Spoilers for the premiere episode of "Generation Kill" coming up just as soon as I get a sit-rep as to J-Lo's status...
"You know what happens when you get out of the Marine Corps? You get your brains back."
I had originally planned to devote a good chunk of this post to explaining who the hell everybody is, how the recon Marine command hierarchy is structured, what the terminology means, etc. But I had an epiphany the other day when I sat down to rewatch "Get Some" and I realized that I wasn't remotely as lost as I was the first time. (If you need the Who's Who assistance, Mo Ryan has all the relevant PDF files hosted on her site.)
Sure, it helped that I had seen the next three episodes after that, and that I had frequently turned to my copy of Evan Wright's wonderful book when I was feeling especially dumbsquizzled. But, like Simon and Burns' "The Wire," I think "Generation Kill" is a show that throws you into the deep end of the pool, and after some thrashing around, you discover that you can swim. With or without the study aids, by the time you get to the end of episode 2 or 3, I suspect you'll get it. Admittedly, Simon makes things tougher than he needs to be in spots. The actors cast to play Encino Man (Lt. Fick's incompetent immediate superior) and Capt. Patterson (the leader of a different company in First Recon) may as well be brothers (especially when seated), and I don't think the miniseries uses Lee Tergesen's reporter character as much as it could to simplify things. (If nothing else, a scene where Tergesen is introduced to all the officers and told who reports to whom wouldn't have been the worst idea in the world.) But so long as you know the five people in the picture above -- from left to right, lead Humvee driver Josh Ray Person (James Ransone), the reporter, second platoon leader Lt. Fick (Stark Sands), lead Humvee team leader Brad Colbert (Alexander Skarsgard) and first Humvee gunner Trombley (Billy Lush) -- you're good to go. Other characters will be important and/or interesting as time goes on -- Fruity Rudy, Captain America, Godfather, Sgt. Major Sixta -- but the guys in that first Humvee are (with the exception of the turret gunner, who's a minor character at best) well-established even by the end of episode one.
But if the world that Simon, Burns, Wright and company drop us into can be confusing at first (mirroring, as they intended, the confusion that Wright felt at the time), it's a fully-realized one that's both thousands of miles away (literally and figuratively) from the Baltimore of "The Wire" and one that will feel very familiar to anyone who spent a lot of time watching McNulty and Bunk drink at the train tracks. The two biggest similarities similarities -- both of them very present in Wright's book, and in no way transplanted in by Simon and Burns' worldview -- are:
1)A mission that, on paper, is noble -- Who doesn't think drugs are harmful? Who doesn't think Saddam was a bad guy? -- but that maybe wasn't the best use of resources and was certainly not well planned-out in terms of an end game; and
2)A command hierarchy where the people who understand the problems the best (the cops on the street, the Marines on the ground) have the least authority, while the people making the decisions are far removed from the action, and whose orders therefore bear little resemblance to the realities their men are faced with when carrying them out.
While "The Wire" was inspired by true events in the lives of Simon, Burns and people that they knew, there was plenty of room to fictionalize as needed. Simon calls "Generation Kill" a fictionalized version, to some extent, of Wright's travels with First Recon, but he also has this text he has to follow, and so the themes and characters aren't all one to one. Colbert isn't McNulty, Person isn't Bunk, Godfather isn't Burrell, Sgt. Major Sixta isn't Rawls, etc. Still, as I read about and then watched the series of snafus that accompanied First Recon's entry into Iraq -- Encino Man getting the company lost because he duct-taped his windows shut, the piss-poor communication of orders from command to the troops, Colbert being ordered to let what would turn out to be death squads go without even asking some routine questions, and the climactic, "Three Kings"-ish moment where Fick has to "unsurrender" the Iraqi citizens and send them walking back in the direction of the death squads -- I couldn't help but imagine Dominic West asking, "The &*%^ is wrong with this military?"
As Simon has done throughout his career with the cops and criminals of Baltimore, Wright's book did an impressive job of reporting on the behavior and language of the men he covered without presuming to judge it. Much of what Person -- the miniseries' breakout character, and maybe the part that gets people to remember Ransone for something other than Ziggy's enormous member -- says, at great length and speed, is vile, offensive, reprehensible... you pick the adjective. But even as he's cussing out the image of some cute and oblivious elementary school girl, or suggesting that the war wouldn't have happened if Saddam had sent the Republican Guard to Vegas, you can tell that he's letting off steam -- and overcaffeinated, and overtired -- and his disgusting rants (and off-key renditions of "Sk8er Boi" and "Loving You") become almost -- no, forget "almost" -- charming.
I could talk in more generalities about "Get Some," but because this is a self-contained miniseries, we're going to be covering a lot of the same thematic ground over the next six weeks, plus this is late, so let's move on to a few specifics:
-In some ways, "Generation Kill" is one long, strange, violent road trip comedy, and as funny as Ransone is as Person, he needs a great on-screen buddy to make it work, and Alexander Skarsgard (son of Stellan) provides that. You can tell that Colbert can never decide whether he's annoyed or amused by his driver -- probably because he usually is feeling both at the same time.
-As mentioned in today's feature story on the making of the miniseries, Fruity Rudy is played by the real Fruity Rudy (Reyes) himself, because Simon and the casting team couldn't find a Latino actor who was both beautiful enough and convincing enough with all the New Age-y aspects of Rudy. Here's a Simon quote that got massively trimmed from that story for space reasons: "John Huertas, who plays Espera, after he read the role, he told me we first had him read for Rudy Reyes, 'And I read his lines, and the (bleep) he was saying about good dharma, and I thought this was the worst-written piece of (bleep) I've ever read! What the (bleep) is this (bleep)? And then I went to Africa and I met the real Rudy, and I'm like, it's dead on!' Rudy's like a unicorn. They just don't make 'em like that."
-Sgt. Major Sixta (referred to in the book as The Coward of Khafi) is played by Neal Jones, who you may remember as Chief Reilly's gay son from "Rescue Me," and he never fails to crack me up every time he starts mangling the English language and giving the Marines grief about their mustaches. I asked Wright and Eric Kocher (played in the miniseries by Owain Yeoman, and the miniseries' technical advisor) whether Sixta actually sounded like that. They said he did, and it wasn't even because he was Southern (I think they said he was from Nebraska), but because for some reason all Marines of that rank somehow decide they need to use that accent.
That's it for now. Sorry I couldn't get it done in time to post it after the East Coast airing finished. I'll try to do better next week.
What did everybody else think?