All right, let’s get back on this vegan horse.
(I don’t know, OK, horses make me sad so whatever)
A Series of Unfortunate Events has been updated on Netflix with its so far amazing season 2, which I am halfway through, and I decided to prolong my enjoyment of that by finishing up Anne first so here goes, with the penultimate episode with a title that doesn’t make sense. “Regret” instead of “remorse” would work, but as it is it’s confusing. Only Diana’s mom is remorseful and it’s framed as a good thing so I’m a little lost.
Things that I remember about the series so far:
- Anne isn’t allowed to be Diana’s friend anymore because they got drunk on what they thought was raspberry cordial but was actually sherry or something
- Matthew has some sort of romantically tragic past, much to my annoyance
- Gilbert’s dad is dying
Things that I didn’t remember about this series and was confused about as I watched:
- The kids talk in a really difficult-to-ignore modern-type jargon – except Anne who is over-the-top, and Diana, who talks pretty much like she does in every other version (albeit she’s a little more savvy than normal)
- Maybe it’s just the boys who talk like it’s the 21st century and not 190whatever, saying things like “I don’t get you” and such
- None of Anne’s interactions with Gilbert make sense, except for the part when she cracked a slate over his head
Regarding that last one then: it’s kind of a shame. My theory, based on the fact that the running theme of ROMANCE = GOOD, LACK OF ROMANCE = HORRIBLE TRAGIC REGRET permeates this episode in particular, is that the writers/directors/creators were, strangely, feeling a little pressured to apologize for including the Anne/Gilbert romance at all.
And I have some evidence to that effect.
Exhibit A: Lesbians and Kindred Spirits
In this episode, Diana’s great aunt comes to stay because her “companion” has recently died. Anne misunderstands and thinks that means her companion was her BFFL but Great Aunt Josephine comes right out and says that she was basically married to the woman, so there’s that. Which is great!
It’s not so great that this reveal is done in a super allonormative (centering sexual/romantic relationships as the most important type of relationship at the expense of every other type of relationship) way but whatever. 190something lesbians are really, really important, and I’m much more annoyed with the handling of Marilla’s tragical romantical past than the “Aunt Josephine is a lesbian and therefore Anne should begin preparations to marry Gilbert at the age of 14” subplot.
But anyway, in setting us up for the very unshocking lesbian reveal that we were all supposed to understand long before Anne does, the older lesbian couple gets connected, multiple times, to the Anne/Diana friendship. When I studied Anne of Green Gables in university, my prof made a brief note that queer readings of Anne abound because of how intense their friendship is.
There are a lot of… declarations of love. Vows. Over dramatic promises and bonds. It’s good stuff.
I’m more than OK with reading Anne and Diana as being
maybe sort of a lot romantic and/or sexual, and I’m also more than OK reading it as a very important platonic friendship. But in this episode, they seem to nod to the same-sex attraction interpretation of the relationship and then dive right into highlighting Anne/Gilbert.
This is especially bizarre because so far it has been extremely one-sided, with Anne feeling angry, ashamed, and frustrated in most of her interactions with Gilbert and only feeling a little bit of sympathy for him when she learns that his father is dying. We’re not really ready for the cutesy stuff to happen. She’s barely acknowledged that she doesn’t hate him.
I’d say they’re going, “See, Anne/Diana, we know, that would have been great, here’s an old lady lesbian grieving over her dead lover as compensation while we pursue Anne/Gilbert instead” if I were cynical, which I both am and am not. I want Anne to have her Gilbert romance. I don’t see why she couldn’t have more than one romance, frankly. I also don’t know why she has to have any romance at all. The book ends with an itty bitty nod in that direction, which we all knew was coming the whole time but which is still, compared to the show’s version, pretty muted. In my opinion, the more muted version makes a lot more sense considering the ages of these characters.
It’s also better done. The gradual shift from dislike to totally crushing on each other while competing in earnest the whole time is done very well, and it’s one of the bigger draws for a lot of the books’ fans over the years. I can’t help but feel that if the writers had been less concerned with trying to make Anne/Gilbert “progressive” by “justifying” its existence, which it does by showing that strong, confident, independent role-model Josephine was also into romance, the whole romance subplot would have been a lot better.
Exhibit B: Live your life with no regrets (and that means get married or do the 190whatever lesbian version of getting married)
Early in the episode Great Aunt Josephine tells Anne that she can get married at whatever age she wants, if she wants. And if she chooses a career she can order her own white dress and wear it whenever she wants. Anne declares she’s going to be her “own woman” and she’ll be the heroine of her own story.
K, good, great, I like it so far.
Then Anne tells her, “I’m just like you, no romance ever.”
And Aunt Josephine says, “That’s not like me at all, I lived a full life, was basically married to my woman, etc. Basically, just make sure you live without regrets.”
