May 9th, 2010
Serialized television is more or less defined by consequences: while all television series feature actions and reactions, what defines a series as serialized is when those actions have consequences which extend into the following episodes. We’re meant to remember what happened in the past because it will affect what happens in the future, and the show revels in the ironies or tragedies which result from these remembrances.
The Pacific is effectively a meditation on the serialization of life, or the ways in which war erases one’s memory of anything but the drudgery these soldiers experienced in battles like Iwo Jima or Okinawa; we remember that Eugene Sledge started out as an innocent child because we’ve seen his story in a serialized form, but Sledge himself has forgotten his former self in ways that human beings are not supposed to. At the same time, though, “Part Nine” plays out like a terrifying series of actions and consequences, trapping these characters within an environment where one small mistake leads to a chain reaction of events that leaves men dead and dying.
The only way you can cope, perhaps, is to forget about what came before, to ignore the decisions that brought you to this point and focus solely on the nature of survival. However, as much as you might want to shut off the man you were before as you fight your way through a battlefield more terrible than you can imagine, you can’t help but remain haunted by who you used to be, and “Part Nine” presents a horrifying image of that futility which stands as a series highlight.
April 25th, 2010
It’s been a while (three weeks, in fact) since I’ve checked in with HBO’s miniseries, and I want to go back for a moment to the first scene in last week’s “Part Six.” The episode begins in Mobile, Alabama, where Sidney Phillips nearly gives the Sledgehammer’s parents a heart attack by showing up unannounced. After being graciously welcomed into the home once their fears were put to rest, he sits at the dinner table and informs the concerned parents that Eugene is not in too much danger, and that he isn’t worried about Eugene.
However, just so we’re clear: I am indescribably worried about Eugene, just as I am worried about every character whose name I don’t even know but whose face is etched into my mind. Part of what makes The Pacific, and Band of Brothers before it, so arresting is how it puts faces to people who were marching to their death, who were part of gruesome slaughters and conditions you couldn’t imagine. While special effects and production design work to capture those conditions, the true function of the Miniseries is to force us to look the young soldiers in the eye before they are gunned down while running across an airfield, facing the harsh reality of not only war but death itself. Sidney Phillips, having seen what we have seen (and lived it far more than we could have), is lying to Eugene Sledge’s parents: he may have more faith in Eugene than in the other soldiers, but he is worried about him as much as we are.
“Part Seven” is like a trip through Eugene’s worst nightmares, with brief moments of levity shattered moments later by unspeakable horrors; for every moment of hope on Peleliu there is fifteen moments of terror, and for all of the maturity that the Sledgehammer has portrayed over these past few weeks after entering the conflict there is no one who would not break down under these conditions.
March 30th, 2010
There are plenty of reasons to be apprehensive about “The Package.” It’s coming off of an epic mythology episode of romance and intrigue, it features a vague title that seems to refer to some sort of MacGuffin, and it has the unfortunate task of “filling in the gaps” in its flash sideways as opposed to telling its own story. Because we saw a small glimpse into Jin’s fate in “Sundown,” we can be fairly certain that the show will be colouring in the lines this week, and after a week when the show was willing to go off the page entirely it means that the show is facing an uphill battle.
Like the season’s weaker episodes, “The Package” struggles with a flash-sideways that proves completely inconclusive and an island scenario which feels like pieces moving on a chess board, but it ultimately works because it doesn’t feel like those pieces are being moved. When things stall in the episode, it feels like they’re stalling for a reason, and everyone involved knows why they’re making the choices they are. While things may not be moving as quickly as some fans want them to be, they seem to be moving faster than the characters were prepared for, and there’s a nice tension there which bodes well for the remainder of the season.
And, let’s face it: the reveal of just what “The Package” is was way too good for me to be too cranky.
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.
“I Think We’re Fighting the Germans, Right?”
March 14th, 2010
It’s been three weeks since I’ve been able to review The Amazing Race, which is pretty unfortunate. It just so happened that one week was the Academy awards, and the week before was the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics. I enjoy this show enough to keep watching it when these sorts of conflicts arise, but blogging about it is another story. There just isn’t enough time in the day, especially when the last few weeks have ultimately been what one would call predictable: there was no doubt that Monique and Shawne were too far behind two weeks ago in Argentina, and last week’s episode smelled like a non-elimination even before the fairly predictable conclusion (even if the nice Beatles touches were pretty enjoyable, and even if I was glad that Jeff and Jordan were not done in by an errant taxi ride that wasn’t their fault).
So, I figure I owe it to the show to put some thoughts on the table in regards to this week’s episode. Thus far, the cast is more or less living up to our early expectations: there are no teams that I abhor (although there are times where Carol/Brandy cut it pretty close), there are no teams I really love, and there are no teams that are running a really intelligent race.
However, there is one team that I like much better than I expected to, and that is running a far better race than I expected them to, and those sorts of underdog stories (See: Hippies) are the sorts of thing which keep my engaged all season long.
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.
Related Posts at Cultural Learnings
[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]
“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.