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Thomas Barrow, the Downton Abbey gay character

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What do you think of Thomas Barrow, the gay character in Downton Abbey? He is certainly a negative character: spiteful, wicked, etc. Yet there is something endearing. Although at the other end of the social spectrum, he reminds me of the Cambridge spies -- upper class Brits who were alienated because they were gay and mistreated.

 

There was a throwaway line in last night's season premiere, when Jimmy -- the young footman -- says to Thomas, "We all settle down someday;" and Thomas replies, "We don't all have the option." Very touching moment.

 

And Thomas, for all his nastiness toward the maid last night, did after all save the day at the end!

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Spoiler alert to anyone who hasn't seen the first episode. Just caught up with it. I have a harder time forgiving him than you do, I think. His "charm" seems so obviously turned on and off, and at this point seems to be focused on Jimmy. Was this a ploy to get Jimmy back for rejecting his advances last season by encouraging him to sleep with his former employer (female), so that Thomas would have the goods on him the same way he did on Baxter? Or maybe he was hoping he could wear Jimmy down to the point he (Thomas) could try again? Any time Thomas smiles, a red flag goes up for me: What does he want this time? Anyway, I think you were absolutely right about his being alienated because he was gay and mistreated. The scene last season where Thomas' job was on the line and Carson was barely able to conceal his repugnance showed what his life would be like if it were more generally known what he was. I empathized with his having to just stand there and hear it said to his face, though Carson tried to soften it somewhat. But I love that Thomas is now back to his former (true) ways. They didn't feel obligated to turn him into some kind of gay hero or spokesperson. He's still the creep we love to hate. In another thread, you mentioned the Judy Dench character in "Notes on a Scandal" as creating discomfort by being so vengeful and Thomas is probably another good example of that. The extent of the ruination he intended to bring down upon Baxter is inexcusable. The sad part is that Thomas may never be open to love if it ever does come his way, but it still doen't make me like him. As for saving the day in the fire, didn't anyone think to ask what he was doing in the hallway outside Edith's room? As it stands now, Thomas seems to have narrowed his vendetta against Bates down to the idea that there's a connection between Bates and the death of the valet, so we'll see what he does with that. The big smile of relief on his face after Lady Crawley said his heroism in the fire would make her forgive his intentions toward Baxter showed he'll be feeling his oats again and won't be backing off from his mischief-making.

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Thanks for a very thoughtful, enjoyable post. I should have put a "spoiler alert" on my post as well. I confess to having a soft spot for Thomas. As I mentioned, I see him as I view the Cambridge Spies (particularly Burgess and Blunt), and after all, they sold out their country but are still considered kind of romantic, Byronic heroes, in a sort of anti-hero fashion.
 
I don't think Thomas expects anything from Jimmy. You remember how he protected Jimmy from the bullies -- and took blows for him -- last year was it, or before that? -- but he knows the score. The shot of Thomas looking down the corridor at Jimmy, as the latter goes toward his former employer's bedroom, is actually kind of touching. Thomas can only show his love for Jimmy by protecting him -- that's as far as it can go.  Perhaps he's hanging about on the landing for that purpose as well. (I didn't get that Thomas was encouraging Jimmy to sleep with her). And he would not do anything to get Jimmy into trouble. That would remove Jimmy from the house, which Thomas would not want.

 

The affairs of Daisy, the assistant cook, present a sort of parallel thread. She was hounded by that sweet guy early in the series; she kept rebuffing him; but he didn't stop. Finally she married him on his death bed. Then later, it was her turn to be rejected: she was besotted with the footman who went to culinary school, who liked the other maid. So, although Thomas may be yearning for Jimmy, he's not the only one who has suffered unrequited love in this series. Why shouldn't he be entitled to that, and to his pining for love?

 

That line I mentioned, which comes up early in the episode, is key: "We don't all have the option," in response to Jimmy's saying that after his flings he'll settle down -- "we all do," to which Thomas replies "We don't all have the option." That is meaningful in the context of the character, his station, and the times. Those were different times, hard for all gay men. A man of the serving class had the worst of it.

 

But yes -- Thomas is wicked!  And we know that he not only threatened to spill the beans about Baxter, he actually went through with it, though it backfired. We'll see how far he goes in his return to mischief-making.

 

Regarding Judi Dench and Notes on a Scandal: It wasn't the vengefulness that made me uncomfortable. Plenty of that sort of thing in movies. It was the creepily psycho aspect of the character and her relationships and the bizarre symbiosis that developed. Mere vengefulness would not have given Notes... the quality of a horror film, which it certainly had.

