“Edmund always treated his children with equal affection and devotion, but late at night, when Anthony cradled the Bridgerton pocket watch to his chest (given to him on his eighth birthday by his father, who had received it on his eighth birthday from his father), he liked to think that his relationship with his father was just a little bit special. Not because Edmund loved him best; by that point the Bridgerton siblings numbered four (Colin and Daphne had arrived fairly close together) and Anthony knew very well that all the children were well loved. No, Anthony liked to think that his relationship with his father was special simply because he’d known him the longest.”Prologue, The Viscount Who Loved Me
Time to Anthony Bridgerton was always more than a sequence that measured the days, it was always more than the mere existence of something indefinite that people maybe shouldn’t ponder too closely on. Time, to Anthony Bridgerton is especially sacred—it is of the essence, a dark cloud that ceaselessly shadows his very being.
Time, to Anthony Bridgerton is a matter life and death and longing.
While there is very little the TV series overtly tells us about his reasons, the deliberate choice to place visual emphasis on the pocket watch throughout the season demands close examination. There is an avalanche of darkness buried within the eldest Bridgerton, and the moments of quiet development we see are so often when he is alone. (Or even if he is in the presence of someone else, and yet…alone.)
A watch tells time, it’s practical, and while some instances reflect just that, others coerce the audience to pay closer attention. Through the cinematography, the directing, and Jonathan Bailey’s conscious choices as an actor, Anthony Bridgerton is telling us something even while he’s silent.
The First Time: Tree Sex with Siena Rosso
Episode: “Diamond of the First Water“
This is the first glimpse we not only get of Anthony Bridgerton, but it’s the first glimpse you get of the pocket watch. And while this instant is the most verbatim use of the object, it is still part of the larger equation. He has somewhere to be. He needs to make sure he isn’t late, and so while we’d be fishing if we tried breaking this apart, it’s still worth putting it on the list.
The Second Time: Post Sex with Siena Rosso
Episode: “Diamond of the First Water“
The next time we see the pocket watch, the real excavation begins. For those who haven’t read the books and aren’t particularly struck questioning the significance of the heirloom, Anthony explains that it belonged to father. While I’ve already discussed in length what this conversation brings to the surface about Anthony’s relationship with Siena, and the detail that they’re unsuited for one another, her threat signifies the fact that looking to the pocket watch is something he does more often than he should.
If it weren’t for the faint vulnerability in Jonathan Bailey’s voice, Siena’s statement prompts questioning why on earth a woman would even bother commenting on an inanimate object. Sure, if he did not have it he wouldn’t know the time, and he wouldn’t leave, but the reality is, in that case, the writing could turn its focus onto his viscountcy, and the duties it entails as opposed to the specific object. Because in truth, this isn’t the first time we learn it belonged to his father. It’s mentioned again, and thus, the use here isn’t to vocalize its importance, but it’s key noting why it comes up with her, what that showcases about his need for strength, and the revelation of just how often it happens.
It’s here we are given verbal confirmation of why it’s so special, and we are shown just what it means. He isn’t necessarily late here—the same look he has on his face by the tree isn’t present in this moment. In this moment, it’s a matter of contentment coupled with the longing for something more—something he himself doesn’t quite understand yet. Something he doesn’t have in this moment.
It’s a sign of sentimentality, a sign of longing, and an explicit showcase of character that undoubtedly reveals there is more to him than what we are seeing on the surface. He is a man holding onto something for dear life because it’s a direct link to his deceased father.
The Third Time: Ending His Relationship with Siena Rosso
Episode: “Diamond of the First Water“
It’s (almost) frustrating that we get three instances of this happening with Siena, but it’s such a riveting sign in revealing that there’s something unfilled here where his reliance must be placed elsewhere. It’s also a sign which states that where there is love, perhaps one wouldn’t look for strength from elsewhere.
