Arrived at “Mercy Street”

Mercy StreetLast night PBS aired the first episode of its Civil War drama, Mercy Street. As some of you know I had a chance to preview the first season (6 episodes).  You can also read it at History News Network, but I should warn you that it covers the entire season. I don’t think by reading you will ruin your own viewing experience, but there are a few minor spoilers.

My evaluation of the show does not get bogged down in dialog. Yes, you will find some of your standard cliches and, at times, some of the dialog will leave you wincing. It’s inevitable in this kind of production.

I was much more interested in how the show directs our thinking about the war in all of its complexity. It is here that I believe Mercy Street excels, but don’t take my word for it. Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.

11 comments… add one
  • James F. Epperson Jan 18, 2016

    I enjoyed the first episode. Some of the story line is looking to be a bit predictable, but I enjoyed it and think the show has potential to be very good.

  • Forester Jan 18, 2016

    I skipped it because I had work to do for an Evolution class, but I plan on watching it. I’m glad to see you posted a review, Kevin. But I thought this review was going to be a paid gig in a magazine? I was surprised to see it on the blog.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 19, 2016

      We hit a last minute snag with publication. The Daily Beast ran paid content from PBS during the two weeks leading up to Sunday evening and thought that my review might represent a conflict of interest. It was an honest oversight and thankfully I still get paid for it.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Jan 19, 2016

    Reading this blog piece I realized you must have watched the whole series (I know it’s available on DVD) because you mentioned some things that were not in the first episode. So I only read about half of what you wrote.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the first episode very much. I watched it Sunday night and then again yesterday afternoon. My biggest concern was how the show would handle race and slavery. I expected something better from PBS than some of the movies we’ve seen over the last several years and I think it did a very good job.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 19, 2016

      The race/slavery theme is developed quite nicely. Stay tuned.

  • Forester Jan 21, 2016

    In the very beginning of the pilot, why was she surprised to see them treating a Confederate solder in a Union hospital? This was the 19th Century, not ancient Sparta. Wasn’t treating the enemy’s wounded a common practice? I thought they did this in the Revolution as well (Mel Gibson’s movie notwithstanding).

    Supposedly Washington has said back in 1777, “Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren.” Wasn’t treating the enemy an expected American practice by 1863? That’s only one year before the Geneva Convention made it a universal standard.

  • Patrick Young Jan 22, 2016

    I enjoyed the first episode. Having just read Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America by Jane E. Schultz I learned that hospital workers were disproportionately immigrants and African Americans. Both groups are definitely in evidence in the show. Schultz also says that a large number of nurses were Catholic “nuns”. They are seen in the show as well, although so far none have said anything. Perhaps there is a vow of silence?

    I see that Schultz is a consultant to the series, which should be to its benefit.

    The premiere had 3.3 million viewers, about what the NPS Civil War parks get in a year, I would suppose.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 22, 2016

      As is Susan Devine, whose book, Learning From the Wounded (UNC Press), recently won the Tom Watson Brown Book Award. Definitely worth reading as is Schultz’s book. I may put together a reading list for the show.

  • Ken Noe Jan 22, 2016

    Don’t forget Anya Jabour’s Scarlett’s Sisters. She spent over a month on the set working with the actors on getting the smallest details right: http://montanan.umt.edu/issues/fall-2015/a-proper-fit/default.php

  • Brad Feb 4, 2016

    I taped it and watched the first episode last night. Thought the first 10 or 15 minutes were a bit slow (but that’s probably to be expected) but then enjoyed the rest and look forward to watching episode 2 tonight.

  • Anya Jabour Feb 17, 2016

    Hey, Ken Noe, thanks for the shout-out!

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