February 11, 2013
Gay panic 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.
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