'Downton Abbey' Tackles Homosexuality In Latest Season Three Episode; Did The Show Handle Thomas' Situation Correctly?

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By Charles Poladian | February 12, 2013 10:59 AM EST

Thomas Barrow has been at the center of numerous conflicts, most recently with his former co-conspirator Sarah O’Brien, and is the one servant everyone loves to hate. On the most recent episode of “Downton Abbey,” season three, episode six, Thomas’ sexuality has gotten him into trouble.

Thomas, played by Rob James-Collier, is a homosexual servant at Downton Abbey. His sexuality was explored somewhat during the first season, hilariously so when Daisy was smitten with him but Mrs. Patmore tries to tell her he’s not the one for her. Thomas’ sexuality was never the focal point of a previous story line, nor has it been a driving force with lasting implications for Thomas, the servants or “Downton Abbey.”

On the third season of “Downton Abbey” the characters have been dissected and put through some grueling situations including the death of Lady Sybil Crawley, the mismanagement of the estate by Robert Crawley and Lady Edith Crawley being left at the altar by Sir Anthony Strallan. It comes as no surprise then that Thomas will have his own crisis to deal with.

“Downton Abbey” explores many interesting subjects, such as women’s rights, Ireland’s freedom and World War I, as well as the larger theme of modernity making estates like Downton Abbey outdated and obsolete. But on the sixth episode of season three, Thomas becomes the center of attention.

Thomas has been making passes at the new footman, Jimmy Kent, but it seems he is being more cautious than usual, wisely so considering homosexuality was a crime in Britain at the time. Alfred, another footman and Miss O’Brien’s nephew, has been vying for Ivy’s affection, but the kitchen maid has eyes only for Jimmy. Miss O’Brien worked to get her nephew into that position and recently she and Thomas had a falling out when he told Mr. Molesly that Miss O’Brien was leaving. She wasn’t, and the former allies are now enemies. In this episode of “Downton Abbey,” Miss O’Brien exacted her revenge on Thomas.

Miss O’Brien fed Thomas some misinformation, telling him that the footman was quite fond of him but had to keep a low profile. This leads to Thomas entering Jimmy’s room while he is asleep. As he plants a kiss on Jimmy, Alfred walks in and sees what Thomas is up to and Jimmy angrily kicks Thomas out of his quarters.

In the end, everything works out. Thomas becomes the underbutler to Mr. Carson while Jimmy gets promoted. Miss O’Brien is reminded of her own past transgressions and stays quiet. While Alfred tries to take matters into his own hands, Robert steps in to protect Thomas and Downton Abbey from further scandal.

Of course, tackling homosexuality is an interesting challenge for “Downton Abbey.” Slate raises plenty of issues with the episode and its outcome of Thomas getting rewarded instead of being jailed, but ultimately rules in favor of the show's handling of the situation. Thomas is a man who must suppress what is natural for him, and even the most minor of signs, such as no reaction at all to his advances, could be misconstrued as someone who could be a partner. There are also reasons why the other characters, all who have their own run-ins with Thomas, would ultimately stick up for him, such as Mr. Bates returning from a prison stint due to being framed by his ex-wife.

Slate also mentions how some gay New Yorkers of that era gave clues to their sexuality, such as by wearing a red tie.  Thomas doesn't have that option, and ultimately he chose the romantic part of his being and took an extraordinary risk. Time also points out the rather modern approach of this week’s “Downton Abbey.” With just one episode left, the Christmas special, season three of “Downton Abbey” will be ending for American fans and the long wait for the fourth season will be the main topic of discussion for fans of the period drama.

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