O’Brien is hard working and proud of her achievements. She expects to work hard, and for others to do the same; she tells a valet that she admires his work ethic, because he knows how to do things that other valets do not, and do them well, connecting to him through her appreciation of his fine needlework. She is proactive and quick to react, rationally figuring things out as she goes. She tells Thomas that he needs to get one over on Bates, before Bates turns him in for thievery, and concocts a scheme to get rid of him on the spot (she tells him that Bates must have stolen the wine that he stole, right?). Then she convinces him to use Daisy as a third false witness, to collaborate their story. O’Brien also knows when Anna and Bates suggest that they search everyone’s rooms for a missing snuff box that “they have slipped it into one of our rooms,” and scurries off to find it. She is always scheming on how to improve things for herself and Thomas, who she feels is a “kindred spirit” in the house, and angles to get him a good position (when he says he has no interest in returning to Downton after returning from the war, she points out that he could boss around Mr. Carson). She is purposeful, direct, and irritated when others do not carry their own weight. She is a schemer who reads into every situation going on in the house. She wonders why Daisy is so leery about Mary’s bedroom, and starts asking questions about the Turkish gentleman that died at Downton. This leads her to uncover the truth about Mary. She often will put Thomas onto a path that she sees for him, for good or ill (manipulating him into exposing himself as a homosexual when she’s angry at him, but also convincing him to act against others, take opportunities, and advance himself). But she is not always right in her conclusions; she mistakenly assumes Cora is going to replace her, rather than figures out she is seeking a maid for Lady Violet. O’Brien is very impulsive as well; she leaps on actions and decisions sometimes too quickly, such as when she retaliates against Cora by intending her to step on the soap bar when she gets out of the bath, but then she’s too late to prevent it. Later, she leaves in the middle of the night to move to India and start a new life. She has immature emotions—no sympathy for anyone in the house, or interest in their needs. She is mean, cutting in her remarks, and belligerent, believing herself better than she is and not caring who knows it. She is haughty and superior, complaining that Cora expects her to do much and talks down to her whenever she is out of line. She is vindictive and cruel, but also intensely loyal to Cora and to Thomas. She feels things deeply and isn’t always sure how to handle them, apart from being withdrawn and showing anger to others.

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O’Brien in the first season is always looking for a fight. She is belligerent and aggressive, proactively seeking out potential threats and problems and aggressively neutralizing them; she warns Thomas when Bates catches him stealing booze that he needs to frame Bates for it, before Bates talks. She threatens Thomas that she will “swing for him” (kill him) if she gets caught up in all of this and loses her position. She is forever complaining in the kitchen about this and that, and even talks back to her mistress a few times. O’Brien callously slips the soap over so Cora will fall, when she thinks Cora has been seeking her replacement; she second-guesses this, but it’s too late—Cora falls down and miscarries her child. After this accident, and after she finds out it was for nothing, O’Brien becomes a different person—more tender and considerate. She is also compassionate to a young man suffering from PTSD and acts as his protector. When her nephew comes to work at Downton, she becomes particularly protective over him. She rarely has a kind word for anyone, and shows little interest in their suffering, but she doesn’t like unnecessary conflict. O’Brien will back down if Cora gets upset with her, tends to stew in her juice behind her back, and is passive-aggressive in how she gets back at people, through underhanded tactics. Though defensive of herself, she will leave off arguments if Carson or someone else in authority tells her to shut up, and storm out of the room for a smoke.