Previously, on Jamestown: Alice Sharrow departs Jamestown with her son when she realizes it’s unlikely Silas will ever return from his new life with the natives. Jocelyn’s secret partnership with Farlow is exposed, and the magistrate literally gets beheaded for his trouble, as Yeardley brands him a traitor and blackmails Joss into helping him (illicitly, naturally) acquire more land for himself. The governor's also pretty eager to kick up a war with the local native tribe, although he’s having less success on that front once the Sharrows realize his promise to pardon Silas is a lie. Oh, and despite her farm burning down last season, Jocelyn has somehow become a successful landowner with a thriving crop in her own right, and as a result she’s basically rejected the romantic advances of all the men who were chasing her back in Season 2. Need more details? Our recap of the Season 3 premiere is here.
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 on the PBS Masterpiece channel.)
For the first time on this series, Jamestown’s story is largely focused on the next generation. Which is admittedly a bit strange, given that Jamestown likes to gloss over the fact of how many people regularly died in the colony even well into its more prosperous years. Anyway, a boat full of young boys and teens – orphans, foundlings, kids of criminals and the like – arrives at the docks, and they’re all meant to work on the surrounding plantations in some sort of indentured servitude or workhouse situation, who knows.
(In case you were worried that this episode wouldn’t have enough of Yeardley being a monster though, it makes sure to include a moment of him complaining that England has sent him these kids, rather than a bunch of new slaves for him to own and work to death. What a gent!!)
Despite upwards of a dozen teenagers appearing in town, the story only really focuses on one of them, a smart-mouthed kid named Tamlin who immediately takes to Meredith and Verity – and the ale their tavern offers. Both Rutters seem to sense a kindred spirit in the child, so when he gets pretty much immediately dismissed from his job on Jocelyn’s plantation for encouraging the other kids to slack off, he ends up sweeping up and doing other odd jobs around the bar for his keep.
In three years of this show, there are just so many things that Jamestown has never bothered to address or explore about the Rutter family. Such as: How does Meredith manage to brew and store all this ale when he himself is wasted all the time? Is the tavern financially successful? How does this couple survive when half of it seems so incapable?
This is the first time we’ve ever seen Meredith appear both capable and deeply knowledgeable, as he explains to young Tam the ins and outs of brewing and basically sets him up to be his apprentice. Of course, this is because his weird brain dementia – which I guess we’re just not even going to try to explain – has convinced himself that Tamlin is actually his dead son, surprisingly alive and come to America to track down his father.
It’s easy to see how big-hearted Verity goes along with this situation. She just wants to take care of broken, lost things; it’s been her defining characteristic since she first arrived on the ship from England. (If we ignore that stretch where she was a master thief?) Plus, there’s her desperate desire to have a child of her own. Tamlin ticks all those boxes for her, and his presence is such a boon to Meredith generally that she’s 100% willing to go along with his delusion that the child is his long-lost son, and convince the rest of the town to do so as well.
(It’s probably an indication of how much everyone likes and also possibly pities Meredith that they just smile and nod and tell the pair how much they look alike.)
Actress Niamh Walsh deserves some special praise for her performance here, which is desperate, sad and furious all at once. Her scene with James Reed in the town church as she begs a God she’s not even sure she believes in to let love touch the lives of her husband and this lost child they’ve taken in together is honestly heartbreaking. Give this woman more to do, show.
Elsewhere, Henry Sharrow is jazzed as heck to be a dad, going on about how he’s going to raise his Sharrow daughter on Sharrow land and turn her into, I don’t know, a proper colonial or whatever. It remains stunning to me how determined Jamestown is to somehow rehabilitate Henry without actually doing any work on his character. He’s a rapist, and a liar, and has betrayed almost everybody, and seems to possess few, if any, redeeming qualities. I guess he doesn’t treat his wife like dirt, so that’s a plus?
Seriously, why is this character still on this show?
All of this is really part of my larger point that Henry is so awful that even the act of killing his infant daughter off is really not going to bring many of us (read: me) around on him. Sure, it’s an incredible tragedy, that such a loved and wanted child should be carried off by the combination of an unnamed illness and incompetent physic. But such things were very common in the colonies, and it’s not like Henry has built up anything like a store of good will with viewers (again: me).
Furthermore, Henry repeatedly dismisses his wife’s desire to seek out treatment for their sick child from her own native people and denies her wishes to bury young Virginia according to her own tradition. He still sucks, even in the midst of tragedy!!
“She’s a Sharrow,” he just monotones repeatedly, as though that means anything when everyone in their family has done their best to get away from one another as fast as possible. That Henry ultimately relents on the burial issue and wails publicly with the native women really isn’t enough to turn him into a new and/or sympathetic figure, even if I’m sure his grief is actually legitimate.
After all, when people show you who they are, you should believe them. And Henry has shown us over and over again that he is garbage. He’d likely frame his decision to disavow poor Meredith of his delusions about young Tamlin’s real identity – rubbing his face in the fact of his dead child at the same time – as doing him a favor. But it just feels needlessly cruel, particularly when everyone else already figured out that if this kid is some sort of balm for Meredith’s heart, who cares? By the end of the night, Rutter is back drinking himself blotto, though Verity’s last-ditch pitch to Tam seems to have at least kept the child in their lives. What’s next for this little unorthodox family?
What did you think of this episode of Jamestown? Let’s discuss in the comment.