Anne Lister Returns Full Speed In Gentleman Jack S2E1: “Faith Is All”

Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) and Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) about to kiss in Gentelman Jack S2E1
Photograph by Aimee Spinks/HBO

The following contains spoilers for HBO’s Gentleman Jack S2E1, “Faith Is All” (written by Sally Wainwright and directed by Edward Hall).

“Ah, there you are. Good.” are the first words we hear from Gentleman Jack’s Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) as we are brought back into her world with a brisk power walk up to Aunt Ann Walker’s home of Cliffe Hill. Every frame of this opening scene sends chills down my spine as it feels like I’m being greeted by a friend I haven’t quite seen in a while. Anne points out the vulgarity of a lid to a vase shortly after entering which also plays as a reminder of what we have missed.

For Anne Lister, it’s been four weeks since she and Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) took the sacrament, which constitutes a marriage, and then playfully bickered their way off into the sunset. To quote Rose from Titanic, “it’s been 84 years” for us, her loyal viewers. It’s actually been three but with everything that has happened between Gentleman Jack’s finale back in June of 2019 and its season two premiere, one can understand how it can feel more like 84.

The pace of this opening episode titled “Faith Is All” is quick to show us some major differences in what’s to come. Unlike last season where series creator Sally Wainwright wrote and directed every episode, this season sees her handing the driving reins of directing over to other parties. Edward Hall, whose works include episodes of Downton Abbey and the mini-series Restless (which also happens to be a favorite of mine) is given the job of starting us off.

Season 1 spanned from 1832 to 1834 and Sally Wainwright has mentioned how she wanted this season to end in 1836. I for one hope it doesn’t go that far since Anne Lister died in 1840. This would mean, at a rate of covering two years per season, the series could possibly only last for four seasons and I’m nowhere near wanting to let go of this world just yet. Two years per episode is a lot of ground to cover though. Gentleman Jack is based on Anne Lister’s actual diaries and Sally has said countless times that she doesn’t like deviating from the source material. One of the big changes to actual events last season was everything involving the Sowden family including the marriage of Suzannah Washington to Thomas Sowden. 

Each of the first season’s eight episodes blocked out a specific amount of time and told a coherent smaller story that led to the bigger picture of the romance shared between the Ann(e)s. However, this second season seems to want to cover the same amount of time but does so by trying to squeeze in as many events in that time frame as possible. They also make sure to add all the cuts of Anne walking from point A to point B and although we had those in Season 1, they served other purposes there. For example, there’s one occasion when Anne and one of her servants, John Booth (Thomas Howes) were walking back from Crow Nest after Anne had dinner with Ann Walker. This is a moment that could have been a reaction to Lister’s time with Walker being cut short, and it  becomes a touching moment between the two when John brings up wanting to marry her lady’s-maid, Eugenie (Albane Courtois). The time we’ve seen of her walking thus far has mostly been to show a passage of time. 

One also can’t help but notice John Booth missing from this first episode. When Walker and Lister arrive at Shibden Hall for the first time everyone is lined up outside, as is usual when the master of the house returns home—that is, everyone except Booth. He had become such an important and crowd-pleasing part of last season that not seeing him among the staff was visibly noticeable and feels like when you finish a puzzle only to notice a piece missing. He’s apparently still around since Lister makes the listen-carefully-or-you’ll-miss-it comment to his brother Joseph about helping him near the start of the episode, but we don’t physically get to catch up with him and his three daughters.

The staff actually takes a back seat in this episode where throughout the first season their stories were given as much attention as Lister’s. Sally has said that the focus would be more on Lister and Walker this season which I have no issue with but having the servants’ stories allowed us to feel that Shibden Hall itself had also become a character. Imagine how it would feel if the “downstairs” parts of Downton Abbey were made to disappear and we were left with just the happenings of the Crawley family. Having this other side of the estate being shown allows us to get a fuller picture of Anne Lister in her home environment since many of the stories cross with hers. 

Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) walks across a field.
Photograph by Aimee Spinks/HBO

With the many plot points happening in this opening episode, the real question comes down to what story is Sally Wainwright trying to tell this time around? Gentleman Jack’s first season had the overarching main plot of Anne Lister rediscovering love in the form of Ann Walker. We knew that from the end of the very first episode. By the end of this episode, there was so much to unpack that I couldn’t pinpoint an exact throughline.

