Friday, March 15, 2024

REVIEW: 'Manhunt' - Celebration Is Cut Short by Tragedy When President Abraham Lincoln Is Assassinated in 'Pilot'

AppleTV+'s Manhunt - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

President Lincoln is assassinated five days after the Civil War ends. Edwin Stanton, his right-hand man, finds himself at the aftermath's forefront.

"Pilot" was written by Monica Beletsky and directed by Carl Franklin

Extremists aligned with the Confederacy attempt a coup against the United States. The heads of the government were targeted for assassination. They would all be taken out at roughly the same time. The overall mission failed. And yet, the most consequential death still occurred. At times, it comes across as completely convenient that John Wilkes Booth had the opportunity to kill President Abraham Lincoln. It was something he put together upon realizing the President and the First Lady would be attending the play at the theater where he works. However, his ambition was for so much more. He fixates on being referred to as a symbol in the paper declaring the news. He doesn't linger over the details that the other two murder plots failed. Instead, he got exactly what he wanted. He gained the infamy he always desired. He was a useful vessel to deliver this blow to democracy. Lincoln was a symbol for all the good that could be achieved. His death sets that progress back severely. People mourn the loss. They also fear what comes next. The parallels are obvious. Democracy is precious. Yet it also requires people to accurately understand the threats to undermine it in each individual generation.

All of this occurs just days after the Confederacy surrendered. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton wants to declare the news as soon as possible. He doesn't possess the same cautious tack present in Secretary of State William H. Seward. Both of them were incredibly consequential figures during the war and its aftermath. Seward was targeted in this plot by Booth and his allies. He survives. He endures plenty of damage. He still lives. He was involved in a carriage accident. That made him vulnerable to attack. The assailant struck and injured him. The injuries didn't take his life. Meanwhile, everything happens fast between Booth and Lincoln. It's simply a matter of whether the assassin wants to use a knife or a gun to carry out the attack. The latter provides nearly instant results. Sure, Lincoln isn't declared dead until the next morning. However, that gunshot was fatal the moment Booth pulled the trigger. Booth escaped because he understood the layout of the theater. Everyone else was too in shock to react. They were left frozen.

The President was killed for the first time in the nation's history. People worry that news could be used to undermine the argument Abraham Lincoln spent his entire political career preaching. He was joyous upon learning he had the votes to pass the 13th Amendment. Everything was falling into place to deliver the promises he laid out in the Emancipation Proclamation. Freedom was delivered for all enslaved people. Equality was now the law of the land. That is spelled out in the newest addition to the Constitution. It's the first step of Reconstruction. This is a crucial period in time. The union remains strong. It didn't falter in the wake of this internal conflict. Blood was spilled. Lives were lost. Democracy still stands tall. That promise is snuffed out because of the hatred white people have for others based on the color of their skin. A nation mourns the loss of the President. Everyone stands united in that grief. It's a collective expression of emotion just like the community experienced recently with the declaration ending the war. It presents a path towards darkness all over again.

Stanton was invited to the theater with Lincoln and his wife. The Secretary refused the offer. Lincoln led with a folksy charm. It certainly stands out amongst the seriousness everywhere else in the room. His affect is striking. It presents him as somehow different. He's also just a man trying his best to lead the country into the future. He respects the allies he has. And now, it's unclear what will happen next. Stanton begins his hunt for Booth. He can't delegate this mission to anyone else. He must carry the burden himself. It's the central flaw his wife reminds him about all the time. It's a rather didactic piece of exposition. It also provides focus as Stanton knew the work wasn't done simply because the terms of surrender were delivered and agreed upon. He doesn't partake in the theater. He doesn't know how Booth was famous in this community previously. People recognized him. None of the witnesses were confused about who was responsible for Lincoln's assassination. He's simply still on the loose. They fear this will reignite the war. It's a suddenly daunting possibility that the only person keeping the country together was just killed. The man who now assumes the role can't measure up to that greatness.

The early steps in the investigation tease that Booth was paid for this plot by the Confederate Secret Service. Stanton knows how the intelligence agency operates. There is no point in speculating whether the connections are accurate. He knows precisely what his former enemies are capable of doing. The war already highlighted how deep this divide in American society went. The Union prevailed. It only matters if the government can maintain that vision of equality. It's now up to others to deliver on Lincoln's promise. They will have to contend with citizens actively obstructing that progress. Booth has a network to rely on the moment this plan becomes real. He knew everyone would know who he was by the next day. He was driven by that goal. He was known on the stage for his stunt work. That was impressive while not being of the same caliber of talent as his father and brother. He lived in their shadows. He aspired for more but didn't want to mimic their success. He was dictated by hatred. He took action to leave his mark on the world. He succeeded. He broke his leg in the process. He still escaped. He's being treated by a sympathetic doctor. This is what he wanted. The pain is tremendous. He doesn't have any regrets or fears. He just brought the nation into the future where everyone is left in the unknown once again after only a few days knowing peace.