Downton Abbey: The Coming Out Cricket Match
By Jerry Portwood
Show creator and writer Julian Fellowes always takes special liberties in the incredible plots of Downton Abbey, it's one reason we enjoy the melodrama of the upstairs-downstairs crew. But now that the most recent episode of the British TV series has finally aired on PBS, we can finally discuss the gay shenanigans that have been going on with Thomas Barrow, the footman with a "secret." We've been waiting for a kiss, this love, the gayness that's been promised. And although it's not quite what we hoped or expected, it's definitely a milestone in the images and stories of gay men on television.
This season has been all about change, the need for progress, and how Downton (and England) will survive as the 20th century continues to hurl its many insults at the old ways of doing things. As viewers now know, he made a late-night pass at cute footman James—after O'Brien made Thomas think that James was open to the idea—and since then she's been doing her damnedest to get Thomas thrown out of the house by manipulating the boys. James told Carson, and Carson took it with aplomb but did take a dig at him.
“I’m not foul,” Thomsa told Carson. “I’m not the same as you, but I’m not foul.”
As Rob James-Collier, the actor who plays Thomas on the show, explained in our earlier interview with him: “It’s a lovely, beautiful moment. If you were gay in those times, the fact that you’re even functioning, how you’re not completely fucked up by that, is beyond me.”
O'Brien, determined not to give up, finally got Alfred to also go to Carson, which escalates matters and so it seemed Thomas would be thrown out on his ass without a reference—which essentially means he's an untouchable. But it doesn't go as planned because Bates, who is Thomas's sworn enemy, has returned from prison and shows compassion for Thomas now that he is vulnerable. He goes to Lord Grantham, who doesn't bat an eyelesh and responds, "But it's not as if we didn't all know about Barrow."
"I mean if I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I'd have gone hoarse in a month. What a tiresome fellow."
Bates grins, as if he understands all too well. Then he explains it's not James's fault, "He's been whipped up. He's been told if he doesn't see it through, we'd all suspect him of batting for the same team."
"Crikey," Grantham says. And then we can see the wheels turning in pater Grantham. He must save the day! So with all the foreshadowing, we should know the cricket match is going to play more with the plot than just showing a confusing sport beloved by everyone (except the women and Irish it seems).
Most importantly, the complicated intrigue and gossip reveals that everyone always KNEW about Thomas, they just didn't want to discuss the matter. The insouciant way in which everyone responds—including the Dowager Countess—to Thomas being homosexual (a fact that could be punishable with prison time) is already pretty incredible, but then, to top it all off, Lord Grantham comes to the rescue during the cricket game.
He approaches James while they are having a tea break and thanks him for letting Thomas stay on as underbutler. What? Carson and James are both flummoxed. But then Grantham promotes James to head footman—much to Carson's surprise (we get a startled harumph out of him).
It's about to be time for more cricket, but first Grantham deflects the cops, which have been called to cart Thomas off, and all seems well. He may have been attacked on all sides as his world is crumbling around him, but the Earl of Grantham is the compassionate aristrocrat and Julian Fellowes doesn't want us to forget it. And although Thomas hasn't found reciprocated love from another man, he does find refuge in his peers of Downton Abbey.
But has peace been restored? The next, and final episode of the season, will be the doozy that lets you know.