Thursday, June 11, 2009

Band of Brothers rewind, episode 4: "Replacements"

Okay, we're up to episode four of "Band of Brothers." Spoilers for "Replacements" coming up just as soon as I remember to stop throwing left-handed...

In the initial run of "Band of Brothers," "Replacements" came in the middle of a trio of episodes I wasn't especially fond of. But where "Carentan" and, to a lesser extent, "Crossroads" suffer from problems I still see all these years later, my issue with "Replacements" turns out to have been largely about unfamiliarity with the characters. My recollection was that it might have been stronger had it been told primarily from the point of view of either a Toccoa veteran (presumably Bull Randleman) dealing with the replacements, or of a replacement (maybe Hashey?) in awe of these men who jumped into Normandy. But when I watched it this time, having a much stronger idea of who everybody was, I could just appreciate it as a strong ensemble episode that managed to tell both sides of that story while also giving a snapshot of Easy's role in the mess that was Operation Market Garden, the first time in the war that the 101st got its rear end kicked.

"Replacements" is another episode filled with spectacle, from the gorgeous daytime jump into Holland through the impromptu parade through the tank battle between the Brits and Germans. (And the battle alone has a bunch of amazing technical beats, notably Bull trying to crawl away from the fiery tank, in a scene evoking Harrison Ford's getaway in "The Fugitive," but constructed by director David Nutter more like a Spielberg set piece, in the way it seems to be taking forever for the damn thing to slide down the hill.)

But some of the best things about it are the small moments, like Guarnere baiting the replacements into mocking Bull so he can scold them for it, or Bull showing Garcia how to carry his gun on the jump, and looking very much like a father showing his son how to tie a necktie. For the biggest guy in the cast, playing a character known as Bull, Michael Cudlitz delivers a very economical performance in his biggest spotlight of the series. And even the moments that seem like they have to have been invented, like Nixon surviving the headshot because of his helmet, or Bull having the bayonet fight with the German in the barn, turn up right there in the pages of the Ambrose book. (Though Ambrose makes no mention of Bull hiding out with a Dutch farmer and his attractive but frightened daughter.)

The tension between the Toccoa men and the replacements will be an issue for the rest of the series, and I liked the way it was handled here. Some replacements are absorbed quickly into the orbit of the veterans, like Babe Heffron (who shares a Philly background with Guarnere); some will slowly assimilate themselves, like Hashey; and some won't survive long enough to fit in, like Miller. For those of you watching the series for the first time, get used to the influx of new faces, particularly once we approach the Battle of the Bulge episodes.

Some other thoughts:

• Who do you think has the most inverse ratio of "Band of Brothers" screen time to current fame: Simon Pegg (blink and you'll miss him in the first couple of episodes as Easy's original 1st Sergeant), or James McAvoy, who has a scene or two at the start of this one as Private Miller, before dying of a grenade during the firefight?

• Two notes about Buck Compton in this episode. The first is that, despite Winters' admonishment against gambling with the men back in "Currahee," Buck opens the episode hustling (with the help of the ever-hilarious George Luz) poor Heffron at darts. The second is that the bit with Malarkey and the others dragging Buck away from the attack on a door because he was too heavy to carry is undercut, just a little, by the fact that Neal McDonough doesn't look nearly like the biggest man in Easy Company, which the real Buck (who played on the UCLA baseball team with Jackie Robinson) was. McDonough is so wonderful in every other aspect of the role that I don't want to ding him much for this, but the gag works much better if the actor were built more like Michael Cudlitz, who's taller and broader than McDonough.

• "Replacements" also features the first appearance of Eion Bailey as Harvard-educated PFC David Webster (for you newbies, he's the guy who gives the chocolate to the little boy). The first time through the series, Webster's role confused me -- here, he's new and seems like he could be a replacement, while a later episode will make a big deal out of Webster having been at Camp Toccoa -- and I wished they could have found a way to include Bailey somewhere in "Currahee." But in re-reading Ambrose's book, it turned out that while Webster was at Toccoa, it was with another company, and he didn't technically transfer into Easy until after they were pulled off the line and sent back to England (the period depicted at the tail end of "Carentan" and the start of this episode). Given the number of other characters who had to be introduced, I'm not sure what could have been done differently.

• Cobb, the soldier who gives Miller a hard time for wearing the Normandy pin, gets a bit of a raw deal in the miniseries based on my reading of the book. Both here and in "The Last Patrol," he's depicted as a bit of a bully, and a cowardly one at that. While Ambrose does write about Cobb's moment of fear depicted here, it was after the firefight, not during it, and Cobb was a veteran Army man whom Webster described as "invariably good-natured."

