This Gentleman Jack season 2 finale recap contains spoilers.
The Walker-Listers have arrived in London, as planned, and ooooh Ann Walker is surly! Having learned absolutely nothing from the last time she was in London with Mariana Lawton, Anne has decided to visit all her fancy friends on her own and leave her companion back at the hotel. Ann huffs and tells her wife she looks ridiculous with her hair up in curls and crosses her arms and scowls and grits her teeth and slumps down in her chair and tells Anne to pour her own feckin’ tea. The only thing keeping her from making a complete scene is that there’s no one else around. She tells Anne that she promised, from the very beginning of their courtship, to introduce her to the all the aristocratic women she’s been wooing and teaching from the inside of a whale carcass all these years, and now that the time has come, she’s leaving her here in this hotel to rot. Anne says it’s for her own good, due to her being nervous when she’s under scrutiny, and of course that makes it even worse.
And honestly, Ann Walker could have completely handled this dinner! It seems much less stressful than a dinner at Shibden, with business guys running in and out of the room to do calculations and estimations with Anne the entire time, and her dad insulting her, and Marian desperately trying to be heard, and endless talk of Ann Walker’s petty little relatives. This is tame by comparison. Plus it includes Ann Walker’s favorite thing: Anne Lister charming the stockings off of everyone with her stories of conquered mountains, and seaside shanties with pirates, and the wood witches she met in the pursuit of the Fountain of Truth, and whatever else she’s been up to since the last time they saw her. The only thing Ann would have had a problem with is Vere Hobart finally being shaken free from the clutches of compulsory heterosexuality, realizing her husband is a dolt who only wants her to pop out babies, and asking Anne to stay close and longer. Anne says children are a blessing, shocking everyone, including herself.
Ann W’s consternation gets even more consternated when they visit a prestigious school to interview a headmaster the next day, because obviously Anne Lister does all the talking. Ann W’s starting to worry that her wife thinks she’s incompetent, and so now everyone around them is starting to think she’s helpless too. It’s a fair concern, of course, especially because her family’s been treating her like a petulant child for her entire adult life. Anne swerves and asks if Adney would like to give a small speech when they lay the ceremonial stone at the Lister Northgate Halifax Hotel and Casino. Anne is flummoxed and flattered! She asks if Anne thinks she can really give a speech, and Anne says of course she can! And, for the moment, their tentative marital bliss seems more secure.
Alas! In the carriage on the way back home, as Anne does their traveling expense calculations, she’s reminded that her bride is paying for literally everything and it can’t go on like this.
Anne Lister: Okay but we did talk about the fact that I was going to have some cash flow… complications for a minute as I build a town within the town of Halifax.
Ann Walker: Yeah and who’s paying for that too?
Anne Lister: Me! With money I borrowed from the bank! Not with money I borrowed from you!
Ann Walker: And who’s gonna end up paying off those loans if your shopping mall fails, hmm? What if no one wants to visit your zoo? Or your permanent parking lot carnival?
Anne Lister: That’s ridiculous; in addition to the roller coasters, you’ll be able to play games where you win tickets that can be redeemed for prizes, such as stuffed animals and slap bracelets! And anyway, if it fails, which it won’t, I’ll sell Shibden and live under a rock, whatever, I can survive anywhere, I’m like a mountain goat.
Ann Walker: Well, I can’t! My petticoats are way too fluffy to fit under a damn rock! You are freaking me out!
Anne Lister: Well you are freaking me out because you still haven’t made provision in your will—
Ann Walker: OH HERE WE GO.
Anne Lister: Yes, here we go! You promised—
Ann Walker: —like you promised to introduce me to kings and queens! I think we should break-up. You’re being a jerk and also potentially muff-munching is actually a sin, I’m still not settled on the issue.
Anne Lister: : Fine.
Ann Walker: FINE.
They go to bed and face opposite directions and don’t touch and don’t sleep and it’s awful. The next morning, Anne asks if they can stop at this church she visited one time that has a memorial to a child who died, and things get EVEN SADDER. There’s a marble statue of this little girl who passed away a few days before Anne was born, and the inscription says she had towering intellect and unquenchable ambition, and so Anne has somehow convinced herself that she is this child reincarnated, or that this child was meant to be her child, because nothing else in her entire life has ever explained why she is the way she is. Not the lesbian thing; that’s clearly a gift directly from God’s hand — but why… everything else? Why was she born a genius without the means to pursue her grand schemes? Why was she born so charismatic without the social connections to advance her place in society? Why was she born with such huge aspirations and such a tiny purse? Why was she born with the GAYEST EYEBROWS ON EARTH if no woman will STAY MARRIED TO HER?
