[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from Season 2 of “Anne With an E,” including the finale “The Growing Good of the World.”]
The first clue of the feminist direction “Anne With an E” would take in Season 2 is in the episode titles. Each is a quote by George Eliot, the nom de plume of writer Mary Anne Evans, a woman who broke the rules to make it in a man’s world during Victorian times. Although Season 1 had hinted that Anne (Amybeth McNulty) would be fighting back against gender norms and even received an Eliot novel from Aunt Josephine (Deborah Grover), this year, multiple stories converged to send a firm message about what women can do.
The main storyline in the finale “The Growing Good of the World,” in particular challenged the town of Avonlea to embrace change in the form of the female schoolteacher Miss Stacy (Joanna Douglas). Even though her teaching methods were unorthodox, and therefore suspect in the eyes of the town, she was also harshly judged for being a single, attractive woman who wore trousers and rode a motorbike. Scandalous! It took a rousing town hall meeting — in which she defended herself, her students proved the efficacy of her teaching, and several townsfolk spoke on her behalf — to save her job.
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Other stories this season also challenged the narrow roles that women were expected to play at the time. For both Prissy Andrews (Ella Jonas Farlinger) and Diana Barry (Dalila Bela), the women in their own families encouraged them to become more than just accomplished wives to support their husbands. This caused Prissy to leave her groom at the altar, and Diana to feel uncomfortable at a party where she was encouraged to dream bigger than a life of domesticity. If the show returns for a third season, it’ll be interesting to see if it will keep Diana on her path of happy homemaking from the books or if she’ll branch out somehow.
Here are some other themes built throughout the season that were driven home in the finale:
Avonlea is still a very rural place without many of the latest inventions. That’s why Anne and her friends must go to Charlottetown to obtain lightbulbs, and why Miss Stacy’s motorbike sticks out among the horse-drawn carriages. In voting to keep Miss Stacy, however, the town voted for change and to embrace the future, which will necessarily mean innovations. In particular, Gilbert Blythe (Lucas Jade Zumann) made a case for progress because he wants to study to be Avonlea’s first-ever doctor, which would require that he be on the cutting edge as far as equipment, treatments, and ideas in order to compete at medical school.
Tolerance and Inclusivity
This season also introduced the first-ever black characters to the Avonlea universe starting with Sebastian “Bash” Lacroix (Dalmar Abuzeid), a Trinidadian whom Gilbert met while they were working in the belly of a steamship. Bash becomes Gilbert’s partner on the Blythe farm and even marries Mary (Cara Ricketts), a woman he met in The Bog, the poorer part of Charlottetown where a black community had arisen.
Throughout the season, Bash had encountered plenty of racism whether it was in his own country or on Prince Edward Island, but since he’ll become a full-fledged community member of Avonlea, the town will have to learn to accept him next season.
One person wasn’t so lucky earlier in the season. A Jewish peddler who had fled religious intolerance in Germany was run off the Green Gables property by Marilla (Geraldine James). After being hoodwinked by two grifters, she feared he was another one looking to take advantage of their giving natures. But it’s a reminder that the refugee narrative has been happening throughout time and around the world.
Although some have suspected that Anne in the “Anne of Green Gables” novels might have been bisexual — the language and behavior regarding her female friends were always so effusive — that had never been confirmed. The show, however, included a gay narrative for Diana’s Great Aunt Josephine, who in the novel was a wealthy spinster. Here, she is also rich but had a female life partner who was known only as Aunt Gertrude to Diana. In Season 1 it was revealed that Josephine had a close relationship with Gertrude, but in Season 2 it’s acknowledged far more openly when Josephine holds a soiree at her home that is welcoming to an artistic, open-minded, and queer-friendly community. With the exception of Aunt Josephine herself, there’s no explicit indication of anyone else’s sexual or gender identification, but there are visual hints that not everyone is cisgender and straight.
While Anne feels at home among such creative and passionate people, Diana is ill at ease. Not only does her aunt suggest that she doesn’t have to marry a man to be fulfilled, but then she also learns the truth about Aunt Josephine and Gertrude. It takes a few episodes for Diana to come around to accepting her aunt’s sexuality.
Anne’s friend Cole’s (Cory Gruter-Andrew) experience is even more transformative. After learning about his host, he realizes that he too might be gay, and that not everyone is homophobic. Having one of Anne’s peers be gay forces her to really face her feelings about the matter. He also gains insight about his antagonistic school teacher Mr. Philips, whom he suspects is gay but in denial, and learns of a new medium through which he could practice his art after injuring his hand.
In the finale, Cole leaves Avonlea behind for good and lives with Aunt Josephine in Charlottetown, finally finding a place where he belongs. (Also, if he doesn’t make it as an artist, maybe he could be some sort of psychologist. He had surprising insight about what drove Mr. Philips and his schoolyard bully to mistreat him.) We’ll be curious to see how the series expands Cole and Aunt Josephine’s roles in the upcoming season now that they’re allies.
Love in All of Its Forms
Even beyond the feminist or LGBTQ narratives, “Anne With an E” has questioned the traditional notion that people must have romantic love and get married to be fulfilled. Both of the elder Cuthberts remained unmarried past middle age, and in Matthew’s (RH Thomson) case, he’s even decided not to pursue rekindling an old flame even though the lady in question seems willing. When Anne expresses concern that she doesn’t want him to “miss out on love,” he replies that he has her. He’s chosen the love of a parent to a child in the years he has left.
In a somewhat similar circumstance, Matthew expresses his guilt over having Marilla take care of him after their older brother died. He feels that because of this, she never married her sweetheart John Blythe. But she has no regrets, and later, when Anne says what she had learned about love at Aunt Josephine’s, it’s clear why Marilla made her decision.
“[Love] doesn’t look the same for everyone; it can come in so many forms,” said Anne. “How can there be anything wrong with spending your life with the person you love?”
Netflix has yet to announce a third season for “Anne With an E,” although it seems highly likely it should come soon or at least by the time this airs in Canada. The series increased its cast and storytelling possibilities this year in addition to expanding its world by spending more time outside the borders of Avonlea. This growth on all fronts promises just the beginning for many of Anne and her friends’ more mature adventure for years to come.
“Anne With an E” is currently available to stream on Netflix.