• If you want a better sense of the scope of Market Garden, and the many ways in which it became FUBAR, try to track down a copy of the DVD of "A Bridge Too Far," Richard Attenborough's 1977 movie about the mission. It's not a great movie, but it has one of the most absurdly star-studded casts ever, particularly given where all these men were in the careers at the time: Michael Caine, Sean Connery, James Caan, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O'Neal, Elliott Gould, Anthony Hopkins, Maximillian Schell, etc.

Coming up next (probably on Monday): The Tom Hanks-directed "Crossroads," another Dick Winters spotlight.

Keeping in mind once again that, for the sake of the newbies, we're trying to be as vague as possible (which isn't always possible) about who lives and who dies, what did everybody else think?

46 comments:

tinmann0715 said...

I agree with your assessment of this episode Alan. Through the first three episodes the first-time watcher struggles with keeping all the soldiers in order, this episode introduces a few more to really confuse you.
Technically, the replacements are introduced at the end of episode #3, but only Heffron is really identified.
Webster is seen briefly boarding the troop train in episode #1 along with the rest of Easy, but then disappears until #4.
I share in your sentiments that the writers seemed to have Cobb portray all the negative characteristics of the soldiers and allow the rest of the regulars rise above. I found this to be a bitter pill to swallow. All of Easy are heroic and Cobb is just human (some notable exceptions throughout apply). Not fair.
The real Heffron does a cameo sitting at a table during the parade in Eindhoven.
I found the battle sequence difficult to follow, even after the 10th time watching. By the 11th I have it figured out. :-)

Sister T said...

I wish the episode had also clearly established who the replacement officers were, especially since it becomes so important in Bastogne and The Breaking Point. I had to google to figure out that the color blind Lieutenant was Peacock, God bless him. (And now, knowing that it's Peacock, I love that scene even more). Pointing out and giving names to Lt. Peacock and Shames (if he was there) as well as the Lt. who first gets shot but survives at Nuenen, would have been helpful in this episode as well as the next few.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Webster, my favourite. I have a soft spot for the nerd who almost manages to fit in.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

Was the blond who came out of the crowd and gave a kiss to one of the men Laura Dern? It sure looked like her, but it was very quick, and between my crappy vision and my crappy TV, I couldn't tell for sure.

paul said...

This is the only episode where I have a major gripe about a historical event being omitted. The objective of E and D companies was the Son bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal. They were delayed by the Germans, and as they approached the bridge, it blew up in their faces. Winters has a funny line in the book and several interviews I've seen about ducking from the debris and thinking that this was a strange way to die in combat.

I can sort of understand why they didn't include the incident. It was famously depicted in A Bridge Too Far, and I imagine the writers assume most of us have seen that already. But it caused the first of the delays that would doom Market Garden, and more so than the firefight with the Germans -- which occurred after the 101 had secured the main road and the British had arrived -- demonstrates the foolhardy nature of Montgomery's plan.

Eugene Freedman said...

I really enjoy the discussion with the British tank commander. There may have been a tank over there targeting him and his mates, but the "rules of engagement" prevented him from firing through the building. It ultimately led to a total disaster in the battle as both his and the tank following very closely were destroyed.

The discussion seemed to mock the British respect for protocol.

For whatever it's worth, this was one of my favorite episodes when I saw it the first time.

Pete said...

As for actors with minimal screentime who have go on to become more well known, I think Jamie Bamber might take the cake in his role as Lt. Foley. I think he is featured more during the Bastogne episodes, but still is on screen for just a few seconds here and there and is tough to recognize. Who knew he'd go on to command his own Battlestar on day?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Pete, I like Bamber (and was pleasantly surprised to see him in the Bastogne episodes), but he's not as famous these days as Pegg and McAvoy. Movie stardom still trumps TV stardom (particularly TV cult stardom).

Anonymous said...

a bridge too far is available in instant watching if you subscribe to netflix.....

Hatfield said...

I really enjoyed this episode, as it helped me get to know a lot of guys, in particular Bull, Hoobler and Martin, all of whom I really like, especially Hoobler. The stuff with Buck is good, and Nixon getting hit in the helmet made me jump the first time. I'm glad you point out Webster, because I knew I'd seen him when he pops up more significantly later, but so much happens in these next few episodes that I'd forgotten him.

Over and over again, the series does such a good job of showing courage and fellowship while also reminding us that these poor men were going through hell, like the guys dragging Buck, or Hoobler leading the replacements to look for Bull. When that Lt. gets hit, and then the medic that goes out to help him, I was cringing, hoping they didn't die, and I don't even know who those guys were!

