Well, I just finished viewing season three, episode one, of Downton Abbey. Now last week, after viewing all of seasons one and two, I commented on the Thomas Barrow character’s never-ending string of bad luck. I noticed that almost every ridiculous scheme of his had been hatched with hopes of career advancement, and that each scheme failed pretty badly, with Thomas experiencing stinging humiliations.
I hoped for better things for Barrow in season three. A bit of redemption or the acquisition of new traits which would prompt growth. Or if more suffering was in the cards for him, I hoped for a justification unrelated to a sincere desire for advancement.
Specifically, I wished:
- that his motivations would diversify, so that his desire to improve his station in life would not serve as the primary incentive fueling his ill-fated plans, or
- that a malevolent or negative quality, such as envy, acrimony, or spite would serve as the catalyst for his misfortunes, or that,
- if career and social advancement must remain his sole motivation, I hoped to see him attain a slew of positive, amiable character traits and yet flatly refuse to use them, instead opting to rely on the familiar and/or negative characteristics to obtain his goal.
Either of these scenarios would suggest something other than ambition as the root of his never-ending problems.
So far, none of the above situations has come to pass, at least not fully. But still, so far so good! He’s still a plotter, he’s still obnoxious, and his surface motivation is a little different.
As season three opens, he makes snide remarks about Mr. Bates and we later find him spreading dissension and instigating Daisy’s “kitchen maid strike.” But even better, he FINALLY got his valet job, and yet he is still upset! Why? I think this is the beginning of something very interesting.
On the eve of a most important Downton event, Mary and Matthew’s wedding, Miss Hughes remarks that Downton could use a new footman. Obviously, they need someone who is highly skilled and ready to work independently. Yet Obrien convinces Lady Grantham to hire her inexperienced and horribly unskilled nephew, Alfred Nugent. This, after Carson plainly states that he has no time to train one who is young and inexperienced.
Predictably, Alfred is disastrous in the dining room. And he knows it.
Yet Alfred Nugent— the former waiter who has not mastered a footman’s duties and who is oblivious to proper protocol— is at Downton for all of thirty seconds before being promoted to valet.
O’Brien asks Thomas Barrow— the competent ex-footman who had been passed over several times for a valet position and who had risked, among other things, imprisonment and termination in order to secure his current position— to show Alfred the ropes. To “…tell him what he needs to know, give him an advantage.”
Can you remember what I had to go through to be a valet?
Of course; I watched it, didn’t I?
But young Alfred is to make the great leap in one bound?
Well I’m sorry Miss O’Brien but I’m not convinced. If you’ll excuse me.
Instead of simply rejecting Obrien’s request, Thomas attempts to sabotage Alfred by providing false advice which leads to Alfred ruining Matthew’s jacket.
Compared to his previous exploits, this latest stunt seems to be a bit more subdued. More notable, though, is that Thomas has absolutely nothing to gain here. So we see that Thomas has an addiction to, or fondness for, causing strife, turmoil and unrest.
I think this particular case of resentment provides Thomas with a bit more flavor; he is not so black and white now. This situation and the feelings which accompany with it are pretty much universal; Of course he’s upset about Alfred’s unearned ascension to the top. We’ll see how far it goes, if he can control his emotions or if he will let this sentiment get out of hand. Because now Thomas has three direct enemies: Nugent, O’Brien, and Reed, the maid who has a crush on Alfred and who retaliated against Thomas by hiding all of Grantham’s shirts—immediately preceding what was to be a formal dinner. Can Thomas control himself or will he allow himself to be manipulated by negative passion and circumstance? Waiting for episode two…