'Gentleman Jack' Season 2, Episode 6 Recap: “I Can Be as a Meteor in Your Life”

Anne Lister (Suranne Jones). Photo: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO

Episode 6 of Gentleman Jack opens with Anne Lister striding through the streets of Halifax, on her way to visit her lawyer, Mr. Parker (Bruce Alexander). He has been instructed to demand a letter of apology from the editor of the second (and local to Halifax) newspaper who picked up the fake wedding announcement and ran it twice. Lister approves; this will put Ann’s mind at rest. Mr. Parker is becoming nervous about Anne’s ambitious plan to convert Northcote into a hotel and would be far happier if she sold the property to keep her debt manageable. It’s important, Lister says, because her plans will ensure the right sort of people—Tory voters—will move to the town. When he mildly points out that she’s getting into dangerous territory, trying to influence voters, she says without a hint of irony, “How dare anyone speak to me about intimidation.”

Parker also shares the news that the Lister family doctor, Mr. Sunderland, has died. According to Anne, it was gout of the stomach (whatever that is), but his sudden death was caused by being injured and trampled in the recent riots.

Anne returns home where almost everyone has taken to their bed for one reason or another. Aunt Lister is querulous and upset when she meets the new doctor, Dr. Jubb (Tony Turner). Anne’s father demands her presence, and she shuts a door in Marian’s face to deal with him. He has received a letter of congratulation in response to the wedding announcement, and he’s embarrassed and grumpy. It’s Lister’s fault, he says, for being so blatantly eccentric. In response, she gives her usual bracing advice to him to get out into the fresh air.

Lister has also received a letter from Lady Harriet in Copenhagen and decides to cheer Ann up by reading the reply she’s written. Ann responds that Lister needs to clean her teeth, and Lister pulls a shock-horror face at the camera. “It’s been a long day,” Lister says. “I’ve been dealing with men all day.” She reads:

You used to wonder who would be my companion. I think I’ve provided one you would like. She’s little and amiable with a great deal of common sense and good feeling. She’s now with me at Shibden and I’ve never before been so comfortable.

Ann complains she’s in brackets (parentheses); she’s a clause, an aside. No, Lister says, it’s an elegant introduction. Ann is not convinced. She tells Lister to delete the passage, and with great patience, Lister leaves to rewrite the page.

We see Lister the next morning, glum and out of sorts. “My bowels are all wrong again.” Ann, too, is out of sorts and weepy, still upset about the newspaper announcement, and feels she can’t match her partner's bravery. But Anne reminds her of when they were caught in mid-snog by her relative Mrs. Priestley, and Ann laughed. That’s being brave, Lister reminds her.

Anne meets with her architect who is very excited by the potential of Northcote and its surrounding property. He’s thinking big—he shows Lister sketches for 28 houses, a bank, and a newspaper office in addition to the conversion of the house to an inn and casino. Potentially, there may be a problem, however. Christopher Rawson is the local magistrate to whom she’ll have to apply for a license, and then, of course, there’s the money. Parker is shocked when she tells him she needs to borrow an additional £4,000. She asks him if he’d question a man about his debts, and he backs off.

Dr. Jubb visits the Listers and they discuss the recent news that Parliament has been dissolved and another election may be held. Christopher Rawson has plans to stand for election as the Tory candidate, but Lister expresses her doubts and suggests Henry Edwards as a more suitable choice since Rawson has offended the old families in the area. She asks the doctor to spread the word about Edwards.

And now onto the Lister coalmines, a very complicated subject full of unusual terminology, and strong Yorkshire accents. Simply put, Anne has two mine shafts, one of which, the Walker shaft, is being plundered by Christopher Rawson. Her plan is to flood the other shaft and block off access. But she isn’t sure whether it’s feasible. Would Walker also flood? Her Coal Manager is not very reliable and he assures her it’s fine. But she needs a second opinion and goes to the slimmest and most unprincipled coal expert around, Mr. Hinscliffe (Daniel Betts).

It’s only when she talks to a couple of experienced miners that she’s able to feel confident in going ahead. The pair come to Shibden Hall and explain it to Lister and Marian in all its technical glory. Yes, she should sink a third shaft, to be run by water, which will be used to block Walker and produce more coal. It’s a bit complicated. Marian turns to the camera and mouths, for all of us, “What?” ( If you're confused too, you can read this article on the Lister family mines). Lister and Samuel Washington visit the site where a stream nearby will power the mining machinery. They can be up and running within a year.

