Monday, October 16, 2017
Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Blue and the Grey
The American Civil War divided this nation like no other conflict, and yet divides it, in many significant ways. The conflict between the North and South, the blue and the grey, is a turning point in our history, and in many ways, a turning point in its cultural frissons.
The American Civil War has appeared again and again in our entertainment, in our shared cult-TV canon.
In Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (1959-1963), an episode called “The Passersby” commented on this conflict.
The haunting story is set during an “incident on a dirt road during the month of April, the year 1865.”
A crippled Confederate sergeant (James Gregory) limps to the home of Lavinia Godwin (Joanne Linville), who awaits (in vain) the return of her husband, also a soldier. Together, they watch as Union and Confederate soldiers walk the lonely road, heading to some unknown destination beyond.
The episode’s kicker is that the last man on the road is Abraham Lincoln -- said in the closing narration to be the final victim of the Civil War.
But if we have learned anything in the America of today, 2017, it is that there are still victims of the Civil War living in our culture right now. They are the ones who mistake hate for heritage. They are the ones who still deal with the inequities of an immoral slave trade that divided families, destroyed wealth, and fostered poverty and resentment. It turns out The Twilight Zone was too optimistic in its approach. One hundred and fifty something years later, Americans are still walking down this Civil War road of grievous wounds and divisions.
Other TV series have also featured the civil war. Sid and Marty Krofft’s Saturday morning TV series Land of the Lost (1974-1977) is about a pocket universe where people, of all eras, become trapped, unable to escape The episodes “Downstream” (and its oblique sequel, “Medusa”) contend with one such person, a Civil War soldier…and his beloved cannon. This veteran, Jefferson Davis Collies (Walker Edmiston) helps the Marshalls in the first season, and is discovered to be one of Medusa’s statues in the third season.
Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) featured a Civil War themed tale called “The Q and the Grey,” about a civil war inside the Q Continuum, during its third season. The Q exist on a different realm of reality all together, one that humans can’t perceive as it is. Therefore, their cosmic civil war is depicted, for Janeway’s crew, as the American Civil War. The episode ends with Tuvok and other crew members picking a side and donning uniforms of the era to fight in this war.
The X-Files (1993-2002) also featured a Civil War-themed episode called “The Field Where I Died.” This story involves reincarnation, and Mulder’s (David Duchovny) discovery that he has a “soul mate” in each life, including in a previous life in the Civil War. That soul-mate, is, unfortunately, a cult-member fated to die in the present.
Both modern vampire series -- True Blood (2008 – 2014), and The Vampire Diaries (2009 – 2016) -- position their long-lived heroic vampires, whether Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) or Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder), as veterans of the Civil War.
Throughout both series, flashback scenes are featured set during this time period, in which the characters, not yet vampires, but must contend with their choices in the life-and-death struggle of the era. In the final season of The Vampire Diaries, for instance, Damon is sent to a personal Hell where he must relive, again and again, a mission during the Civil War that ended with the slaughter of an innocent family.