MASTERPIECE brought us four new shows in January, including the powerful mini-series The Long Song. Set during the final days of slavery in 19th-century Jamaica, the series tells the story of the hardships and survival of plantation slave, July. Each week, we're bringing you a new installment of a series of character studies on July from guest contributor Amanda-Rae Prescott. These articles will cover the events of episode three, so if you haven't watched it yet, catch up on GBH Passport.

In the last episode of The Long Song, July’s journey is once again shaped by personal crisis and misfortune she is unable to control. However, the conclusion of her story defies the odds. Her loss of faith in her situation is redeemed in a way she did not expect. This conclusion was shown at the beginning of the story, but the script obscures the details to create suspense.

The dark cloud July mentioned at the end of Episode 2 turns out to be Robert Goodwin’s reaction to the field workers going on strike. Many of the striking workers left the plantation boundaries entirely for the unclaimed land in the forest. July, on one level, has some sympathy for those workers who are being exploited, but her more immediate concern is about taking care of Emily. The strike drives Robert to a mental breakdown as the sugarcane and all of his profit rots away in the fields.

July’s inability to see the extent of Caroline’s manipulative personality comes to light during Robert’s doctor-ordered bed rest. Robert’s doctor claims the sight of Black people will make him more stressed out. Caroline seizes this opportunity to cut off July’s access to him. This was specifically designed to end whatever romantic fantasy or more practical ideas of rising influence in Robert’s life July had. Caroline uses this opportunity to fill Robert’s head with thoughts of alienation and her views on how the workers should have been treated. Viewers may once again say that July should have expected these turn in events. However, July has always had a streak of optimism alongside her mischievous ways, and once again the white characters use that to inflict more emotional pain.

The culmination of Caroline’s alienation plan is for Robert and Caroline to leave Amity for England with Emily in tow. Her fertility struggles are at the heart of her jealousy. July’s initial ease from having fewer housekeeping tasks makes the sudden loss of her daughter all the more traumatic because she instantly regrets trusting others. Along with the loss of her daughter is the silent admission that Robert’s love for her was not enough to overcome his inherent racism and financial greed. Regardless of slavery status or marital status, the law considered children the property of the father. Joint custody didn’t exist and even without Caroline’s involvement, a man could take his child away from their mother unilaterally. July once again realizes her best chance at survival is finding the field slaves just as she did back in Episode 1 when she ran away with Nimrod.

Although July is finally free of Amity, she has to carry her PTSD into her life in the community the former workers have started in the wilderness. Her mind has blocked out most of the worst details of hunger and poverty. Between the lines, viewers learn that July and the other former Amity workers’ rejection of plantation labor and domestic service closed off any opportunities for their economic advancement. Many plantation owners replaced Black farmworkers with laborers from the South Asian British colonies. Younger July finally catches up with Old July (Doña Croll) in the scene where she is homeless and disoriented, clutching a hen.

Just when the system finally sees fit to charge July with the crime of poverty, she is reunited with someone from the past. Thomas Kinsman (Arinzé Kene), the baby boy she gave up for adoption 34 years ago, re-enters July’s life. While the judge may have saved her from prison, the white government officials weren’t offering any social safety net. Thomas is her financial and emotional savior. His offer of permanent shelter and rediscovery of her family is a partial subversion of the “white savior” narratives common in slavery-based fiction. Although the Baptist missionaries did prevent Thomas from being enslaved, they did not extend that aid to July. Thomas faced racism in order to survive and eventually become a printmaker.

Old July’s memoir is in effect a teaching tool for the two generations of Jamaicans in 1898 who can’t remember slavery because all they’ve known is freedom. Although employment, class, and race still determined position in society, there was some room for Black advancement. Now those flashes of a backyard and giggling children from Old July’s earlier monologues all make sense. She is recounting her story before her physical health catches up to her memory.

What can viewers take away from July’s story across this miniseries? First, screenwriters Andrea Levy and Sarah Williams set out to portray a heroine who sidestepped the “strong Black woman” ideal. July was at times too optimistic and naive. She believed in romance in an inherently unequal society. She didn’t pay attention to politics unless it directly affected her life. She was better skilled at minor disobedience than plotting a revolution or escape. July survived unbearable loss, psychological abuse, and death to find family again. Her story in the miniseries is a uniquely Jamaican one; she could not be inserted into American history and have the same ending or impact. The Long Song may not be as popular as other Masterpiece series, but July’s story will have an impact on the kinds of historical stories that will be shown in the future.