For my money, that was the most effective and dramatic episode yet of The Pacific. Despite the quality of recent episodes, they seemed to be focused on the big themes such as loss of humanity and showing the full scope of the madness of war. It seemed there was one thing missing, that I didn’t quite realise until now. And that, ironically, was the human factor. After sidelining it for most of the series, The Pacific brought it back to the fore in a major, major way.
After touching base with Sledge and showing how he is still coming to terms with the death of Capt. Haldane, the action shifts back to the States. Basilone is still on the promotional whirl, with free drinks, and easy access to both girls and fame being the order of the day.
However, it seems clear that his heart lies elsewhere, and he soon puts in a request to train new recruits at Camp Pendleton. A year living the easy life has clearly taken its toll on Basilone, who struggles through a montage of training. He is also faced with a somewhat underwhelming platoon of two recruits to train, and an uncaring senior officer, who feels bitterness at having survived Guadalcanal and not been rewarded like Basilone.
Things soon change with the arrival of a new captain and the rest of the newbies, and Basilone is soon back to fighting form. But it requires one extra thing for Basilone to become the hero that history remembers.
That one thing is Sgt. Lena Riggi, a female Marine in charge of the mess. She knocks back Basilone on numerous occasions, including one humiliating dinner in which Basilone attempts to impress her with his connections, only to be mockingly referred to as ‘the hero of Guadalcanal’.
Undeterred, he returns in a more humble way and sets up a breakfast date, followed quickly with a rousing speech to the recruits about how they should respect the Japanese soldier. It is about as close as this series has got to characterising the Japanese enemy, although perhaps this form of martial characterisation is just as demonising as the ‘Jap’ referred to previously.
After bonding through tales of coffee shared with family (Basilone with his troops, Riggi with her estranged father), the two then engage in what could be seen as a clichéd montage romance, complete with frolicking in the waves and sweeping music. However, I’m going to defend this part as this episode is the only one my girlfriend has sat down and actively engaged with and enjoyed. She was left cold by the unrelenting war misery on display before, but, shown what she described as ‘real life’ made what came after hit twice as hard. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
A factor of what has brought together the two is a shared love of the Marines, and how it is effectively their life. And so, when Basilone decides to return to the fight, Riggi accepts this, but still wants to be with him, and so the two marry. One more shared romantic sequence as they honeymoon, and then we are plunged into the pure hell of D-Day on Iwo Jima.
One of the bloodiest encounters for the Marines of the conflict (and the only one where they suffered higher casualties than the Japanese), the beach landing is yet another example of the incredible quality The Pacific has shown in its fight scenes. This is not only one of the most impressive yet, but it packs an emotional punch unlike any of the others.
We have followed an emotive and dramatic arc for Basilone, especially in this episode, and he is ably supported by the Marines he has trained. Leading them into the fray, he demonstrates the heroic leadership demonstrated at Guadalcanal, and shows what the series has been missing without him.
It is interesting and important to have characters as emotionally conflicted and ultimately tormented as Leckie and Sledge, but it is equally important ,I think, to have a hero you can believe in and root for, especially in a highly charged setting such as this.
Basilone is in his element like the others are not, and his decision to go back and lead yet more men through the chaos and maelstrom of bullets is testimony to the courage of Basilone and many like him. This makes his eventual death that more affecting, especially as it is shown in the context of thousands of others like him, lying broken on the beaches of Iwo Jima.
That would have made a moving final image, but this is not just the story of Basilone. Instead, it cuts to Lena Basilone nee Riggi alone, looking out to sea.
Understated in its exploration of their commitment to both each other and the service, episode 8 of The Pacific serves as fine testament to the many war-time romances that ended in tragedy, made even more poignant by the fact that Lena never remarried.
Read our review of episode 7 here.
The Pacific is screening on Sky Movies Premiere and Sky Movies Premiere HD.