Spoilers for the latest episode of "Generation Kill" coming up just as soon as I enter my Ferrari into a demolition derby...
"This is why we're here." -Encino Man
We're in the home stretch now, and "A Burning Dog" presents the longest, most thrilling/frightening combat sequence yet, as First Recon gets ambushed on a bridge at nightfall, saved only by the Spidey-sense of Iceman Colbert. But even though the firefight, shot predominantly from the point of view of the Marines' night vision goggles and target scopes, was impressive, what really stands out in this episode is the arc for Lt. Fick.
(And allow me to pause for a moment to warn you that this post is going to be about as political as I get on this blog. When you're discussing a docudrama about an ongoing war, one that pointedly and repeatedly criticizes the tactics and philosophies behind it, it becomes hard to discuss it without in some way agreeing or disagreeing -- and therefore attacking or defending the architects of said war.)
Early on, after he awesomely pulls rank on Casey Kasem ("And nobody f-ing spoke to you!") and accepts Encino Man's peace offering, he reluctantly turns into a spokesman for the same messed-up command hierarchy that he's been trying to protect his men from since the invasion began. Even as he's doing it, even as he's shutting down complaints from Colbert and the others, he knows he's making a tough choice, maybe the wrong choice, to honor the olive branch from a superior officer. But if he's had questions about command from the start of the invasion, he's never questioned the invasion itself... until Meesh explains about the Syrian student who entered Iraq after the invasion started with "jihad" listed on his passport as his reason for entering the country.
Encino Man is too thick-headed to understand what that means, but Fick gets it, asking Gunny Wynn, "Isn't this the exact opposite of what we wanted to have happen?"
Early in the episode, one of the Marines complains that "We keep making the same f-ing mistakes." All of them in some way stem from arrogance, from the leaders of this invasion -- whether it's someone at Encino Man's level, or Godfather's, or Rumsfeld's, or President Bush himself -- believing beyond a shadow of a doubt that they know what they're doing, and that they can impose their will on others to achieve the result they want. And just as no one put enough thought into how we would go about rebuilding Iraq after we deposed Saddam, it never occurred to anyone that, if the terrorists claimed to hate us for meddling too much in other people's affairs, then invading a sovereign nation (albeit one run by a very bad man) might actually generate more anti-US sentiments, not less.
While Fick is realizing the dangers of being a true believer going against other true believers, the episode's other major character movement contrasts how Iceman is holding up under the strains of the mission with how Hasser the turret gunner is taking things. As the man riding up top (and a mid-mission swap for Garza at that), Hasser hasn't gotten as much screen time as the other four guys in the Humvee, but all we need to know here is that he's too tired to function properly and too wired to sleep. Colbert can take a dump tactically, can get tiny amounts of sleep when the opportunity arises, and can summon enough focus in spite of the fatigue to foil the ambush before it even started. Hasser's not superhuman like that; he's all too human, a point brought painfully home when he shoots and kills the driver of a car at the roadblock without waiting for Brad's gas grenade plan to work. It's not that Hasser is necessarily wrong, but that nobody should be asked to make such a fine judgment call under these physical conditions, and yet that's what the Marines have to do all the time. Even Colbert quickly recognizes that there's no point in chewing him out, that this is unfortunate fallout from the nature and stresses of their mission, but for a second there, the Iceman facade cracks, badly.
Some other thoughts on "A Burning Dog":
• Major Eckloff, the officer who marches onto the bridge and gives Encino Man the football-themed pep talk, is played by Ben Busch, whom "Wire" fans might recognize as Officer Colicchio, the hot-headed Western district narcotics cop with the awful haircut. Busch actually served as a Marine for two tours in Iraq, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel. Note that Eckloff can tell how badly Encino Man is handling things, but rather then chew him out, he gives him a pep talk in a language (football) that he knows the guy can understand. That's something resembling genuine leadership, and it's the kind of thing First Recon could use a lot more of.
• Also note that Eckloff is able to shut down Captain America with little more than a stare. Even though he's heeded Kocher's warning about the AK's (he gathers up a bunch and then tosses them into the river), he seems more out of control than ever.
• I like the moment where the reporter comes to Colbert with what he thinks is a brilliant, left-field observation about where the mortar fire has been coming from, and Colbert politely but firmly explains that he knows what he's doing, thank you very much.
• Despite all the heavy fire they've taken, Pappy having to be casevac'ed because of his foot is the only real loss the Marines have suffered so far. As Pappy himself notes earlier in the episode, they're so good at what they do that they're preventing command from realizing what asinine decisions they keep making.
What did everybody else think?