After the conversation with his mother leads to the belief that he isn’t fulfilling his duties as the man of the house, Anthony jumps towards making a decision that he believes will make his family proud—he tries to do the very thing he believes his father would do and thus, showing the audience the pocket watch once more is a clear sign of exactly what he should try to accomplish. What he wants to accomplish. Who he wants to be more like.
He wants to be more like the late Edmund Bridgerton and simultaneously, he doesn’t believe he could ever be. (This isn’t something that’s illuminated just yet, but when looking back, and especially when there’s book context, it becomes a fact clear as day.) Where his mind wanders, time is what he seeks—more of it, less of it, the understanding of it, and thus, it takes him back to the very thing his father didn’t have enough of. The very thing he might not have enough of.
The very thing that he knows is of the essence, with or without the reminder from his mother. And in this moment, it’s a clear sign of not only how broken he is (which Jonathan Bailey touches on brilliantly through the hollowness in his expression), but it’s a reminder of the fact that he is human. In the search for something more, in the decision to be better, to be more selfless, to put his family first, he seeks the comfort of something he doesn’t fully understand, but the something that’s a direct tether to the one person he has idolized.
And while book readers know Edmund Bridgerton was a good father, it’s also crucial to remember that he was only human. When a person dies, you idolize the good and frequently, disregard the bad. It’s not to say that at any point he might not have been a good father or husband, but as a human being, Edmund Bridgerton has likely made his fair share of mistakes. He may have already found a match for Daphne, or he may have not—the truth is something no one knows with utmost certainty (and that includes Violet), because ultimately, life doesn’t always fall on the trajectory that is imagined.
But Anthony is still, in more ways than one, tethered to his father in a search for comfort and strength because the loss has left a colossal mark on him. Where there should have been guidance, he is left to his own devices. He takes everything upon himself, he never asks for help, and where he’s uncertain, he makes the types of decisions he genuinely believes are right even when they are wrong. He is more lost than any character on the series and that includes the women who are told very little.
The Fourth Time: His Study (His Father’s Old Study, Likely)
Episode: “Art of the Swoon“
Jonathan Bailey’s embodiment of Anthony Bridgerton is especially unmatched in this scene. (And it’s just the beginning.) Where there are no words, where he isn’t even front and center, Bailey shows us a tremendous amount of emotional tidal waves rising within the eldest Bridgerton. He tells us, without words, that there’s something missing—something he’s desperately searching for. And so, when Anthony looks at his father’s pocket watch before his mother walks in, the projected expression on his face is so fascinating because of how it almost showcases tinges of frustration and rage.
He was just told that no by Siena, nothing is working to his advantage, he’s failing to keep Daphne and Simon apart, and in every area, he isn’t fully focused on what’s happening or how it’ll turn out. There’s this stunning sense of bewilderment that’s striking in his expression, and it’s especially prominent when the construct of time is deliberately looked into.
The way Anthony is taken aback by Violet asking what time he has is so harrowing. Say book context does not exist, say we know nothing about what time means, the way Bailey exudes such shock in that moment isn’t normal for someone who’s just been asked the time. It’s not an obscure question by any means, so why is Anthony so stunned by it? Why does he look like someone’s just terrified the inner child within him away into a darker corner far from any form of light? Why does it look like his secrets have all just been laid bare?
It’s then where Violet mentions the watch belonging to his late father, and the expression Anthony is wearing is then utterly shattering. If it’s nothing but a lovely heirloom, the concept of time shouldn’t be so terrorizing. Her comment should mean nothing more than a mother’s concern because her eldest son doesn’t seem phased by the societal duties he must abide by.
But he turns to the pocket watch again, and that very longing, the search for strength is then written on his face again. Whatever darkness resides inside of Anthony, whatever crosses he carries on his back, even if we weren’t aware that there’s colossal trauma here, Bailey’s expressiveness touches on anguish so potently, it’s impossible to ignore.
