Previously on Jamestown: Verity and Meredith Rutter decide to become professional thieves for a hot minute, snagging stolen merchandise from one of the Virginia Company ships and selling it under the table to other settlers. This all has something to do with Meredith wanting to prove his manliness to his wife, but it really just puts them both at risk, particularly when one of their trading partners is caught and forced to drink molten lead when he won’t talk. Yikes. Elsewhere, James Read and Jocelyn make out for reasons that are difficult to decipher, and Alice is afraid her husband Silas has turned traitor and is passing Jamestown secrets on to the local natives. (Need more details? Our full recap is this way.)
Reminder: Jamestown is a Passport-exclusive series, meaning that in order to watch it, you’ll need to be a Passport member (If you have Amazon Prime, you’ll also be able to watch the series week-by-week over on the PBS Masterpiece channel.)
This week, Jamestown largely focuses on a single dramatic storyline, which brings several characters together into one key plot. This mostly works, because the story is compelling to watch, reminds us of the stakes involved in living in what is basically the unconquered wilderness, and largely abandons the other boring plots going on in favor of this new drama. And it is all very intense.
Alice’s young son Silas disappears one afternoon while she’s napping in a field - living in the colonies is real weird, y'all - and the rest of the episode is basically the settlement’s search to find him. Everyone is a little overly attached to the littlest Sharrow, since he’s the first child born in the colony. Alice assumes the natives have taken him, particularly since Silas has been on such rocky terms of late with Chacrow and the rest of his tribe. (Reminder: He promised to help them get info about Yeardley’s plans to expand the settlement and Silas…has not done that. Even though Opechancanough, the chief of the Pamunkey tribe, threatens to cease trading with the Sharrows over it.)
The unfortunate part of this story is that Alice turns out to be right. Just not entirely in the way she thinks. Chacrow is innocent of the crime she accuses him of, because Chacrow is an honorable man who wants to find a way for everyone to live in peace. But his tribemates did steal the child from the Sharrows, and on the order of their king Opechancanough, no less! They clearly intend to use the baby as a bargaining tool, and that is, obviously, Very Bad. But there’s also just something so uncomfortable in the way that Jamestown skirts so close to presenting the natives as savages who are willing to stoop to threatening children to get their way.
Especially when you consider that the Pamunkey have something of a right to complain. Not to kidnap a baby over it, because that’s just wrong on every level, obviously. But the Jamestown settlers are constantly lying to them, are aware that they’re lying to them, are doing it on purpose anyway, and experiencing zero regrets. Many of the settlers would seem to prefer conquering the native populations and think that expansion of the colony is far more important than dumb things like, oh, not stealing land from the very same people who kept the first English from starving to death.
Furthermore, Yeardley’s initial explanation, about how he can’t possible turn down bold Englishman who are headed to Virginia for a new life but rather has to support them by engaging in more land grabs even though he gave he word he wouldn’t is…well, it’s suspect at best. Like, he obviously knows that this isn’t what he promised to do, but it also doesn’t seem as though this was a promise he ever intended on keeping. And that means it’s difficult to know precisely how we should feel here, as viewers. Who should we be rooting for? Since we spend so much time with the characters in the settlement, our loyalties automatically are drawn towards them, even the messier ones like Yeardley. (That Massinger guy can just get in the sea, though.) But what he’s aiming to do is…well let’s just call it less than ideal. The British don’t have any right to more land simply because they keep importing more women for their men to marry, and Jamestown doesn’t do a great job of undercutting their constant assertions that they do. (Sure, historically we know they’re going to take it, but that’s also not the same thing. The show would be better for it if it at least tried to present this in some more nuanced way.)
For a moment, before Jamestown decides to actually go through with the “natives took my baby!” plotline for real, it explores a couple other possibilities, either of which might have been more interesting in a larger sense. (Why? Because it would have provided more story for women that need it, rather than men that we don’t necessarily care so much about.) The slave girl Maria is briefly suspected of stealing the baby, and the show happily casts suspicion on her by showing her repeatedly sneaking off into the woods in a potentially shady way and reminding us how much she misses her own children, who were ripped away from her. And after Temperance Yeardley fills Jocelyn and Verity in on her post-partum-ish behavior last week, even Alice herself is a potential culprit, since it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for her to have simply left the child somewhere and wandered off in a fog.
Either of those solutions would likely have been more dramatically interesting than the revelation that the natives did kidnap the child. This twist leads to a lot of male posturing as most of the settlement turns out to “rescue” him (read: march to the tribal encampment in a threatening Gaston-ish fashion), and the entire situation becomes as much about the men wanting to subdue their “enemy” as it is about Alice’s fear over having lost her child. Jamestown is always more interesting when it’s focusing on what the women are doing or how they’re responding to something and this is no different. (Who’s shocked that Redwick and Yeardley want to fight a war? Zero people. But Mercy’s rock-throwing fight with her God? Heartrending to watch.) Even Chacrow’s decision to secretly return the baby to the Sharrows is interesting only in that it's part of his plot to force a native bride on Henry, which would at least introduce another much needed woman into this story.
Elsewhere, Jocelyn’s fascination with James Read appears to still be going strong, as she stalks him around town, picks arguments with him, and insults him about his general appearance. It’s pretty much like watching a fifth grader pull a girl’s hair to signify that he likes her, and it’s definitely not any reason to root for the two of them as a romantic pairing, if that is indeed where this is going. On the flip side, Jocelyn’s only other option at the moment appears to be drippy Doctor Christopher, so maybe she should just embrace being a widow for a while. (But, given how jealous she immediately seems about the news that Read has mail ordered himself a wife of his own, that certainly seems unlikely.)
Thoughts on the latest episode of Jamestown? How are you feeling about this Jocelyn/James Read business? Does anyone care whether Silas ever fully patches things up with his rapist brother? Let’s discuss in the comments.