And so the battle for Peleliu continues. In the bloodiest episode of The Pacific yet, the Marines are tasked with the twin perils of no water and hostile Japanese, as they attempt to maintain their bridgehead on the island, which means crossing a veritable valley of death, in the form of the exposed airstrip. In the course of which Sledge is transformed into the heroic soldier history records him as, while Leckie feels the full brutality of war.
The episode begins with Sid Phillips paying a visit to Mr and Mrs Sledge. After sitting down to dinner with them, he tells them a palatable untruth – Eugene will be fine. As the following 45 minutes will show, this is most definitely not the case.
Once again the main enemy of The Pacific doesn’t appear to be the Japanese, but rather the elements, in this case the baking sun, as opposed to the rain of a few episodes previous. The sun has scorched the island, and the episode is shot accordingly, with burnt hues for the palette, and a sense of desolation and lifelessness in the environment, whether that be a parched earth, or a bombed out building.
Compounding this is the Marines’ lack of water, caused by an inability to establish supply routes past the Japanese. The soldiers’ desperation is portrayed convincingly and more than once I found myself reaching for a drink as my lips became dry in sympathy.
Leckie scavenges a dead man for water, as the others look on in silence. However, it is not a silence of disapproval, more one of grim compliance and acceptance of the end justifying the means. Leckie nevertheless covers his fallen comrade back up, showing that he hasn’t forsaken all his humanity just yet.
With supplies and morale stretched, command orders an assault across a defended airfield, in order to reach the hills on the other side.
Following last week’s epic beach landing, I wondered where the show would go next. The airfield assault shows us exactly where. The Marines cross in a maelstrom of bullets and explosions, body parts flying everywhere. It is literally chaos, and who lives and dies is surely down to luck rather than strategic planning.
A perfect example of this is shown by Sledge stopping to pick up Snafu from the dirt. The man who picks up his mortar is then shot down in a hail of bullets. Watching Sledge’s guilt stricken incomprehension is a testament to Joseph Mazello’s acting, allowing the last vestiges of the southern boy to finally slip away as he moves on.
Leckie, meanwhile, having survived the dash across the airfield, is sent back the way he came, in order to find a working radio. Having just gone through some of the worst battle horror witnessed yet in the series, it is almost a sick joke to have to watch him run back through it, and he attempts to convince himself that he’ll be ok with a half-hearted, “I’m coming back.”
He almost makes it, too, until a nearby explosion blasts him into a palm tree and unconsciousness. This marks Leckie’s exit from the main action of the show, as a man broken both in mind and body is placed aboard a hospital ship, shown shipping out at the episode’s end.
With Basilone also out of the picture, this leaves Sledge as our lead character. As I said earlier, this episode also marks a turning point for the character. The airfield may be a watershed moment for him, but it is the night following that turns him into a man, so to speak.
After their commanding officer returns to HQ in order to get yet more suicidal orders changed, the company’s position is almost given away by a Marine screaming from night terrors. When morphine doesn’t calm him down, the soldier is killed by a blow to the head from the others. Sledge assesses the situation coolly in the morning, “Better him than us I guess,” with barely a trace of the guilt shown yesterday. Snafu also sums it up, with a chilling delivery of the line, “It had to be done.”
Throughout the episode, Rami Malek does superb work as the deranged Snafu. He makes it seem like this is a man who is in his natural element out there and almost enjoys the horror of what surrounds them on a day to day basis. Whether it is a calculating look, a well-placed comment, or nicknaming Eugene ‘Sledgehammer’, Snafu is an excellent supporting character, perfectly encapsulating the madness of The Pacific, while also standing out amongst the often faceless supporting roles.
A lack of identity for the Japanese is also evident in this episode. While the previous parts have engaged with the psychology of war, rather than the physical aspects of it, and therefore not needed a face to the enemy, I think it is to the show’s detriment that the Japanese are merely cannon fodder of assassins in the shadows. I’m not asking for detailed back stories for them, but a little humanity would be nice.
On the notion of humanity, the disturbing nature of it is once again centre of the show’s thematic front. While no philosophical discussions are in evidence this week, images show just as much as words ever could, with the Marines redefining theirs as they go, with no roadmap to guide them.
Sledge’s commanding officer Haldane makes a speech about believing in the cause as just. While this is a nice sound bite and serves to focus on why the horror is happening, it does feel slightly at odds with what The Pacific is trying to achieve. Europe was ostensibly good vs. evil, while the Pacific theatre is man vs. himself, and the usual rules of war no longer apply.
Episode Six of The Pacific is a transition episode. Sledge is now the hero, and Leckie’s war looks over. I will miss him, but, no doubt, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him. Meanwhile, I look forward to Sledge’s increasingly brutal fight of Peleliu and the return of John Basilone.
Read our review of episode 5 here.
The Pacific is screening on Sky Movies Premiere and Sky Movies Premiere HD.