Thursday, July 02, 2009

Band of Brothers rewind, episode 10: "Points"

And so we've come to the end of our trip back through "Band of Brothers," so all bets are off in terms of talking about what happened to these characters after the war ended. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I shoot a bazooka at a rockpile...
"I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day, when he said, 'Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?' Grandpa said, 'No, but I served in a company of heroes.'" -Mike Ranney
Because the war more or less ended for Easy Company with the Battle of the Bulge, give or take some minor skirmishes like the one depicted in "The Last Patrol," there was a danger that these last two episodes of the series could have felt terribly anti-climactic. But "Why We Fight" found power by dealing with the liberation of the concentration camp outside Landsberg (which only merits a few paragraphs in Stephen Ambrose's book). "Points," meanwhile, turns the lack of action into its primary theme, showing both the advantages of life in an occupying army (more free time, gorgeous scenery, grand moments) and the drawbacks (the men all want to go home, and they keep dying or being wounded for stupid reasons). Anchored by Damian Lewis' narration and some of Michael Kamen's most beautiful music of the series, it feels like a fitting epilogue to all that came before.

Though "Points" isn't precisely Dick Winters' story in the way that "Crossroads" was, the miniseries as a whole has been his story, and so it feels right that he be allowed to narrate its concluding chapter, and to tie together all the small vignettes of Easy's time in Germany and Austria in the war's final days. His courtesy interview for a transfer to the Pacific turns into a kind of Dick Winters' Greatest Hits montage, and throughout the episode we get small callbacks to previous events. Winters' closing narration tells us that he eventually bought the farm he dreamed about at the end of "Day of Days." When Easy Company captures the Eagle's Nest, we hear the men yell "Hi-yo, Silver!," which was Sobel's pathetic battle cry, and Sobel himself pops up again so Winters can humiliate him one last time by demanding a salute. (How you feel about that moment depends, I suppose, on where you stood in our discussion about "Curahee" and whether Sobel is depicted fairly.) We hear again about Welsh's reserve chute, Shifty's marksmanship and many other running character points from earlier episodes.

What I love about "Points" is the larger-than-life quality that writers Erik Jendresen and Erik Bork and director Mikael Salomon give it -- drawing heavily, as always, on real events. The Alps look so beautiful in the background of the baseball game, as does the view from the Eagle's Nest balcony. Winters' gift to his buddy Nixon is staggering when viewed from a 21st century perspective -- how do you give an alcoholic the keys to Hermann Goering's wine cellar? -- and yet in the context of the time, and this particular friendship, it makes perfect sense, and is oddly touching. Winters doesn't judge Nixon, doesn't try to fix him, and thinks this is the nicest thing he can possibly do for him. And after all they've been through, who can say they didn't all need some fine German liquor?

Oddly, in a few cases, the stories told in "Points" are actually toned down from the real-life versions described by Ambrose. For instance, the story of Sgt. Grant being shot in the head, and Captain Speirs going to extraordinary lengths to save his life and then punish his shooter, actually took some stranger turns. After Speirs pistol-whipped the guy for failing to call him "sir," a buddy of Grant's not only pointed a gun at the man, but pulled the trigger as he was being held back, only his pistol misfired. Later, Speirs would claim that Col. Sink "said I should have shot the son of a bitch."

Like the rest of the miniseries, "Points" can't possibly hope to cover everyone's story to the fullest, and there are occasional awkward moments where minor players are shoved into the spotlight as the clock is running down. Alton Moore suddenly becomes relevant because he stole Hitler's photo album, and the scene where Floyd Talbert resigns as 1st Sergeant doesn't really work because Talbert -- described by Dick Winters as the best soldier in the company, and the one he'd most want by his side in a battle -- hasn't had much to do in previous episodes.

(In his book, "Beyond Band of Brothers," Winters writes that Talbert actually resigned his position because he and Speirs didn't get along, and both Winters and Ambrose write at length about how Talbert, more than any other man in the company, never quite recovered emotionally from the things he did and saw during the war. At the time the miniseries originally aired, Bruce McKenna, who wrote several episodes of this series -- and is a producer on "The Pacific" -- apparently said on the boards, paraphrasing Shifty Powers, "we could completely redo the entire miniseries and focus on completely different men and not repeat one single scene." I imagine this parallel universe version of "Band of Brothers" would have a whole lot more of Talbert.)

There's also the odd sequence with Webster and Liebgott arguing about what to do with the alleged concentration camp commandant, which seems to fly in the face of Webster's behavior with the German baker in "Why We Fight." Much as Ambrose wrote more about Webster than was probably warranted given his role in the company, the miniseries leans on him pretty heavily in these last few episodes, inserting him into events where he wasn't present or wasn't a factor, and changing his characterization based on the needs of a particular scene. In real life, Don Moone was the soldier objecting to the mission (which was ordered by Captain Speirs, on dubious authority).

As for Liebgott, he's involved in the episode's centerpiece, and a fitting capstone to the series, as he translates the German officer's speech to his defeated troops. The German is, of course, saying the same sorts of things to his men that Winters no doubt thinks about his, but Winter isn't the kind of man who would ever say such things, especially not in victory. So the script cleverly puts the words in the mouth of an opponent trying to put a good face on defeat for the benefit of his men. And, don't forget how "Why We Fight" opened with the real men of Easy Company talking about how much they realized they had in common with the German soldiers -- Ross McCall does a wonderfully subtle job of showing how, as the speech goes along, German-hating Liebgott begins to recognize the shared experience.

