Initially, the second season of “Gentleman Jack” felt so much lighter than the first. There were moments in the debut season when Ann Walker’s (Sophie Rundle) mental health and interfering family members felt like insurmountable issues that even Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) couldn’t overcome. But against all odds, the two women pushed through together and emerged victorious. The world seemed to open up before them, as the life they envisioned together finally came to fruition — and sure enough, the second season offered blissful moments by the fire, tender journal entries, a euphoric hillside painting scene, and a general air of impending happiness. The obstacles weren’t invisible of course, but given what they’d already overcome, weathering storms like ex-girlfriends and will arrangements seemed small in comparison. But the troubles of their second outing have since proven to be much more complex than they first seemed. Miss Walker and Miss Lister are up against the entire world — at least, it’s starting to feel that way.
“I Can Be As A Meteor In Your Life” is one hell of an episode, where tensions bubble over so much that even Anne can’t power walk past her problems. Humiliation can only be brushed aside for so long and even though this entire series has proven Anne Lister as a stone-faced badass with a hard exterior, she does indeed feel every bit of vitriol being thrown her way. And there’s a lot of it. Between the evergreen misogyny and the ye olde homophobia, Anne is no stranger to lingering glances, taunting, or even threats, but things are different now. Or at least, they should be: she’s married and she wants to feel settled. Happiness is within grasp and every time she reaches out, ready to embrace it, she’s given another warning to shield her heart from pain. Is this something she can simply rise above? It’s starting to feel like even Anne doesn’t have an answer.
SPOILERS for season 2 episode 6 of “Gentleman Jack” are below.
Attacks From The Outside
Last week, an announcement in the newspaper celebrated the union of “Tom” Lister and Ann Walker, a move that Anne dismissed as a silly joke though it clearly struck her as an open attack. While they didn’t seem to unpack the weight of this aloud, she and Ann shared in their concern and now she’s taking every possible measure to assure Ann won’t dwell on it any longer — something that would be much easier if the entire world wasn’t conspiring against them. The marriage announcement was reprinted in the local papers, which causes Ann so much anxiety that she spends a few days hiding out in bed, not wanting to face the unwelcoming or smirking faces surely lurking around town. Miss Lister has never been one to hide away and continues venturing into town on business, where she unleashes some of that righteous fury on her lawyer, complaining about how people have chosen to attack through underhanded techniques. But we later learn that whispers and newspaper clippings may be the least of their worries.
For anyone still struggling to remember the difference between Dr. Sunderland and Mr. Sutherland, “Gentleman Jack” just made that whole ordeal a lot easier — Dr. Sunderland is dead! Anne hears the news when she returns home to a story about gout of the stomach that may not actually be the whole truth. Sunderland was knocked down after the chaos of the election last week, and may have even been trampled by the crowd. It’s a sharp reminder of the violence and anger still bubbling over in town. And it comes minutes after Anne doubles down on her dedication to the Blue party, turning down a potential tenant whose politics didn’t align with her own. It might be time to listen to the advice of literally everyone around her and be more careful. Anne is no stranger to violence, given last season’s alleyway tussle. But then again, that same encounter also proved she isn’t one to back down from a fight.
Doubt Creeps In
Despite Anne’s confidence, doubt is creeping in everywhere else. Miss Walker is taking all the whispers to heart, afraid she won’t actually be able to return to Halifax and face the townspeople laughing behind their backs like Anne so fearlessly does. But this is just how things feel on the outside, Anne is quick to remind her. They share a tender moment where Anne clasps and kisses her hand to give her strength. She reminds her of their encounter with Mrs. Priestley at Crows Nest, when she walked in on their kiss. It was a moment of terror for Miss Lister, but Ann laughed it off. When people dismiss Ann as “insipid” or “naive,” this is the kind of moment that Anne flashes back to — when Miss Walker revealed herself to be so much more than people see. “You’re stronger than you think,” she tells her.
