Around the World in 80 Days (2021) s01e07

After spending six full episodes ignoring the Black part of Ibrahim Koma’s Black Frenchman, this episode tackles and wrestles with the subject for most of the episode. Because they’re in the United States now and, what you’re not going to agree the United States, is really racist? Throughout the episode, it feels like “Around the World” is sticking up a superior European nose. The Klan leader John Light will say something, and it’s something in the modern United States both-siders political discourse and, well, no, show’s right.

This episode, our heroes are traveling by stage from San Francisco to Battle Mountain, Nevada, to catch a train. It’s a bumpy but uneventful ride—stage operator Elena Saurel flirts with David Tennant to Leonie Benesch and the audience’s amusement. Otherwise, they’re on track to make their train and make-up time.

Until first Black U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves (Gary Beadle) needs a ride on the stage with prisoner Light. Koma immediately takes to Beadle since he’s the first fellow Black person on the show since episode one and favors letting them join the plot. But, it’s simpler for Tennant and Benesch—Light’s polite and gentlemanly, what could be wrong with him.

Light, of course, assumes Tennant understands the world through Confederate values, whereas Tennant apparently knows and cares nothing of the U.S. political landscape. Even as Light tries to warn Tennant of Koma and Benesch’s tentatively romantic relationship, Tennant doesn’t get the hint. Koma, Benesch, and everyone else gets the hint, but Tennant can’t imagine thinking about such things.

It’ll eventually lead to a tense shootout in a saloon with lots of heroics and bonding for the good guys. The Southerners, besides aristocrat Light, are all toothless imbeciles. All the Westerners are moral cowards at best. I suppose the episode’s more Western than not, though Charles Beeson’s direction emphasizes character over action.

But does it successfully address how race and class intersect? No. Does it successfully reconcile how it avoided that topic all series? Also, no. I mean, Tennant’s too much of a good egg to really understand racism or even sincere jingoism, and it’s a downer conversation, so why dwell. Problematically, those sentiments are Koma’s in addition to the show’s. Anyway, they’re nearly out of America by the end of the episode, so chalk it up complete. It really does screw Koma over, emphasis-wise, however.

The episode itself is good. The character development for Tennant’s not sincere but successful within its constraints. Koma and Benesch’s flirtations at flirtations are good. Beadle, Light, and Samuel are probably the best examples of British actors playing Americans on non-American television in memory. I had to keep reminding myself they probably weren’t actually American.

The ending reveal cliffhanger does a nice job looping back to the beginning of the series, successfully focusing on Tennant’s quest instead of his privileged ignorance.

I sound more bearish on it than I “feel,” but maybe not more than the episode deserves; I wish British shows would take the subject of racism in the United States more seriously in their productions and not just vague sentiments.

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