« Goodbye, 30 Rock | Home | Oscars picks »

February 11, 2013


Gay panic at Downton Abbey!

Thomas at Downton Abbey

Last night's "Downton Abbey" double-header was two solid hours of PBS period melodrama that really made me long for regular commercial breaks. The main storyline centers on Thomas, the scheming secretly-gay valet who this week ignores his finely-tuned gaydar and make a play for James, the handsome, straight footman. He decides that the best, least creepy way to assess James's interest is to sneak quietly into his bedroom at night and immediately start kissing him, even though James is not conscious. It all goes very wrong, and a talky, beautifully-costumed gay panic ensues.

Of course, every single resident of the house, upstairs and downstairs, finds out immediately, and everybody has their own reaction. None of the women are shocked or even particularly surprised. Most of the servant-class men (who I guess, besides Thomas, are all straight) are horrified and filled with moral outrage, and there's talk of calling the police and throwing poor Thomas in jail. (The weirdest thing about all this is how quickly Thomas shifts from an unrepentant, manipulative embodiment of evil to a misunderstood, pitiable lost soul, unable to find love in this cruel world. Or maybe it's not weird. Maybe it's just bad writing.)

But the best reaction of all is Lord Grantham's, who gets the best line of the night. After Bates relates the whole story to him, Lord G responds, "It's not as if we didn't all know. If I'd shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I'd have gone hoarse in a month."

Haha! The boyish homoeroticism of the elite British boarding school is always good for a punchline. But this is the conservative, xenophobic, anti-20th century Lord Grantham. The same man who looks like he ate a bug if he's in the same room as a Catholic, and just last week tried to bust up a genteel ladies' luncheon because the cook had once turned a few tricks. Why does he react so breezily to the news that his gay valet is sneaking around initiating make-out sessions with the sleeping footman?

I think Lord Grantham is an upper-class moral relativist. Anything that elite aristocratic Englishmen like to do is OK by him. If half of the future House of Lords tried to get busy with a teenage Lord Grantham, then who is he to criticize Thomas? The guy's probably just trying to better his position and aspire to the values of the upper classes. Lord Grantham is actually cooler with it than any other character on the show.

Next week, Lord Grantham starts Yorkshire's first chapter of PFLAG.

categories: TV
posted by amy at 3:29 PM | #

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


It seems pretty unrealistic that people would have had such an indifferent reaction to Thomas being gay - Oscar Wilde was thrown in jail, for Barbra's sake, and he was rich - but it fits in with the warm way Downton Abbey sets up all its tough plotlines. All the nice people are so unfailingly nice on that show. I think it's basically a soap opera for people who think they're too good for soap operas, but since that category includes me, I watch it, too.

Posted by: T-Rock at February 17, 2013 3:53 AM

The Wilde trial and imprisonment always seemed more politically driven than stemming from Downton Abby-esque moral repulsion. Wasn't Lord Whatshisface, who pressed the criminal case, just mad that his son Bosie had taken up with a famous man and a lot of people knew about it?

Anyway, political homophobia doesn't fly so well as a plot line on overheated PBS soap operas for people who want to pretend they're watching something intellectual.

It's a fun show, but you really can't think too hard about it.

Posted by: amy at February 18, 2013 9:05 PM

It is funny that people think it's something intellectual when really it's just a soap opera full of feel good moments. But oh, those moments do make you feel good.

Posted by: T-Rock at February 20, 2013 5:17 PM

I like the clothes. There, I said it.

Posted by: Tim at February 21, 2013 9:09 PM