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TV series episode review: Touched by an Angel -- Beautiful Dreamer

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Touched by An Angel -- Beautiful Dreamer
Review by JMW

Touched by an Angel – For those not familiar with this series, the premise is that of an angel (or angel caseworker), Monica (Roma Downey), and her supervisor, Tess (Della Reese)who are sent to help people at a crossroads in their lives (Similar concept to Quantum Leap, but with angels). Andrew (John Dye) is another angel who appears in this episode. He is in training to be an “angel of death” (grim reaper) who takes people to their ultimate fate. What I would call his “casework supervisor” is Sam, played by Paul Winfield.

“Beautiful Dreamer”

This episode uses a “bookend” technique to take us into the events of 1865. Tess is teaching a grade school class at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Washington D.C. One boy’s expressed ambition, on career day, to grow up to be a CIA assassin, leads Tess to tell the story of John Wilkes Booth and Abraham Lincoln.

From here the action goes back in time where we meet Sam and Andrew outside Ford’s Theater. The date is April 14, 1865. They are having a conversation about someone who is refusing to listen, and the right to personal choice tempered with the fact that said personal choice can trigger catastrophes and affect many lives beyond the one who made the decision. This is a nicely executed foreshadowing of the following scene, where we meet Abraham Lincoln in conversation with Secretary of War Stanton and Mary Todd Lincoln.

Selby’s Lincoln is a quiet, tired and worn man, somewhat melancholy and with a clear fatalistic streak. (Mary refers to his not eating and sleepless nights throughout the war years, and the fact that now that the war is over, he needs some entertainment.). He is gentle, tolerant and kind toward Mary, and possesses a wry, ironic and self-deprecating humor. To this long time Civil War and Lincoln buff, Selby seems to have nailed the historical Lincoln at that stage of his life. (Of course, being a Civil War and Lincoln buff himself, he probably brought much of that knowledge to combining the historical Lincoln and the character in the script into one historically pleasing whole.) Speaking to Stanton, Lincoln refers, though not in detail, to troubling dreams (nightmares) he’s been having. (These dreams -- of seeing himself on a funeral bier in the East Room -- are a historical fact, well used by the scriptwriter to imply that they are warnings from God. They are apparently being sent to Lincoln to prevent his death, but are either not properly understood or are being ignored.) Monica then enters the scene with the cover story of being sent by Mary’s seamstress for her fitting for the gown for the evening, and all the major players are now in place.

We start to see that this is a two-pronged effort to prevent the assassination: Andrew has encountered Booth, and is attempting to debate the issues to the point where he dissuades Booth from his actions. Meanwhile, Monica has managed to speak to Lincoln alone. At first he is gently skeptical, thinking her “one of Mary’s spiritualists” (again, historical fact, as Mary was deeply involved with spiritualism after the death of their young son, Willie), but then he realizes the truth, and at first believes she is an angel sent to prepare him for his death. Monica tries to warn him of the dream being a message from God, and he wants to know why now, why, when he most needed guidance during the darkest periods of the war, did he never receive it?

He then asks Monica if the dream will come true, and she tells him that although she can’t see the future, that no matter what happens, his presence will continue to walk the White House. She then continues in a wonderful monologue (which, in its entirety had me in tears, though your mileage might vary) about how his memory would serve to inspire and encourage for generations to come; that he would be “an example for little boys and girls to look up to when they wondered if there was ever a time that principle mattered more than politics”, and that he would inspire “dreamers who would follow him to the mountaintop” (a clear allusion to Martin Luther King and his “I have a dream…” speech. It fits the pattern of the other dream allusions throughout the piece, from the episode title, which refers both to Lincoln’s dreams and the Stephen Foster song “Beautiful Dreamer” which we are shown Booth is fond of, through to Booth’s own dreams of glory and the dream the elementary school boy finally confides to Tess – the thing he REALLY wants to be when he grows up). After the monologue Monica simply disappears, leaving Lincoln staring thoughtfully at where she stood.

Monica is at the White House as the Lincolns are preparing to leave for the theater, and makes one last attempt to stop him. He seems resigned to his destiny, whatever that may be. Andrew is also making one last attempt to convince Booth – and failing spectacularly. Frustrated that he can do no more, he turns to Sam who points out that God COULD take a gun from a mans hand, or do any number of other things on a wide scale – but that would involve the loss of freedom and free choice, making the price too high.

And so events move on to their inevitable conclusion: the gunshot echoing through the theater, the men carrying Lincoln out to the rooming house across the street, the crying in the White House and the body on the bier, exactly as it had appeared in the dream. (One jarring note to me was Lincoln conveniently opening his eyes to see the angels, and be reassured that they would be with him until it was time to go. Due to the nature of his injury, Lincoln was, like JFK, to all intents and purposes brain dead from the moment the bullet entered. To me this would have worked better showing him unconscious, with him “seeing” the angels in his mind/soul.)

We then follow John Wilkes Booth in his flight, and, in one particularly ironic scene, he is hiding out, and his accomplice brings him a newspaper, which Booth eagerly grabs, expecting to see his heroic action trumpeted as a banner headline. Instead, he is face to face with a headline that says, “Lincoln shot in back by coward”. Sic Semper Tyrannis becomes Sic Transit Gloria indeed!

We finally see the death of Booth’s dream and his insistence that he was a hero, even in the face of Andrew’s last minute attempts (without success), to get him to repent before death. However, we see what is on one level failure is in another sense success: Andrew is now a full angel, and the first soul he is assigned to escort onward is that of Lincoln.

As Lincoln follows Andrew into the mist, we see Monica back in the White House, reading a paper that had come from inside Lincoln’s hatband, and we hear his voice delivering what turns out to be the last paragraph of his first inaugural speech (for the text of the speech go to then scroll down to the last paragraph.) (Interestingly enough, this is the same passage from which Selby took the title for his forthcoming novel, Lincoln’s Better Angels. By sheer coincidence I found the website of the publisher recently while looking for something else so if you want further information on this novel, please go to: Mayhaven Publishing.

As we move back to the present day, we see Tess with the boy who wanted to be an assassin. After some effort, she gets beyond his defenses and he confides to her that that wasn’t what he really wanted to be, but his original ambition got him nothing but unbelieving laughter. He finally admits to her, as they sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, that what he really wants to be is President of the United States.

review @2007 by JMW and may not be used in any other venue without both credit and permission

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