MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN CAUTION.
Anne with an E is coming to an end. It’s a sad development for fans of this beautiful CBC/Netflix joint production. While this show never quite lived up to the previous mini-series adaptation which starred Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie, Anne with an E still presented its audience with the timeless story of the plucky heroine who was “married to adventure,” and who bucked the trend of her small Canadian town by doing things her way. Of course, doing things her way often brings the wrath of small-minded individuals, but eventually, and for the better, Anne wears down prejudices and forges her own path.
That’s the key theme of this season, forging your own path in life despite the outside influences beating ceaselessly against you. Anne (Amybeth McNulty) inhabits this adventure and completely faces it on her own the moment she turns 16. She wants to know where she came from and what happened to her parents. It’s the one thing she’s held onto for so long and it was the one thing that kept her alive during her horrific experiences in the orphanage she grew up in.
Her relentless pursuit of the truth harms Marilla more than I or Anne was expecting, but finding out where she’s from helps Anne accept the truth that Marilla and Matthew love her from the bottoms of their hearts and she belongs there just as much as she belonged to her parents for however short a time they had her. It also leads to a tender and beautiful moment where Marilla finally tells Anne that she loves her. It’s a cathartic and revelatory moment that finally breaks Marilla’s prickly exterior, if only for a moment.
Other characters have a similar forging of their own paths. Diana’s (Dalila Bela) is, perhaps, the most interesting. As the kids of Avonlea turn 16 and begin to discover boys and courting, a notice board is posted on the schoolhouse wall. Diana immediately has suiters, but, because she finds herself drawn to Anne’s sense of adventure, she finds that none of the boys in school are worthy of her attention. No, it’s the Cuthbert’s farmhand, Jerry who catches her attention after an outing to his family’s homestead instills a sense of passion and freedom into her life. It doesn’t hurt that despite being on opposite ends of the class system, they catch each other’s eye and, despite her parent’s reaction, it’s an entirely wholesome exploration of what drew and continues to draw Diana into Anne’s orbit as well as an exploration of who Diana is and what she’s made of as her own person.
Even Gilbert (Lucas Jade Zumann) has a bit of a journey as he inches ever closer to the Gilbert of the books that we’ve known and loved. After tragedy strikes, he finds his pull to the medical field shaken, but an encounter with an indigenous medicine woman lights a fire in his soul that he can’t quite extinguish. It’s refreshing to see Zumann infuse such an excitement to the character who is often seen as the logical opposite of Anne’s flight of imaginative fancy. It reminds the audience that there was always something inside Gilbert that Anne was drawn to. It wasn’t just a friendly competition that turned romantic that drew them together.
Of course, along the way, things go seven different types of wrong, as it often does with Anne and her friends and many of the things I found myself liking in the first five episodes are done away with or changed by the end and I’m not sure if the show is better for it or not, especially since Netflix has canceled the show right when it had the opportunity to go onto something great. Anne’s time at Queens is the best part of the novel for me and the best part of the previous CBC mini-series. Presented in this context, with Anne and Gilbert and Diana and the plethora of different scenarios each path could take them, there are plenty of ways creator and writer Moira Walley-Beckett could’ve expanded our horizons and Anne’s.
Just like the previous two seasons, season three is beautiful. The cinematography and scene composition is some of the strongest I’ve seen, far surpassing the previous two seasons. It’s truly a shame we aren’t going to get to see 17-year-old Anne, in all her fineries, lit and shot like she was as a burgeoning teenager at the beginning of the show. There is so much sadness at seeing the show end like this and end with such hope for a future. It’s an oversight on the part of Netflix and the CBC, but what can the audience do?
Despite the ending full of hope and the beauty of the show, I will admit that this series suffered a few stumbles. First off, episode 3, entitled “What Can Stop the Determined Heart” was absolutely not needed. It was a wonderfully written episode and it made me sob the entire time, but from a story standpoint, there was absolutely no need to kill Mary off. She and Bash were the best part of season two and the first two episodes of this season were cute to an extreme. I love them and her death was needlessly bleak.
Also, I understand the importance of shedding light on the horrific treatment of the indigenous population during that time, but the story of Ka’kwet and her plight in the Indian school felt disjointed and tacked onto an already bursting at the seam season. There was so much going on this season, that I felt the writing suffered.
Simple stories interspersed with bigger stories give the audience time to breathe and while “What Can Stop the Determined Heart” is, in a lot of ways a bottle episode, I felt I saw less of Gil and Anne than I would’ve liked, just because of how big this ensemble is and how big the story felt. No matter where we go in this world, the story is still Anne’s (and by extension Gil’s, as well) and I felt she was short shifted this go-round. I come out of the season feeling like I know more about Anne but at the same time, less than I would have liked. Not to mention, for me, the genesis of Anne and Gil’s relationship in the season falters then races toward an ending that was exhilarating, don’t get me wrong, but we all know she didn’t go to Queen’s college with Gil as her beau and the best part of their relationship is that push and pull and will they/won’t they aspect. Maybe it was all glossed over and neatly wrapped up because the series was canceled. Who knows, but the narrative did suffer a little bit this season and I’m all the sadder for it.
Though, I will say, that just because the narrative suffered, the acting and performances were hit out of the park. McNulty, Zumann, and Bela’s performances were spot on. I’ve always liked Bela as Diana. She took the character and made her far more than just a pretty face. Her chemistry with McNulty is a breath of fresh air and, I might be considered a blasphemer for this, but I think McNulty and Bela’s Diana and Anne surpass the Megan Follows’ iteration of Diana and Anne. For one, they feel a bit more developed which helps. I don’t know. I just prefer them as a team more.
Zumann as Gilbert will always have a soft spot in my heart. No one can replace Jonathan Crombie as Gil, but Zumann comes pretty dang close. He is so poised and yet wild and full of a spark that can’t be contained. There’s such a twinkle in his eye, a twinkle of mischief and wonder. Not to mention, he’s incredibly handsome and talented and I can’t wait to see what else he’s going to do going forward.
Overall, I think this season, while bleak and beautiful, was the weakest season of the three, but at least it ended on Gil and Anne getting together and professing their love. That is truly what matters in the end, because without them, there is no Anne of Green Gables. An Anne without her Gil is a travesty to behold and since we’ll never get another season of them together, it’s nice that we got to see them properly at the end.