morning, the breakfast table is awkward-quiet. The saddest thing ever: Thomas offering Jimmy a plate of food and Jimmy looking at him with pure hatred.

What will happen next? Well, enter O'Brien, who manipulates both Alfred to talk to Carson about what happened and then gets Jimmy to get so angry about everything as to demand that not only Thomas leaves but that he intends to report the guy to the police. Homosexuality = illegal. This is 1920 Britain after all. 

The most riveting part of the two hours came when Carson confronts Thomas about the news. It's interesting to watch the pejudices come out (Carson saying Thomas should be horse-whipped. Yikes), but also more interesting to see how Thomas deals with everything. 

He doesn't deny it. 

"I was very drawn to him and I got the impression he felt the same way. I was wrong," is Thomas' logical response. 

After Carson says that the situation is a very odd mistake to make, Thomas mentions that "When you're like me, you have to read the signs." Just imagine what life back then would have been like for Thomas. It explains a lot about his behavior. 

"I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world," Carson replies. 

Later, Carson tells him that "you have been twisted by nature into something foul." 

"I'm not foul, Mr. Carson," Thomas replies. "I'm not the same as you, but I am not foul."

Ouch. But it's not like we expected an accepting reaction from him. Still, he's surprisingly sympathetic -- to a degree. He later says that Thomas can resign, citing Bates' return as a reason, and that he will write Thomas a letter of recommendation. 

But, on the urging of O'Brien, Jimmy makes it clear that not only does he think Carson shouldn't give a letter of reference, but that will he tell the police that it will happen, effectively blackmailing Carson. Carson doesn't want any scandal reaching the house, so he tells Thomas that the letter of recommendation can't happen. 

Thomas is enraged and broken. He is resigned to his fate. Mrs. Hughes finds him crying outside of the house, and he tells her what's going on (we don't actually see this conversation, which would have been interesting). Leave it to the good Mrs. Hughes to step in, urging Carson to consider his options with this, that he doesn't have to give into Jimmy's demands. She also calls Jimmy "a vain and silly flirt" and a "young whippersnapper," which further cemented my love for Mrs. Hughes. 

Even Bates, Thomas' sworn enemy, gets involved. He learns what has happened from Mrs. Hughes, and tries to help, telling Jimmy to let it go. 

In the meantime, Carson fills Robert in on what's going on ... and he's surprisingly liberal about the whole thing, which was hard to believe because he's a) Lord Grantham, believer in all things formal and conservative and b) because it's 1920. 

"If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I would have gone hoarse in a month," Robert admits. Really?! Hilarious, but really?

And the effort to help Thomas is in full force. 

"What can I say to change her mind?" Bates later tells Thomas about Mrs. O'Brien. And a look of sudden hope comes to Thomas' eyes. 

Bates summons Mrs. O'Brien to the cottage he's fixing up with Anna, telling her to persuade Jimmy to back off and let Carson give Thomas a reference so he can leave with some hope for the future. 

She holds firm, until Bates whispers something into O'Brien's ear and a look of horror fills O'Brien's face. "Sort it out by this eveing or you'll find your secret's no longer safe with me." 

Whatever he whispers works. O'Brien tells Jimmy to let it go, to tell Carson to give him a break. It works, but there's the little matter of what to do now with Thomas, since his job as Robert's valet is done with Bates' return. There's the offer to make him "under butler" (sure), which would technically, make him Bates' superior (awkward). And here Bates thought he was going to get rid of Thomas for good. 

Everything gets resolved at the cricket match. First, we deliciously learn what Bates whispered to O'Brien: "her ladyship's soap." Yes, that would be the trump card that Thomas needed.

At the match, Robert gets Jimmy to back down by thanking him (!) for his "generosity with Barrow staying on" and congratulating him on his appointment as first footman (much to the surprise/chagrin of Carson).

But thing get rough. The police arrive to interrupt the match, revealing that Alfred has called them about what Thomas did. Robert, valiantly, takes Alfred aside, urging him to "introduce a little kindness into the equation."

Alfred calls Thomas evil.

"Evil?! Thomas does not choose to be who he is," Robert says. Look, we know Lord Grantham is a good guy, but this seems very unbelievable. As liberal as one could be in 1920, did anyone believe (or speak out) about being gay as being something other than a choice? 

It works though. Alfred backs down, the police are (somewhat) satisfied and Thomas remains on. What an interesting conclusion to everything with Thomas and O'Brien and Jimmy. The question remains, though, as to how Jimmy and Thomas will resolve things or how, more interestingly, Thomas and O'Brien will act around each other. 

And I want to learn more about Robert's Eton days. Does Cora know?

MORE DRAMA

The rest of the episode centered around two more dramatic situations: what will happen with Branson and the fight between Matthew and Robert about how best to deal with Downton's financial situation. 

The Branson situation: Is there any fan who really wants him to leave the house, especially if it means moving into a garage with his scary brother Kieran to start a car repair business?  

Yuck.

