"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" (1985) - EPISODE THREE "1848-1854" Commentary
Episode Three of the 1985 miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I", immediately picked up where the previous episode left off. And unlike Episode Two, this particular episode stretches over a slightly longer period of time of six-and-a-half years - between the late winter of 1848 and the early summer of 1854.
This episode began less than 24 four hours after Episode Two left off. Following his resignation from the U.S. Army, George Hazard paid a visit to his friend Orry Main to inform the latter of his upcoming wedding to Constance Flynn and to invite Orry to serve as best man. In Episode Three, Orry escorts George to the local rail stop in order for the latter to catch a northbound passenger train. Before George's train arrives, the two friends spot escaped Mont Royal slave Priam attempt to board a passing freight train. Orry prevents Priam's escape. But as he prepares to shoot the slave in order to prevent the latter from enduring more punishment, George begs Orry to simply allow Priam to go. An angry Orry concedes to George's request and Priam continues his escape to the North. About a month later, George marries Constance at a local Catholic chapel in Lehigh Station with Orry and the Hazard family in attendance. During the wedding reception, Maude Hazard announces that George and older brother Stanley will operate Hazard Iron together, while Stanley remains control of the finances. And Virgilia Hazard invites Orry to attend an abolitionist meeting where she is scheduled to serve as one of the speakers. Several months later, a major accident at Hazard Iron leads Maude to place financial control of the company in George's hands, much to the consternation of Stanley and his shrewish wife, Isabel.
The story eventually jumps to the early 1850s, which finds the Main family and others attending the funeral of Tillet Main. One of the attendants is Orry's Cousin Charles, who has been staying with the family since the death of his parents. Unbeknownst to Orry, sister Ashton has developed a slight lust toward her cousin. However, Charles is attracted to house slave Semiramis, much to the consternation of both Ashton and Jones. Speaking of the latter, he is fired by Orry, who now serves as master of Mont Royal; and later has a fight with Charles at a local tavern. Also, Charles has become involved with a local belle named Sue Marie Smith and is later challenged to a duel by her fiancé Whitney Smith. When Orry helps train Charles for the duel, the two cousins become close. He also suggests that Charles considers a career as an Army officer and arranges for Charles' entry into the West Point Academy. Orry discovers during the Mains' visit to Pennsylvania that George has made arrangements for younger brother Billy into the Academy, as well. Also during the South Carolina family's visit, Virgilia incurs the wrath of her family and the Southern visitors with her comments about the recent Compromise of 1850. Also, George and Orry become partners in the construction of a cotton mill in South Carolina, to the pleasure of both Stanley and Isabel, who believe that George has made a serious mistake. This episode also features Madeline La Motte's discovery of her husband's sexual tryst with a slave, and encounters his wrath. George joins Constance in her activities with the Undercover Railroad. She also convinces him to bring Virgilia along with the Hazard family's visit to Mont Royal by the end of the episode.
As one can see a great deal occurred in this episode. This is not surprising, considering that Episode Three has a longer time span than the other five episodes and stretches across the fringe of two decades. Because of this longer time span and the fact that so much occurred in this episode, I cannot help but wonder if this episode would have benefited from an additional 30-45 minutes. Speaking of time, this is the first time a major blooper regarding the saga's time span. Following the accident at Hazard Iron in the summer of 1848, the story jumped five years to 1853. The reason this is impossible is that during the Mains' visit to Pennsylvania a few months after Tillet Main's funeral, both George and Orry revealed that their younger kinsmen - Billy Hazard and Charles Main - would be entering West Point later that fall. Like I said . . . this is impossible, considering that both Billy and Charles will graduate from West Point in 1856 in the following episode. There is no way in the world those two will spend only three years at the West Point Military Academy. Tillet Main's death should have occurred either in late 1851 or early 1852. Another scene featured Madeline LaMotte stumbling across her husband Justin LaMotte in a tryst with a female slave at Salvation Chapel, where she and Orry usually meet. My question is . . . why on earth would LaMotte go out of his way to have a rendezvous with one of his slaves, when he could have easily went to her quarters or have her sent to his room?
Although the character of Semiramis has been featured since Episode One, this episode ended up being the only one in which she had a prominent speaking role. Naturally, Erica Gimpel was excellent in the role, I suspect that the writers only used her character in this episode as a set up for the expansion of her role in "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II (1986) - including her attraction to Charles Main. I have a deep suspicion that Semiramis was more or less wasted in this miniseries, because Episode Three will prove to be her last appearance until the next miniseries. Perhaps the roles of Semiramis and the other slaves in "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" could be seen as indicative of the writers and producers' limited attempt to explore the impact of slavery in mid-19th century America. Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh. But the saga's exploration of the African-American characters seemed a bit more broad in the second and third miniseries than it was in the first.
It did not help that both John Jakes and the writers who adapted his novel for television managed to create a major blooper regarding the institution of slavery. Both the novel and the miniseries featured an abolitionist meeting in Philadelphia where Virgilia Hazard proved to be one of the speakers. First of all, the producers hired actor Robert Guillaume to portrayed famous African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, who also served as one of the meeting's speakers. Mind you, Guillaume gave an excellent performance. But he was at least 57 when he appeared in this episode. But the abolitionist meeting occurred in the early spring of 1848 . . . when Douglass was just barely 30 years old. Fifty-seven . . . thirty. Hmmm . . . talk about a historical blooper. Virgilia's speech centered on the topic of slave breeding. Naturally, Orry Main, who was at the meeting, expressed outrage and claimed that her accusations were false. Both George and Constance - who were also at the meeting - shared his feelings. Even Jakes seemed to support this belief in his novel. But despite her lurid words, Virgilia was right. Slave breeding was practiced in pre-Civil War America. Why would Jakes or the writers who wrote the miniseries treat this subject as some lurid fantasy in Virgilia's mind?
Fortunately, Episode Three had its virtues. It featured another first-rate performance from Kirstie Alley as the volatile Virgilia Hazard. Not only did she give what I believe what was the best performance in the episode, she had at least two dazzling costumes:
Other cast members such as Patrick Swayze, James Read, Inga Swenson, Wendy Kilbourne, Jean Simmons, Jonathan Frakes, Erica Gimpel, Tony Franks, David Odgen Stiers and Wendy Fulton also gave excellent performances. However, it is obvious this episode, especially the 1850s sequences, were all about the younger generation. Actors John Stockwell, Genie Francis, Terri Garber and Lewis Smith made their debuts in this episode as Billy Hazard and the three younger Mains - Brett, Ashton and Charles. All four did a great job in establishing their characters. I was especially impressed by Francis and Garber who did an excellent job in establishing the complicated relationship between sisters Brett and Ashton Main in a delicious scene featured in their Mont Royal bedroom. There were other scenes that I found not only enjoyable, but well acted - the Hazard Iron accident, the Philadelphia abolitionist meeting (despite a few historical bloopers), Orry's blooming relationship with his younger cousin Charles, Virgilia's quarrel with Isabel Hazard and Ashton Main during the Mains' Northern visit and Constance's revelation of her Underground Railroad activities to George. The episode ended with a deliciously funny scene between Read and Alley, when Virgilia convinces brother George to allow her to accompany the family south to Mont Royal.
With Virgilia and the rest of the Hazards leaving Lehigh Station for their trip to South Carolina, the story is set to get even more interesting in the next episode. And I cannot wait to see what will happen.