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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Four years of war have changed America forever. Over half-million men
and boys have died on the battlefield. Grant and Lee are deadlocked at
Petersburg and both sides pray for an end to the nightmare."
The prologue to the episode underlines the fact that the war has not only exhausted both sides but has played a tremendous role in the American history. Along with the scenes of the war's final days being shot with great care for accuracy, the episode may be summed up as quite a good historical background to the finale of the TV series. Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Lee appear once again as key figures in the historic events with their climactic moment at Appomatox Creek on April 9th 1865. Therefore, many people abroad, including my country - Poland, know at least something about American Civil War thanks to this series. However, who we are most interested in at this moment are not so much historic heroes but the characters from John Jakes's novel. They add sympathy to the whole storyline and they actually make most plots, including those 'soapy' ones too, end well. What is surely on the focus are the nation's wounds.
The episode may, therefore, be clearly divided into two halves: the first one being still a display of historic events that end the 'four-year nightmare' of war and the second one being the conclusion to the characters' fates. While some of the heroic scenes appear in the first half, some of the sentimental tear-jerking moments become present in the second half, evoking the most nostalgic feelings at the climactic finale (pure Hollywood).
Let me start with the characters who represent the defeated side in the war: the southerners, former 'rebels.'
Not each love is fulfilled, not each comeback to a plantation is a happy return...while Billy and Brett are united and may plan a happy life together after the war similarly to Ezra and Semiramis who are given a piece of land at Mont Royal (though there is some confusion about Ezra: one little moment makes for a tragic assumption about Ezra's life and the viewer may be quite shocked seeing him all right at the finale), Augusta dies at childbirth. There is a great emotional touch as Charles weeps at her grave. Consider the very following scene when Charles discovers his son at Charleston. Although there is a goof of age depiction (the kid looks far too old), it is a very symbolic moment after intense grief of an individual and of the nation, he lifts a child placing hope in future generations. A similar touch of hope appears at Madeline and Orry's reunion when, among them, there is 'another man' in their lives (forgiving another goof this time, the boy is far too young). But Mont Royal? Indeed, more dangerous enemies are not northerners from the outside but miserable neighbors who benefited far more than they deserved. And the victorious Yankees?
Our sympathy (perhaps for the first time) is with Virgilia, the once furious type that hated all southerners. Being a mistress of the Congressman who has long displayed strong feelings of lust rather than love toward her, she comes to a sad end. Her furious nature is revealed once again and this time, it is most tragic for both. Fate sometimes reaches the heights of irony but at least, she reconciles with her brother, George, where tears and a little gift for Hope mark the doom of the moment (mind you another mention of a new generation); As far as other Hazards are concerned, there is a quintessential scene with Maude Hazard when she mourns her daughter saying "No matter what she did, I loved her."
Other scenes worth a special mention are:
- Madeline visiting General Sherman's headquarters and pleading for help to the poorest. Sherman's conclusion is one of the most memorable utterances we can hear many times and yet, we forget so easily;
- the depiction of Petersburg. As Charles and Billy met face to face holding guns to each other at Antietem, we could predict that there is still time for George and Orry to appear in a similar scene. At Petersburg, they fight on opposite sides and see each other with binoculars. The battle is well depicted as a hopeless one on the verge of a useless slaughter. No one, unlike a blood-thirsty spider, aims at killing;
- Lincoln's visit at the headquarters of General Grant and his attempts to promote forgiveness rather than vengeance "The south has bled enough, and so have we."
- Appomattox Creek - a long scene depicting various people waiting for this historic moment. I wish the scene depicted Grant uttering the historic words he said there: "The war is over. The rebels are our countrymen again." Here, no one says a single word;
- Billy's arrival at Mont Royal, the scene that clearly recalls GONE WITH THE WIND and Ashley returning to Tara of course, Bill Conti's theme is being played instead of Max Steiner's;
Although I consider the attack at Mont Royal a flawed scene (this shooting serves only action), the finale is, indeed, a glorious manifestation of some best features of American film. Genuine tears come, and deservedly so, when friendship is victorious. Stick and Stump united again. Orry's words that refer to Abraham Lincoln's speech ("cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations"), shots of calm nature, the ruin of Mont Royal; friends' reflections make all end well within the walk towards a new reality separated from the difficult past.
Just like the lovely words said by Maude Hazard in the novel "There is still a great deal of un-Christian hate in the world. Love will somehow defeat it (...)" (page 220 NORTH AND SOUTH), friendship appears to survive all storms of war and reveal a unique dynamism in starting everything anew.
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