TV Club

Thomas and O’Brien: baddies and buddies.

What’s the mysterious connection between Thomas and O’Brien?

O’Brien, Mrs. Patmore, and Thomas make a deal.

O’Brien, Mrs. Patmore, and Thomas make a deal.

Screengrab ©PBS.

See our Magnum Photos gallery on the English countryside.


Seth, I feel about British Christmas specials the way Molesley feels about pudding wines: I can’t get enough of them. Other than universal health care and spotted dick, they’re what I miss most about England. Since the entire country shuts down for at least five days over the holidays—no buses or trains to facilitate escape—and since most people run out of things to say to their relatives by lunchtime on Christmas Eve, TV specials allow us to stare at the television screen rather than each other. The televisual fare runs the gamut from soap operas to comedies, Doctor Who to All Star Family Fortunes. As a great advocate of TV vacations—that is, a vacation where you travel to a foreign land to take in its television, not, God forbid, a vacation from television—I’d recommend that every telly-loving American should spend the last two weeks of December locked up in a TV-equipped British hotel room. But that whole “everything’s closed” problem always keeps me in America, draining my DVR dry.

As always, Slate readers have made some smart observations in the comments. Marie Ledger detects the “sweet scent of irony in Lord Grantham falling for the parlor maid,” what with him being so harsh on Sibyl for pledging her troth to the chauffeur. Of course, however unromantic Sibyl and Tom Branson’s relationship may be, they have at least known each other for several years, and they have some shared interests, including agitating for the downfall of international capitalism and hip caresses. I wonder, did Lord G. decide that he could countenance Sibyl’s class-spanning liaison after those furtive seconds with Jane convinced him that love sees no uniform?

Amy Perfume asked something I’ve been wondering about myself: What’s the strange bond between Thomas and O’Brien? People who are given to resentment and negativity always seem to attract like-minded others, and they are both smokers. But there’s something else there. Could they possibly serve up the only soap opera plot that Downton hasn’t yet explored? That’s right, I predict evil twins.

And if only Newt Gingrich and John Edwards had paid attention to the first rule of adultery, which, Beth O’Connor points out, Lord Grantham managed to remember at the very last minute: Never cheat on a spouse who’s dying.

Don’t worry, your turn will come,