Rather than begin the episode, as all the others did, with interviews with unidentified Easy survivors (their names withheld, no doubt, to preserve suspense about who lived and died), "Points" closes with them, and finally puts names to some faces. We get confirmation that the thin, confident gentleman with the glasses is Dick Winters, realize that the man who broke down crying in the "Breaking Point" interview was Donald Malarkey, and see just what perfect casting Frank John Hughes was as Bill Guarnere. And (after Carwood Lipton gives us the St. Crispin's Day speech from "Henry V") Winters gets to repeat the closing anecdote from the book, quoted above.

There isn't time to identify all the men interviewed in previous episodes -- just as the baseball scene, by design, doesn't allow Winters to tell us what happened to men who survived the war but weren't with the company at the time, like Guarnere, Malarkey and Joe Toye -- but for that, I highly recommend the bonus disc in the DVD set, which includes the outstanding documentary "We Stand Alone Together," featuring lots of interview material that otherwise would have been left on the cutting room floor.

Speaking of the baseball game, what really strikes me about Winters telling the story of everyone's post-war life is how absolutely normal most of them are. Lipton and Johnny Martin made a lot of money, and Buck Compton achieved some fame as an LA prosecutor, but for the most part these men who jumped through flak on D-Day, who survived freezing cold and exploding trees in Bastogne, who were both very lucky and very good to survive everything the Germans threw at them, went home to be postmen, and handymen, and cab drivers, and to live completely average lives. In "Beyond Band of Brothers," Winters writes about George Luz's funeral, and how even his own family members were stunned to see the medals he had won during the war; it had never occurred to Luz that this was something his nearest loved ones ought to hear about.

And yet, that's the story you could tell about so many veterans who survived World War II, in either the European theater or the Pacific. They saved the world, and then they came back home to live like the rest of us. And in that way, as much as any other, "Band of Brothers" symbolizes the story of all of our troops over there.

Some other thoughts on "Points":

• It amuses me that even the normally squeaky-clean Winters isn't above a little looting, if for no reason than that he knows Speirs will take the silverware if he doesn't.

• Along similar lines, I love the smirk on Nixon's face after Winters makes Sobel salute, like he's happy to see that his perfect friend is capable of being ruled by emotion from time to time.

• Shifty Powers was the Easy veteran whose recent death I alluded to a few episodes back. The story of Shifty's bad luck lottery win was even more frustrating in real life. After he won the ticket home, an officer offered him a large sum of money buy the ticket from him. Shifty declined, wound up injured (as mentioned here), and then all of his backpay and valuables were stolen while he was convalescing in the hospital.

• The officer interviewing Winters about the transfer is played by David Andrews, who was a key figure in "From the Earth to the Moon" as astronaut Frank Borman.

• If you're interested in more detail, I highly recommend reading Ambrose's book, and then "Beyond Band of Brothers," and to do it in that order, as Winters treats his book as a companion to Ambrose's, and deliberately omits details about things he felt Ambrose covered sufficiently. In particular, it's worth it for the section where Winters reprints excerpts from letters he received from men who were storming Utah Beach at the time Winters, Compton and the others took out the guns at Brecourt Manor (or from their children and grandchildren), and who talk about how much easier it was to get across the beach after the guns were silenced. Good luck getting through that chapter without some tissues handy.

Finally, now that we've come to the end, I guess it's time to rank the episodes. A few years after the miniseries first aired, I remember ranking them on a Usenet newsgroup, but that post seems lost to history. Regardless, the order is different now than it would have been at the time. As I said back when I reviewed "Curahee," rewatching the miniseries was a far more rewarding experience than watching it the first time, and some episodes like "Replacements" held up much better once I didn't have to keep asking, "Wait, who's that guy again?"

Maybe the order changes again if I take another look at the series five or ten years from now, but at the moment, I'd rank them as follows:

1) "Bastogne"
2) "Why We Fight"
3) "The Breaking Point"
4) "Day of Days"
5) "Points"
6) "Replacements"
7) "The Last Patrol"
8) "Currahee"
9) "Crossroads"
10) "Carentan"

Feel free to offer up your own rankings, or any unanswered questions you have about the series and the lives of the men depicted within it, or anything you want at this point. We're all done, so everything's game.

Also, for those of you who are Star-Ledger print readers, it looks like we're going to be running slightly edited versions of these reviews in the paper as a summer series, most likely starting Saturday, July 18.

For the last time on this great, great series, what did everybody else think?


Ted Kerwin said...

I was not able to rewatch them this month but I appreciate the work you did with these reviews Alan. I was a student of Ambrose when he came to RU as a guest lecturer and read most of his books after that class. Band of Brothers is one of his best works and HBO and the producers did an excellent job with the mini-series.

KT said...

Thank you SO much for reviewing these Alan, and for providing all the extra information from your research. I didn't rewatch them this time - I did that about a year or so ago (plus all the wonderful DVD extras). Band of Brothers is one of the most incredible TV series I've ever seen. I really need to read those books - thanks for the suggestions. Re. my favourites - I agree with your top 4, but I think I'd put The Breaking Point first. Like you, Carentan is at the bottom of my list. said...

I mostly agree with your rankings, but I'd shuffle it around a tiny bit, with "the Braking Point" as #1, and "the Last Patrol" nearer the bottom and "Currahee" moved up a spot or two.

I read Ambrose's book a while back but I had not heard much about WInters' book one way or another, so I will give it a shot based on your recommendation.

I'm so upset HBO never shows the "We Stand Alone Together" doc, even On Demand. I'd really like to see more of the survivors and more about what it was really like for them. And yes, as much as I first thought Frank John Hughes was portraying some sort of weird caricature, after seeing the real Wild Bill you realize he was perfect.

