A Review of Episode Five (“The Dead Room”) of “Mercy Street” (Some Spoilers Follow)

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For “Mercy Steet” it was another strong episode. I will try to touch on what other writers may have missed.

Dr. Byron Hale

Typically speaking , the only thing those in the entertainment industry know about the military is that they hate everything about it and everyone connected with it. I believe this ignorance and bias is reflected in the character of Dr. Byron Hale who played an important part in this episode. Unlike some individuals featured in “Mercy Street,” Hale is an invention of the show’s writers. The uptight, vain, self-important martinet of a military man became a stale, hackneyed caricature long ago. That Hale is drawn this way makes him a bore to watch.  This is not actor Norbert Leo Butz’s fault. It is the series’ writer’s responsibility.

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Television’s default position is that it must give the viewer simplistic stories of good vs. bad. Hale is clearly intended to be one of the program’s two major villains. Because “Mercy Street” is broadcast on PBS, which does not have to be concerned with ratings, it disappoints me that the series adopted this convention. All of us have the capacity to do good and bad and do both. That all of “Mercy Street’s” characters are not as multifaceted as its audience is to the detriment of the program.

Mercy

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“Mercy” is one of the installments themes. Hannah James (she of the impossibly small waist), who portrays nurse Emma Green, delivers the best acting performance of the cast for the second straight week. From her mouth we learn how the series got its name. “The road they use to bring wounded men up from the [river] barges, I’ve heard them call it ‘Mercy Street.’ Because it leads them here. Where they might be saved. It is a lie. There is no mercy. Not here. Not anywhere.” Nurse Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) corrects her:” Isn’t there? Isn’t it what we offer every day?” The exchange made for one of the best scenes of the entire “Mercy Street”series.

It was a Racist World

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The show deserves to be commended for depicting the fact that the world of 1862 was a racist world and there were racists in both the North and South. Perhaps it was too much to ask for “Mercy Street” to demonstrate that people of all races have always been both perpetrators and victims of racism.

Subtle Touches

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I noticed a number of subtle touches which add to the historically realistic feel of the series. One was the blood spatters on the wallpaper of a room in the former luxury hotel turned hospital that has been converted into an operating room.

President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln

Near the end of the program we learn that President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, will be visiting the hospital. The news gave yet another reason to look forward to the season’s climatic instalment next week.

Frank Stringfellow

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Frank Stringfellow, again ably played by Jack Falahee, was a key part of the episode. His lying to Emma, and telling her that Confederate private Tom Fairfax (Cameron Monaghan) was killed while trying to surrender, instead of being honest, and stating that he committed suicide, was the first signal that Stringfellow may turn out to be a second tier villain of the series.

Series Deserves Emmy for Costumes

Tom’s burial scene was another example of the wonderful job those responsible for the customs on the show have done. The ankle-length Victorian black morning dresses, completed with black veils, worn in the scene were eerie in the extreme. If “Mercy Street” does not win an Emmy for costumes the provost marshal should arrest the voters.

John Wilkes Booth

In the installment’s final scene Stringfellow meets with a person who is obviously  John Wilkes Booth. Stringfellow and Booth speak of a plan to assassinate Lincoln by blowing the Mercy Street hospital up. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Although I have previously criticized the show for plots that did not have a whole lot interesting and exciting going on, the same cannot be said for this episode. This week’s show was very busy and entertaining. The season finale should be just as thrilling and a real treat all around!

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