But that seems to be the plan until Branson comes to his senses. First, the Dowager suggests that Branson takes over for Mr. Jarvis, the agent of Downton who supervises all the land and property and quits in a huff when Matthew tries to change things. Perfect!

Secondly, he realizes that his place is increasingly at Downton. He has become part of the family enough to tell Robert that he wants to property to succeed, that he wants baby Sybil to have a good life, that he likes it there. Aww. It all comes to fruition when, at the cricket match, he asks Cora if it will be cool if he and the baby stay.

She's overjoyed. And so is the viewer. Branson's pretty much everyone's favorite at this point, right?

More tedious is Matthew and Robert's fight about what to do next about Downton. Matthew wants to invest in new machinery, wants to make everything more efficient, etc. Reasonable, right? But Robert seems immune to change at first, until Cora convinces him that things really, really (really, really) need to change. 

I like this dynamic trio of Matthew, Robert and Branson. Matthew, the briiliant financial mind; Branson, the property manager; Robert, the guy who understands the history of the house and land and how to deal with the residents. 

I like where this is going.

Mary and Matthew's "problem"

Since every other scene this season involving Mary and Matthew have just been them in bed or reaffiriming their deep love for each other, it was nice to see something different happen to these two.

They still want a baby, desperately. Matthew is afraid that he's war injuries are to blame for his, um, equipment not working. He goes to the doctor in London, who tells him not to worry, and that a Crawley baby will be "yowling" in a crib soon. Not sure how I feel about the "yowling" part, but that's good news, I think.

Leaving the office, he runs into ... dun dun dun ... Mary, using a false name to see the doctor in secret. Later, they lunch together and Mary reveals that the problem is not with Matthew but with her, and that she got a "small operation" to take care of the issue. 

Side note: She doesn't say what this "small operation" was. Chatter on the interwebs suggest that it was perhaps a hymenectomy. Or something. Sure. 

Either way, she assures her hubby that a baby will be happening soon. Guess we'll find out.

More with Ethel

Finally, a conclusion to the needless Ethel sideplot. The Dowager gets involved, telling Isobel that even though she didn't leave the lunch in the previous episode, she is aghast that Ethel works there, you know, former-prostituting and whatnot.

But her demands aren't that heartless, especially since she later sees Ethel crying in the village after a shopkeeper refuses to serve her. She decides, with the help of Ethel, to put out an ad in Ethel's behalf for employment elsewhere. The girl needs a fresh start, right?

One arrives of particular interest -- a home that needs a cook that's near the Bryants, which would mean Ethel can see her kid sometimes. Still, she's hestitant to accept until the Dowager contacts Mrs. Bryant who tells Ethel that she should take the job, without worry that it will bother the Bryants. 

Now she can see Charlie! And now we can all move on!

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM EPISODE SIX

OH, EDITH: After much debate within the family, Edith decides to take the job as a columnist with The Sketch, which is perhaps the worst name ever for a magazine. She's writing legimitate stuff though (the plight of ex-soldiers for example) and fielding serious flirtation time with her editor, Michael Gregson. 

Michael's a bit of an Anthony Strallan Part 2, though he's slightly younger and not as creepy. Edith seems interested, until she discovers that Gregson is married. She confronts him about this, and Gregson tells him that it's true but that his wife is in an asylum and has been for years. Divorce laws don't let him move on. 

How very "General Hospital" of the writers here.

I AGREE: When Edith tries to convince her grandma to be on her side about taking a job, saying that the Dowager urged her to move on and be busy with something the Dowager says, "I meant run a local charity or paint watercolors or something."

MORE HARD FACTS FOR EDITH'S LOVE LIFE: "Edith isn't getting any younger. Perhaps she's just not cut out for domestic life." -- Dowager Countess.

MOST CRINGE-WORTHY LINE: When Branson describes his brother as "a bit of a rough diamond," Mary says that "I'm quite fond of diamonds."

WORST NEW START: Mr. and Mrs. Bates' new cottage. Gross. 

O'BRIEN ACTUALLY MAKES A FUNNY: When Alfred describes the movie he's going to see as being about a "wronged woman who survives in the wilderness through her own wits and courage," O'Brien says, "Blimey, they've stolen my story."

MOST RANDOM SIDE PLOT: The whole dealing-with-cousin-Rose situation. She runs off with a married man (to dance at a jazz club!), whines, screams, is generally a brat...exhausting. 

MOST STUFFY OVER-REACTION TO BEING IN THE JAZZ CLUB: "This is like the outer circle from Dante's "Inferno." -- Matthew

DOWAGER AS A MOM: When Isobel mentions that she expected that the Dowager spent just "an hour after tea with her children, the Dowager responds that "Yes, but it was an hour every day." Good enough for me.

BEST ADVICE FOR DEALING WITH AN 18-YEAR-OLD: "Keep smiling and never look as though you disapprove" -- Dowager. 

AND ONE MORE GREAT DOWAGER COUNTESS LINE: When Edith announces that "you have a journalist in the family," the Dowager responds awesomely. "Since we have a county solicitor and a car mechanic, it was only a matter of time."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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