BySteven José Morse, writer at
Lover of all sorts of TV and film. Virtually no end to what I'll sit through or talk about. Join the conversation! And on Twitter @stevgor_
Steven José Morse

Medical dramas are nothing new. If there isn’t at least one on each broadcast network, then that's something rather unusual. It doesn’t always mean that a given medical show is particularly good or offering up something different, only that the network wants to have one on the air.

Scott Free Productions' upcoming second season of 's Mercy Street will continue bringing complex characters and a dangerous era to life, all while ensuring authenticity to make for a compelling medical and war high-concept drama.

Playing Dress-Up

This is a period drama. I was astounded at all the detail put into the first season, and judging from the trailers for the second one, that detail will still be ever present. With period dramas such as this, I’ll concede that it never seems too difficult to create the right look. However, unlike with Downton Abbey, Mercy Street isn’t necessarily going for high class and extravagant. This series is gritty. It’s bloody. It’s bleak. It does take place in a time of war, so this grittiness is expected. It’s also not what I feel we traditionally get, or would’ve gotten if on a network other than PBS or from other creators.

Because of showrunners Lisa Wolfinger and David Zabel, their team of writers, and of course the costume department, audiences are given authentic detail, and it’s seldom just because. Everything has a purpose. When you’re watching Mercy Street, you’re there. You’re in Alexandria. You’re in Mansion House Hospital. You’re everywhere there is dirt and grime.

Lisette Beaufort and Dr. Jed Foster played by Lyne Renee and Josh Radnor, respectively.
Lisette Beaufort and Dr. Jed Foster played by Lyne Renee and Josh Radnor, respectively.

From the moment you meet Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Mary Phiney, you see exactly what the world looked like in that era, which sets the tone for the series. Of course, as it progresses, you see even more of what Mercy Street holds, which may not be entirely what you expected, but at least you’re prepared.

Despite all the dreariness, there’s a kind of beauty as well. Maybe it’s just the reflective nature of this show. Perhaps it’s because you’re getting a look into a world so far removed from our own. Books, documentaries and dramatizations (this one included) can only takes you so far. That being said, especially as I don’t consume too much Civil War-related anything, I do find this series gives me ample opportunity to learn about this time period. I certainly come pretty damn close to feeling something — if not the dirt on the roads, then the emotional toll it must’ve taken to be a nurse, doctor, slave or soldier during this time.

Realities Of War

Seeing as this war is considered the bloodiest in American history, it’s appropriate that what you see in is as grisly as possible. However, it’s not just gory for the sake of it. There are limits, or so I feel. Does that mean it won’t be difficult to watch some sequences? Maybe. It could very well be impossible for some viewers to stomach. The realities of war and life in a war hospital are always there. You can’t forget. Even when not watching a patient suffer in agony, or a patient have a limb amputated, which was pretty gruesome and difficult to sit through, you can’t forget where you are. That’s what’s in store, and while it sounds off-putting, it’s not.

Even with the amputation scene, things never seemed to go too far. You knew what was happening, of course, but didn’t have to see it for longer than necessary. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t be challenged by the visuals and sounds.

As this season is moving beyond the hospital, the things you’ll see are set to be more shocking. What new hell will greet viewers? Will there be any extreme sequences that really turn your stomach? While I’m kind of hoping there are a few, especially if it shines a light on other ways soldiers were injured and that doctors and nurses were tasked with fixing, I am nervous. There could be a sequence that’s just too much for me. There’s a first time for everything.

So. The Drama

With war and medicine, or so it seems, there’s already plenty of drama to keep you going. Throw in characters who must face these realities, and now you’ve got yourself a party! Adding to this are the many viewpoints on the war, on race and medicine. This allows for me to not just like or dislike characters. I can try to see the many issues discussed, in a new way. I’ve only ever learned about the Civil War in a superficial way, and this series gives me something to think about. I’m challenged. While I may not have changed my views, it certainly offered another way for this show to be incredibly nuanced and dramatic, which is so much more than most shows even strive for.

While many of the first season’s characters will be returning, there will be a few new ones to help push this epic story forward. Patina Miller, Brían F. O’Byrne and Bryce Pinkham will be joining the cast as characters for the most part based on real-life people. Miller will play a former slave who finds herself at Mansion House Hospital, so her appearance will no doubt cause a lot of drama.

With about three years left of this war, and no major times jumps, there’s still plenty of story and plenty of historical events to explore in Mercy Street. What will come next?

Season 2 of Mercy Street is set to premiere on PBS on January 22 at 8 p.m. Are you excited?

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