For fuck’s sake. Bran gets to rule Westeros because another dude arbitrarily decided he had the most interesting story, and Arya doesn’t get at least two votes on the council even though she, um, saved the whole world? Sounds about right, fake world. Imagined reality bears the limitations of the patriarchy, and so does this episode of Gentleman Jack.
When we last left our hero Anne Lister, she had learned that the woman she intended to swindle but then seemingly fell for was a survivor of assault. And said survivor, Ann Walker, was understandably freaking the freak out because the priest predator in question, Mr. Ainsworth, was due at her cousins’ house to stay prior to a job interview at the local church. Honestly, everyone in this show except Anne is Ann’s cousin.
Let’s begin with a note on satisfying casting: Too often, TV shows cast threatening, interesting, and charismatic men as predators. They’re scary, sure, and I guess that’s what writers and casting agents most often want: to scare their audience. Gentleman Jack, however, has gone the way of the sniveling predator — he is manipulative and vain and clearly cunning, but he’s not terrifying. This is refreshing, since assault is a cowardly, criminal act, and it’s nice to see it portrayed as such.
It’s also nice to see Anne get in Mr. Ainsworth’s face. First, she instructs Miss Walker in the letter she should write to scare off the sniveler, then she arrives at Ann’s cousins’ home to make her presence known to him in person, under the guise of securing schooling for the young boy who lost his leg in the carriage accident that started this whole show. It is strange how much this show wants us to believe that Anne is the only capable woman in the world at this time — Anne’s sister is taken with a lower-born and rude rug salesman, Miss Walker can’t spell properly, etc. Played out over the season so far, this does tend to make the femmier characters on the show seem frivolous, and I’m a masculine-of-center person wandering in to say femininity doesn’t equal ditziness and it’s misogyny that convinces us it might.
But back to Anne. How long does it take to get her hair done? This is one of the show’s persisting unanswered questions, and something Mr. Ainsworth clearly could throw in her face had he any sense. Instead, he runs after Anne to try and explain that he’s been a bit too forward in his writing to Miss Walker because he was on opium for a toothache. What follows is the best scene of the episode: Anne steps to him and threatens to expose him as an adulterer, which, it’s weird to realize, is perhaps the worst thing he could be called at the time. Like, did rapists even exist yet, legally? Of course, according to Alabama abortion law, rapists don’t exist now.
Which brings me to the relatability of this show: IT IS CONSISTENTLY RELATABLE. For one, the lesbian kissing is solid, passionate, sweet, and looks pretty real to my gay eye. The characters also use servants to send notes to each other, which is sped up on this show in a way that almost mimics texts or emails being sent back and forth. Mr. Ainsworth arrives to try and woo Miss Walker by sending a biographical account of himself, and damn if that doesn’t sound like a dating profile. Also, Anne orders an engagement ring for Ann through the mail, and the whole thing feels very online-shopping to me. So, yes, the world doesn’t seem so different, and the consequences of assault don’t seem so different, either. Miss Walker worries that she spoke about an event in her life she should have taken to the grave and continues to second-guess herself even while setting boundaries with the person who harmed her. And he ignores those boundaries until he is threatened with shame, not jail time. Yep, sounds like now.
Well, except it doesn’t seem like Mr. Ainsworth will sell tickets to his apology tour.
Also in this episode, we see some allusions to Anne’s proper side. She does ask Miss Walker to borrow money, but only while also offering that the two of them should swear oaths and make their union official in the eyes of God. Anne isn’t looking for a dalliance or even an “improper” affair. She straight-up wants a wife, vows, the whole thing, and today a church in the city of York displays a plaque that confirms Anne and Ann did eventually seal their union there. It’s interesting to note how by-the-book their love was (“the book” being the Bible) as we start to see Miss Walker’s relations lose it over the revelation of their queerness.
Because, yes, one of Miss Walker’s cousins tells the other that Anne and Ann are DOING IT, and that cousin begins to fret for Miss Walker’s earthly body and immortal soul, until Ann starts to worry about being hanged and condemned to hell, too. Of course, Anne Lister has done her homework and knows homosexuality between women isn’t illegal, only that between men, and gives yet another rousing talk about the sacredness of their fucking.
Even still, the episode ends with Miss Walker kicking Anne to the curb and then a hired thug of the Rossens actually kicking and punching Anne because she won’t settle for a low price for her family’s coal. This episode-ending scene is a strong reminder that brains and will and what’s right have nothing on the errant, fleeting whims of those with the most power — in this case, bodily power.
And this is a true feeling from my life. I have a ton of privilege and a career I love and I think I’m smart, and that doesn’t really mean shit when I walk home alone at night, or if I walk with someone I’m dating or partnered to. At the end of the day, we’re powerless against the same forces that have hurt us in the past. And I never forget it.
• The clever Mr. Rossen understands lesbian sex! After hearing that Anne may have her hand in Ann’s pocket, he responds with, “Why is anyone letting Miss Lister have her hands in Miss Walker’s anything?” I GET IT! It’s a good joke.