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The Ombudsman Column

The Mailbag: More on Downton's 'Gay Kiss,' and Matthew's Demise

Last week's mailbag dealt with viewers who objected to a scene in the Feb. 10 episode of Downton Abbey in which a gay man attempts to kiss another man who he has been led to believe is also gay (he isn't). This week, as the gay theme continued to be played out but in a different fashion in the 90-minute season finale, the controversy being carried out in the ombudsman's mailbag broadened. Those who thought the gay scenes and themes were in keeping with the real world — including the one that unfolds in the early 1900s, as Downton does — came roaring back in defense of the popular British drama. But the disapproving side also grew.

There were other downers in Downton for some other viewers as well this past Sunday when the young, handsome, excessively nice, and would-be estate heir, Matthew Crawley, literally and surprisingly bites the dust at the end of an otherwise fairly uneventful episode. Actually, the actor playing Matthew wanted out of his contract, according to press reports, and so he had to be written out of the script. Nevertheless, while sudden death is the stuff of drama and fiction, it ticked-off a fair number of viewers since another program favorite, Lady Sybil, died on screen just after giving birth in a previous episode.


There were also emails from viewers in recent days about several other subjects — especially guns — but Downton dominated and so a large collection of those letters is posted below without comment. I'll get back to the other stuff shortly.

Here Are the Letters

Thank you for addressing the issues surrounding "the kiss" on Downton Abbey in a respectful manner. As you know, the depiction is accurate, even for the 1920's, and so is the reaction of an Eton educated Lord. I am surprised those so in the dark culturally actually watch PBS. Do not worry, my donation will quadruple this year!

Daniel H., Orlando, FL

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Regarding Downton Abbey and the homosexual scenes, please! It is fiction so the viewers who are mortified that many characters are tolerant of Thomas is just absurd. I, for one, am pleased with the way the writer handled the whole affair. I would love to think the people who came before us showed compassion and understanding. I would certainly like to think that had I lived in that time period I would have been as tolerant. In as much as they think it is inappropriate for younger viewers, I would like to remind each of them that the show comes on at 9 pm which is too late for the very young. Were they also indignant about the showing of death and destruction during the episodes dealing with the war? How telling is it that war and death is just fine, but we certainly can't handle a couple of scenes of men kissing. That, to me, is the saddest comment on today's society.

Linda Ohlmann, Louisville, KY

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Much ado about very little. I've seen much more during daytime TV that is there for children to watch — soap operas and some 'adult' cartoons that are shown during the day — they often show much more than a kiss, suggestive nudes in or near a bed. Often explicit, since there are no little ones in my house, I don't object.

Tillie Krieger, Eugene, OR

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Homophobes and haters beware! Do not watch Downton Abbey if you are threatened by a kiss between men. Oh, also there is adultery, lying, murder, prostitutes, and sex . . . and God forbid . . . women trying to VOTE but I'm sure none of THAT offends you!

Clara Burton, Mt. Morris, MI

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I don't get the morality attached to the critiques against the gay kiss. Discretion is the better part of valor and I think the scene was well done. Homosexuality is a fact of life on this planet and has nothing to do with morality. Compared to what is on American TV today, this scene is innocuous. Watching all the characters unfold regardless of their role at Downton is very interesting and I look forward to each and every episode. I'm far more disturbed that Matthew is dead. Bring him back!

Jill Ransom, Reno, NV

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Please thank your viewers of Downton Abbey who are uncomfortable with the simple gay theme portrayed in last week's episode. It is a good opportunity to remind us that not everyone is the same. The hurt heaped on gay people by those viewers reminds us of the hurt experienced in our lives by such individuals. Fortunately, there are people and organizations like PBS who are fair, thoughtful, understanding and considerate. Perhaps, on reflection more people will be understanding because they did view this episode.

Portland, OR

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After reading a few letters sent in regarding a scene in Downtown Abbey, in which Tom enters James room and "attempts" to kiss him, having mistaken subtle signs from James on his interests in him, I would like to say I was quite taken back by the comments. PBS was very conscientious and subtle, bringing to light that homosexuality has been around for a long time, and in all societies, and those reflected in Downtown Abbey are not removed from the challenges and the views of the time. I applaud PBS for your realism, good character, and tasteful productions. Thank for staying above the bar!!

Darlene Alessio, Garnerville, New York

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I was impressed with the tasteful way you presented attitudes about homosexuality in your Downtown Abbey. You expressed the attitudes of that time very well. Did the people complain about your addressing prostitution as well? I learned about women's need to survive and others attitudes during that post-war period. You always teach while you entertain. I feel sorry for those who chose not to watch, if you allow your children to watch, you may open good discussions. No matter what your attitudes are towards homosexuality, you have a good starting point.

