Mariana and Lister have not yet decided on pistols at dawn when this week's Gentleman Jack begins. However, the argument about their former relationship goes on and on with little resolution. Mariana, emotional, manipulative, and trapped in an unhappy marriage, makes the mistake several times of describing Ann Walker as unstable, “not all there,” and unladylike, passing on malicious comments from mutual friends. She accuses Lister of being interested in Ann only for her money. Lister keeps her cool, and defends Ann as being sweet, normal, and very kind.
Mariana pulls out all the stops. She digs up past history, claiming that in addition to parental pressure, Lister’s behavior and appearance years ago drove her to marry Charles Lawton (Rupert Vansittart) — “rich, available, hideous and willing.” Lister doesn’t believe this and comments that Ann has never criticized her for her physical appearance or manners. If Mariana had wanted position and money, it was only a matter of time until Lister inherited Shibden Hall. The marriage was always Mariana’s choice.
Mariana tries to seduce Lister, who is adamant that she made an oath and braved the world’s opinion to be with Ann. It goes on, through dinner, into the following day. Lister tells Mariana that fresh air and exercise are the best cure for sleeplessness and the other mysterious maladies from which she suffers. The visit drags on, and when Lister receives a letter from Ann, Mariana asks if she can see it but then complains that she can’t read it. Lister reads aloud a rather mundane account (with several grammatical errors) of everyone’s health, card games, and the weather. Mariana is outraged: “She writes to you like a dutiful schoolgirl, with your towering intellect!” Lister insists there’s more to Ann than meets the eye.
There is also a servant problem Lister must address. Young Martha Booth (Matilda Holt) came to the Lawton household as a maidservant from Shibden Hall. However, the housekeeper reports she is a slacker who has been reading novels, probably borrowed from her employers’ library. It’s tempting to think that Lister would find this admirable or encourage her. But no. Martha is a servant, and in Lister’s worldview servants should know their place. She tells her to do her duty and work diligently, the only way for her to return to Shibden Hall or progress to any other position.
Ann’s time at Shibden Hall without Lister has been mainly uneventful, except for a proposal of marriage. The legendary James Ingham (Tom Morley), a primarily inoffensive young man, comes to call and listens to her talk about her travels and the clever and interesting Miss Lister. As usual, when talking about Lister and her time abroad, Ann is incandescent. Ingham gets to the point fairly quickly. It’s time he married, and Ann’s cousin Mr. Priestley suggested her as a suitable match. Without a moment’s doubt, Ann turns him down. She’s happy as she is, and Mr. Priestley should understand that. They part amicably.
That night, the Lawtons have company for dinner, the local vicar and a radical. Lister has the time of her life arguing with the reverend and wipes the theological floor with him; Mariana is entranced, and accompanies Lister to her room. She confesses Lister’s influence always enriched her life, and then unburdens herself with a real problem, Lawton’s sexual interest in his young niece. The niece has no male protector, and Lawton is considering inviting her to live with them. If the scandal breaks, Lister says, Mariana must come to Shibden Hall. Lister’s been in her element that evening, displaying her intellectual prowess and taking charge, and when Mariana begs for “one last kiss before we turn to dust,” they make love.
Lister is to return home the next day, and there’s an interesting change of roles. Mariana is relaxed and smiling, and Lister is grim-faced. They attend church together and Mariana accompanies her for the first leg of the journey. Lister reminds Mariana that she shares her correspondence with Ann and hopes she will be discreet. Mariana has bought a gift for Ann, a pocketbook, which Lister coolly rejects as “not quite the thing.” When Lister arrives home late at night, Ann is waiting up for her, and for the first time, Lister tells Ann she loves her and won’t leave her again. But she doesn’t tell her about her infidelity.
Lister has also returned home to attend the meeting of the Navigation Subcommittee, which is presenting its expansion plans to the shareholders, of whom Lister is one. She is possibly, as she demonstrates, one of the better-informed. Halifax’s future is at stake. The canal system must hold its own against the railway. The vote passes twice, once by show of hand, and the number of shares, to install double and parallel locks to increase traffic. It’s a moment of triumph for her, and her former business rival Jeremiah Rawson congratulates her. But not everyone agrees. As Lister leaves, another shareholder, Rawdon Briggs (Richard Hope), sends a warning.
“You with your unusual arrangement at Shibden Hall with Miss Walker ... You should be more careful, Gentleman Jack.”
We're now at the halfway point in the eight-episode series, and I feel we're still catching up from Season 1. While I'm still thrilled to see Suranne Jones strut around as Gentleman Jack, there is no clear storyline. Will we see more of Mariana? I hope not. This episode proved how tedious the conflict between the two is, and Lister, being an eminently sensible woman, should put an end to it. She's shown more than enough compassion and damaged her marriage in the process. I wonder if Lister's decision to support canals — not yet a dying industry, but certainly, a threatened one — rather than investing in the railway will backfire on her. And I'm hoping that she and Ann will travel abroad some more. Let's see what next week brings!