‘Anne With An E’ Episodes 2×01-2×05 Review: Adventure is not outside; it is within

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Oh, Anne. How I’ve missed you. How I love you. How little I care that you’re not exactly the same Anne I grew up with.

Because that’s the thing, once again, the thing that will cause division – Anne With An E is very much not the Anne of Green Gables of the books, and bears little resemblance to the Anne of that beloved adaptation I can still quote almost word by word.

And yet, for me, she’s still Anne – not even a different Anne, just another side of the very same girl I fell in love with, all those years ago.

If there’s a way to do an adaptation and go, at times, wildly off-book, and yet, somehow, retain the same magic, the same spirit of the books, Anne With An E is just that.

Of course, it’s also just pure, unadulterated comfort, like a cup of warm tea on a cold afternoon. If you can let go of what it was supposed to be, it’s magical. And if you can’t, well, I hope there’s still a certain happiness to see so many people going back to Green Gables, and through this adaptation, finding the books that inspired so many of us.

So, let’s talk a little bit about this new Anne, the journey ahead and what the first five episodes have for us:

A ‘WOKE’ ANNE

I’ve seen a lot of criticism about how this adaptation tries too hard to give us a woke Anne. To those people, I’ll say: do you realize what Anne is, what she was, back in the day?

Let us remember that Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote Anne of Green Gables in 1908, a time where a woman going to college was a big deal, to begin with, and being like Anne was seen more like a nuisance than an asset. So, from its inception, Anne was always a revolutionary book. She was always breaking stereotypes, and in many, many ways, she was always a role model.

What this adaptation does, in my opinion, is just …give us the 2018 perspective and apply it to the 1870’s in Prince Edward’s Island. It doesn’t do it by throwing absurd modern notions into the show or by pushing agendas, it just does it by widening the scope and allowing the world that Anne inhabits to become a little more diverse, just as it shows us a little bit more of her childhood, the one the book had clearly hinted at was anything but happy.

That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. The book left a lot to the imagination, this show brings all of that to life and confronts us with the bad, just as it gives us a cocoon of good. And, in a way, doesn’t that make Anne more extraordinary? To be who she is, hopeful, kind, smart …isn’t that harder when you’ve had the kind of life she’s had? Isn’t it, in a way, more amazing to see that she’s gotten there?

As for Gilbert, he’s always been this kind, smart, compassionate man and the adaptation is taking him through a journey that, in the books, took him a whole lot longer, but one that I’m glad to get to see. The problem, if you even want to all if that, of the books, is that they’re told from Anne’s POV, and as important as Gilbert is, we rarely get to see his development outside of Anne. This adaptation allows him to grow as his own person, just as the show uses him to send a very important message about privilege.

Oh, but is it the time, you ask? Is it the place for this message? My answer: it always is. Storytelling is about sending these messages, and about finding an organic way to do so that doesn’t contradict the time period and the characters they’ve already established. For me, Anne With An E has done just that, and it makes the message they’re sending even more important – and timely.

WHAT WORKED

The Cuthberts: This is the heart of the story, and the show knows how to continue to tell multiple stories and expand the world without ever forgetting that we’re here for Anne, Matthew and Marilla’s story first and foremost. It helps that the actors bring such warmth and such depth to their performances. There’s never any doubt in your head that these people are really and truly a family.

The Barry’s: It’s not that they were/are my favorite thing, but I’ll admit the whole storyline with the lost money gave both of them depth and allowed me to empathize a little bit, which I never expected and never managed during the books or the original adaptation. So hey, that’s good, right?

Anne and Diana: I will admit I’ve never really loved Diana. With age I’ve learned to appreciate the way she loved Anne, and how, for as different as they were, they always remained friends, but she’s always been a bland character to me. Except this version of Diana almost seems to actually have a personality, and at times, I find myself actually actively liking her. Wonders never cease.

Gilbert: I didn’t really think there was a way to improve on Gilbert Blythe, much less a way to make me accept someone else as Gilbert. I was mistaken. Lucas Jade Zumann has become Gilbert in a way I never truly expected him to, and every single emotion is reflected on his face every time he talks to Anne – or about her. That’s not even without going into his whole storyline with Bash, his realization of what he wants to do with his life, and the way we basically see him go from boy to man, without being bashed in the head with it, pun intended.

Am I invested in this OTP, you ask? Now more than ever.

Cole: What a delightful character, and what a delightful journey – especially if the signs that they’ve given us come to fruition. Either way, Anne’s classmates were always somewhat bland, especially the boys that were not named Gilbert, so I’m glad we’re getting more depth.

WHAT DIDN’T

The boarders: The whole storyline was just added drama that never quite clicked, and in the end, had consequences mostly for the Barry’s, which, I admit, gave us a little more depth and allowed them to become more than caricatures, but there were surely easier ways to do this? Anne didn’t really get any growth from this, other than learning to trust her instincts, which, again, there were easier ways, Matthew and Jerry were nonexistent for this storyline, and Marilla …well, as much as I appreciated seeing that Marilla could still appreciate a good looking younger man, unless that’s going somewhere …I still didn’t really need them for it.

WHAT WE WANT TO SEE MORE OF

Anne/Gilbert: I haven’t seen past episode 5, so I’ve seen ABSOLUTELY NO actual interactions between my OTP and I’m desperate for something, anything. I know they can’t get to the end the same way they did in the books, but I’m still invested in their happy ending, even if the road they take there is different. Because, even in this new adaptation, one thing remains clear: Anne and Gilbert make each other better, they push each other, they complete each other. They are, without a doubt, what an OTP is meant to be. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re here …to see this journey to its end.

Bash: How do I love the character that I never knew before? Let me count the ways. At its core Anne of Green Gables was always a story about found families, and Bash needs a family about as much as Anne did when she first got to Green Gables. Hopefully he can find it in Avonlea.

Friendships: As much as I always loved Anne and Gilbert together, I also always loved their friendship, and really, all the friendships that Anne developed, the way her life was never about who she was going to marry and how many kids she was going to have, but how many people she touched. I pray that continues.

Family: With Matthew along for the ride in a way we never got to see in the original adaptation or in the books, I just hope we get to see the family bond get even stronger. As I said, I’ve always loved Gilbert, but Matthew was mine, and Anne’s, first love.

THE CLIFFHANGER & WHAT’S NEXT

Oh, Anne. Isn’t it ironic how, for much of my childhood, I wanted to BE Anne, and I tried to dye my hair that actual color of red a few times, and yet she spends most of the first few episodes wishing for my hair to be as black as mine and as a result of bad decisions ends up with …well, green hair?

I remember being so mortified when I got to this part of the book. I don’t think boys will ever understand what it is about hair that makes us feel powerful. And though I can’t comment on what’s coming next (because I was sooo good and didn’t watch more than the first five episodes before writing this), it’s obvious that the show has set up a hell of a doozy for Anne’s first day back at school with short locks – as Gilbert is back!

And look, as much as I like that this show is going off course in many ways, there’s only one acceptable endgame for any and all Anne Shirleys and that is Gilbert Blythe.

The end.

(Or the beginning)

Anne With An E  Season 2 available to stream on Netflix.

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