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Time Is Running Out For The Mournful Townsfolk Of Anne With An E
Like sands through the hourglass, so are the sad people of Avonlea.
At the beginning of the end of the beginning of Anne With An E, everyone in Avonlea is grappling with time, and it doesn't appear to be on anybody's side. So who's learning the biggest and worst lessons?
Poor Gilbert bumps up against the vagaries of time when his father dies, leaving him orphaned. We know it's coming because Mr. Blythe summons Gilbert inside, talks about how much he likes trains, and then gets all serious and tells Gilbert to remember what a big world there is outside Avonlea. This seems ironic, since Gilbert has already been all the way west to Alberta, and in that sense may be the best-traveled character on this show. Still, it's a sweet, sad scene, especially in the context of all these lifelong Islanders and their various dreams deferred.
Mercifully, the death happens offscreen, but we're clued in by the Cuthberts walking in Mr. Blythe's funeral procession, and because Gilbert catches a metaphorically heavy snowflake in his hand, only to watch it melt and drip away. Poor Mr. Blythe! Poor Gilbert! Poor snowflake!
As Anne works through the night to get Diana's sister Minnie May through a bad attack of croup, the Barrys' cranky old Aunt Josephine hangs around in the background, making cracks about Anne's expertise. I can't imagine why; I personally take all my pediatric medical questions to the annoying thirteen-year-old next door! But Miss Barry isn't actually in a permanent bad mood; she's just in mourning. Her "companion" of many years has died, and she's visiting from Charlottetown, washing away the pain with some quality time with her snooty son and daughter-in-law and their frivolous children. Or something. I guess she really needed to get out of the house.
Ultimately, Miss Barry is able to put her wisdom, recent bummer life experience, and eye for baby feminists to good work: she has little use for Diana, Minnie May, and Ruby, but turns into a kind of mentor for Anne, crashing her forest clubhouse and planting a variety of satisfyingly pro-woman ideas in her head. It's Miss Barry who finally has a frank conversation about womanhood and marriage with Anne -- she's the first to say that Anne has the option to marry whenever she likes, or not at all, and also that if she chooses a career instead (not to speak of both, gasp), she can buy herself a white dress and wear it whenever she wants. A century on in the future of this fictional universe, Liz Lemon nods in agreement and takes another bite of her night cheese.
Since she's already having a hard time, it's probably better for Miss Barry that two tween girls don't accidentally jump on her in bed in the middle of the night, as happens in the book, but wouldn't that have been fun for the rest of us?
Anne has plenty to learn about time in this episode, but first she gets a bit of grace: she uses the skills she learned in her previous life of servitude to open Minnie May's airways and save her life. Her long night of alternating ipecac and night air and ordering Miss Barry out of the way pays off for herself as well as for Minnie May: the next day, Mrs. Barry lifts the Anne ban she instituted after the raspberry cordial incident.
Now that she's a capital-w Woman (due to the events of the previous episode) and back in the squad, Anne joins the rest of Avonlea in hand-wringing about the past and the future. She spends the rest of the episode grappling with her own adulthood, teasing out the important distinctions between being a bride (which sounds cool) and being a wife (which sounds like...something else), and developing her skills as the crew's misunderstood feminist killjoy.
All this talk of womanhood has Anne worrying about marriage and giving some barely-concealed side-eye to her growing feelings for Gilbert. Ensuring her status as a totem for complicated women everywhere, she helps Diana and Ruby make and deliver a shepherd's pie to Gilbert, only to blurt "I would make a terrible wife!" and run away when Diana points out to him that Anne can cook. It's a good thing, then, that Miss Barry finds Anne in the forest, mid-freakout, and sets her straight on some of her options for the future. The good news? Wifedom is optional.
As she panics about attracting Gilbert and also about not attracting Gilbert, Anne shoves her own foot into her mouth at John Blythe's funeral -- it's too bad that Gilbert's an orphan now, she tells him, but at least his life has been pretty good compared to hers, since he knew his parents.
Anne does NOT lecture Gilbert about the patriarchy and his status as a white dude, which is too bad considering the rest of the episode, but Gilbert (rightly) isn't happy with Anne's insensitive take on his dad's death. Anne's clubhouse discussion with Miss Barry soothes some of her fears, and she realizes she owes Gilbert an apology. She begins to write one, but eventually runs over to Gilbert's house to apologize in person -- but time has struck again. The house is all closed up and he's left town.
John Blythe's death isn't just a tragedy for Gilbert; we also learn that he was once a suitor of Marilla's, and in fact gave her the blue hair ribbon she then gave to Anne.
John's death hits Marilla hard as she considers the lost opportunities of her life -- she eventually tells Gilbert that his father once asked her to run away with him, but she couldn't. Obligation, she says, can be a prison, and it's incredibly sad.
Later, Marilla digs out a stack of love letters from John and has a good cry, as she should. Not even young Marilla of yore can get a little something something from a handsome Blythe man, and that's a tragedy worthy of a few tears.