Centennial is an epic mini-series that sweeps the audience into a wondrous tale of history. Through the fictional settlement that becomes the town of Centennial in Colorado, we learn the history of man’s invasion of the old west and his story of growth there, for bad or for good. Based on James Michener’s novel, the story is told over several episodes. In this article, we’ll look at the first three episodes.
The story begins in 1795 is when a brave and colorful Frenchman named Pasquinel making his way across Indian territory to trap beaver. He manages to become friends with, or is at least accepted by, various Indian leaders. This is the crux of episode one, Only the Rocks Live Forever.
In what is probably his best role ever, Robert Conrad plays Pasquinel. Opposite him is my favorite, though, Richard Chamberlain, who plays Scottish trapper, Alexander McKeag. What’s amazing is how the friendship develops between the two men, and how it survives even Pasquinel marries the Indian squaw McKeag is in love with.
Only the Rocks Live Forever is a wonderful tale all by itself, even without anything following. The scenery is magnificent and the images shown are powerful. I love the historic value of it all, of seeing how we once were.
David Janssen provides narration to take us through the opening. Everything is so pure, fresh, and uncorrupted. That’s what Centennial is best at, helping us to see what we used to be and just how badly we’ve messed it up since the time of Pasquinel and Lame Beaver, the Indian boy who is first told about the rocks by his father.
The Yellow Apron is episode 2. Its named for a dance that is done at an annual rendezvous for mountain men. This is the place where the now estranged partners, Pasquinel and McKeag, come together again and dance away their conflicts. It’s a hale and hearty scene until the often selfish Pasquinel claims that he’s lived his whole life alone.
McKeag is angered by this. After all, his true love, Clay Basket, is married to Pasquinel. We see how the fires of rage build within McKeag. It’s beautifully acted by Chamberlain and provides quite the dramatic moment.
Much more happens in this episode, of course, but the early hours of Centennial really do belong to Conrad and Chamberlain. They bring such life to their characters. Without them, the future town of Centennial just couldn’t, and wouldn’t, exist.
The Wagon and the Elephant is the third episode, and in, we meet a shunned Amish man named Levi Zendt (Gregory Harrison) and his wife, Elly (Stephanie Zimbalist). In truth, Zimbalist stills the show as the adventurous Elly, whose heart and spirit led her write about their travels in her journals. It turns out to be quite a story about pioneers. The only bad part is that Elly only survives for this one episode.
We also meet Timothy Dalton’s Oliver Seccombe, who isn’t my favorite. He’s a bit of charming shyster. We really don’t know how his story will play out here, but we can see his shortcomings.
For me, though, the best part of this episode was seeing how McKeag and Clay Basket finally get the chance to be together. I was so glad to see it happen. For a while, the good guy does win.
These first hours of Centennial are the best for me, but the sweeping story continues and there’s still a lot of good to come.