Gentleman Jack (2019) is set in 1832 Halifax, West Yorkshire, and based on the diaries of Anne Lister (1791-1840), a landowner and industrialist who wrote extensively of her daily life and her same-sex love affairs. It’s airing on HBO in the U.S. and the BBC in the U.K. Check out our interview with the series costume designer Tom Pye. Read all our series recaps here.
Last Thursday, HBO and the BBC announced that Gentleman Jack has been renewed for a second season. While I adore this show and will happily watch more, I’m a little unsure about what would actually happen in another season. The narrative and pacing so far has really set this up to conclude the most important drama of the later part of Lister’s life within these eight episodes. Since writer/director/producer Sally Wainwright would have had to have known a second series was possible when she created this one, I’d have preferred she started earlier in Lister’s story. Compare with The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010), which covers events from about 1816 to 1832, although only in 92 minutes. This earlier film is able to introduce more of Lister’s past lovers and establish the growth of her character in a way that Gentleman Jack doesn’t.
One critique posed of the new series is that it shows Lister as fully confident of herself and invulnerable, and I think the reason for that is this shows her at age 40 after she’s been through a zillion heartbreaks and resolved on what she wants in her life (also, age 40, you’re more confident, amirite?). While a shorter production, Secret Diaries does a more complete job of showing Lister being vulnerable and overcoming the odds to find happiness. She grows, changes, and achieves that sense of resolve throughout the story.
If Wainwright knew she had 16 episodes to tell Lister’s life, why not start earlier in season one? Why not show Marianna Belcombe Lawton breaking Lister’s heart so horribly that she takes to all-black clothing? And introduce Isabella ‘Tib’ Norcliffe and even Miss Browne, who was a stronger flirtation in the diaries than the movie had time for. Lister’s relationship with Ann Walker was like the final reward for a complicated and frustrating life, so showing more of these earlier events would give a stronger sense of how amazing and accomplished she was.
Ah well, season two won’t begin filming until 2020 and I’d guess we won’t see it on TV for another year after that. So we’ll have a lot of time to guess what’s in it! Now, on to this week’s ep…
Ann returns home after the attack. Mr. Abbot is still visiting (and droning on, boring the family), so she heads to the kitchen for help from a servant, then up to her room. She’s badly hurt, but she plays it off and says she’ll tend to her own wounds.
A package arrived while she was out — the ring. sigh Gutting.
Next morning, she tells her aunt and Dad that the wounds are from falling off a wall, where she was walking when it was dark. Aunt Lister asks after Miss Walker, and Ann feels sick. Marian follows her, suspicious about the injuries and chiding her sister about being present when Mr. Abbot visits next with his mother. Not exactly a sisterly commiseration there, Marian! Sheesh.
Lister goes and writes “Mary” aka Marianna Lawton, her old flame who visited for dinner and a quickie in episode one and was also seen reading a letter from Ann in episode four. Lister asks for recommendations for a groom (since her last one died previous to the series start; remember, he was the guy who knocked up Eugénie) — it’s not clear why Marianna would be the best source of recs, but then it’s not like there’s Yelp in the 1830s with a category for Horse Servants where you’d look up “Grooms” closest to Halifax.
Marianna writes back with the name of a guy who’ll manage Lister’s carriage when traveling abroad. And she asks if Anne (or “Fred” as she calls her old lover) will be traveling with Miss Walker because she mentioned Walker twice as ‘my friend’ in letters. That’s apparently Lister’s code for ‘ladies I fuck.’
Aunt Lister tells Anne says she found Mr. Abbot abrasive and a know-it-all. But it would be a great comfort to know both her girls are settled. Alas, Anne admits it may be off between her and Miss Walker. Aunt asks who she’ll travel with, and Anne says she’ll go alone. Aunt says “do people do that, ladies?” which isn’t exactly the title of the episode (“Do Ladies Do That?”), but it’s close.
In the business world, Lister tells Mr. Washington that sinking the coal pit is on hold. Talks with Jeremiah Rawson are back on.
Mr. Washington’s daughter, Suzannah, talks with Thomas Sowden in the road — did I call this as a romantic setup or what? She comments, ‘what you been feeding that pig on?’ ‘All sorts.’ LOL
Walker has a nightmare about her and Lister being publicly hung for being gay.
