The sweetest scene in perhaps this whole series so far is about 54 minutes into this week’s episode. We are (finally) given a solid action shot of our two leading ladies in flagrante, and the sex choreography — yes, that’s a thing — looks anatomically correct and everything! It’s a passionate lovemaking sesh; Miss Walker will be leaving in the morning to go stay with her sister because she is hearing homophobic voices and the family has decided she needs supervision.
As the camera pans to reveal the lovers’ faces, Anne’s falls for just a moment and, though she tries to carry on, Ann insists she tell her what’s wrong. This scene is truly beautiful: the butch top gazed upon by the object of her affection while she falls apart for the first time we’ve seen. And by this moment we have seen Anne Lister derided in public, beaten up, challenged by male business rivals, and chastised by her sister and by her girlfriend’s family for her unconventional behavior. Anne’s been strong and stiff-upper-lipped through it all.
Faced with the loss of the woman she loves, Anne shows the cracks in her psyche she must mend on a daily basis by describing them. She does, in fact, see the way people look at her with disdain. She knows what is said about her. She knows she will always be slightly unsafe and out of society’s grace. Unable or unwilling to hide her true nature, she is used to her lot in life. What fucks her up is the loneliness. Sure, she can’t or won’t hide who she is, but the women she has loved could and did. With Miss Walker, she came the closest to getting a commitment from another woman to share this life with her. Then Ann’s family stepped in to talk of hangings and ruined reputations and she started having nightmares and hearing condemning taunts from the grandfather clock in her hallway and everything went to shit.
Ann holds Anne while she cries and it’s the butchest thing of all time, because my experience of being masc of center is that it takes trust to cry with another woman. The only unrealistic thing is they cut away from the tears and honest description of queer loneliness before the post-tears sex could recommence. Being a lesbian is mostly about post-tears sex. Also singing Disney medleys in bed. That second part happens frequently.
Otherwise, this episode has its ups and downs LIKE THIS WHOLE SHOW, which, incidentally, was recently renewed for a second season. I’m honestly shocked. Not because it’s a bad show — I’ve really dug watching and recapping it thus far — but because I am consistently curious about why this is the lesbian story Hollywood (or the BBC) wants to tell right now. Nearly everyone in this show is white. There’s no transness or non-exceedingly wealthy queerness explored. I like Anne. I like her story. I like all the actors in this show and I like this show. But thinking about more episodes of this show just makes me wonder about a spinoff for Lena Waithe’s upcoming Westworld character, and I don’t even know who that character is yet.
Anyway, Anne starts this episode all bloody from a Rawson (someone yelled at me on the internet for spelling it “Rossen” and I’m sorry to that person for wronging you by just spellguessing) henchman who stopped her last week as she left Miss Walker’s. And back at Miss Walker’s, the unpunched Ann breaks off their relationship because she’s too fucking stressed about homophobia, like I mentioned above. That’s a bummer, because as Anne bleeds into a bowl on the desk, this beautiful black-stoned engagement ring Anne ordered arrives via, I guess, mail?
Anne is pissed to be broken up with and decides to go tour Europe solo, writing to her on-and-off-again beau Mariana to get a recommendation for a burly but polite chap she could bring with her. What follows is a letter-writing montage that does play pretty well but also makes me laugh. This whole show contends with the heavy lift of making painstakingly slow activities like letter writing and wall building seem quick, light, and interesting fairly gracefully.
Elsewhere in our very white world, Anne’s tenant who killed his abusive father and fed him to pigs is being courted by the actor who played Maddie on Coronation Street! And if you think I haven’t watched Coronation Street, Britain’s longest-running soap opera, you are right. I haven’t watched a single full episode. I have, however, watched many edited YouTube vids of the lesbian storylines on that show AND EVERY SHOW so I know who Maddie is and it is too bad she died in that explosion but pretty much every lesbian character on TV has to die sometime, Jenny.
It looks like the pigmurderer will have a happy ending, and that’s good I guess.
I also love that this episode shows an easy rapport between Anne’s father — who she inherited Shibden Hall instead of — and the kinder but still squeaky/sneaky Mr. Rawson. Yes, Anne owns land and is smart as crap and is trying to protect the family income and property. But! Two men can still talk more easily in this world than she can to either of them, even if the men aren’t related and even if they both actually seem to like her. And damn if that isn’t my experience too, Anne!
Which brings me to this show’s depiction of mental illness. In this world, it does seem like secrets (lesbian affairs!) and anguish (threat of retribution for lesbian affairs!) can drive a person — well, Miss Walker — mad. And, yes, honesty and support matter a whole hell of a lot for folks who are trying to stay stable. That said, I’m not totally sure we get a solid read on whether this show thinks mental illness exists outside of secrets and anguish.
Does this show think travel can cure depression? Unclear! However, if you are depressed, I’d recommend seeing a therapist instead of booking that flight to Paris.