Complete Miniseries (HBO)
Airdate: Summer 2008
Debuting in the summer, David Simon and Ed Burns’ HBO miniseries was one of those shows that went largely without hype, a fact which shouldn’t surprise anyone after the previous year had seen a myriad of Iraq War films fail to capture the nation’s attention. Dramatizing reality has its benefits, but when it is reality that so often hits close to home there is often not enough distance to allow a show to capture a piece of the public eye.
Generation Kill felt too real to me by half, but this is perhaps what kept me most interested. With the same sense of character-driven storylines and a similar investigation into bureaucratic failures as their work on The Wire, Simon and Burns bring to life something that doesn’t need dramatizing: the consequences of the events seen within the series are today’s headlines, and the people they depict are not amalgams but individuals (one, even, played themselves in the miniseries).
What resulted was a wakeup call to how easily a situation like Iraq can happen: the mistakes made were in some cases driven by incompetence, in other cases by communication failures, but the miniseries’ main purpose is to place us in the middle of all of it to get a sense of what the people on the ground could do about it. As we become personally attached to the men in Bravo Company, we see that they could only do so much: with flawed strategies driving them, poorly trained reserve units botching their missions, and many of the soldiers there driven by the lust of gunfire more than the pride of searching for one’s country, Iraq becomes less a headline and more an experience that seems simultaneously very small and very large.
Based on Evan Wright’s best-selling novel of the same name, and released on DVD in December, Generation Kill will likely beat out a myriad of other potential Emmy nominees as the one I will campaign for most of all: strong performances, amazing production values, stunning direction, and assured writing deliver a miniseries that more people should experience.
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“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.