Friday, March 9, 2012

Downton Abbey -- Who I think killed Vera Bates.


Ok, those of you who know me know I watch "Downton Abbey" with my lovely wife. It's something that we just do. We like the sets, the props, the actors, the story...the whole thing.

Now, recently, one of the "bad guys," if you will, on the show ended up dead. (And good riddance!) Anyway, her character name was Vera Bates, and there's a lot of discussion about how she died and who is responsible for it.

In both cases, we have little to work with. Let's look at the poison first.

According to the plot-line dialog and the wiki page dedicated to the show, all we know is that she died by being poisoned with "rat poison."

This could be many substances...a whole run of possibilities; however, the episode of her demise takes place in 1918, which limits things for us greatly.

By looking at the condition of her body as she was found (with voice-overs) we see that she seemingly dropped dead in a hurry--practically instantly. This can't happen with Arsenic, so it's out. Warfarin wasn't available until after WWII, so that's out too.

What I think it was is simple: white powder, possibly crystalline, and fast acting. This, to me, says Cyanide.

Secondly, who could have done it--and motive?

Well, here we have more options.

John Bates -- the husband. He hates her, and wants her out of his life so he can go be happy with Anna. Plenty of motive. Sadly, he foolishly did mention to the Earl that he'd like to see Vera dead (more or less.) And where did that scar on his left temple come from?... We don't know... For all we know, Vera could have attempted to slap him as he left, or threw a cup at his head as he turned his back on her once and for all.

Anna -- the rival for John's love. She, too, would like Vera out of the way, and benefits from her being gone by getting John all to herself.

Vera Bates -- yes, she could have "offed" herself purposefully. She had recently been confronted by Sir Richard about blabbing the story of the Turk who died in Mary's chamber. As a result, she couldn't use that story any more to threaten John's life, but if she ended up dead, under odd circumstances, the blame would logically be pointed at John....spoiling the fun from beyond the grave! We don't know everything that was going on in her life--perhaps Vera had been diagnosed with a rare, fatal illness, and the "real" reason she wanted John around was because she didn't want to die alone; but when John chose Anna over her (who the hell wouldn't?) she felt the best option was to end her life on her own terms, in some kind of painless manner and with what remained of her dignity remaining. Staging her own death to look like someone killed her is just icing on the cake that screws John and Anna's plans up (short term, at least until the truth comes to light.)

O'Brien -- She asked to borrow some baking powder...a white substance. Something easily used to cover an equally white poison. Why would she do it? The story Vera could blab would harm the Grantham name, and lately she's been awfully protective of Cora since the whole "slip on the soap" incident.... Just protecting her own, perhaps?

Sir Richard -- He bought the story from Vera under a draconian contract to prevent the tale from leaking out, but when Vera seemed that she might go elsewhere or leak the info--he had to do something to (a) protect his revenues from a story he owned, and (b) he was, at the time, sill engaged to Mary--and this leak would have ruined her name, possibly the whole family's, and even his for being associated with such a wonton harlot.... Protectionism at its finest. Also, keep in mind that the actor who portrays John Bates said in an online forum about this very option called the people to brought it forward (and there were a lot), "Brilliant." This is by far the most popular opinion--but as we know, dramas and their writers love to make the murderer someone other than the most obvious choice.

Lord Grantham -- John "threw himself on his sword" to protect the family's name. He, being an honorable fellow, could have chosen to pay dear Vera a visit to repay John for the kindness and loyalty shown earlier. Highly unlikely, but possible.

The rest of the cast would be practically impossible as the killer. So we'll leave them out entirely.

For my money, I believe that either Sir Richard did it, or Vera offed herself. But which of these is the more likely?

If you're going to kill someone, and you're wealthy, you don't get your hands dirty so the trail cannot be traced back you. Sir Richard would know this, so he wouldn't go personally; however, if he sent agents, this opens up a potential can of worms because all it takes is one drunken moron to open up to the wrong person saying who, why, how... And Sir Richard goes to the gallows. He's a careful man, and would take massive precautions. As a result, he now, to me, seems highly unlikely.

This leaves Vera killing herself and setting it up to blame John--thereby ruining his relationship with Anna. I now choose this option because I don't think Bates did anything, he's a meek man with honor....killing a wife, no matter how she deserves it...just isn't "him," if you get the meaning. Sir Richard would stand to lose far too much if he was ever implicated. But Vera was a witch of a woman, and I wouldn't put it past her at all to do this as a parting "kiss my ass, John!" as she slipped her mortal coil.


  1. Excellent analysis. My slight disagreement is over the relative likelihood of O'Brien and Sir Richard. Sir Richard has way too much to lose, and he goes for blackmail and lawsuits, not violence (though he was rough with both Mary and Lavinia showing he has a potentially violent side, but I still don't think it's likely he'd take the risk). O'Brien, however, has three character traits that make her a great dark horse suspect. Loyalty (to Cora), guilt (over causing the miscarriage and bringing Vera back into the Grantham family's life), and the ability to commit a violent act. She doesn't have as much motive as Bates or Anna, but she has it in her to do such a thing and they don't. But I can't see when she would have had the opportunity (when would she ever get away as a lady's maid?) So, like you, I would still put suicide as the most likely for the reasons you state.

    1. Thanks, Melinda, for writing! Yeah, I am pretty sure that Vera did it to herself now; however, whatever is revealed in Series 3 will set things right, I'm sure. At least, that's my hope. September just can't get here soon enough to satisfy me...I'd like to know what happened!