Thanks so much for the rewind. As a Star Ledger print reader, can't wait to see the summer series too!

Alex said...

Alan, this is has been as fun a rewind for me as "Freaks & Geeks." As this is my second go-round with the show, I don't have a favorite episode or ranking. I've enjoyed the "hey! it's that guy!" this time- McAvoy, Pegg, etc., and even the guy who played Luz (Endless Mike from "Pete & Pete!")

The one thing that still puzzles me, and I wonder if anyone ever brought this up in a press event- the main cast (excepting Roe) is made up of Americans. How is it that the casting/producers thought that Damian Lewis, a Brit, was the best man for the job of Winters? I love DL in the role, but it's amusing that they couldn't find an American actor.

I've been re-reading the Television Without Pity recaps as well, and at one point, the recapper says that B of B isn't actually a good show, b/c so many events have been chopped and screwed and the context isn't all there (even though the acting is great), but I tend to disagree. I'm wondering if the "The Pacific" will be as good.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

I didn't realize that Luz was Endless Mike. Thanks Alex. Knew he looked really, really familiar, though.

Still can't find my DVDs, and I've been looking. Fortunately, I had a chance to watch all 10 episodes (in three days) on HBO while it was still On Demand. Now I'm looking forward to seeing them again--as well as the extras--as soon as they show up. I know they're here somewhere.

I thought the whole series was fantastic, and I'm sure subsequent viewings will be even more rewarding. As far as the salute from Sobel goes, there may have been some feeling of satisfaction making Sobel salute him, but the fact is, you are supposed to salute the rank and not the man, and Winters at that point deserved the salute on that basis alone. So the satisfaction factor was only secondary for me.

I'd have to see them all again to rank them, but certainly Bastogne and Why We Fight would be at the top for me.

Thanks for doing this Alan. And thanks for everyone for all the intelligent, thoughtful comments. (I love this blog--it never lets me down.)

kwig said...

I was lucky enough to be in that part of the world a couple of months back, and on a whim took the time to take a train from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden. As I hadn't planned ahead I couldn't make it to the actual Eagle's Nest but I really wanted to see the locales from this ep. It's still quite picturesque out in the country side, I can understand why the soldiers liked the place so much.

I did make a point to take a picture of a train station there where "2pac" was grafitti'd prominently on the walls. America never left I guess.

As for brits in the cast, Welsh is a main character right? Martin? Liebgott? etc. Or do you just mean guys who anchored episodes?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yeah, I'd say if you went through the huge cast, you'd find that the majority of the men of Easy Company were played by Brits, and in terms of episode spotlights, Brits Lewis, Shane Taylor and Marc Warren were all front and center for at least one episode.

Orion7 said...

Thanks for starting this series of posts, Alan. I had never seen this show, but thanks to your heads up I was able to catch them all on On Demand. I haven't commented much because other posters had already made my points for me, but I've been reading with interest. Also, watching the episodes in a row made them run together in my mind, so it's hard to pull that apart without benefit of reviewing the episodes.

Winters demanding a salute from Sobel may have been a bit petty, but it certainly was within his rights. It also served to humanize a character who was almost too good to be true. The looting he did helped in that regard as well.

I think I'd have to watch the series a few more times before I picked a favorite or least favorite. It might depend on the mood I'm in. Right now, "Why We Fight" is the most vivid in my memory.

Toeknee said...

If I were to rank these episodes on a “stand-alone” basis, “Points” would be at the bottom of the list. However, it is a near-perfect conclusion to this series, and it works so well as a part of the whole, so that pushes it above a few other episodes. Here are my rankings:

2 BP
3 DoD
4 Bastogne
5 Currahee
6 Replacements
7 Points
8 Last Patrol
9 Crossroads
10 Carentan

One question I have is in regards to Shifty winning the lottery – did they actually rig it for him like that?

To follow up on the actors from the UK in this show – Dexter Fletcher (Sgt Martin), Ross McCall (Cpl. Liebgott), Robin Laing (Pvt Babe Heffron), Marc Warren (Pvt Blithe), Rick Warden (Lt. Welsh), Simon Pegg (Sgt Evans) and Matthew Leitch (Sgt Talbert)

I had posted this on one of the other BoB threads last week, but a list of veterans speaking in each episode is available here:

Thanks again, Alan, for doing these reviews! They’ve been a great excuse to rewatch the series.

Carrie said...

I toured Eagle's Nest a few years ago. One of the most gorgeous places I've ever seen. One thing I didn't really appreciate until I watched BoB last month was the story the tour guide told of the marred fireplace in the residence: it was that way because the American soldiers who conquered it in the war carved out pieces of the mantle as souvenirs. That action takes on a whole different light after watching this incredible miniseries, that's for sure.

Mark F said...

Thanks so much for these reviews. I only watched BoB for the first time this year and it was good to fill in some blanks.

One very trivial question - I'm sure I saw a grinning Tom Cruise in the background of the baseball game - was it him?

Zac F. said...

The guy who plays the German general who addresses his troops is Wolf Kahler, who played Deitrich in Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you don't know which character that is, look at Wolf's IMDB page and there is a picture of him from the movie on there.

I wonder if he and Steven Spielberg had a mini-reunion on the set of BoB?

About Winters making Sobel salute him, I've always looked at it as Winters getting a little payback at Sobel for being ineffectual during the field training exercises.

I honestly don't know how I would rank the episodes. They're all so good that it seems preposterous to rank them.

