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Downton Abbey's Creepy Gay Secret

Downton Abbey's Creepy Gay Secret

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A storyline involving the hit show's gay villain is taking a dark turn this season.

The most fascinating gay villain on television is Downton Abbey's scheming under-butler Thomas Barrow, played with smoldering menace by the darkly handsome Rob James-Collier.

Unlike many characters on the wildly popular British series, Barrow is a mass of contradictions. He attempts to blackmail a gay aristocrat in season 1, yet he falls in unrequited love with pretty boy footman Jimmy, whose life he saves, in season 4.

In the season 5 premiere alone, Barrow tries to blackmail lady's maid Baxter into revealing dirt on the valet Mr. Bates, yet he rescues Lady Edith and saves the day when the house catches fire.

Barrow's villainy is rooted in his seething resentment of his aristocratic employers, but more importantly, in the fact that he's a closeted gay man in a time when homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment.

His gay storyline is taking a dark and creepy turn in the current season, which made its U.S. premiere in January.

"It deals with his sexuality and he goes on this huge emotional journey about himself, and it's quite a sad storyline for Thomas," said James-Collier in an interview with the U.K.'s STV. "I'm hoping if he makes it through the other side, people will see the other side of Thomas."

The early hints of this storyline include Baxter overhearing Barrow crying out in agony, finding him with an ominous syringe, and everyone commenting on his sickly pallor. All signs suggest that he's attempting some 1920s version of gay "conversion" therapy.

In an interview with British tabloid The Sun, James-Collier hinted that his character's journey will get much worse before it gets better:

"It's finally dawned on Thomas he isn't going to be allowed to love and he may give up in that department. I just want to play whatever leads to drama and with Thomas that is rooted in his sexuality. At the time it was illegal and against God to be gay, so he's got this tremendous cross to bear."

Downton Abbey has a history of killing off beloved characters -- and if you're a fan, you know which characters I mean. This makes some of the actors nervous, including James-Collier, who said, "I check for death first in every script -- the first thing I want to know is, 'Am I alive at the end?'"

But since the departure of the scheming lady's maid O'Brien, Barrow is the show's sole villain -- so it's unlikely that series creator Julian Fellowes plans to do away with the devious under-butler.

Some of season 5's storylines aren't exactly edge-of-your-seat nail-biters. Did Mr. Bates avenge his wife Anna's rape by killing Mr. Green? Will poor Lady Edith ever get a frigging break?

Yet viewers both gay and straight will likely be transfixed by what's going to happen to Barrow. "It's quite a harrowing storyline and I hope it is," said James-Collier. "Because if it isn't, I haven't done it justice."

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