The Pacific: Review of Episodes 7 & 8

Part seven of the HBO mini series The Pacific sees Sledge and the Fifth Marines continue the fight for Peleliu after having taken the airfield in part six. Whereas the last episode marked Sledge’s birth by fire, this episode observes as he and his comrades turn into (or back into) a bunch “raggedy-ass Marines.” Unbeknownst to the Americans, the Japanese have built an extensive tunnel network, and fighting in the hills above the airfield is tedious, deadly and demoralizing; the round-the-clock, close quarters combat takes its toll physically and psychologically. For a lot of Marines this is familiar territory but Sledge begins a steep descent from a God-fearing southern boy into a deeply troubled young man. He even makes an attempt at getting a dead soldiers gold teeth, but Snafu, perhaps realizing that he’s in part responsible for his comrades change in behaviour, talks him out of it. The constant loss of life, and eventually the death of Captain Andrew Haldane, who was liked and respected amongst the troops, contributes to low point in morale. Even Sgt. “Gunny” Haney, the most experienced and probably hardest Marine in the whole division, breaks under the extreme pressure. When they are finally relieved and return to Pavuvu they’re greeted by women clad in shining whites distributing lemonade, and the troops, tired and bewildered, take their time (and a good look at the girls). A soldier with the ladies asks Sledge and his pals to move along, he quickly gets death stares from the whole platoon and we watch as his the blood drains from his face. While all war films are gritty and realistic, I think HBO did a great job depicting the temperment and conduct of the soliders, in fact nothing in the whole series is sugar coated or toned down. In part seven Basilone is getting bored on the bond drive and it sets up part eight and the battle for Iwo Jima.

Part eight is entirely devoted to Basilone, who returns to train Marines at Camp Pendleton. While on base he makes a few failed attempts at Sgt. Lena, a lady Marine who is well aware of Basilone’s reputation with blonde and brunette starlets. Not to be deterred he makes a more honest, concerted effort and eventually wins over the fair lady and they wed after he reenlists and agrees to go to war with the recruits he’s been training. The acting in this part is particularly strong and very moving, the love interest isn’t cliché at all, Jon Seda as Basilone gives a great speech on the warrior will and fearceness of their Japanese opponents, again dodging another cliché landmine. But even subtle moments, when Basilone, who after an eight year career in the military and having already experience hell on earth asks to be reassigned instead of discharged, his commanding officer tells him “You make me proud to be a Marine,” and I start to remember that Basilone was a real guy, a real hero, and not a fictional Hollywood character, even if some of his feats defy belief. That scene, his wedding, his genuine love and respect for his fellow troops, shown in his actions in training and on the battlefield on the island of Iwo Jima (again running across firing lines to get other men to safety), make his death not just unbelievably sad but a real tragedy. The last two episodes have been extremely grim, and having seen what the troops went through, and how many good men, true heroes, fell in the line of fire, it’s no wonder the Americans opted not to invade the Japanese mainland, and rightly so. These past two episodes have been both dark and heart wrenching, and one is happy that the war is slowly drawing to a close for these men.

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