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Because I live to entertain, and because I make bad life choices, I have decided to recap 1985’s Civil War classic, North and South. Look for a new episode recap each day of Snark Week, and enjoy the frosted lipstick!
Guys! Two things!
1) I am literally working on these recaps as Snark Week unfolds, so thanks to everyone who has commented here or on Facebook saying they’re enjoying these! Your enjoyment makes my suffering worthwhile.
2) SHIT WENT TO CRAZYTOWN THIS EPISODE! SUDDENLY EVERYONE WANTS TO DRESS LIKE A HOOOR! INAPPROPRIATE SHAGGING IS HAPPENING RIGHT AND LEFT! THE NOT-SO-SUBTLE RACISM IS FLYING FREEEEEE! Strap in, saddle up, and join me!
FYI, this episode spans 1854 through 1856. Not that anyone involved in the costumes seems to care.
We begin with the Northern Clan visiting the Southern Clan, and there’s a ball at Swayze’s plantation, and THE COSTUME DESIGNERS WENT NUTS!!! Best of all is Perfect Blonde, who obviously has been too decently dressed, because someone raided the Dynasty wardrobe. She looks like a mash-up between Princess Di and Krystle Carrington:
VIRGILIA is in a slightly more subdued color, but decided to raid the 1980s equivalent of Claire’s for ALL THE RHINESTONES:
Tits is full Sad Trombone, with sleeves that look like the 1830s went to space and A CRYSTAL HEAD NECKLACE:
Slutty Brunette went for lace and a sprinkle of what looks like rice in her hair:
Sweet Blonde went for all my 13 year old southern belle fiddle-dee-dee fantasies in one ensemble. Can’t you just HEAR THE ACETATE?
Right, plot! VIRGILIA sneaks out for a smoke (OOO BADASS) and a peak at the slaves, where she runs into Grady, coachman for Slutty Brunette’s fiancé.
Slutty Brunette is into Billy (younger brother of George). To make him jealous (there’s no logic here), and to one-up her sister, she takes the rando flirting with her sister out to the barn and fucks him in the cotton. Billy spots them and is horrified (“AIEEEE! SLUTTY!”), she is traumatized to be found (wait, weren’t you trying to make him jealous?), but then is quickly returned to her sluttiness by the rando groping her.
Side note, while most of the accents in this thing are shitty, Slutty Brunette’s annoys me the most. I’m no expert in South Carolina accents, but she says things like “gel” instead of “girl” and it grates!
Billy and Sweet Blonde get closer. Slutty Brunette is peeved.
VIRGILIA has been SO GOOD this entire time. She’s out riding with one of Swayze’s slaves, played by Forest Whitaker, and they get caught in the rain. She tries to talk to him about running away, but he’s all “aw shucks miss I just want to gits you home!” Luckily, she runs into Grady, and within 0.35 seconds concocts a plan to 1. send away Forest Whitaker, 2. stay overnight in a nearby barn with Grady, and 3. shag Grady.
Okay, and now I pontificate for a bit: I am sure there were mixed race couples in the pre-Civil War era, both North and South, and I’m sure that some of them were white women with black men. I would guess they would be amongst the poorer people, but sure, there probably was more than one upper-class white woman who was in love with an enslaved African American or free person of color. However, Virgilia has spent about 3 minutes around this guy before she is all heaving bosoms and parted lips. So, her hotness for this guy totally reeks of White Savior Complex and “I’ll show everyone just how pro-abolition I am!”
Also, I have no idea whether or not she’s sexually experienced, but I feel like for someone of her class level and gender, jumping into bed with someone she’s not married to would be a Big Deal. There is also the issue of the “black stud.” They make a big point of Grady saying that he’s doing this because he wants to, but basically it reads as Virgilia being hot for him simply because he’s a slave, not because of who he is as an individual.
They make a plan for Grady to run away.
Swazye and George “rescue” Virgilia, she is all thanks, and embracing her new slut status by going red and sparkly black:
The next day, Slutty Brunette’s fiancé turns up to accuse Virgilia of helping Grady run away. Swazye and George start defending her, Slutty Brunette recounts how she saw Virgilia and Grady in the cotton barn, Virgilia goes all “yeah, I did it, what you gonna do?” Needless to say, Northern Clan departs immediately.
Tits arrives at Low Rent Ricardo Montalban’s (her dad) house just in time for him to die. She has a sad, even more so when pops informs her that one of her grandmothers (on mom’s side) was a black slave.
