“Most Women Are Dull and Stupid” is the funniest, darkest, most interesting and assured the show has been thus far.
This Gentleman Jack episode 4 recap for the episode titled “Most Women Are Dull and Stupid” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
In a thoroughly unsurprising development, most women in 1832 Halifax can’t keep a secret. Not about the private affairs of other women, anyway, especially when those women enjoy the company of other women. Snitches get snitches, of course, but so too do queer people, still now and very much in back-in-the-day England, where such things were not just frowned upon but punishable by death.
But some women in 1832 Halifax can keep secrets — their own, at least. And one of those women is Miss Ann Walker, who is confronted with the possibility of marriage to a man who has sexually assaulted her — a fact which she has dutifully kept to herself. This is Gentleman Jack using its likable and upbeat outward-facing exterior to sneak in powerful commentary on gender norms and prejudice and the nature of victimhood and abuse, which apparently isn’t very different now to how it was then.
Miss Walker feels somehow responsible for her own abuse, simply by positioning herself in close proximity to a man. She has internalized the guilt of not just being a victim but of having been a quiet one; she’s as ashamed of keeping it to herself as she is of allowing it to happen in the first place. She feels obligated to marry him, even at the expense of her relationship with Anne, and her own happiness. It’s the most tragic note the show has struck thus far, which is saying something since last week a young man slashed his father’s throat and fed him to his own pigs. Then again I suppose he deserved that.
In “Most Women Are Dull and Stupid”, Anne offers that murderous son his father’s tenancy should he not return, which of course he won’t, which is one in a number of surprisingly altruistic acts committed by Halifax’s resident ball-buster. She also has an endearingly frank discussion with John and shows compassion for her poor lady’s maid, who has had a miscarriage. This is perhaps because she’s finally receiving support at home; you get back what you give out, after all. But it’s much more likely because beneath the blacked-out exterior Anne is a human being with very human wants, desires, and anxieties.
So far, Gentleman Jack hasn’t been very good at displaying this. We’ve had suggestions of previous heartbreak when a lover was forced to marry a man, but it never really rang true. But “Most Women Are Dull and Stupid” finds an effective angle to approach the idea from, and because we’ve seen the relationship between Anne and Ann blossom from entirely selfish to quite charmingly genuine, the idea that Ann might not want to marry Anne (this is confusing, I know) is as potentially painful to us as it is to her. Is she, we wonder, about to experience the exact same kind of loss and heartbreak that she already has?
Of course, the truth of Ann’s reticence is the truth of her own victimhood, but for the bulk of the episode we don’t know that, and neither does Anne. It’s the first time the show — and Anne herself — has felt truly, relatably human. And not coincidentally, it was the best the show has been thus far as a result.