This is going to be different from my previous articles, as I don’t currently have a concrete theory as to what is up with Lavinia Bidlow. I keep turning it over in my head, looking at it from all angles but I just can’t figure out what her true endgame is. Rather than try to guess I’ll focus on the available facts, though I will theorize within those confines.
One thing I’m certain of, though, is that given the build up to her appearance in the first episode, she’s going to play a far more important role in the end than just that of benefactor of the orphanage and Hague alike.
What do we know about Lavinia Bidlow?
She wasn’t always in a wheelchair.
Despite having a male sibling she’s the heir apparent to the family fortune.
She’s good friends with Lord Massen.
She’s taken on The Touched as a charity, bank rolling the orphanage.
She’s working with Dr. Hague kidnapping/experimenting on The Touched.
Is she touched? No spores were shown to have landed on her.
Before ‘The Event’
There’s no information on what caused Lavinia to need a wheelchair, or when. We do know that when she was a teenager, she took 10-year-old Augustus and his friend Hugo ice skating. In fact, she says she “was quite good at skating”.
We don’t know the age of any of the characters, but Tom Riley, the actor who plays Augustus, is 40, so presumably Augustus could be anywhere from 30-40 years old, providing a 20-30 year window for something to have happened to Lavinia, though we can be certain that whatever happened occurred before August 3, 1896.
Regarding their parents, we have no idea when they died, just that the Bidlow name carries influence and fortune. It’s clear that Lavinia is the head of the household and family, though whether that is through the transfer of generational wealth or through sheer force of personality remains to be seen, as English law at the time allowed for inheritance through both male and female offspring. Even with this relatively progressive law, women had few to no rights at that time, so it’s telling that Lavinia is able to maintain a position of power and influence in society.
Regarding her friendship with Lord Massen, there is very little information to go on. What we do know is that there’s a mutual respect between them and, in her words, “Gilbert Massen and I agree on almost nothing. It is the bedrock of our friendship.” This friendship hasn’t paid off in any significant way…yet. But given it was set up in such an overt manner, you can bet it will pay off in future episodes.
After ‘The Event’
At some point after The Event, Lavinia decided to make The Touched her cause. But what was the sequence of events that led her to Amalia months later?
It's within the realm of possibility that Lavinia has been working with Hague since the beginning, or very shortly after the event. Why? Because there’s a timeline established in dialogue, and dialogue is used to great effect in The Nevers.
Before Amalia meets Doctor Cousens, she’s walking through the ward and a nurse offscreen asks “It’s how many, the last few weeks?”
Immediately prior to Hague’s arrival at the asylum, Sarah comments on a letter she has;
“Lester says just a few weeks. I do feel so much better.”
Dr. Hague is looking “for someone to do a special study with at my facility.” He wants to know more about the touched. "That's what they're calling these people that've blossomed the last few months" he tells them.
He’s initially interested in Amalia because she can see the future (information he learned most likely by reading Sarah’s letters to Lester). Amalia distrusts him, so she lies about her turn/her sanity and deflects his interest to Sarah.
Lavinia later arrives at the asylum after Amalia’s failed release hearing. As they talk, Amalia says she had no reason to expect a positive outcome. “Because of your turn?” questions Lavinia. “Did you see the coming rejection?”
So how did Lavinia hear about Amalia’s turn?
I believe Lavinia heard about Amalia from Hague, who would be one of the few people in a position to know about Amalia’s turn. Although Hague believed that Amalia wasn’t touched, Lavinia clearly had her doubts, leading her to visit Amalia herself. That visit of course culminates with Amalia running the orphanage. Hague either contacted Lavinia or was contacted by her because of their shared interest in The Touched. Whatever the case, he convinced her that he could help the afflicted and find a cure, if she backed him financially.
Finding a cure is seemingly very important to Lavinia, though her reasons are still opaque. The orphanage is clearly an attempt to gather The Touched in one central location, ostensibly for their own protection. As well, the optics to the outside world are exceedingly charitable and that dovetails nicely with the narrative she’s selling to society.
Although her patronage of the orphanage appears altruistic, I suspect Lavinia’s charity is an extension of her “extraordinary head for numbers”. Once Amalia made the connection that the women she reached out to who had “run away” were more likely disappeared, Lavinia recognized that they couldn’t keep kidnapping people—the more women who were kidnapped, the higher the likelihood there would be a witness and they would get caught: a simple game of numbers. In post-Jack the Ripper London, the public would still be on edge, and the media and law enforcement would jump on another instance of a possible serial killer.
So Lavinia set up the orphanage, making Amalia its trusted public face after she was able to successfully work with The Touched at the asylum. Hague’s team then use her face to lure The Touched directly to them so that they no longer had to go find them themselves. As for Hague’s experiments, while it’s unlikely that Lavinia is ignorant to his methods, I suspect she very much feels the ends justify the means.
Is Lavinia Touched?
For all my analyses, I use a cardinal rule in filmmaking: if you didn’t see it onscreen, it didn’t happen.
So far, there’s been no evidence Lavinia was touched by the spores. She wasn’t shown at all during Mary’s song of hope in the Theater and no spores were shown to land on her during the 'reveal montage' at the end of episode 1.
But there is one line of double speak that stuck out to me in episode 2. After Mundi and his squad exit, Lavinia is talking to Amalia and Penance about the “danger to us—to you.”
If it were any other show I’d say no, she’s not touched. But, The Nevers has proven to be incredibly adept at setting things up in unconventional ways.