Gentleman Jack Episode 4, “Most Women are Dull and Stupid,” is a decidedly darker affair than the preceding three episodes. Ann and Anne’s budding relationship faces its greatest test yet.
We begin, however, in York, where Anne has taken Miss Walker to see a doctor she trusts, Dr. Belcombe (Michael Xavier), who also happens to be the brother of one of Miss Lister’s old flames. Ironically, his advice isn’t so different than that of Dr. Kenny, as the “vulgar” Aunt Ann (Miss Walker’s Aunt Ann, not Miss Lister’s Aunt Anne! – played by the lovable Stephanie Cole) humorously points out once the duo returns to West Yorkshire. While we’ve established that Miss Walker has a malady of the mind, both doctors actually agree that some fresh air and travel – perhaps a trip abroad? – would be the best prescription. This is wonderful news for Miss Lister, as she’s been pushing for an Easter holiday in France, Switzerland, and Italy for Carnival. Aunt Ann Walker is less enthused, telling the pair to their faces that Miss Walker “is under your spell Miss Lister.”
Miss Walker’s delicate constitution is shaken, however, when her aunt tells her that Miss Walker’s dear old friend Mrs. Ainsworth has died. Apparently she “was thrown from a carriage.” Ann is profoundly disturbed by this news, and later tells Anne that “anything to do with death” terrifies her. Worse still, she believes that Mr. Ainsworth, 15 years younger than his late wife, will ask her to marry him. Bear in mind, this is all happening before Mrs. Ainsworth is even in the ground, as Anne points out. Ann appears to be considering the (anticipated) offer, although Anne suspects she’s hiding something – Ann will not share the letter. “It’s marked ‘Private'” is all she’ll say.
Anne agonizes. Ann agonizes too. Their relationship is nearly torn apart. In a really interesting scene, the indecisive Ann sends Anne a fruit basket with slips of paper saying “Yes” and “No” tucked within. She actually tries to get Anne to take her answer from whichever piece of paper she unrolls first, leaving their destinies to “fate.” Anne draws the “No” piece, rather than the “Yes,” and that’s the final straw. She storms over to Crow’s Nest and confronts Miss Walker. Anne is basically over it. Suranne Jones does a great job this episode conveying her character’s agony and heartbreak, but also her wrath after Miss Walker pulls this little stunt. She really sells it. She can’t take another heartbreak like this.
Miss Walker finally tells Miss Lister the whole truth. Ann admits that she and Mr. Ainsworth – who, by the way, is a man of God, a curate – have been “intimate.” Indeed, Miss Walker admits they have “connected,” as Miss Lister puts it. If I understood this scene correctly, it’s implied that the wily Ainsworth cajoled and seduced Miss Walker, using her shame and guilt to control her. His marriage offer is essentially an attempt at blackmail – marry me or your reputation will be ruined. Anne is greatly relieved at this development. Embracing Miss Walker, she assures her she can handle Ainsworth, that “wretch,” and emphasizes that Ann ought not to feel sorry for anything. The couple may just emerge from this stronger than ever, just at the time when Anne is laying the groundwork for Ann to become her live-in companion.
The drama and tension between Anne and Ann takes up the bulk of the episode. There are, however, some great subplots happening. Thomas Sowden is dealing with the aftermath of his decision to murder his own father. Nobody, including his mother, can understand how the Sowden patriarch would just up and leave without his new boots, his cart, or anything else. Thomas seems to be pretty cool under pressure, and by episode’s end we find out he’s got prospects – romantic (Mr. Washington’s daughter) and economic (Miss Lister’s decision to give him a six month lease to the farm).
Meanwhile, Eugenie seems to have miscarried. She has mixed emotions about this outcome, obviously, but wastes no time in telling the good-hearted John that the wedding is off. John’s feeling a bit forlorn, and eventually admits to Miss Lister that her lady’s maid was indeed pregnant and no one told her. The two relationships – John and Eugenie, Anne and Ann are implied to be similar in this exchange. There’s a notion that perhaps John and Anne are too “good” for Eugenie and Ann. That’s certainly what Anne says about John’s situation.
Finally, we know by now that any time we hear “jaunty music” (as the subtitles call it) we’re getting “business Anne.” We tend to see her from an overhead view, as she stomps down the narrow little roads of West Yorkshire in her masculine get-up, arms swinging in such a manner that it seems like an affectation. Anne is quite certain herself now that Christopher Rawson was driving the carriage that hurt the Hardcastle boy. She’s also sure the Rawsons are crooks, and plans to extract every penny she can from Christopher and Jeremiah if they want to buy her coal. She’s been bluffing big time – unless Miss Walker underwrites her, a trip down the mine and a few meetings with her associates makes it clear that she won’t be able to line up the funding for an undertaking expensive as sinking a new coal pit.
The best part of the coal story this episode, however, is the matronly Mrs. Rawson (Sylvia Syms). I’ll be honest, thanks to her get-up, my first thought was “Mrs. Toad’s Mother?” (you know, from Wind in the Willows). You can immediately tells this woman is a card. Clearly a hard woman who’s seen a lot and no longer feel bound by the social conventions that would try to censor her thoughts and words. She harangues her son Christopher for letting the clever Anne run rings around him. She’s hilarious and really lets into her boys. She also expresses a great deal of admiration for Anne, and you begin to wonder if they’re kindred spirits in a way. It’s Mrs. Rawson, of course, who utters the titular line, “most women are dull and stupid” – but you can be sure she’s excepting our protagonist!
Bottom line: 7/10 – Solid episode. Great drama and character development, really laying the foundation for an interesting Episode 5.