“Tripe all over the place, presumably.” — Aunt Anne Lister (Season 2, Episode 3 of Gentleman Jack)
In the third episode of Gentleman Jack‘s second season, Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) and Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) hit the ground running by visiting every single one of Walker’s homophobic relatives. The sheer tenacity required for that is immeasurable and that is exactly the reason why I don’t visit mine, ever. In more historical matters, railways are all the rage now in 1834 and Marian Lister (Gemma Whelan) is appalled that carriages can move without horses. Oh, the horror indeed! Extremely concerned that Britain is sinking into industrial despair, Marian uses breakfast time to warn everyone that a cow was so surprised by the sight of railways that it exploded. Guts and offal everywhere. This news is as comedic as it is an ominous forewarning that Lister might be next on the list of messy explosions, particularly with Mariana Lawton’s (Lydia Leonard) melodramatic love letters getting more desperate and woeful. Like the insides of the poor cow which has exploded, Lister’s residual feelings for Mariana threaten to overflow and strain her marriage to Walker.
Mariana Lawton and lesbian melodrama
In the previous episode, Mariana was shaking and crying after realizing that she can no longer shag the hottest lesbian in Yorkshire. She is still doing that but with a bit more flair this time … there’s dizzy spells and almost falling down the stairs. It’s getting so bad out there that her love letters to Lister are written in the third-person too: Mary this, Mary that, marry me instead. In Mariana’s defense, Lister’s reply was downright harsh: she blamed Mariana for her unhappy marriage to Charles Lawton (Rupert Vansittart) and essentially told her to shut up … forever. Like Lister, Mariana was born into a wealthy family. But Mariana’s parents threatened to disown her unless she married Charles Lawton, who doesn’t treat Mariana terribly but doesn’t quite like her either. For over two decades, Lister represented a world of choices that Mariana never had. Mariana is not jealous over Walker, as Lister would like to believe. She is horrified at her own wasted life.
That being said, Mariana’s melodrama should be short-lived. Lister is going try out a little heinous thing called cheating on your spouse in episode four. We actually end this episode with Lister’s arrival at Lawton hall. More to come then!
The lesbian invisible
While Lister was physically present with Walker during their house visits, her horny heart was all over Mariana, and she gives Walker the silent treatment – which Walker calls her out for. I mean, completely ignoring your wife while traveling from house to house? That is horrendous bedside manners. After trying out lesbianism, Walker’s self-confidence has grown ten sizes and she cleverly notices things that Lister forgets to give her credit for. Things like how Lister is not over a love affair that has vexed her for twenty years despite insisting that she is done with Mariana. It is awful to watch as Walker is kept in the dark about the true reality of Lister’s devotion to Mariana, but that’s marriage for you.
We have seen how effectively Lister juggles several masks at once while flirting with Walker in the first season. She is charismatic, handsome, and at one point in time, even told Walker that she has never had sex with women before. The lies! All of us put up disguises in front of the people whom we wish to impress, and Lister did exactly that too. But now she must learn how to trust Walker, whose complete loyalty to her is a sharp contrast to Lister being a bit of a rake. Walker doesn’t even mind that Lister has loved Mariana, but she does mind being lied to – especially when all of her family members have treated her like she is inept at comprehension and existence in general.
More business talk and a dash of homophobia
Anne Lister was an astute business woman, something that tied in with her gender non-conformity and lesbian identity. Ladies simply did not do that in the 19th century. I know it seems weary that Gentleman Jack focuses a lot on her business but that is precisely what makes it a well-rounded period drama. I struggled to understand the specifics but the gist of it is this: Lister demands to know things about her investments, and the men absolutely hate her for it. But they do begrudgingly accept Lister’s intelligence, and usually end up in a reluctant compromise with her.
There appears to be a new player on the scene, Mr. Rawdon Briggs (Richard Hope), who misgenders and humiliates Lister by calling her ‘Captain Lister’ in front of everyone during a business meeting. Upon hearing that, Lister stands still. Just for a moment, you see the hurt etched across her face. Her back is slightly hunched. She stays silent, acutely aware that no one wants her there, but presses on anyway (and isn’t this the sum of the show?). It is during those few seconds that the episode stops being fast-paced to keep up with Lister’s vibrant energy. Instead, it lets us remember the emotional costs of lesbian bravery and courage. Back when I presented as masculine, I always thought that I would get used to being humiliated. When it came down to it, however, I stayed silent. I never fought back, and I think that kind of deep resignation is handled with grace in Gentleman Jack.
- Lister finally said the three scary words (“I love you”) to Walker. But only because she is going off to meet Mariana and is wrecked with guilt. I don’t doubt her love for Walker but I don’t think she recognizes the love she feels for her as love, which is why she is stroking up an old flame.
- Only the elderly folk in Walker’s family appear to be disgusted at our Yorkshire wives. The younger female cousins were enthralled by the lesbians and the world of choices that they represent.
- Lister boasts an assortment of fruity little waistcoats this season. I love how costume designer Tom Pye has added cute patterns to her outfits to highlight how much happier she is when married. Little fun fact: Anne Lister only ever wore dark colours to mourn all the women who have rejected her and moved on to marry men. So Pye’s embellishments to the costumes cleverly adapts that detail. Notice how Walker is wearing bold and dark colours compared to the pastel hues of last season too.
- Never thought I needed to see butch Suranne Jones recklessly driving a carriage but here we are. It is sexy and everything I ever wanted.
- Lister asking Walker for permission to see Mariana might be straight up the messiest and most awful thing to happen. She is like a 19th century Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals). But we cheered.