Jamestown season two can be successful if it handles its controversies correctly

(Credit: Sky One)
(Credit: Sky One)

Season two of Sky One’s Jamestown was sort of sprung upon us. Considering the weeks of promo its debut season had, the follow-up pretty much appeared, which, depending if you’re a fan or not, will either be a most pleasant surprise or of absolutely no interest whatsoever.

The first season certainly had its moments but was lacking something. While it began in shocking fashion and introduced us to a collection of both likeable and unsavoury individuals, narratively it felt like it struggled to get going and indeed end up anywhere of interest.

Episode one of the new season, however, is a totally different kettle of fish.

(Credit: Sky One)
(Credit: Sky One)

With the former’s climax culminating in a final, chilling shot of black slaves entering camp, it offered a foreboding direction where the next season would take us. At the time it felt uncomfortable in the knowledge that depicting slavery would not only be a controversial but historically accurate move; its handling would be hugely important also, if it was going to offer something more than a barrage of offense and racism.

For ease and to avoid having to deal with the slaves’ introduction, we pick up events several months later. Alice (Sophie Rundle) is on the verge of giving birth to Silas’ child, as egotistical power players Nicholas Farlow (Burns Gorman) and Redwick (Steven Waddington) slyly plot to take down meddling Samuel Castell (Gwilym Lee) who threatens their totalitarian dominance of Jamestown.

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The time jump is a welcomed shift, mainly because it erases the potentially awkward character encounters and allows us to fill in the gaps. This way, everyone is already established in camp and integrated in various ways. Yet it still gives plenty of unpleasant interactions between slave and master and doesn’t shy from the often inhumane nature of period.

(Credit: Sky One)
(Credit: Sky One)

While the slavery aspect is a most unpleasant element of season two, indication is that things will be happening much quicker plot-wise and at a more intense pace than season one. Its opening 30 minutes certainly has a lot going on, with the tension and severity of the town’s evolution noticeably stepping up a notch or three. Indeed, it’s all change for Jocelyn (Naomi Battrick), as Verity’s (Naimh Walsh) persona has subtly adapted to the new situation and power dynamic she finds herself in.

Despite the apparent shakeup, the consistency in how it treats and addresses women remains the same. It really does portray their freedoms terribly in terms of how men perceive their worth and purpose. Throw in the dynamic of slavery and we’ve got a severely oppressive existence for both black people and women, making for a fascinating and relevant parallel in 2018.

As previous story threads now develop into something more engaging, the show feels as if it’s trying to liven and freshen itself before having the chance to run out of steam. Sure, there’s still angry white men shouting the odds and declaring their ‘God-given right’ to Jamestown and anything else they deem necessary for the settlement to thrive, but there’s a greater sense of excitement running through the episode’s spine than ever before.

(Credit: Sky One)
(Credit: Sky One)

As a whole, its season debut is extremely busy. Whereas previous hours have felt laborious, things appear to have since changed. New storylines are opened – whether its thanks to new, interesting, and instantly likeable characters such as Pedro (Abubakar Salim) and Maria (Abiola Ogunbiyi) – or others have simply taken on a life of their own from last season. The way they’ve incorporated new characters – black ones, as slaves – won’t sit comfortably with everyone, but in these two faces we have headstrong additions to the castlist.

In truth, the bold decision to address the African Slave Trade is brave in the sense that getting it wrong could be disastrous for the show. As a topic that requires delicate and professional handling when it comes to depicting it on-screen, the pitfalls are aplenty: a hint of romanticism, or whether its glossed over, or misrepresented will see it come under fire. Even using the concept of slavery as a means of TV entertainment will upset some, but if it can serve as a stepping stone to liberation for said prisoners, the writers may have just pulled it off.

A positive season opener implies the quality and controversies of the show have significantly increased. Hopefully the writing and subplots can combine organically, in which case we’ve a surprisingly good series in store.

Catch Jamestown each Friday, 9pm, on Sky One.

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