So, after the hell of the battle for Guadalcanal depicted in the opening two episodes, the Marines of The Pacific get some much needed R & R, and the show gives its characters some much needed fleshing out.
This latest chapter of the WWII series slows things down to walking pace, and expands upon the themes and motivations hinted at previously, while all the time building the tension for the fight to come. As always, I shall attempt to remain relatively spoiler free, as I appreciate many people will not have seen it yet, and instead give my impressions on the episode.
Part Three opens with the bruised and battered soldiers arriving in Melbourne to a heroes’ welcome, and judging from the opening lines of dialogue, “What is this?”, and “Where are we?”, it seems to be as alien a place for them as the Pacific Islands.
With iconic Melbourne sights such as the trams and Flinders Street Station present and correct, the Marines are taken to the MCG where they are billeted, still in a state of bewilderment. However, once they discover they are ‘allowed’ to go AWOL, these feelings soon change and the drink starts to flow.
While Basilone and Morgan indulge and remember their losses, Leckie becomes involved with a local girl of first generation Greek heritage. The groundwork for the continued war effort also continues apace, leaving this episode to act very much as the proverbial calm before the storm. This, indeed, lets the show breathe, and we start to get to grips with two of its main characters, Basilone and Leckie.
Following on from his brother’s death, Basilone’s mask as the professional hero is very much in danger of slipping in this episode, revealing the anger and pain beneath. He gets outrageously drunk with his friend Morgan, by consuming what they term a ‘blockbuster’, and ends up fighting with an Australian soldier in a bar, before being woken by blaring horns and leading his platoon on some of the worst training ground exercises yet seen in a military show.
However, once informed that he is due to receive the coveted Medal of Honor, Basilone must face up to some stark choices, after throwing up first, though! It is here that the poster boy of the war effort is created, and Basilone the man becomes Basilone the hero. As Morgan points out, he can no longer get up to hi-jinks (such as stealing an MP’s jeep), and instead realises that he must now put his professional face on all the time.
The hints at Basilone’s wild nature offer a glimpse into what makes the soldier tick, but it’s his acceptance of his new mission and the sacrifice he is making at the end of the episode that lets the audience see what makes a modern war hero.
It was also pleasing to see the bond between him and Morgan take centre stage in what was a traditionally romantic storyline filled episode. It is clear that their shared loss has drawn the two brothers-in-arms closer, tying into the themes of brotherhood so expertly crafted in the previous series from Hanks and Spielberg.
It is Leckie, however, whom this episode truly revolves around. Taking time out from drinking, he pursues and successfully courts Stella, an Australian girl from a Greek community. The Pacific is unashamedly broad brush storytelling, but it is in the intimate moments played out between the two of them that the humanist element at the heart of the show is explored.
Leckie is an outcast, that much is clear. He is not your typical Marine, and he appears driven to it by his sense of otherness from his family, who have never truly welcomed him, as much as his patriotic duty. He is one of eight children, and an outsider in his own family, while his father is apparently mentally crippled by the death of an older son, a fate Leckie fears too.
Theirs is a transient and ephemeral affair, and for all the joy in it, it is full of sadness and regret too. Having Leckie drawn to an immigrant family was a nice touch, as it reinforced this sense of otherness that the show strives for, the feeling of being cast adrift in a strange new world, whether that world is friendly or hostile.
The episode also found time to explore Leckie’s valuing of life, and having him seize the chance of happiness with Stella seemed in keeping with his character, as did his despair when things turned sour. Leckie is an emotional man, and judging by his cracking at the end, one that the war does not seem to bode well for in terms of his mental state.
Part Three is overlaid with a definite sense of foreboding, one which purveys the core of the episode, whether it was spelt out clearly, such as with the scenes of the Greek family reading the casualty lists, or subtly, with the Marines still training for the inevitable. It seemed to be teasing the soldiers with one last brief respite of happiness and freedom, before going back to business next week.
As I said above, The Pacific is obvious storytelling, and on the canvas of WWII, there is no getting away from that. You know where this story will end, and with the ultimate use of force used in human history hanging over proceedings, I find it easier to forgive the writers their, at times, straight-forward approach to the material.
It seems to me to be that The Pacific is being told through emotions as much as exposition and, while I can relate to that, I can also understand that other viewers may need a little more complexity.
However, I was glad that this week was able to give me time to get to know the characters a little better, and understand what makes them tick and how they deal with what life has thrown at them.
Next week promises some extremely dubious morality in the jungle, harking back to the opening episodes’ depiction of a tropical hell, as Leckie begins his secondment to intelligence.
Read our review of episodes 1 and 2 here.
The Pacific is screening on Sky Movies Premiere and Sky Movies Premiere HD.