TBT: John Adams, Episode 2


We’re recapping the 2008 miniseries John Adams each week because the 18th-century costumes and American history are just that good! Catch up with previous episodes here.


Oh, God, how I hate the shaky-cam. HATE IT. It’s the one thing about this show that almost made me want to rage quit it in the opening 10 minutes when I tried watching it the first time around, and even though I powered through it and eventually came to enjoy the show, IT IS SO BLOODY ANNOYING. I AM TRYING TO FOCUS ON THE COSTUMES, PEOPLE. I CAN’T DO THAT WHEN THE CAMERA IS JOSTLING AROUND CONSTANTLY.

This is what 90% of my screen caps end up looking like because of that infernal hand-held camera bullshit. *shakes tiny fist at sky*


Here are the costumes from Episode 2 of John Adams.

John Dickinson in a smart black satin jacket and cream and gold silk weskit.


He’s switched out the light-colored weskit for a matching black satin one, which I kind of like as a look.


Nabby wears a short cross-front jacket in a floral cotton while she works in the garden.


Once you notice the Dutch angles in this show you can’t unsee them. I think it’s interesting that Abigail is wearing a pair of jumps (a quilted/lightly padded vest) over her regular house gown. It’s a nice at-home look.


Benjamin Franklin arrives to tell everyone what’s what, while wearing a smart gray wool suit.


Our boy Adams and his crew watch Franklin’s entrance with amusement.


Less thrilled: Mr. Rutledge and his supporters.


I like Rutledge’s mauve silk suit. It’s suitably poncy for someone from South Carolina.


Speaking of fop, here’s my crush, Thomas Jefferson rocking the lilac.


George Washington is … well, Washington.


Also, someone went to great lengths to explain the historical inaccuracies of Washington’s blue and buff uniform, so I don’t have to.


Abigail grabs the kids to go investigate the sound of gunfire in the early morning distance. She’s wearing a short jacket and skirt, and owing to the fact she just threw it on to go running out the door, I’ll forgive her for having her hair down.


Abigail, again being the badass at home while her husband is off founding a country.


Founding fathers pimp stroll.


Abigail wearing a very lavender ensemble while meeting with General Washington.


Abigail Is a Badass #342: Inoculation against small pox. I did not include the close-up scenes of the pus. You’re welcome. Also, notice her hand-stitched stays.


Ok, kids! Who’s next?


A smartly dressed family of extras watching the Declaration of Independence speech. Yes, I’m aware they’re probably reenactors.


The whole family has recovered from the “minor” case of pox that happened as a result of the inoculation, which means it was a success. Mad props to our ancestors who weathered the whole miserable process of inoculation before vaccine technology advanced to where it is today. (P.S. Any anti-vaxxer bullshit in the comments will be deleted.)


Charles Thomson, the Congressional Secretary reads the Declaration of Independence while Franklin and Adams look grumpy. I like Thomson’s whole look.



 Do you hate shaky-cams as much as I do? Share it with us in the comments!


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

24 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Founding Fathers Pimp Stroll reminded me of the line in 1776 (No, it wasn’t SIT DOWN, JOHN, etc) re getting them see colonial army shoot ‘Whoring…’.
    Abigail Adams is definitely my shero. Not only did she undergo the crude smallpox vaccine – I’m definitely pro-caccine, but stayed home and kept her family safe in time of war, while reminding John that he ‘shouldn’t forget the ladies, too’.

  2. Roxana

    Smallpox vaccination was indeed a huge and frightening deal back then. People knew it involved actually voluntarily getting the disease which understandably gave one pause, especially in the case of children. Benjamin Franklin decided not to get his baby son innoculated and of course he caught the disease and died. Franklin never forgave himself.

    • Aleko

      Actually what they had back then wasn’t vaccination at all; it was variolation, a technique introduced into the West from Turkey of scratching the arm and rubbing material from smallpox pustules into the scratches. This was indeed a risky procedure, and the fact that people were willing to undergo it at all is a measure of how dangerous (and how disfiguring even if you survived it) smallpox was.

      Vaccination involved inoculating with a similar technique but using not material not from smallpox but pustules of cowpox, a similar but far less serious disease infecting cows’ udders. (The Latin word ‘vaccinus’ means ‘cow-related’.) Milkmaids often caught it from their cows, and it was noticed by several 18th-century scientists that those who did appeared to be immune to smallpox. (This seems to have been the reason milkmaids’ complexions were so proverbially lovely; they weren’t covered with pockmarks.) The credit for the introduction of the much safer vaccination method goes to the Gloucestershire doctor Edward Jenner, who tested and published it in the 1790s.

      • Hooley

        Fun fact courtesy of my husband who worked at the FDA; sometime during the 1800’s the cowpox used for vaccination mutated into its own separate virus, named vaccinia virus in honor of vaccination.

