Previously on Jamestown: Governor Yeardley remains a trash person, and fakes a Spanish invasion to distract the settlers from the fact that he seems to have made the Sharrows’ tobacco crop disappear on its way back to England. Elsewhere, there’s an eclipse, the colony suddenly believes its being haunted by Samuel Castell’s ghost, and everyone tries to force the spirit to leave town through various increasingly ridiculous means. Sometimes, this show is too crazy for its own good. At least someone finally teaches Verity to use a sword. Need more details? Our full recap of Episode 6 is right this way.
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.)
In the penultimate episode of Season 2, things get slightly more dramatic, but no less wild. For the first time this season, Jamestown tries to confront its slavery storyline head on, and though it turns into something that’s soapy and deeply uncomfortable by turns, it’s at least not boring. (Which is often the best thing you can say about this show.) The real problem is that the show is stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place – the one in which it knows that slavery is abhorrent and wants to write small moments of the series’ popular characters standing up against the vile practice human bondage, but is also aware of the historical realities and attitudes of the time during which it is set.
Therefore, we’re forced to watch the governor attempt to force his slaves to breed, see the town rapist get lauded for dragging Pedro and Maria back to the colony in chains, and witness Farlowe order Maria’s face branded with a sign that she tried to run. The idea that Maria might have been in some way justified in stabbing a man who told her that she was seen as little more than a vessel to produce more children that Yeardley might also own is not really explored. And even after Pedro recovers, the issue is not broached in any significant way. Instead, the story pivots back toward the love match between the two slaves, as though the fact that they have, somehow, become romantically attached to one another over the course of the season is enough to make everything else worth it.
Perhaps this whole business would be less awkward had Jamestown shown us the truth of their love match forming, rather than presenting Pedro as a man constantly harassing a woman who never displayed much interest prior to deciding to show up in his bedroom in the middle of the night. But, I guess the show does little more to justify the connections between any other couple – see also Jocelyn and James Read – so why should we expect it to start now.
Instead, we are given a few moments in which Verity, Alice and Read are allowed to stand up for the side of decency, helping Maria hide, giving her food, and shuttling Pedro to her side following his escape from the Yeardley’s cabin. As far as it goes, all three characters clearly mean well, and are each given a chance to unload on someone else about what a barbaric and ridiculous practice slavery is. Unfortunately, their efforts are almost all for naught, but at least it’s some small sliver of goodness to balance against the awfulness of everyone else. (Looking at you, Temperance Yeardley, who needed literal divine intervention to do the right thing.)
In addition to wrestling with the thorny human issue of human bondage, Jamestown also decides its finally time to revisit its biggest plothole: The fact that one of its main characters is a known rapist, yet also someone we’re still supposed to marginally root for, and whose presence is somehow supposed to be a tolerable thing in Alice’s home. The problem of Henry Sharrow has befuddled this show since they couldn’t just let him stay dead or shunt him off to live in the wilderness last season. Not only did he get to successfully reintegrate into the colony, he got to move in with his brother’s wife, ignore the fact that his presence so upset her she tried to stab him, and behave as though he was actually wronged in some way because a grown woman didn’t want to marry a man who attacked her. There has been very little in the way of actual consequences for Henry, while Alice suffered significant public shame on top of having to both live and work with her rapist. Lovely!
This week, Jamestown takes things up a notch by allowing Henry to get upset that Alice is still angry with him – and insist that, as a result, it’s totally fine if he wants to be the worst version of himself toward her and everyone else. Because he’s an adult who has learned the value of a repentant heart and is clearly very sorry for what he did. Ugh. For what it’s worth, Silas doesn’t come off looking much better here – outside of, you know, not being a sexual assaulter – since he also seems fine with Henry’s plan to assume ownership of Massinger’s slaves, use them to work Sharrow property, and help hunt down Maria so that the family can prosper from Yeardley’s gratitude. Pepper is maybe the only man in this family who isn’t trash, because at least he secure’s Mercy’s consent before they run off to mess around in the woods.
In more uncomfortable evidence of how our modern sensibilities often run uncomfortably into the historical necessity of period dramas, Jocelyn continues to insist that she doesn’t want to marry again, despite the fact that suddenly everyone in town seems very interested in whether she remains a widow or not.
Now, I might understand this if Joss happened to be a widow of some means, and some man in town wanted to somehow reclaim ownership over her money and/or lands. But Samuel was a company creature and left her with so little that it’s still not entirely clear how she’s supporting herself, let alone sporting gorgeous new dresses week after week. Joss insists she will never be tamed again by any man, which is an admirable sentiment if one that doesn’t entirely make sense given that she clearly liked Dr. Christopher so much she wanted to commit adultery with him last season. Now she’s trying to figure out how to get hold of Massinger’s vacated land, despite the fact that she has no money or real claim to it. Go, girl, I guess, even if we have no idea how she’s managing to feed herself these days.
The episode ends with Jocelyn forced to endure a public walk of shame, Cersei from Game of Thrones-style, as the village gathers to hiss and jeer at her because she has yet to remarry. This humiliation seems to make Joss more certain than ever that she must steer her own future, and to illustrate this rebellion, she seduces James Read again. And they say romance is dead, huh?
Only one more episode in Jamestown Season 2, so goodness knows where this will all end up. Any thoughts on all the drama here? Let’s discuss in the comments.