Sam fights for his beliefs, and a deadly historical figure shows up

By Nina Terrero
February 15, 2016 at 12:15 AM EST
Credit: Antony Platt/PBS
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Though the primary charm of Mercy Street has been its focus on ordinary people immersed in historic events, “The Dead Room” effortlessly folded in a surprise appearance from a notable historic figure in way that might have a chilling — actually, make that downright shocking — effect on next week’s finale.

The night kicked off with a surprise visit from a medical inspector, accompanied by a ladylike Miss Evans. The latter rather disappearance into the background bustle of the day — no surprise really, as women were generally treated as essential as decorative horsehair furniture in those days — but the medical inspector is regarded with general awe and deference by Dr. Summers, who has his eye set on a cushy office job in Washington. A recommendation by the inspector would secure such a gig, but unfortunately for Summers, there are other matters and people ready to distract his valued visitor. Who, you might ask? Well if you guessed Dr. Hale and Nurse Hastings, you’d be correct, as Hale is drooling over the possibility of a promotion. You see, the executive officer position is open — a job that Foster has already shrugged off, citing lack of interest — and it’s up to Hale to manipulate, scheme, and connive his way up the managerial ladder. (With the help of his loyal comrade slash lady friend Nurse Hastings, obviously.)

The matter of vying for power comes up again in a face-off between Bullen and Sam. I side with Sam here — I mean, who wouldn’t — when he confronts Bullen in the kitchen over Aurelia’s rape and his nasty habit of hiding food from wounded soldiers. Sam impresses with his confidence and calm demeanor, and he scares Bullen into complete cowardice. Unfortunately, Bullen is the sort to take his retaliation in murky territory. He tells a pair of soldiers — newly arrived to claim their dead brother’s body — that Sam is partially to blame for the death, having stolen the care packages that were marked for their sibling. For the record, the brothers are loyal to the Union, but as we’ve observed before in the series, that doesn’t ensure any sort of belief in the abolitionist movement. Before long, we see Sam — having approached Aurelia about running away with him farther north — being brutally beaten and abused by the two, with a noose being slipped over his neck. Strung up on a tree, he was minutes away from certain death if it hadn’t been for Dr. Foster, who learned of Bullen’s vendetta against Sam.

It was a startling scene: Union soldier against Union soldier; united in one cause regarding the country and completely divided on the matter of race and freedom. With a gasp and a sigh, Sam is let down from the tree — and rides away, leaving Aurelia and the other friends he’s made behind. Whether he’ll continue to be part of the series is uncertain, but one thing is for sure: Sam has been one of the most lovable and sincere characters on the show and has been important in representing the hopes, dreams, and capabilities of the population he represents.

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And then there’s Emma. She is wrestling with the truth about Tom’s death. You see, several Union soldiers came to the hospital with his body in tow and proudly announced themselves his murderer; on the other hand, Frank has told her that Tom died protecting him against attack. Then Chaplain Hopkins confronts her, revealing that he and Foster found out that the death was self-inflicted. What’s the truth — and what is she to believe?

In each episode, Emma has proved herself stronger than people think, and she does that again here when she confronts Frank over his falsehood. “I’m not a child who needs to be shielded from the truth,” she tells him, staunch in her delivery. Frank takes her seriously for what might be the first time in their relationship and shares that he’s working for the Knights of the Golden Circle. “They’re prepared to do anything,” Frank tells her. “There are things you may hear, things I may be involved in, that I never want you to doubt.”

NEXT: Everyone gets their way … sort of

As the hour continues, James Green is drawn into the drama surrounding Tom’s death when he places himself front and center in the matter of his burial. Eeven the cemetery is under Union control, and no one can be buried there without permission — permission that Tom’s family doesn’t have. Here, Green takes a stand. “I’m going to dig this grave now,” he tells a soldier waving a gun in his face. “If you want to shoot me, so be it. I’ll dig it big enough for two.”

Green wins the stand off, and you have to give it up to him, standing up to Union soldiers in spite of — or because of — the fact he’s flanked by both his entire family and Tom’s. But the victory is short-lived, when at dinner later that night Union soldiers place Green under arrest for various counts of treason and subversion. Whatever lies ahead, something tells me it won’t be pretty.

Back at the hospital, the medical inspector — whose visit went from business to pleasure when Foster distracted him with the help of a prostitute as he set off on his mission to save Sam — bids his farewell, ending his visit with the recommendation that Foster be appointed as executive officer and the promise of reporting favorably about the hospital. (Sid note: If you were wondering where Dr. Summers was the majority of this episode, he was off getting the tip of his finger sawed by off by Mary. Apparently you gotta take such measures when you’re infected by gangrene. #TheMoreYouKnow)

“Don’t fret,” the inspector says. “I will be kind indeed.” Here, Miss Evans chimes in with a chipper, “As will I.” Wait, what? Who is the mysterious Miss Evans? Who does she report to? It turns out that the she is Mrs. Lincoln’s personal attaché and is on an undercover mission to “determine whether Mansion House is a suitable venue for the First Lady’s itinerary.” With a visit from Mrs. Lincoln and the President on the horizon, Mansion House will play host to two historic personalities intimately intertwined with the war itself. There’s much to be done in preparation and plenty to plan — though much of that planning won’t be altogether altruistic, it seems.

Why, you ask? Well, the end of the episode sees Frank going to a secret meeting with an unidentified man, whom we quickly learn is an actor. “I saw you in Richard III last year; my family and I went to Richmond for it,” says Frank. “You were wonderful.”

Wait, he’s meeting with an actor? In the dark of night? Whatever for? But there’s more. “As to the matter at hand, that hospital you have access to, the Mansion house,” the stranger says. “It’s been determined today that Dishonest Abe will be visiting sometime in the next two weeks. …We need your help in order to implement a plan. We’re going to blow that place to kingdom come.”

With that, it’s obvious that Frank is in cahoots with the infamous John Wilkes Booth, the actor turned Confederate secret agent who assassinated President Lincoln. Will the series take a dark turn by outlining Booth’s assignation attempts? (He famously concocted an unsuccessful plot to kidnap the President before murdering him in 1865.)

And will Frank enlist Emma in setting up the attack at Mansion House? If he does — and it fails, which history tells us it will — will James Green be implicated further, with severe consequences to his family? Here’s hoping those questions and other lingering plot details, like whether Mary and Foster might end up being romantically intertwined and whether poor Aurelia will be reunited with her family, will be answered in next week’s season finale.

Episode Recaps

Mercy Street

2016 TV mini-series
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