April 4th, 2010
For the second straight week, the real-life events of the Pacific war have made for an interesting interlude of sorts for The Pacific. Last week’s episode used their extended shore level in Melbourne, Australia in order to demonstrate the home front without traveling back to the United States, and “Part Four” is very much designed to analyze the psychological challenges that soldiers face in these kinds of conditions. Cape Gloucester, we learn, was only very briefly a war between the Americans and the Japanese, and soon became a war of the Americans against the torrential rainfall and the psychological toll that that experience would have on them.
If “Part Two” was a fairly concentrated glimpse into the heroism of John Basilone, “Part Four” is a frank portrait of a man (Bob Leckie) who feels entirely disconnected from those notions of heroism, and struggles to maintain any sense of humanity (and masculinity) in the face of both the turmoil of war and an embarrassing medical condition.
When Bob Leckie gets shuttled off to a hospital on an island nearby the Marines’ encampment late in this week’s episode of The Pacific, he’s placed in the psych ward for two reasons. The first, logistically, is that they’re dealing with overflow in other parts of the hospital, so there was nowhere else for him to go. However, creatively, it proves interesting for two reasons: it both allows us to get a glimpse into those who have been psychologically damaged by the war like Gordie and it forces us to ask whether or not Leckie should, perhaps, actually be amongst these men. While he didn’t strip naked in the woods and shoot himself, and while he didn’t strangle a dying Japanese man as opposed to using a bayonet, he did sit in that rain and effectively ask someone to shoot him to take him away from the misery of Cape Gloucester. While he might not be crazy, and his time in the hospital certainly helped him come to terms with that, there is some part of him who wants the good doctor to offer some sort of counseling. He might not need psychiatric help at the end of the day, but he might want psychiatric help.
The reason he’s at the hospital, of course, is because his body has effectively broken down: while he may be mentally strong enough to keep fighting, his body has broken down in the most embarrassing of ways. Yes, Bob Leckie becomes a bed wetter, or more technically he develops a case of enuresis. It would be one thing if his condition was a badge of honour, or if it was the cause of something else (like a mosquito, in the case of Malaria), but wetting the bed because you’re unable to stay dry is the sort of condition that shows some sort of failure. With Malaria, your body is overcome with chills or sweats, but when you wet the bed it indicates a lack of control. And while war can take away your ability to stay dry, or your ability to stay alive, for it to take away your ability to keep from pissing yourself is just the last straw, and it breaks down Leckie faster than any of the war around him did (or, perhaps, it breaks him down so quickly because of the ongoing impact of that war).
Cape Gloucester, with its torrential rains and its knee-deep mud, was built to break down the soldiers. Let’s remember that the 100 or so Japanese soldiers who stormed their camp during their stay were basically on a suicide mission – they knew they didn’t have the numbers, but rather than run with the others they were willing to sacrifice themselves to try to at least weaken the American forces. That they were willing to do so could indicate incredible courage, like Basilone’s willingness to burn his arm to keep the fight going in “Part Two,” or it could just demonstrate how defeated they were by the same rains which were wore down the Americans with time. The opening documentary package indicated that, at Cape Gloucester, a soldier’s worst enemy was himself, and that goes for both sides of the conflict.
Once Leckie ends up at the hospital, things start to change: he witnesses what happens to some soldiers who break down mentally, and once he gets dry and the Enuresis is gone, he wants to leave. He’s willing to give up the officer’s pistol, at least to my mind, because before it was a desperate attempt to retain his masculinity, to remain in control of his situation. Seeing how he compares to the other patients in the psych ward, he realizes that he doesn’t necessarily need the gun for that purpose, nor is her interested in selling it off to try to profit from the death of another. But when he talks with Gordie one last time, and starts to realize the weight that will soon bear down on him, he begins to see the Coke, and the volleyball, and the attractive nurses, in an entirely different light. While there, all he wants to do is be back with his buddies, but once he starts to leave he realizes that this is a chance to stay safe, to stay dry, and where he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. Unfortunately, that isn’t an option that he’s willing to take, and so he continues the hard road back to war despite the challenges he will no doubt encounter.
With Basilone relegated to a comic book and Sledge still in California completing his training, this episode fell squarely on James Badge Dale’s shoulders, and I thought he did a mighty fine job with it. While Band of Brothers picked up no acting nods from the Emmys (Lewis and Livingston, rightfully, picked up nominations at the Golden Globes), the stronger focus on the lead characters here should make them strong contenders. Badge Dale managed to make both his cavalier approach to life after his gun had been taken away and the rain was starting to destroy him and his breakdown as the enuresis set in realistic and poignant, and in an episode where he was in almost every single scene he was able to carry the day just fine. He didn’t get too much to do during 24’s third season, but he’s gotten some strong material here and is doing a great job with it. It resulted, at least here, in a very focused but also very effective hour of television, which is what The Pacific seems to be going for.
- Nate Corddry, who I know best from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and who was most recently on my television on the United States of Tara’s first season, pops up as a new marine recruit. It wasn’t quite “Jimmy Fallon in Band of Brothers” jarring, but it still sort of threw me for a loop.
- Lieutenant Larkin, who steals the gun and the chest it came in from Leckie, is certainly no Chesty – authority and Leckie obviously don’t get along, but it was interesting to see his clearly antagonistic relationship with the Lieutenant compared to his repartee with the Psychiatrist.
- If Eugene is already struggling in basic training, methinks that he’s in for a rude awakening overseas, no?