"You have to go away, Bob." -StellaAfter the intense combat action of the first two episodes, "The Pacific" chapter three comes as something of a jarring change. Like Leckie and the other puzzled Marines trying to make sense of the enthusiastic greetings of the Melbourne women, it's hard to fathom that this place is part of the same planet, or miniseries, as what we saw on Guadalcanal.
But if "The Pacific" aims to tell the entire story of the 1st Marine Division's time over there, then a Melbourne stopover is a necessary one - as head writer Bruce McKenna notes, "The 1st Marine Division spent more time in Australia than Easy Company did in Europe" - and one that begins to expand the scope of the series. It's not just about grimy men in foxholes before, during and after combat; it's about the emotional cost of war, not just on the men who fight it, but on those who care for them.
In real life, Leckie never had a great romance with a Greek-Australian girl and her family (he mostly spent his time Down Under having affairs with a variety of women), and you can kind of tell. (I suspected it was fictionalized even before I started reading up on Leckie.) There's a difference between compressing events (or assigning moments one character had in real life to another character in the film) and inventing things out of whole cloth, and it sticks out in the middle of a production that's largely so committed to fidelity.
Which isn't to say that I disliked the story of Stella and her family. I liked the writing and performances. I liked what it told us about Leckie, who got to open up to Stella about his family and background(*) in a way that wouldn't be plausible with his fellow Marines. And Stella's fear of falling for a man she assumes will be killed in combat rang very true as something that many real girlfriends of Marines and soldiers felt, even if the sentiments had to be placed in the mouth of an obviously fictional character.
(*) And the talk about being the unwanted final child of a large family kind of puts a new angle on his goodbye scene with his father in the debut, doesn't it? at the time, I watched that and read it as his father talking so much about his car because he couldn't deal with the thought that Bob could die soon. Instead, maybe it's just as Leckie tells Stella: his dad didn't much care about him.
Leckie took a backseat to Basilone in the second episode, and James Badge Dale did really well with the renewed focus on his character here. I really only knew him as Chase on "24," and he's very impressive throughout this hour, whether he's showing Leckie letting himself fall under the spell of Stella and her family, Leckie starting to go native enough that he begins to resent being back training among the men, and, especially, Leckie's simmering anger after Stella not only dumps him, but does it in a way that amplifies the sense of impending doom that comes with serving in this theater of operation. Leckie's kind of a broken individual to begin with, and what he's witnessing in both war and relative peace is only making him worse.
Because we spent so much time on combat in the first two hours, Part Three provides some much-needed characterization not only of Leckie, but of Basilone. Episodes like this one are essential for keeping our investment in the hours that are largely about action, particularly since there are only three characters to zero in on, and one of them's headed back to the States for the forseeable future.
I knew nothing about Basilone going into the miniseries, save that he's from Jersey and beloved in his hometown of Raritan. When Chesty mentioned in Part Two that he felt Basilone's actions deserved a medal, I began wondering what it might be. To bring it back to "Band of Brothers" for a moment, Dick Winters somehow didn't get the Medal of Honor for leading Easy Company's attack on the guns at Brecourt Manor on D-Day, so the bar's pretty high. (The Medal can also be a very political thing; as I understand it, only one was going to be awarded to someone from the parachute infantry on that day.) But if a man like Basilone can't get one for what he did on October 24, who can?
As I've said before, I never much liked Jon Seda in previous roles (his arrival on "Homicide" really accelerated that once-great show's decline), but whatever direction he's been given here is really working. It's a very minimalist performance, but when he hears Chesty tell him about the medal, or when he has to receive it, or says goodbye to J.P., his eyes say everything that's needed.
And even before the Pentagon sends him home for a war bond drive, we get to see how the responsibility of the Medal is starting to weigh on him. Basilone may have deserved it, but he was also a carouser not prepared to suddenly become a role model, and some of the episode's lightest, most memorable moments, come from seeing what a party-hound he was.
The peaceful time in Australia eventually comes to an end, as the men (and the series) prepare to return to action. It will not be pretty.
Some other thoughts:
• This is the first episode with a script not credited to McKenna, with novelist and "Wire" veteran George Pelecanos sharing credit with Michelle Ashford.
• The series rotated between two different directors of photography: Remi Adefarasin, who did the first two episodes, and Stephen Windon, who does this one. Windon and director Jeremy Podeswa were really on their game in making the scenes at Stella's home, particularly in the backyard garden, look more and more idyllic as the affair went on. By the end of it, I wanted to move in with that family.
• No combat, but still room for some really graphic imagery, here with Leckie and some of the other guys having to cut blisters off their feet from all the rocks getting in there during the march back to town. Ugh.
• More good comic relief: Sid listening patiently to the old man's lecture about the three simple rules (which he would later break) for dating his granddaughter.
Finally, let me again repeat how the No Spoiler policy is going to apply to this series. History on a big scale is not and should not be considered a spoiler. If you don't know the larger points of World War II and/or the Pacific campaign, then you and your high school history teacher need to have a chat. But the lives and military careers of Basilone, Leckie and Sledge, for our purposes, will be considered spoilers. So if you know more about one or more of them going in, or read up on them over the course of the miniseries, do not share any of that info in your comments, okay? We were able to get through the "Band of Brothers" reviews without giving away who lived, who died, who got promoted, transferred, etc., and I'm sure we can do that here as well. So until we get to the final episode in 10 weeks, no talking about anything that took place after the events depicted in a given episode. Okay?
What did everybody else think?