Previously on Jamestown: James Read experiences a personal tragedy, Henry gets married, Jocelyn makes an extremely poor romantic decision, and the Governor’s plot to swindle the natives doesn’t work out as planned. It’s a soapy romp, and the best episode of Season 2 thus far. Read our full recap of Episode 4 for more details.
Reminder: Jamestown is a WETA Passport-exclusive series, meaning that in order to watch it, you’ll need to be a WETA 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.)
Jamestown, it seems, has settled into a pattern in Season 2 – one that involves an exceptionally entertaining episode one week, followed by a disappointingly mediocre one the next. Last week’s installment was a soapy romp; this week’s is an uncomfortable and generally painful slog, focusing on characters we’ve never really cared about a plot we know from the jump won’t go anywhere interesting.
The generally odious Nicholas Farlow returns from a trip to Bermuda that most of us probably forgot he even took, with a flashily dressed new friend in tow. Simeon Peck is supposedly an alchemist – a man who can turn lead into gold – but he’s depicted as such an overtly fey dandy that anyone can guess where this story’s headed from its opening scene, and it’s nowhere particularly good.
Given the frequently clunky way that Jamestown handles social issues, this is hardly the venue to explore sensitive topics such as the historical treatment of homosexuals in the seventeenth century British colonies, but here we are. Though Meredith Rutter acknowledges that plenty of the men had “hairy sweethearts” before the women came to Jamestown, the story isn’t exactly progressive. Homosexual behavior is still illegal, and Redwicke takes the time to lecture all the men in the tavern about the punishments that await such sin. Farlow is clearly miserable because he must constantly reject and deny who he is, and it’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for him, if he hadn’t been such a wretch from every moment of this show’s existence up to now.
Unfortunately, rather than really wrestle with these controversial topics, for some reason Jamestown chooses to make the whole thing overtly ridiculous, in the end. Of course, Farlow can’t reasonably entertain the idea of being with a hermaphrodite who insists that drinking “liquid gold” has made him into a woman, despite the fact that the two seemed to have a deep and realistic bond throughout the episode. That Simeon borrows a fashion plate ensemble from Jocelyn to underline his transformation only makes the situation feel more awkward and bizarre, and not a statement on transgenderism that we, as viewers, need take seriously. (As it does, in fact, basically claim Simeon’s transformation is a pseudo-magical one, rather than anything to do with who he is as a person. Though of course it’s the town’s women who unquestioningly accommodate Simeon’s chosen pronouns, because they're always the best thing about both Jamestown and Jamestown.)
We do see some of Farlow’s apparently genuine conflict over his feelings for Simeon and his desire to uphold the office and law he serves. And that’s interesting, admittedly, but the show has spent so little time showing us Farlow as anything other than a self-serving monster – Farlowe basically blamed Alice for her own assault last season, got someone to fake-date Mercy to get info on Jocelyn and tried to overthrow the colony government – who honestly cares at this point if he’s miserable. It’s what she deserves dot gif.
Simeon’s alchemy plot is similarly silly, as he and Farlow ride all over the colony in search of various ingredients and make ill-advised trades because they’re all stupidly desperate to become rich. Especially Yeardley is crazy about this magic gold making scheme, a fact which probably shouldn’t surprise us after last season’s treasure map debacle, but here we are. At any rate, it feels extremely pointless to spend a third of the episode on drawn out shots of candle flames and dirty beakers accompanied by deeply creepy voiceovers, when we all know that nothing will come of it. Particularly when there are so many other plots that get a much smaller fraction of screentime and feel incomplete for it.
Jocelyn’s ongoing romantic drama is one of those plots. This week she tells both Dr. Christopher and James Read that she can’t be with them, and the show spends little time interrogating the reasons for it. We’ve had a couple lines from Jocelyn here and there about how she doesn’t want to put her life into the keeping of a man again and that’s part of the reason she won’t marry. But Jamestown has given us little reason to suspect this is a gambit she’ll be able to maintain, given that she has no ostensible source of income and is living only now on borrowed time from the governor.
Her throwaway admission to Christopher that she’s named him as a spy was another moment that felt far too brief – if only because at one point her affection for the man did seem evident and a progression from that to throwing him his life under the bus as a traitor seems like a big leap. Elsewhere, James Read’s admission to Alice that he can’t let go of his feelings for Jocelyn works a bit better – but that’s largely due to Matt Stokoe’s dedicated selling of the moment, as without that it simply looks as though Read’s gone gaga over the first woman he slept with in a while. Where Jamestown is going with all this is hard to say – when Jocelyn is so willing to push the boundaries of acceptable public behavior by forcing Yeardley to allow her to stay unmarried, sleeping with a man she is not wed to, and supporting Simeon so openly, well, why not just go for it with James Read if that is what she wishes? Who would stop her? And more importantly, who would care? Read appears to be the only blacksmith in town so it’s not like they’d be shunned outright. For all that everyone goes on about how Joss is of a "higher station" or whatever, Jamestown isn't exactly high society.
(The more questionable thing is how Joss is ordering fancy new hats in the first place with no money, but I guess that’s a mystery for next week.)
What did you think of this episode of Jamestown? Let’s discuss in the comments.