Dan said...

Let me also take a moment to thank Alan for providing a real treat with these reviews and congratulate him for a job well done. Anytime I stumbled on a History Channel BoB marathon I was immediately sucked in, despite owning the DVDs, but having each episode being accompanied by Alan’s reviews made this the best trip through the series since it originally aired. And let me also give a tip of the cap to all the commenters who made the discussions equally as fun and insightful to read.

About halfway through the reviews I went and ordered Ambrose and Winter’s books. Winter’s arrived first so I couldn’t wait to read them in the proper order, but it’s been a great read so far and I look forward to finishing it poolside this weekend and starting in on Ambrose’s.

I always kinda chuckled at the salute scene, maybe feeling somewhat like Nixon and happy to see Winters stick it to Sobel like that. But I think this time through the series I’ve developed a bit more compassion for Sobel and respect for the job he did preparing these men and molding one of the best companies in the Army. So, in that light, it felt a little unnecessary for Winters to pile on like that. But then again, Sobel was always a stickler for the smallest detail and regulation and would certainly bust somebody for failing to salute a superior officer.

Sister T said...

To keep the theme of Webster's German speaking ability going...when he asks the German soldier on crutches if he wants a ride to Munich, he uses the wrong verb (gehen instead of fahren) which is a common and minor mistake by English speakers when learning German. I'd like to think the writers purposely inserted the word "gehen." It makes Webster's kindness seem more genuine and earnest. Small flaws draw characters more deeply. I've enjoyed the discussions about Webster's German speaking ability, because I think it says a lot about the complexity of the character. I know some have seen it as inconsistent, but I see it as intricate.

So, taking all the episodes together, I'd put Webster's speaking ability at second year college level. He understands a lot more than he can speak, and Liebgott was definitely, bitterly exaggerating in The Last Patrol when he said Webster spoke German as well as he did. (Also, good job to actor Ross McCall as Liebgott in keeping his American accent while speaking German.)

As for the wealth of British actors, I don't mind a bit. I enjoy playing "spot the Brit" as I watch, and I look forward to playing "spot the Aussie" during The Pacific. (Though it looks like the major characters in the Pacific will be played by Americans).

I also loved Nixon's tiny smirk when Winters made Sobel salute him. I didn't catch it until this last time watching, another reason why it is so great to re-watch this series.

Thanks again for doing these Alan. I've never really had the chance talk about and discuss the series when I first watched it. You and many other comment posters have made excellent observations and insights and provided some good historical perspective.

Finally, considering the criticisms we had with some parts of the episodes, what lessons do we hope the writers of The Pacific are taking? I guess narration would be the big criticism. More narration to give us perspective and context. The introduction of minor characters was another criticism. But I think The Pacific will have an even tougher job of establishing minor and even major characters since it will follow an entire division instead of a company. I'm sure the writers and producers are up to the challenge and I very much look forward to their finished product when it gets broadcast next year.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Also, in case you missed it, BoB writer John Orloff showed up in the comments for "Why We Fight" to answer a few questions.

groovekiller said...

(extremely mild spoilers below for Generation Kill for those who haven't seen or read it)

After having read Gen Kill after having seen the miniseries, I noticed how they changed the foot race to a game of football in the HBO version. After having re-watched BoB and the final baseball game scene in Points, do you think that or know if the football game in Gen Kill was an homage?

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to join the chorus of people thanking Alan for doing these reviews. I rewatched the series for the first time in years as a result, and agree that it's even better the next time around.

Pch101 said...

I think that the series is uniformly excellent, so I won't rank the episodes, but this is my least favorite of the bunch. Damian Lewis does a terrific job throughout in his on-screen acting role, but I didn't care for the use of his voiceover here. I understand that voiceover was probably necessary in order to cram more information into the series, but it rarely works in film (although it did in Breaking Point), and I'd say that this is the least effective use of it.

My thanks to Mr. Sepinwall for covering this. I loathe most television, but this series must be one of the best examples of TV ever made. As far as war films go, I'd rank this alongside "Paths of Glory" and "Full Metal Jacket" as one of the best war films ever made (even though it might be tough to describe 10+ hours as a "film" in the conventional sense.) This work endures, and it deserves a lot of attention.

Jordan said...

I said about WWF that it had one of three moments that got to me in the series, and the other two were in this episode. One's the final quote above, and the other was the beginning of the baseball game where Winters said something along the lines of "Buck Compton came back just to show us he was okay." For some reason I was really happy to see him along with the men. Thank you Alan for these reviews.

crackblind said...

I am still a few episodes behind in my re-watching but one of the things from this episode that still stands out for me is how they had hold off on Guarnere's talking head as Frank John Hughes nailed him so well there would be no question as to who he was.

I've been wavering on whether I should show BoB to my 11 year old son. He's big on history but some of it might be to intense for him. Has anyone shown it to their kids? If so, how did it go over?

Also apropro of nothing other than a sense of TV pop culture history, did anyone notice that the producer's name is Mary Richards?

Alyson said...

Alan, I just want to add my thanks for doing this summer rewind also. Without your prompting, I don't think I would have ever gone out of my way to get the DVDs, and that would have been a real shame.

I re-watched Points last night in anticipation of today's discussion, and I just lost it when Shifty goes to say goodbye to Winters and couldn't pull it together until after the episode was over. How do these young men, who have seen and done such extraordinary things, go home and re-assimilate into the lives they left behind, into the Brave New/Old Postwar World? It's a question the military still struggles with. It is good to know that most, if not all, managed to make happy, successful lives for themselves, even if it's a little bittersweet to know now, eight years after the mini-series aired, that more of them are gone.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

To Crackblind--If your son is really interested in history, I think, while it might be a little intense, it would be a good thing to show BoB to him as long as you watch it along with him, answer questions, explain areas of confusion, etc. It might provoke a lot of discussion between the two of you. The most important thing is that you watch it together and discuss it.

