Episode six of “Mercy Street” (“The Diabolical Plot”) was the series finale. It was also an installment that was disappointing and the worst of the season.
Suspension of Disbelief
When the series has been at its best, it was difficult to tell where the history ended and the fiction began. That so much of what transpires on the show is either found in the historical record or has a historical parallel has been the production’s best selling point. It has been easy to suspend one’s disbelief when watching is like seeing a history book come alive.
Some Plot Elements Were so Fantastical as to be Ridiculous
Unfortunately, aspects of the story told in “The Diabolical Plot” were so fantastical as to be ridiculous. We witness a fight between Dr. Byron Hale (Norbert Leo Butz) and Dr. Jedediah Foster, portrayed by Josh Radnor, over the use of Chloroform as an anesthetic during surgery. Chloroform was utilized as an anesthetic during the Mexican War of the late 1840s. It became an official aspect of the U.S. Army’s practice of medicine in 1849. Contrary to the impression one might have been left with after watching the episode, using chloroform as an anesthetic was not a newfangled idea during the Civil War. It was the norm. There was no major conflict in the army at the time between an “old school,” who did not believe in it, and doctors who embraced it. Perhaps the installment’s writers felt “The Diabolical Plot” needed a source of conflict between the two medical men.
Historical Authenticity Fell Short
There is no historical basis for a plot to kill President Abraham Lincoln by blowing up a hospital while he visited it. It should be noted, however, that the 1865 plot that ultimately did the president in was not the only plot against him after his election.
There were other more minor areas where the show fell short of the mark as far has historical accuracy. James Green’s (Gary Cole) speaking of his hope of “Jeff Davis…marching on Alexandria” indicates that “Mercy Street’s” historical advisor[s] who reviewed the script either fell down on the job or was/were ignored. Davis was the president of the Confederacy. In the vernacular of the time, Green would have spoken of his hope of General “Robert E. Lee” marching on Alexandria and not Davis.
Anyone who has conducted research using manuscript sources from the Civil War period can attest to how different the handwriting of the time was from what we are accustomed to today. It is too bad we did not see this handwriting in all its glory in the note delivered to Frank Stringfellow, portrayed by Jack Falahee, that communicated to him: “Operation log cabin confirmed. 4 P.M. Today.” Instead we read it in the style of cursive that has been taught in American schools from about the last third of the twentieth century onward.
Civil War Codes
One would have thought that Stringfellow’s fellow conspirators would have come up with a confirmation message that would not have been an obvious giveaway about the nature of the plot if it were to be intercepted en route. Some clever codes were used during the war and “Mercy Street” missed an opportunity to highlight this fact with the way the note was handled in the script for “The Diabolical Plot.”
Dr. Byron Hale
Other aspects of the episode’s storyline would be implausible to a silly degree even in a show set in a different time period. That Doctor Hale could get caught influencing the hospital steward to get rid of the hospital’s store of Chloroform as part of a plot to undermine and get rid of the hospital’s executive officer (Dr. Foster) and still maintain his position at the hospital is laughable.
Likewise laughable is the plot line involving Samuel Diggs (McKinley Belcher III) and Aurelia Johnson (Shalita Grant). Sam returns to Alexandria after rescuing Aurelia’s son from slavery. He journeys to her cabin only to discover her gone. Fortunately for him, he notices on the floor a piece of paper that sends him racing for a boat leaving Alexandria. He arrives at the dock just before Aurelia steams away for Boston and the family enjoys a reunion.
Alice Green and Aurelia
The installment was not all bad. The angelic looking Alice Green (AnnaSophia Robb) joining the secret pro-Confederate society The Knights of the Golden Circle near the end of the episode was a very interesting development. Aurelia coming upon the hospital steward Silas Bullen (Wade Williams) bleeding to death and not helping him because of what he had done to her in the past was a powerful scene. I do not regret the time I invested in “The Diabolical Plot.”
It has not yet been announced if the series will come back for next season. It will likely depend on the series ratings. The ratings for the premier episode were strong. I have not been able to learn about how many viewers the remainder of the season’s installments had.
My blog posts on “Mercy Street” have generated a large number of views and unique visitors for my blog. For this reason, despite the fact that the season is over, I will blog about the show again in the next two weeks so check back in of you are interested. Until then, you may wish to read my reviews of the other five eppisodes that are also found on this blog.
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