The actual Captain Lister, Anne’s father, is also worried by the letter and unfortunately, puts that on Anne — “You know if you didn’t draw attention to how odd you are they wouldn’t do these things.” It’s quite a slap in the face and painfully familiar for anyone that’s ever been blamed for being who they are. This makes it quite a comfort when he apologizes later on. Without being prompted, Captain Lister reflects on the words, sees where he went wrong, and apologizes to Anne the next night. Even when things are falling to shit and they stumble along the way, the Lister family continues to be a bright spot in all of this.
But here’s the thing about being attacked on the outside — it tends to bleed into all those internal battles people have with themselves. Throughout all of this, Anne does her best to hold tight to her own personal mantra of rising above it all. She continues making risky movies with her business and fighting for her party and trying to secure a life and standing in Halifax. But of course her exposure is beginning to crack. So much of this season has been about little instances of homophobia and prejudice, building up over time and tearing away at Anne’s resolve: the first utterance of Gentleman Jack, the cold reception from the Walkers, the whispering children, Mariana’s despair, now this marriage announcement followed by Captain Lister’s hurtful comment and all of Halifax rumbling with rumors. But what damages her more than anything else is the fear of losing Ann. The laughing and newspaper pranks, all of that outside nonsense is stuff she can put up with, not because it doesn’t hurt but because she always has. Anne Lister has built a tough skin, but Ann is too deep under that. She’s entirely exposed with her wife. So when the threat isn’t public opinion but the thought of losing Ann? That’s when she breaks.
An Anonymous Tip
Anne spends a good chunk of the episode in tears or at least holding them back, whenever it seems her bond with Ann is in danger. The first crack isn’t too big, but quite telling. Ann pushes her away in bed one night, ignoring her affections and even sniping at her to go brush her teeth. It has all the makings of a typical tiny marriage tiff, then Ann reveals that she’s bothered by the way Anne has referred to her in a letter. Miss Lister’s assumption, and likely the audience’s, is that Ann might be nervous about being mentioned in print at all with everything going on. On the contrary, she’s upset that she was merely a “footnote” in the letter, with only a few sentences of mention. Anne dubs it an elegant introduction but Ann sees it as an afterthought. They don’t exactly resolve it, but leave one another stewing. And while the letter certainly ignites something in them both, it isn’t the true root of the issue at hand.
Another blow to their marriage comes from a letter, but it’s much more nefarious than a footnote about Ann. Miss Walker gets an anonymous tip — signed by a well-wisher — that warns her to get away from Miss Lister as quickly as possible, lest she be swindled out of her wealth. It also mentions a former lover of Anne’s, Eliza, who is now committed to an asylum. The note sets Miss Lister in a fury, pacing around the bedroom as Ann quietly watches her from her seat, interjecting questions (“were you in love with her?”) before resolving to burn the letter. Obviously, someone else is trying to tear them apart, but it’s meaningful that dishonesty is the way to do it. Because Ann is owed an explanation, isn’t she?
Anne has already hidden so much of her past from her wife, that the kindling for strife is already there. What about her recent affair with Mariana? Is that something Ann will learn from an anonymous tip or, worse, Mariana herself? Hopefully, it comes from Anne, with some sincerity. Too much of the season has seen Ann stumbling upon truths until Anne is pushed into a corner and forced to reveal something she hoped to never discuss. It’s just another thing keeping them apart.
A Meteor In Ann’s Life
In the midst of all this, Ann has been hard at work, putting the pieces of Captain Sutherland’s plans for the Walker family fortune together. During a scenic walk in the snow with Anne, she reveals that her father made provisions in his will for her and Elizabeth to retain their share of the fortune, even if they marry. But apparently, Elizabeth submitted everything to her husband 3 years into their marriage. The smarmy a**hole is revealed to be an expert manipulator running circles around the Walkers. So while Ann is working to secure her fortune and running into obstacles and roadblocks, her frustration is brimming. And it pushes her to ponder — what’s the point? What’s it all for? Why go to all the trouble? Which brings us to the dreaded discussion of children, because in Ann’s words, “Without children, I’m not sure what it is all for.”
