This week’s harrowing instalment of Gentleman Jack saw Anne Lister and Ann Walker pushed to their limits by the hatred and homophobia of others, and it wasn’t an easy watch.
Sadly, after a heartbreaking bust-up in episode 5, things have only gotten worse for the couple. The love is clearly still there, but the crushing homophobia and misogyny Anne and Ann are facing within their separate spheres is taking a serious mental and physical toll. Here are five things we learned this week:
Ann has completely broken down
A bitter cocktail of fear and manipulation has pushed Ann Walker’s mental health over a precipice, and it’s hard to watch. After her relatives – particularly the dreaded Mrs Priestley – spread whispers of “unnatural acts” and men who have been hanged for sleeping together, Ann is terrified and feels completely alone having pushed Anne away.
She’s having night terrors and hearing voices, “spirits” talking about her relationship with Anne and telling her they will both “burn in hell”. She takes to reciting the Lord’s Prayer and clutching a bible throughout the night, but neither her cousin Catherine Rawson nor Anne’s return can soothe her.
Ann been traumatised by the hatred and homophobia that her relatives have thrown around so flippantly, and now Anne fears they will “put her away for good”.
Time apart is probably a bad idea
Although Ann took fright and broke up with Anne in episode 5, as soon as they’re reunited in episode 6 she tells her she loves her and wants to marry her. But when Anne presents her with an engagement ring, she bursts into tears and says she can’t.
She’s clearly too unwell and too shaken up to take on such a huge commitment, but at the same time she desperately needs Anne – she’s one of the few people who has her best interests at heart.
When Ann’s brother-in-law arrives to take her back to Scotland to stay with her sister, we worry about what this separation will do to the couple. They’re not in a great place, and we know that a money-hungry suitor in Scotland has been sniffing around Ann’s fortune into the bargain. Their happily ever after seems to be getting farther and farther away.
Coal is a nasty business
Anne’s mild-tempered father – who she inherited Shibden Hall instead of – is useless at a lot of things, but it turns out he was right about the dangers of getting involved in the coal business.
Anne is fairly sure that her rivals, the Rawson brothers, were behind the vicious attack she suffered in the last episode. The beating combined with the emotional turmoil of dealing with Ann have left her off her game, and the nasty Christopher Rawson is taking full advantage of that to try and cover up their theft of her coal.
Having been so in control in all aspects of her life at the beginning of the series, she is now seeing things spiral downward in every direction.
Anne is trying to distract herself
It’s very understandable that Anne is looking for an escape route. She’s still determined to travel around Europe, where she can meet interesting people and be more herself, even if that means going without Ann.
She also makes what can only be described as a 19th-century booty call, writing to old flame Mariana Lawton to arrange a meeting in York as a way to soothe the pain of losing Ann.
We have our doubts about whether a holiday and a rebound hook-up will mend Anne’s broken heart, but we’ve all been there.
Our heroine is only human
Anne can only maintain her composure for so long, and in this episode we see she is struggling just as much as Ann is. Towards the end we see the couple in bed together, and Anne finally shows her vulnerability.
“Everyday I rise above it, the things people say, the way people look at me, because I’ve trained myself to,” she says, reassuring Ann that she understands more than anyone how difficult it can be to accept your sexuality when everyone else is telling you it’s wrong. “But you came so close,” she sobs, in a tone that almost feels like she’s given up.
It’s awful to see such a strong, self-assured woman look defeated, but how can we blame her? We can only hope there is some light at the end of this very dark tunnel…
Gentleman Jack continues next Sunday at 9pm on BBC One
Images: BBC One