Previously on Jamestown: After over a decade of rough living, the men of the Jamestown settlement send off to England for the 17th century version of mail order brides. Three of these women – posh Jocelyn, spunky Verity and sweet Alice – arrive in Virginia, looking to start over and leave their dark pasts behind and build new lives in the New World with one another, and with the men to whom they are promised. Jocelyn seeks her own ambitions beside the kind but rather dull Samuel, Verity finds herself pledged to the town drunk, and Alice is set to marry Henry, a rough farmer who ends up raping her before she’s even been at the settlement for 24 hours. Luckily, her terrible husband-to-be has an extremely hot brother named Silas, who likes Alice so much he’s willing to let his own brother burn to death so they can be together. In short, this show is amazing and things are only going to get more insane from here. (If you need more detail, we have a full recap right here.)
Reminder: Jamestown is a Passport-exclusive series, meaning that in order to binge the whole thing now, you’ll need to be a Passport member (If you have Amazon Prime, you’ll be able to watch the series week-by-week over the course of the spring on the PBS Masterpiece channel.)
Jamestown’s second episode is another overly dramatic ride, but one that’s perhaps a bit more realistic about the prospects of women during the time period in which this show takes place. Yes, Jocelyn, Verity and Alice are all still fascinating figures and certainly worthy and interesting characters in their own rights. However, it’s possible that the series’ premiere made us all a bit too optimistic about the lives these women might have a chance at leading here in the new world, for better and for worse. Because as much as we might wish things were otherwise, these women must still navigate their lives in a world that’s strictly and almost exclusively geared toward men, and one that is tremendously protective of their power and status within it.
After generally taking a back seat in the series’ first episode, Verity gets the A plot here, as she attempts to settle into her life as the wife of the town barkeep. Sure, being married to Meredith Rotter seems like a challenge – he spends most of his time in varying states of drunk himself, and their livelihood depends on encouraging other Jamestown residents to drink early and often. Many of Verity’s wifely duties seem to boil down to being entertaining and just this side of scandalous in order to entertain their crowd of customers. And, naturally, that – combined with her already outlandish personality – lands her in trouble more often than not.
After her attempt to don boys clothes and flee the settlement for parts unknown last week, no one should be that surprised that Verity isn’t exactly a traditional, demure sort of woman. But she takes it to the next level this week, openly mocking her drunken husband and his behavior in front of everyone at the bar, arguing with strangers and insulting men she doesn’t know. As a result of her actions, she winds up in the stocks, dripping with some unidentified but clearly disgusting substance and publically shamed as a scold who needs to learn her place.
Now, of course Verity can’t know that Renwick and Farlowe are specifically targeting her because they’re trying to punish Jocelyn, who they see as threatening. (She’s far too uppity for their liking, and far too in control of her kind, but generally weak-minded husband.) However, she’s rich. So, they can’t really touch her. But they can go after her friends. To be fair, Verity doesn’t exactly do herself any favors here, however. She’s not an idiot – she knows she’s female during a time when women doing anything that is seen as upsetting the natural order of things (read: challenging male power in any way) has a nasty habit of getting you accused of witchcraft. While we hadn’t reached the height of the witch panic in America yet at this point (the famous events in Salem would take place in the late 1600s), the early 17th century was the peak of the witch trials in Europe.
So, yeah, Verity should probably have known better than to openly insult and curse powerful men repeatedly or publically rejoice when one of her enemies comes down with a dire illness. The end result isn’t going to be anything good: The town priest turns against her and even Meredith’s tavern starts losing business because no one wants to drink ale with a potential witch. It’s not that I don’t sympathize with Verity here – it’s very easy to understand why a headstrong woman who wants more for herself than to be her husband’s serving girl might find life in the early American colonies miserable. But her bullheaded refusal to moderate her behavior – even in some small way - seems wildly out of character for her. Because Verity comes across as nothing so much as a survivor, and surely she had to know what she’s risking here.
Elsewhere, Alice is busy living her best life now that she thinks her rapist husband-to-be is dead. She’s making out with Silas at pretty much every opportunity as the two clear farmland together and just generally look disgustingly in love. However, despite the fact that you’d probably think that Alice should be free to determine her own fate now that Henry is dead – you’d be very wrong about that. Because she still owes the money for her passage to America, and since Henry died without paying it, she’s pretty much up for auction to the first dude who can come up with the cash to buy her. Gross, right? To his credit, Silas immediately offers to take on his brother’s debt, and marry Alice immediately. But, because Renwick, Farlowe and friends all hate anyone connected to Jocelyn at the moment, they’re not having it, particularly when James Read the blacksmith says he’d like to purchase Alice for himself.
Now, there was definitely a distinct flirty vibe coming from James toward Alice last week, so the fact that he’s suddenly willing to force her to marry him despite the fact that she’s clearly in love with another man doesn’t entirely come out of nowhere. It is creepy as heck, though, particularly the bits where he insists she’ll get over it all once she really gets to know him. Um, ew? Silas tries to talk him out of it, but the two dudes just end up in a fistfight because of course they do, since no one seems to be super excited about respecting Alice’s desires on the matter. Ugh.
Thankfully, Jocelyn swoops in to save both her friends, even though doing so doubtless puts an even bigger target on her back among the settlement’s leadership members who are already disposed to dislike and resent her. She manages to prove that Verity is not a witch by talking the priest into blessing a piece of bread and giving it to her. Since she manages to pray and swallow it without choking, she’s cleared, and everything’s fine again. (Or at least it will be until someone tells the folks in charge about Verity’s new act faking choking to death on bread at her husband’s tavern. This girl just doesn’t know when to quit!)
As for Alice, Jocelyn decides to pay her passage to America herself, thus freeing her to marry Silas or anyone else of her choosing. Unlike Verity however, Jocelyn at least has it together enough to claim that it’s her husband Samuel who will be paying off Alice’s debt, since she, as a weak and feeble female when it comes to finances. Everyone knows she’s lying of course – in fact Jocelyn’s behavior this week has done nothing so much as cement the idea that she’s likely the smartest person in this stupid settlement – but she has sense enough to say all the right words that mean no one can prove it. Jocelyn is a force to be reckoned with, to be sure, and seeing how she manages to take over this town is going to be so very fun to watch.
What did you think of the second episode of Jamestown? Let’s discuss in the comments.