We’re only a few episodes into Enlisted’s first season, but two clear patterns in storytelling have already emerged in those episodes. The first of those patterns is the more serious character-centric approach, as the show explores the commitment that its characters have to the life they’ve chosen and the ramifications of that decision. The other pattern is broader, as the show embraces the underdog comedy vibe to see what trouble or realizations its ragtag ensemble can find in 30 minutes. Most episodes borrow from both areas of the show—the pilot struck a perfect balance between the two—though it’s possible to separate them into different camps depending on which one they favor.
“Parade Duty” is an episode that belongs squarely in the latter camp, slotting alongside similar installments “Homecoming” and “Rear D Day.” Yes, it’s an episode that touches on Pete and Derrick’s dissimilar feelings about being stationed in an undemanding position, but it’s first and foremost an episode about the unit. Everyone in the ensemble gets a chance to shine, there’s a definite sense of camaraderie throughout the whole thing—even in the moments when someone finds a way to sabotage it—and it (mostly) ends with the good-natured sense that they’ve found a way to feel like real soldiers.
Although it’s largely an ensemble piece, the action of “Parade Duty” is still driven by Pete and his continued discomfort with being assigned to what he ultimately views as a dead end for his career. If “Rear D Day” was Pete trying to put a happy face on his situation, “Parade Duty” is the sign that his face is starting to hurt from keeping that smile up. The town of Seacord’s annual parade provides an opportunity for the troops to inspire the families left behind—or Jill’s troops at least, as Pete’s troops are assigned to the clean-up detail behind the parade. (Cody: “Did I mention there are horses?” Jill: “That’s where most of the excrement comes from.” Pete: “Most of it?”) Pete’s horrified at using his military training for something so menial, whereas his unit is excited at only having to work a couple of hours on “doody duty”—a descriptor that never fails to make Randy giggle, even when he’s reading it on their vests.
Here’s where Enlisted’s expert sense of character balancing comes into play, as Pete’s reactions are less about wanting to be seen as a hero and more about wanting to accomplish something as a soldier, which is a much more palatable direction for the character. The show understands that Pete’s got a considerable ego, but it’s careful not to push him into full-blown jerk status (a balance that its Fox sibling Brooklyn Nine-Nine has strugged with at times with central character Jake Peralta.) And when it goes close to that territory it’s quick to have fun at the expense of Pete’s ego, as his cocky way of addressing a trio of troublemakers is undercut immediately by their cat app-expressed disregard and Jill’s easy way of making peace.
Additionally, the conflict of the episode’s first act manages to be less about Pete and more about the distance between Pete and Derrick. While Derrick and Randy have been a winning comedic combination, Pete and Derrick have a more conflicted relationship thanks to their elder/younger brother tensions and the fact that their approach to the military couldn’t be more dissimilar. Pete wants to inspire the troops to greater things—a conviction backed by a flag-waving Randy—while Derrick wants them to be happy in their mediocrity. (“Parade Duty” also finally provides an answer to the glaring question of why Derrick even bothered to enlist in the army: he dropped out of three colleges in one year and didn’t have any other options.)
Derrick’s joy in mediocrity also spins off one of “Parade Day”’s best sequences, proving Enlisted’s gift for the amusing asides when it shows how he’s killed the dreams of each of the Rear D soldiers. Dobkiss wanted some direction that wasn’t jail, Robinson wanted to see the world, Park was thrilled at the independence her husband gave her—and Derrick found the dark side of all their ambitions. In an uproariously funny close to the flashbacks, Chubowski is played by an entirely different actor who says he joined the army to lose weight, which Derrick responds to with an offer of chili fries. (“You are the author of my obesity,” present-day Chubowski says in a numb voice, a terrific delivery from Mel Rodriguez.) It’s another sequence that could go wrong easily, but doesn’t as it keeps Derrick’s behavior from being self-centered: he’s not a killjoy for malicious reasons, he’s just a provocateur by default.
