The Buccaneers – Season 1 Episode 1 “American Poison” Recap & Review

American Poison

Episode 1 of The Buccaneers begins with the wedding of Conchita Closson in New York. Annabelle “Nan” St. George goes to the room where Conchtia anxiously awaits the groom’s arrival, Lord Richard Marable. The two form part of the quintet close-knit clique of free-spirited best friends – Nan, Conchita, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Elmsworth, Virginia “Jinny” St. George, and Mabel Elmsworth.

In the streets, Nan meets Guy Thwarte, an apparent passerby who will play a pivotal role in her life going forward. Nan is unassuming and does not care how she is perceived. She is often politically incorrect and stands up for modern ideals of gender quality. And it is no surprise then that her confidence woos Lord Richard, who had come with an apology note for Conchita, to change his mind. Richard was worried that his parents wouldn’t approve of the marriage. Given Conchita’s ethnicity, he was apprehensive about how she would fit in the aristocratic society. 

But Nan’s timely reminder of how Conchita makes him feel pushes Richard to go ahead with the wedding. It is hinted that Nan and Jinny’s Governess, Lady Laura Testvalley, knows Richard’s family. She anticipates a clash of cultures when the Americans meet them in London. Nan’s father, a Colonel in the American army, made his fortune in the stock market. The family is originally from Saratoga and the Elmsworth family were their next-door neighbours.

Mrs St. George is stunned into silence when Richard invites the family to the Debutante’s Ball in London when the “Season” starts. For “certain girls of refinement,” NY has become a dumpster, essentially. The girls are excited and make the trip with Mrs St. George and Mrs Elmsworth to London a few months later. It was revealed earlier that Conchita was pregnant before the wedding. Hence, her sudden and enlarged bump surprises many.

While her bridesmaids expected Conchtia to be bursting at the seams – and she literally is but perhaps not in the expected manner – she is miserable. Richard has seemingly deserted her for weeks on a stretch, hardly ever spending time at home. The girls’ appearance couldn’t have come at a better time for her. Lady Brightlingsea, who is Richard and Lord James Seadown’s mother, shares her husband’s disapproval of “American poison” arriving at their house.

They are contemptuous of the Americans’ culture, openness, and vulgarity. At the dinner table later, Nan unwittingly outshines Jinny in front of her prospector, Lord James. Nan is certainly better well-read and well-rounded in terms of personality, even though Jinny is considered conventionally prettier. There is some bitterness between them due to this, which is stunted for now. Richard reveals to Conchita that he is going away again. This means that Conchita will not be able to attend the Ball with the girls, greatly upsetting her.

The day of the Ball arrives. Mabel and Nan do not present themselves to the British nobility who will pick out their partners from the presenting girls. As Nan puts it, they are like cattle. Parallelly, we are also introduced to the most eligible bachelor in all of England, Theo, the Duke of Tintagel. His mother, the Dowager Duchess, expresses her desire that he pick Jean Hopeleigh at the Ball. Theo doesn’t want to and is conflicted about what to do.

He does not end up picking her and is impressed by Nan’s outlandish comments to a snobby older English couple. James does pick Jinny for the Ball, although it is cut short as Nan mistakenly drops one of her sandals (which she is holding in her hands) onto the towering cake. Nan runs into Guy again. Guy’s mother has passed away due to illness and it is revealed that the family has taken considerable debt. Running into Nan isn’t a coincidence but a plan…using her wealth to pay it off.

Jinny is so miffed with Nan that she not only berates her for always stealing attention but also reveals to her that she is adopted. It had been a well-kept secret till now. Jinny pleads with her not to tell their mother and Nan keeps the promise. She is sent to the countryside with Laura for a few weeks to cool off the situation. Conchita is left to fend for herself when she has the baby.

Nan takes an impulsive swim in the ocean water. Unbeknownst to her, Theo is also nearby. They meet each other like strangers and Theo is greatly impressed by how easygoing Nan is. Neither of them recognize the other. Nan praises Theo’s painting skills and when he propositions her, Nan tells him that they will be going back to NY soon. 

The Episode Review

Against all my preconceived notions after watching the trailer and briefly reading a summary of Edith Wharton’s novel, I can say that The Buccaneers isn’t unbearable. Episode 1 has familiar genre beats you expect from a period drama set in England. It is not unlike anything that you have seen before. And yet, it manages to capture your imagination. 

I quite liked episode 1. It is a breezy, crisp, and level-headed introduction to the show’s universe.  While the modern pop numbers in the background certainly don’t fit – like the American girls – they do add a sense of freshness to the storytelling. The presentation in episode 1 is quite good; so is the casting. The culture clash is a vital part of the storytelling that also focuses on individualism.

One consistent catalyst in Episode 1 is the humour. I hope the trend in writing continues going forward. Bridgerton is the closest reference for The Buccaneers, although films like Emma, Little Women, and The Favourite should make an adequate rough sketch in your mind. Onto Episode 2!


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You can read our full season 1 review of The Buccaneers here!
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