Mercy Street, Episode 3
Alice Green (AnnaSophia Robb) discovers her beau, Tom Fairfax (Cameron Monaghan), at Mansion House. Mercy Street deals not just with the physical trauma of war, but the psychological trauma as well.
A few thoughts on the third episode of Mercy Street, which brings us to the halfway point in the first season. Minor spoilers follow.
Dr. Foster’s situation has gotten more complicated on several levels. We knew his brother was fighting on the Peninsula, but we didn’t have the whole story, obviously. I was initially surprised that Foster (Josh Radnor) could have so easily passed the examination for Army surgeon without having performed an amputation, but surgical procedures were apparently not commonly taught in medical schools of the period.
The scene with Frank Stringfellow and the Colonel didn’t ring true at all, considering that Frank is going to be hanging around the hospital for the rest of the season.
The amputation scene is about as gruesome as anything you’re likely to see on broadcast television, but it probably had to be to convey the horror of the characters present.
Dr. Hale (Norbert Leo Butz) more sympathetic than one might imagine — resentful and jealous of Foster, particular after developments in this episode, but also being manipulated by Nurse Hasting (Tara Summers).
One of the nice things about Mercy Street so far is that most of the characters are given enough depth and backstory that the viewer can appreciate the conflicts they’re dealing with. The elder Greens are a good example of that. It would be easy for the writers to make the Greens irredeemably wicked, but they’re not. The real James Green (Gary Cole) had been a Whig in years past, and not a supporter of secession. Nonetheless, he retains a loyalty to Virginia and, in the eyes of U.S. authorities occupying Alexandria, is indistinguishable from any other “secesh.” James had spent 35 years building the small furniture business he inherited from his father, and expanding into the hotel and restaurant business, to become by 1860 the wealthiest man in Alexandria. Now, with the war, James and Jane (Donna Murphy) are really just trying to hang on without being entirely swept away by the events swirling around them. Which, really, is true of all the characters in the show.
African American characters play a bigger role in this episode than previously, and the writers have done a good job in providing depth to their stories and delineating the very different circumstances they find themselves. Like the Greens, the African American characters highlighted in this episode — Aurelia Johnson (Shalita Grant), Miles (Myron Parker Jr.), and Belinda Gibson (L. Scott Caldwell) all find themselves in this episode at critical turning points in their lives.
Having got now halfway through the season, I’m increasingly appreciative of how the setting, a U.S. military hospital in Alexandria in 1862, makes it plausible to bring together so many different people and story together in one place. That many of the principle characters are based on real-life persons simply adds to the enjoyment of it.
Finally, here’s a website devoted to telling the story of the real-life Emma Green and her family. Keep in mind that, since it offers biographies of the real family, it likely contains spoilers about events coming up later in the series. You’ve been warned, y’all.