Midway through the second season finale of Gentleman Jack, we witness the violent erasure of Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) and Ann Walker’s (Sophie Rundle) marriage from any known records. It happens over a short conversation between Walker’s brother-in-law, Captain Sutherland (Derek Riddell), and Walker’s lawyer, Mr. Gray (Bruce Alexander). In an attempt to besmirch Walker’s reputation, Sutherland insinuates that Lister and Walker’s relationship is an unnatural one. Mr. Gray deftly shuts Sutherland down. He tells Sutherland that sexual relations between women are impossible, especially for respectable, Christian women like Lister and Walker. And even if it was possible, it is not illegal. It is during their discussion that the title of the Gentleman Jack Season 2 finale – makes its entrance: unlike the law which criminalizes gay men, “it’s not illegal” for Lister and Walker to be together. But only because no one thinks that lesbians exist.
(Need to play catch-up before the Gentleman Jack Season 2 finale? Shar’s coverage is universally lauded for a reason – check it out here.)
Back in Season 1, Episode 5, Lister tries to convince Walker, who is terrified that they’d be hanged like gay men were, that what they do is right because it is not illegal. But Lister falters in her explanation. She does not believe that the law has any jurisdiction over her desires. Even if their relationship were illegal, she’d rather be hanged than live a dishonest life. After Walker leaves the room, Lister’s face falls. She wants to marry a woman who is just as unwavering as she is when it comes to their love, but Walker’s struggle to reconcile her sexuality and faith makes that difficult.
This conflict resurfaces again in Gentleman Jack Season 2 finale, as Walker confesses to Lister that she is still not entirely sure their love is natural. She loves Lister wholeheartedly. She might be the only woman who thinks the world of Lister and her butchness. But sometimes love simply doesn’t measure up to the hatred we have been taught.
If it were to become a criminal offense, well then, I would have to put my neck in the noose. Because I love, and only love, the fairer sex. If I were to lie with a man, surely that would be against God.
Everything in the second season of Gentleman Jack comes down to faith. Mariana had little faith in Lister’s image of their future together because there was no blueprint for lesbian existence. Walker has faith in Lister, but struggles to reconcile that with a cruel world without faith in their life together. And Lister has sworn off faith in people, because most of the women she has loved and provided for eventually chose to marry a man. Constant rejection and the unending need to rise above it have hardened an edifice around her heart. Marriage is about the art of sharing a life together – but, as lesbians, neither Lister nor Walker knows what togetherness is supposed to feel like.
Lister ends up alienating Walker, who finds Lister’s constant lying and her self-indulgent arrogance too much to handle. Walker is also aware that Lister might have been unfaithful. Despite her many flaws, Lister is the only person who treats Walker with unconditional compassion; realizing that Lister doesn’t actually seem committed to this non-existent marriage is a devastating blow for Walker. She gave up everything and everyone just to be with Lister. Without Lister’s commitment to their marriage, Walker’s life may turn out to be a horrifically wasted one.
While in London, Walker suggests breaking up. She brings up her ongoing struggle to believe that their desires are natural. But what she’s really saying is Lister has made her feel so insignificant that it’s difficult to believe that their marriage is what God wants. Lister’s face shares the same fallen look. She doesn’t bother convincing Walker anymore, because she knows what is truly at the heart of Walker’s statement. She has treated her wife as an aside and a clause – both women are now at the end of this road. In a gorgeously heartbreaking scene after their argument, Lister and Walker sleep with their faces turned away from each other. Unlike the warm and red hues of their bedroom in Shibden Hall, their hotel room is awash in shades of dark blue. Lister, in a rare moment of vulnerability, cries silently. She loves Walker and she doesn’t know how to make things work. Neither of them knows how to survive a non-existent lesbian marriage. This world’s insufficiency creeps gradually into a secret and private relationship, leaving both lesbians unsure of their place in it.
