The Good Lord Bird episode 7 recap – “Last Words” from the gallows

November 16, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 0
Showtime, TV Recaps
4.5

Summary

“Last Words” sends The Good Lord Bird on its way at just the right time and in just the right way, ending as one of the year’s best shows.

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4.5

Summary

“Last Words” sends The Good Lord Bird on its way at just the right time and in just the right way, ending as one of the year’s best shows.

This recap of The Good Lord Bird episode 7, “Last Words”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.


I felt very clever at the start of The Good Lord Bird’s finale since none other than Frederick Douglass echoed a sentiment I shared last week about how John Brown’s success – or, more accurately, lack of it – at Harpers Ferry meant very little in the grand scheme of the fight for abolition. Daveed-as-Douglass puts things rather self-deprecatingly, suggesting that Brown’s “zeal in the cause of freedom” was “infinitely superior” to his. “I could live for the slave,” he continues, “John Brown could die for him.” One gets the sense that Douglass skirted the raid just to deliver a speech like that in its aftermath, confirming that John Brown might not have ended the war that ended slavery, but that he began the war that ended slavery. Which is much more than most could claim.

“Last Words”, fittingly titled, includes Brown’s final blaze of glory, but it doesn’t linger on it, instead punctuating that moment of chaos and carnage with a lot of quieter, more touching moments, all very suited to a finale but none betraying what has been this show’s secret weapon all along: The fact it’s funny. It remains funny even when it’s sad, or important, and until the end, it resists the urge to be maudlin or, worse still, preachy. It puts enough faith in its audience to recognize the historical significance of Harpers Ferry, of Brown’s bravery in fighting and dying for a cause he truly believed in, even if he was batshit crazy, and the eventual realization of Brown’s sons, co-conspirators, and ad-hoc army that his conviction was all that mattered.

In all this, Brown never changes. He remains, even in his cell before his public execution, gonzo. But he also remains funny. He remains true to himself and to his ideals. If you were to ask him, I imagine he’d see John Jr.’s insistence on leading the charge in “Last Words” – not historically accurate, by the way, but no matter – as a divinely-ordered inevitability, the Lord’s hand at work. He’d never understand his son finally saw in his father what his father saw in God; finally saw the need to emancipate, by any means necessary, these men who were willing to fight and die with Brown rather than sneak safely away.

It’s also these men who dress Onion in their clothes, recognizing he still has a life to live in which he might even get to see the fruits of Brown’s crusade, even if it’ll require a lot more time and effort to get there. Onion is entirely fiction, but there’s plenty true about what he represents as an innocent youngster caught up in a fight much bigger than him. The fact that the eventual reveal of his gender is just laughed at and dismissed is telling – it mattered so much to him and not at all to anyone else, like so many things. There’s always a bigger picture to consider. After Onion makes it back to the Kennedy Farm where Owen has to pretend to be his master, there’s even a joke at the expense of Onion’s misgendering to the effect that Owen, not knowing he’s a boy, mustn’t treat his slaves well.

Onion’s return to the world – to a barbershop, no less, right back where he started – is how we see that Brown was right in his assessment that he’d do more for the abolitionist cause by sitting in his cell than all of his prior years. As he stewed there, people came to know that a white, literate, Christian man was going to hang, and as all of history has proved, it takes the white, literate, Christian man being imperiled for anything to be taken seriously. Brown’s sacrifice emboldened the liberal intelligentsia, and a wave of anti-slavery sentiment came crashing along in his wake. His raid was unsuccessful, but his fight, perhaps not entirely and perhaps not quite when he expected, was a victory. And the world is better for it.


Thanks for reading our recap of The Good Lord Bird episode 7, “Last Words”. For more recaps, reviews, and original features covering the world of entertainment, why not follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page?

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