The Pacific takes us on its next tour of duty, as Part Four returns Leckie to the front lines following his brief sojourn in Melbourne. This time the action swings to Cape Gloucester on New Britain, as the battle fleet ships its Marines to do battle with the Japanese once more.
Seconded to intelligence following his drunken outburst last week, Leckie is quickly punished by the petty commanding officer Larkin, who assigns him the dangerous rearguard duty. This leads to a confrontation with a Japanese patrol, and then a later night battle with a small Japanese attack force and it seems that The Pacific is back on the familiar territory of its opening two episodes. Except it’s most definitely not.
The first clue that this isn’t to be a running battle episode is in the duty Leckie is given: destroying the intelligence tent if the camp is overrun. He is left, grenade in hand, to listen to the sounds of fighting, not knowing what the outcome is to be.
The following day he is sent on patrol to the abandoned Japanese camp, whereupon they witness the haunting and terrifying sight of Gibson strangling a Japanese soldier and then grinning at them. The grin conveys both a puppy dog desire to have done the right thing, and a disturbed understanding of what he has done.
With the enemy seemingly gone, the rain sets in, and as a show not known for its subtlety, states via Leckie that, “Our enemy is the jungle itself.” That, and each other, of course.
The rain pours and pours, and it wears the men down. Larkin increasingly antagonises Leckie, which comes to a head after Larkin takes a Japanese pistol Leckie had taken, and then denies it. Given latrine duty, Leckie half-seriously suggests mutiny which, in turn, leads the soldiers to argue amongst themselves.
Added to this nightmare scenario is Leckie’s bed wetting caused by enuresis, and his witnessing of a fellow Marine hanging his uniform carefully out to dry (in the pouring rain) before blowing his brains out. All of which adds up to a trip to the psychiatric hospital for shell-shocked soldiers.
Apart from a tease following Eugene Sledge’s somewhat unsuccessful Marine training, and a neat comic book tale of Basilone’s Guadalcanal heroics, James Badge Dale once again takes centre stage as Pvt. Robert Leckie, and continues to shine as the unconventional war hero.
Building on a plot point raised last week about his father’s mental state, Leckie begins to question his own sanity. The Pacific is certainly not enamoured with showing American heroes, rather it continues on its humanist themes and explores the darker aspects of the war.
The hospital is a purgatory for all those involved peripherally with the war, whether it is those soldiers who have cracked or become ‘tired’, as one doctor puts it, or the orderlies who bitterly remark that a busted nose from a patient is the closest they will come to the war proper.
Even the doctor treating Leckie is caught in this, as not only does he feel the guilt of missing the war by chasing nurses and drinking cokes, he also has to witness first-hand the psychological horror evident in the shattered minds of the soldiers he treats.
For all that, World War Two has been historically told as a war of ideals. It is clear from this episode that ideals were the last thing on these soldiers’ minds. Indeed, in a sarcastic letter home from the island of Pavuvu, Leckie remarks that its name means “the death of hope”, and then, “I don’t know what it means, and I don’t care.”
While Band Of Brothers was often hailed as the small screen successor to Saving Private Ryan, it seems that The Pacific is taking its cue from that other 1998 WWII epic, The Thin Red Line, as it ruminates on the power of loss, not just in body but more importantly in mind.
The ultimate aim of the war is seemingly forgotten as the men battle against all manner of elements just to make it through the day. Suicide, tropical disease, and psychotic episodes have run riot in the series so far, and in a mainstream series from two of Hollywood’s biggest hitters, this is to be commended.
The Pacific has garnered some mixed reviews so far, and I am at a loss to understand why. Perhaps to some it lacks the spark and immediacy of Band Of Brothers, and perhaps in attempting to show the true experiences of these men it paints a broad and sometimes obvious picture, or perhaps one that lacks the dramatic qualities that brilliant fiction contains, or that epic sweep of history inherent in the European theatre. After all, the Pacific was as much about the elements and the brutality of war as it was about toppling the terror of the Nazis.
Either way, I remain convinced that The Pacific is an important work for today’s television viewer, especially in light of our recent collective experiences with war. Anyone believing that soldiering is or was a noble business should watch this.
Read our review of episode 3 here.
The Pacific is screening on Sky Movies Premiere and Sky Movies Premiere HD.