Episode 7 – titled “Why’ve you brought that?” – has a different flavor than the first six episodes. Whereas those episodes focused on the budding romance between Anne and Ann, this episode focuses on what happens after one of Anne’s passionate romances cools. It’s about Anne’s tenacity, her “dust-yourself-off-and-carry-on” mentality. The series has heretofore adopted a hopeful and (dare I say it?) jaunty tone. This episode feels… Bitter. Cold. It’s like our Miss Lister is just going through the motions.
As I posited last episode, there must be some reason why Anne’s first groom got shot out of a tree. It’s a wacky story, which is worth something, but perhaps the whole affair was setting us up to meet young Thomas Beech. We meet Beech (Dino Fetscher), at the beginning of the episode. He’s a handsome young man, as every woman in the Shibden household (except Anne) recognizes immediately. Marian and Eugenie are especially smitten. Anne barely spares the man a glance as she rattles off a list of clothing items he can purchase from the local tailor at her expense. I myself wouldn’t mind having a natty green coat like the one he’s already wearing when he arrives.
Eugenie is clearly trying to get Beech’s attention too, but Elizabeth (Rosie Cavaliero) has already warned him of Eugenie’s past indiscretions. Eugenie is so wroth about this cold shoulder that she complains to Anne (in French) about the groom’s coldness – Anne just tells her to “try harder.”
The gifted young tenant farmer (and stone cold killer) Thomas Sowden gets a happy storyline in this episode. He asks Mr. Washington for his daughter Eliza’s (the perfectly cast Amy-James Kelly) hand in marriage. I thought Mr. Washington might have more than a little trepidation at the match of his daughter (he being an estate agent and all) with the son of a ne’er-do-well, loafing tenant farmer who recently abandoned his family, but no, after a couple of weak protestations about their tender ages (he’s 18, she’s 16), he apparently gives his blessing. We’re in the 1830s, after all, and it strikes me as an unenlightened age where sons still are punished for the sins of their fathers – still are tarred with the same brush. Heck, we’re just now getting ready to advance into “forward-thinking” fields like phrenology and eugenics.
Only Mrs. Washington needs a little convincing. Miss Lister is more than happy to give her quasi-feudal blessing – after all, a married tenant farmer is a hard-working tenant farmer, so the thinking goes. It helps that everyone recognizes that Thomas is not like his father. Indeed, he’s an industrious, whip-smart young man who could easily wind up running at estate like Mr. Washington someday. There’s just one problem: like him or not (and I like him), Thomas did kill his father in cold blood and then fed the old man to the pigs.
The Sowden patriarch’s death was both Thomas’s liberation and his original sin. Old man Sowden was a brute. His family didn’t mourn his passing, nor did we viewers. But still, Thomas became a murderer as soon as he plunged the knife in his own father’s heart. It’s hard to imagine he won’t be called to account at some point.
When Mr. Washington comes over to the Sowden farm to give Thomas his blessing, he casually inquires about the pater familias. Thomas gets ready to say the family hasn’t heard anything, but his mother, who knows what he did, clumsily makes an unforced error by saying something about her husband leaving the country through Dewsbury.
A tip about lying (which I don’t condone): usually, less is more. Thou ought not protest too much. Panicked attempts at extravagant explanations are the ropes one ends up hanging themselves with. Here, Mr. Washington raises an eyebrow. I had to look it up, but Dewsbury is a landlocked town in West Yorkshire, and not a place, apparently, the late Mr. Sowden would have traveled through to leave the country. Essentially, Momma Sowden’s ignorance nearly exposes her son.
Isn’t it strange that Thomas has been portrayed as a “good guy,” a character we are supposed to like, yet also one who’s never shown a single iota of remorse, guilt, or doubt about feeding his father to the pigs? I get that the old man was not kind, but it still seems like the sort of bloody affair that would haunt a young man of character. Hopefully we’re not dealing with a young sociopath!
Meanwhile, back at Shibden Hall, Marian is in a tizzy. She tells Anne that a drunk Christopher Rawson accosted her at his bank in Halifax. Rawson publicly mocked Marian over Mr. Abbott’s upcoming nuptials (to some other well-born lady not named Marian Lister) and over the allegedly sorry state of Shibden’s finances. Anne sees this for what it is, a fishing expedition and a bit of goading. She tells Marian not to worry, Anne still holds the deeds to the estate – anything Rawson said to the contrary was a lie.
Anne then invites Rawson to tea, and we get a great scene of a drunk-and-getting-drunker Christopher Rawson getting castigated, upbraided, and browbeaten by an Anne Lister consumed with righteous fury. Send your goons to attack me – that’s fine – but keep my family out of it, Anne demands. Rawson admits to Anne that he made a mocking wedding proposal to Marian. I do wonder if this will come back to haunt him. Anne seemed to be laying the groundwork for a scheme here. I didn’t think Mr. Rawson was single, but if he is, marriage proposals in this day and age are serious business. A marriage proposal made in public might be treated as an offer on a binding contract. Such a thing might even be grounds for a lawsuit!