Ryan said...


An excellent capper to a worthy set of reviews. But, I gotta know: which miniseries do you find superior and why? Band of Brothers or Generation Kill

This debate has raged amongst family and friends who have seen both over the past few months since GK's DVD release and I would like to know your take.

Hatfield said...

Well, now I won't have something to obsessively wait for on Mondays and Thursdays...unless you do the special features!!! Ok, just hoping.

This episode is almost as brutal at times as "Why We Fight," what with Janovec dying senselessly and that awful scene where Grant gets shot in the head. I think I actually screamed a bit when it happened, and Grant hasn't been more than a minor character. I assume it's true he lived, but does anyone know how well he recovered? That whole section with Speirs first going for the doctor, who then stands up to his over-aggressive approach, and then Speirs comes back while the men are beating on the shooter, then spares him, then casually (though clearly haunted) says, "The doctor says he'll make it." Damn, good stuff.

It is a bit jarring to give Tab so much to do when he's hardly been featured since "Crossroads," but it seemed like a chance to give him his due. And while I could have done without the added focus on More, the scene where Speirs is yelling at him and he has that smile as he leaves is a great moment.

I pay attention to the credits, so I knew Buck would be back, but I still almost cheered at the sight of him playing baseball.

What a fantastic series, and a great summer project, Alan. I'll echo everyone's thanks and appreciation; you made it sound like you were going to do this somewhat slapdash, but these reviews have been anything but.

paul said...

I've always thought the salute was Winters' mild revenge on Sobel for the treatment he received at Sobel's hands. Let's not forget, Sobel humiliated Winters on a number of occasions and went so far as to threaten court martial! Getting a salute (required by military regulations) is not exactly "piling on."

More generally on Sobel, Winters made very clear in his book that Sobel was an ass and a bad leader, which tallies with Ambrose's book and comments from other E company members. So I'm still not sure how Sobel got a raw deal in the series.

Alan, you've read Winters' book at this point, is there anything in it that affects your thinking about the series?

Alan Sepinwall said...

An excellent capper to a worthy set of reviews. But, I gotta know: which miniseries do you find superior and why? Band of Brothers or Generation Kill

Hard to say. GK is more consistent, and more of a piece throughout, where BoB is trying lots of different things, sometimes succeeding more than others. Both had the problems of Too Many Identical-Looking, Anonymous White Guys, and I imagine I'd enjoy GK more on a second viewing as well.

Overall, I'd say the highs of BoB were higher, but the lows were also lower.

Toeknee said...

I came across this comment at the WBG boards, from Major Winters' biographer:

"What you couldn't feel was the intense satisfaction Winters felt at that moment. He said that making Sobel salute him was pay back for all the hell Sobel put him through personally, especially the court martial BS"

Hatfield said...

Oh, another question, in addition to wondering Grant's fate: what happened to Ranney? Based on that quote he obviously lived, but why didn't we see him anymore after the assault on Brecourt Manor? Did he transfer and I missed it?

Bryan Murray said...

Ok, I got a lot here now that we're finished. Thanks again Alan - this was great. BoB may be inconsistent at times, but it is such a moving and entertaining tribute to these men and all veterans that I can forgive any faults...even though I may mention them.

1. @Hatfield, I believe Ranney transferred from Easy after D-Day but I would have to look it up.

2. The Sobel salute scene is one of the most satisfying moments of the series to me and I always look forward to it throughout "Currahee." I know his family was upset about his portrayal but just because someone is dead, it does not mean we cannot be honest about their lives: see Michael Jackson.

3. Webster's inconsistencies bug me as well. His writings were obviously indispensable to Ambrose and I always relate to him in "The Last Patrol," but the actor isn't great and the baker scene is pretty worthless to me.

4. I really like how Ross McCall (as well as many other actors in the series) get better and better throughout the episodes. He is great in the last two eps and just like everyone else, I would like to see more from him.

5. Great series, great books, unbelievable generation. Both my grandfathers are veterans and if nothing else, this series gives me an appreciation of these two men that I do not think I could have acquired elsewhere. My surviving grandfather does not like to talk about the war but because of Ambrose and HBO, at least I can see a very small fraction of what he may have experienced.

Hatfield said...

I just noticed something that's slightly related: Ross McCall and Eric Roberts are on the latest Adam Carolla podcast, which is available for free on iTunes. I assume they're promoting Crash the series, but for all of us who have been praising McCall's scenes these last couple episodes, it might be fun to listen to him deal with Carolla in his native accent.

@Bryan Murray - thanks for the info, that would make sense.

tinmann0715 said...

