Review: Gentleman Jack Episode 6 (2019)

*Spoilers Ahead*

This episode, titled “Do Ladies Do That?” is a paradigm shift for our heroines and – possibly – the series itself.

But first – a question: What the heck happened with Miss Lister’s groom – the one shot out of a tree? Is that based on some true event in the biographical Anne Lister’s life? Something too juicy, so stranger-than-fiction, that the creators had to include it? Hard to believe. But yet, up to this point, the groom hasn’t entered into the storyline except as a curious anecdote. Perhaps Mr. Beach, the ostensible replacement groom, will help us understand why the poor old groom got written out of the story via gun blast.

In this episode, Ann has suffered a psychotic break. Her mind is obviously torn – her genuine love of Anne (and the physical pleasure they share) on the one hand, her community’s moral and religious teaching on the other. Ann is a blubbering mess for the most of the episode, reciting Bible verses like she’s teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts.

I’m not particularly religious, but I also recognize the value of religion in our society today, as well as its importance to the communities of yesteryear. The way they presented Ann’s break, it could easily have been read as a bitter commentary against religion – such that the message is “cruel, pointless religion and the shame it uses as fuel has destroyed the future happiness of two women who genuinely love, nay need, each other.” Heck, some of you might read that interpretation and say “hear! hear!” It just got a bit too close to “cute” for my liking. Granted, if Ann picked up fire and brimstone ideology in her youth (I didn’t realize Anglicans were big on that – I’m from more of a Baptist background) it makes sense that she’s haunted by the images we see on screen.

Anne and Ann’s relative Miss Rawson (the nicest Rawson we’ve seen so far I think, although I’m just as soft on Jeremiah as the show wants me to be) do their best to comfort the poor wretch., but it doesn’t make much of a difference. She’s hearing voices, seeing visions of persecution, and being haunted by the clock down the hall.

In these scenes, I found myself questioning Anne Lister’s motivations. Ann is clearly sick. It makes you wonder whether Ann’s got the capacity to consent to a relationship in her current state. Does Ann have any idea what she actually wants? I’m not sure. She certainly hems and haws with Anne. One minute she’s proclaiming her love and apologizing for her indecisiveness, but the next she’s admitting she lacks the courage to take the ring Anne’s received from town.

This is a problem for Anne – she really does feel a traditional pull toward marriage. She wants Ann to live “open and notoriously” with her (to use an old legal phrase) but Ann just can’t take that plunge.

I don’t question Anne’s feelings for Ann, though I think she began as yet another lusty gold digger after an ignorant young woman’s fortune. Anne has truly fallen in love, a most unbalancing love, but nevertheless love, with this younger woman. We know Anne is passionate in love, but we’ve never seen her like this. Still, am I the only one who was a bit befuddled when Anne proposed, ring and all? It seemed selfish, ill-advised.

After all, what was Anne trying to do? Ann has made her decision – at least for the time being. She’s said she won’t live at Shibden Hall as Anne’s wife. She’s also expressed paranoid ideation, delusions, and a general psychosis that indicates, to me at least, a deeply mentally ill, sheltered, vulnerable person. Anne’s not so crass that she’s proposing for pecuniary gain, but isn’t it still a bit cruel to try to drag a wounded Ann back in when she’s only just decided to head north and try to escape the morass of Halifax? Let the poor woman heal herself, if she can.

Sadly, that may be easier said than done. Ann rides north toward Edinburgh in the company of her brother-in-law, Captain Sutherland (Derek Riddell). He says the right things, but I get the sense that he’s a grifter at best, a brute at worst. Will Ann’s sister be a true friend to her? Captain Sutherland’s mother (Veronica Clifford) let’s slip that she – and probably by extension her son – are “shipping” Miss Walker’s marriage potential with her n’er-do-well nephew. He may be a good guy, but he’s a bum. Probably likes living the gentleman’s life on a tradesman’s salary. Probably likes to play the ponies. Nothing more tragic in these dramas than the dissipated young squire – so much potential, so much destitution (Ex. A: Vanity Fair).

Speaking of tradesmen, Mr. Abbott comes to tea again, but this time he brings his mother. Mum or no mum, Mr. Abbott is an arrogant boor, and nobody in the family likes him but Marian. Still, let’s be real here: is Marian really in a position to be that choosy? It’s in her interest in every way to get married – if Mr. Abbott can offer the lifestyle she wants, and isn’t an abuser or some other type of defective, can she really afford to turn him down? He seems nice enough. Marian is a wonderful, complex character, and I’d love to see her gain some happiness. Hilariously, it’s he who is offended when Anne, as mistress of Shibden Hall, never bothers to take tea with him! Can you imagine? So oblivious in person, yet so attuned to the insults he receives. This reminds me though, clearly his interest in Ann is based on her ancient Lister pedigree. At best, this will be a marriage of convenience.

Finally, our other two narratives: We get a sweet scene of Miss Washington asking the young killer Sowden if he’s proposing to her. “No,” he says, and, to paraphrase, “You’re daddy wouldn’t like it.” We’re getting set up for a dash of class conflict with a hint of penal tragedy, I think.

As for the Rawsons, especially that blackguard Christopher, they know Anne’s jig is up. They know there’s no true competing bidder. They know that Miss Walker won’t be funding the sinking of any new coal pits. For the time being, Business Ann is defeated.

Bottom-line: 7/10 In retrospect, this was a bleak, emotionally-intense episode. Despite that, it ended on a hopeful note, as the viewer can be confident that Anne is getting ready to dust herself off and persevere as we’ve come to expect.

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3 Comments

  1. Hey, found my way here from Cameron Esposito’s awful Vulture recap. Thanks for actually seeming invested. I could do with more of your hot-takes! I’m surprised there’s not more writing around the internets on this fascinating show.

    Heading into your archive now. Subscribed! Looking forward to what you have to say next.

  2. Great review, I did wonder, like you, to what capacity Anne was blinded by self interest in proposing to Ann a second time. It made me think that as much as Anne does love her, she still doesn’t really take her into account when she makes decisions. I wonder if that is how it played out in history as well.
    Anyway, great review once more and I look forward to the next!

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