Generation Kill – “Combat Jack”

“Combat Jack”

August 3rd, 2008

We’re now over the halfway point with HBO’s miniseries, and things remain relatively the same in terms of my opinion: fantastic production values, strong writing and some great performances have stabilized, and as the show delves further into the war it is only allowing these elements to expand further. With a series that is so contained in itself, telling the same types of stories without grand character arcs, there isn’t the usual concerns over a show jumping the shark so to speak; with only seven episodes, there isn’t room for any of that type of manuevering, at least not to this point.

And so, “Combat Jack” is the closest we might get to a complete diversion, as Bravo is separated from Alpha, who go on a side mission that demonstrates further the lack of foresight behind the broader military command. It’s not an overly complicated lesson (“Liberation Army” being a buzzword for abject failure), but it’s one that does feel in tone with the series trajectory, and while it does mean spending a little bit less time with the core group it seems that chronology and the slavish attention paid to it by Simon and Burns (And Wright, for that matter) dictate that we take this little journey.

This week’s title is perhaps the most self-explanatory yet, and James Ransone even gets to give us a demonstration (Although it’s not the first we’ve seen: remember last week with one of them taking advantage of the photograph of Rolling Stone’s girlfriend that was circulating around). It’s an episode that, for our central humvee, is a lot about the various human reactions to war rather than the big picture. It’s about their religion, their defecation, and (yes) their sexual release.

Yes, there’s plenty of other elements, like the various roadblock events (either victory or, in the case of the murdered young girl, tragedy) or Alpha’s brush with broader strategy, but the episode really works when it hits into things like Colbert’s hatred of organized religion or him triumphing over his usual inability to dump under pressure, as Ray puts it. There’s something intensely human about Colbert, and this segment was all about that human side: his military instincts were on display (Immediately spotting the town, as an example), but this was about showing us the tattoos, showing us the emotions, and kind of letting him loose…or as loose as Iceman gets. It was interesting to see how, after the Tremblay incident obviously did affect him, he was able to loosen up once things kicked back into gear. He finds his stability in war, although it is clear that it is a healthy relationship.

Less healthy is Tremblay, something that has become increasingly clear: if his lack of immediate response to shooting the children in last week’s episode was our first sign that he is a part of “Generation Kill,” his comment that he finds game shows more tense than war is an anvil of epic proportions. His reckless and dangerous behaviour, combined with his real, honest to goodness desire to feel what’s it’s like to be shot, makes me concerned – Billy Lush is playing it just right, though, in that it’s no doubt disturbing but also kind of human. I don’t view him as a pure grunt, but rather something different; it’s not that he’s just the result of violence in movies and video games as Ray sarcastically evokes in the spirit of Jack Thompson, but that something else has to have gone wrong.

I also liked our glimpse at Nate here: the Lieutenant is one of those unlikely hero types, and you can tell that he wants to take no pride in standing up to Encino Man. While the good doctor gets away with calling him incompetent (which apparently actually happened, believe it or not), Encino Man is still a commanding officer, and Nate doesn’t want that to be the start of something. His reluctance to fraternize about it, to accept that everyone and their mother agrees with his presumed assessment of Encino, is one of those situations where chain of command becomes too complicated; it’s great in theory, but in reality it just doesn’t make sense sometimes, and he is smart enough to know that this won’t be changing any time soon. That Encino Man is so naive as to think that asking people to “be honest” would have a less atagonistic response is just one sign of his incompetence, but others will have to be ignored for the most part.

As for Alpha’s mission to rescue a captured marine, it’s a simple lesson in the same reality: an attempt by the U.S. Military to use liberated Iraqis as a makeshift army goes horribly wrong, leaving the marine to die. While there is no real sense of whether Chemical Ali was actually in the town, thus justifying the mission, it was an attempt to do everything at once. One of the problems we’re seeing is that the Americans don’t know how to handle this war: they expected an easier fight and now, forced to deviate from their rolling victory, are spread out and isolated to the point of leaving Bravo vulnerable while completely wasting Alpha’s show at rescuing that marine by trying to turn it into political theatre.

The show. however, remains great dramatic theatre: from the haunting ride into the near-empty town to the destruction of the Soviet-era anti-aircraft gun, there remains plenty to enjoy about this particular journey.

Cultural Observations

  • I remain kind of shocked at the high production values here – I always have to wonder what kind of profitability outlooks they have for series like this when you consider the lack of advertising. I guess HBO looks at subscriptions and all, but this seems like a big gamble.
  • Anyone else considering already the show’s Emmy chances? Airing so early in the awards season will likely cost it some momentum, but I have to figure that direction and writing will at least play into the Miniseries nominations, along with at least a couple of our crew in Bravo.

1 Comment

Filed under Generation Kill

One response to “Generation Kill – “Combat Jack”

  1. Siddhartha

    Just a quick note…I got the impression Alpha (or Assassin) was going into the town to recover the corpse of the Marine (who was apparently crucified in the town square) not to rescue a living one.

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