New York Mills, MN

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"Two gay men . . ." That statement reveals how little understanding that viewer had as to what the scene was depicting and it was not two gay men kissing. But my favorite was the all new comparison of gay men being equal to poop in brownies. Yum! (Sarcasm intended for you ignorant readers.)

Greg DuRoss, Washington, DC

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Dear PBS, I'd like to thank you for producing such a high quality drama, such as Downton Abbey. I think it is highly ironic that there are people who find the kiss between two adult men (a kiss, not a rape scene or pornographic sex of any kind) just goes to show how deeply rooted homophobia exists in our Christian culture. As a Christian myself, I am so proud of PBS for including gay kiss scenes alongside kissing scenes between heterosexual couples in Downton Abbey. I hope that more and more people would actually build relationships with GLBT friends. They would soon discover that their fears of public displays of affection between such couples is not really something to be afraid of.

Madison, WI

On the Other Hand

I'm a FORMER fan after last week. There is NO WAY that time period tolerated homosexuality — especially in the service quarters. So the writers jumped several generations to push their liberal agenda. A gay man assaults a straight man while he's sleeping in the middle of the night and gets promoted in his rank. Oh yeah, THAT really happened in Merry Old England. This MAY have happened in 2013 but even now an assault would be at least addressed. In the same episode, a former prostitute is basically banished and the head of the house won't even enter the same room she's in. Yet two hours later, he's promoting the gay assaulter in a time period when homosexuality was against the law! This is how openly fawning PBS is with their liberal agenda. It's not even subtle anymore. I'm so disgusted.

N. Hayhurst, Chicago, IL

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Downton Abbey took a downturn in episode 6 of series three. Historically you would never have found that homosexuality was so easily accepted. More like Carson's comments. And no I don't appreciate the script writers running out of good plots or are they all "raving" gays. Hopefully they are appreciative that their parents were not of the same ilk as Thomas — I am!!. Also anyone who has played cricket knows that Thomas with his "gammy" hand would not be star batsman. Come on BBC don't mess up what was once an enthralling series. Keep the "family" intrigue going it's been enough so far.

Mac Arnold, Houston, TX

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I was reminded tonight of why I stopped watching and supporting PBS many years ago. It was the first time I had seen homosexual sex on TV. Well, a few seconds. That was not what I wanted to watch! I didn't tune in for that. I stopped supporting PBS with my annual contribution and stopped watching. This was the beginning of the aggressive homosexual agenda to force society to accept and approve unnatural behavior through a process of desensitization. After repeated exposure you no longer react. I realized PBS was mainstreaming homosexuality. Over the years I would tune in for a specific show. Many of my friends were raving about Downton Abbey and I began to watch. I was fooled again with an unnecessary scene of men kissing. The whole episode was about homosexuality. I am tired of having this pushed in my face all the time. I resent being told how I am to think and feel about same sex attractions. I have values and beliefs that are not being respected. I don't like it. Very offensive.

By the way, you may have the costumes and the settings right, but all the social issues are current progressive ones laid over pre-and-post-WWI Britain. The homosexual incident in that episode would never have been handled that way in that time. A whole episode devoted to Thomas' homosexuality. Really!

New York, NY

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I am beyond disappointed, but not surprised, that you have surrendered to the gay and lesbian lobby. Specifically, you have used Masterpiece to attempt to foist upon us the notion that homosexuality is normal, and as such deserves approving space on a family-oriented TV show.
Nothing you air will change the fact that homosexual conduct is deviant. Wrong remains wrong.

Avi Goldstein, Far Rockaway, NY

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Although I do not approve of gay/lesbian sexual relationships, I realize that this is part of our world, and I expect that I will be exposed to it at times. The way homosexuality was portrayed in the Downton Abbey series was not accurate or realistic for those times, which made it seem totally forced and ridiculous. Plopping in gay scenes to be "politically correct" seems unprofessional and takes away from the integrity of the series. The only thing I can compare it to is when you are expecting a drink of water but you take a sip and find it's Sprite or 7-Up. You're totally unprepared for it and it catches you off guard. There are still many, many people across the USA and in the world who find the lesbian/gay lifestyle offensive, inappropriate, and even sinful; pretending like this isn't the case is unrealistic and narrow-minded. I'm sorry PBS chose to bow to the pressure of trying to please everyone, and in the process made a stellar series seem a little weird. I hope that element will be out of the series from now on.

