If you’re anything like me, you know that the ultimate resolution of Game of Thrones should be that Sansa and Dany marry, co-queen, and raise a dragon together, and you’re gay as hell and watching Gentleman Jack, the third episode of which includes murder! Also that thing where you’re gay and a relative walks in and catches you being all gay before you’re out.
The humor in this show is so subtle, it’s like the opposite of my stand-up (I’m known for my screamjokes). For instance, in the opening of this episode, that old lesbian Anne Lister and her new flame, Ann Walker, are interrupted during a flirtatious giggle fit by some of Miss Walker’s relatives and Anne shakes their hands in greeting. I’m not totally sure, but I don’t think women at this time shook hands, because they were never doing deals, but Anne does deals and therefore Anne shakes hands, and the faces on the women who receive these handshakes are FUNNY.
It makes sense that this episode starts with our lovers being interrupted by Miss Walker’s family, because it’s gonna end that way, too. In the interim, we also get to see a development in Nancy Drew and Case of the Pregnant Lady’s Maid, as Anne’s French and with-child-out-of-wedlock maid accepts a marriage proposal from one of Shibden’s two footmen (the one who doesn’t dress like Lumière). I like the inclusion of this story line in this show because Anne’s inability to legally marry her partners with ease could be the focus of the whole damn thing, and that would be crappy because, as it turns out, a lot of folks don’t have a super-easy time living their lives. For instance, folks from the underclass. I truly believe any story about wealthy white lesbians having a hard time would benefit from doing real-world positioning like Gentleman Jack.
Speaking of real-world positioning, a truly fun reveal from this episode: Anne’s tiny house for makeouts! Yeah, Miss Walker and Anne are walking and come across the equivalent of Shrek’s home, or the place a witch would lure children with candy so she could bake them in an oven, except instead it’s a tiny house Anne built for queer privacy. Truly would Airbnb this place.
Inside, Anne heads to the fireplace to stoke a fire she didn’t start (Harry Truman Doris Day Red China Johnnie Ray South Pacific Walter Winchell Joe DiMaggio) and Miss Walker says she wasn’t frightened by the thought of the two of them kissing, just surprised Anne suggested it in the last episode. Once Anne knows she didn’t haunted-house Miss Walker, she approaches and the two of them rub cheeks before locking lips, just one time, and it’s actually pretty freaking cute.
When Anne gets home to Shibden, things are less cute. Anne has gotten home at ten and her sister, Yara Greyjoy, is pissed o’clock. The dynamic between the two sisters seems to often ring this bell: Yara — okay, fine, Marian — is powerless and landless and stuck at home while Anne owns the family home and runs the family business. Marian is angry at Anne when she should be angry at culture, but she’s never taken a Gender Studies class (neither have I; Catholic-college grad here — I basically learned the same things the characters in this show did about women). She even musters the biggest threat she can against Anne: that she will have a male heir in hopes that child will challenge Anne’s ownership of Shibden. Sheesh. I get it, Yara, but Anne’s not the problem. You need a job of your own or a hobby or some cultural value. Or to marry Mr. John Abbott, a secret suitor introduced in name only during this episode.
Anne does get on with another member of her family quiet well: her aunt. Anne’s aunt is sick with a stomach thing that probably needs surgery or Alka-Seltzer, but they’ve got neither, and Anne confides in her often when her aunt is confined to bed. On the evening of her 10 p.m. arrival, Anne lays out a plan for her aunt that includes living with Ann Walker as a companion and also for her money. The conversation is nuanced as her aunt warns Anne to consider what people will do to prevent ladies living together, or say once they do, but also brings up the 12-year age gap between the Ann(e)s. It’s lovely to hear the equivalent of, “What will you talk about?” mixed in with dire warnings about bad treatment by the townspeople.
By the way, this is totally a conversation I had early in my coming out one thousand times, and, yes, it can be truly dangerous to be out, in the Gentleman Jack era and today. We rarely talk, however, about the danger to the psyche and soul that comes with living a lie. That shit is real, too.
Another thing this show does well is introduce the way homophobia reaches into daily life for queer folks. One of Anne’s tenants and workers shows up drunk to work and, when Anne asks him to leave, turns immediately to calling her a man and talking about her sex life. Because she is in a position of power, the foreman of the job site stands up for her, and when the drunk tenant’s son brings him home, we see he’s also a piece of shit who beats his family. When the episode ends with his son slitting his throat and feeding him to the family pigs, it’s not a bit sad, though I was like, What’s gonna happen for this son? Also, “I hope you’re eaten by pigs!” is a good retort for when someone is grossly homophobic at work or similar.
The rest of Anne’s business life seems to be going along with her plan, as she repeatedly puts the overtly evil Rossen brothers through the trial of having to negotiate with a smart woman. Anne’s love life is also progressing at a great clip, as back in the lesbian love shack Miss Walker asks Anne to come for dinner and then STAY ALL NIGHT, which is very endearing, but also confusing because Miss Walker stops Anne as she reaches up her skirt while they make out. Of course skirt-reaching can be denied at any time, but I am curious about how a sleepover between these two will go, as Anne keeps denying that she’s ever done any of these before. Truly what will happen when she is proved to be absolutely an amazing professional muff-muncher? Poor Miss Walker may be like, “Wow. I’m not even talented. Anne got it on the first try.”
Which brings me to the overall theme of this episode: proposals. Not Lumière proposes to the lady’s maid, Yara goes off to try to get proposed to, and Anne suggests to Miss Walker that maybe they should consider living together after they go on vacation once (lesbians.), which turns into a beautiful moment, really. Anne’s all hangdog trying to pretend this is a chill thing to ask of a friend, but Miss Walker responds by taking Anne seriously and says they should wait six months before committing — essentially suggesting an engagement between the two of them and referring to their living together as a marriage.
They also have perhaps the realest conversation about what they’d like for the future wherein Miss Walker says she doesn’t ever want to give birth but may want to raise kids, and I wish, in that moment, I could Avengers-time-travel-through-smallness Miss Walker to today and introduce her to the foster-care system.
The episode ends, like I spoilsaid earlier, with one of Miss Walker’s relatives walking in on her and Anne, who then jump apart to far sides of the room in a completely obvious way. They are busted, but it’s still unclear what that will mean besides just rumors, and not the good Fleetwood Mac kind.
• I really liked the moment when Anne said she could walk anywhere in 25 minutes, and I have no idea if fast walking is a queer trait, but it feels correct.
• Please don’t feed me to pigs, ever. If you need to feed me to something, I prefer wolves.
• Miss Walker gets an anonymous letter saying Anne Lister cannot be trusted in the company of other women and, honestly, that feels like a true compliment given to a real stud and would you please say that about me?
• Best quote of the episode: “Nature played a challenging trick on me, didn’t she?”