I will be watching this episode over the holiday and I will post my comments then... if anyone cares. In the meantime, more random thoughts:

- HBO and Playtone got crushed for the original HBO/BoB website that was put up to support the miniseries. It greatly lacked in technical and accurate detail. Ironically, the biggest complaint of all was that it did nothing to help the viewers keep the cast straight. HBO has brought down the site and I have emailed them many times to restore using as justification the buzz this miniseries still generates.
- I have been on the warpath for years trying to locate a Director's Cut or extended version of this miniseries. There was plenty left on the cutting room floor. Two examples, the German assualt that starts in Bastogne (reference the companion DVD, "Behind the Scenes") and Easy's 'assault' on Berchestgarden (Look at the stills on the companion DVD and Martin in an SS coat standing in Hitler's staff car). So far no luck. I even tried getting in touch with Playtone (FYI: I attempted the same for Saving Private Ryan).
- During the intro I have been able to name every scene capture except one: Luz and Alton More. Where does it come from? Don't say WWF when Nixon is reading the current events. I looked, it isn't there.
- I do wish that the ending sequence touched on the lives of more of Easy. We get introduced to so many cast members, and there are many that just arrive and live throughout that we never know about. My prime example is Christenson. I recall him in episodes #1, #3, #5, #7 & #9 but yet we know so very little of him.

More to come...

Bryan Murray said...

Good call tinmann. I also wanted to hear more about the main characters' lives and I thought they could have set up the end differently to talk about the absent men. Minor complaints though about a great series. Bring on The Pacific!

Now I need to watch the Generation Kill DVD that's been sitting on my shelf for a while.

rkex said...


I, too, want to convey my appreciation for your well-considered analysis and for the time you put into this little "side project". I'm a fairly constant follower (lurker) of your reviews, particularly of "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad", and I share your opinion of these gems. I had caught most of BoB during marathons but hadn't methodically focused on the series from start to finish. Respecting your recommendations as I do, I bought the box set when you started these posts and have followed along, enjoying the series as I never had. I don't feel a need to rank episodes, though I never fail to be awestruck by "Day of Days", "Bastogne", "Why We Fight", and even "Points", as I find the Eagle's Nest scenes to be fascinating.
At any rate, I am extremely grateful to you for bringing 'Band of Brothers' back into my consciousness, and for allowing me to introduce this brilliant piece of historical drama to my 14-year-old son, who I strive to bring an awareness of how our world has evolved, even prior to the invention of the video game.
I look forward to sharing with you the new season of Mad Men, and I promise to speak up more often.

Ray Keck
Davis, California

Mapeel said...

One more thank you to Alan. I never would have watched this series without his leadership. And thanks to everyone who commented. Collectively the comments deeply added to my understanding and appreciation of both the tv work and the history itself. I could take the sadness of the deaths and the triumphs of the survivors more easily knowing that this community was going to be there to talk about it.

Gayle said...

Alan, let me add my thanks for the Band of Brothers reviews and ample room for discussion.

I've always loved Points and think it's a tremendous final look into Easy's journey.

I cry like a baby at Winters' final voice over, explaining what happened to each of the guys--just for the reason that you noted, Alan. They led such ordinary lives when they returned from war. They had sacrificed so much during the war, demonstrated feats of bravery and intelligence; yet when it was all over, they went back home and turned the page on that chapter of their lives.

My dad appears to have misplaced my DVD set; it might be a good excuse to upgrade to the Blu-Rays.

Alan, I also second the idea to cover "From the Earth to the Moon" at some point. Another favorite of mine (and my dad hasn't lost those DVD's).

Alyson said...

tinmann, I wonder if perhaps we'll see a Director's Cut released in about two years' time, for the 10th anniversary of the series' first airing. I certainly hope so, though the special features on the currently available DVD set are very well-done.

I can't really rank all 10 episodes, because while there are some that I love as a whole more than others, the three that really stand out to me as the tops are (n no particular order) Bastogne, Day of Days and Replacements. The other seven are all more or less on the same plane, with Points maybe a half-step higher, mostly for the shots of Damian Lewis swimming. What can I say? I'm a little shallow like that. (though he is a terrible breakstroker, just for the record)

Craig said...

Alan, let me add my thanks for reintroducing me to "Band of Brothers," which I've been catching in drips and drabs on History Channel and wanted to watch from start to finish on DVD again. It's a show that's standing the test of time.

I'm not as big a fan of "Points" as you or some others are. It meanders a little, if purposefully, like the long denouement of "Return of the King." But after everything we've been through with these characters, I don't mind spending a little downtime in their company.

Here are my rankings:

1. "The Breaking Point." Like another commenter said, it unfolds like an epic 75-minute movie. Exciting, dramatic, horrifying, moving, and very very funny.

2. "Day of Days." The tracking shot of Winters parachuting to the ground gives me chills too, Alan. It's my favorite moment in the entire series.

3. "Why We Fight." For all the reasons already mentioned.

4. "Bastogne."

5. "Crossroads." I like this one more than a lot of people. The dash through the smoke is another classic sequence.

6. "Replacements."

7. "The Last Patrol."

8. "Points."

9. "Currahee."

10. "Carentan."

All the episodes, whatever their flaws, range from good to great. And the entirety of the series is overwhelming.

rzklkng said...

I wrote a little something about BOB on Metafilter a couple of years ago that you might find interesting.

Eldritch said...

I've throughly enjoyed this series and the discussions of it here. The series was very well done, and I don't want to detract from it in any way.

Actors often play characters different in age than their own actual ages. And that's okay, of course. But that always strikes me hardest in war movies.

Perhaps it's my frustrated inner I feel. I've never served; never fought. And yet there must be some gene on my Y-chromosome that makes me wonder what actual battle would be like. Seeing significantly older actors playing significantly younger soldiers always seems jarringly wrong to me.

The soldiers in WWII, and in particular, these guys in Easy Company were in their late teens and early twenties. Yet they're portrayed by actors in their late twenties to mid-thirties.

It's a tragedy to see any soldier wounded or killed. I just think a war movie would come across differently, more tragic perhaps, were the solders show their actual ages. I think the audience would feel different about seeing a 19 year old Guarnere getting blown up than a 33 year old one.

