In Gentleman Jack Season 2 Episode 7, it is Ann Walker’s (Sophie Rundle) world and we are just living in it. The previous episode concluded with Walker sacrificing both motherhood and respectability because her love for Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) far outweighs the cruelty both of them have dealt with as lesbians. By kissing the wedding ring on Lister’s hand, Walker promised Lister that they are in it together now, for better or worse. So, off to York they go, to ensure that Lister gets to carry out the final division of Walker’s estate should Captain Sutherland (Derek Riddell) refuse to complete it before Walker’s death. It is a grand romantic gesture which attests to their unwavering commitment to share everything with each other even when no one wants them to be together.
The second season of Gentleman Jack has been accused of prioritizing pragmatism over passion; the most explicit sex scene between Lister and Walker even used the merger of their estates as verbal foreplay. But this scene also highlights a new type of intimacy in which the legal work required to alter their wills in each other’s favor is all part of creating a lesbian future from scratch. Non-existent in the eyes of the law and their loved ones, both women must run rings around various lawyers to protect their respective estates. This season, the euphoric highs of courtship must make way for a maturing relationship which necessitates pragmatism in order to rise above homophobia.
Quarreling and bickering over money are universal to any marriage. But for a forbidden lesbian marriage that exists solely on the faith of both parties, pragmatism comes in tandem with the desire to be recognized. As Lister says in Season 2, Episode 1, she wants her estate to be left with someone that she has had some sort of a life with. Since only straight marriage is officially recognized, Lister and Walker will never inherit each other’s estates in the event of their deaths unless they make provisions for each other through altering their wills. It also means that Walker’s properties are always up for grabs by her homophobic relatives, which is what has already been happening while she is still alive. (After Lister’s death in 1840, the provisions that Ann Walker and Anne Lister made for each other in their wills were eventually overridden by Walker’s brother-in-law, Captain Sutherland. Nobody recognized the love they had for each other, making Gentleman Jack an immeasurable contribution to lesbian history.)
As it turns out, Elizabeth Sutherland (Katherine Kelly) was bullied into signing away half of her joint inheritance with Walker over to Captain Sutherland, which gives him the authority to oversee Walker’s properties. He has also been colluding with the Priestleys to steal Walker’s properties out from under her without her knowledge. Their refusal to communicate with Walker stems from both ableism and homophobia, as Walker’s ill health is often used an excuse to dismiss her mental and physical capabilities.
What Gentleman Jack does with exceptional compassion is highlight how Walker’s identity as a chronically ill lesbian meant that she wasn’t worth the effort of remembrance by her own relatives. We know about Lister because she was wealthy and educated enough to write in code. She also had an incredibly accepting aunt, sister, and father who supported her life choices. But most of Walker’s life remains a haunting absence. Her relatives were so ashamed of her decision to live with Lister that they struck her from their wills. It was as if Ann Walker had never existed, meaning the show’s portrayal of her extraordinary determination to alter her will is worthy of praise. It may seem banal and awfully pragmatic, but fighting to live life on your own terms is an incredibly brave thing to do.
Captain Sutherland believes that Lister is manipulating Walker into dividing her father’s estate — it is inconceivable to him that Walker would want to officially reclaim half of what is already hers. He cites Walker’s letters, which were written by Lister, as evidence that Walker is being held hostage by Lister’s sexy cravats and fruity waistcoats. The homophobia directed at Lister’s butchness and Walker’s love for a butch lesbian are one and the same. What Sutherland cannot see, however, is that Lister writes Walker’s letters because Walker demands it. In a scene where Lister instructs Walker what to write, the sunlight in the room falls on Walker, telling us that it is Walker’s choice to involve Lister in her life. Walker knows that Lister can run rings around men, and thus she asks Lister to do so around Captain Sutherland. She promised to commit to Lister, and dividing her estate solidifies that commitment.
Of course, Lister is super whipped for her wife, so she does (mostly) whatever Walker asks of her to. It is very sexy and cute. In contrast, Captain Sutherland holds Elizabeth hostage, reads her letters without permission, and dismisses her opinions. While Captain Sutherland’s towering dominance over Elizabeth erases her from the conversation, Lister’s faith in Walker allows her confidence to blossom and shine. But Sally Wainwright makes sure that Elizabeth is heard, too, telling Captain Sutherland that Walker is happier with Lister and that he ought to respect her choice to live with a friend who cares for her. But Elizabeth’s bravery ultimately only subjects her to more abuse.
Gentleman Jack Season 2 Episode 7 makes glaringly apparent the disparity between Elizabeth’s unhappy marriage and Walker’s marriage to Lister. We see that Lister helps Walker with her legal affairs only when Walker wants her to: she sits quietly in the corner of the room while Walker speaks with her lawyer, and reassures Walker that she is in control of her own life. Her insistence on Walker’s agency has always been non-negotiable, even when it is unclear at times whether Walker’s devotion to her is total. In Season 1, Episode 2, Walker confesses that she sees herself as an invalid because everyone she loves does. Seconds later, Lister breaks the fourth wall to let viewers know that there is nothing wrong with Walker. Gentleman Jack sets Walker’s history right, and tells us that true lesbian acceptance comes from our love for each other. Again and again, people undermine Walker’s choices – but Lister won’t have it, and neither will the series.
Throughout it all, Lister is the only person who maintains that Walker’s choices are hers alone to make. Lister may have courted Walker for her wealth, but, as we saw in the Season 1, she refused to take Walker’s money when she was ill and unable to make a proper commitment. Despite knowing even then that their marriage was probably not in the cards, Lister used her connections to ensure Walker received proper medical help. Walker’s wealth was (and maybe still is) intertwined with Lister’s intention to marry her. But, as Lister’s diaries have shown us, both women took care of each other till the very end because of the courageous promise they made to each other. Gentleman Jack reminds us that so much of lesbian desire is a gift. Like Lister and Walker, lesbians love against the grain because we know that our lives matter – even when it is impossible to believe so.
–Walker is wearing Lister’s coat. I repeat: Walker is wearing Lister’s coat. At one point in time, Lister handed her coat to Walker and maybe put it on for her. The talented Tom Pye removed Walker’s puffy shoulder sleeves to make sure that Lister’s coat fits her. It is all so much to take in.
–Whatever will I do with yet another low-ponytail-and-disheveled Anne Lister.
–Some of Ann Walker’s diaries have been discovered, and there is an incredible team of people who are transcribing them and piecing together what has been lost. Do check out their work here.
–When Walker tries to credit Lister in front of Samuel Washington (Joe Armstrong) for her letters to Captain Sutherland, Lister immediately downplays her own role in helping Walker. She wants Walker to be seen as capable in front of everyone, because she is. But it’s also a smart move in case Captain Sutherland goes poking around to confirm his belief that Lister is holding Walker hostage in shabby little Shibden.
–The dash of red in Lister’s outfit when she is riding the britzka is so strikingly beautiful. I just love all the colors she’s worn ever since marrying Walker.