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You're very persuasive that Thomas has genuine feelings for Jimmy. It may well be that the feelings prompted by his gay nature bypass his normal inclination to do mischief. And he certainly is cute. You may have made a convert.

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Does anyone know what kind of "therapy" Thomas seems to be undergoing? Baxter mentioned injections and electroshock I think. It seems he spent his week away undergoing something or other and is now continuing on his own. I guess my question is: Does this represent some kind of "scientifc" thinking of the day or is it merely outright quackery he came across in that magazine? It seems to be some kind of early attempt at aversion or reparative therapy and I'm assuming he's trying to deal with his homosexuality in that way, but I have to say I'm mystified by what he's doing and what he expects to accomplish.

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Does anyone know what kind of "therapy" Thomas seems to be undergoing? Baxter mentioned injections and electroshock I think. It seems he spent his week away undergoing something or other and is now continuing on his own. I guess my question is: Does this represent some kind of "scientifc" thinking of the day or is it merely outright quackery he came across in that magazine? It seems to be some kind of early attempt at aversion or reparative therapy and I'm assuming he's trying to deal with his homosexuality in that way, but I have to say I'm mystified by what he's doing and what he expects to accomplish.

I don't know the specific answer, but in those days, homosexuality was illegal and punishable by law in the UK. The nature of being gay was not discussed openly, and there was a lot of ignorance. Gay men often thought there was something wrong with them. You may remember that in Maurice, Maurice's first instinct to understand his homosexuality led him to ask his family friend Dr. Barry (Denholm Elliott) to examine him (i.e. examine his genitals), thinking that homosexuality was an organic illness. Maurice later goes to see Lasker-Jones (Ben Kingsley), to seek "recovery" via a different method. It's not clear whether the advert Thomas answered was pure quackery; or representative of the "science" of the times; I suspect the former, meaning it was an attempt to make money by taking advantage of desperate people.

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It's not clear whether the advert Thomas answered was pure quackery; or representative of the "science" of the times; I suspect the former, meaning it was an attempt to make money by taking advantage of desperate people.

Saline. Yikes. It's still not clear how legitimate Thomas' source for his "kit" was, but at least now he seems to have moved beyond any illusions about it helping him. The thing that's giving me hope for Thomas now is that Baxter is still supportive, even after his having dragged her into a police investigation. That relationship has the potential to be so much healthier than the confidential relationship he had previously developed with O'Brien in the first seasons. Maybe Baxter's forgiving nature will rub off on him. He'll now have the benefit of someone who knows all about him but hasn't withdrawn from him.

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Thomas didn't have much to do in the last episode, though there was a slight hint that he might be a kinder, gentler Thomas (an ever-so-slight hint). But that's been the case before, and then they seem to need him to revert, for some silly plot line (of which there are way too many). We'll see what happens.

 

Btw, there's a NYTimes reporter who turns up on MSNBC every once in a while who looks a lot like Thomas. The guy's name is Nick Confessore:

 

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Well, we certainly saw the good side of Thomas in last night's episode. We'll see how that develops -- only one more episode this season.

 

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I assume you mean Thomas being so helpful to the new man taken on for the wedding. I'm on pins and needles to see how that plays out because his modus operandi seems to be doing a good turn so that he can call in a favor at a later point. Also, my gaydar didn't particularly go off with this new guy, but I wonder if Thomas' did.

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I assume you mean Thomas being so helpful to the new man taken on for the wedding. I'm on pins and needles to see how that plays out because his modus operandi seems to be doing a good turn so that he can call in a favor at a later point. Also, my gaydar didn't particularly go off with this new guy, but I wonder if Thomas' did.

At first my gaydar did go off; then I wasn't sure. I think Thomas was genuinely kind to the temp. Early in the episode, he helped him with his bow tie; then of course he protected him from that evil maid.  Sort of like with Jimmy. Maybe "Uncle" Thomas is hopeful. In any case, there is potential there for a story strand to be developed, perhaps next season. It would be nice if the guy came back (or if they were able to meet up in London) and have a romance!  The next episode is the last of the season -- I hear it's a very good one.