In the quiet moments, in the sole glow of the three candles, alone in the study once more, there is a conversation that’s being had here with the man and the memories. He knows the time now, he vocalized it, there’s no sense in gazing further, searching for something deeper—except there is, because this isn’t just an object and time isn’t just an unseen construct. It’s his story. It’s a part of him that haunts his soul tirelessly, a part of him no one else understands, and a part of him that he himself cannot fully grapple with.
When it comes to Anthony Bridgerton, we aren’t ever looking at a supercilious aristocrat fishing for cheap thrills, we aren’t looking at a martyr either. We’re looking at a man who’s carrying something with profound weight—something he cannot pass along, and something he firmly believes is his alone. And we don’t necessarily know how this will mirror the book’s version of what’s happening, but we are shown, through sharp prominence, that it’s never solely about time, how much or how little isn’t the concern.
The Fifth Time: Before the Duel
Episode: “An Affair of Honor“
There’s a lot that can be said about the way he’s cradling the pocket watch in this moment. Perhaps, a moment that hints on the idea that he may have just been looking at the painting of his father for longer than he should have—talking to it even before the audience intrudes. There’s the decision that’s made that seems out of the whim, but because of Bailey’s performance, we can understand that Anthony has been sitting with whatever he was dwelling on for a while.
At the very least, it’s the continued showcase of his need for an escape—the need to free his mind from the shackles of desolation that harness him away from reality and blacken his doorsteps. It becomes very clear, and I imagine will likely become clearer that for Anthony, grief was never properly dealt with. The burdens, the darkness, the belief that he could never be half the man that his father was. Grief isn’t something that ever simmers—loss never becomes more palatable or easier, we merely start building around the darkness.
When you lose someone you really love, someone you were close to, someone you admire, you search for them in the things that are left behind, the pieces around the world where a part of them might be lingering in. For Anthony, we see that through the pocket watch. We see the painful search to find a version of his father that might be left, the strength only he could give, the hope that maybe just maybe, he can figure all this out even while he’s (seemingly) alone through it.
There will be a fix. The temporary itches satisfy for now, but at some point grief demands to be confronted, and this is something we are leading to with the showcase of time. It’s only a matter of when not if. And it’s a matter of when he’ll meet the one woman who’ll create the safe space he needs to unwind in. It’s a matter of sharing his burdens with someone who also understands the pillars of grief and someone who’s willing to hold his hand through it all. Kate Sharma won’t be an escape for Anthony, she’ll be the strength that guides him through the type of healing growth he needs.
The Sixth Time: The Church
Episode: “The Duke and I”
This instance might be fishing too—there might be something more, there might not, but this is a moment that continues to show just how much of the quiet character development we are meant to see. Anthony’s waiting in a chapel alone, and ultimately, there is no need for an additive scene unless it exhibits the detail that he is seeking for the guidance once more in order to do the right thing—the honorable thing, the first, big step in perhaps mapping out the life of his sister, and it starts with a sincere apology. His apology to Simon is something we could imagine his father would be proud of.
Nothing that’s thoughtfully written is done by accident. I want to believe these writers knew exactly what they were doing when highlighting the importance of the pocket watch, and it’s something that we are going to come around to more frequently in season two. We’ve got to, otherwise, we aren’t paying due to the seeds planted, and I don’t believe that’s the case with this show. This was tactful, this was meticulous, and if not through the writing, it’d be a disservice to the prodigious work Jonathan Bailey put in to show us that there’s far more beneath the surface of this man.
The forthright pain in his eyes, the discomfort in his physicality—where words aren’t present, Bailey was showing us Anthony’s desperate need for guidance, his true north, and time. The need for more time. The pain in believing it’s limited because his father’s was and the longing for more.
There’s also a lot that can be said about how little he passes on with the watch to Benedict before the duel because even his brothers aren’t aware of the weight he carries.
P.S. if you want to cry your eyes out and read one of the most beautiful works of FanFiction ever written that also digs into the pocket watch: “tempus fugit” by wagamiller is everything (and deserving of its own article really). Highly, highly recommend.