[Spoiler alert! The following contains details from Sunday's episode of Downton Abbey. Read if you dare risk the wrath of the Dowager Countess.]
Downton Abbey's Thomas finally got his comeuppance, but was it enough? Or was it unfair treatment?
On Sunday's episode, the sneering servant was finally outmaneuvered by his fellow downstairs nemesis O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) who convinced him that footman Jimmy (Ed Speleers) reciprocated his romantic feelings. Thomas (Rob James-Collier) made his move by kissing the unsuspecting sleeping Jimmy, who was shocked and disgusted by the unwanted advances.
Playing matchmaker for Downton Abbey's lovelorn servants
Although Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) planned to allow Thomas to resign for the infraction and leave with a good reference, Jimmy (counseled by O'Brien) threatened to report the incident to the police unless Thomas was sent off packing without one. Through the actions of Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Jimmy backed down and Thomas stayed on at Downton as under butler.
Thomas is not an easy person to like, but he's not entirely unsympathetic either. We examine the reasons why his character and this incident created such a division among Downton's residents.
Why he deserved punishment: Thomas is despicable! He's a wholly selfish person who revels in making his fellow servants unhappy and will not hesitate to employ underhanded means to get what he wants, like when he got his hand shot on purpose so he could be discharged from the Army or when he stole the Crawley's family dog so he could be seen as a hero when he "found" her and get promoted to valet. His recent pranks against O'Brien and her nephew Alfred (Matt Milne) almost assured retaliation on her part.
Why he didn't deserve punishment: The aggravation and embarrassment they suffered, however, aren't in balance to the loss of his job security. For a servant without reference, Thomas could have easily become destitute or be forced to resort to less savory means of income (like Ethel's descent into prostitution). Although he mentioned living with a cousin in Bombay, to give up the life he knows for one of uncertainty is a hefty price to pay for an unpleasant personality.
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Why he deserved punishment: For the time and place, homosexuality was treated as a crime, which is why both Jimmy and Alfred wanted to report him to the authorities. The more religiously conservative members of the household also felt that Thomas brought his repugnant sin into the house. "I cannot hide that I find your situation revolting," Mr. Carson told him. "You have been twisted by nature into something foul," to which Thomas replied, "I'm not foul Mr. Carson. I'm not the same as you, but I'm not foul."
Why he didn't deserve punishment: Religious views should not affect whom one hires in a domestic situation. As for homosexuality being deemed a crime, it appears to be a matter of imperfect, outdated laws not quite catching up to the current moral climate. Most of the older members of the household already knew that Thomas was gay and were surprised that it was even an issue. The notoriously old-fashioned and conservative Lord Grantham even told Bates, "If I had yelled blue murder every time someone had tried to kiss me at Eaton, I would have gone hoarse in a month."
Why he deserved punishment: No one -- regardless of age, gender or sexual preference -- should be subject to unwanted advances in the workplace. Jimmy had every right to be angered and offended by Thomas' unexpected kiss, when Jimmy was not only unaware but also unable to protest.
Why he didn't deserve punishment: It's not harassment if the attentions are invited or desired, such as when the American maid Reed and Alfred made out in the larder. We have no idea why Thomas would trust O'Brien on the matter, but he was misled to believe that Jimmy would welcome his attentions.
What did you think? Vote in the poll below and watch the season finale of Downton Abbey on Sunday at 8/7 on PBS.