Who among us hasn’t been a slightly different person around a new love interest? It’s that strange phenomenon that almost takes its cue from human nature’s animalistic side. We preen ourselves more, taking greater care when it comes to what we wear, how we look and even how we act. In many ways, we’re always performing some version of ourselves, but that performance goes to new levels when you throw the possibility of romance in the mix. Our true selves will emerge over time—if things last—but, typically, we’re our best selves for at least that first three months of a budding relationship. All in all, such behavior seems harmless. There’s a stark difference between being a slightly enhanced version of yourself and pretending you’re something else altogether. Like playing dumb, a move so often ascribed to women it’s become a cliché at this point.
There’s a moment in Another Period’s first season when Beatrice (Riki Lindhome) briefly reveals her true intellectual capacity. As she and her brother Frederick (Jason Ritter) hang out on the family’s sweeping lawn, she makes the mistake—for a woman—of showing how smart she really is. Beatrice quickly recovers her misstep, exclaiming, “Look, the day moon!” in order to distract Frederick with a bright shiny object in the sky. At the time, it seemed like a brief gag, a quippy one-liner to point out how society treated women and how little was expected of them. But it turns out there might have been more to that moment.
In “Harvard,” Beatrice has a Good Will Hunting moment when she stumbles upon Albert Einstein’s “formula for the gravitation of the planet,” and solves the theory of relativity. Einstein is visiting Bellacourt Manor and leaves his incomplete equation on a chalkboard, which Beatrice discovers and solves. When asked how she figured it out, she says, “When I looked at the drawing, I saw that height, depth and width were represented, but then I thought, What about time? Since space has three dimensions and time is one-dimensional, I thought space-time must be a four-dimensional object, and as far as I could think both space and time could be divided without limit in size or duration.” Of course, before this moment of erudition, she admits, “I chalked it,” using language that contradicts her momentary brilliance.
Beatrice is one of the show’s more flighty characters, and as I detailed last week, that’s helped explain her sexual relationship with her brother. Their combined idiocy and naiveté softens the taboo nature of their love. They simply don’t understand that what they’re doing is wrong. But what if Beatrice is only pretending? What if she’s dumbing herself down for Frederick’s sake because he is family’s true dumb rock? On the one hand, it would be truly twisted given that she’s doing so to attract and keep her brother, but it’s an interesting spin about how women sometimes act in order to secure a partner. There seems to be study after study saying that men feel threatened by more intelligent women. And that’s in the 21st century. At the turn of the 20th century, Beatrice’s smarts wouldn’t just have been a turnoff, they would have threatened the very social fabric that kept women restricted to the domestic sphere and allowed men to control the power.
When she turns down Einstein’s invitation to work together in Switzerland because it would upset Frederick, he accuses her of hiding her smarts so that she “can stay with this idiot.” She pretends not to know what he’s talking about, but as she marches off she smashes a vase out of anger. Her stultified existence rears its head through physical violence, something that’s been occurring more and more throughout the second season. The moments where she manhunts her servants for fun and becomes almost hypnotized by the hangman’s noose make greater sense when understood in light of her frustrated position. There are consequences to what society expects of women at the time, and the limitations it places on their abilities. For Beatrice, those consequences arise in physically self-destructive ways.
It’s hard to say whether Beatrice is really intelligent, or whether her momentary flashes are just that. Thanks to the show’s length and the number of storylines it tackles each week, it seems unlikely viewers will get the kind of development this plot could warrant. It would certainly be a worthy thing to explore. For now, Beatrice will continue listening to Frederick prattle on about things she knows more about. So, in other words, just another first date.
Amanda Wicks is a freelance journalist specializing in comedy and music. Follow her on Twitter @aawicks.