Never afraid to show the brutality of war, The Pacific really went into overdrive this time, with an episode that was equally horrific, gripping and downright affecting.
After last week’s classic heroic tale of Basilone, we have the reverse here, the descent into hell by Eugene Sledge, both physically and psychologically.
As the battle for Okinawa takes place, Joseph Mazello takes centre stage and carries the most demanding episode yet. It left me drained as a viewer, but also incredibly impressed at the scope of this show, and exactly where it is willing to go. For those of a delicate disposition, it was nowhere good.
Sledge is now a veteran of the campaign, and well established friends with Snafu. However, just as Snafu has lost his veneer of nonchalant roguishness, and succumbed more to the crazed aspect of his persona, so Sledge has seemingly burnt out the remnants of his humanity. It is as his father warned him way back in episode one. It is not the tearing of the flesh that is the concern, but the tearing of the soul.
And no more is this in evidence than of Sledge’s callous disregard for the new recruits’ stories, and his seeming bloodlust at facing the Japanese. He comments that he hopes they never surrender, in order to kill every last one. He pretty much has that chance too, as the Japanese soldiers refuse to surrender, a fact which has been a refrain of the series, and one that has baffled the Marines.
In a particularly harrowing engagement, the Japanese booby traps a civilian mother and her baby, who explode in gruesome fashion, triggering an ambush. If that wasn’t enough, the stunned Marines are then bombarded by their own side, in a mistaken case of friendly fire.
And as always, the elements play their lethal part in the proceedings. We have already seen tropical rain, and scorching heat on the show, but now came the turn of the mud. And it was everywhere. As the Marines fought inch by inch for control of the island, I felt it every sucking, sticky step of the way, and gained a genuine sense of their palpable misery.
If they weren’t wading through it, they were sleeping in it. If they weren’t fighting in it, they were covered in it on their downtime. It lent the whole affair a monochromatic vision of decay, well suited to the sombre atmosphere.
Soldiers going off the deep end were also present, as a new recruit was the one to crack under the pressure of constant battle, although, to be fair, he had been responsible for two of his own side’s deaths and the wounding of another.
In amongst all this madness, Sledge continued to go awry, leading to tension between him and Snafu, and a nihilistic view of proceedings. However, this was not just a tale of desperation but one of redemption.
While clearing out an abandoned village, Sledge and Snafu hear a baby crying, and upon investigation of a ruined house full of the dead (the implication being that they were responsible, whether directly or indirectly), discover one surviving child. Standing in stunned silent inaction at the scene, it is almost as if they cannot comprehend that there may be life that they are able to save, rather than take.
As an officer who bustles through and interrupts them states, though, “What’s the matter with you two?”, Sledge then investigates the rest of the house, leading to an encounter with a dying woman. Begging him to shoot her dead, Sledge initially goes to do so, but instead cradles the woman as she dies. It is a powerful scene, told with no words, but serves as his redemption and return to humanity. It is a powerful action, and one which brings home the themes which have run throughout this show.
Sledge steps outside the house a man reborn, as witnessed by his berating of a soldier for shooting an unarmed Japanese soldier moments later, an action which the Sledge of the early episode would have carried out without hesitation.
And redemption is the key but subtle theme for me in this episode. After the grim rain and mud throughout, it ends on blue skies and sunshine, but with an offhand comment by a fellow soldier probably the darkest thing witnessed in the whole nine episodes to date. He mentions a new bomb the Americans have dropped, which can “vaporize whole cities in seconds”.
As The Pacific has sought to show throughout, can the terrors of the campaign and the expected cost of an invasion of the home islands justify and therefore redeem the decision to drop the bomb? It is still a murky and indefinable issue, and one which this faithful re-enactment of the battles fought has only served to confuse further. But the combat is now finished for The Pacific, and the final episode is upon us, as characters seek to redefine themselves in a world where it is not kill or be killed.
Read our review of episode 8 here.
The Pacific is screening on Sky Movies Premiere and Sky Movies Premiere HD.