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"North and South" Episode #1.5 (1985)

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Episode Five: Union and Families Shaken by Approaching Turmoil; 'Dixie' Vs 'John Brown's Body' Sound Powerfully

8/10
Author: Marcin Kukuczka from Cieszyn, Poland
15 May 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"I wish I was in the land of cotton,

Old times they are not forgotten;

Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land...

...John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave

his soul's marching on!

Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah! his soul's marching on!"

While the Main and Hazard enterprise occurs to be surprisingly successful and love between Brett and Billy seems to represent a promising future for the youth of the country, the fearful turmoil caused by differences between the north and the south approaches. The action of the episode is set in the late 1850s when the secession voices in the south are as loud as never before, the radical abolitionist, John Brown, organizes a raid at Harper's Ferry and Abraham Lincoln is soon to be elected the president of the United States. Poison of radical, 'extremist' politics infects friendship and love...

Episode Five accurately depicts the tensions that existed in American society before the outbreak of Civil War. Those rising conflicts do not spare the Mains and the Hazards. Quarrels are revealed in the fanatical cry of Virgilia Hazard (Kirstie Alley) – "Any man who stands in our way will die in blood and fire" and in the political manifestos of Ashton's husband, James Huntoon (Jim Metzler) – "We'll give them (Yankees) a southern welcome they will never forget." In between come those who strive for happiness or at least for normality in those crazy times: Brett, Billy, Orry, George, Constance. But Madeline? Her nerves seem to be totally 'calmed' and her fate entirely shaped by her tyrant husband Justin LaMotte. Addicted to tonic with laudanum prescribed by Justin's Dr Sapp, post-delirious Madeline does not know reality, does not remember Maum Sally's death. The attempts to flee from Resolute seem to be in vain. She occurs to have forgotten anything she headed for and anyone she loved. Meanwhile, her secret spreads to the most unwelcome, 'foxy' minds...

The noteworthy moments of Episode Five include:

- the emotionally powerful confrontation at the Hazards' during Orry and Brett's visit at Lehigh Station. Orry lets the negative emotions take over while Virgilia manifests her radical views on the verge of lunacy ("John Brown is a new Messiah") - that is the turning point for the danger of poisonous divisions already present in families. The almost insane question "Which side do you take?" (which John Jakes refers to in the afterword to the novel) becomes an evidently poisonous influence on families...the only drawback of the scene is the fact its many witnesses make the whole situation a little bit unnatural;

- the raid at Harper's Ferry where Priam and the Grady join John Brown's men and die – Virgilia, nearly on the verge of emotional lunacy at the body of her husband, yells in the memorable scene: "He is not dead, he is free;"

- the wedding of Ashton Main and James Huntoon with the nice historical detail of family portrait thanks to a new invention - photography - not long after Sir John Herschel's first glass negative in 1839;

- the scene of Virgilia, having being rescued from an asylum by Congressman Sam Greene once taken with her speech at Philadelphia, visits his house. David Ogden Stiers does a splendid job as a powerful man who generally gets what he wants and talks with a certain degree of distance while Kirstie Alley portrays a woman who confronts yet does not change her radical views - the scene is well handled;

- bitter quarrel of Orry and Brett over Brett's desire to marry Billy Hazard. Although the quarrel is not so dramatic in the source novel (Orry is not drunk and he does not punch Brett), Genie Francis highlights the emotionally genuine nature of her character and makes the scene extraordinarily powerful;

Among the guest appearances of the episode, a true surprise is Elizabeth Taylor as Madame Conti who runs a brothel at New Orleans. There is a painting with a secret past that falls into the wrong hands. Quite predictable but great credit to Elizabeth Taylor. Thanks to her sophisticated performance, the scene belongs to one of the most memorable ones in the TV series. Another episode appearance is that of Johnny Cash as John Brown at Harper's Ferry.

While the American flag is being thrown on the ground disrespectfully and the Palmetto flag, a symbol of secession, flows proudly with applause and enthusiasm, events lead to terrible yet inevitable war...

Let me finish this review with the quintessential line by John Jakes which resembles his motives and which finds its resemblance in this particular episode: "The primary purpose of NORTH AND SOUTH is to entertain. Still, I wanted the story to be an accurate reflection of the period, not so much a retelling of every last incident that contributed to the outbreak of war in Charleston harbor, but a fair representation of prevailing attitudes and tensions on both sides." (John Jakes, p. 728)

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