“Alec? What do you see when you look at me?”
“This is the woman that I love. My beautiful wife. And the mother of my children, who means more to me than anything in the world.”
Episode Summary: Janet King is inspired to action after a suffragette comes to speak to the town about the possibility of women getting the right to vote. Janet volunteers to go around the town and gain 50 signatures for a petition asking the Canadian government for women’s suffrage. However, her new political responsibilities get in the way of her domestic responsibilities, angering Alec. Janet decides to visit the female workers of the cannery, making them realize that if women have more control, then they would be able to fight for higher wages. With the help of Maud Craig, an underpaid worker at the cannery, Janet plans a strike, telling Angus McCorkadale that his employees will not work until they receive a livable wage. Realizing he’s losing money, Mr. McCorkadale agrees to the demands. And Janet receives some newfound respect from Alec and the rest of the town.
Directed by F. Harvey Frost, Written by Janet Maclean, Music by Don Gillis
My Grade: This is definitely a stand out episode for the season. I think this show is so progressive for discussing women’s issues. It’s also ironic that it’s Janet that makes this big stand for women’s rights, while Hetty, who is supposed to be more independent, feels more ambivalent, even embarrassed for Janet. I also liked how multi-layered this episode became. It isn’t just about Janet finding signatures for a petition, or even receiving respect from Alec, it’s about the concept of employers actually (gasp!) paying their workers fair, livable wages. If women are able to vote, then single women (women who wouldn’t have a husband’s help for support) would be able to have more control over their lives and laws that affect them. It’s a complicated concept; and it’s great that the Disney Channel, at some point in time, was willing to air something like this. Nowadays, women not being able to vote seems like such a primitive thought. However, I think this episode is still relevant because women are still struggling to gain autonomy for their lives (publicly and in their own homes). (A)
Spotlight Performance: Obviously Lally Cadeau is the stand out. What’s particularly great about her performance in this episode is that this is the first time Janet really stands up for herself. She stands up to her family, her husband, and even the close-minded community. 95% of all Avonlea episodes have happy, at least hopeful, endings. However, there’s something so satisfying about seeing Janet actually win in the end. It’s a strong performance from Cadeau because her character finds her inner strength.
Favorite Scene: I think one big reason it took so long for women to gain their right to vote (1922 in PEI) is that every time a woman dared to actually take action, she was guilt tripped into staying home to take care of her family instead. This is what happens to Janet. While Alec seems supportive of women’s suffrage in the beginning of the episode, he sort of changes his view and practically orders Janet to stay home to take care of their children. However, Janet doesn’t back down. She almost risks everything in order to see her task through. It’s Janet at her best and gutsiest.
Final Thoughts: Let’s get through the departures first. This is the final episode for James O’Regan, who played the bumbling Constable Jeffries. He’s been with the series since the very first episode. This is also the final episode for Miklos Perlus, who played Peter Craig. This was his first appearance since the season two finale, but it’s honestly the first time he’s had significant screen time since the season two premiere. Peter was a significant presence during the first season, even having an episode to himself. However, like many of the “non-King” Avonlea children, he sort of fades away by season two. However, even if it’s not stated explicitly, I think it’s implied that now that Mrs. Craig has a job that pays decently, Peter is able to live with his mother and stop working as a hired boy for the King farm. Of course, I always miss the character because I think he was a good, level-headed friend for Sara.
More significantly however, this is the very first episode scored by Don Gillis. During the first two seasons, composers John Welsman and Hagood Hardy sort of went back and forth, with Welsman obviously scoring more episodes and creating more iconic motifs (motifs that are used for the opening credits). However, with Hagood gone, Don Gillis stepped in to create his own sound. If you’ve watched as much Avonlea as I have, you would easily be able to tell a Gillis score from a Welsman score. Don Gillis’s music is “bolder” and more dramatic. In a way, the music is more somber and melodic. It’s not necessarily better than Welsman’s, but it’s different. The music sort of represents Avonlea‘s growth and maturity, especially since using the fluttery “Story Girl” theme becomes less relevant the older the kids get. I can’t wait to talk more about Gillis’s motifs; but even in this episode, it’s filled with a score that we’ll pretty much hear until the end of Wind at My Back.
I want to end this post by briefly discussing the very last scene of the episode. That last scene is a callback to an earlier scene which I transcribed above. The last scene has Janet asking Alec the question again. Alec simply responds by kissing Janet. It’s hard to really understand why the two scenes are so different, or why Janet feels more satisfied with the second “answer” than the first. If I had to give my two cents, I’d say that in Alec’s first answer, he places Janet squarely in the “wife box” and the “mother box,” without really acknowledging her as an independent woman. When Alec sees Janet, all he sees is a wife and a mother (and a “woman” he “loves.”) Obviously, Alec had all the good intentions in the world. However, by the end of the episode, Alec gives Janet some newfound respect and sees that his wife is capable of making real change outside the home. I think that’s what the simple kiss at the end represents. However…if my analysis is right, I think the show still could have been clearer. One sentence would have made a world of difference. Nonetheless, it’s still a nice way to end the episode.