One of my first blog posts a year ago was on the new Netflix series Anne with an “E”, a new retelling of the classic by one of the Breaking Bad writers. The second season dropped earlier this month and I binged it over the weekend and have been processing it ever since.
I have incredibly conflicted feelings about this season.
The parts that are good are an utter delight, but the parts that are bad, they maybe ruin the whole thing. After the first season’s cliff hanger ending I approached season two with even more skepticism than the first season. The cold open swept all the skepticism from my mind though. The cold open to season two is one of the most magical, one of the most Anne-ish, one of the most truly, unrepentantly joyous scenes I’ve ever seen. It made me tear up. The rest of the episode however, and indeed the next several episodes were deeply, deeply disappointing.
My fear over how the the grifters posing as borders at Green Gables would be handled turned out to be entirely warranted. These grifters end up tricking the entire town of Avonlea into thinking that there is gold on their land and scam hundreds of dollars from the families before kind of just disappearing. The thread didn’t add anything to the overall story or character arcs, and I was left wondering why it was included at all.
Even more off putting than the grifters is Gilbert’s story. He quits school to see that world as a coal shoveler on a steamer. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a Trinidadian bunk mate and then spends the rest of the season playing the colonizing white savior.
One thing I truly appreciate about the series is that they explore race, class, and social prejudices, but Gilbert’s storyline is baffling to me. There is absolutely no justification for it, and the characters of color are never much more than foils for the “good” white people. Gilbert’s Trinidadian friend, Bash, doesn’t even have a his own story, not really. He’s mostly there so Gilbert can go on rants about how trains in Canada aren’t legally segregated, so Anne can effusively compliment him on his skin color, so Matthew can expand his horizons and try curry for the first time, so Marilla and Rachel can bond over their openness in learning to not assume that people of color are always servants.
It left a bad taste in my mouth. I think my problem with the inclusion of Bash in the series is representative of my issues with the series as a whole. It tries to do too much. It takes on too many issues and does a disservice to them all by not being able to cover any one of them with the thoroughness that it deserves.
Now, just to be clear, I think all of the issues they try to cover are important, and deserve to be explored and highlighted. I don’t think that taking an established story and forcing in a storyline purely for racial commentary is the best way to handle it.
Another entirely out of the blue story line is Cole’s. Cole is a sweet, sensitive artist who turns out to be struggling with his homosexuality. A struggle that was heralded blatantly by some of the most stereotypical cliches out there. He can braid Anne’s hair better than she can, he doesn’t want to to play catch with his school mates, etc. I love a queer coming of age story (and to be honest the new spin on Diana’s aunt Jo being a lesbian is one of my favorite things in the whole Anne with an “E” series) but again, it was so obviously shoe horned in that it felt a little off.
I still loved how they handled Anne’s life prior to adoption by Marilla and Matthew, and how they continued to add layers and depth and dimension to the characters. I loved the bold feminist stance it takes and the importance it places on self expression, individualism, and taking responsibility for your own life and desires.
Ultimately though, I was deeply disappointed. Season two of Anne with an “E” bears little resemblance to any of the original story lines, and fails to even truly capture the spirit of the story. There was only a single incident in Season 2 that even came from the book. Anne’s dismally failed attempt to dye her a hair the glorious raven black of her dreams was faithfully portrayed to perfection by Anne. But other than that everything is pure fabrication, even if it does happen to people whose names were are familiar with.
If there is a third season I will watch it. But I will have to be sure I go into it with the firm understanding that whatever I will see is unlikely to be anything more substantial than an “inspired by” rather than a “based on”.