Spoilers for the "Generation Kill" finale coming up just as soon as I score some valium...
When I interviewed the "Generation Kill" producers shortly before it premiered, David Simon said something interesting that didn't make it into the final story. While talking about the thematic similarities between "Generation Kill" and "The Wire" -- specifically, how both shows give their loyalties to the footsoldiers on the ground, and eye their bosses with extreme suspicion -- he said, "To be fair, it would have been a different book if (Wright) had hung with Ferrando."
"Bomb in the Garden" provides some hints of what that book might have been like. We get the throwaway moment between Sgt. Major Sixta and Gunny Wynn when Sixta offers to bring up the grooming standard as a way to combat drooping morale. (The men, of course, hated Sixta for ragging on them about their moo-stashes, but it was usually in that Charlie Finley Oakland A's way, where their mutual hatred of an authority figure brought them all together.) More importantly, we get the reporter (who is never, as far as I can tell, referred to by name at any point in the miniseries) doing his exit interview with Godfather. Ferrando suspects that Captain America is probably unfit for combat, but he has the same perspective on Cap's actions that he does on Lt. Fick's -- which is to say that he has to rely on the reports of men below him, and sometimes below those officers -- and if he deals harshly with one, isn't he obligated to deal harshly with the other? Yes, we know Fick is a great leader and Cap is a nutcase, but we're seeing them from a different point of view, and one that's then filtered through Evan Wright and again through Simon, Ed Burns and company.
By the same token, the wanderings of First Recon during their days in Baghdad seem aimless and counter-productive to Fick and Colbert, but there could have been very rational motives behind each of them from the way command saw things. The explanation behind the lack of night patrols wasn't a terrible one; in that environment, who's to say the presence of the U.S. forces at night might not have made things worse, along with getting our guys killed?
But allowing for the possibility of an alternate perspective only goes so far. There's no way to justify punishing Kocher and Redman for the bayonet incident and promptly reinstate the actual bayonet-wielder, Captain America, for instance. And we are, after all, five years removed from the events depicted here, and our military is still over there trying to clean up the mess we made by breaking the country without having a sound plan to immediately begin fixing it.
In that way, "Bomb in the Garden" is more important than all six previous "Generation Kill" chapters put together. The miniseries has been enormously entertaining (even if, as I've said, the "Groundhog Day" nature of the Marines' lives made it tough to blog at times), but in deconstructing how Operation: Iraqi Freedom went wrong, they were all just a lead up to the events depicted here. As an invasion, this was an enormous success; we took down an entire country in three weeks time. As an attempt to promote democracy and discourage terrorism, it's been a dismal failure, for reasons illustrated by First Recons various misadventures in this hour. You can't just leave the unexploded bomb in the garden, because sooner or later somebody's going to blow the thing up, right?
Some specific moments I liked in the finale:
• The Marines' arrival in the cigarette factory, with the silver paper raining down on them like a ticker-tape parade, was a perfect homage to/parody of President Bush's "Mission Accomplished." The war is allegedly over, but the battles are going to keep going for years and years.
• Much as I love the Rick Rubin-produced Johnny Cash "America" albums, they're dangerously close to becoming a cliche for TV show montages. "Sarah Connor Chronicles," of all shows, already used "The Man Comes Around" at the end of its last season, but I'll give "Generation Kill" a pass because the song is such a perfect fit, between the mix of jaunty tune and somber lyrics (a nice match for the show's black comedy and how the Marines often found their greatest joy when matters were at their worst) and the radio squelch at the beginning and end, which matched the miniseres' opening credits and constant stream of radio chatter.
• The home movie, by the way, was a mixture of footage shot by the production and stuff shot by the actual First Recon Marines during the invasion, much of it scrounged up by the real Eric Kocher.
• Kocher, Wright and others have talked about how quiet Ray Person is in the real world when he's had a lot of sleep and isn't guzzling Ripped Fuel. I liked the acknowledgement of that in the moment where Colbert complains that he isn't talking any more.
• Though the themes are very different, the structure of this episode reminded me in many ways of the finale to HBO's other great war miniseries, "Band of Brothers," which also featured odd vignettes about what the company did after the end of the war but before they got sent home. Both episodes even climax with a sporting event, albeit with divergent tones. In "Band," it's a baseball game that provides the Easy Company soldiers an opportunity to exhale and enjoy the beautiful countryside; here, it's a football game that gives the men (particularly Person and Capt. Patterson) an excuse to physically but unofficially vent their frustration with the likes of Encino Man and Fruity Rudy. (Rudy actually hadn't done much in the past to earn Ray's ire, but Ray's rant about high school jocks suggested his explosion had little to do with Rudy himself.)
• Getting back to the nature of perspective, the new edition of Wright's book (the one with the miniseries' cast on the cover) has an afterword filling in what happened to many of these Marines after the invasion. Of particular interest is the revelation that Casey Kasem turned out to be a hero during combat in a later deployment.
• The original Alan Arkin/Peter Falk version of "The In-Laws" was one of my family's favorite movies when I was growing up, and so when the reporter started zig-zagging while running away from the sniper, I immediately started shouting, "Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!" But for the reporter to then actually quote the scene? Pure pop culture Nirvana. (I had forgotten that bit from the book, thankfully.) Can someone get that clip up on YouTube already? (The only scene I can find is this one.) I'm not sure how funny it is if you haven't watched Falk torment Arkin for the previous hour, but in context it is one of the most hilarious things ever committed to celluloid.
• Throughout, the singalongs have been a real pleasure, but I especially loved Colbert finally relaxing the ban on country music while Ray was asleep -- and that Ray was just awake enough to realize this.
• Another running gag paid off well: Trombley's "You see, Sergeant? We do shoot dogs in Iraq," followed by him defiantly eating some Charms.
What did everybody else think?