The Pacific – “Part Three”

“Part Three”

March 28th, 2010

The Pacific spent its second episode demonstrating the horrors of the Pacific front, the death and destruction that soldiers endured and doled out in the midst of the conflict on Guadalcanal. The Marines who emerged from that island were bruised and broken, and so their long layover in Melbourne, Australia as the American naval forces were being reinforced in order to support another attack could be seen as a break from that conflict, an opportunity to relax and unwind.

But “Part Three” of the miniseries indicates that such breaks, such opportunities to avoid conflict, are in fact misleading, and while Melbourne may not have the chaos of Guadalcanal and America may be protected from the conflict, those locations are still overcome by the ramifications of these conflicts, signs of loss and complication which will do nothing to allow these soldiers to live their lives independent of the terror they’ve experienced. At times ethereal and at other times stark, this hour reminds us that there was no space untouched by the war, and even those spaces which seem like they offer some form of sanctuary are inevitably shattered by the harsh reality surrounding them.

Learning, via Sepinwall, that Leckie’s time with Stella and her Greek family was a fabrication isn’t that surprising: the story was aggressively on point, starting with a sort of romantic quality before evolving into a glimpse into a family broken by the past and a reminder that the war carries extensive baggage. The story was perfectly designed, really: Leckie, as a learned soldier, would be attracted to a family with such a storied history (he knows the story of the Turkish invasion of that part of Greece, for example), and the impact of this war on the Greek community offers a new sort of home front that Leckie and the audience can respond to. The idea of Leckie being part of a family even give the show the opportunity to reflect on his own family, as we learn he was the last of eight children. Things get convenient when it turns out Stella’s family lost a newborn son, and thus Leckie’s sense of being “unwanted” by his parents unearths those kinds of emotions amongst the family, but the story packs an emotional punch that really drives the episode and continues to build Leckie’s character.

It also managed to find a way to present sex as an integral, rather than gratuitous, element of this story. The show can’t elide the fact that a bunch of fit young men were arriving to a country which was suffering from a lack of native suitors as a result of the war, and Leckie’s story does not shy away from depicting the role of lust and sexual desire in the context of the situation. Stella and Leckie are obviously in a sexual relationship, and physical attraction plays an important role, but it is not the reason that either of them are there. Their first sex scene is the most “realistic” I’ve seen since on television since HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, but here it was surrounded by a story that was more romantic than dramatic; the contrast of the idyllic experience with her family and the pure desire of their sexual encounters made for an interesting, and ultimately fairly congruous, story that presented a multi-faceted relationship in a very short period of time. The show may have created this story, and it may have gone in a direction that was really convenient for reminding these soldiers that even in this relative paradise bad things are still happening elsewhere in the world (and have happened in the past), but it merged that with a romantic story which didn’t pretend that these relationships were chaste and innocent. And by contrasting that more visceral depiction of sex within the context of Leckie’s story with the sort of innocent romanticism of Phillips’ courtship of young Gwen and that tentative embrace in the hotel room the night before he leaves for their next destination, the show avoids the implication that sex was an integral part of every soldier’s experience, or that every soldier had the same story to tell.

At the same time, of course, we have Sgt. Basilone finding himself back on a plane to New York, headed home to “safety” but in a context (selling war bonds) that will ensure he never lives the war down, constantly forced to relive his experience. There’s a sense that he should be happy, that he should be proud to be away from the fighting, and he certainly understand that perspective considering he would like to take his friend with him as he prepares to board the plane. However, he also wants to stay and fight with his men, to finish the battle that he started. He might wake up to the New York City skyline, but he will be in a living dream where people are dying and all he can do is manipulate people into spending money to help them fight rather than climbing into that battlefield and clearing bodies, or single-handedly gunning down a line of Japanese forces.

But really, that’s getting ahead of ourselves: this story, depicting about a year of time as far as I can tell, is about the marines’ lack of momentum stuck waiting for the war to begin again. To some degree, the marines have been going nowhere since they began, with no sense of what Guadalcanal was or how long they would be staying in Melbourne. And so they stray, going AWOL and simply heading out to enjoy themselves. But some, inevitably, want to solidify where they’re going, and so Bob becomes attached to Stella’s family, and Phillips sticks with Gwen despite her overprotective grandfather standing in the way of the sort of philandering his fellow soldiers are engaged in. There’s a reason that the commanding officers transported them out to the desert and forced them to walk back to Melbourne as opposed to walking them out 50 miles and then walking 50 miles back – they wanted them to have a goal, a reason to fight through the ridiculous blisters and get back to the women they love or the life they’d like to live.

But at the end of the day, they are still in that liminal position between rest and war, between life and death, waiting for the moment when this “vacation” would give way to reality. Stella, eventually, dumps Bob not because she thinks he might die, but because his life hangs in the balance, and that sort of uncertainty would only further destroy her already shattered family. As a reflection of these soldiers’ time in Melbourne, the clear narrative threads in the episode were probably a little bit too elaborate, but as a dramatic encapsulation of the position of these soldiers at this point in time I found “Part Three” really compelling, and a great launching point for the rest of the series.

Cultural Observations

  • Really liked the sort of comical (but antagonistic) depiction of the MPs – I’d be curious to know how much that happened, as it seems like something that would have exploded fairly often due to the tensions involved.
  • I will admit: perhaps only because she was played by Dhavernas, I did write “What about Vera?” in my notes.
  • I presume that we’ll be seeing the arrival of Eugene Sledge this week – I was wondering how he would enter into the conflict, but the year-long delay explains why they provided the foreshadowing so early in the story since the chronological nature of the tale makes his arrival logical.
  • My mother was horrified that the marines would willingly kill the farmers’ cattle on the train ride, so she was pleased when Leckie got (rightfully) pissed off.
  • Anyone have any other recent sex scenes that have strived for this level of realism? No judgment if your memory proves suspiciously encyclopedic.
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2 Comments

Filed under The Pacific

2 responses to “The Pacific – “Part Three”

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