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Brokaw: ‘Manhunt,’ about search for Lincoln’s killer, comes to Apple TV+

By Francine Brokaw - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Mar 23, 2024

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The new historical drama "Manhunt" is now showing on Apple TV+.

The seven-episode drama "Manhunt" centers around John Wilkes Booth and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in the 12 days following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The show is taken from the book of the same name by author James L. Swanson. Tobias Menzies stars as Stanton, who is most eager to apprehend Booth (Anthony Boyle) and get justice for his friend Abe Lincoln.

The story brings out the precarious situation of the country following the Civil War. The country was once again on the brink of falling apart just weeks after the end of the war. With Booth's action, the Confederacy was buoyed and those opposing the Union had a reason to think that with Andrew Johnson (Glenn Morshower) in office they would be able to sway him their way. But Stanton was not going to let that happen. While Johnson put up barriers against reconstruction, Stanton used his power to keep the country on the track set out by Lincoln for unification, prosperity and inclusion.

While the plot was to assassinate not only Lincoln but also Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward, the attempt on Seward failed. Johnson was not in danger that night. Lincoln was the only successful part of the three-prong conspiracy.

Stanton was adamant about proving Booth did not act alone, and with the attempt on Seward, he knew he was right. His goal, besides apprehending Booth, was to search out and convict all who had been associated with Booth and involved in the conspiracy. This included not only those who we now know were convicted, but also Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

The series delves into the manhunt of Booth as well as the intricate political struggles involved to keep Lincoln's plan of reconstruction on track. As the country was mourning the death of Lincoln, it also was in the delicate situation of reuniting with the Southern states and incorporating former slaves into society. Teetering on the brink of disaster, with Johnson not of the same mind as Lincoln, this was a dangerous time. It was Stanton's vision and intelligence, along with his desire to finish what Lincoln started, that held it together while things settled down.

The show delves into the people of the time who played their role in this drama of America in the 1860s. Lovie Simone plays Mary Simms, a young former slave of Dr. Samuel Mudd (Matt Walsh), whose courage helped convict the conspirators. Will Harrison is David Herold, the man who accompanied Booth on his 12-day escapade escaping capture until they were both located. Patton Oswalt is Detective Lafayette, Lili Taylor is Mary Todd Lincoln, Betty Gabriel is Elizabeth Keckley, John Billingsley is Edward Bates, Elvis Nolasco is Frederick Douglass, and the list goes on. These were real people and their stories are recounted in this riveting series.

Menzies recently told the media, "It's a very complicated, political story that we're telling, but also hopefully a very human one, and one of the ways of doing that is to really bring these fascinating people as richly and as accurately to life. These people knew each other very well, and they were then thrown into a situation which they could not have imagined."

For those who have not studied this chapter in American history, this series is a lesson of what the country was going through at the time. It is representative of the people and actions and is worth watching. These were dark days in history, and every one of these people played their role in this episode of America.

The plot/conspiracy was well thought out yet poorly executed. Interestingly, had all three of the targets been assassinated, Sen. Lafayette Foster would have been appointed acting president until a special election occurred. The line of succession was altered in 1886 and again in 1947 in order to address different situations.

According to this show, Booth saw himself a symbol of the Confederacy. He though he would be the hero of the South. With the army chasing him from Washington to Maryland to Virginia, Booth was sure he would be safe among his fellow Southerners and was headed to Richmond to be hailed as a hero.

It is worthwhile to search online for the pages of Booth's diary, which he kept up to date during his 12 days on the run. It also is interesting to search for information about the people depicted in this show. History should not be forgotten.

"Manhunt" is an interesting dramatic historical depiction of 1865. It began airing on Apple TV+ last Friday.


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