Anne Lister (Suranne Jones). Photo: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO
Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) visits her coal mine. Photo: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO

Ann also discovers some distressing new information about her estate. In 1831 her sister Katherine conveyed her share of the property to her husband, specifically breaking the terms of their father’s will. Several properties have gone and the Priestleys are also involved. Ann visits Aunt Walker and finds that everyone in the family knew about it except her because she was sick at the time. Aunt Walker also knows that Ann appointed Lister as executor to her will, and has assumed that Lister now stands to inherit (at the moment she doesn’t). So in retaliation, Aunt Walker has removed Ann from her will and left everything to her sister Katherine.

Katherine and her husband Captain George Sutherland discuss a letter from Washington about the evictions and the land division. Elizabeth is the only person so far to be shocked that evictions are taking place in the dead of winter. Why the Captain asks plaintively, is Ann, formerly so compliant, now litigious, well-informed, and confident? They decided to visit Ann before any decisions are made. Curious woman, Miss Lister, the Captain comments.

Elizabeth Sutherland (Katherine Kelly). Photo: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO
Elizabeth Sutherland (Katherine Kelly). Photo: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO

Lister visits Mrs. Rawson, with whom she gets on rather well, even though she’s Christopher’s mother (but Mrs. Rawson doesn’t seem to like her son much either). Christopher shows up and says, yes, he is planning to run for Parliament. It’s a pity Miss Lister can’t run, Mrs. Rawson comments. She should be leading the country!

And just when everything is going well—mostly—Mariana pops up via letter. She’s feeling better, and she’s ripe for mischief. In a letter full of vague hints, significant French phrases, and mysterious allusions, she says:

I once wronged my own heart to please my family but this was not doing right and dearly I have paid for it. But the scale is now turned. My thoughts are now set upon deserving your good opinion to the last and I will not put it in your power to find fault with me again. ... When you speak of your little friend, write her name in in full. I dislike the initial. Indulge my fancy and let the name to write be the one you call her by, and tell me, Freddy, do you see the York papers? Do you know anything of a paragraph that appeared in one respecting yourself and Miss Walker? I long to know what it was. Tell me if ...

As Lister silently reads the letter at the breakfast table, Marian is dying to find out what’s going on. To Marian's disappointment, her sister abruptly leaves to visit Ann, who is not at breakfast. She is in bed and upset following her visit to Aunt Walker.

Mariana Lawton (Lydia Leonard). Photo: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO
Mariana Lawton (Lydia Leonard) decides it's time to stir up trouble again. Photo: BBC/Lookout Point/HBO

Ann has a letter from Katherine announcing that they intend to visit, but there’s another letter, and this one is anonymous and nasty. The sender advises her not to show it to Lister and tells Ann she is in the gravest danger of losing her reputation, wealth, and peace of mind. Also, the writer says, she should ask Lister about Eliza Raines.

Lister becomes upset and defensive, and once again gives a diluted version of a relationship from her past. Eliza Raines was a school friend who ended up in an asylum. (Although this sounds terrible, it actually didn't take much—just the recommendation of a concerned male relative—to lock away a troublesome woman. It's something that Ann fears might happen to her.) Lister claims she saw Eliza's suffering and tried to help her, and still visits her from time to time. Ann asks her to burn the letter but Lister stores it in her desk.

Later, Lister meets Mr. Priestley who looks guilty and evasive, and who has just visited Shibden. He hasn’t seen Ann because she’s out visiting friends, and he claims he’s taking up subscriptions to a clergymen’s widows fund. Sure. Is he a suspect in the newspaper announcement? Is Mariana? And is it the same person who wrote the anonymous letter, and knew so much about Lister’s past?

Lister and Ann prepare to visit York to change the will; the gloves are off now. Ann is thoughtful and finally admits that she dreamed of having children once.  Lister, disturbed by her confession, agrees that children, or a legally recognized union, are sadly something they can never have. She is now the one who is unsure, who seeks reassurance that their relationship matters. What if Ann, even now, was given the chance to have children?

I can be as a meteor in your life if that’s what you’d like. A meteor that burns more brightly than anything you can ever imagine and then is gone. For ever.

Lister burns the anonymous letter and weeps, shaken and vulnerable. With only two episodes to go in the season, we have to wonder how everything will resolve.

Janet Mullany

Writer Janet Mullany is from England, drinks a lot of tea, and likes Jane Austen, reading, and gasping in shock at costumes in historical TV dramas. Her household near Washington DC includes two badly-behaved cats about whom she frequently boasts on Facebook.

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