Recently at Vulture, Amanda Dobbins produced a list of items that explain why everything bad that happens on Downton Abbey is Lord Grantham’s fault. It’s difficult to disagree with her assessment; beyond the great costumes, family drama, and snippy servants, Downton is first and foremost a show about the last days of the English empire, and nobody is as perfect a symbol of that downfall as old-fashioned Robert Crawley, with his unique ability to screw up the lives of everybody around him.
But does Lord Grantham’s ineptitude make him a bad person? Because unlike some of the other characters who live and work within the estate’s walls, the head of the Crawley family doesn’t seem particularly malicious — especially compared to some of the people around him. At least he tries to be a nice guy.
So where does the Earl of Grantham’s moral compass stack up to those of the other characters on the show? We ranked Downton characters from saintly to straight-up horrible to help you figure it out.
At the moment of her death, Lady Mary’s maid is sure to be welcomed to heaven by a chorus of angels.
She looks like Severus Snape’s mom, but Mrs. Hughes actually seems like she’s got a good heart. So what if she’s demanding? You pay the cost to be the boss!
You can look at Downton’s cook in two ways:
1. She’s a control freak who thinks she runs the downstairs.
2. She’s really good at her job and everybody else is either helping out or getting in her way.
As far as we’re concerned, it’s the latter, and the little kindnesses she offers from time to time (like the pity-Valentine she sent Daisy in the Season 4 premiere) seal her status as the best person at Downton.
Lady Cora isn’t bad, she’s just a rich American who married into an aristocratic English family that is ruled by a feisty Dowager Countess (who will probably live forever). Wouldn’t you be a little cold and withdrawn, too? So what if she helped her daughter move a dead Turkish guy out of her bed? You’d probably do the same thing for one of your kids.
She always has something snarky to say, but can you really call the matriarch of the Grantham clan a morally reprehensible person? She’s basically the Beyoncé of old-school English ladies: she does what she does better than anybody else. She just likes things her way, and there isn’t anything wrong with that when you can rock crazy hats as well as she does.
Oh, sure, he’s been a sad-puppy-dog-eyes, persecuted hero for the past few seasons. And it’s not exactly fair, at this point, to suggest he’s morally corrupt; it’s just hard to shake the feeling that he might actually be a psychopath, or at least nurture a serious Jesus complex. Yes, he’s a war vet and had a really terrible marriage before he met Anna, but there’s something behind this guy’s eyes that betray Bates as a creep.
Lord Grantham is less of a bad dude, more of an idiot who thinks he’s doing the right thing. He puts Downton into financial ruin, strings along a widowed maid with a young son, ruins Edith’s chance at marriage, and routinely acts like exactly what he is: an entitled little brat.
Carson could be counted among the great TV-dad types for the way he acts towards Lady Mary, because underneath the blustery-head butler facade, there lies a guy who just wants to sing and dance. The problem with Carson is that his adherence to traditional social mores makes him a homophobe, as we learned last season. Sure, we could say that was the prevailing way of thought back then, but screw that.
You might well see Lady Edith as an awful human being who just wants the best for herself and the worst for everybody else. The thing is, you sorta end up feeling bad for her. You get the feeling she grew up hearing how important Mary was to the family’s legacy (not to mention smart and strong) and how beautiful Sybil was. In that light, it’s at least understandable that she’s turned out the way she has, and it stands to reason that she’d be a far better person if things were different.
She’s basically a 1920s, titled English version of that really horrible rich kid who shows up to your college junior year, after she’s been kicked out of everywhere else. She’s the one who gets your friend hooked on drugs, causes all sorts of trouble, and walks away from it unscathed.
I wouldn’t be shocked if you could psychoanalyze Tom alongside infamous cult leaders like Charles Manson and Jim Jones to realize that they aren’t all that different. Formerly a rabble-rousing chauffeur who married into the Crawley clan, Tom seems hellbent on having everybody see it his way. And just like his “courtship” of Sybil showed, he’s not afraid to bully people into doing what he considers right.
Yes, she’s one half of the show’s most compelling romance to date. But the following moment will still forever describe Lady Mary in a nutshell: she killed a Turkish diplomat with her bedroom skills, and then had her mom and a servant help her clean up the whole mess.
We don’t really have to explain to you why Thomas is a terrible scumbag who will do anything to advance his position in the world, as he spends every single episode injecting some measure of misery into the lives of just about everybody around him, and scheming over how to move up the ladder. If you get in his way (like Bates in the first few seasons, for instance) he will try to crush you, but the thing is that in some sick way, you sorta have to appreciate the fact that Thomas doesn’t care what anybody thinks about him, and that’s what keeps him from the number one spot.
Remember when O’Brien moved that bar of soap for Lady Cora to slip on, causing her to have a miscarriage? If that doesn’t make you think she’s a viper, how about her just up and leaving to India in the first episode of the new season — a development that, as Alexander Chee pointed out at The New Republic, leaves Downton without a complex baddie who we love to hate.