One of the drawbacks of covering a mini-series like Generation Kill on a week-to-week basis is that it’s not episodic like a regular show, but an ongoing story with running themes that are supported over time. (Imagine reviewing, say, the third quarter of The Godfather, Part II, and you get the idea.) So in an effort to avoid repeating myself—and to save some rhetorical firepower for the big finale next Sunday—I’m going to cover tonight’s stellar episode, “Stay Frosty,” in bullet points:
• If it wasn’t obvious enough before, Captain America’s batshit insanity was certainly clear as a bell this episode. Not once but twice he attacked prisoners who had surrender peacefully. And in the first case, he of course gets commended later for taking prisoners in the same breath that Fick and the gang gets scolded for shooting civilians at roadblocks. At one point, his men openly discuss unfucking the platoon by putting a bullet in the back of his head. Captain America acts like he’s a character in a Vietnam War movie—specifically Apocalypse Now!. One line, “You have to become insane to survive in combat,” pretty much paraphrases Brando’s philosophy in that film.
• The story of General Mattis relieving a colonel from duty (and taking his sidearm ammo to boot) has deep resonance within the battalion. Basically, the people in command use the opportunity to abuse the officer one step below them. That means Encino Man has to take care of the Fick situation (“There’ll be no more questioning of my orders”) and Encino’s toadie of a gunnery sergeant is now emboldened to circumvent Fick by ordering sick men on a questionable mission to check out an enemy tank. Fick’s reply, in full view of his men, is priceless: When asked what he’d do if the tank was operational, he says, “Well, I’ll tell you what it looks like right now. It resembles an incompetent moron climbing up the asshole of his company commander by inventing a bullshit mission.” Nice.
• Fantastic scene with Colbert unveiling Chef Boyardee ravioli and Juggs magazine as a reward to his beleaguered men: We get Ray eating like a six-month-old (and poor, fucked-up Walt coming out of his shell to tease him), a scary line from Trombley followed by a great Ray rejoinder (“Eat, fuck, kill. All the same, right?” “All the same if you’re a fucking psycho.”), and the answer for why people keep calling Trombley “Whopper Jr.” (Whopper=Burger King= B.K.= Baby Killer.)
• Another fine observation from Ray (and I paraphrase): “Iraqis don’t seem very good at fighting, but then they never stop anyway.” In an episode where the soldiers are starting to adjust to the reality of becoming an occupying force—with the conflict itself ending imminently—that line seems awfully prophetic.
• More fascinating material when the soldiers are forced to deal with refugees fleeing from Baghdad. It was touching to see them so anxious to lend a hand: Whether helping unburden women of their bags, offering up water and MREs to the beleaguered travelers, or turning a truck into a crowded “hayride,” many of them seem are happy to be doing charitable services. But then, of course, there’s an ugly flipside: Fick warns that doing humanitarian work will reduce combat readiness; a well-educated, English-speaking refugee cynically thanks the men for letting her pass on her road in her country; and yet another attempt to repel a car via blue smoke backfires horrifically.
• Colbert and Fick are both seen as men of integrity and competence—the heroes of the show, without question—but recent episodes have done a lot to draw out the differences between them. Fick seems genuine when he says that their “running and gunning” through Iraq has been a crucial part of the war plan and that they should be proud of their accomplishments; Colbert bitterly regrets seeing his recon unit being misused and abused. Their only common ground is mutual relief that they’ve somehow gotten through it without losing their men.
• And oh sweet lord, the reservists. You really get an idea about the skills and professionalism of the Marines we’ve been following when they meet up with the loose cannons of Delta Company. It doesn’t take long before they’re dodging friendly fire and watching the reservists level a village full of innocent civilians. Can’t wait to see what madness next week brings.