And as cool as Winters is, and Lipton, and Compton, and crazy-ass Speirs, and Guarnere (love the bonding with Babe), and so many more, I think George Luz has got to be my favorite, mostly because I think I would be cracking wise constantly too, even if my impressions aren't quite that up to snuff. Also, anyone else think he and Sam Rockwell were twins, separated at birth?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Also, anyone else think he and Sam Rockwell were twins, separated at birth?

Heh, never noticed that before, but yeah, Rick Gomez as Luz does seem an awful lot like a Sam Rockwell character.

In real life, Gomez is brothers with the guy who plays Morgan on "Chuck."

Hatfield said...

Interesting. My question is, why haven't these guys become more famous? I know they're mostly British or TV actors, but Hoobler, Babe, Luz, Roe, Welsh and others don't work a whole lot as far as I can tell, and that's a shame.

Frank John Hughes, on the other hand, could only have endeared himself even more to this blog with his appearance in the final run of Sopranos episodes.

groovekiller said...

Since WWII has so many movies about it already, I love how BoB takes a look at famous events (and especially those covered by equally famous movies) from a different perspective - like this episode not retreading Bridge Too Far, Day of Days not showing similar scenes from Saving Private Ryan, and the Bastogne episode being told from the medic's perspective and not trying to remake 'Battle of the Bulge'.

groovekiller said...

@Hatfield

I agree completely.

It's amazing that Shane Taylor who played Roe doesn't have more work. His role in Bastogne was amazing.

Bryan Murray said...

This is a good episode to talk about the actors' careers after BoB ended. Similarly to The Wire, how do casting agents not just cherry pick every single actor from this show? (I have to again lament the loss of Boomtown that starred Lipton and Buck Compton and featured Luz and Guarnere - created by Graham Yost).

Looking through the IMDB page for BoB - I really can't believe how many of the actors are British. I never would have guessed Tab, Babe, and Liebgott were all from the isles. That does explain why they don't get more US work - Jamie Bamber is doing Law and Order UK for petes' sake.

Toeknee said...

As far as famous actors with little screen time goes...

I think #1 is Tom Hanks, who supposedly plays a British Officer and appears in one of the wide shots in this episode, but I've never actually seen him.

Then later in the series we'll see Jimmy Fallon with a brief speaking role.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Toeknee, Hanks and Fallon don't count, as they were well-known beforehand. I'm just pointing out how interesting (and, in some ways, frustrating) it is that some people who played major roles in the miniseries have toiled in obscurity ever since, while guys like McAvoy and Pegg, who were glorified walk-ons, have these thriving careers now.

As to the larger point everybody's talking about, most of the actors do work, but the British ones mostly have stayed in England on shows we don't see over here, and the American guys don't always get the most high-profile gigs. This season alone, Neal McDonough was the major villain on "Desperate Housewives," Frank John Hughes was on "24" all year, Rick Gomez was one of the sidekicks on "Cupid," Kirk Acevedo was on "Fringe," Ross McCall was on the Starz version of "Crash," etc.

Hatfield said...

Interesting that the two British guys who have gotten so big both got killed off rather quickly. That's clearly where the rest of these guys erred: go for the glory of getting offed!

Yeah, I know FJH doesn't want for work, even if he wasn't much more than a random (though high-ranking) bureaucrat this year on 24. And I didn't know about Gomez because I didn't watch Cupid, so hopefully he ends up on something else soon. As for McCall, working or not, he did date Jennifer Love Hewitt for three years, so I don't feel too bad for him. I guess I just want these guys, much like most of the cast of The Wire, Deadwood and the like, to have larger roles because these series make me so attached to them. But if McDonough is happy getting paid to play M. Bison in the Chun Li movie, I guess I can be happy for him.

Katie B said...

Rick Gomez was also on What About Brian

I loved that show.

Thomas said...

I didnt see Guarnere as baiting the replacements to mock Bull so he could berate them. I saw it as a nice moment where he is mocking Bull as he usually might and realizes he can't joke around about Bull like he used to because Bull needs the respect of these new men who will be under his command.

Butch said...

Since WWII has so many movies about it already, I love how BoB takes a look at famous events (and especially those covered by equally famous movies) from a different perspective

I had a Shakespeare class in college where we watched the Agincourt battle in both versions of Henry V -- Olivier's and Branagh's. Olivier has the French knights charging in a long tracking shot, while Branagh doesn't show the knights at all, just the English bracing and waiting for them.

