Editor’s note: When we heard History would be airing a ten-hour miniseries about the Texas Revolution, of course we had to tune in. Stephen Harrigan, Texas Monthly’s film and television columnist, reviewed the first four hours of the show in this month’s issue of the magazine. Now, he and James Donovan, author of The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo—and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation, will watch each episode and discuss just how accurate—or, at the very least, entertaining—the series is. (Scroll down to read the rest of their coverage.)
What size hoodie do you wear? When our critical revels have ended, it will be my honor to present you with this Texas Rising “Rays of Bullets” sweatshirt.
In the meantime, no argument from me on the patently undramatic Comanche raid on Victoria, or the clumsy and overwrought action on Vince’s Bridge. And I’ve had more than enough of Ephraim Knowles’ weaselhood and the painful flirtations between Ranger hunk Kit Acklin and the cute-but-tragically-engaged Rebecca. The scene of her peeking out from behind a tree in Episode Three as he aimlessly and shirtlessly rides his horse in a creek was like something out of a simpering silent movie romance. I’d like to think that director Roland Joffé’s heart just wasn’t in this mush, that he was saving his energy for the climactic San Jacinto battle scene that finally—finally!—arrived in Episode Four.
Let us lay aside our implements of snark for a moment. Do you agree with me that this installment, even with its flaws, was far superior to anything we’ve seen before in Texas Rising? That it might have even been good? There were some confusing parts. (Not sure I have this right, but it seemed that the Texian army made a show of retreating before the battle and then marching back to where they started.) But once Houston drew his sword and shouted “Remember the Alamo!” we were treated to a sustained bloody action sequence that tracked reasonably well with the actual event it was portraying and that was largely free of horrible dialogue. If I had started watching Texas Rising with Episode Four instead of Episode One, I would have still been puzzled by its anachronistic costuming and tiresome minor characters, but at least I would have been caught up in its groove. To my mind, Joffé managed the San Jacinto scenes with tautness and clarity, and, as you pointed out, our tender Texan sensibilities weren’t spared the sight of Houston’s men ruthlessly shooting down Mexican soldados who were trying to surrender or escape.
While I still believe that Bill Paxton is miscast as Sam Houston, I’ve grown fond of the way he’s cozied up to the role, and I admire the fact that Houston is one of the few characters in the miniseries with spot-on period sidewhiskers. By now, it doesn’t matter to me that Paxton might be wrong for the part of Houston. After watching him do his thing for—how long? eight hours?—it’s hard to imagine anybody else at the gravitational center of the Texas Rising galaxy.
Olivier Martinez as Santa Anna is wearing pretty well too. In this episode, we had to endure yet another of those splendor-in-the-grass scenes between him and Emily West—”What can I do to comfort you, Antonio?”—but once the action kicked in at last, the picknicking Santa Anna was replaced by a general in the thick of the fight. And he’s not even a total jerk any more! When Emily points a pistol at him and says “You killed my brother at the Alamo!” he looks so utterly perplexed and crestfallen you think maybe she should give him another chance to prove his love for her. And when he runs away from the battle and hides out in a cave, where he encounters one of his dying soldiers, does he not weep? Of course, there’s the whole issue of the cave itself, since the real San Jacinto battlefield is situated on subsidence prone marshland, but in the interest of a more fully human Santa Anna I’ll allow the exemption.
The series has been gearing up for a tragic Deaf Smith story arc (the real Smith died a year and a half or so after San Jacinto at the age of 49) and in this episode we see him coughing up blood all over the battlefield and all over his beard. Jeffrey Dean Morgan reportedly lost 40 pounds to play a character wasting away from tuberculosis. It’s the sort of all-in commitment that you have to admire, and Morgan has a soulful steadiness that draws your eye no matter what weight class he’s playing in. Like you, I was choked up when he had to kill his horse (if I heard right, the horse’s name was Charmayne, so I guess it was a mare.) And like you I wondered where exactly this undying love was coming from. Some vital bonding scene between Deaf and Charmayne was obviously edited out. Also, I found the line that Smith whispers into his horse’s ear just before he shoots her to be just a little bit disturbing: “You wait for me.” I’m on board for the concept of an interspecial afterlife, but the level of man/horse intensity here felt inappropriate.
So it looks like Emily West is the captive of the evil Portilla and will have to be rescued in the next and final episode. Poor José Nicolás de la Portilla—history’s never gonna cut him any slack. As you know, the Mexican lieutenant Colonel who was ordered by Santa Anna to kill the prisoners at Goliad was not the cold-blooded henchman portrayed in Texas Rising, but a conscience-stricken commander who wrote that the execution “filled me with horror.” He lived until 1873, but I’m guessing this cartoon version of Portilla is going to die an overdue death in Episode Five. And he’ll be going straight to hell too, not to horse heaven with Charmayne and Deaf.
Previous coverage of Texas Rising:
James Donovan watches the first four hours: “Let’s Not Count Out Texas Rising Just Yet”
Stephen Harrigan’s response: “The Very Blurry Line Between Fact and Fiction”
James Donovan on episode 3: “Are You Not Entertained?”
Stephen Harrigan on episode 3: “We Have Minutiae, But Where Is the Nuance?”
James Donovan on episode 4: “The Basic Problem with “Texas Rising”? A Lack of Human Connection”
Stephen Harrigan on episode 4: “The Latest Installment Is the Most Superior Yet”
James and Stephen discuss the final episode: “So About That ‘Texas Rising’ Finale . . .”