This Gentleman Jack season two episode one recap contains spoilers. I’m recapping on the HBO schedule, which is running two weeks behind the BBC schedule.
I feel like — and maybe this is just me, but I truly believe — you only have to hear that a pig will “eat anything” and then watch a pig eat an entire human man to understand that “eating anything” is a true fact of pig life, and you never have to bring it up again. No one is going to forget watching a herd of hogs devour a guy. I’m not sure Gentleman Jack understands it, though, because they just keep having characters say it over and over and over again as they come to terms with the fact that Thomas fed his whole dead father to the livestock. To be honest, none of them seem to care even a little bit. And you know what? Neither do I! No one does! No one cares about these pigs and Thomas’ horrible dead father! But I just wanted you to know this subplot is still going on and now Thomas’ uncle is using the fact of it to stick around, bonk Thomas’ mom, steal booze from Anne Lister (big mistake, pal), and say “I’m on your side” any time someone brings it up. Frankly, I wish Thomas would feed his uncle to the piggos too, and be done with it.
However, the complete opposite thing is also happening on this week’s Gentleman Jack — by which I mean: Ann and Anne have arrived in Paris! They’re decked out in all their finery, eating fancy pastries, visiting the Louvre, meeting Anne’s French friends, and hearing tales about the time Anne jumped up and finished a lecture for famed paleontologist George Cuvier from inside a whale fossil to the adoring titters and applause of a group of single ladies in the audience. Ann Walker gets it because the look they have on their faces while Anne stands inside the whale and gesticulates is the same look she has on her face every time Anne does anything at all.
Early in the trip, just as they’re finishing up some of those tiny vegetable sandwiches rich fancy people drink with tea, Anne’s old friend Tib shows up. And ah, how shall I describe Tib? Tib is the Alice Pieszecki of Anne Lister’s life. She kinda acts like she’s always drunk. A little too nosy, a little too loud, a little too much blurting out everyone else’s business. She invites herself to brunch and then museum hopping with the honeymooning couple, much to Anne Lister’s consternation and Ann Walker’s confusion. Tib shout-whispers that Anne is a “tuft hunter” because of how she used to collect little snippets of her lovers’ pubic hair (yes, a real thing) in her younger life. And then she laughs at her own joke and declares that Anne’s new wife “knows nothing about the vast, rich tapestry of your fruity past!” The only thing Tib doesn’t say is that she, too, is in love with Anne Lister because they had a fling in their younger years that Tib never got over.
Which puts her in the same boat as Mariana, who is taking her dyke drama on tour. No longer content to haunt the hallways of her own mansion, mourning the loss of Anne Lister (after 17 years of being married to her husband!!!!), Mariana is off to the Baths and the sea and imbibing whatever remedies of the day. I one time read about an infusion Jane Austen used that was made of crab eyeballs and viper jelly. Not sure how that works for curing emotional wounds, but probably Mariana tried that too. When nothing helps, and she’s convinced herself that she’s going blind from heartbreak, she decides to double down on her correspondence with Anne. And, for an extra touch of drama, she starts talking about herself in the third person. Mary this and Mary that. Your Mary whose heart beats only for you, Mary bent and broken like a ship lost in the vast ocean of eternal desolation, Mary tossed aside like a penny that’s lost its shine, Mary with bile in her throat and pains in her body bones and head bones, oh Mary ! Mary!
Mariana was Anne Lister’s first and longest real love and Anne does still care for her a great deal. But also, what was she going to do, march around the entire world alone forever waiting for Mariana’s husband to stop breathing? They tried that, but he just won’t die! Ann Walker is curious about Mrs. Lawton. People keep bringing her up, giving Ann the side-eye, and asking if Anne has heard from Mariana lately, in the most loaded way. Every time Mariana comes up, everyone gets so weird. Anne finally confesses that she and Mariana were in lesbians with each other, and she’s sorry she didn’t tell Ann when they first met, but if you’ll remember, she did have a lot on her plate at the time. She was building that little hut for them to make out in, she was getting beat up by the coal goon, she was collecting her own rents and sinking her own coal pits and scaring off Marian’s idiot suitors. Plus, I don’t know if you heard, but one of her tenants went missing! On a farm where pigs will eat anything!