She wakes up a wreck. Folks, that’s what the patriarchy and toxic heterosexuality can do to people :(
Meanwhile, Jeremiah Rawson tries to negotiate with Lister, insinuating that he and his brother know her circumstances have changed. Fucker. Lister admits to her dad that she was beaten up and suspects the Rawsons had it done. She also tells him that they were responsible for running the Hardcastles off the road.
Lister is called over to Walker’s place by Miss Catherine Rawson. She’s replaced Harriet Parkhill as Walker’s attendant, and last we saw Rawson was when she and Walker went to the Lake District in episode 2.
Walker is kind of crazed after her nightmares and she’s been hearing voices. She acts desperate to see Lister, more scared than anything.
At Shibden Hall, Aunt and Dad receive a note saying Anne won’t be home for the night. In the kitchen, now Eugénie is flirting with Walker’s servant, right in front of the guy who would have married her to cover for her pregnancy. HOW RUDE.
That night in Walker’s bedroom, she’s hearing things and thinks the voices or spirits or whatever are threatening Lister. Catherine wakes up as well, and the two women comfort Walker in the middle of the night.
At breakfast, Lister suggests taking Walker to Dr. Belcombe in York again. But she asks Miss Rawson not to tell the extended family out of fear that they’ll try to have Walker put away. Rawson is impressed by Lister’s show of genuine care and friendship for Walker and admits she’d heard nasty rumors (in ep 2, she’d told Ann she heard Lister ‘couldn’t be trusted around women’), and now she apologizes.
Walker’s sister, Elizabeth, and brother-in-law receive a letter about Ann’s condition. The husband suggests bringing Ann to Scotland, and DUDE, it’s so obvious that Elizabeth is overwhelmed with a newborn and two little kids, that she can’t take care of her presumed-crazy sister too. Then this fucking brother-in-law says, hey, I could get your sister, plus bring my mom to visit. OMG, nobody needs that right now. Fucking men.
Mr. John Abbott is back at Shibden Hall, boring the shit out of all and sundry. Bonus, his mom is there, looking dumpy and seeming dull. Anne is not going to want Marian married into that family!
Miss Suzannah Washington and the Young Pig Farmer Dad-Killer are making cute in the forest. Whatevs.
Marian informs Anne about something with the access road, filling in the pit, what’s on Shibden land vs. Rawson land.
Lister’s coal biz is getting kinda fucked.
It’s another bad night for Miss Walker.
Fucking Walker’s brother-in-law writes that he’s coming down to ‘collect’ her. Catherine Rawson talks up the good side of the Scotland trip, Lister seems resigned to this course of action, Walker is not thrilled by the idea. She wants to travel with Lister in spring. Lister says she’ll go alone. Catherine asks “do ladies do that?” — OK, there’s the proper episode title!
Lister offers Walker the ring. Her third proposal. Walker finally says, ‘I can’t’. ARE Y’ALL SOBBING WITH ME?!?!?
She writes to Marianna to say that she’ll be traveling abroad alone, but hey, if you wanna meet up with me somewhere, that’s cool. STILL SOBBING.
Breakfast at Shibden. Marian hasn’t heard from Mr. Abbott in nearly three weeks, and she blames Anne’s absence at his visits as the reason for his dropping her.
Walker sends a note full of regret as she’s about to be taken away to Scotland. JFC, way to toy with Lister’s affections! But, of course, Lister heads over. At Walker’s home, her brother-in-law, Capt. Sutherland is in charge, there with his mother (wtf?) and Miss Rawson.
Walker insists that Lister stay for the night, because y’know, she needs some lovin’ before leavin’.
But Lister kind of breaks down in bed, about how she tries to rise above the everyday hurts of being so different and so out in a world that does not want her to be. CRYING AGAIN. Then, before she leaves, Walker gives Lister a gift — an inscribed Bible. Because that’s how they rolled back in the day.
Mumsy Sutherland asks Lister if she knew of any love affairs that Walker had going on. Because two years ago, her nephew Sir Alexander McKinsey had proposed, but oh he’s inept with money and has family to support, so y’know, even though Walker said no, it’d be useful for him to make this kind of match. Lister tells off the old biddy because fuck that fortune-hunting noise.
When she leaves, Walker wears the little gondola pin that Lister gave her before Walker went to the Lake District. It’s a symbol that they’ll be thinking of each other while they’re apart and that they hope to be soon reunited.
Well where is this going?!? We’ll see when episode 7 airs next Monday!