Matthew said...

Just wanted to say thanks for doing this. Various issues have kept me well behind (I'm only on episode 3 at the moment), but I'm enjoying the show so far, and I'm glad to have the commentary available as I watch.

DianeO said...

Thanks Alan. I watched this a couple years ago and but given these new insights from you and your blog commentors I will be watching it again. I remember being wiped out with jetlag, sleeping in my sisters spareroom next to the home theatre with its speakers while she watched this. Never thought I'd get to sleep with all that loud gunfire.

Carolyn said...

Alan, these reviews got me to FINALLY watch these DVDs and I'm so happy to have finally watched them. The series was just great through and through for me, regardless of episode rankings.

This is the only episode in which I didn't find the occasional voiceovers distracting / more b/c in this ep the voiceover actually tells you things that AREN'T being show onscreen.

Interesting to see how Winters and Nixon maintained their friendship despite always being very different types of officers (let alone "people").

But then again, Sobel was always a stickler for the smallest detail and regulation and would certainly bust somebody for failing to salute a superior officer. == Dan, that was my thought too. If the situation was reversed, Sobel would have DEMANDED a salute, and he wouldn't have softened it by mentioning "you salute the rank, not the man."

@crackblind: i believe your 11 year old would do fine with these. my dad is a huge military history buff and as a youngster I routinely watched every movie, miniseries, etc., with him. as long as you're there to talk in case anything upsets him, i'm sure he'll be fine. (also, you may find he has more just questions rather than things that are upsetting.)

@bryan murray: i agree, Ross McCall really stood out for me in the last two eps. Except that I kept thinking "was he the one who was recently engaged to Jennifer Love Hewitt? :)

Michael Ollove said...

Thanks Alan for the incisive reexamination of this brilliant series. But this last episode contained the one scene that has always rankled and perplexed me. It's the one you mentioned, in which the German officer pays tribute the valor of his men. As you say, were Winters another man, he might well have made the same speech about his own troops. Still, I can't help wondering why Spielberg & Co. give this sort of noble equivalence to the German army. Sure, far from all German soldiers were war criminals, but the reality is that the Wehrmacht WAS implicated in atrocities, particularly but not limited to the Eastern Front. American GIs were among their victims. And all of that it independent of the fact that the German army was fighting on behalf of one of history's vilest regimes. So, why did the Band of Brothers makers accord the German army the grace note of this scene? I've never gotten that. Any ideas?

Brian said...

Alan, thank you so much for your reviews of BoB.

I watched the miniseries before I read the book. One thing that has stuck with me on re-watchings was a line from Ambrose's book. He stated that Hitler was comfortable going to war with the US because he firmly believed that there was no way a citizen army could defeat German soldiers.

As you've described, these are regular men that risked their lives. Those that survived went on to do regular things after the war. Hitler bet against US citizens having the determination and discipline to fight a war.

RE: your GK vs. BoB comparison - does the scope of the history of the conflict come into play in your evaluation? I agree that the highs of BoB are higher, but a lot of that has the benefit of historical distance and now knowing the importance of these events. Don't know if we can say the same about GK yet.

TC said...

re: the Sobel salute...
It always felt like a gratifying little vignette to me. Plus, I have a distinct memory of Sobel actually pulling almost that exact scenario on Winters earlier in the series (around the court martial, maybe?), where the line "you salute the rank not the man" came from him. Am I crazy and making this up?

tinmann0715 said...

- #2 #5 #9 #10 use altered timelines to tell their stories. Of this only #10 uses voiceover. I think Winters' VO is to bookend the beginning of Easy's involvement in the war, episode #2, and the end of it all.

- The colonel who surrenders to Winters has an Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. That is a pretty substantial accomodation.

- I didn't get the point of the flashbacks during the interview. I interpreted it as self-grandizing. Consider that the last flashback wasn't even of Winters, but Lipton. What was the point?

- I think Webster's contempt for the German people carried over into this episode when he stops the couple going to Munich and throws their suitcases out of the car to make room for the hobbled German soldier.

- How about the doctor that first leans over Grant and says he isn't going to make it has a cig hanging out of his mouth. Chalk it up as a different time in medicine or an oversight by the writers.

- Michael Ollove, the German general's speech was an attempt to demonstrate that The German grunts were normal men who would go back to their families and carry on with their lives. These ordinary men sacrificed themselves and were heroes too, much like Easy Co. And the German general was telling them to go home and be proud and live their lives in peace. Their highest cause was no longer service in the military, but to themselves and their loved ones.

- The whole Sobel salute thing was to show that Winters still despised the man and he was now going to use his seniority and rub it in his face. Just desserts.

- The German general has an iron cross with oak leaves and crossed swords. A very high commendation in the German army.

- I found it humorous watching the brits trying to play baseball. HA! Not enough acting lessons there.

- My 2nd favorite ending ever, behind Six Feet Under. I was really moved the first time I saw it and even after the 20th viewing it still reaches me. I pray the Pacific is this resounding.

Lastly, the fame and notoriety for the Easy vets is fading as fast as they are dying off. Every soldier from WWII has a fascinating story to tell and they should tell it to someone before it is too late and it is lost to time. I encourage all of you who knows a WWII vet to ask his stiry and eithe rput it to paper or to the computer. Books and movies will never capture the full details, not even BoB. Thank yo Alan for doing this. I certainly enjoyed everyone's perceptions.

Tommykey said...

The whole Sobel salute thing was to show that Winters still despised the man and he was now going to use his seniority and rub it in his face. Just desserts.

