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Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Peacefield": A magnificent conclusion to HBO's JOHN ADAMS

There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

That was the most perfect ending for a television miniseries that I've seen since Lonesome Dove. And easily one of the best finales for anything ever produced for the medium.

All day long, HBO had a marathon going from start to finish of John Adams. Lisa and I watched Part 6, "Unnecessary War", and then segued right into the finale "Peacefield". The previous chapter ended with the image of Adams, alone and seemingly friendless, leaving the Presidential Mansion (it wouldn't be called the "White House" for another ten years) for the last time, ahead of the inauguration of longtime friend-turned-rival Thomas Jefferson.

"Peacefield" picks up the story two years later, as Dr. Benjamin Rush diagnoses John and Abigail's daughter Nabby with breast cancer. For the next hour, the final twenty-three years of the life of the second President of the United States plays out as seemingly one unrelenting tragedy after another: the death of Nabby, and then having to watch John as he loses his dear wife Abigail after 54 years of marriage. The final portion of "Peacefield" finds Adams reconciling with Jefferson in their final years, and struggling to ensure that future generations remember the sacrifices that were made by so many to secure freedom for the new country. Which might have been the saddest spectacle of all in "Peacefield": the sight of 90-year old John Adams, looking on John Trumbull's classic painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, telling the artist about how he got so many details all wrong in the picture. So it is that we see Adams and Jefferson as "the last two": the shoulders on whom have fallen the weight of history (although there would still be one final signer of the Declaration alive after the deaths of Adams and Jefferson: Charles Carroll of Maryland).

The final moments of "Peacefield" were everything that I was hoping they would be. The passing of Jefferson, and then Adams, and that final coda before the credits rolled...

Like I said, it was perfect.

Paul Giamiatti deserves an Emmy for his portrayal of Adams. That scene with the painting of the signing of the Declaration alone should be enough to secure that. Laura Linney was fabulous as Abigail Adams. The whole cast and crew poured their hearts into John Adams. And in the end they broke our hearts with it too. Which is as it should be.

HBO, and to everyone involved with John Adams: I tip my hat to you, and will gladly buy the DVD of this the day it comes out on June 10th.

And I'll pray that more Americans might take the time to watch John Adams too. It would do well to remember what Adams and his compatriots did for us, and all too often at such terrible price.

"Posterity, you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it."

-- John Adams