Back in Halifax, Captain Sutherland and Elizabeth (Katherine Kelly) have finally arrived at Lightcliffe, and Walker stays over for a few nights. If this had happened three years ago, we would have been worried for Walker, given her relatives’ harsh opinions usually detrimental effect on her health. However, even without Lister around, Walker demands control of her father’s property. We see that Lister’s faith in Walker has taught Walker to take control of her own life. Once more, in every scene where Walker confronts Captain Sutherland, Lister stands lovingly by her side: she doesn’t say a word unless Walker demands it. She has taken what Walker said in London (to be clear, she mostly told Lister to shut up) and is finally learning what it means to share a life with Walker.
While at Shibden, Captain Sutherland demands Lister back off from meddling in Walker’s estate affairs and humiliates her with a torrent of violent, homophobic insults, in the hopes that the lewd accusations will rattle Walker. Instead, Walker tells him decisively that Lister deserves to be in the room for their conversation. With this reply, she rekindles her promise to commit to Lister for life. Her estate, when divided, will be Lister’s as well. The entire second season of Gentleman Jack hinges on Walker’s decision to divide her estate and alter her will in favor of Lister – that decision is ultimately as ordinary as it is a radical act of lesbian faith; and in making it Gentleman Jack finds a brilliant balance between the two.
While Gentleman Jack is based on Lister’s diaries, I’ve always thought Ann Walker is the heart of Sally Wainwright’s script: her unconditional love for Lister is precisely how Gentleman Jack delivers a rare, groundbreaking portrayal of lesbian butch-femme relationships. Unlike Lister – who, surprisingly, believed in her God-given right to be lesbian in an era without visible media representation – Walker struggles with chronic illness and internalized shame over her sexuality. She often hesitates to believe that her own happiness even matters. But as we have seen in Gentleman Jack‘s second season, Walker chooses, over and again, to be with Lister because her unwavering love for Lister far outweighs her own fears and anxieties. She chooses to give up motherhood for Lister, and she chooses to go against the entire world to commit to a forbidden marriage that she knows would make herself — not her relatives — happy.
We are the only people in the whole world, on Earth, who want us to be together. It won’t be easy. It will never be easy. But we are still here, aren’t we?
In Gentleman Jack, Walker’s resilience is more tenacious than Lister’s — it’s why Lister fell in love with her. Without recourse from the law or the world’s witness, a love that survives on sheer faith and grit alone is as pure as it comes. For Walker, realizing that she is a lesbian has taught her that life should be more. Lister has given Walker a world where possibilities burn bright: like a meteor, Walker is willing to accept the destruction that follows, if it means they’ll experience it together.
It is fitting that Gentleman Jack‘s second season concludes with a promise, with Lister and Walker reminding themselves that their love is worth the sacrifice. Near the end of the finale, Walker tells Lister once more they should head to York to alter their wills. She takes Lister’s hand and caresses their wedding rings. Both women look at each other, then forward – to where the journey takes them. We know their fates. But Gentleman Jack gives them what Lister and Walker were cruelly denied in their lifetimes: the sincere wish that they could have been together in that carriage, looking toward a happy future.
- I hoped Gentleman Jack would include a scene of Lister “incurring the cross,” given that her diaries were more than full of it. Unfortunately for people who have not read the diaries, I’m here to inform you that Lister does, in fact, think about Mariana Lawton a lot in her own private time. Even while married to Walker. Even during their travels together. She was a woman with imagination. I am happy that Lydia Leonard wad credited in the finale and earned some cash money for having an orgasm and nothing else.
- “Pour your own fucking tea” might be Walker at her meanest, especially since she is always so polite and courteous even when she’s angry.
- The golden dress Walker wears to the opening of the Northgate hotel features military patterns from Lister’s outfit. Lister’s top hat also has a streak of golden feathers in it, which matches the colors worn by Walker. The real Anne Lister and Ann Walker publicly attended business events together, and Walker did give the welcome speech for the opening of Lister’s Northgate hotel. Gentleman Jack uses their matching outfits to show the influence of Lister’s confidence on influenced Walker – who, until this event, has never given a public speech before.
- I love how Lister really shut up in this episode after Walker yelled at her to. It is so funny because Lister literally never shuts up, like ever. She would never let anyone else but Walker treat her this way.