Last season saw Anne getting what she’s always wanted, a marriage to a woman who loves her. The problem is the doubt that starts to arise after you get what you have wanted for so long. Did this really happen? Is it only a matter of time before she changes her mind? Am I actually happy? This already seems to be playing a big factor in what might transpire this season. When Lister is going to leave back to Shibden and is parting ways after spending a few days with Walker in York, Walker makes a comment about how she doesn’t feel it is the appropriate time to write to her sister. This becomes a catalyst of doubt for Anne. To her, hearing Walker talk about putting off a step they need in order to change their wills brings back everything that had happened leading up to their sacrament.

Then there’s the moment when the Ann(e)s are visiting Rievaulx Abbey and Anne is talking as if she is trying to convince herself of her emotions for Walker. “So very nice in particular. So much so that I am really satisfied with her and hope that we should get on well together.” 

There’s also the fact that we find out that it’s been four weeks since the sacrament and Anne Lister hasn’t told anyone, including her aunt who is extremely close. The only way Aunt Anne discovers their union is because she notices the ring on Anne’s finger. After dinner at the Norcliff’s and Lister finds herself alone with Charlotte (the sister to her friend Tib), she asks for her opinion on Ann Walker. Charlotte is quick to say that she is not Lister’s usual type and that she should allow it to “amalgamate”. That’s when Lister shares the news.

Going back to the Ann(e)s trip to Rievaulx Abbey, while Ann Walker is painting, Anne Lister is wandering the grounds making sense of her current feelings. Part of what she says comes from Lister’s diary entry from March 4, 1834, “Miss W [Walker] had begged me not to write anything particular—not to get ourselves laughed at. I believe she is fond of me and however unreserved and on the amoroso at night in bed, no allusion to these matters ever escapes her in the day.” This entry is speaking of Ann Walker still hesitating about announcing her move into Shibden Hall to her family, which we also end up seeing in a conversation later in the episode.

Between that entry being referenced and the first scene of this season being Aunt Ann Walker threatening the entire Walker tribe to rain down on her with great vengeance and furious anger—“You, Madam, may find that by crossing swords with this family…because it isn’t just me. It’s the Edwards, It’s the Presleys. It’s the Rawsons. You may yet find, Madam, that you have bitten off more than you can chew.”—it’s safe to assume that things will certainly be getting worse for the new couple before any joyful times can be had. 

Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) paints.
Photograph by Aimee Spinks/HBO

Speaking of the Walker tribe, it is very noticeable how much Ann Walker has grown since she was able to free herself from their grubby little fingers. When we first met Ann she was quiet and had low self-esteem to the point where Lister often had to remind her, “Stop having such a poor opinion of yourself.” It’s not surprising since her entire family, and other acquaintances constantly treated her like a delicate flower. This mistreatment led to a breakdown and attempted suicide in Season One. In the 1800s there wasn’t really such a thing as treating mental health or acknowledging it. Instead, families would send their loved ones off to asylums (a fate that would later be bestowed onto Walker after Lister’s death). The fact that Gentleman Jack is willing to explore mental health in this time period opens up the discussion that it shouldn’t be a taboo subject. Fans who find themselves grappling with these same thoughts also found themselves being able to connect to Walker.

As someone who also suffers from extreme anxiety, to see Walker hit her rock bottom and yet rebound in a way that she was able to gain some confidence was inspiring. By the end of the season, she was making decisions herself that only Lister’s support could have brought on. It’s this new period of her life that we pick up. Ann finds herself in a state of bliss for what appears to be the first time in her life. She’s able to express her own wants and make her own decisions. When Anne takes her to the Norcliffs for dinner she has no shame in admitting to the fact that she was found in the stairwell talking to their dogs, “I often find I get along better with people’s pets than I do with the people.” The Ann Walker we met at the beginning of the series would probably apologize profusely and beat herself up about it later.

Mental health doesn’t simply get better like a cold though and it’s been pleasing to see Sally Wainwright and Walker’s actress Sophie Rundle tackling this with Ann. She may have the confidence in her to tell Lister that she’s not fully ready to write to her sister but she still follows it with the need to apologize. While at home in Shibden, Lister receives a letter from Walker explaining why she wants to wait and also reassuring Anne that she will eventually write. She sets boundaries, but at the same time feels as though she needs to over-explain those boundaries. Walker tells her, “I want you in a thousand ways. Yours entirely, Ann.” She reassures Lister of her love for her while also sticking to what she wants.

We experience the real growth of Ann Walker this season when she visits her Aunt Ann after arriving back in Halifax for the first time in months. Up till now, it had been Anne Lister delivering messages to her family because Dr. Belcomb believed that it was in her best interest that Walker cut ties with her toxic family. Being someone who has a toxic family herself, I can concur this to be sound advice. The moment she is back in her Aunt’s house she is screamed at about being disrespectful and ungrateful for putting her own health before that of her family. She is made to feel guilty regarding everything she has done between leaving Scotland (in Season 1) and arriving back in Halifax at that moment. The old Ann Walker would completely buckle under this pressure but this new Ann Walker takes what is thrown at her.

