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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
- "This is your home" (Orry)
- "This was never our home." (Caleb)
Late 1862-1863: Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation dominates the content of this entire episode. Being executed with the utmost care and respect for the historic moment, it brings in a new reality to the storyline and a new motive to the horrific war that has plagued the country for far too long. "The indigestible lump of slavery" (Bruce Catton) sees its legal end.
Two significant battles of the Civil War are fought. These are Antietem and Gettysburg. One must notice the exceptional contribution and efforts taken in order to achieve the make-believe in its historical depiction - the gore of the battles and a tragic report on deaths to the President. Friends on opposite sides are forced to be enemies in the literal meaning of this outrageous reality. But feelings, struggles, pains and fear of responsibilities spread to a number of new characters that have for long been rather mute - Afro-Americans who are free at last! Time for them to get used to that freedom, to raise their flag of dignity high but what space for breathing will they be granted? Does the haunting past still play a significant role in their plans for future? Indeed, from now on, they experience a new beginning of the unknown.
We particularly pay attention to these new characters that existed before but merely in the shadow of their masters or lovers: Cuffey, Semiramis, Ezra, elderly Joseph, young Jim brutally killed at the dawn of freedom. Mont Royal's white women seem to show understanding and give them a choice. One of the greatest scenes of the episode includes the unforgettable image of former slaves leaving the plantation. Clarissa Main (Jean Simmons) with the women at her side, Brett and Madeline, does not show any disappointment at their decision. She is most realistic, she knows that this day was to come sooner or later because deep in her heart, she believes that slavery was a moral evil...yet, what is the attitude towards laboring? This comes with a shock rightly displayed by Orry Main who arrives at Mont Royal just as the African Americans are walking away along the valley of the oaks, once the pride of the plantation's riches and power. The heyday of these times is clearly done as so many people leave the symbol of old southern life. The last one to leave Mont Royal, this time due to the wretchedness of family's villain, is Madeline.
Though different people leave in a different way with different motives, including the mean-spirited ways absorbed by Cuffey (Forest Whitaker), Semiramis (Erica Gimpel) stays at Mont Royal. Although love might be the prospect for her future with Ezra (Beau Billingslea), she is haunted by the past and the crush she has had on a white man for years (consider episode 3 of Book 1). Ezra, however, is madly in love with her and tries to use all possible means to win her heart and ask for her hand. At the same time, he is a self-taught farmer. Consider the scene of his creative ideas about water supply.
The Mains and the Hazards are tired of war. That is a significant point for 1863 - the enthusiasm towards fighting is fading away. The casualty lists after Antietem shock the VIPs at Washington D.C (much thanks to Stanley/Isabel's venture). The need for the new spirit in the northern army is striking. Where to find it? At the headquarters of a promising new general whom George Hazard, as a West Pointer, visits. This is general Ulysses Grant, a historic figure played by excellent actor Anthony Zerbe. In a clever scene with James Read, he proves that rumors are usually exaggerated (consider the wit about his apple cider). No doubt Grant plays a truly significant role in American history and Zerbe's excellent portrayal enhances that reputation. But, apart from history, there are two iconic celebrities that place NORTH AND SOUTH deeply in the Hollywood tradition again (except for Liz Taylor's gracious presence in Episode 5 of Book 1). They appear in the final scenes of the episode and these are OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND in the role of hospital administrator and JAMES STEWART in the role of Madeline's attorney at law, Miles Colbert.
Other noteworthy scenes of the episode include:
- a lovely scene that Patrick Swayze shares with Jean Simmons - a scene between a son and a mother handled in a subtle and touching manner - one of the most beautiful scenes of the entire series;
- a nice juxtaposition of two realities: the image of Abraham Lincoln reading his Emancipation Proclamation turning shockingly into a focus on the villainous Salem Jones (Tony Frank), the worst one among the slave-masters, who approaches Mont Royal with the dead body of one Jim, an African-American boy murdered by the wicked sadist. As he offers his inhumane services to Clarissa, we clearly have a clue that it is not his last step at the plantation;
- Cuffey's secret escape from Mont Royal in the darkness of the night -consider many visual hints of the moment and the thrill that places some noir genre aspects within the miniseries;
- a very sad but touching moment of lamentations at the dead body of Jim supplied with atmospheric singing of psalms;
- the battle of Antietem where two friends from opposite sides, literally, come face to face with guns;
- some funny moments of Ashton at Mont Royal with the plot that does nothing but destroy what was so precious. Terri Garber delivers some of her lines memorably, including: "Hatred is like wine...";
Although war consumes its victims, decisions do not usually equal with will. Some are not ready for freedom yet and, after all, this is a mysterious force that leads them to say...my home is elsewhere...
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