Actually, I always looked at it differently. Sobel was the one making it personal by purposefully looking away from Winters and trying to ignore him. That was very unprofessional. So, when Winters says "You salute the rank, not the man," he is saying, you can salute me without it having to feel like a personal defeat.

the Stanfield Org. said...

Alan- Thanks for revisiting my favorite miniseries and 3rd favorite tv series/ miniseries/ what-have-you after The Wire and Arrested Development. Only really disagreed w/ your critique of 'The Breaking Point', loved Lipton/ Wahlberg's narration and, yes, the final church scene w/ Spiers and Lipton; just felt the series earned that little bit of kind-of-over-the-top melodrama/ exposition, and I never fail to bawl like a baby at that scene. Enjoy watching the series once a year around the Holidays, even 'Carentan' works fine within the context of the whole. My personal Top 10:
1) "The Breaking Point"
2) "Points"
3) "Currahee"
4) "Day of Days"
5) "Bastogne"
6) "Why We Fight"
7) "Replacements"
8) "Crossroads"
9) "The Last Patrol"
10) "Carentan"

Anonymous said...

Watching B of B has made me really excited/nervous about "The Pacific." Am trying hard not to have such high expectations because I'd hate to be disappointed if it isn't as good as B of B.

Alan-- have you heard anything about the production of "The Pacific"? Or is it still too early.

Thanks again for these great reviews.

Matthew said...

I'm gonna read thru all the reviews, but as we know Shifty has passed + I knew the eps that usually are tear-jerkers for me (4th viewing now): This morning, as I watched points, every scene with shifty got me.

I forgot they had a "lottery" to give him a free ride, the look on harry's face, then speirs calling out poweeerrrrrs, then shifty. tinkles

Shifty goes to speak to winters before he leaves, wants to thank him, begins to stumble searching for words. eye showers

and one non-shifty tear jerker that crushed me about 10 mins ago was when winters is narrating the guys' stories and speaks of "the testament to luz's character". shables!

great stuff alan, happy you did this as a fine summer series. still as powerful, properly paced and all that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan. Thank you for this amazing series of posts! I was lead to it by a fellow Wordpresser after I posted my Band of Brothers Revisited entry. Looks like we were watching it at the same time! I didn't find your site until just after you posted this final entry. I would've loved to've been part of the conversation. Finally finished going through the posts and many of the comments the other day. I will definitely include your series in my ever growing BoB bookmarks. :-)

Michael in Chicago

Anna said...

HI Alan,

If you aren't aware, HBO is reshowing BoB on Sundays (last night was Ep 1) in preparation for The Pacific. Also, for those who have On Demand, HBO has a behind the scenes and "We Stand Alone."

Anonymous said...

"The Pacific" is coming soon and it is the spiritual sequel to BoB; but I've always thought, if it wasn't too exploitative, that a postwar series about what happened to select Easy Co. men would be a wonderful show. I think it comes after seeing what "Mad Men" can do with what would seem to be rather "normal" lives. Now that Winters, Malarkey, Guarnere and Heffron, and Compton, have all written or cooperated with memoirs, for example, I don't think it would be too out of the question for a homefront-style miniseries to come out of it.

There's so much human drama in their lives. Why, the story of Winters and Nixon alone ... like Don Draper interacting with a combination of Roger and Betty. The Nixons of New York and New Jersey were better than fiction, full of robber-baron intrigue and class cruelty and mental illness. And here's good, honest Dick Winters, watching his best friend drink himself to oblivion.

And that's just the "main character". Guarnere as an amputee in 1945. How he and his wife eloped because their families didn't think she should marry a cripple. Lipton taking advantage of the GI Bill to go to Marshall University and begin his advance to what was at his death quite a comfortable fortune--even as his compatriot, Skinny Sisk, one of the recurring background characters and the one who famously shot the commandant in "Points", is wrecked by what now we can clearly call PTSD.

You have Buck Compton turning down pressure from friends and family to go into pro sports in favor of the law. I don't think this story can go all the way to his days as an LA County ADA, but the milieu of 1945-1955 LA alone is rife with possibility. And Webster ditched Harvard and his privileged life to do the starving-writer-in-a-garrett thing, only this time it's in the garage of a war buddy's parents in Santa Monica, writing copy and PR while trying to get anybody interested in his war memoir.

Not to mention Liebgott, who apparently outright disappeared for a few years before doing what he said he'd do in "Why We Fight".

And Malarkey's story as he relates in his book is so dramatic ...

I've gone on too long. Let's just say it would be a pretty excellent period piece, with some great female roles--Frances Guarnere, for one, and of course Ethel Winters (not to mention DeEtta Almon, the woman Winters wrote all those letters to, the one whose picture he carried with him throughout the war -- see "Crossroads").

Anybody know how I can pitch this to Amblin/Playtone? We could get all the original cast ...

Anonymous said...

Great review of B o B. I was in France last year for D-Day +65 anniversary. Meeting some the surviving vets was a true honor. There is a wealth of information and film on WW2, but in my opinion B o B was the best .

I highly recommend having a beer in the town square in St Marie Eglise on the afternoon of June 6th. A life changing experience.

Do it quick though, these guys will not be with us much longer, time marches on...

BOG said...

This was a sublime and staggering cinematic achievement, and thankyou to all who created it, not least the writer of the introductory music.

I'd be tempted to put "Day of Days" at the top of the list, as it was an extraordinary challenge to put this epic day into one short TV film and make it realistic and believable, which it is. And who was the genius who invented the title of this episode?