“I find your situation revolting,” said Carson to Thomas, but in a caring way. The gay footman was to resign, and receive a reasonable reference in return. Sinful as Mr Barrow’s midnight sex attack on Jimmy undoubtedly was, the enlightened Downton elders recognised that he hadn’t chosen to be a deviant and shouldn’t be punished unduly for his inherent evil. Besides, if there’s one thing worse than erotic irregularity, it’s gossip. Thomas had to go quietly.
This reckoned without O’Brien, who was still steaming about that time several weeks ago when Thomas started a harmless, short-lived rumour about her. Having overheard Thomas’s conversation with Carson, via the least subtle bit of Downton eavesdropping ever – when Carson emerged, O’Brien was standing in the corridor, still looking at the door he’d just opened – she set about ensuring that Thomas left under a cloud. This would mean destitution, certainly; incarceration, probably; and what with the way things have gone in this series, prostitution, possibly.
O’Brien’s plan was simple: bully the pliable (and, perhaps, closeted) Jimmy into bullying Carson into throwing Thomas to the wolves. One firm chat with O’Brien later, Jimmy was in Carson’s private brass-polishing area, threatening to go to the police. Carson caved. Thomas was heading into oblivion.
Thomas was, however, saved by two Downton Abbey mainstays: the kindness of Mrs Hughes, Bates and Lord Grantham; and Thomas’s own talent for standing in the cold, smoking and looking aggrieved. Thomas visited Bates, who was outside the new cottage he and Anna spent the whole episode decorating, like a soppy pair in a Dulux advert. Thomas loomed in the darkness, said something mysterious about Bates being pleased about his downfall, finished his ciggy and disappeared back into the shadows. Bates thought this rum.
Mrs Hughes thought the situation even rummer as she and Carson convened over miniature glasses of sherry. Boasting about how many gay men she’d known, Hughesy resolved to find a liberal way out of the crisis, despite Carson’s reminder that, legally, Thomas was on a level with burglars and should be inside.
As luck would have it, Thomas was at that moment standing outside in the cold, too aggrieved even to smoke. Hughesy got the lowdown.
From there it was a simple matter of Bates getting the full story, grilling Thomas for any secrets he might hold against O’Brien, and then inviting O’Brien to tea in his and Anna’s hovel. O’Brien entered the cottage, poised, glassy-eyed and more satanic than ever, accepting tea but not removing her coat. The sudden drop in temperature caused some of the new paintwork around the hearth to crack. O’Brien refused to pressure Jimmy to change his mind until Bates got up and whispered something in her ear, at which point she leapt up and exited faster than Carson intercepting a fish course with a steak knife on it.
Bates thought that had settled that, but the cricket match between the house and the village was looming, and Thomas was to be Downton’s star player. His absence, together with that of Branson, who had a note from his doctor saying he was Irish and could he be excused, would leave Lord Grantham with nine men.
It turned out that arguments over the future of the estate and the risk of a gay-slave scandal engulfing the family, not to mention the whole grieving for Sybil thing, were mere trifles in Lord G’s mind compared to the pressing task of not losing at cricket to the village oafs. So Plan A, with Thomas slipping away to find work elsewhere, wasn’t a goer. Lord G wanted him to stay on. Thomas ended up with a promotion to under-butler, which puts him marginally above Bates in the pecking order and could mean Bates once again having his stick kicked away on the gravel drive.
Most excited about the cricket was Molesley, who regaled everyone who would listen, which was hardly anyone, with his knowledge of the game and all its hidden subtlety and majesty. At one stage he seemed to be trying to show Ivy and Mrs Patmore how to bowl leg spin, the key to his prowess being his firm but tender grip on the ball.
Nobody was fooled, preoccupied as they were with the incomplete information filtering down about Thomas’s employment status. Jimmy shouted in Ivy’s face when she enquired, which would have been a cheering sight for Alfred were he not sitting broodingly in the corner, thinking about the horrifying sights he’d seen the other night.
