TV

Doubting Thomas: 'Downton Abbey's' love-to-hate character loses his charm

Feb. 17, 2014 at 9:52 AM ET

Image: Thomas on "Downton Abbey"

The fourth series, set in 1922, sees the return of our much loved characters in the sumptuous setting of Downton Abbey. As they face...
Nick Briggs / PBS
Whew! Are we glad Thomas is finally back from his trip to the United States!

"Downton Abbey," what have you done with Thomas Barrow?

Rob James-Collier's scheming servant — whom fans love to loathe — has been practically sidelined this season in favor of some sensational and silly story lines. We didn't realize we'd miss Thomas (that's Barrow to you) so much.

The same can't be said for his accomplice-turned-nemesis O'Brien, whose abrupt departure left the supercilious underbutler floundering. Unlike the thoroughly detestable lady's maid, Thomas has earned our sympathy — even as he conspires against our favorite characters.

Consider Thomas' pre-1922 exploits: He framed Bates for theft (that scoundrel!); blackmailed his old flame, the Duke of Crowborough (the nerve!); intentionally allowed the enemy to shoot his hand just to get a ticket out of the frontlines (so much for bravery!); kidnapped Lord Grantham's beloved dog, Isis (inconceivable!); flirted with Daisy just to aggravate her future deceased husband, William (the blackguard!); and sabotaged poor Alfred's attempts at valeting for Matthew (despicable!). Whew!

But the worst thing Thomas has done this season? Engineer the ouster of a seemingly fine nanny who turned out to be nasty to not just the underbutler, but to the dearly departed Lady Sybil's little one! And considering how she abused young Sybbie Branson, Thomas' tattling was downright heroic.

Meanwhile, his plot to place Baxter as Cora's lady's maid — and his very own spy — has completely fizzled. And by Molesley, of all people. If that sweaty, stammering gardener's son can so easily shut down Thomas' operation, whatever goods the underbutler has on Baxter's past can't be terribly scandalous.

So what was the point in bringing Baxter aboard, then? As a love interest for the duller-than-Daisy's-dishwater Molesley? Why not recruit a love interest for Thomas instead?

His sexuality — an element of some of the show's most compelling story lines — has sadly been relegated to a few knowing glances this season. The folks at Downton are an unusually accepting lot (especially when one excels at cricket), but shouldn't Thomas' outing have had more ripple effects? One might think "Downton" was set in a utopian future.

By far the greatest disservice done to Thomas — and fans of his striking smirk — was to send him packing for the better part of two long episodes when he traveled abroad with Lord Grantham. (He subbed for Bates, who stayed home because of a massive season-four travesty: Anna's rape.)

"Thomas' Adventures in America" could be a "Downton" spin-off, or at least a web series, but viewers didn't see a single minute of it. Imagine all of the trouble he could've caused in a brand new household. Plus, Rose didn't have to be the only one to have a shocking dalliance with an American man!  

If only Thomas knew about the young debutante's escapades — and basically everything else happening above and below stairs at the abbey. Lance Sergeant Barrow would have more ammunition than a German sharpshooter if he weren't so frustratingly uninformed.  

"Downton Abbey" needs a scoundrel like Thomas to wreak some humorous havoc — not a brutal rapist. It's time to take "Downton's" cricket star off the bench and put him back in the game. 

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