The third episode of the new PBS drama, Mercy Street was by far the best of the three. It was so good, in fact, that I hardly knew where to start this review.
Historically Authentic Feel of Show
Believable accents, period women’s hairstyles and period women’s dresses were again striking. All once more added to the historically authentic feel of the show. So too did the continuation of the story of Confederate private Tom Fairfax (Cameron Monaghan) suffering from what we know call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In my previous reviews of the first two installments I was somewhat critical of the evolving plot. The pace of the developing story lines of this episode was quicker, more exciting and generally much more interesting.
The depiction of surgeon Jedediah Foster’s ungoing struggle with opiate addition was memorable thanks to the performance of Josh Radnor. A scene that involved an amputation of a soldier’s leg by this very same surgeon was just graphic enough that the viewer could not take his eyes off the television screen but at the same time one had to fight the urge to look away due to the revolting images witnessed.
The most impactful aspect of the installment centered on former slaves who had taken advantage of the war and run away from their owners and into Union lines. The characterization of how such “contrabands,” as they were called, wrestled with what their newfound freedom did, could and should mean was fascinating. Myron Parker, Jr. portrays a household slave who appears to have been subjected to no abuse by his owners besides that which is obviously entailed by being held in bondage. He is brought from Maryland to Alexandria, Virginia where he encounters both African Americans who were born free and contrabands. He ultimately decides to liberate himself and simply walk off. Parker possesses the acting skill of person of a much more advanced age and outshone his fellow cast members.
A major criticism I made of the shows’ first two episodes was that it was too much like the show “ER” and as a result lacked that which was necessary to interest men as well as women in large numbers. I speculated that the first appearance of the amazing Confederate scout and spy Frank Stringfellow could change the program’s dynamic and give it a more balanced appeal.
Stringfellow (Jack Falahee) showed and I was not disappointed. While posing as a dentist’s assistant, he has killed a Union Army Colonel and secured valuable intelligence. More such cloak and dagger activities are sure to follow. Additional civilian characters have hinted at their own future participation in clandestine actions in support of the South. A meaningful male audience has seemed to have been secured. Enough of what typically draws women remained in place.
Every television show selects one episode per season to submit for Emmy consideration for best series. I am confident episode three will be the one those behind the program will pick. While I doubt any of the remaining three installments could be as good as this one was I am certain each will be very entertaining in their own right.
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