Upstairs, the toffs were all off to London. Edith went twice, first to deliver her debut column about the plight of ex-soldiers, a serious subject that her editor, drunk with lust, announced was the work of a “balanced female voice in debate” – a great innovation in the 1920s.
Sensing that this two-armed charmer might be the one, Edith took the precaution of doing background checks. It seems the Glenn Mulcaire of the flapper era was the Daily Telegraph’s “information desk”: Edith rang them asking for personal info on the Sketch’s head honcho and was told he was married. Back she went to the capital to say she wasn’t interested in his column, literally or euphemistically – only for the ed to tell her that his wife is in an asylum and can’t be divorced. Is this true? We’ll find out in series four, because Edith and her editor will surely be an item.
Edith’s second trip was in the company of Rose, the Dowager Countess’s 18-year-old saucepot of a great niece. She’d come to Downton to sample the quiet life, but returned to London at the first opportunity and promptly went AWOL. Edith, Lady Rosamund and Matthew – in town to “run errands” – tracked Rose down to a hellish jazz club, where black people were lewdly blowing into instruments, hard liquor was being consumed by gentlemen not in proper attire, and the dancefloor was awash with wanton frottage.
In the middle was Rose with one Terence Margadale, a middle-aged “friend of the family” whom Rose fully expected to leave his wife. Eddie, Ros and Matt burst in and laid down the law, whisking Rose out of the club faster than Carson removing an errant bouillon spoon from a melon course. They promised to keep Rose’s secret, but the DC got wind of it and arranged for Rose to be exiled to Scotland with Aunt Agatha, who eats broken bottles and wears barbed wire next to the skin. With luck, Rose will return.
Matthew’s “errands” story was, of course, bunk. He was in town having discovered that Mary, who withdrew from conjugal exercises some time ago, was seeing a flash London pregnancy doctor. The Harley Street man assured Matthew that his endowments were not bankrupt and denied all knowledge of treating the wife – a mystery solved immediately when Matthew bumped into Mary, checking in under a false name, at reception.
Over high tea, Mary confessed that the lack of a little Matthew was down to her, but she’d had some light plumbing work done and it was now all systems go.
Back Matthew went to represent Downton at cricket, strapping on his box before putting in a solid shift near the top of the order. Thomas came in and carted the village bowlers to all corners of the ground, the highlight of his 105no, from a total of 199 all out, being a delicious cover drive filmed from behind and executed by a body double.
Despite Molesley’s predictable failure – his exaggerated forward defensive shot, to a quickish one that straightened, had too big a gap between bat and pad and saw him clean bowled through the gate first ball, leaving Thomas stranded up the wrong end – things were looking up for the Downton XI, with a respectable total on the board and Branson in the team.
Branson had quelled the ongoing stramash about how to manage the estate by pointing out to Lord G that the two of them, and Matthew, all had different strengths and could work well together. Lord G relented on the condition that Branson turn out for Downton at the big match. Branson agreed and also decided, for good measure, that he and Baby Sybil would live in the big house for the foreseeable.
The drama, though, happened in the interval between innings, as the cops turned up on a tip-off from Alfred. Lord G had got 11 men onto the pitch and was badgered if he was going to let the small matter of an imminent indecency arrest derail his day. He leant on Alfred to produce an embarrassing retraction to the police (“I’d been on the cider”) and, while he was in the Batman-in-a-cricket-sweater mood, also fixed the problem of Jimmy not liking Thomas being retained by promoting Jimmy to first footman – to Carson’s surprise and, next year, no doubt to Alfred’s limp disgust.
The last action we saw was the reassuringly Scottish doctor getting the village’s innings off to a disastrous start: Clarkson c Branson b Carson 0. At square leg, Tom juggled with an agricultural pull (I fancy Sir Philip Tapsell, for all his faults, wouldn’t have wafted his bat across the line in quite so jejune a fashion) before taking the catch and running in, in epic slow motion, to be congratulated by his new homies, Matthew and Lord G.
We never found out who won the match: the important thing is that Downton, in terms of agrarian prudence, heir production and a lack of unsightly criminal proceedings, is safe for now.
>> Series three, episode seven: Edith is hired, Thomas is humiliated