This realization spurs the troops into switching to Pete’s camp and wanting to make something more of themselves. Of course, if they want to present themselves as soldiers they have to act like soldiers, which triggers a sequence of training scenes that go about as well as expected. Enlisted showrunners Kevin Biegel and Mike Royce—the latter of whom wrote tonight’s episode—have frequently cited Stripes as an influence on their show’s sense of humor, and this training montage is very much in the vein of that film’s training sequences as these bumblers try to be real soldiers. There’s a lot of great little moments in the sequence between Chubowski’s uncontrollable urge to aim his weapon, Randy doing pushups with other privates on his back and a montage of everyone’s inability to spin a rifle. In Stripes this led to a great success for the soldiers, but in this case staying up all night doesn’t mean the unit’s able to impress their commanding officer: it all falls apart after 30 seconds and Cody sarcastically points out how he hopes that they at least know which end of the broom to push.
This whole sequence of events leaves both of the elder Hill brothers on the outs with the unit—Pete’s shunned for giving them an objective to fail at, while Derrick’s shunned for his schadenfreude. This leaves the two trying to make amends, a moment that’s simultaneously touching and hilarious due to Derrick’s refusal to make eye contact while he admits he was wrong. Once again, Enlisted proves it knows it can say a lot about military service by saying little, and all Derrick has to say is “You were there” to convey to Pete how much he legitimately values what his brother has done.
And if that moment isn’t enough, Pete earns a place of honor in the center car with Cody but can’t stop glancing back at his unit, eventually earning Cody’s permission to go back and join them. Returning to Stripes, the way in which Pete’s unit meshes their training and their clean-up equipment is deeply in the vein of that film’s famous “Army training, sir!” scene, where military precision is used in the most incongruous fashion and their commanding officer finds a chant that isn’t protocol but sums up the unit ethos perfectly: “Rear D’s the place for me! Support the post and families! We don’t brag and we don’t boast! We are are here when you need us most!” It’s a seamless mix of the sincere and the goofy, that careful blend that Enlisted has been so remarkably gifted at delivering on a weekly basis. And it earns the coveted slow-mo salute from the veterans,
That sense of accomplishment is unfortunately offset by the denouement of the parade, as the rival barbecue joints in town come to blows in the middle of the street, setting the pig float ablaze and dousing the parade queen in tangy sauce to the rhythm of “Blue Danube. True, the episode gave the feeling of an impending disaster from the moment it mentioned the disaster the Shifflet brothers brought to last year’s parade, but once the disaster comes up both Pete and Jill’s units are left as horrified bystanders to the chaos rather than active participants. All that’s left is for both sergeants to drink their beer numbly and channel Chinatown as they write it off due to Florida weirdness. It’s a discordant note to end on, but certainly not enough to sink another excellent episode.
I would watch a bottle episode of Enlisted where the entire action is the unit at the Claymore’s karaoke night. So much good stuff here between Dobkiss adopting a new persona of DJ Deerhead (could he be the Yellow King of True Detective perhaps?), the troops’ unison in murmuring and Randy’s excited tendency to wave the flag and make moments into epic Army celebrations. Plus, Chubowski’s disappointment at Pete’s interruption is golden: “I wanna know where the turkey ends up!”
Apparently the seagulls surrounding Fort McGee are distant cousins to Pawnee’s raccoons and have taken on legendary status amongst the soldiers. “I heard they stole a baby.” “Raised it as one of their own!” “Taught that little baby the ways of the gull. Culture, customs, honor.”
Previous parade cleanups have yielded a lot of treasure amidst the “whatnot”: Dobkiss found a human finger and Chubowski found a man-sized birdcage he subsequently trapped JaMort in.
Randy doesn’t know what either subconsciously or sub-textually means, but he assumes they mean Derrick secretly loves Pete.
“I have leadership medals, leadership plaques! There was a band of wild dogs in Kabul that only answered to me!”
“I’m gonna learn weapons systems!” “No you’re not.” “No I’m not!”
“The state senator who was supposed to do it smoked crack and wound up on stage with a Chuck E. Cheese’s band. Florida, what’re you gonna do?”
“Be a man. Wave like a princess.”