Anne – But What Is So Headstrong as Youth?
By: Miranda Sajdak
In the last episode of “Anne” we learned that Matthew (R.H. Thomson) felt Anne (Amybeth McNulty) was his daughter and it’s now come time for Marilla (Geraldine James) to evolve more in that direction. The third episode of the series attacks two very different but unified stories: Anne going to school for the first time and Marilla joining a progressive women’s club in town. The two stories explore social graces – and lack thereof – of the (likely) late 1800s time period while they also challenge the two women in ways neither entirely expects.
In the last episode, Anne became Anne Shirley Cuthbert and was officially “adopted” by the Cuthberts into their family. Now, they’ve decided to put her in school so the episode opens with her nervously preparing for her first day. Anne is trying to convince herself everything will be fine, but she worries about befriending others and particularly fears what might happen when they see her red hair. She knows it’s not as pretty as other girls and Marilla scolds her for her vanity, but Anne wonders if you can be vain if you’re sure you’re ugly. This kind of depth is to be expected from the character, but it’s still always biting.
Anne heads off to school, stopping to pick flowers to weave through her hat along the way. She arrives and it’s instantly clear this is going to involve new social norms for Anne to get used to. Fortunately, her friend Diana Barry (Dalila Bela) is there to greet her and introduce her to some of the other schoolmates. She meets Ruby Gillis (Kyla Matthews) who is a timid but easily influenced young girl, Tillie Bolter (Glenna Walters) who is an incorrigible but friendly-seeming, Jane Andrews (Lia Pappas-Kemps) who we don’t get much of here and Josie Pye, who’s forever cemented as cruel. She is easy to dislike and the actress playing her, Miranda McKeon, does a fantastic job of bitingly delivering Josie’s harsh lines. Anne also meets Moody Spurgeon (Jacob Ursomarzo) and Charlie Sloane (Jacob Horsley) and we get a clear sense of the separation between boys and girls in this school.
Diana shows Anne around the school, instructing her where to put her milk – in the stream so it stays cold – and showing her the younger classes who have their own room in back. On their tour, Diana and Anne see schoolteacher Mr. Phillips (Stephen Tracey) entangled with Prissy Andrews (Ella Jonas Farlinger), Jane’s older sister and realize the two are having an affair. In typical youth fashion, Anne is sure she knows all about sexual relationships and tells Diana all about Prissy touching Mr. Phillips “pet mouse.” It’s quaint and apt for the time and instigates a story that carries over to Marilla’s journey, as well.
For Anne’s tale of the pet mouse doesn’t stop in the tour. Over lunch with the other girls in class, Anne manages to embellish on her story, explaining how she learned a little too much a little too soon about sex, having lived with Mrs. Hammond and her drunk husband and listening to them while he was drunk. Her stories make the other girls upset to the extent that Josie Pye causes them to abandon Anne at lunch. For anyone who’s ever sat alone at the lunch table, this moment hits hard and will surely transcend the limitations of the time period.
Meanwhile, as Anne struggles to find a way to fit in at school, Marilla has her own problems. She’s joined a progressive women’s knitting club and is meeting with them now that she’s Anne’s adopted mother. They like to talk about feminism and education for women and present themselves as a modern, forward-thinking society. Marilla is at first surprised to be asked to join, but soon seems to enjoy the group and its many members.
Nonetheless, she is soon to learn she’s unwelcome there as Anne’s story gets around and Prissy Andrews (the girl who was canoodling with Mr. Phillips and daughter of Mrs. Andrews one of the lead members of the knitting society) is devastated by the rumors Anne has begun. No matter what truth they hold, the mothers of Avonlea are having none of it and tell Marilla she is no longer welcome to join them.
Marilla is astonished, as she has no idea what Anne’s been saying. Back home, Matthew learns of the slight and goes to visit Rachel Lynde (Corrine Koslo), determined to find out what scrape Anne has gotten herself into this time. He learns about the rumors and brings the news back to Marilla who is mortified. Matthew, as always, is the more empathetic and reminds Marilla how sad it is that Anne had to learn anything about sex at such a young age – and from her drunken employer to boot. Marilla takes this lesson to heart and goes to see Mrs. Andrews, reminding her that compassion is an important part of progress and that she ought to spare some for Anne if she’s going to pretend to be otherwise forward-thinking. It’s a great moment for Marilla and one in which we truly see her take on the mantle of mother for the first time, defending her daughter in the face of social pressure. Just a few episodes ago Marilla would have been more likely to scold Anne and demand she apologize. Instead, here we have Marilla making the apology herself, but standing firm on Anne’s side when the girl needs someone to defend her. It’s a nice change in Marilla’s arc and doesn’t feel too soon in the story.
Back at school, Anne has other problems. The Andrews family is mad at her, but more importantly… Gilbert Blythe (Lucas Jade Zumann) has come to school and he’s interested in getting to know this pretty young redhead. Anne initially ignores him, but when she’s seen arriving at school with him holding the door for her, Ruby Gillis goes into hysterics. Josie accuses Anne of trying to steal Gilbert away from Ruby, who’s had a crush on him for simply ages. Anne tells Gilbert to leave her alone, but he hardly gets the message and has no reason to. He admires her from afar, attempting to gain favor by offering her friendship and a kind word when others won’t – but she resists at every turn. However, in class when she’s reciting poetry, he notes to the other boys that she’s doing a good job of it when the rest of the class seems to find her impassioned performance hilarious. Later, in what will be a familiar moment for Anne fans, Gilbert calls Anne “carrots,” attempting to get her attention. Anne does, in fact, whip her slate into his face, cracking it.
Here’s where the last episode comes into play in an unfortunate way. Mr. Phillips punishes Anne by having her stand at the blackboard and writing above her “Anne [sic] Shirley has a very bad temper.” This is meant to be humiliating and it surely is for Anne, but as a viewer I was left wondering why he didn’t write, “Anne Shirley Cuthbert has a very bad temper.” Wouldn’t she have enrolled in school as Anne Cuthbert or Anne Shirley Cuthbert after the prior episode when she was officially adopted by the Cuthberts? This left for a strange beat that would easily be avoided with writing consistency between the two episodes, but nothing too problematic here – just something that stuck out as it had bumped noticeably in the prior episode as a strange writing decision that would have ramifications later.
Instead of sticking around to be ridiculed further at school, Anne flees, ignoring Mr. Phillips demands and the looks and laughter of everyone else around her. Her stubborn streak is in full effect in this episode and it’s worth noting that she hasn’t had much reason not to feel this way. Since her arrival at Green Gables, other than Diana, Marilla and Matthew she’s had very little kindness or potential friendships. Most of the people she encounters are downright cruel to her. It’s hard to see how she manages to keep her strength and optimism alive in these situations, but it’s clear that some of it is based in the same denial that kept her optimistic through beatings at the Hammonds and psychological abuse at the asylum. It’s likely we’ll see more growth from her over the next few episodes, but this writer hopes we also get to see a little more potential for humor, as most of it thus far has come from Matthew and Marilla with very little in positive events in Anne’s world. It’s likely the coming episodes will provide opportunities for her to flourish; however, as we have yet to reach the series’ midpoint the character needs to begin to have some kind of an arc. Thus far, she has had little reason to grow. Seeing how the new episodes will progress should give us some of that reason. And, of course, there are other pinnacle moments and characters to look forward to so, hopefully, more of those will arise as the series goes on. In the meantime, this was another solid episode from a great production team and we look forward to tuning in again next week to see what happens with Anne, Green Gables and the well-cast (but underused in this episode) Gilbert Blythe.