Lizbeth said...

I worked with Eion Bailey on his first film - a small indie pic shot on the Jersey Shore in 1995. He was sooo young (I had to buy him a beer because he wasn't even legal), but already so talented.

He has some success throughout the years, but surprisingly is still not a household name. I know he was up against Christian Bale for the part of Batman. It's too bad he didn't get that one.

BTW, I loved the new Star Trek but kept thinking that Eion would have been perfect in the role of Kirk (something about his mannerisms that I got to know very well as the continuity person on Better Place).

Anna said...

I have always thought that Eion Bailey looks a lot like Paul Rudd. They could definitely play brothers.

King Killer Studios said...

He had a briefly recurring (and, though it wasn't his fault, suuuuuper-annoying) spot as Jen's Big-City Boyfriend on Dawson's Creek. I feel like he maybe had a WB show, quickly cancelled, back in the day? He did seem like a guy who was poised to break big back then, and then it didn't happen.

-- actually Sarah Bunting

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting how you go out of your way to not mention Cudltz in all the discussions. His subtlety as Bull was amazing in this episode and when compared to his role on Southland I think we start to get a glimpse into the depth of his talent. ................ On the other hand all the BOB guys are pretty amazing. esp. Dexter Fletcher.
-K

Chris said...

The value of the longer form of storytelling that a miniseries employs compared to a movie is highlighted for me in this episode. The incident with the Dutch man and child coming out of their bomb shelter always puts me on the edge of my seat because in so many movies that type of scene is usually leading to some sneak attack or something along those lines. However, with more time, the miniseries was able to show a few minutes of an American soldier bonding with a young Dutch boy over some chocolate.

Toeknee said...

A few thoughts...

This episode provided the payoff of Bull's bayonet training from the first episode.

I liked Sobel/David Schwimmer's brief little pause to compose himself as he walked behind the truck, before facing Easy Co.

I also liked the focus on Hashey and his evolution from a rookie who always seems to make the wrong decisions (fixing bayonets, staying in the ditch), to a "veteran" who felt comfortable telling Cobb to shut up at the end.

"One bullet, four holes" - hilarious!

Also loved Perconte's reaction after being smothered by the Dutch woman.

To Alan - I see what you're saying about the fame and success of the actors.

To Anna - Eion Bailey always reminded me of Steve Gutenberg, but I can see the similarity to Paul Rudd too.

Toeknee said...

Also, to Sister T, regarding Lt. Peacock - I don't think he was colorblind. I'm colorblind myself, but that doesn't mean I see things in black and white. You just see things in a slightly different shade, and may refer to a certain color by the incorrect name. But there is such a contrast between the red light and green light that he should be able to tell the difference. Someone whose colorblindness is that bad would have troubles in many facets of life, and it'd doubtful such a person would be able to function in the military, much less be promoted to Lt.

I thought that Peacock was just too nervous, perhaps he even expected to get airsick, and needed to just keep his head in the doorway looking out and couldn't even lean back inside to watch the light

gcam said...

which folks from easy company have passed away since they appeared on the DVD of BoB?

Zac F. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan Sepinwall said...

Again, guys, we're trying to be vague (where we can) about who survives the events of the miniseries. Listing guys who died since the miniseries was produced is kind of a giveaway on that score. Let's please save that discussion until we get to "Points," okay?

paul said...

I don't understand the complaints regarding Pegg's career path. He was already something of a TV star in Britain, his big break coming with "Spaced" back in 1999. I'd put him in the same category as Fallon, a rising star (if Fallon can really be described as a "star") making a small walk-on cameo.

tinmann0715 said...

Paul, I agree with what you said about Simon Pegg. He wasn't popular in the US at the time of BoB so he is generally viewed by US watchers as a rising star at the time. Since he had increased popularity in the UK at the time of BoB how did UK watchers feel about it? Better yet, how did UK watchers feel about the fact that most of the actors were British?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't understand the complaints regarding Pegg's career path. He was already something of a TV star in Britain, his big break coming with "Spaced" back in 1999. I'd put him in the same category as Fallon, a rising star (if Fallon can really be described as a "star") making a small walk-on cameo.

But "Band of Brothers" was being made first and foremost for an American audience, and at the time, we had no idea who he was, so it was more "walk-on" than "cameo." When Fallon showed up in his episode in 2001, it was, "Hey, it's that guy from SNL!" for us, where Pegg was just another anonymous face in a series full of them at the time.

Now, of course, it's, "Hey, is that Scotty?"

paul said...

