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The Buccaneers

The Buccaneers season 1

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Emily Tsiao

TV Series Review

In theory, Nan and Jinny St. George should want for nothing. The sisters have money, a nice home, pretty dresses and even some excellent friends in Conchita Closson and the Elmsworth sisters.

Unfortunately, none of that matters to 1870s’ New York society.

The St. Georges and Elmsworths are new money. They didn’t inherit their wealth: They earned it. And that’s practically scandalous to the snooty New York elite.

Luckily, Conchita just got married—and to an English lord, no less. And she’s invited all four of her friends to join her in England for the social season in the hopes of finding them all husbands.

The House of Misery

Unfortunately, things in British society aren’t quite what the girls are expecting. If anything, the social restrictions are even worse than they are in New York.

Nan draws unwanted attention. Jinny and Lizzy Elmsworth compete for the affections of a man. Mabel Elmsworth is drawn to Honoria Marable, Conchita’s new sister-in-law. And the boisterous Conchita struggles to overcome the prejudices and expectations of her new family.

As more drama unfolds, the girls find themselves at odds. And though they once vowed to always put each other first, they may be lucky to leave England still speaking to one another.

The Age of Debauchery

Based on the book by Edith Wharton, The Buccaneers emphasizes how restrictive social standards were in the Gilded Age, and it gives us characters that push against those standards. And while this is a good thing for women and people of color, it’s a difficult battle.

We see many interracial couples. But Conchita, who is mixed-race herself, still worries that her judgmental in-laws will hate her child since the baby will have her dark complexion instead of her husband’s fair one.

Women refuse to be seen and not heard. For that matter, they also refuse to sit at home waiting for their husbands to give them permission to have fun. But while the ladies push for loving marriages based on respect and equality with their partners, many of the lads seem more interested in a pretty face and a thick pocketbook.

Unfortunately, those themes aren’t what audiences need to be most wary of.

Despite the scandal it would cause if any of these young ladies were caught alone with a man, they frequently break the rules. We learn Conchita and her husband had premarital sex and got pregnant as a result. We hear that another young lady was born out of wedlock and then adopted by her birth father’s wife. And one bachelor is described as a “monster” by his own sister. (He forces a woman to remove her clothes, and though he doesn’t touch her, the whole scene feels very much like assault.)

As if that weren’t enough, a fully clothed couple has intercourse onscreen. We see the bare backside of a few characters. Two female characters begin a romance and kiss. And men and women frequently dress down to their Gilded Age undergarments (pants for the lads, corsets and bloomers for the ladies) to swim together, something that certainly would not have been allowed in proper society at the time.

Drunken debauchery, provocative dancing and frequent misuses of the Lord’s name also work their way into the fray.

So really, Apple TV+ has done for Edith Wharton exactly what it did for Emily Dickinson: ruin a classic author’s work.

Episode Reviews

Nov. 8, 2023 – S1, E1: “American Poison”

EPISODE REVIEW

When Conchita’s groom is late to their wedding (he has second thoughts about marrying her, but Nan convinces him otherwise), she worries she’ll be publicly shamed since she is already pregnant with his child. And two women make some unkind remarks about the length of her pregnancy later on.

We see several women in their corsets and underskirts or bloomers. A woman’s stockings and garters are exposed when she uses a toilet. A couple of women make efforts to cover themselves when men spot them in their underclothes. We see a shirtless man. Couples dance and kiss. We hear that a man had a child out of wedlock and that his wife adopted the baby to avoid a scandal. An older gentleman makes a disgusting sexual remark about debutantes (who are all young ladies) at a ball. People discuss a painting of a nude woman getting stabbed.

Women are taught that it’s a tragedy if they don’t marry. And women are treated like cattle for show when the social season begins, with men having their pick of the lot while women are expected to be quiet and obedient. We hear that some men must marry for money, and one even plots to trick a woman into marrying him since he’s destitute. Meanwhile, another man resists his mother’s attempts to marry him off to a woman he thinks is after his title (he’s a duke).

People of high society are quite rude to those they consider beneath them. Nan’s mother says mean things about Mrs. Elmsworth because she worries their association will keep the St. Georges out of high society. The two mothers also secretly pit their daughters against each other for the affections of men. (They continue to pretend to be friends with each other.) Jinny gets upset with Nan for stealing her thunder at a debutante ball when Nan isn’t even old enough to marry yet.

Conchita struggles to fit in with her new family and British society. Instead of supporting her and helping her to adjust, her husband abandons her to pursue his own interests, expecting her to wait obediently for him at home. (This distresses Conchita since he had treated her as an equal before they moved in with his family.)

Furthermore, Conchita’s mother-in-law criticizes her for having a difficult childbirth (we see Conchita screaming in pain as a midwife helps her deliver). Conchita also worries that her husband’s family won’t be kind to their newborn baby since the child will look like her (she has a dark complexion) instead of them.

A man worries he won’t make it home in time before his mother passes away. Characters drink alcohol, sometimes to excess. God’s name is abused a handful of times.

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

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