T. Lawrence, Whittier, CA

Missing Matthew

Since the very first episode of Downton Abbey I have been a loyal fan watching every episode. Might I ask why in this third season have you gone so far off the deep end? Why have you written in such disturbing things as the gay concept. A man that runs his house as strict as Downton is run, an especially in that time era, would never have allowed a gay man to stay on in any capacity.

Then it wasn't enough that you killed off Sybil, we could live with that. But to kill off Matthew, that was going too far. To take out two family members like that was simply too much. And to take Matthew after he and Mary went through so much to make their love possible, shame on you. Plus it was too similar to Sybil and her whole issue of there being a birth and then a death.

At this point I am very undecided if I will even be watching season four. Your writers need to get back to what we loved about Downton Abbey at the beginning and give us some happy times. We have enough sad stuff in the real world. That's why we watch shows like yours, to take us to a happier time and place. You've lost it.

Deb H., Burkeville, TX

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Frankly, I couldn't care less about the Gay Sex. If one has been watching the show over the years, it should have been no surprise. Actually, I thought it was handled most tastefully. Which is not what I would say about KQED's handling of the final episode of Downton Abbey. Perhaps, to you folks, the show is just another money-raiser. It certainly seemed that way when, after a closing with the hero rapidly bleeding to death, you panned, almost immediately, to a cheery sales pitch/fund-raiser for DVDs of the show. This is high drama. Yes, it's all a story, but if theater has any meaning, the interest of the audience should be respected. At least give us five minutes to digest Matthew's death before you launch into another plea for money. Have you no shame! Maybe next year, BBC America should carry Downton Abbey and let PBS stick with endless versions of Antiques Road Show.

Fran Vardamis, Carmel, CA

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Of course we expect ultra-left PBS to jam their gay agenda down our throat. That is what you do. You represent the 25% of the population very well, but we all get to pay for it. Too bad you offer no programming for the rest of us. Now your mismanagement of Downton Abbey is plain for everyone to see as you kill off the best Stars because you are too stupid to write a contract. What a disaster. Then on top of it, you put your hand out for even more money after the very disappointing show. So if I am to understand it, major funding came from UW Extension (which we pay for) and UW (which we pay for) and now you want more. Why not do what we have to do and earn it.

Robert Higley, Plover, WI

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Downton Abbey is a wonderful treat in the dreary winter, and I looked forward to season three. I applaud PBS for continuing this excellent series. Last night, however, the series ended in a very upsetting way. Not your fault, but having a half hour of being asked for money right after the shocking ending was in very poor judgment to me, and another friend shared the same thought. It left me not wanting to ever donate again. I know nonprofits are in a tough spot (I work for one), but maybe do it more tastefully and with better planning next time?

Berea, OH

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I was very disappointed with the conclusion of the third season of Downtown Abbey. It was trite to dispense with Matthew in an auto accident after his child was born. Earlier in the series there was a miscarriage which dominated the plot. Then, also in this season, a mother dies after childbirth. Surely there could have been another dramatic event to conclude this season, other than the third death associated with childbirth. An original direction would have been welcome.

Kathryn Stuart, Pensacola, FL

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Well, so much for watching Downton Abbey! I won't be a viewer anymore! Enough already . . . there was no reason for the author to knock off Matthew too . . . surely there could be some happiness for a while in that story . . . for heavens' sake . . . couldn't you have at least waited until the NEXT world war???

Joan Sevy Majers, Beavercreek, OH

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Why, oh why, did you kill off the character of Matthew in "Downton Abbey? I can't stop crying. I feel as though I know and love this family almost as much as my own. I know this is fiction, but it must have been difficult for the cast to film this episode. It is the only program, aside from "Inspector Lewis" that I view or tape on a regular basis. It is as outstanding as the original "Upstairs, Downstairs". I know show business is show business, but I am heartbroken.

Carol Seuffert, Spring Lake Heights, NY

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We have watched Downton Abbey for 3 seasons and this last ending, with Mat killed avoiding a truck, after all that nonsense about him and Mary getting together going on for years, is too much. Your writers are idiots and my family and I will never watch that insipid show again. All you people can do is try to produce tearjerkers. Who cares? Downton Abbey is a complete waste of time. Why don't you make a show about smart people?

T. Gibsone, Costa Mesa, CA

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How, no why, was Downton turned into rubbish in season 3? If I wanted lousy directing, story line and such subject matter I would watch network TV. Season 1 and 2 must have been written by someone else . . . this season fell flat on story line and directing style. No flow to story nor enough time spent on good characters . . . enough of Thomas and O'Brien . . . send that part of the story to FOX. Sadly I am done, I will watch Season 1&2 on the DVD's I bought from PBS and will not be buying season 3 nor watching next season. Sad, really sad.

Linda Stecker, Springfield, IL