Anne With an E Comes Into Its Own
Last year, I had mixed feelings about the new Netflix/CBC adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, Anne With an E. I wrote about it for the Attic, saying that if it had been "anything but Anne of Green Gables, it would be my new favorite show." I found it to be too gritty and too grim, not in a way that wasn't realistic, but in a way that I thought wasn't in line with the spirit of L.M. Montgomery's classic. I tend to be in favor of delving deeper into storylines in classics and exploring possibilities, but never simply for the sake of making something darker, as if darkness adds automatic depth.*
Still, despite my reservations, I lapped up Anne With an E for doing great things for period dramas, and somehow, by the time season two came along early in July, my reservations where gone and I was ridiculously excited to see where the writers took things next.
Luckily for me, season two managed to strike the perfect balance between retelling and staying true to the spirit of Anne Shirley. The darkness was still there, but none of it felt trivial or unnecessary. Illness, grief, and strife all added to the storylines and anchored the characters we already loved in the real world. The opening credits announce that Anne is "ahead by a century," and indeed, season two manages to make that a reality in a beautiful, organic way. Obsessed with literature and period dramas, we so often have to worry about what our old, favorite characters would be like in the current day – could we bear them or would they be prejudiced assholes? Anne With an E answers this question with Anne and reassures us that everyone still has something to learn from her open warmth.
While I found the ways Anne With an E moved away from L.M. Montgomery's novels to be unsettling in season one, it became my favorite thing about season two. In it, Anne With an E comes into its own not as an adaptation but as a retelling. It frees itself and takes the reins to tell new stories that no longer feel out of place.
With this freedom, the show steps away from the forced darkness of season one (see point about Marilla and the orphanage) and instead uses its creative license to introduce new characters and interpretations that represent people ignored by much literature of the past – most notably the gay and queer communities along with people of color. Its efforts in inclusiveness are what have most angered a certain subset of viewers with season two – you can't go on Anne With an E's Facebook page without seeing bigots decrying the show's determination to "push the liberal agenda" or to ignore "historical accuracy" and ruin children's innocence by openly including numerous gay characters, as if the show isn't giving children much needed representation – but these efforts are what made me get one hundred percent onboard the show's new direction. If you're rewriting a classic, then you had better be making it more diverse.
Indeed, that representation is really the jewel of season two. Early in the season, we find out that Gilbert is traveling the world while working on a steamship. His departure to the docks at the end of season one seemed like a stretch – after all we kind of associate Gilbert as a character who's dedicated to his family and to his studies, not to traveling the world. Yet, the show's writers used his departure to introduce him to an original, Trinidadian character named Bash who works beside him on the ship, slaps some sense into Gilbert, and becomes his best friend. Bash eventually returns to Avonlea with Gilbert and allows the show to venture into Prince Edward Island's black community.
Meanwhile, in episode seven, “Memory Has as Many Moods as The Temper,” Anne and her friends head to Charlottetown to attend a grand party Diana's Aunt Josephine throws yearly. There, it is revealed that Aunt Josephine is gay and that the "Aunt Gertrude" mourned in season one was her longtime partner. The party is in Gertrude's honor and is indeed a beautiful, flower-filled, cultural soirée celebrating anyone and everyone who does not conform to early twentieth century social demands, and it allows Anne's friend Cole – a bullied artist and new addition to the universe – to find enough comfort and hope that he is able to express for the first time that he too is gay. All the episode (and the season) does is promote acceptance.
Through everything, season two of Anne With an E comes into its own as a beautiful show, unafraid of challenging the supposedly sacred canon. I said last year that it would be my new favorite period drama if it were anything but Anne of Green Gables, and I say now that it very simply my new favorite period drama, full stop. I hope you give it a try and that we see many new seasons of it!
* I stand by my point that Marilla absolutely did not need to send Anne back to the orphanage because of a misunderstanding!!!