This article contains spoilers for Masters of the Air episode 3.
One needn’t be a World War II expert to understand that the global conflict was a violent one. Even a cursory glance at casualty statistics on Wikipedia reveals some eye-popping numbers: 61 million total (military and civilian) lives lost for the Allies, 120 million gone for the Axis, and countless more affected in ways we could never begin imagine. All in all, roughly 3% of the world’s 1940 population is believed to have perished during the war.
In telling the story of the United States’ involvement in World War II via miniseries Band of Brothers and The Pacific, producers Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman successfully captured the dread, doom, and death that pervaded the time period. With the most recent episode of their third effort Masters of the Air, however, they’ve truly outdone themselves.
Masters of the Air episode 3 is one of the most terrifying and destructive hours ever presented in any of these WWII limited series. The plot follows the Eighth Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group as they embark on a mission to Regensburg, Germany to disable crucial Axis manufacturing facilities. It’s to be the largest air armada ever assembled by mankind with over 500 planes taking off. 21 of those planes belong to the 100th. Only 11 of them land safely in their North Africa rendezvous point.
While Band of Brothers and The Pacific never shied away from displaying the carnage of war, neither series incorporated this many major character deaths this quickly. This installment features the demise of Curtis Biddick (Barry Keoghan), whose plane goes down over Central Europe after the pilot heroically steadies the plane to the very end so some of his crew can bail out.
Though Major John Egan (Callum Turner) later expresses hope that Biddick is off “sipping on a bottle of Schnapps right now,” those who’ve read the real history know that that isn’t the case. Per the American Air Museum, the real life Biddick didn’t make it off his B-17 in time: “Approximately 40 miles north of Regensburg, Biddick’s plane suffered an oxygen fire caused by 20mm damage to the nose and fuselage, trapping those on the flight deck. Four of the crew were killed in action, including Lt Biddick.”
As an actor in increasingly high demand, Keoghan was a major get for Masters of the Air. He spoke to The Wrap about what it was like to say goodbye to the series so soon.
“[My focus] was to come across as a leader, to show a fine balance of him putting it on to encourage his crew and his team around him, to show no sign of weakness. That was the main drive for Biddick,” Keoghan told TheWrap. “And then right before we see his death, we actually see a glimpse of him just being a boy. All of that facade and all of that act is gone, stripped for back to the core.”
Thus far, Masters of the Air hasn’t lost sight of the fact that these are all merely boys up in the sky playing a dangerous man’s game. This same episode also features the fiery conflagration of poor “Babyface” and countless others in the downed plane across Europe. Through three episodes, stepping into B-17 feels like a virtual coin flip as to whether it will land safely (and in this episode in particular it’s an almost literal coin flip for the 100th Bomb Group).
During the war, they called the 100th the “Bloody 100th” and now viewers are beginning to finally understand why.
New episodes of Masters of the Air premiere Fridays on Apple TV+.