Because I’m doing my master’s thesis on a topic related to Civil War medicine, I was asked to review this PBS series, but just could not find the time to do so until now. I sometimes had to binge-watch a couple of episodes. This thesis stuff is difficult—especially the “thinking about it” part. Nevertheless, I have seen every episode, and perhaps one review will suffice instead of six.
Basically, it’s a hospital drama. I was afraid of that, but not in a bad way. I love hospital dramas! And cop shows! It is just that no one should get his or her ideas about hospitals, cops, or the cities in which they are located from Chicago Med, CSI New Orleans, or Mercy Street. Homicide, from Baltimore, might be the only exception. Just sayin’. I used to live in Baltimore.
The writers of Mercy Street tried mightily to get every small detail correct, and they were amazingly successful. The costumes are lovely to look at, and I have not read one review that complained about them in the slightest. Personally, the lace that adorns the necks and bodices of the Green women take my breath away. The men’s clothing shows the same attention to detail. None of the enlisted soldiers have uniforms that fit worth a darn, and from what I have read, that was the truth. They look sloppy, dirty, and oftentimes bloody.
There is nothing pristine about Mansion House Hospital in any way, and again, that agrees with what I have read in my copious research. The special effects concerning the wounds, the amputations, and death seem very realistic rather than glorified simply for shock value. William Hammond is mentioned as the Surgeon General, “Taps” is not played, as it was not written until later, and the ball scenes, including the quick attempt at “Dixie” on the piano were satisfying as well.
So far, so good.
Here are my questions–can we take the rape scene between Aurelia and that nasty old Silas Bullen as something more than what it is, due to the historical context of the series? Haven’t men been exploiting women in such a barbarous manner for forever? Isn’t it happening now? Won’t it continue, despite the best efforts of law enforcement and religion?. Is the beating and near lynching of Samuel Diggs an isolated case of violence, or have we not been reading today’s headlines? Should we take the efforts of PBS, fine and honorable as they are, and learn history from them? My answer to this last question is a firm “No.”
I prefer to just enjoy Mercy Street for what it is–a pretty darn good hospital drama. This way I am not setting myself up for disappointment. I am, however, waiting to see if the newest Dr. McDreamy Jed Foster ever gets over his scruples and puts honorable moves on pretty Nurse Phinney (fingers crossed!). I hang on the snarling words of Miss Hastings, and laugh as she winds poor Dr. Byron Hale around her witchy fingers. He is such an easy target, that one! I am waiting to see if, maybe next season (if there is a next season!) handsome and smart Samuel Diggs comes back to Alexandria in a blue Yankee uniform to rescue Miss Aurelia and help her find her son. And I hope against hope that silly Miss Emma realizes that Frank Stringfellow is a cad and a bounder! Maybe she could hook up with Dr. Hale . . . he deserves better.
Just because something says “Civil War” on it does not mean it is from God’s hand to our digital screens. I only wish I was in Frederick, Maryland. The Museum of Civil War Medicine (a wonderful, lively place!) hosts a Sunday evening get-together at the Museum to watch Mercy Street. Now that sounds like fun! All the best Civil War medical minds working today are clustered around the screen to check for accuracy, and the rest of the audience can laugh, cheer, and jeer the historical hospital drama that is Mercy Street–“RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES” of both today and the 1860s.