  3. Shashwat

    Vaccination is good,and much needed at this time of our existence(because of you-know-who).The dresses in this episode are remarkably good.
    Wouldn’t your crush Jefferson have poufier hair around the ears?Even with natural hair I think it should have some volume at the temples.

  4. LydiaR

    I loathe shaky cam, but that’s because I’m easily made motion sick. First-person-shooter video games, even videos of roller coasters, and the first Spider-Man movie made me queasy.

    That being said, I might give this a try anyway. Thanks for the warning!

    • M.E. Lawrence

      It’s worth it. Absorbing, fun, great acting, attention to detail, and David Morse’s first entrance in which he looks so ridiculously like Washington that I almost fell off the bed laughing. It’s the Father of Our Fucking Country! I mean, who else could it be? (Of course, one thinks of this moment, and then one thinks of Adams and Jefferson, and then one thinks of IQ45 and needs another drink.)

      • Susan Pola Staples

        I like how we first see George Washington and he’s wearing a black armband in sorrow for Bostonian lives lost.
        Also IQ45 may be a bit high. I think it’s IQ-99 if the person you’re referring lives at 1600 PA Ave and doesn’t do anything but play golf.

      • Andrea

        THAT’S the amazing thing about the United States of America, and our Constitution: it acknowledged that everyone was created equal, & we’re all equal in the eyes of the state, so that literally anyone could run for President, & by the people’s vote, can be elected.

        As much as you may disagree with whomever who’s occupied the office, it still demonstrates how unique our country’s ideals are, & were back then…which this series does so well to capture.

  5. susan l eiffert

    Love the verisimilitude! (And that word). I waited on Laura Linney years ago at a posh cheese shop (it was fontina). It is frequented by the rich and famous. I never acknowledged the actors and personalities I recognized (Meryl Streep carefully avoids eye contact), except her. She is so damn good and understated. One doesn’t see her ACTING. I said “I really admire your work” She cocked her head rather shyly and just said “Thank you” like it was the first time she ever heard that, bless her. Next time she sent her husband to buy the cheese. I hope it wasn’t because of me:).

  6. Sam

    I too share the Jefferson love in this series…which I feel bad about because I will always have a soft spot for John Adams. He is such just so well done, I love the scene where is he watching everyone’s reactions to the reading.

    A really great book that goes more into the detail about smallpox at this time is Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82, by Elizabeth Fenn, it is amazing. I was about to marry that book as an undergrad.

    • Frannie Germeshausen

      I wish I could remember the title of the book I read a few summers ago (at Burning Man, no less) about smallpox, figuring out how to use cowpox, and then over decades doctors making what started as a fairly simple procedure into a theatrical mess! And, yes, once we have a Covid vaccine, I’ll get as close to the front of the line as they’ll let me.

      • JustaTech

        Was it “The Speckled Monster” by Jennifer Lee Carrelll? It’s in two main parts, partly about Lady Montagu (who brought variloation from Turkey to England) and partly about Dr Zabdiel Boylston who brought it to Boston.
        But nothing about cowpox, which was later.

  7. Liza Jane

    I’m sufficiently affected by shaky cam that my husband knows he should tell me when it’s okay to open my eyes.

  8. Author Jennifer Quail

    Seriously THE DUTCH ANGLES. I love this miniseries, I really do, the era is right up my alley, but I feel like I have to watch with my head tilted to one side and I keep wondering why people don’t slide off the furniture.

  9. Saraquill

    The Dutch angles remind me of Battlefield Earth. Not something I want to think of period, let alone for a period show.

    Shaky cam makes my eyes hurt. Doesn’t help that my perception’s already different from most people’s

  10. J Lou

    I watched this mini-series years ago, and it’s time to watch again. However, while initially watching this episode, I remember having a problem with the casting of the actors playing the various Founding Fathers. I’ve seen 1776 too many times! Thomas Jefferson should look like Ken Howard and Ben Franklin should be Howard Da Silva. “For God’s sake, John, sit down!”

  11. Kaite Fink

    I somehow got past the shaky-cam, which is kinda amazing, as I usually don’t do well with it. As for smallpox, I’ve been vaccinated against it, and I am glad we have the method we do, because as bad as that was, the method shown in this series, would have been so much worse. Mad admiration to them! I enjoy this series a great deal and bought it. I think I see a re-watch in my near future.

  12. Lee Jones

    If I had made a list of my favorite theme songs for television miniseries, the theme to “John Adams” would have made that list.

  13. Martina

    I live 2 miles from 2 John Adams homes (Peacefield in one direction, and the birthplace in the other) so I loved this show when it ran! I think they did a great job.

  14. Busyworke

    I was so excited for this series because I loved the book, I love Laura Linney and I love history. I have been unable to watch it after the first time due to the oh-so-obvious directorial/cinematographer “choices” that absolutely reek of pretension. I was mostly willing to put up with the shaky cam and dutch angles until the final episode when they turned the camera completely upside down. I was so out.
    Thank you so much for recapping it so I can low-key enjoy it again without all fluff.