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While we're waiting, I wonder if I could pick your brain about something off topic. Probably I should bump up the "Jewel in the Crown" thread, but bringing the gay to General Discussions usually stirs up too much nonsense. There were big gaps in my viewing because my series recording saw them all as repeats; I saw about half of them and my memory from the original broadcasts is hazy. In the last episode Count Bronowski told Guy Perron that he thought Merrick had only recently acted on his homosexuality. The Count was a shrewd man, but I wondered if he could have had a blind spot about that. (Or was he talking about acting on it across racial lines?) I missed the episodes from the time of the rape and how both Merrick and Hari Kumar factored into it. But I saw how Merrick tried to bring Perron into his orbit against his will and how Merrick's servant ("Miss Khyber Pass") offered to procure men for Perron. Obviously, Merrick's enemies were well aware of his "weak spot". One troubling point for me was that there seemed to be some blurring between homosexuality and sado-**** in the idea that Merrick may have courted his own death as punishment for his homosexuality (or for his own role in the mixing of races?). In terms of the drama, the "revelation" comes very late and requires that we rethink everything we've seen. Since you posted so thoughtfully on the "Jewel" thread, I was hoping I could ask for your thoughts on how Merrick's sexuality played into the events of the series. Feel free to decline, by the way.

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Sorry -- I haven't been on a lot lately. I started watching the Jewel reruns, then got sidetracked. I hear the new DVD set is relatively cheap and of good quality (unlike the last ones), so I may buy it. I do remember the brief exploration of that aspect of Merrick's character.  Just found this in Wikipedia -- -perhaps you've seen it:

 

He (Bronowsky) is a clever and efficient operator, and he sees much in common with Ronald Merrick. As a homosexual himself, Bronowsky recognizes this trait in Merrick, even though Merrick struggles to repress this aspect of his personality. Unlike Merrick, however, Bronowsky has more of the humanist in him; he does not have Merrick's sadistic tendencies. Merrick on the other hand despises Bronowsky as a sensualist. The two men have a tense rapport, understanding each other better than anyone else does, while also finding each other's inclinations repulsive.

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Thanks for that. The Wiki entry helps a lot. It would probably explain why Bronowsky was particularly anxious that the real details of Merrick's death not get out. Thanks for letting me detour and back to Thomas...

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Did you see the season finale of Downton last night? I don't want to give anything away, so all I'll say is that I think there is potential for Thomas, on a number of fronts!

 

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Did you see the season finale of Downton last night? I don't want to give anything away, so all I'll say is that I think there is potential for Thomas, on a number of fronts!

He's definitely the golden boy in the eyes of the Crawley family, though I hope they personally would have drawn the line at exposing their host's secret in the way he did it. It was really Rose who saved the day, cleaning up the potential mess Thomas had engineered. He still hasn't learned to think things through all the way; his "solutions" always have the potential of blowing up in his face. He went right to Carson about Bates' job too, didn't he? It was interesting to see him sweetly singing Christmas carols next to the new guy (I apologize; I've forgotten his name already.), but I can't help feeling that Thomas sees him as usefully naive and therefore a willing ally in his scheming. But if Thomas does fall in love, will it only be the object of his affection who's exempt from his nasty streak, or could he really reform? Overall, I like that the show doesn't make the gay guy a victim or a saint.

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 Overall, I like that the show doesn't make the gay guy a victim or a saint.

I agree. He went farther with his scheme, but that was because Lord Sindberby insulted him so brutally in front of all the dinner guests. Thomas gets even!

 

I'm sure the next (and perhaps last?) season is not written yet, or at least not fully written. There is potential to make the new guy gay; that could blossom in interesting ways. Or it could be a repeat of the Jimmy situation. We'll see!

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Last night's episode of Downton ended with Thomas sobbing. As the series nears its end, it will be interesting to see what happens to Thomas.

 

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Last night's episode of Downton ended with Thomas sobbing. As the series nears its end, it will be interesting to see what happens to Thomas.

I share your interest. It's a confusing storyline in many ways because he's given lots of reasons over the years why he can't be taken at his word. But when he asked Carson if, after all this time, he couldn't be taken at his word that he did nothing Carson would disapprove of with Andy, it was impossible to miss the quiet dignity of the question. Of course he cried. Who wouldn't, realizing that the mere fact of his sexual nature made him someone whose motives were automatically suspect? And yet he didn't betray Andy's secret, which would have exonerated him (Thomas). Julian Fellowes has said he's been beseiged by pleas to make things right by characters such as Edith, so hopefully he'll see Thomas through to a good end.

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So -- Thomas had a close call this week. The final (Christmas) episode is on I believe week after next. Let's hope things improve for our Thomas -- I think they will.

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