After an eventful episode two that veered from the books in pretty much everything but, in the end, didn’t really affect the course of the story in any permanent way, just re-affirmed Matthew and Marilla’s commitment to Anne, allowing us to move from that plot point, we’re back at Green Gables, and if you, like me, read and re-read these books when you were little, you know what’s coming.
If, however, you haven’t read the books – let me just warn you, this is not the beginning of a beautiful friendship, no. This is not the boy you’ll fall in love with slowly, like your protagonist. This is love at first sight while the unsuspecting heroine refuses to see what’s in front of her. This is yelling at the TV and looking for fanfic and just wanting to shake Anne till she sees reason.
This is the first step towards an OTP that’ll consume your life in the way best OTPs are known to do. You have been warned. Enter/Watch at your own risk.
Back to school, and back to what really is the true focus of this book – family. Anne’s joy of learning was always one of those infectious things that, as a kid, was hard to understand, but as an adult and examining her situation, are way easier to relate to. There’s also the added benefit of this episode firmly pushing aside all the doubts from the first two and establishing Marilla and Matthew as two people who are not just taking on a kid to help out, but who’re accepting Anne as part of their family.
So, let’s delve into “But What Is So Headstrong As Youth?” and gush over the Cuthberts, Gilbert Blye, aka the boy we all wish was in love with us, and how truly awful kids can be.
The change from Matthew and Marilla from episode one and two to Matthew and Marilla in episode three is striking. They’re not resigned, no, they’re willing, one might even say happy, and that’s why the divergence from episode two doesn’t really bother this book purist. We don’t need the first season to be all about whether these two could ever really accept Anne, love Anne.
And now, it isn’t. It’s about how Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert can grow with Anne, how this redheaded girl (the bane of her existence indeed) can make them truly a family.
You can see the subtle differences in both from the beginning. Matthew smile more, has more opinions, because, maybe for the first time in his life, he cares one way or another. Marilla has mellowed a bit, but she’s still the same no-nonsense woman of before. It’s just that now she isn’t afraid to show, not just a bit of her heart, but her dry sense of humor.
This all comes to head when Marilla is invited to be part of a group of progressive mothers, which are probably two words Marilla has never applied to herself. It’s really not her thing, but she tries, for Anne, because she doesn’t know what she’s doing and she’s not going to let her pride get in the way of, maybe, learning something. And then, when she gets disinvited because of gossip, Marilla’s reaction is still a remnant from who she used to be before Anne.
Not for long, though. Matthew quickly makes her see that Anne is a child, and more importantly, she’s a child who hasn’t been taught better. How could she know how to behave, what to say and more importantly, what is expected of her? That’s what Marilla and Matthew are here for, and Marilla’s defense of Anne shows that she not only understands that, she takes the job seriously.
I’ll go ahead and admit it, Diana Barry was never one of my favorite characters growing up, and this episode encapsulates exactly why. Diana is a nice, kind-hearted girl who clearly cares about Anne and means well, but in general, Diana is not someone predisposed to understand Anne, nor is she – at least not yet – someone who knows how to stand up for their friendship.
And yet, back in the day, I accepted Diana, even grew to love her, because one of the first lessons I got from this book was that this – and many other things in life, were not my choice. It was up to Anne to choose her friends, not me. It was up to me to hope that those friends would be worthy of her, though.
“I’m still an orphan, Diana. I’ll always be an orphan,” Anne states at some point in this episode, in front of the other girls, and that’s the thing that not only keeps her separate but that gives her a different perspective. Sure, she has a family now, one that will always support her, but you are who you are because of your experiences, and Anne has lived a hard life that’s left her scarred in many ways. Anne won’t stop being Anne, and Diana won’t stop being Diana and friendship isn’t really about one person going all the way to where the other person is standing, it’s about meeting in the middle.
The juxtaposition to the Diana/Anne friendship is, clearly, Rachel and Marilla, also school friends, and also two very different people, with two very distinct ideas of how to do just about everything – including raise a child. And yet, they find a way to meet in the middle, to support each other despite everything, and yes, it might take Anne’s words, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Rachel and Marilla have been friends for many, many years, despite their differences.
Which, just means, there’s hope for Anne and Diana. All they need is time.
To be perfectly honest, as excited I was about this adaptation, as much as I enjoyed the first two episodes and as in love as I was with the family dynamics, I was reserving final judgment for this adaptation till we met Gilbert. It makes absolutely no sense, but in my head, if Anne The Series got Gilbert wrong, then everything else would be wrong, even it was right.
I’m pleased to report that Gilbert is not wrong, no. He’s perfectly right. And I’m here to tell you all the ways in which he is.
First – I’m not comparing him to Jonathan Crombie, whose Gilbert will always have a place in my heart. Second, I’m not comparing him to book Gilbert, who was quite possibly my first love. And third, and most important – I want him for Anne, not for myself, which means the relationship works as much as the character does.
Their first meeting is different – which, gasp, book purist here. But it works in the same way that episode two works, because it keeps to the spirit of the books, because the show is not taking these characters in a different direction, it’s just giving nuance to the direction they were always heading in.
For Gilbert it was love – or marked interest – at first sight, and for Anne, it was most decidedly not, but Gilbert interest changes the conversation about Anne in a way she probably won’t understand for many years, because kids are cruel little monsters who look for any victim as long as it’s not them.
Does that mean they’re all bad? No. It just means they’re kids, and they don’t know any better. We must understand this, like Marilla understands this truth about Anne. Yes, kids can be cruel, and yes, Anne is different and loud and just …not what they expected, not what the teacher expected either. And no, Gilbert’s antics do not help. But it all adds up to something – to Anne finding her place. She just needs to discover what that place is and decide that she wants to fight for it.
And, you might not think breaking a slate over a boy’s face is the start of a grand love story, but I happen to know it is.
Other things to note:
- “The only place I can go from here – academically speaking – is up.” Oh, Anne. Not only are you right, but you use such pretty words.
- It’s comforting to know school is hell no matter the place and/or time period.
- Forward thinking – believing a woman’s education is just as important as a man’s. The world hasn’t changed as much as we would have liked.
- “If they’re touching they’re having intimate relations.” I might need a scene of Marilla actually explaining to Anne what intimate relations are. For reasons.
- “Especially for those who are unlikely to marry” Are you calling Anne ugly? ARE YOU?
- “Tomorrow is a new day, with no mistakes in it yet,” is one of my favorite Anne quotes. No, one of my favorite quotes in general.
- If you make Jerry into anything resembling a love interest, Anne The Series, you will have lost all of my good faith.
- That being said, I like Jerry. He’s a perfectly good foil to Anne.
- The only love story in this series is Anne/Gilbert, though.
- “Rachel’s reliable, in the knowing department” – Aka, she’s nosy.
- But she’s always been well-meaning. That’s what redeems her. I’m kinda concerned about her political views here vs. her political views in the book. But – I’m willing to let this play out.
- I know it wasn’t really needed, but I sorta miss the “You mean, hateful boy! How dare you!“ line.
- But then again, I would never say no to more Gilbert.
- The Anne/Jane Eyre love affair continues, as this title is ALSO taken from Jane Eyre, specifically chapter 22.
Anne With An ‘E’ is available to stream on Netflix right now.