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"North and South, Book II" Episode #1.2 (1986)

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Episode Two: Love Makes All United, Rifts Divided, Clues Predictable

Author: Marcin Kukuczka from Cieszyn, Poland
6 June 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The beginning of this episode is marked by news: not only the news of great southern victory in the first battle at Bull Run but also the news about Mont Royal. Having heard bad tidings about the events at our South Carolina's heroes, Brett (Genie Francis) and Semiramis (Erica Gimpel) - more a companion than a slave - make their way southwards facing hardship and overcoming dangers. They will arrive at Mont Royal at the most surprising moment... The news about Madeline force Orry to ask Jefferson Davis for a leave. Where does he travel? Straight to Resolute where the love of his life is again locked in captivity of horror, despair and tyranny. This visit will solve their problem once and for all... Yes, Justin is killed so Orry and Madeline get married! Different sort of news also spread in the mind of villainous Ashton (Terri Garber) who makes a step that we have been looking forward to and the decision we have predicted before...she seduces the man of her caliber, Elkanah Bent (Philip Casnoff). Riches, power...the end always justifies the means for such people. It is accurately depicted in Charles's words (in the novel): "One taste of power and all their common sense flies out the window." Finally, the news about the current situation of the country influences all. George Hazard (James Read) witnesses the quintessential words said by the President: "we must now put our fight on the side of human rights." Love as a growing experience and a fulfilled dream unites, rift fanned by war divides. Each character somehow gets something of his/her targets and yet, lots of clues make the content more and more predictable. Let me, however, begin with the merits.

The noteworthy scenes of the episode include:

- Justin/Orry fight supplied with desirable tension and typical climax - lovers embrace...the horror is over. Indeed, it is a significant moment in the whole miniseries;

- the wedding of Orry and Madeline (as most awaited one, it is the best wedding of the series) + their wedding night (in bed at last!) They nicely tease each other about the happiest day of their lives ("The day I met you was the day I was born...");

- Virgilia (Kirstie Alley) getting the job as nurse at Dorothea Dix's hospital after Congressman Green's recommendation. There is a nice conversation between Virgilia and Ms Dix (Nancy Marchand) when we realize the fact that the fanatical abolitionist has not changed, actually. The aspect of treating all patients the same, both the Northerners and the Southerners constitutes a clue that, at some point, this agreement will be violated;

- Charles (Lewis Smith), having been wounded, arrives at Augusta's (Kate McNeill) again...she nurses him, he gets to know her lifestyle better, her far modern way of life and tolerance towards Afro-Americans Boss and Washington (John Nixon) whom she has taught to read and write. His view on slavery is clearly changing. At the same time, there is a lovely clue that love grows between the two when Charles climbs the stairs to the door of her room and she, as if feeling his presence, stands at the door. They don't see each other...

However, the episode has some flawed elements that, consequently, make the series moves towards hardly ingenious development with some characters.

Most scenes of Ashton and Bent may be characterized by one word: cliché. It is a cliché of the almost soap opera depiction of sex, it is a cliché of villainous characters, it is a cliché of sophisticated tastes that reveal greed and vanity. Their sex is like chess game, reflected upon, aim-directed - nothing spontaneous, no single bit of true feelings just orgasmic expressions and statements like "I want you more than any other woman I have known." Forget ingenious feelings, Ashton and Bent are Josephina and Napoleon! They are monarchs, they are VILLAINS! And what do others think of them? Morgan Fairchild pulls out a pistol at Bent threatening to expose his wretched nature while Ashton, naked in bed, waves at her mockingly. Come on! The final scene in the episode with the revenge plan that has an unquestionable token (a painting) proves the fact clearly - the backbone is pure soap opera. And that is what we might expect more and more in this story-development and sink in disinterest. In that case, a similar depiction appears at Stanley (Jonathan Frakes) and Isabel (now played by Mary Crosby) and the profitable 'business' on shoddy war materials within one Axol Iron. But, mockingly, 'a devil is in a woman' again...while Ashton is the villain of the Mains, Isabel is the villain of the Hazards. Both desire power, riches by all means. Male characters differ.

Another scene that does not make much sense is George and Orry's meeting. George saves Orry's life and yet, the scene is aimed at depicting the changing views at a certain historical moment of the Civil War...a rising hope for victory in a 'rebel' and confusion in a 'Yankee' that ends in another confrontation...Unfortunately, some unreality prevails that may sometimes occur laughable as in case of Brett saving Semiramis thanks to a very 'solid' idea of using male uniforms;

Although no one now believes that the war is going to be a short 'episode' of American history, the characters slowly fade within their worlds, their specific existences in hard times. Meanwhile, some clues in scenes make the fates of characters quite predictable. In spite of being a significant episode for the whole story, there are features that make it clear why BOOK II adaptation is not as good as its predecessor. 6/10

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