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Sex scandal comes to 'Downton Abbey' -- kind of

Cricket is the new prison. Whereas "Downton Abbey" watchers spent most of this season cringing through boring Bates-in-prison scenes, this week's double-length episode let Bates out of jail, but threw the audience right back into another prison of sorts, barricading them behind numbingly boring cricket scenes. Talk of cricket, demonstrations of cricket, planning to play cricket, strategies for cricket. Bats, wickets, bowlers, batsmen and some very jolting scenes of the entire cast out of mourning black and instead dipped in cream-colored sweaters, dresses and vests. It was as if the entire costume department had been slathered in Malt-o-Meal.


Thomas could've been sent to jail for taking his flirting with handsome James too far.

How did the great house of Downton Abbey deal with homosexuality back in 1920? In a fairly modern way, according to the double-length, second-to-last episode of the PBS program's third season. (In Britain, this was the season finale, followed by the Christmas special we'll get to see next week.)

Encouraged by some flirting with new hunky footman James, Thomas crept into his co-worker's room and planted a kiss on the sleeping staffer. Whoops. Turns out James doesn't swing that way, or at least, he doesn't when gawky Alfred breaks in and witnesses the kiss. Today it'd be sexual harassment, but then, it was against the law, and something that repulsed Carson. Thankfully, he thought he saw an easy way to let Thomas go, since Bates had returned from jail and could return to his job as Lord Grantham's valet.

But then that nasty O'Brien threw herself in the mix and convinced James that everyone would think he was an eager participant unless he demanded Thomas be given no reference, a career-ending move.

It's hard to pick a side here. Thomas is unlikable, but O'Brien just might be worse. Most everyone in the house seems to take Thomas' homosexuality amazingly well considering the times, although Carson has some cruel words. Lord Grantham gets the best line, snorting, "If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I’d have gone hoarse in a month!" And even though it wasn't that long ago that some states in this country outlawed homosexuality, it's still jolting to realize that one kiss could land Thomas in prison.


Baby Sybil is baptized into the Catholic faith, much to the horror of her grandfather Robert.

Even Bates, who hates Thomas, ends up blackmailing O'Brien into making James back down on the no-reference insistence. The valet doesn't even understand the three little words he whispers into her ear, fed to him by Thomas, but the audience sure does. We'll never forget the little baby Grantham heir who was sacrificed to Her Ladyship's Soap.

In other plot lines, Edith is falling for her London editor, Michael. But apparently in 1920, you can just call up a person's employer and get all the dirt on them, including their marital status. Edith discovers that sometime ago, Michael liked it so he put a ring on it. But wait! He can explain! And the truth is, like Mr. Rochester from "Jane Eyre," he has a madwoman wife he can never divorce. Maybe if there's a fire and he goes blind, they can work things out. Really? Is this really the plot they went with? We understand that poor Edith can never have a smooth path to marital bliss, but the writers considered all the other possible impediments they could throw in her path and landed on ... a crazy wife? Spin again, writers. Edith deserves better.

Anyway, an attraction to married men runs in the family. Young Cousin Rose has come to stay with the Dowager, but she can't wait to get away to London and meet up with a married man at a very flappery club. Her punishment? To be sent to boring old Scotland with boring old Aunt Agatha, at least until she's old enough to couch her married-man attraction behind a journalism job as Edith has.

Some of the news is happy. Baby Sybil is baptized (Catholic -- the left-footers win after all). Branson is slowly convincing the Earl that Matthew's plan for the estate may not be so bad after all. Ex-prostitute-turned-cook Ethel gets a new job near her son, and the grandmother agrees to let her see young Charlie. And Mary's snuck away for some magical operation that supposedly restored her fertility. 1920s medicine is wonderful! Except if you're already pregnant, right, Sybil?

And then there's the cricket. The thrilling, endless cricket. In yet another parallel between "Downton" and "Gone With the Wind," Moseley turns out to be the Prissy of the bunch, bragging to everyone who would listen about how good he is at birthing babies the game, and then choking in the clutch. And with just the season finale remaining, now may we never speak of cricket again. 

Best Dowager Countess quotes:

  • "I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there." --Almost as good was Isobel's response: "Have you changed your pills?"
  • "I knew you wouldn't agree. I know how you hate facing facts."  -- Oh Isobel, it's true and you know it.
  • "Oh, well, that is an easy caveat to accept, because I'm never wrong." -- Carve this one on the walls of Downton, it may as well be her motto.
  • "One forgets about parenthood. The on-and-onness of it." --You said it.

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