Centennial’s The Winds of Death is episode 11 of this wonderful James Michener epic that has brought such wonderful acting and writing to the TV screen. The ride is almost over, but not without an incredibly angst-filled episode where both hope and horror are present.
This part of Centennial is intensely emotional, but these days it’s also one a lot of people can identify with. It deals with people coming west to Centennial and buying cheap property only later on, things sour and the banks foreclose. It’s something we’re ever so familiar with today.
By far, the standout performer in The Winds of Death is Julie Sommars as Alice Grebe who has come to Centennial with her husband. They buy land, prosper from it as time passes, and have children. For them, life was swell, until a drought hit. It’s quite the before and after as Alice goes from wearing beautiful, fancy dresses to old jeans and shirts while she and her husband struggle to feed their children and keep their farm.
This story is so awesomely done that I prefer not to mention the actual outcome. It’s ultra dramatic and makes this episode the most gripping of all the episodes. Summars was just outstanding.
One thing it does do is make a soul pause to consider just how deadly winds can be, financially and otherwise.
This leads into the grand finale, called The Scream of Eagles, which is another wonderful episode. We’ve skipped many years to reach the modern day Centennial. This episode reviews how much the land was cherished and nurtured by the Native American Indians in stark contrast to how the white man has botched the job, which we all know we have.
Andy Griffith and Sharon Gless are the voices here, the two playing journalists, trying to uncover the secrets of Centennial’s past for an article. It goes back to The Crime episode and the now powerful Wendells.
David Janssen, who narrated much of the mini-series, gets to do some acting here, playing Paul Garrett, a descendent of the sheepherders, only now he owns the great cattle ranch begun by Oliver Seccombe. It’s an interesting twist. However, it’s Garrett who becomes the voice of the people, the seeker of justice, and the realistic man who senses the futility in some things. I guess you could say he’s our conscience and even the voice of hope in many ways.
For some, The Scream of Eagles might sound preachy, but sometimes that is exactly what people need. Both sides of the story were presented, the lovers of the land, the protector of the eagles, those who believe that only rocks live forever: they had their voice in Paul Garrett. Those who were like Frank Skimmerhorn and others who believe the white man have the right away of the world, the industrialists, the wealthy: they had their voice in Morgan Wendell (Robert Vaughn).
Who is victorious? The magic of Centennial is that we don’t know, but the battle is still brewing. We see that every day by looking out a window. Have we learned anything at all? Or have we just pushed onward without caring about our trash? How we tend to the earth is still up for debate. Lost Eagle and his tribe cared for the land; we dump on it. The eagles scream. I hope the Garrett point of view wins, but the Wendells scare the heck out of me.
Centennial was a terrific mini-series, one backed by approved by the National Education Association. I cannot say enough good things about these hours of terrific programming. Each episode told an important story that was a part of the sum of the tale. It’s one of the best productions ever to be filmed for television.