It will take time for Ann to figure out a balance on where to place her anger when it comes to being verbally abused by her family. She arrives back at Shibden and releases her aggression onto Lister when she’s asked how the visit went. One doesn’t get better overnight, and Walker will continue to fight her own thoughts for the rest of her life, but this is a huge step in the right direction. She’s not going back on her word about living in Shibden and instead uses this incident as a form of motivation to write to her sister. It’s a big step in the characterization of Walker, and I can’t wait to see how this fares down the road.

Mariana (Lydia Leonard) crying at a window in Gentleman Jack S2E1
Photograph by Aimee Spinks/HBO

The other significant setup of this episode is the dark shadow thrown over the Ann(e)s by Mariana Lawton (Lydia Leonard). The best way to describe Mariana would be using an analogy that my roommate uses often. Mariana is the Rose Tyler of Gentleman Jack and really of Anne Lister’s life. Those who know Doctor Who will understand that Rose Tyler’s presence never fully leaves the series while David Tennant is the Doctor, and it’s in that sense that Mariana’s presence never leaves Lister. When Anne is talking with Charlotte Norcliff about Walker, Charlotte brings up a good point. Has Anne told Mariana yet? For those who studied the diaries, Lawton was really the big love in Anne’s life. Yes, we all have come to love Ann Walker but Mariana was the one who constantly held so much power over Lister. When she married Charles Lawton, because she had to for her family, Lister was sent into a state of grief causing her to wear her signature black outfits. For years Mariana led Anne to believe that they would eventually settle down together but that moment would never come.

For Anne to tell Mariana about her marriage to Walker by saying, “My days of solitude are drawing to a close. My Aunt, my father, and my sister are well satisfied by my choice. And all Shibden disagreeables are smoothed away. I doubt I will see you this summer. I’m taking my ‘Little Friend’ (Mariana’s name for Walker) to Paris.” feels like a punch one would give to a scorned lover. Given their history, “scorned lovers” is certainly a term to be used for the two who constantly shared heartbreak and heated passion. This letter sets a boundary for Lister regarding Lawton and yet her response of “I earnestly pray for your happiness and if I’ve in any way interfered with it I’ve in no less trampled on it my own, for I have not loved any but you…” once again puts Lister in a position where she is being led by Lawton. Even though she sends a letter scolding Mariana for picking an inappropriate time to express her feelings, the look Mariana gives us in the final moments of the episode, by breaking the fourth wall, tells us that we are in for a roller coaster where she is concerned this season.

Last season Gentleman Jack focused mainly on Anne Lister’s venture into coal showing us that there is more to her than her lesbian love story. The focus remains there with the construction of Walker Pit but we also get a glimpse of the other happenings in Halifax that will play an important role in the rest of the season. She’s also moved full-fledged into her renovations of Shibden Hall. While Northgate House, a property that has been part of her family, failed to sell at auction and she suggests plans to turn it into a hotel.

A sad little side note, I’ve been curious about a lot of the properties talked about in the series and have begun trying to locate them as they pop up. Northgate, unfortunately, was completely demolished in the 1960s in order to widen the road it stood near. It’s now the site of the Broad Street Plaza. It hurts my soul to even think about but seeing that Anne Lister was very much a business woman she probably would be very proud to see the businesses growing on her property.

I hate to say it, but the overall pace of this episode felt rushed where some scenes are concerned. For instance, I would have liked more time with the Norcliffs, especially since last season we only had mentioned them as being the family Anne was visiting when her original groom, George, was shot out of a tree and killed. I certainly would have loved more private moments between Ann and Anne reestablishing their relationship. Making their reunion happen a good quarter into the episode built up the excitement we were all anticipating, but everything after that felt so hurried. Their reunion kiss. Their dinner together. Even that first reunion night in bed felt as though it was put there to push along Lister’s wanting to rewrite their wills than to show how much she, and us, have longed to see these two together again.

Hopefully, as these episodes come to pass the balances Sally Wainwright formed in the first season between the pacing and actual content of the episodes can be better. As for right now though, it feels good to have Gentleman Jack return in all her lady-loving glory!

Written by Katie Bienvenue

Katie is a writer, cosplayer, craftswoman, and Barista. When she isn't talking about Chainmaille she is usually found discussing some television series, film, or how to properly make one's latte.

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