This is the episode that actually made me like this show. I’ve been happy to recap Gentleman Jack thus far, but also confused about its tone and direction — and then along came the episode I’m calling LESBIAN JUSTICE, and now everything is different.
We start with Miss Walker’s aunt, who walked in on Anne Lister and Ann Walker in the throes last week. After telling her husband what she saw, she reveals that she can’t follow his instruction to keep that queerness to herself, because she’s already told everyone she knows. For the first time, real-world stakes are established, as it is mentioned that a few weeks back, two gay men were hanged in a town square nearby. Yes, Anne and Ann could lose their lives for for this.
What made me like this episode and throw my support behind this show is that “Most Women Are Dull and Stupid” also establishes the real-world stakes of being closeted or gay and celibate, because we finally get some information about why Miss Walker is so darn nervous all the time: Like Susan Sarandon’s Louise, Miss Walker is living with PTSD from a history of sexual assault.
Honestly, bless this show for including this, because your boi Cammy has a real problem with assault being written into story lines as the origin story for tough female characters. Rape doesn’t make you a dragon queen or samurai-sword-wielding, yellow-jumpsuited badass or a leader of the cowboy robot rebellion. “Survivor” isn’t a personality trait. It sucks to be assaulted. There are lasting effects on the victim’s ability to trust, build relationships, and feel safe in the world. I am not ashamed to be a survivor — I wrote a whole stand-up special about it (which you can watch for free here) — but I’m often pissed off by the way assault is portrayed on TV.
In this episode, Gentleman Jack gets it right. Miss Walker says she feels an obligation to marry her friend’s recently widowed husband, who repeatedly forced himself on her. She is sick over the idea of telling Anne why she feels that obligation, and she blames herself for not being strong enough to repel her attacker, even while saying she told him no. She also feels unsure of whether she somehow consented just by existing in his home, and she’s sad as hell that she’s never before had anyone to tell about the events.
Of course, after this really relatable list of feelings and concerns, the show makes clear that Anne Lister will somehow be avenging or assisting Ann Walker in dealing with her rapist going forward, and I didn’t love the idea that LESBIAN JUSTICE will be imparted, because I’m pretty sure that isn’t so doable in way-back-when England. Lesbian justice rarely works even today. I hope Miss Walker gets to talk about this again and work through it and that we don’t just follow avenging angel Anne Lister in this story line. We shall see.
Elsewhere in this episode, we see Anne get some really sweet support from her dad and sister for her potential live-in union with Miss Walker, and we see Anne’s dull, snobbish side weaken as she has a compassionate conversation with her footman about his recently canceled engagement, decides not to dismiss her lady’s maid even after finding out she’s had a miscarriage out of wedlock, and offers a lease to the son of her drunk and abusive tenant who has gone missing. Well, he hasn’t really gone missing; he was killed and fed to pigs by that very same son, but nonetheless, it’s unusual to see Anne giving and receiving kindness. She’s usually business only.
Maybe love has softened her (gross). Before Anne hears the story of Miss Walker’s repeated assault at the hands of this awful dude, Anne assumes Miss Walker is considering marrying him because she doesn’t really love her and, though Anne started to woo Miss Walker hoping to be a kept woman, it’s clearly no longer just about the money. Anne is sweaty and pukey and her bangs are a mess and she curses God for what she assumes will be her next heartbreak.
This character development is kind of fun. Not since Shane on The L Word have we seen a lady Casanova taken apart by the woman she objectified. And, honestly, Ann Walker has game. There’s this whole beautiful scene where she recounts falling for Anne at first sight when she was 14 and being in love with her ever since. She details feeling that partnering with a man always felt “repugnant,” and I wondered in that moment what’s the real of Anne’s diary. Namely, did she end up with another queer woman? (Because this season is spoiled by history: Anne and Ann did end up together).
So much of this season so far has revolved around Anne’s ability to seduce — she doesn’t seem to identify a fixed identity in her partners, though she does in herself. And her exes all ended up married to men, which could mean anything, but which the world of the show seems to think means Anne was the corrupting force.
I love this “I will always love you” episode, both the Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton versions! Please keep being interesting, show. You’re winning me over.
• The jerky Rossen brothers have an awesome mom who makes fun of them and cracks crass jokes and likes Anne Lister and I hope we see more of her!
• There’s this scene where a 6-year-old boy drives Anne in a cart through a coal mine, and it illustrates one of the things this show does well, namely, adding in some details about how the 99 percent lived then.
• I’ve taken up whittling, and I’d like to know how the pigmurder son is able to carve out the tiny arms on the soldiers he makes, please.