Ann W doesn’t really know what to say. She’s moved by Anne’s vulnerability, and shocked because Anne almost never opens up like this, but also… it’s a little too woo-woo for her to wrap her head around.
Dinner back at Shibden is bleak. Ann gets plastered on tiny cups of wine, Captain Lister says he’s not coming to the casino groundbreaking because he’s too old to be laughed at, Aunt Ann can’t come because she’s not well, Marian’s wishy-washy about the whole thing and frankly overwhelmed with trying to manage this household and their secret sexcapades, and Matthew cannot keep his goddamn vest buttoned up! COME ON, MAN! Anne helps her wife up to bed, where she promptly yarfs, and that’s when Anne decides she wants to be single again (no, she doesn’t).
Before the casino groundbreaking, Marian interrupts Anne, who looks like the prince of the entire world in an embroidered black coat (was Suranne Jones literally born to play this role??), which she’s gently caressing while she stares at herself in the mirror and does her daily pep talk: “If you were a man, you’d be Prime Minister, but you’re not, so instead you’ll charm your way to power, fame, and fortune!” Marian says she’s not coming to the groundbreaking and also she’s moving back to town, because, see, the thing is, Mr. Abbott broke it off with her because of the rumors of Anne being Gentleman Jack after dark, and the whole county’s talking, and Marian doesn’t want to get any tomatoes or bananas thrown at her. They’re already feeding rich people to the pigs down in Halifax, she doesn’t need to be painted with the same debauched brush as her sister. She doesn’t have Anne’s talent for talking her way out of things.
The whole time this is going on, Captain Sutherland and Elizabeth are making their way south, and Sutherland is meeting with every man under the sun to accuse Anne Lister of having an UNNATURAL HOLD over his sister-in-law. Every one of these guys is like, “Do you mean, like, odd? Like Ann Walker’s wearing top hats now too?” And, “‘Unnatural’ as in ‘too competent’… or?” And, “Are you saying she’s ‘unnatural’ as in ‘queer’ and ‘queer’ as in ‘kooky?'” And, every time, Sutherland’s like NO I MEAN QUEER AS IN LESBIANS! Most of the men are like, “Oh shoot, does this mean I’m going to hell by association?” But not Mr. Grey! Mr. Grey goes, “Look, I know you mean ‘unnatural’ as in ‘gym teacher’ and I’m here to tell you that even if that’s true, it’s not illegal, much like taking your thermometer with you on holiday, and if you keep up these accusations, I hope you have a cool 10K handy because that’s what it cost the last person in Halifax who made these kind of rumbles against a pair of women in trousers.”
So Sutherland turns his bullying directly onto Ann, demanding the deeds to her land, grabbing at her, making scissoring motions with his fingers, saying “my dear” in the most condescending way imaginable, spitting out the name “Lister” like it’s poison on his tongue, and lying out of his whole entire butt about everything. He finally comes clomping into Shibden Hall screeching his little Scottish head off, and the Anne(s) tag-team until Elizabeth finally cracks and says this is all lies and manipulation and actually he’s the predator and money-grabber and Ann Walker should have what’s hers.
“We may both be landlords, but I’m living rent-free in your head, Sutherland,” Anne says, before saluting little Sackville and striding off.
The casino ceremony goes off without a hitch.
Anne has mostly felt immortal her whole life, but she’s finally having a reckoning, in large part because dear beautiful perfect perfect perfect Tib’s amazing mother has passed away. She went in her sleep, surrounded by her children, and her only unmet wish was that Anne Lister be counted amongst them. Oh, she loved that little gay girl who swept her own softball-tossin’ Tib right off her feet. Tib cries, Anne cries, Marian sits at the table and tries to figure out a joke someone told yesterday.
Anne goes to Crow’s Nest in her carriage to pick up her wife, who is glowing and grinning because Sutherland finally signed the papers. Her sister says she doesn’t know when they’ll see each other again, and the real answer is: never. Sometimes the cost of being too competent is, well, everything. Anne Lister helps Ann Walker into the carriage, and once they’re on the road, Ann says she does want to go to York and do their wills. Anne asks if she’s sure, and Ann says that she is.
They know it won’t be easy, they’re the only people in the entire world who want them to be together, but they’ve made it this far, haven’t they? And you’re not really living, are you, without taking the odd risk every now and then? And aren’t we lucky to be alive? Aren’t we lucky to have life? Isn’t every tiny moment an inexplicable delight packed with potential?