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Manhunt

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Lauren Cook

TV Series Review

On April 15th, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated. For many, however, his death was just the beginning of the story.

For 12 days, John Wilkes Booth was the most wanted man in the country, if not the world. Less than a week after the end of the Civil War, the nation once again found itself in turmoil, and Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton found himself at the head of the largest manhunt in history.

But that’s not the only burden Stanton had to shoulder. In the wake of Lincoln’s death, questions with potentially dire answers rose to the surface: What could drive a successful stage actor to assassinate his president? Was Booth working with the recently surrendered Confederacy? How could the most powerful man in the world can be killed during something as innocent as a play?

Manhunt answers these questions by tracking both sides of the infamous 12-day pursuit. As Booth makes a desperate bid for freedom, Stanton begins to realize that the fate of the country may hang in the balance—and it’s up to him to prevent another war before it begins.

CSI: WASHINGTON, D.C.

Any fourth-grade student in the country could tell you about the Lincoln assassination. Ford’s Theater, Booth’s broken leg, Sic Semper Tyrannus…the key moments of that night are seared into American history.

Manhunt, however, takes viewers beyond the elementary school sound-off and plunges deep into the days following Lincoln’s death. Rich 19th-century set pieces and strong performances shed new light on events that non-history buffs may take for granted (although the history buffs may be quick to point out all the ways Apple TV+ bends the real events a bit for the sake of drama).

Of course, given the subject matter, it’s worth treading lightly here. While the actual assassination is only briefly shown in the pilot episode, the aftermath of this and other violent events are depicted in bloody detail. Suggestive references, brief nudity and coarse language (including racial slurs) also crop up even in episodes with a TV-14 rating; so it’s wise to assume that upcoming episodes carrying a TV-MA rating will be more graphic still.

Manhunt provides an intriguing look at two pivotal weeks in history, combining the historical drama and police procedural genres in a way that works surprisingly well from a dramatic perspective, and better than you might expect.

As noted above, viewers should be aware of some unsettling violence and associated imagery. But anyone looking for captivating historical intrigue — though, admittedly, the “historical” bit may be a bit up in the air—could do a lot worse.

Episode Reviews

Mar. 15, 2024 – S1, E1: “Pilot”

Five days after the end of the Civil War, Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth conspires to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward all in one night. When Lincoln is killed, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton organizes a manhunt to bring the assassin to justice, all the while realizing that the conspiracy may run much deeper than he thought.

Lincoln’s assassination is shown briefly; we see a spurt of blood as Booth pulls the trigger, then the scene cuts away. Booth stabs a guard while making his escape and brandishes his bloodstained knife to the crowd, then hits a horse boy over the head while riding away from the theater.

Meanwhile, two of Booth’s co-conspirators break into Seward’s home to assassinate him. One attacker hits a servant over the head with his gun, then tries to shoot another who calls for help; the gun jams, and the assailant stabs him instead (we later see the stab wound bound with bloodstained bandages). This event is shown from a distance rather than in close detail. We hear sounds of struggle from inside the house and Seward’s daughter screaming for help. The attacker walks out stained with blood, and we later see Seward’s grisly stab wounds following the assault. Similarly, we see Lincoln lying in bed as he dies with the pillows beneath him covered in blood.

Booth, a successful stage actor, jokes that many female fans want to “tear my clothes off.” He opens a piece of fan mail which includes a photograph of a woman naked from behind. Suggestive references are made during Our American Cousin, the play being performed during the assassination. A guard stopping Booth during his escape makes a reference to pleasing his wife. Booth harasses a maid by telling her she doesn’t look like a virgin.

Lincoln and Stanton discuss the Union and the Confederacy using the analogy of Cain and Abel; when the Confederacy’s surrender is made official, Lincoln remarks “Cain and Abel made amends.” The song “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is sung, including lyrics with religious inferences (“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”). When Lincoln dies, Stanton says that “he belongs to the angels.”

Stanton pours liquor for himself and Seward to celebrate the end of the war, though neither is shown drinking. Booth and other patrons drink at a bar, and Booth drinks from a bottle of whiskey while a doctor treats his broken leg.

Repeated racist insults are made; Booth uses the n-word, and one of his co-conspirators calls an interracial boy a “half-breed mongrel.” “D–n” is used three times, once in conjunction with “God.”

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Lauren Cook Bio Pic
Lauren Cook

Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.

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