Tag Archives: O’Brien
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Downton Abbey as a Morality Play, Part III: O’Brien’s and Thomas’s Murderous Impulses

10 Feb

Downton Abbey as a Morality Play, Part III: O’Brien’s and Thomas’s Murderous Impulses

I wrote in the above link, Part II of this series, about the part O’Brien played in the miscarriage of Lord Grantham’s only son in Season One of Downton Abbey.

In Part I of this series, I wrote about Thomas, described by Mrs. Patmore as a tortured soul, but known to everyone else as the show’s main villain and schemer.

I actually think it would be the most fun of all, as an actor or actress, to play Thomas or O’Brien.  The sheer evil of their actions sometimes must make it very challenging to play them, and rewarding when the performances are top drawer, as they always are.

Their value to us, as I started to point out yesterday, is that they confront us with the heart of evil in us all.  Not all of us break the law and not all of us do things that lead to someone’s death.  But all of us have broken God’s law and all of us did things that led to the death of the Holy Son of God.

So, if we are truthful, we have to move away from the idea that Thomas and O’Brien are “over there outside of us” and realize that we have some of their same murderous impulses inhabiting our own hearts.

But for the grace of God, we would be hopeless.

What else do you think is inside the person who tailgates you at 50 mph on the interstate onramp?  That person is not so stupid as to be unaware that you might have to suddenly brake in an onramp, which would lead to a rear-end collision and could lead to your death.

Truly, there is often not much of a difference between the impulses that lead to assault with a deadly weapon charges and the impulses that lead to vehicular manslaughter charges.

When we are running late and weave perilously in and out of traffic at speeds 25 mph higher than what is written, are we not coldly stating that our schedule and our convenience matter more to us than the lives we are possibly endangering?  We have done the risk assessment and have decided that it is worth the risk of ending a life or two in order for us to get to where we want to be in a quicker fashion.

Those are only a couple of examples.  Any thinking person can come up with myriads more.  I shared yesterday how, even at age seven, I could exhibit coldness toward a person who needed my help to keep from falling.  Coldness that regarded its own convenience as much more important than the safety of another person.  That, my friends, is original sin and it is in us all.

Now here I will end with the good news, of the world of Downton Abbey and of this modern world we inhabit:  Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

God knew we were hopelessly broken and provided His Own Son to redeem us from sin and from ourselves.  By putting our faith in Christ, we can be made a new creation and begin growing to be more like Christ.  Praise God for making a way!

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Downton Abbey as a Morality Play, Part II : O’Brien and Miscarriage!

9 Feb

As anyone who has seen the first season of Downton Abbey knows, Lord Grantham’s wife Cora finally conceives a male heir after his three daughters are already adults, but then loses the baby when she slips on a piece of soap on the floor next to her bathtub.  The soap was purposely planted there by Cora’s maid, Miss O’Brien.  O’Brien thinks Cora is planning to replace her, after overhearing and misunderstanding a conversation about a maid being hired for Cora’s mother-in-law.

How often do we do that?  Hear a few words out of context and think we know the whole story?

But, beyond that, although most of us would never try to cause a pregnant woman to fall, have we ever done something out of equally hateful impulses?  Maybe something from motives so evil that the thought of it sends chills down our spine years or decades later?

I could hardly bear to look at O’Brien when she realizes that her mistress never intended to send her away and, in fact, loves her blindly.  Her mistress has not the slightest suspicion that the soap was intentionally placed in her path.  No one has the slightest idea.  But O’Brien knows.  She knows that she caused a baby’s miscarriage.  She did the equivalent act to taking a woman today and forcing her to have an abortion.

Looking at O’Brien in that moment, I see a desolate woman who has to live with private guilt forever, whether or not she ever confesses to anyone what happened.  Her sin cannot be undone.  It can be forgiven but its effects are permanent.

Even if her mistress had intended to send her away, her response was disproportionate, wasn’t it?  It is the equivalent response to the people today who are fired from a job and return with a weapon to shoot the place up!  Being fired, even wrongly, is not equivalent to being murdered.

But . . . I remembered tonight a time when I was about seven years old and was out in the countryside, at a friend’s slumber party for her birthday.  It was my first slumber party and it was exciting and scary at the same time.

My friend lived on a farm.  And we were having a hayride right after dark.  I only knew my friend at the party, as the other girls were from her school, out in the countryside.

One of the little girls started to fall off the back of the wagon but caught herself.  She struggled to get back on.  In the process, I looked down and realized she had grabbed my hand.  She was hanging off the back of the wagon, gripping my hand.  She struggled for what seemed like forever to right herself, with no success.

What happened next I could never explain if I lived a thousand years.  I got tired of holding onto her hand while she struggled to get back on the wagon.  Not physically tired.  Annoyed.  Tired of this needy stranger holding my hand.  I let go.

She plunged underneath the wagon.  We did not run her over, but she was injured.  She didn’t break anything, but we didn’t know that for sure until she had been taken to the doctor.

No one ever found out why she fell.  She didn’t remember holding my hand, I am sure.  I carried a cold edge of guilt over that act for many years.  In fact, I don’t remember ever telling anyone about it, until now.

We can make all kinds of excuses for me.  I was only seven.  I didn’t know she would fall.  I didn’t intend for anything bad to happen but just wanted to get her to stop holding on to me.  And she wasn’t really hurt badly after all.

Except . . . I know that in my heart lurked that same cold impulse that animated O’Brien when she set out to get revenge.  I didn’t care one toss for this girl.  She was an annoyance to me and I got rid of the annoyance, like swatting a bug.

I didn’t mean for her to fall, but if she had been crushed and killed beneath the wheels of the haywagon, it would still have been due to my cold, sinful heart.

You see, that is our guilty little secret.  In the hearts of all of us lurk those moments when we don’t really care about the wellbeing of others.  And, when we are like that, we are not much better off than Miss O’Brien.

That is the brilliance of Downton Abbey.  There are some true villains there.  O’Brien is usually one of them.  But when we look deeply at them, we realize the villainy of our own hearts.

And those of us who are Christians humbly bow and thank Jesus for coming to redeem our villainous hearts.

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