Victory is Bittersweet in 'Mr Bates vs the Post Office' Finale

Monica Dolan as Jo Hamilton celebrates her freedom in Mr Bates vs the Post Office

Monica Dolan as Jo Hamilton in 'Mr Bates vs the Post Office'

ITV Studios/Masterpiece

Mr. Bates (Toby Jones) and the subpostmasters' alliance finally got their day in court in the finale episode of Mr Bates vs the Post Office. While it was a big step forward, it wasn't the resounding victory you'd expect from a show that set Downton Abbey-level viewership records in the U.K. at the start of the year. 

Fifteen years after the inaugural meeting of the alliance, Mr. Bates and his comrades rounded up the 500 subpostmasters they needed to take the Post Office to court. If fans were expecting the court case to be American legal-show level of drama, or even Mr Bates Episode 2 levels of drama, they didn't find it here. After almost two decades of research gathering and telling their stories to anyone who would listen, the subpostmasters and their lawyers were ready for everything The Post Office threw at them. Even The Post Office's own witnesses were winners for the subpostmasters. 

So this should have been a slam dunk, right? They unequivocally won the court case, but they were still pressured to settle with The Post Office because they ran out of money to fight the case through numerous technicalities. Again, they won. The subpostmasters were awarded 58 million pounds, but after paying their lawyers and the donors that got the case off the ground in the first place, the subpostmasters were only left with 12 million pounds to split between over five hundred people. That rounds out to about £20 thousand each, which didn't cover the savings most of them had lost in their respective battles with The Post Office. 

Toby Jones as Alan Bates outside the Post Office in 'Mr. Bates vs The Post Office'

Toby Jones as Alan Bates in 'Mr. Bates vs The Post Office'

ITV Studios/Masterpiece

The settlement allowed those who had pled guilty to crimes or spent time in prison to appeal their verdicts. Jo (Monica Dolan) was able to clear her name, but not before her mother died of pancreatic cancer. Noel (Ifan Huw Dafydd) also saw his conviction overturned. It was joyous to see the truth come out and the characters we've grown to love throughout their lives have their names cleared, but just like Alan, we felt like it wasn't enough. 

The ending text of the show gave a somber update about the state of the Post Office case. It's been over 20 years since that first meeting now, and Alan Bates is still fighting for the subpostmasters to be fully reimbursed for the money that was taken from them by The Post Office and the British government. It's been discovered that 3,500 subpostmasters were victims of the Horizon machines. Seven hundred of those were found guilty of crimes, and 236 of those people were imprisoned. Four subpostmasters took their own life before making it to court. The British courts have only overturned 93 of the wrongful convictions, and 18 of the 555 allies that joined the lawsuit, 18 have died without getting full justice.  

The public inquiry that Alan requested in 2009 is officially underway. There's no doubt that the success of this series has brought the case back to the forefront of the British people's consciousness. Still, no current or former office of The Post Office has faced criminal charges – not even Angela van Den Bogerd (Katherine Kelly), despite the most supervillain name of all time – for what was done to the subpostmasters. It may still be years before the money The Post Office took is returned to the innocent people they took it from. 

Katherine Kelly as Angela van Den Bogerd takes the stand in 'Mr Bates vs The Post Office'

Katherine Kelly as Angela van Den Bogerd in 'Mr Bates vs The Post Office'

ITV Studios/Masterpiece

As multiple people tell Alan within the final episode of the series, he's done so much for the alliance and the case. They wouldn't have gotten anywhere if he hadn't brought people together. The fact that they have won so much against a beloved institution backed by one of the oldest governments in the world is incredible. Still, it's been 20 years, and the needle for justice should have moved a lot further and a lot faster if we are to believe in the law and that the world will reward righteous people. 

The final episode of Mr Bates vs The Post Office is a win, but it is not a resounding victory. There's still so much story unfolding, and it doesn't feel like Goliath was actually taken down. He was definitely wounded and knocked around a bit. Maybe there is potential for a follow-up series when the dust has actually settled. For now, the fight continues, and the story is unfinished. Victory is bittersweet until the subpostmasters regain their savings and are fully able to put their lives back together. Then maybe Suzanne (Julie Hesmondhalgh) can finally get her craft room back. 

Mr Bates vs The Post Office is available for streaming on PBS Passport, the PBS App, and the PBS Prime Video Channel. Do also check out The Real Story of Mr Bates vs The Post Office documentary special, which is also available on the PBS App, PBS Passport, and the PBS Prime Video Channel starting at the conclusion of the finale, and airing on local PBS stations this week. As always, check your local listings.

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Mr Bates vs The Post Office

Starring Toby Jones, this drama is based on the real-life British Post Office scandal.
Mr Bates vs The Post Office: show-poster2x3

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Megan Vick has been writing about pop culture on the internet professionally since she was 18 years old, but she's not going to tell you how long ago that was. 

She grew up on British TV thanks to her very British mother, but she also loves mom shows of all kinds and YA romances. Her byline has appeared in TV Guide, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and more. 

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