We cut to Philadelphia, and apparently Virgilia has MARRIED Grady. The problem, again, is that it all seems so token-y. I mean, I’m glad there’s finally an African American character with more than two lines, but he’s there to prove just how hardcore Virgilia is, not so that we can understand his experiences and motivations.
Reader Dora H*ckin K. said it perfectly in a comment on my first recap: “As if the Civil War was this tragic misunderstanding between two groups of mostly-nice white Americans — a war in which black people had no role except as an issue.” I’m not saying it’s not valid to tell a story about white people who lived through the Civil War. But this whole production reeks of “EPIC STORY, TELLING BOTH SIDES OF THE CONFLICT” — with a big, gaping side (or more) left out: what about enslaved people’s experiences? What about free people of color’s [FPOC] experiences?
In this scene, a FPOC has come to ask Grady to speak at an abolitionist meeting, which both Grady and Virgilia are furious about, because this guy is yet another of these “don’t bring up violence!” types. Virgilia goes off on some fire and brimstone rant about how this all needs to end in blood and then we’ll string up the wimps like FPOC abolitionist, because fuck them all!
The problem I’ve been having all along with Virgilia’s strident abolitionism is it makes her position seem extremist. Sure, there were people at many points on the spectrum of pro- and anti-slavery. But since she’s the main one to speak for abolition in this series (OK, so Perfect Blonde has her once scene where she asks nicely and politely if she can work for the Underground Railroad), it basically makes abolitionists look like war-mongering assholes. It’s all part of the reductionist bullshit that paints slavery as an institution as not so bad, because hey, nice people like Swayze are slave owners! And really, it’s all about states’ rights, right? GAG VOMIT THROW THINGS
Speaking of which … Sweet Blonde is sad, because someone (coughVirgiliacough) sent her family a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and now she is worried that all Northerners will think Southerners are evil. Because, you know! Supposedly her family is nice to their slaves! So it’s all okay! (Note: I do not think that anyone is inherently evil, except, maybe, Hitler, but even then, complicated situation. However, an institution like slavery is inherently evil and fucked up, and no matter how nice or helpful or whatever someone is, it doesn’t excuse owning people).
Poor Cousin Charles and Billy graduate from West Point! Everyone turns up for graduation (unlike Swayze and George’s graduation; I’d be peeved if I were them!). Swayze and George have been cooling it on the bromance, but this gives them a chance to reconnect. Slutty Brunette is clearly still into Billy, tricking him into kissing her, even though he’s totally into Sweet Blonde and the two have been writing letters.
At an evening party at West Point, Billy proposes to Sweet Blonde (note: George asks Swayze for his permission, Swayze says “probably, but not yet,” he’s got some Southern/Northern emo issues to work through). MORE IMPORTANTLY, Slutty Brunette GOES FULL NYMPHO. Apparently someone (the novel’s author? the scriptwriters?) thought that things weren’t soap opera-y enough, so Slutty Brunette asks one of Billy’s classmates to take her to a classroom where she fucks him. She THEN complains that she wants more, he offers to go get more of his classmates, she says yes, and ends up with two handfuls of buttons, one taken from each of the guys she’s fucked. GUYS. I’m not saying premarital sex didn’t occur, but this level of “woot! let’s shag!” — especially on the part of an unmarried woman — is completely post-1960s sexual revolution. Also, she’s portrayed as a BAD SLUT (she talks about watching the overseers strip male slaves), not a woman embracing her sexuality, which is fucked up too.
Poor Cousin Charles finds Slutty Brunette and knows what happened and is appropriately disgusted, but Slutty Brunette just thinks it’s funny. Not like her reputation would be RUINED if ANYONE knew (like, uh, the 5 million guys she just fucked). Oh, and apparently all of this was somehow to get at Billy. Don’t ask me.
Back in South Caro, guess who’s knocked up? Yeah. Something tells me a woman who lives on a farm knows where babies come from, so again, RAMPANT PREMARITAL SEX IS NOT SOMETHING ANYONE WOULD DO LIGHTLY. Slutty Brunette goes to Tits to ask her for help in procuring an abortion. Tits offers to help, although the day before she and Swayze made a plan to run away together (there was tender shagging involved, I am sparing you; but I should mention that she told Swayze about her newly discovered racial heritage, and he was totes cool about it).
Tits, Maum Sally (hello MS! We missed you!), and Slutty Brunette head off into the swamp, where an African American healer-y type takes care of Slutty’s little problem. But when Tits gets home, David Carradine thinks she was fucking around, so he beats her up and locks her in a room for days on end. She misses her rendez-vous to run away with Swayze, and when Maum Sally tries to free her, David Carradine throws her down some stairs and kills her.
Two episodes left — what craziness awaits me?