Revisiting Band Of Brothers: The Breaking Point

Review Robert Keeling 4 Mar 2014 - 07:00

Death and trauma await the Easy Company in the seventh episode of Band Of Brothers, aptly named The Breaking Point...

Read the previous part in this series, here.

Perhaps even more so than Bastogne, this episode is a truly harrowing piece of television. The Breaking Point is a heart-breaking and unflinching look at the brutal toll the war took on this group of young men and continued to take on them for years to come afterwards.

The opening talking-head moments are extremely touching as the real men of Easy let us know just how horrifying their experiences in the forests near Foy were. Death was all around them, wherever they looked there was a dead soldier, and they had no time to look after their fallen friends when the worst came to pass. As one tearful veteran points out, the things he saw there in the forest never truly left him and continued to trouble him throughout his life. 

The centre for this episode is First Sargent Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), who does his best to maintain morale amongst the men and to cover for the woefully inept Company XO Norman Dike. As the men prepare their foxholes in the forests outside of Foy, they're hit by a severe bout of shelling. In the first barrage, Joe Toye is hit and loses a leg. After the shelling stops, his pal Guarnere hears his anguished cries and goes out to find him. As Lipton goes from foxhole to foxhole checking on his men, the second barrage begins and Guarnere is also hit. He and Toye lay there covered in blood, each missing a leg. The anguished cry for a medic that Buck Compton lets out when he finds them both in such a bad way is a truly powerful moment, the pain and distress clearly etched all over his face.

We are told that Buck was never the same after seeing his friends in such a state, and after an exemplary service record in the war he was taken off the line, in theory for ‘trench foot’. However in reality, he was just too shaken up by what he had been through. We are reminded however that none of the other men thought any less of him for it.

Just when you think that it’s all over, a third barrage arrives in the night and the men scurry for cover. This time, two prominent figures, Muck and Penkala, are killed. It’s telling that by this stage of the series, you are becoming more attuned to the regular characters. The faces hit home and you remember how far they’ve come and what they’ve been through. To see these men being killed in such a bloody and sudden way, as well as the impact it has on their friends, can be difficult to watch.

Amazingly after so many gut-punches, there’s still the attack on Foy itself to come and it’s this battle which seals Norman Dike’s fate. In the middle of the assault, he freezes up and his dallying costs the lives of several Easy men as he sends Lieutenant Foley (played by Battlestar Galactica’s own Jamie Bamber) on an ill-advised flanking mission. An incandescent Winters sends the enigmatic Speirs out to relieve him. This is where Speirs truly proves his worth as he surges the attack onwards and in an act of stunning bravery, sprints through the German lines to link up with another company, before astonishingly sprinting back as well.  This act of cavalier heroism wins him the respect of every Easy man and ensures that he will unquestionably be given command of the Company instead of Dike.

The episode has an extremely touching climax set in a local church where, as a local choir serenade the men, Lipton talks us through some of the men who have fallen. Director David Frankel depicts this wonderfully by having the fallen men being sat in the church alongside their brothers only to have them fade away as their name is read out. We are told that of the 145 men who went into Belgium with Easy, they left with only 63. The men who made it were forever affected by their experiences and credit to all the cast here who look genuinely shell-shocked and fatigued. 

Come back tomorrow for Rob's look-back at the next episode, The Last Patrol.

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Of all the episodes in Band of Brothers, this one stays with me the most. I've been a big Neal McDonough fan since his great supporting act in Star Trek: First Contact, and he's utterly superb in this episode. After an episode and a half of dug-in frozen stalemate, seeing Easy pull together in the climactic assault (once Dike has been relieved) is a great, cathartic moment.

While I do love the episode, the only bit I don't like is the fading out bit in the church. Just doesn't sit right with the tone of the series for me.

No matter how many times I watch it, Speirs' run across the lines and back, with the voiceover, always gives me goosebumps.

another great episode. I am going to have to re-watch all of this show and The Pacific.

Whenever I see that BoB is playing, I make sure to watch as much as I can. And I will drop everything to watch the second half of "The Breaking Point". As the battle scene dissolves into the church scene, I always get a lump in my throat. After all the preceding episodes depicting the horrors of war, the tired, haggard men of Easy Company who are undoubtedly suffering from massive cases of what we would now call PTSD are treated to a moment of transcendent beauty as the choir sings to them. As Lipton reminisces, "It was heaven."

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