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Point of Honor, Ep. 1.01: “Pilot” sets up a potentially compelling series

Point of Honor, Ep. 1.01: “Pilot” sets up a potentially compelling series
Riley Voelkel, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Annabelle Stephenson

Riley Voelkel, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Annabelle Stephenson

Point of Honor, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Written by Carlton Cuse and Randall Wallace
Directed by Randall Wallace
Released January 15, 2015 by Amazon

Stories of families caught in wartime conflict is one that has been explored in many forms of media, and the American Civil War is no different in that regard. Another entry into the group comes in the form of the Amazon pilot Point of Honor. Co-written by Carlton Cuse, the show focuses on the various members of the Rhodes family, owners of the Point of Honor plantation in Virginia, who free their slaves as the American Civil War breaks out, leading to divided loyalties and new challenges. The pilot succeeds in drawing distinct characters and putting the focus on the women and how the war affected them, creating a fascinating episode that holds a lot of promise for the potential series.

The writers’ ability to build a compelling family drama within the pilot’s runtime is one of the most commendable aspects of this pilot. Every member of the family at the Point of Honor plantation gets their moment in the spotlight, and each individual gets the chance to display their distinct characteristics, with the audience having a good foundation to understand what drives these characters by the end of the pilot. The show’s attention to the women of Point of Honor is particularly intriguing, as watching how women react to a war that affects them, but one they cannot participate in, is an idea that’s rich with potential, something Point of Honor seems to realise. If the potential series continues this focus on character, it is likely to develop into something truly worth watching. It will be particularly intriguing to see if the show expands its scope if it comes to fruition. The world of Civil War Virginia, as portrayed in this pilot, is a rich one, and exploring more characters would only serve the show well. The focus on the family at the central plantation does leave some characters underserved, including the Union army’s members and the recently freed slaves, and hopefully if the series gets picked up, the writers will follow through on further fleshing out these individuals as well, as they seem to hint at in the pilot.

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The pilot also does a fine job of showing the effect the Civil War has on individuals, while not ignoring the larger implications and the entrenched ideologies that led to the war in the first place. While the pilot could have taken the easy way out by only indicating that John is against slavery but still considers himself a Confederate soldier above all, it digs deeper than that, showing the strain that the Rhodes family comes under, both financially and socially. The display of inertia as the biggest impediment to the freedom of slaves is a fascinating thread, and one that the show hopefully picks up on if it goes to series. A focus on the attitudes towards slavery and a loyalty to the South, and how people with differing ideas work with each other, is fascinating ground to explore, and the show already makes some strides in that direction with the character of John. Adding more complexity to both armies involved in the war can only improve the show, along with taking care of the aforementioned issue of underserved characters on the Union side.

Overall, this pilot promises a compelling series, despite the loss of Brett Cullen, who was a strong presence in the episode and has proven himself as a capable performer elsewhere. How the potential show deals with slavery will be a key aspect of its success, as giving screentime to the people most affected by the war will go a long way towards solidifying the reason for it in the first place. While the idea of having the sympathetic protagonist be a key Confederate army leader is an interesting one, it is undone by the somewhat cartoonish portrayal of the Union army leader as a bloodthirsty villain, particularly as Robert, despite being a major part of the story, doesn’t get much characterisation himself. The show does indicate an ability to work past these hiccups if it goes to a series, however, and that, combined with the beautiful landscape in which the pilot is set, makes this a potentially engaging series, and hopefully one that gets picked up.

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– Deepayan Sengupta

Other Amazon Pilot reviews: Salem Rogers/The New Yorker Presents/Down Dog/Mad Dogs/The Man in the High Castle/Cocked