August 17th, 2008
We’ve hit the penultimate segment of HBO’s miniseries, but when “Stay Frosty” begins there is a definite sense that it might as well already be over: our central company is no longer part of the main conflict, and a majority of the group has more or less checked out in one way or another. Whether it’s an actual manifestation of post-traumatic stress syndrome (For Walt) or just a growing disenchantment with the whole process, this is a group of young men who are done even before they get the shits. And at that point, they aren’t going to get anything done at all.
It’s impossible not to find one’s self reminded of The Wire: in each of its seasons, a growing sense of finality always coincides with a bittersweet reminder that the struggle never ends. Just as the Baltimore drug trade won’t end through the efforts of one crime unit, this war did not end after what seemed like some type of victory at this moment. But, as Nate says, they need to stay prepared, or “Frosty” – the war isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, and no bout of the shits will change that. This inevitability is a Simon/Burns staple, and it is played well here (although perhaps in a bit more of a heavy-handed fashion than on their previous series).
The scene as the Platoon ends up assisting in transporting a group of traveling locals to safety is a moment of realization, a moment where they realize that at this point the “war” is supposed to be over: those types of humanitarian missions were their future, their Marines unable to truly fight anymore. They’re, finally, helping people: there’s no moral questions about whether or not their efforts are moral or just, they are just outright assisting the people who they are supposed to be liberating.
But then, moments later, they’re driving into a remote and pointless mission and when they avoid running over someone’s severed head they only run over their body instead. They have to keep moving, to “Stay Frosty” in case they need to keep moving, to jump into this war. Of course, we know that they need to do this because of increased resistance, but for the most part their reasoning is that they want to keep fighting, that they want to kill more people or get a better chance to use their various skills.
It’s all a way of survival: Captain America says that you have to get insane to make it work, while Brad pulls out Chef Boyardee and skin mags in order to keep up morale. While the realization that they are out of their mop suits demoralizes Evan Wright, realizing that it means there were no WMDs after all, for everyone else it’s just another mission and just another opportunity to keep fighting. There’s just no winning for our “heroes”: with the Reservists coming up to the front lines and continuing to wreak havoc in their trigger happy ways, and even Alpha taking shots at them due to the Iraqi helmet, it just seems like there isn’t going to be any sort of hope here.
And if there’s one thing that the episode struggles with, it’s that it feels like more of the same, more of what we already saw. There is something great about watching Bravo slum it against Northern forces while they listen to BBC reports of the tumbling statue of Saddam Hussein, but simultaneously there is the growing discontent with the same things happening that were happening before. That is the point, of course: even after victory, as the images of the Baghdad triumph are sent back to the U.S., nothing is going to magically change. It just makes for a downer of an episode: we have a group of men who are struggling to find a silver lining, and all they get after a “victory” is a demoralizing lesson in how circular this war is going to become.
The episode is very much in two parts: our glimpse at the group as they emerge damaged following their drive towards, but not into, Baghdad, and then their need to suddenly wake up from all of it in order to head back out on yet another mission, to yet another location where they’re part of a plan that isn’t a plan at all. And while I don’t think that the Miniseries is too long, or anything like that, it does feel like the conclusion to last week’s episode and the introduction to next week’s finale as opposed to a standalone piece of drama.
There’s a bunch of small scenes that resonate: the group of marines catcalling the lone woman who arrives with the supply truck, the humorous irony of Ray being the one to discuss the abnormally large penis considering James Ransone’s character on The Wire, and just a lot more kind of “boys being boys” than we’ve had in recent weeks. It just felt like that, as we get closer to the end of the conflict, the more we realize exactly what’s about to happen – at least with The Wire there was always a reminder that there would be another day, that we’d get to see these characters and their reactions to the events that are transpiring, but here we’re going to leave on a note of defeat, no matter what brief triumph we may witness.
It was in two moments, though, that we got something more final: Colbert’s hysterical airplane run through the grass after an innocuous question from Wright and Captain America’s bayonet-stabbing madness that is clearly a sign of a pure psychotic break. The first is almost poetic, as it even leads right into his reveal of his contraband of sorts that he had hidden for this very moment, but the latter is just disturbing: you have here two reactions of two men who struggle with what they see. Brad needs to take a moment to step outside of being the Iceman, while America loses his step entirely as the battle wages on.
And while I think that Iceman’s moment has come and gone, we’ve still yet to see the end of America’s meltdown, and surely there is still more to come from this group as a whole. Regardless of this episode’s transitory nature, the finale is still something I greatly look forward to.
- I love the brief little mystery about the Whopper Jr. nickname – it’s a very roundabout name choice, and it demonstrates the camaraderie that does bind these people together even when they, like Tremblay, are those who have killed civilians. In many ways, it’s another way of survival: if they don’t view his actions within the context of their brotherhood of sorts, they have no way of rationalizing it.
- Nice to see that Encino Man still has no idea quite how to read Godfather, really quite unsure about whether there was any chance that his message was directed at Nate or not. I don’t know the whole story about that particular commander’s story as to why he ended up being relieved of his sidearm, but it would be an interesting counterpoint (I might read the book once the series finishes, and might be able to find the answer there?