Last week's hour of The Pacific was harrowing, but this week's hour was just a straight-up, grueling nightmare. This is the episode that most accurately captures the sense of these men that their slow advancement across Peleliu is costing too many lives, is a slog they may never wake up from. The hour tries to undercut some of this by cutting away to Basilone stateside or with that ending set at the nearly hallucinatory home away from home of Pavuvu. The shot of Sledge regarding the nurse and the glass of lemonade and seeming almost ready to throw it back in her face said as much about the cost of a grueling battle like Peleliu than any monologue could have. This was some incredibly strong stuff.
But it's also the hour that I'll be least likely to revisit after my two watches through it. It's important to the series - the lynchpin, really - but it's also almost unrelentingly grim. Now, obviously, that's how Peleliu really was for a lot of these guys (particularly a guy like Sledge, who'd never really known anything other than the gentility of the old South), but it's not exactly fun to watch. It's powerful television, television that sticks with you, but there are also images in it that are now seared on my brain. Again, this is as it should be, but, man, this is stuff that really sticks with you. From that whole battle to take that seemingly abandoned bunker to the Marine nearly dying while going to the bathroom in the cave to Snafu tossing pebbles into the Japanese soldier's head (one of the most stomach-turning things I've ever seen on TV), this is an hour of almost pure sensation, an hour that rather than trying to place you in the mindset of these men simply does so.
But let's start in a different place entirely. Let's start back in the United States, where John Basilone is still on his war bond sale tour and is increasingly unable to shake what happened to him back on Guadalcanal. The scene where he goes out to hit a few golf balls at a driving range after appearing before a crowd anxious to see this war hero, his golf club hitting the balls intercut beautifully with footage from Guadalcanal, is the sort of thing you've seen before, but it's executed with real skill and panache here. And the final shot - of Basilone lining up another shot as people turn on their headlights to help him see what he's doing - is one of the most gorgeous of the series. The Pacific is not just about the war, really. It's about the way it seeps into these men's souls and never stops haunting them, about the cost of sending young men out to kill each other. Basilone, Leckie (who sits tonight out) and Sledge don't have much in common beyond all being Marines, but the series is getting us into their mindset, showing us how unable they are to just put all of this behind them.
But the vast majority of the hour is spent on Peleliu with Sledge and his friends, trying to hang on to some part of their humanity as they slog through day after day in the unforgiving hills, coming up against Japanese soldiers and one impossible situation after another. I think my favorite sequence here is the taking of the bunker, which begins with Sledge insisting he hears someone inside and then rapidly spirals out of control, as the Japanese soldiers inside strike back, a grenade is tossed back out of the bunker, and the flamethrowers are finally brought in for a gruesome finish.
There's a sequence at the end that features Sledge frantically pulling out his rifle to shoot the Japanese soldier charging at him, concluding with a series of cuts between Sledge's face and the soldier's face, and it does just about as much to underline how, ultimately, similar both sides were when it came down to the end of the line as the . When Sledge asks why the Japanese don't just give up and gets "Because they're Japs" as an answer, it signifies just how much the other force dug in and was willing to give up everything for what it wanted, but at the same time, the soldier's death is almost a quiet moment. Sure, it's kill or be killed, but when it comes right down to it, being on either side in a one-on-one situation like that is one of the worst experiences any one person can go through. The look on the Japanese soldier's face as he dies - and the look on Sledge's face as he has to watch - is one of the series' more powerful moments, made all the more so by its relative silence.
But this is an episode filled with moments like that, moments when the characters are doing everything they can to simply hold on. Think of Gunny, quietly weeping as he contemplates the staggering magnitude of the losses the Marines are sustaining or turning over his cigarette lighter to Sledge at the end. Think of Snafu, seeing Sledge pushed to the very brink of what he's capable of and not wanting his friend to fall into that pit or shooting the soldier in the head to put him out of his misery and save him from the impromptu dentistry of the moment. There's even time for smaller moments, like that night spent in the rain or Sledge's talk with the officer about how in a different time, they would have been on different sides of a war.
As The Pacific draws closer to its conclusion, it's becoming more and more obvious what this is a series about. It's a series about the cost of war on men's minds, yes, but it's also a series about what it takes to remain basically good, basically decent. It's a series about how when the normal rules you're expecting don't apply, just about anyone is capable of some pretty horrendous things. And it's a series about just how hard it is to cling to your own humanity in the face of plenty of things that seem to prove that humanity simply isn't worth clinging to. There's a camaraderie and sense of friendship in The Pacific, but it's only there because the alternative is so much worse. "Part Seven" is amazing television, some of the best of the season, but it's also an hour-long look into a very dark abyss. It's remarkable, but it's not exactly easy to stomach.
- Another great shot concluded the episode. I love the framing and composition here, the naked Marines walking forward into the ocean, the view of them marred by the heat rising off the fire, the trees framing both sides of the screen perfectly.
- And despite the almost unrelenting bleakness, there were some very funny moments, chiefly when the Japanese soldier chased the guy who was relieving himself from the page and Snafu's subsequent comments about how he looked like he was in a sack race.
- I have to say I'm enjoying seeing the individual shots from the opening credits being realized within the show itself. I find the opening credits a little overlong, honestly, and the song is a little too self-important. But I like the way the charcoal images are becoming flesh.
- After this episode, The Pacific clearly knows that we need a bit of a reprieve before diving into the final battles of World War II (namely Iwo Jima - spoiler alert!), and we're going to get one next week, as we have more adventures stateside.