That's not my point. It seems to me that some think it somehow unjust that Pegg turned a walk-on part into a career whereas some of the actors with more important parts have not "made it big." My point is that Pegg's career had already been launched in large part by "Spaced," which led directly to "Sean of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz."

Don't get me wrong, I'd like to see more of the other actors, I just didn't think the grumbling about Pegg made any sense.

Also, while I didn't know who Pegg was in 2001, I also didn't recognize Fallon, and still have no idea who he plays. Nor care.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Paul, I don't think anyone's begrudging Pegg his success. They just wish that some of the other actors from the series, particularly those who made an impression in more prominent roles, had higher career profiles today than they actually do.

And to add to my list from yesterday of BoB alums (primarily the American-born ones) with notable TV work this season, there were also Michael Cudlitz as the best thing on "Southland," Scott Grimes as one of the leads on "ER," Matthew Settle on "Gossip Girl," Jason O'Mara on "Life on Mars," and, of course, Damian Lewis on "Life." And Ron Livingston and Donnie Wahlberg are working in movies.

Anna said...

Toeknee, Sister T re Peacock

I always thought that is was because Peacock was going to keep his eyes closed.

paul said...

I'm making far too much of the issue. I've been on something of a British TV tear lately.

Sister T said...

When Scott Grimes joined ER, Eion Bailey did too at around the same time and I got all giddy about Malarky and Webster working together and kept hoping for a Band of Brothers shout out. Maybe there was one, but I missed it. Then watching the last six episodes of ER this year, I noticed Scott Grimes got a line that had the words "band of brothers" in it! I like to think I got my shout out.

Thanks for the input about Lt. Peacock. I'd never thought beyond colorblindness, but the other theories make sense as well. I just love Sgt. Martin's face during the conversation and that scene as well as the emphasis on squads and squad leaders throughout this episode starts the running theme of NCO leadership as the backbone of Easy Company.

And maybe that's why it's a good thing that we don't notice or get an introduction to characters like Bull Randleman and John Martin until this episode. They get introduced now to show the evolution in the leadership of Easy. (Or I'm just trying to find ways to forgive a beloved miniseries for some of its faults).

Alan Sepinwall said...

I always viewed it as Peacock being afraid to jump out of the plane without a metaphorical push.

And maybe that's why it's a good thing that we don't notice or get an introduction to characters like Bull Randleman and John Martin until this episode.

You do get some of both of them in "Currahee," and I think "Replacements" would be even stronger if we'd gotten more time with them back then, just to show how much they'd already evolved from fresh-faced grunts to these quickly-seasoned veterans whom the replacements rightly looked on with awe.

Alan Sepinwall said...

He has some success throughout the years, but surprisingly is still not a household name. I know he was up against Christian Bale for the part of Batman. It's too bad he didn't get that one.

I like Bailey in some roles, but I think he would have been too lightweight to pull off Christopher Nolan's vision of Batman.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Alan.
I love Grimes as well.
-K

the2scoops said...

Thanks for the tip on "A Bridge Too Far" Alan. It was running on AMC tonight (at least in Canada) and did give some insight. I agree with your FUBAR rating on the operation, as it seems a few notches above Clusterf*ck. Still, would have loved to see the BoB version of Easy Co.'s reaction to the bridge blowing up in their faces.

Alyson said...

Jumping in WAY late here (am still getting caught up) but I did just want to mention one of very few moments of true levity in this episode that I enjoyed - after Nix gets knocked on his ass thanks to the headshot ricocheting off the helmet, Winters is asking him if he's okay, and his response: "I'm all right! I'm all right! Am I all right? STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!" never fails to make me giggle. It's a great illustration of the characters' friendship, as well.

Re: Buck and the darts game, I wonder if he was (consciously or otherwise) purposely throwing lefty in order to not beat Heffron, but Luz busted him.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't think so, Alyson. The patter between Buck and Luz suggested it was a pre-planned hustle. (That, or an homage to the Inigo/Westley duel in "The Princess Bride," which wouldn't come out for another 43 years.)

Elizabeth Carter said...

Oh my gosh! I dont see why you couldnt like this one because Bull is my second favorite character of the whole sieries. He really reminds me of my big brother, Conrad. Bull is a big guy, full of muscle, scary yet with a teddy bear kind of look, and a great soldier (even though my brother isnt in the millitary). The thing about this one is, it should have went more in deapth about the replacments and should have introduced them a bit more in the last one. Also, it was a fantastic part when Bull took out the German with his bayonet. He became a bad-ass at that moment and he showed what a great soldier he was. I put it at #4