“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”
August 22nd, 2010
Ted, the Don Draper-equivalent over at rival agency CGC, is not in Don Draper’s league: he is neither visionary nor genius, and yet by virtue of his insistence that he is a competitor he has been elevated to Don’s level. It’s the ultimate example of self-definition, of putting something out there (in this case, to the New York Times) and then turning it into reality. It doesn’t matter that Jai Alai went with another agency because its owner is delusional, or that Clearasil was a conflict rather than business lost: as it would appear to the outside world, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lost two accounts and CGC (under Ted’s leadership) gained both of them.
“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” is filled with various examples of situations where appearance becomes reality, to the point where it even becomes a meta-narrative when the series’ positioning of Betty as a child-like figure becomes rendered in three-dimensions. It’s not the most pleasant or subtle of episodes, but it ends up making some fairly interesting observations regarding Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as an agency, as well as the series’ general approach to simulating the past.
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.
“Victory of the Daleks”
April 17th, 2010
On the one hand, writing this review seems a little silly: I know very little about the Daleks beyond their general appearance and their robotic cadence, so I can’t really tell you how “Victory of the Daleks” works in terms of returning the alien race to the world of Doctor Who. However, on the other hand, the whole point of this episode is a sort of rebirth, a Dalek renaissance designed to reassert the function of this particular arch-nemesis, so while I cannot judge the story for continuity I can judge how well the episode sets up the Daleks for their likely return in subsequent episodes.
“Victory for the Daleks” replaces last week’s futuristic setting with an historical glimpse into the London Blitz, and does not really switch up much else: the formulaic structure of the series is readily clear but also fairly effective, managing to continue to throw in some small characters beats and some fun standalone elements within an episode which primarily continues the series mythology.
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.
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.
March 21st, 2010
The Pacific is a show designed to tell the story of a war through the story of three men, but sometimes this isn’t a particularly easy task. Sometimes war is about the inhumane, the loss of identity and humanity amidst absolute chaos, at which point following characters seems almost counterintuitive. In other moments, meanwhile, conflicts become entirely personal, becoming disconnected from the “why” of the war and the big picture and becoming about one man battling against the enemy, or one company struggling to hold the line against an invading force.
“Part Two” is all about how these two perspectives start to speak to one another, how a large-scale offensive can become a personal tragedy and how the personal struggles of these soldiers are not being done for nothing. It’s not a substantially different story than “Part One,” but it uses the sameness to its advantage by avoiding desensitization and delivering some intense dramatic action.