Mercy Street, Episode 1
I just finished watching the first episode of Mercy Street online. I liked the episode, and I do think it’s a promising start.
Others Everyone else has weighed in on the show already, but here are a few thoughts on the first episode (with some minor spoilers), in no particular order:
Emma Green (Hannah James), daughter of Mansion House’s proprietor, passes U.S. officers quartered in her family’s home.
The choice of Alexandria as a setting is useful, as it’s a location stable enough for a semi-permanent hospital, but close enough to the fighting that you have all sorts of people passing through — Union and Confederate soldiers, southern-sympathizing civilians, “contrabands,” free African Americans, and so on. It’s a polyglot setting, that works well for the drama in a way that most other cities would not.
The “New Nurse,” Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a promising character, but (as BelleBlackburn at Civil War Talk pointed out) she has no noticeable accent at all. (Winstead is from North Carolina, so it’s just possible she can’t actually manage it.) It’s interesting to watch her character in the space of the first episode — which appears to take place in a single day — be forced to put aside some of her idealism and get to work.
Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, left) encounters Anne Hastings (Tara Summers), a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s nursing service in the Crimea. There will be blood.
Anne Hastings (Tara Summers), the English nurse, strikes me as authentic, although somewhat exaggerated for dramatic effect. I can easily see Hastings as someone who, having served under Florence Nightingale — and picked up some of her personality traits as well as her skills and knowledge — would see herself as being placed to show these poor, benighted Americans how it’s done properly.
I wonder where the character name Frank Stringfellow originated. The Stringfellows were a prominent Virginia family — not quite FFVs, but near as dammit — and a family that was full of clergymen. One of them, the Rev. Thornton Stringfellow of Culpepper, Virginia, published a volume in 1856, arguing that chattel bondage was not only permitted by Holy Scripture, but was a positive blessing on those actually enslaved. Maybe Frank’s a cousin.
As Emma Green looks on, Dr. Jedediah Foster (Josh Radnor) prepares to give a morphine injection to calm a patient. Dr. Foster is clearly going to have an addiction problem later in the series.
The scene late in the episode between Phinney and Samuel Diggs (McKinley Belcher III), where the latter saves a soldier who is hemorrhaging (above), but because of his station as an African American laborer, cannot let on that he saved the man’s life, was an effective way of summing up the predicament a man like Diggs would find himself in, without being preachy about it.
The issue of slavery is continually coming up as a source of conflict in the dialogue — due in no small part to Phinney’s clear abolitionist leanings — but otherwise it’s handled more subtly. Interestingly, the one ominous racial incident, in the back yard behind the hospital, involved a man wearing a U.S. hospital steward’s insignia. (Blink and you missed it.)
The reference to Jacob Mendes Da Costa, and his description of “soldier’s heart,” is welcome and enlightening for the series, although it’s a bit premature in the spring of 1862; he didn’t actually publish on it until 1871.
Like others, I’m glad this series doesn’t treat CW medical personnel as though they were brutal and ignorant amateurs. They weren’t, anymore than physicians are today. Some were better, some were worse, but they weren’t incompetents.
This series seems to be off to a good start.