“Bomb in the Garden”
Saying goodbye to Generation Kill isn’t just difficult, it’s impossible.
I recently finished The Wire’s fifth season (partially why I was so late getting to this finale), and the show’s conclusion (like the conclusion of every season) is about reflection: about the journey of these characters we followed for five seasons, and about how their journeys are part of today’s modern American society. And yet, there is that necessary and welcome distance which we also experience: while this is something that does happen in our own society, it is still playing out with fictional characters (regardless of how much we may relate to them in various fashions).
So while I certainly have a new perspective on the drug trade, education, the media, or anything else that the show exposed to me during its run on HBO, I can honestly say that watching that finale gave me some hope: hope that the cyclical process that we follow could potentially be stopped, that the show and its message can serve as a guiding post for the future. It doesn’t paint an idealistic picture of the world Simon and Burns created, no, but its meaning in “reality” is still a bastion of hopefulness for those who choose to view it as such.
But there’s something far more infinite in the tragedy of Generation Kill, the tragedy of a “true story” as told through the eyes of someone who experienced it first hand. Watching this finale was not like saying goodbye to old friends and reflecting on what we can do as a society to change it, but watching with horror knowing what was going to happen over the next five years. Simon and Burns’ gut-wrenching reality check is far worse when it is actual reality, when they are framing our understanding of something ongoing within today’s society. It is downright scary that, five years after the fact, Simon and Burns still found this particular warning necessary, that the problems they outlined throughout the miniseries have certainly not been solved.
As a result, finishing Generation Kill was a process that took some time when we consider that, in the end, we’re not just accepting to end of Hitman 2’s mission with this finale, but the start of our own shattered reality; and while I have numerous kudos to wave in the series’ direction, I will have to say that finishing it certainly is not satisfying. Instead, it is simply scary, and it seems like this is what Wright (And Simon and Burns) intended.
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).
“A Burning Dog”
August 10th, 2008
As we begin our march into the final parts of Generation Kill, it is becoming clear that nothing is going to change. The crew of Bravo Company will not have competent leadership, the overall objectives of the military will continue to lack practicality or logic in terms of the situation on the ground, and the path of least resistance is not something that command is interested in, even if some of their soldiers might be.
More than any other segment, though, I felt that this one really kind of fell on the human side of things, people who are beginning to view this less as just military bureaucracy inaction and more as an actual personal failing. These are men who are dead tired, struggling to stay awake let alone alert, and in those moments the tasks set before them are more challenging. When so much of the war is out of their control, from the opening bombing of a small community which likely housed no “enemies” to the illogical attempt at passing a bridge compared to an easier route, there are two likely responses: either writing off your own actions as part of the broader mistakes, or a heightened sense of responsibility for what part you play in the grand scheme of things.
Written by Evan Wright, whose book is the basis for the series, this is the story of how people fall on that binary of sorts, and the continuing impact of the series’ broader themes on these individuals.
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.
July 27th, 2008
I’m a bit late in getting to Generation Kill, but as I stated last week it’s kind of hard to find things to talk about each week. This time around, with Screwby, Alan Sepinwall concurs:
I’m running out of things to discuss in these weekly reviews, not because I’m losing interest in “Generation Kill,” but because each episode is very much of a piece with the whole miniseries, and there are only so many ways I can analyze the dysfunctional relationship between command and the troops.
And that’s really want differentiates this show from, say, The Wire. While I wasn’t able to write individually about that series either, mainly because of how quickly I wanted to burn through each season, it tended to provide a wider spectrum of such relationships: within each command structure, whether police or drug in nature, there was various different levels to the various relationships and more time to spend with each of them.
For Generation Kill, there’s a far more strict line between command and the troops, between those who know what they’re doing and those who don’t; perhaps a symptom of the “message” of the miniseries, if you will, everything seems to be going towards proving a point as opposed to necessarily allowing these characters to just plain grow. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but rather that it’s different, and makes discussing each episode individually more challenging.
Doesn’t mean I won’t try, though.
“The Cradle of Civilization”
Man, what a difference a week makes.
Well, actually, scratch that: there’s really not much to separate, in terms of content, the first two episodes of Generation Kill. While our heroes, of sorts, see more action this time around, there’s still that sense of military blue balls driving the action and what we get in terms of the further bureaucratic incompetence is right in line with what we saw in last week’s opener.
Rather, the difference is that we have a much better sense of the smaller character differences: it’s easier to tell people apart now, and some of them are even getting some good ol’ fashioned character development in the process. However, the other difference is that I’m losing some of the command structure: while I can tell everyone apart, telling you exactly what they do in any sort of organized fashion just isn’t going to happen.
And I don’t know if that was really the point here, as this episode is rather about the actions rather than the buildup; Bravo Company gets to see some honest to goodness combat this time around, and what really makes it stand out is the visceral uncertainty of it all: moment by moment, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on, which can be dramatically confusing but also very satisfying in the end.
July 13th, 2008
When watching Generation Kill, a miniseries event from HBO, it’s impossible not to draw the obvious comparisons to The Wire. While usually shows from the same creator bear moderate resemblance to one another, David Simon and Ed Burns have a style so distinctive that it’s hard to write a single sentence about this series without discuss the other. The Wire was a show about dropping the viewer into a world they didn’t understand without holding their hand about it, developing its own language, identities, and pacing. It wasn’t about telling a story about something, but rather telling the story.
That story, here, is the journey of a Marine Corps Battalion, and their embedded reporter Evan Wright (Who wrote the novel the series is based on), as they invade Iraq in the opening throes of the 2003 invasion. There’s a lot of people thrown around, and like The Wire you never really pick up their names so much as begin to identify them based on other characteristics. Although the first segment is not eventful in the traditional sense, the various bits and pieces we see give us enough of a background so that, when things do go down, we’ll know how people should or do react.
What makes Generation Kill compelling is not just Simon and Burns’ usual sharp writing and ear for realistic drama, or even the great cinematography/direction – rather, it’s seeing all of this play out in a context where we know the basic story at hand. In most stories, there would be attempts to shoehorn politics into this story; to not only show the wrong camouflage being sent to the army, but to show some stuffshirt politician making the decision so as to villainize. Here, the authority is a villain by omission – we as an audience have information they don’t, and that isolation is incredibly compelling.
It is also, however, intoxicating – when a show requires flow charts, you know that you’re not in for a normal television watching experience. Thus far, though? It’s a damn good one.