While Aunt Josephine cries about what she’s lost due simply to old age but doesn’t regret having because “grief is the price we pay for love,” Marilla is there for the contrast, showing us that the actual tragedy is to turn down romance and then get old and wish you hadn’t turned down romance.
Now if only Anne was aware that living without regrets can sometimes mean choosing to not have romance.
I’m honestly trying not to go on and on about this stuff, partly because I’m not aromantic and so this isn’t entirely my lane. But also because I like to try to balance my legitimate enjoyment of a thing while acknowledging how it might be flawed in ways that might exclude or erase certain types of people. I’d like to just say “Hey, decent but sort of confusing episode; I didn’t like how the Marilla ‘tragic romance’ thing was handled though, kinda allonormative/amatonormative, guys.” I don’t really trust that my urge to dissect it and explain exactly why it bothers me is a good urge and not an obsessive, slightly self-destructive, time-wasting, re-centering urge.
While I was reading The Night Circus I was actively fighting the urge to get annoyed about how important the romance was at the expense of every other type of relationship the characters could have gotten happiness, support, and meaning out of, but I ended up writing forever about it. I really would rather not have done that, but I can’t ignore it when I see it. Also although there is a lesbian romance mentioned in that book, just as there is one mentioned here, The Night Circus’s lesbian romance is super tragic, involving suicide, even, whereas here, it’s simply a portrayal of a woman who has grown old with her lover and is now alone because, well, death happens, which makes it slightly better.
It’s still weird that it’s the catalyst for Anne to learn that romance isn’t the devil, but, this portrayal still a little better, and I don’t know that complaining about the allonormativity is worthwhile when at least this show is just casually here on Netflix noting that queer people lived and loved even as far back as 190something. (I know queer people have existed forever, I just can’t convey sarcasm in this medium).
I’d love to instead gush about how (genuinely, honestly, giddily) happy I was to see references to ACTUAL GAY WOMEN on this show and just leave it at that, but Matthew and Marilla are sort of important icons of mine. There are a couple of unmarried older family members in Emily of New Moon as well, but I don’t remember their names. Anne of Green Gables is the bigger cultural product, and I’m very familiar with shy, terrified-of-women Matthew and severe, had-a-romance-with-Gilbert-Blythe’s-dad-but-decided-fuck-it Marilla.
Annnnnnnd instead of just calmly portraying Marilla’s slightly wistful, “Oh, yeah, he was my beau once, we were going to get married but things changed,” as, yes, slightly wistful, maybe even quite sad since he’s dead now but mostly OK with her life choices, they went full tragic.
So Matthew and Marilla’s mom was a mess because of their older brother’s tragic death, it’s implied they both turned down possibilities of romance because their mother was too much of a burden/tyrant/boring familial relation for them to do what they really wanted, which was romance obviously, yadda yadda.
I’m going to just go ahead and state for the record that portraying Marilla as this sad woman looking back on her unmarried, virginal life and going “AHHH WHY DIDN’T I JUST DO THE THING” is the wrong choice. Not because romance (… and sex) is bad, but because in the source material Marilla’s totally cool with her choices. Why change that?
Why change that indeed, when, if Marilla had been married with biological children, she’d probably never have adopted Anne and Anne would instead be living in horrible conditions, being abused and listening to husbands rape their wives every other night?
Like? Did they temporarily forget what story they’re telling?
Here’s the better version:
Marilla confides in Anne, who is currently worrying about how large (or small) a role romance should play in her life. “I had a romance once,” she says in her harsh but strangely vulnerable Marilla-esque way. “I liked him, he wore a stupid hat, he asked me to marry him, I had other things to do. Who knows what would have happened if I’d said yes. Maybe I’d have been happier. But having said no, I’ve been led to the point where I needed to adopt a precocious orphan and so far that’s turned out very well, so whatever, make the choices that are right for you.”
I say, if you must “justify” letting Anne have romance when she’s also very clearly a feminist in this version, do it without accidentally implying that romance is an essential part of womanhood, feminism, and life in general.
But also, you could just not bother trying to justify it. No one worth listening to thinks Anne liking a guy ruins her feminist cred, or, in fact, her queer cred. Come on.
Gilbert’s dad dies, which I sort of mentioned. Gilbert gets in a fist fight. Also maybe he moves to Alberta, or maybe we’re just supposed to think he moved to Alberta.
The girls make a shepherd’s pie for Gilbert, and as they’re explaining the pie to him Diana says that Anne is a good cook and then Anne screams, “BUT I’D MAKE A HORRIBLE WIFE!” And then she runs away and everyone looks around at each other uncomfortably and it is quality television.
Also Matthew’s favourite ship sinks? There’s this part where the grocer tells him it sank and there was no insurance and the name of the ship seems to mean a lot to Matthew. I’m confused. Maybe we’re not supposed to know until the next episode what that’s about or maybe it’s something I forgot from a previous one but I hope it’s just that he likes to look at that ship and now he’s sad because he only has second-rate ships to look at.
I’m sure that’s what it is.