If you were to ask anyone who knows me what I love the most, I’m sure they’d say “his wife, his sister, his cats, women’s basketball and Mr Jack– and they would be right. Today is my 14th anniversary as a professional lesbian TV writer, and in all that time I’ve never watched a show that excites me like HBO’s biographical series about the real life of lesbians does. ‘Anne Lister. It’s the way she walks, the way she gestures, her close worship of women as a species, the top hat, the skill, the drive, the unceasing desire, the way she relates to every woman as tactic of seduction and each man as a threat is her intelligence, her compassion, her curiosity, her impatience and the way she always does what needs to be done because no one else can (or will ) do it. It’s Anne Lister the lesbian. Anne Lister the dyke. And the almost unbelievable way the show understands that butch-ness isn’t all about short hair, buttonholes, and ties — it’s a whole energy that makes women go weak in the knees and men cower or get angry. Mr Jackagainst all odds, gets it.
All that to say: I was terrified of the show’s second season, which landed on the BBC last week and premieres on HBO next Monday. Not because I don’t want Anne and Ann in my life anymore, but because the more I do this work, the more it becomes apparent to me that most creatives and producers have no idea what makes their queer characters work.
Well, I didn’t need to worry. Showrunner Sally Wainwright has delved back into the diaries of Anne Lister to extract and weave another season of TV that includes everything that made the premiere so great – with plenty of sweet thoughts on the first season’s smut stories. that everyone but me hated. (Because it gave us some of Anne’s best misandry.) And, surprisingly, there’s still plenty of growth for Anne Lister and Ann Walker as a couple. Their Austen-style happy ending was just the beginning, and they face many internal and external factors that threaten to tear them apart.
Opponents include Ann’s aunt, who adored Anne Lister until she made her niece gay; Anne’s former lover Mariana Lawton, who brings lesbian DRAMA to Shibden Hall; all the men of Halifax, all of whom are rightly terrified of what Anne Lister will accomplish with Ann Walker’s money at her disposal; and, at times, Anne’s own family, who are not so sure that Anne makes Mrs Walker the benefactress of the Lister estate. This last point is particularly contentious for Gemma Whelan’s Marian, whose suitors are constantly being hunted down by her older sister, which will leave her in real trouble if (when) Anne dies. Even Anne’s super supportive aunt has her doubts about Ann moving in and the two combining their fortunes. She likes Anne’s wedding ring.
Really, the only problem with the season two episodes I’ve seen so far is that the story of the murdering pig is still ongoing, and even I can’t get the excitement to care about it.
Like last season, Mr Jack doesn’t hold back her showcase of Anne Lister’s more troublesome personality traits, including, you know, being a coal miner and landlord and a Shane McCutcheon/Bette Porter hybrid who isn’t shy about expressing concern about the ” insipidity” of his own wife and coveting every passing petticoat. But that’s what makes the show great; it’s who Anne Lister was and her wealth is the only reason we have her diaries, that she was smart and educated enough to write code and hide in the walls of the house she owned.
There’s also plenty of lesbian sex and male bashing, which never fails to delight. When that upbeat theme song hit and Anne Lister’s boot fell, I screamed. I could just feel myself becoming more queer as I watched, every fiber of my body and mind becoming more dapper and luminous. Jack-the-lass remains the gayest thing I’ve ever seen on television.