Anne – I Am No Bird, and No Net Ensnares Me
By: Miranda Sajdak
As those of us following the show knew a while back, “Anne” (adapted from the L.M. Montgomery Anne of Green Gables novels) hasn’t been intended as a direct adaptation. This 2nd full-length episode is where we see the show start to change in a totally new direction.
This is to its benefit, as the actors, writers and directors turn the story we all know into a different story about familiar characters and this helps avoid some of the inevitable comparisons to prior adaptations, as well as the books themselves. In fact, it’s fascinating to watch certain elements of the show proceed and wonder if these elements are based on historical research or dramatic license of the writers.
The second episode of the show begins with Anne (Amybeth McNulty) being returned to the orphan asylum after the brooch disaster goes down with Marilla (Geraldine James) at the end of the pilot. This is definitely a shock for the Anne-devout, as we all know Anne isn’t returned to the asylum at any time in the original books. It’s a bigger shock, perhaps, to Anne Shirley in this show as she (as we know from the pilot) is coping with PTSD brought on partly by abuse she suffered at the hands of the other asylum children.
As will be familiar to those watching, Anne is nothing if not stubborn and imaginative; however, she manages to put both these skills to good use. It’s clear the writers spent some time thinking “What would this character do upon being given this new tense situation?” They put that question and its answer to good use here.
Instead of returning to the asylum, Anne flees the orphanage managing to befriend the local milk delivery man in order to convince him to take her to the nearby station where she hopes to get a ticket somewhere else. This is definitely a shock to the viewer as we basically anticipate that, even with some license, Anne will still be “of Green Gables” not “of some other random place.”
Nonetheless, the writers do a good job of keeping tension high without losing sight of their goal – to get Anne back home. Never is that more clear than in the actions of Matthew (R.H. Thomson) and Marilla in this episode, both of whom are well-developed and acted by the wonderful cast. Matthew we’ll get to in a moment, but first let’s look at Marilla.
The beginning of the episode shows Marilla finding the “stolen” brooch – instead, not stolen, but stuck in the cushion of her chair. This was actually one area this viewer questioned as to whether chairs were cushioned enough to lose a brooch in during that time period. But it was a minor issue (and may be accurate, historically – feel free to comment if you know!). Nonetheless, this discovery leads Marilla instantly to regret her choice to send Anne away and she knows she must do something to make things right.
Instantly, Matthew is up on his horse and out the door to the train station to try to stop Anne from leaving. But he’s too late and, as mentioned earlier, Anne makes it to the asylum before her escapade into the world. When Matthew arrives at the train station, it’s a great moment of choice for his character – let Anne go or continue all the way on to the asylum. His journey does continue and, in fact, lasts so long that Marilla worries she needs to follow him and gets her horse ready to go only to be stopped at the last minute. Mrs. Rachel Lynde (Corrine Koslo) returns to Green Gables to inform Marilla that her husband, Thomas, is already on the road after Matthew and there’s no use in Marilla leaving, too. Here we understand more fully how Marilla and Rachel are friends, even after all of Rachel’s gossiping behavior. This is a great relationship the show is sure to expand upon and we look forward to seeing more of it in future episodes.
As Anne glibly talks her way around town with the milk delivery driver, Matthew tries to get to her – and has an accident mostly due to his exhaustion and stress, in which a horse-drawn carriage hits him while he’s crossing the road. He wakes in some kind of an infirmary, but refuses treatment knowing he’s losing time and must find Anne.
In a great parallel moment, Matthew heads to the asylum and spends the night sleeping outside, as Anne did the night before, prior to meeting with the milkman. Matthew gets up at the crack of dawn to make his way into the asylum, only to learn – alas – Anne hasn’t returned and his journey may have been in vain. This is a solid episode for this character and it’s great to see him on his own in the world as his awkwardness is sometimes subtle at Green Gables, but more clear in the city and the walls of the asylum.
Outside, Matthew learns from the milkman that he had dropped off Anne somewhere earlier and he realizes he finally has the clue he needs to find the young girl. Following the instructions, Matthew makes his way to a station where he finds Anne literally reciting poems for the money she hopes to make to purchase a ticket.
True to form, Anne’s stubborn streak is on fire here and it’s a credit to actress Amybeth McNulty that she makes this scene feel so real. She refuses Matthew’s entreaties to come back, sure that they’ll just send her away again. When another passenger intercedes to ask if Matthew’s bothering her and Anne replies that he is, we’re sure as viewers that the show has taken its dark turn seriously, and there’s a definite moment of fear that she won’t return to Green Gables. But then Matthew interjects, stating that Anne is “my daughter” and everything changes for Anne and for the viewer. It’s a touching moment we didn’t see coming and one that cements the early journey of the troubled youth, as we follow her along her arc towards greater maturity. It’s not just that Anne has wanted a home – she’s had plenty of houses to live in and lived with plenty of people over her life. She’s wanted a family and, with just a few words, Matthew has finally given her one.
The show goes even further. Anne and Matthew return home where she is to go to the town picnic. Here we see the insularity of small-town gossip as nearly everyone ogles Anne, unsure if the orphan girl is of good enough breeding for them to talk to (as girls) or let their daughter’s talk to (as adults). The show emphasizes heavily the scorn with which they see Anne and again brings up class distinctions between those with families and those, like Anne, who are seen as “other.”
Anne flees the picnic, her panic triggered by the cruel taunting and Marilla gives chase this time, tracking Anne through the woods to apologize for her behavior over the brooch and try to entreat Anne to come to some kind of peace with the Cuthbert family and her home at Green Gables. It’s not an easy conversation and it provides some more good moments for Marilla’s journey, as she starts to learn how to parent, something she never thought she’d have to do.
The episode ends with one false note for this viewer and it’s unfortunate as so much else has succeeded with this show to date. At home at Green Gables, Matthew and Marilla ask Anne to sign their family Bible and become a part of the family. This part doesn’t feel off at all – it’s actually a nice gesture and feels historically accurate. What’s strange is that they then ask her to take their last name, becoming Anne Shirley Cuthbert, an odd choice given that the original books never made that distinction and strange in that it’s clear Marilla in particular still has some growing to do in coming to terms with Anne as a family member. The moment is a good one, but the last name feels strange and (as we’ll see in episode three) doesn’t quite carry over convincingly. Nevertheless, it’s a sweet moment to end an episode fraught with tension on and The Bible signing itself has some great “typical Anne” behavior along with it. In all, a solid second episode in what’s turning out to be a fresh take on a familiar character.