Bates' return: Bates is home! Yay! This never-ending saga is actually over. While Mr. Carson and Lord Grantham decide how to handle the Bates-Thomas situation (since Thomas will have to leave now that Bates is back to be his lordship's valet again), Bates and Anna move into a cottage in the village. And, surprisingly, the happily non-incarcerated fellow soon becomes Thomas' savior.
The scandal: Encouraged by O'Brien's machinations, Thomas walks in on a sleeping Jimmy, and kisses him on the mouth. (Side note: Someone should tell Thomas that it's really not cool to kiss an unsuspecting unconscious person, gay or straight.) Just as Jimmy wakes up, Alfred walks into the room. Jimmy starts screaming at Thomas to get out, and Mr. Carson wonders what the commotion is. Thomas tells him that Jimmy had a bad dream and that it's all over. But it's not.
Ms. O'Brien presses Alfred to tell Carson. So he does. Carson -- thoroughly disgusted by the turn of events -- believes this will be the perfect way to fix the Thomas and Bates situation. Carson insists that Thomas resign with a good recommendation. This isn't enough for O'Brien, who goads Jimmy into crying foul. Jimmy threatens to go to the police -- since homosexual acts were illegal at the time -- if Carson gives Thomas the reference. And Carson knows that Mr. Barrow would not do well in prison. In a heartbreaking scene, Thomas finds out that he is to leave Downton after 10 years without a reference. When Mrs Hughes finds Thomas crying in the rain, she becomes his advocate with Carson. But Carson feels like his hands are tied -- he doesn't want Thomas to end up in jail.
Bates gets wind of the situation, and wants to help Thomas, because he wouldn't wish prison on anyone -- not even Thomas, who isn't exactly his BFF. Bates informs Lord Grantham what has happened, and Robert says what we have all been thinking. "It's not as if we didn't all know about Barrow." Robert follows this with what is perhaps his best quote of the series: "If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I would have gone hoarse in a month." Bates explains that it's not Jimmy's fault, either -- Ms. O'Brien is the one behind it all.
Bates goes to Thomas, intending to help him with the O'Brien problem. Since Thomas feels as if he's been beaten, Bates says he'll do it for him. "Give me the weapon, and I'll do the work, what can I say that will make her change her mind?" Oh and does Thomas have a doozy for him.
Bates asks O'Brien to tea, and when she won't be discouraged, he whispers in her ear. Whatever he says does the trick, she convinces Jimmy to give up his crusade, and Carson hopes to keep Thomas on as an under-butler, which pisses Bates off, since now Thomas will be senior to him. You know the saying about good deeds and punishment.
To quell Jimmy's anger, Lord Grantham names him first-footman. But Thomas isn't out of the woods yet. Alfred called the cops, and they come to talk to him about Thomas. Fortunately, Robert stops Alfred from telling the police. "I'm not asking you to abandon your beliefs, Alfred, just to introduce a little kindness into the equation," he says. "Am I not to stand up against evil?" Alfred asks. "Evil? Thomas does not choose to be the way he is. And what harm was done, really, that his life should be destroyed for it? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Are you without sin, Alfred? For I am certainly not." No, Robert, you are not. In this moment, however, you've begun to redeem yourself.
As for what Thomas told Bates to use against O'Brien? "It was her ladyship's soap," Bates explains to a baffled Anna. Of course we all know what that means. Will O'Brien ever pay for causing Cora's miscarriage back in season 1? (And that aside, how does O'Brien still have a job?)
NEXT: Prostitutes and cricket matches.