November 11, 2008

Episode 12 of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

Episode 12 of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman is a key episode--perhaps the key episode of the series. (I'm watching the episodes in order, so I'm just guessing about that.) Because of this, it deserves a separate entry.

Here's the summary from Wikipedia (rewritten by me to ensure accuracy):The Prisoner (episode 12)

After ambushing Black Kettle's camp, General Custer enters the town carrying wounded soldiers and Indian prisoners, including Cloud Dancing, whom Custer threatens to kill if Dr. Mike doesn't treat his men first. Dr. Mike treats Cloud Dancing's broken arm while he's shackled in the livery after Custer's interrogation. After Custer hauls Cloud Dancing before a firing squad that fires blanks, Dr. Mike and Sully engineer Cloud Dancing's escape. Meanwhile, Olive organizes a hurdy-gurdy dance, recruiting girls from the immigrant camp and a reluctant Loren, Horace, and Jake for the band. Matthew buys all of Ingrid's dance tickets, then shyly confesses that he doesn't know how to dance.
Comment:  General Custer says Indians killed eight settlers in a wagon train, so that justifies his attack on Cloud Dancing's camp. In reality, Custer attacked Indians only as part of US military campaigns. He didn't invent reasons to attack Indians on his own.

When Custer brings his prisoners into town, there's no mention of how many Indians his men killed. Specifying this might indict US army or government policy--i.e., the system--not just Custer the "bad man," so Dr. Quinn avoids it. A terrible assault--presumably a massacre--has occurred, but the show doesn't address it.

Neither Dr. Mike nor anyone else rushes to the killing field to see how bad it is. To see if anyone is still alive or needs help. "Something bad" has happened--like a storm or another act of God--but now it's over.

The show must go on

While Custer threatens to execute Cloud Dancing, Olive continues to organize the hurdy-gurdy as if a dead Indian won't upset anyone. For a moment she thinks of canceling it, but Dr. Mike tells her that life must go on even when bad things happen. She cares deeply about Cloud Dancing's life as long as it doesn't interrupt the dance.

When Custer moves to "execute" Cloud Dancing, Dr. Mike is the only one who cries out. Apparently everyone else thinks it's okay to kill an Indian without a trial in front of a hundred witnesses, including women and children. No one says anything like, "If you do this, we'll send a statement documenting your illegal actions to every government official and newspaper in the land."

And of course no one lifts a finger against Custer, not even the "heroic" Sully. No one--not him or Dr. Mike or Brian the young Indian-lover--throws himself in front of Cloud Dancing. Because that would require an actual sacrifice, not merely good intentions.

"Just kidding"

Fortunately for the townspeople's meager consciences, the "execution" is revealed to be a stunt. So Custer and his men still haven't killed anyone. And therefore no one can call them "murderers" or seriously question their morality.

So the soldiers are big meanies--bullies and ruffians--but not real criminals. They were about to execute an Indian in cold blood, but they haven't actually done anything immoral or un-American. Everyone will treat them as decent men and accept them as dance partners at the hurdy-gurdy.

I don't know, but I suspect this episode is a metaphor for the whole series. Bad people try to hurt Indians. Indians passively accept their fate. Good people protest but don't put their lives on the line. Indians continue to suffer and die, but only off-screen.

For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

1 comment:

dmarks said...

It's the later episodes that have the Army annihilate Cloud Dancing's village.