How approriate to Valentine's Day that this week's episode of Downton Abbey explores the relationship between love, connection, and compassion. The message of episode six is powerful and clear: when people feel loved, heard and connected, they are much more likely to show compassion, take a stand, and do the right thing.
Mr. Bates' adjustment to life outside of prison is a wonderful example. During the gloom and doom of his days of unjust imprisonment, Mr. Bates was heading down a dark and dreary road that included pulling knives on other inmates, making threats, and pushing away his beloved Anna. Upon his release, he immediately spars with his long-time rival, Thomas Barrow, who has taken his place temporarily as Lord Grantham's valet. When Anna assures him that Thomas will be instructed to step aside so that Bates can return as his Lordship's valet, Bates smiles and sighs and exclaims:
"Ah, revenge is sweet."
Bates' spiteful attitude gives the impression that prison may have hardened him beyond repair.
Next, a humiliated Thomas gets caught trying to kiss Jimmy, and Mr. Carson fires him while making a sickening display of homophobia:
"I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world...You have been twisted by nature into something foul!"
To make matters worse, a hateful Mrs. O'Brien convinces Jimmy to threaten to go to the police unless Mr. Carson not only fires Thomas after ten years of service, but also refuses to provide him a reference.
Ironically, it is Thomas who pulls Bates out of his post-prison funk and helps him count his blessings. Thomas and Mr. Bates are outside the small cottage that Anna has transformed overnight into the most charming home, as a dejected Thomas contrasts their realities:
"I envy you...I mean it. The happy couple and everyone's so pleased for you."
Finally, Mr. Bates realizes his good fortune, embraces his darling Anna, and realizes he must show compassion, take a stand and not allow homophobia among Downton's staff to destroy Thomas' future. Bravely, Bates intervenes, puts Mrs. O'Brien in her place, and convinces Lord Grantham to ensure that Thomas (his greatest professional rival) is treated fairly.