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'Downton Abbey' Review: Why Thomas Barrow's Treatment By Other Characters, And By The Script, Doesn't Make Any Sense...

26/10/2015 12:54 | Updated 03 November 2015

Precisely nothing happened in 'Downton Abbey' last night.

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True, everyone - viewer included - was probably recovering from the shocking events at the dinner table during last week’s episode. However, bearing in mind Robert’s life had already been declared out of danger by this week’s opening credits, there was surely room for another storyline or two to develop.

Instead, writer Julian Fellowes contented himself with continuing the now six-series-old war between the Crawley sisters, thinking we care about Mary and her heartless seduction of the boring car bloke, and concentrating on new bride Mrs Hughes’ disastrous introduction to life at the married dinner table, courtesy of Mr Carson and his ‘habits’.

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Thomas Barrow's future looks gloomy, while everyone else at Downton Abbey is bumbling along as usual

However, the single most shocking aspect of last night’s episode, and this series so far, has been the treatment of Thomas Barrow, both by his peers and the script.

The whole of Series 6 has seen him the single focus of the Earl’s token attempts to ‘streamline the house’. Never mind the myriad of other servants continuing to bustle between curtains and counterpanes, the fact that Lady Mary Crawley could probably learn to zip up her own coat without Anna, and Mrs Patmore could possibly wash the pans should Daisy go and start her oft-delayed workers’ revolution, it seems all of Robert’s economic difficulties will be sorted with one move… getting rid of Barrow.

The token attempts to show sympathy upstairs could be predicted - yes, Cora, we mean you - but when did Mr Carson become such an unsympathetic old boot? He’s been horrible to Barrow the entire series, culminating in last night’s cringeworthy moment when he basically told him to sling his hook, and the rest of the staff haven’t shown much interest in his predicament either.

Not only is this bullying unpleasant to watch, cut between scenes of Barrow playing with the children, it doesn’t actually make much sense, plot-wise.

True, the under-butler was the villain from central casting when he first arrived and strove to make mischief between the floors, most capably when he had the support of his partner-in-crime O’Brien.

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Cora has her struggles too... remembering who's who in the oil paintings when the visitors come calling

But that was five long series ago. Since then, between his meddling, he’s fought in a war, mourned for Lady Sybil, saved Lady Edith’s life in a fire, and been forgiven for his crimes many times over. Earl Grantham's given him loads of chances while, in the kitchen, he's become the naughty cousin, the bad boy at school, the devil they all know. The collective indifference to his plight now just doesn’t seem to follow.

It’s also a missed opportunity to develop one of the show’s most interesting characters. From the outset, Barrow has been a thoroughly modern man in all his complexity - his sexuality has brought out both defiance and shame, while his interactions with other characters have revealed lifelong grudges but also tireless loyalty.

From the start he’s been singleminded, ambitious, observant and wry. So it seems doubly strange that now, with the end of the show hanging over the narrative arc of every character, writer Julian Fellowes has reduced him to such passive angst, left him whimpering in the kitchen, with his fate so firmly in other people’s hands.

I can only hope that this is the dark before the dawn, when Barrow re-emerges rightly furious and refueled for a final flourish of revenge. Because, if all those idiot women have got to worry about upstairs is which ancestor is which in the crusty paintings for when the plebs come round visiting on open day, well… if Barrow decides to light a match and burn the whole stinking pile down, frankly, who could blame him?

'Downton Abbey' is available on ITV Player, and continues on ITV on Sunday at 9pm.

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