Never the most conventional of war shows, The Pacific finishes its mightily impressive run by eschewing traditional fist-pumping scenes of final martial victory, instead taking a long and thoughtful look at what happens afterwards, and how the peace can often be as hard as the war.
After following the men over the course of the war in the Pacific, and their often harrowing experiences, it felt right that we should bid goodbye to them in this fashion. Each of the three leads got their moment and sense of closure, and, of course, it was all wrapped up with a ‘what happened next’ section. Even for those characters you could barely remember. Anyway, I digress.
In typically downbeat style, John Basilone’s widow Lena paid a visit to the Basilones, whom she had never met. What started as an awkward meeting between them all, with the family unsure over Lena’s intentions, soon became an understated and deeply moving bonding over the shared grief they had over the loss of John at Iwo Jima. Of particular commendation was the reaction of the father, who with no shared language with Lena, perhaps bonded the most as she handed over his Medal of Honour. It was a way for them all to make sense of the loss they all felt.
Meanwhile, Bob Leckie reappeared after several episodes’ absence. Recovered from his wounds, he sought to take his old life back, as we discovered he was a newspaperman and had longed after his neighbour for many years. All of which may have been handy to know in the first episode, as it somewhat robbed Leckie of an emotional arc to bring to a close.
However, James Badge Dale’s portrayal has so likeable that I, for one, was glad the war had served to make him seize his life by the scruff of its neck, and not accept second best. His masterful courting of previously untouchable Vera was proof of this, as was his summary dismissal of those who hadn’t fought in the war making claims on his behalf.
Finally, Eugene Sledge returned back to his parents, although not before saying goodbye to his fellow Marines. Or not, as in the case of Snafu.
Once again, Rami Malek’sperformance served to make the character stand out amongst the supporting players, and his decision to let Sledge sleep rather than wake him to say farewell spoke volumes about the two’s relationship, and all without a word.
The coda explaining that Snafu disappeared for years after this, but then had Sledge as pallbearer at his funeral in the nineties made complete sense after watching Malek’s portrayal and interactions with Sledge over the last few weeks.
Once Sledge was back, though, it was clear that he was suffering an undiagnosed form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The Pacific theatre was unlike anything else in a war which has gone down as the most brutal and evil in history, and the men who survived it must have often wondered why.
To be expected to resume a normal life, and want after ordinary things must have been abhorrent to them at first, and although many of them did eventually settle down and get married, the psychological damage must have been extreme.
The Pacific almost seems to be dismissing the European theatre as an adventurous jaunt, in one scene juxtaposing Sledge’s brother showing Nazi flags and telling stories with Eugene screaming with night terrors. Although it quickly follows this up with the elder brother telling Eugene he was the same, the point has clearly been made.
And it is a point that the series as a whole has made time and time again. This wasn’t a romantic war, in which heroes were made and villains defeated. It was a long slog through jungles and disease which ended with the murder of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Pacific has tried to show the reality of this conflict, often at the expense of traditional and perhaps more compelling narrative arcs. It has been one of those rare shows that, while I have admired it immensely, I have understood when others have not. It has not been for everyone, and if it was not a depiction of a real conflict, and therefore dealing with themes and issues which genuinely matter, I may not have been so applauding of it.
However, it has grappled with ideas and concepts unexpected of its billing as ‘TV event of the year’, and I believe it is to be lauded for this.
I challenge any jingoistic or patriotic military wannabe to watch the whole ten hours and not have second thoughts. And for me, that is a triumph of powerful television.
Read our review of episode 8 here.