Sunday, August 03, 2008

Generation Kill, "Combat Jack": Stop... or my Trombley will shoot

Spoilers for episode four of "Generation Kill" coming up just as soon as I cook a goat...

You're now basically caught up with me. I've seen part of episode 5, but I reached a point where I decided I'd rather watch each episode closer to when I was going to blog about it, so I'll be watching 5, 6, and 7 at roughly the same pace you will. The decision was less about not wanting to inadvertently spoil things (it's really not that kind of show), but because I was having a harder and harder time reconnecting with each episode as I had to write about them, even with the extensive notes I take for stuff like this.

I bring this up because, from what I remember at the time, I wasn't that fond of "Combat Jack," at least relative to the previous three episodes, but now I'm not sure how much I can trust those memories.

Specifically, I didn't like the detour we took with Captain Patterson (the shorter, wiser Encino Man lookalike) and Alpha as they went on their mission to recover the body of the crucified Marine. I know that chronologically, this is the point in the story when the incident happened, but it feels like we're too deep into the miniseries to be spending so much time with a different, albeit related, group of Marines. One of the commenters said that episode three was the best so far because he could finally start telling the characters apart. So just as we're all getting to recognize all the personalities in Bravo, it doesn't seem like a great time to go off on a chaotic mission with Alpha.

That said, the material with the Bravo guys was very strong, particularly the road block sequence at the end. Outside of IEDs, stories of nightmarish roadblocks seem to be the most frequent kind of tale coming out of this war (the one really memorable part of FX's "Over There" also involved a roadblock), and the two roadblock scenes -- Bravo shooting up the truck, and Fruity Rudy and Meesh coming upon the aftermath of another roadblock shoot-em-up -- illustrated just why those things are so terrifying, even with superior firepower on your side.

Some other moments I liked:

-Doc tells off Encino Man. If I didn't know that he had actually called the guy incompetent and gotten away with it (Wright documents the exchange in the book), I wouldn't have believed it.

-Kocher (Colbert's counterpart in second platoon, played by Owain Yeoman) warns Captain America what would happen if he fired one of his AK's again. Come to think of it, this was a good episode for the grunts briefly standing up to their idiot leaders.

-Espera compares Trombley to Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre. Also, Trombley's admission that he gets more nervous watching game shows than he does getting into fire fights.

-Colbert's contempt for organized religion was amusing, and also served as a nice counterpoint to the idea that the Iraq invasion was President Bush's own holy war.

What did everybody else think?

13 comments:

Mrglass said...

Generation Kill reminds me of everything I hated about military officers during my short time in the Army (no combat). The value most treasured is obedience, and that is understandable. You don't want someone commanding 1000 men armed to the teeth acting with his own agenda - see Apocalypse Now.

Yet there is a price to pay when all your superiors are paralized by compliance with the commanders. Orders often don't make any sense, because the people making them don't get (or expect) any valuable feedback. That explains all the absurd events you see in this show.

Mark said...

I haven't read Generation Kill, but I have read Making the Corps and some of Kaplan's books, where they go into quite a bit of detail about how the non com's are the backbone of the military. Episode 4 really drove home the fact that the non-com's really run the show. For the most part, the best calls invariably get made by either Sergeant Colbert, or the junior lieutenant, while further up the chain, the officers tend to have more questionable judgment.

Anonymous said...

mrglass said:

Yet there is a price to pay when all your superiors are paralized by compliance with the commanders. Orders often don't make any sense, because the people making them don't get (or expect) any valuable feedback. That explains all the absurd events you see in this show.


This I also remember from my 8 years in the Navy. But in the intervening 30 years in "corporate America", it's no different.
At IBM, or AT&T, or Sun Microsystems, or H & R Block... you have uninformed high level managers that are making boneheaded decisions and gutless middle management who are afraid to push back up the chain of command.

OK... off my soapbox now. :-)

pgillan said...

I haven't been watching this show, and I didn't see this episode, but does the title refer to what I think it does? I've only ever heard the term "Combat Jack" in reference to when a soldier will give himself a, uh, euphemism, in the field.

Mark said...

Yeah, at one point Ray was, uh, doing just that.

Michael Cowgill said...

That and that at least some of their ever-changing mission continues to be a metaphorical form of that -- specifically in this episode the Alpha mission to recover the crucified Marine.

jknola said...

I was thrown by the fact that the real Kocher is driving for Capt. Patterson (Alpha). When Capt. America gets his warning, I completely forgot that was Kocher delivering the message. Otherwise it's not too hard to keep track of everyone at this point. The Wire has certainly conditioned me to watch carefully. I think this series will really swing when I have the chance to watch it all together.

On another note, I wanted to mention how good the visual aspect of this show is. The scene at the roadblock where the guys in the truck were being picked off and we could see the laser points honing in on them was chilling.

Mark said...

That and that at least some of their ever-changing mission continues to be a metaphorical form of that -- specifically in this episode the Alpha mission to recover the crucified Marine.

With no irony or sarcasm intended, I'd argue that your comment is a brilliant insight into the show.

BKeith said...

The actor playing Doc has had some great scenes,
including threatening the translator and jumping
on Encino Man for not knowing how close to his
men he was calling in an air strike.

He's been cast in the lead of the new
David Milch series for HBO
"Last of the Ninth". Which means, he'll be
playing an fictionalized version of Bill Clark
(or Andy Sipowitz when he joined the force
after Vietnam). I was skeptical at first, but
now I think he has the chops to pull it off.

SJ said...

When Rudy Reyes went ahead to see the Iraqi girl, her brains fell out and he slipped in them. I was wondering how they would show that in the miniseries, and I am not surprised at all about the way they showed it. It is gruesome, probably even by HBO standards, and it's not something which can be easily filmed I guess.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the battalion leaving their supply truck behind, godfather explains it as "leaving the battalion colors behind was one the biggest mistakes in his career". Battalion colors mean the supply truck, right?

Anonymous said...

The battalion colors is the unit
's flag that they carry in formation. Combat units in the Army and Marines receive streamers to attach for individual combat engagements.

dez said...

you have uninformed high level managers that are making boneheaded decisions and gutless middle management who are afraid to push back up the chain of command.

Sounds like some other (non-military) government orgs I could think (or have personal knowledge) of right now. That things can go so badly and be such a circle combat jack in this war does not surprise me in the least.

I loved it when Doc gave it back to Encino Man, too. The guy needed to hear it.