Rawson’s goading works to some degree. Ann Walker or not, Anne decides to go forward with the sinking of the coal pit. She tells Papa Lister not to worry, but the truth is she’s going into debt up to her eyeballs on this uncertain venture.
Anne next moves on from the coal business, and from Shibden Hall. Leaving a tearful Aunt Anne, our Miss Lister travels to London, a preliminary stop on her European solo tour. Am I the only one who thought Aunt Anne (Gemma Jones)’s expression (which was pitch perfect) was meant to convey that Aunt Anne realizes – or fears – that, this time, when Anne’s carriage pulls away, it’s the last time she’ll ever see her beloved niece? I definitely got that vibe, and it was heartbreaking.
In the rest of the episode, we get a chance to compare Anne and Ann’s romance with that of Anne and her old flame Marianna Lawton (Lydia Leonard). Marianna was Ann before Ann. Anne and Marianna used to dream of living together – married – just as Anne nows dreams of a life with Ann Walker. But Marianna continually breaks Marianna’s heart – Marianna went off and got married, Marianna will never live with Anne “until Charles dies” (her husband).
Marianna and Anne rendezvous in London. But there’s a hitch: the Lawton’s beloved 16-year-old nephew has died in a downright gruesome industrial accident. Charles (played with imperious perfection by Super Vansittart) wants his to accompany him to the funeral. Marianna is heartbroken about the boy’s death, but she decides to stay with Anne.
I know Charles is supposed to be a grumpy old fuddy-duddy, but I still feel bad for him in this scene. The man is more or less alone in the world, as far as we know. Marianna has Anne, but who do Charles have? His own wife can’t be bothered to go along as moral support. I thought that was rather selfish of her, but neither Lawton is laboring under any illusion of true love.
As Anne tells Marianna about Ann Walker, Marianna begins to divine just how passionate and earnest the Anne&Ann relationship had become. But she’s shocked to hear about Anne’s marriage proposal. That was always supposed to be their plan – but only when Charles dies. That’s a rather macabre statement, but still, it’s reasonable to me, in the world they live in. Charles would be humiliated by such a betrayal. All their friends would be aghast. It’s a tall order.
Frankly, speaking of selfish, it seems selfish of Anne to keep badgering – tempting – Marianna with the notion of a life together now. Marianna does have a pecuniary consideration: her dead nephew was going to take care of her when Charles dies, but now that task would fall to a woman who dislikes her. Anne almost makes it now or never for Marianna – live with me as my wife, or burn the bridge between us and risk pennilessness. I think that’s selfish and unreasonable.
Granted, as we learn from Marianna’s recollections, Anne is willing to live “openly and notoriously” as she pleases, and obviously has little sympathy for those unwilling to do the same. Marianna remembers, 10 years past, how much more radical Anne’s dress and mannerisms were. It was a scandal to just be seen with her in those days. Interestingly, this is about the same time that we see Anne in a low-cut dress she’s wearing to a dinner party to please some Lady-Chatterly-esque friend. It’s a fascinating scene, and absolutely jarring. Anne, who is so comfortable in the clothes we’ve become accustomed to seeing her wear looks… Tentative. Uncomfortable. She must have worn female clothes for years, especially when she was a minor and society demanded it, but now it feels – to us and her – unfamiliar.
Meanwhile, someone in Scotland, Ann’s sister entreats her to turn her frown upside down and be a good sport by attending a dinner party Captain Sutherland is hosting with the aim of seeing his gold-digging cousin (his mom’s nephew, right?) married off to the delicate heiress. Ann wants to go home, but sis tells her there’s no one there to take care of her. This made me wonder: what happened to Ann’s dear Aunt Ann Walker? Stephanie Cole is wonderful, but she’s nowhere to be found. Did Aunt Ann Walker die or something? Still, it’s a weak answer considering the Sutherlands took their carriage right on past Edinburgh without stopping to consult the “great medical minds” of Scotland over Ann’s case.
A bit of foreshadowing, perhaps, but Ann’s sister promises she’ll take care of her, and not let her be forced into a marriage. Ann reckons that her sister is afraid of Captain Sutherland, and sis doesn’t deny it. She just says it’s complicated when you have kids. I’m really interested to see where Sutherland character arc heads next. As for Ann’s arc, she makes a shocking decision that ends the episode on a very dark note! Maybe now they’ll get her some medical help?
Bottom-line: 7/10 This episode had some great dialogue and acting, and did a great job setting up some interesting upcoming storylines.