The conversation that follows is devastating, but … oddly heartwarming. It’s a talk that they always needed to have — one might argue it should’ve come before the marriage. Being committed to one another has always been Miss Lister’s priority and talk of children, something she can’t give Ann, is a hint that their marriage may not be forever. And that’s simply not an option. “I’m not just keeping you warm until some man comes along,” she warns, adding, “Because if that’s what you’d like, I can be as a meteor in your life. A meteor that burns more brightly than anything you can ever imagine. And then is gone, forever.” Suranne Jones is an emotional powerhouse, as Anne battles hurt with her determination to have a firm answer. She harkens back to what she told Marian about Mr. Abbott — she won’t stand in the way of what Ann truly wants, but the truth of her pain is written all across her face. She’s met with quiet devastation from Ann who wordlessly mirrors the bedroom scene from earlier, taking her hand and kissing it for strength. A number of anonymous jerks, awful relatives, a conniving ex and money troubles aside, these two will find a way to make this work.
I Almost Forgot. We haven’t seen our favorite homicidal pig farmer in like three episodes, meaning he’s probably gone and killed off his entire family by now. Damn.
Keep This In Mind. It’s hard to keep up with Anne’s many business developments, but her ambition isn’t slowing down. Her plan to build an inn has evolved into constructing a new goddamn new section of town. 28 houses and a bank are now in the works. How is she paying for it? Best not to ask. And that’s not all! The coal pits remain front and center, but have caused quite a headache: Anne is torn between trusting the advice of her employee Holt (George Costigan) and a slippery businessman Hinscliffe (Daniel Betts), who she later learns is also stealing her coal. Now she’s been convinced that sinking an entirely new pit will solve her problems.
And They Were Roommates. Sometimes you just crawl in bed beside your *cough* platonic life partner and kiss her on the neck. And if she happens to comment on your bad breath, that’s how you know you’re in trouble.
Best Dressed. Christopher Rawson and his fur collar have no place here. The wives are the clear winners, for their adorable, snow-friendly, strolling through the property casual clothes. Because hats! And low ponytails! And also because it’s one of those thrilling moments where you can see just how much Ann has changed, with her newfound confidence and Miss Lister’s influence even bleeding into the way she dresses
Minor, Yet Crucial Detail. I haven’t noticed it before this season, but there’s something telling about how the wives address the servants — Miss Walker by first name and Miss Lister by last. They’re changing each other in so many ways, so it’ll be interesting to see if this shifts at all.
Do Ladies Do That? Read letters about what’s going on with their property that they inherited? Apparently not, according to Captain Sutherland, who is gatekeeping Elizabeth form her own fortune. I know that “Gentleman Jack” isn’t in the business of fantastically happy endings, but any chance he can like, drown in a lake really really soon?
Of Wit And Wisdom. It’s hard to have big, emotional arguments after a long day: “Adne, I’ve had a long day. I’ve been dealing with men all day. Tiresome, inarticulate men.”
The Marian Lister Award For Fantastic Facial Expressions. “Gentleman Jack” really lured us in with the promise of Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle as a nineteenth-century lesbian power couple, then pivoted to being 90% legal correspondence about the inner workings of politics and coal pits. Marian wins for mirroring the same face we all wear when Anne talks business with lawyers: what the hell are they on about.
Words From The Heart. There’s always a stunning amount of swoon-worthy lines to choose from and this episode is packed with them, but nothing beats Miss Lister’s furious declaration: “We do things for us. That’s who it’s for. So that we can have a life together. We matter. Having children isn’t the only reason to strive and do well and better oneself and be happy.”
Questions For Next Time: Who the hell sent that letter? And is it the same person who made the marriage announcement in the paper? Anne suspects the Priestleys are behind the letter, which sounds like them. Could Mariana be responsible for the announcement? Her way of asking Anne about it sounded awfully suspicious…
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