Jamestown, Season Two (2018) 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Murder, kidnapping, and treachery unfolds amid the arrival of slaves to the Americas in the second season of Jamestown.

Life is hard for the settlers of Jamestown in 1620. The recent arrival of slaves has supplemented their struggling tobacco trade, and allowed the town to prosper just enough to create civil unrest. One of the new-captured slaves, Maria (Abiola Ogunbiyi), assists the spirited, compassionate Alice (Sophie Rundal) in giving birth to the settlement's first native-born child, while elsewhere the ambitious Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick) faces a devastating loss when her husband turns up dead. The vicious governor (Jason Flemyng) suspects him a casualty of a Catholic spy for the Spanish. Hoping to encourage Alice to unite the settlers, he urges her through his wife Temperance (Claire Cox) to name the child after King James.

Fiery redheaded Verity (Niamh Walsh) seeks ways to exploit the booming local trade, although her husband has ideas of his own on how they might profit under the table. The local Native American tribe are not pleased with so many white faces on their shores, and a few of the slaves are determined to get back to their families. Soon, murder and mayhem settle across the district, with the arrival of a mysterious alchemist, a violent crime, and even an angry ghost.

It's been so long since I watched the first season of this show, I cannot recall if it set itself out to be a "fantasy" -- but some of the episodes this season teeter on the edge of absurdity. In one of them, a local fascination with alchemy turns into a strange flirtation with a hermaphrodite... and the settlers are surprisingly tolerant of him/her. A couple of episodes later, a man returns from the dead to terrorize the town, appearing as a ghost and as a rotting corpse trailing maggots in his wake. Elsewhere, the narrative is confusing -- it felt like the first episode intended to set up a murder mystery arc, but "who killed Joceyn's husband?" becomes an on-and-off theme, lost amid her political ambitions, her dealings with the governor, Alice's periods of losing time, and Verity's attempts to keep her husband out of an early grave. There are no clues to who is responsible for the murder and not that many suspects. It's a distracted narrative that can't quite figure out who it wants to focus on, or what the purpose of season two is -- whether it's about strife with the natives, political ambition, a romance, or a Catholic spy.

That being said, the female characters do come across strongly -- even if all of them are rather too advanced for their times. These are feminists of the highest modern degree, after all. And it seems like the beliefs and moral constructs of the time are thrown in as an afterthought or a problem to be dealt with, then dismissed altogether. As an example, one character struggles with homosexuality -- a crime in that period punishable by death. His friends know about it. It becomes a joke at the local tavern. He resists the advances of a young man on presumably religious grounds, then capitulates later with no apparent change of heart or concern for the potential consequences -- and then his lover disappears in the next episode, as if he was never there to begin with. The casting is quite good, and the setting is beautiful. The costuming ranges from very accurate (the governor's wife and Jocelyn and her maid) to rather inaccurate, and there's a general lack of modesty and hairpins all around.

This show left me with a strange frustration, because part of me wants to really like it, simply because it's a part of history rife for speculation and good storylines. The other part of me felt confused by its choices and irritated by its historical inaccuracies. It also does not handle faith very well. Those "with it" are often hypocrites or driven by fear, and the rest of the characters never think about it at all -- a different and modern approach to "religion" that was not true of the early Puritan settlers. It's a soapy drama that is strong on feminism and thin on actual history.

Sexual Content
Several scenes of a sexual nature, in which they "start" and the camera cuts away, or are finishing the tryst (in one scene, the woman clearly is consenting against her will, after he has been violent with her). A widow has a sexual relationship with a man (they kiss and undress several times). The governor tells a slave to "breed with" a woman; this term is repeated several times, to her humiliation and rage. He urges another woman to seduce a man for information. Homosexuality is a theme in one episode, in which a man tells another man to be careful about his lovers in public. A very "feminine" man follows another man around town, flirting with him openly. He tries to seduce him (suggesting they make love, and removing his shirt) but the man refuses; later, upon discovering this man has both male and female parts (after he/she appears in town wearing a dress), they make love (not shown). They kiss several times. In a cringe-worthy scene, the man/woman undresses in front of a man and a woman to be "examined." One episode opens with a prolonged shot of backside nudity, in which an entire conversation takes place; there is other backside nudity in other episodes. Sexual innuendo. A man tells his wife that many of the men had same-sex partners before the women arrived. Cleavage on many of the gowns.
 
Language:
Verity is quite fond of the s-word; others use ass, cock (as slang and in terms of describing preening male behavior), piss, and other terms.
 
Violence:
Infrequent but gory. Men are axed in the face and arms, showing bloody wounds and open gashes. They are beaten. Slaves are whipped raw by cruel masters. A man has molten lead poured down his throat. A man is hanged and slowly suffocates to death, jerking and twitching while a crowd watches. A man cruelly brands a slave woman's face for having run away from her master. A woman attempts to smother a man to death, until she is called upon her "wickedness" (when another intrudes and asks her about a verse in the Bible).

Other:
A ghost torments the settlement; he is often shown as a decaying, sinister corpse. The women talk about communicating with him and attempt to do so, despite it being "against our faith." The governor uses religion as a weapon, although most of the time he is vicious, power-hungry, and cruel (he abuses his wife and manipulates his staff). Christian characters are portrayed as superstitious, foolish, or backwards-thinking.