Anne says she’s never been as happy as she is with Ann Walker, and I believe her, and so does Ann. ‘Cause it’s not just what she says, it’s the way she looks with her blizzard-swept braid hiking through the Alps, cheeks and smile as bright as Christmas. She’s more animated, more joyful, more talkative, more walk-y, more her than she ever has been. It feels impossible that Anne Lister of Halifax is only a Seven on the Anne Lister scale, and that being abroad can take her to an Anne Lister Eleven. She was already more alive than lightning! But standing in the snow, holding hands with her wife, on top of the literal world — it’s a whole new Anne Lister. Anne Lister plus. Ann tells Anne she’s never seen her like this, in the cabin where they spend the night in the Alps, and, to be honest, Ann, too, seems happier and more alive than she has been since we met her. She’s also got a semi-top hat now and a walking stick like Anne’s, but a little more lithe. Like it wouldn’t knock out a man, probably, the way Anne’s would do, but it would leave a welt if she struck a man hard enough.
You’d think Ann’s family would be happy for her — but nope! They like her a lot better when she’s an “invalid,” when she stays put in her sitting room at Crow’s Nest and shells out money each time she’s asked and obeys every whim of her meddlesome family. They all get dressed up in purple, like a bunch of Willy Wonkas, and sit around talking about how embarrassing it is that people know their niece/cousin/etc. is being turned into a homosexual by Gentleman Jack. Mrs. Priestly says Ann would have been better off dying than having the time of her life in Europe with the most dynamic woman on the planet. At first it’s Marian who bears the brunt of their puritanical outrage as she makes the rounds in Halifax and tries to reassure everyone that Ann’s enjoying her trip abroad, and has not yet succumb to the Walker Traveling Curse that claimed the life of both her parents and her brother. But as soon as Ann’s home, they turn on her and leave poor Marian in peace.
Ann is so brilliant in the face of her family’s terribleness. Not only does she try to give a very animated account of their travels — with gifts! — but she also begs them to just look at her, to look at how happy she is. When it becomes obvious that they absolutely do not care, Ann starts listing off all the things she owns, which is basically all their houses, all their clothes, all their ponies, all their art, probably even all their stupid coal. All this talk of wealth coming out of her wife’s suddenly fiery mouth gets Anne going good. She lays Ann down on that one couch in Crow’s Nest, but Ann says they should take it upstairs. Good thing as two kids are hiding in that room and are already scarred for life from accidentally seeing two adults mash their lips together. One even peed his pants. (Not an uncommon reaction from men upon engaging with Anne Lister tbh.)
The best line of the entire episode: After Ann gives a breathless account of their time abroad, Ann’s aunt goes, “Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were here last week” and Anne Lister goes, “Ah! Local news!”
Marian asks Aunt Ann if she knows people say that Anne is unnatural. Aunt Ann does and she has cried about it too many times already. Not because she’s ashamed of her niece, not because she feels anything but pride and love for this fierce, singular creature. She cries because people don’t understand, because they’re too narrow and too unimaginative and too stuck to appreciate the blue-flame passion and love for “life and the world and everyone in it” that Anne Lister carries everywhere she goes. Anne’s too good for them, but they think they’re too good for her, and that’s the thing that makes Aunt Ann so upset. Marian gets it. She loves Ann like that too. And is loved by her. And it’s the greatest thing in the world.
After returning to Shibden from their honeymoon, another letter from Mariana arrives, and Ann does something she’s never done before. She shares it with Ann and asks her opinion about it. Ann is taken aback that Mariana calls Anne “Fred”, but once she gets over that initial shock, she says she’d like very much if they could all get to know one another. Then she holds out her hand, takes Anne’s pocket watch from her, and tells her she’ll be counting the minutes until her wife comes to bed.