  2. I'm on the O'Brien train, myself. Her loyalty to Cora since the confusion over being replaced and the miscarriage has been nothing short of scarily twisted. In the Christmas episode, when Mrs Hughes and she returned after giving evidence, O'Brien only allowed that she was sorry to be part of it, obfuscating at least by comparison to Mrs Hughes.

    The only thing working against it being her is that she has been shown to be prone to outbursts when something is eating at her - the soap a case in point. I'm putting this down to her hatred of John Bates and her conviction that she did the right thing. But perhaps the third series will bring some emotion out here.

    Though I hadn't actually considered Carlisle, I'm inclined to agree with Melinda that he has too much to lose. He played his card with the pay off.

    I've never really rated Thomas as a candidate, especially since he and O'Brien have become less like partners in crime. In the first series I'd have thought him capable of doing her dirty work, but his essential cowardice has been brought out much more now.

  3. IDK, I think we are still leaving out a lot of key characters; that are keeping us from making an accurate deduction.

    Burke's Dead relative... The one he got the inheritance from, (Was it the Mom?) She could have made a contract to be executed, upon her death, against Vera. Of course, she had plenty of motive.

    Peter Jordan... (aka Crowley) If he was the old heir to Downton then he could have acted to protect the house from scandal. He could have heard while staying at the Abbey.

    Vera's enemies... Lord knows, being the type of person she was, that she could have made bitter enemies with the wrong people durning Mr. Burke occupation of jail time in the service.

    Suicide??? I take Vera as the kind of self-loved, selfish, and cowardly being that would only resort to that method as a last one. So I find that, highly, unlikly. Life-threating illness??? If she had a sickness, like this author suggested, then she could have used that as leverage to keep Mr. Burke in the marriage.

  4. You left something very obvious out of your - otherwise very well built - analysis. You are stating as an axiom, that someone wanted to murder Vera Bates.
    But what if it was not Vera who was meant to be killed. What if it was John Bates.
    In the end, she was waiting for him coming to tea, she was making the food that poisoned her. Who else could have put the poison into it. It is possible, if it was cyanide, as you assumed, or some other thing which can poison with skin contact, a fact she was unaware of.
    She tried to kill her husband, and then maybe kill herself, who knows.
    For her, self-poisoning was just an accident. Well, huge luck for Bates, though he was jailed, and he is a prisoner now, he could be easily dead by now.
    (Sorry for my poor grammar, English is not my mother's tongue.)

    1. Milana, you raise a very interesting point, and one I will have to think about. Also, your English is pretty good! :)

    2. This is exactly what I believe; she was preparing some poisoned food for Bates (remember, her friend told Anna about how hard she saw her scrubbing her nails?) and accidentally killed herself.

  5. After seeing episode 5 of the third season, it looks like I am far, anyway.

  6. Slim possibility - Mr. Mosely. At the time Matthew was still crippled and unable to bear children. Matthew almost fired Mosely in Season 1. With Carson going to the Chamberlains, and Matthew not needing a valet, Mosely would want Bates out of the way. I'll have to watch the episode again to see if we see Mosely in the house that day.

    1. Hmmmm. Interesting thought! I will have to get out my DVD and watch it agian. However, I'm pretty sure the matter is settled now, and having finished watching Season 3 (or Series 3, as they call it overseas), there are new issues upon which to fixate.

    2. I have thought for a while that Molesly is the murderer. He has a double motive: Bates has usurped his hoped-for position in the big house and Anna has jilted him. We don't know much of his movements, but it would seem that since he is under-employed when the Crawleys are at Downton and/or Mrs. Crawley is off on one of her do-gooder projects, he could slip away easily. Also, do you recall that he was able to get a spot out of Matthew's coat with a mysterious substance early on when we see him, just after Matthew has arrived on scene. When asked by Matthew how he did it, he dodged answering the question. (In Season 3, the new Irish footman (O'Brien's relative), acting as Matthew's valet, ruins his formal jacket trying to get a spot out using some compound under the misdirection of Thomas. What was this?) Molesly is sufficiently tied to the big house to have been aware of Bates' difficulty with his wife and Bates' comings and goings.

      There are other reasons why, from a literary sense, Molesly is a good choice of suspect. His motives have been disclosed to the viewers, so the writers avoid a clumsy deus ex machina. His name is very Dickensian -- the adverb of the word "mole" -- suggesting he is working out of sight undermining his rival. He is often depicted in a comic light, which misdirects our attention from him as the killer.

      If Molesly is the killer, how will he be exposed? Anna's search of potential suspects would not turn him up -- he's hiding in plain view. Perhaps he has left another trail. What did Mother Bates die of? Isn't it odd that she died so close in time to Mrs. Bates' death? Perhaps Molesly went to Mother Bates to locate Mrs. Bates, and then had to remover her to cover his tracks. What was the book that Molesly tried to lend to Anna during the period that Bates was away from Downton, working at the pub? By any chance did a character in that book die of poisoning? Will Anna eventually read the book and discover that clue, if it is there? If the Irish footman in Season 3 turns out to have used strychnine in the failed attempt to clean Matthew's tails jacket, will that start someone on the trail that will lead to the killer, be it Thomas or Molesly.

      Final thought -- there may be a subtle tip of the hat to Alfred Hitchcock going on here. In Psycho, the killer's name is (Norman) Bates, who has killed his mother with strychnine. This interestingly points the finger back at Mr. Bates.

    3. Interesting thoughts, but I believe it was verified that Vera died from arsenic poisoning, and as far as I know, arsenic isn't suitable for the removal of stains on fabric--and was shown to be a rat poison (or other vermin killer.)