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'The Pacific' - 'Basilone' Recap

by Jason Hughes, posted Mar 22nd 2010 8:26AM
Jon Seda as John Basilone, 'The Pacific'
After watching this second installment of 'The Pacific,' I think I have a feeling why people who've seen further along are talking about how things pick up once we get into the next episode. With these first two parts, we spent virtually the entire time on Guadalcanal, and there was virtually no time for any sort of character connections.

After this, the 1st Marines are finally getting off the island to move onto their next campaign, which means a change of scenery, and a chance for the impact of what they've just gone through to start hitting both the marines themselves, and the audience. Just like them, we've had virtually no time to process all the horror and warfare these men endured on the island.

While last week spotlighted most of the hour on the beauty of the island, this week it was the brutality of war itself that took center stage, with almost constant gunfire from the opening credits to the closing credits.

As accurately as the confrontations appeared to be presented, they were no more comfortable to watch. I will say that the latter third of the episode did seem to move along at a much better clip. While no less compelling, the first portion didn't feel like we were necessarily moving anywhere dramatically further than we were in the first installment.

The onslaught of Japanese soldiers was certainly more relentless, but things were risking becoming dramatically repetitive. There's only so much you can do when adapting true stories into dramatic format, and I'm not even sure I could come up with a better way for 'The Pacific' to have started than at the beginning of that campaign.

Perhaps we could have been given a bit more time with Leckie, Basilone and their friends before they went off to war in the first episode, or something more substantial to sink our teeth into as sympathetic viewers before all hell broke loose. We have Leckie's letters to Vera and the growing camaraderie within his small group of friends, but we had to wait until this episode to see most of that.

The most powerful moment in the episode came when Basilone grabbed that heavy and hot barrel without a grimace of pain and headed off to reposition and take out more enemy soldiers. His response to the pain that must have been there was so non-existent I turned to my wife and said, "Wouldn't that be hot?" It wasn't until we saw the burns later that we saw the extent of damage he'd done to himself; adrenaline is a powerful tool in war.

After the assault in the night, Basilone was commended and advised he'd be recommended for a medal, while Leckie and the 1st Marines were shipped off, where they met a cook who told them they were famous heroes back home. Their stories were plastered across the front pages of newspapers nationwide. That's the kind of impact and those are the moments that resonate with us as viewers, and we didn't get those until the end of the episode.

It may sound like I'm beating on a dead horse with this, but it's only because I'm starting to see the potential brilliance of 'The Pacific' unfold, albeit slowly. I'm worried that the slow pace in which the story is revealing itself may have been enough to turn off more of the potential fan-base than this mini-series deserves.

Maybe the mini-series should have started with the cook asking them how it was on the island, and then we could have gotten a flashback sequence of that first major campaign in the Pacific front. That way, we'd have a sense of where we're coming, and we'd get that sense of kinship these men must feel, seeing them sit together and drink coffee on the ship, while flashing back to their first meetings with one another and that bond developing that only almost dying together can forge.

All of that is to say that not all that much happened dramatically in this episode. It was more or less a massive battle, followed up by the short moments I discussed toward the end. Oh, and we checked back in with Eugene Sledge, now free of that heart murmur and ready to enlist. That was about three to four minutes.

The good news is that 'The Pacific' is still brilliantly put together and the acting performances of the entire cast are simply flawless. It's a matter of the method in which the story was told in these first two installments that I call into question. There's no doubt that this is a powerful story, and we got an immediate sense of this war with these two installments. But without those last ten minutes or so, I wouldn't be nearly as excited about the next eight episodes as I now am.

It went from an almost documentary-style presentation of the Pacific front of World War II to a dramatic character story in those final few moments, and that character development and growth throughout the war is what has me more excited than ever to see where we'll follow the 1st and 7th Marine Divisions next ... and how Eugene Sledge gets in on the action.

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Bruce, I am indeed a conservative, but that's beside the point. Your response is full of bigotry and ignorance. My uncle is a Viet Nam vet and I know directly from him how Hanoi Jane and others treated those soldiers. The actions of the others I named are public record. Murtha accused Marines of "cold-blooded murder and war crimes'' during the Haditha incident and they were cleared. In 1971, Kerry gave sworn testimony to Congress stating that he had witnessed American personnel committing war crimes on an ongoing basis. At no time during his tour of duty did he report any allegation of criminal conduct to military authorities. If he testified truthfully, then he is guilty of, at a minimum, being an accessory after the fact to many war crimes. That is not in any way the conduct of one who served honorably. If he perjured himself, then he is guilty of false witness against those who did serve honorably, and he thus dishonored his own service. So he's either a co-conspirator in war crimes, or backstabbing liar, neither of which is honorable or supports the troops. There's not nearly enough room to discuss the many other ways Kerry has denigrated the troops. When Boxer arrogantly demanded that Brigadier General Walsh refer to her as Senator instead of ma'am, she was too stupid to realize that in the military, ma'am and sir are the proper term of address even for officers. Of course, military people have developed a system for letting an officer know when they don't think too much of them. They use the term of address which least fulfills the requirement of military respect and use only the person's title (e.g., refer to Colonel Smith simply as Colonel). So when Gen. Walsh quickly came back with "Senator" and not "Senator Boxer," soldiers knew he meant she is a substandard person for whom he had no respect! After Senator Durbin read an FBI report that included descriptions of a case at Gitmo in which a detainee was held in such cold temperatures that he shivered, another in which a prisoner was held in heat passing 100 degrees, one in which prisoners were left in isolation so long they fouled themselves and one where a prisoner was chained to the floor and forced to listen to loud rap music, he stated "If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings." Under Pol Pot's regime, 1.5 million died in death camps and another 200,000 so-called "enemies of the state" were executed. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews and forced hundreds of thousands into slave labor. Stalin sent 25 million people to labor camps where many were worked to death. Not even close to an accurate comparison since no detainees at Guantanamo Bay had died in custody.

I do agree with one thing you said...Democrats are weak and cowardly.

March 23 2010 at 4:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeffrey McMeans

Well, so far, I have been quite disappointed, but I am an amateur Pacific War historian. I guess trying to do anything with only 10 hours with what was a massive undertaking was impossible, but there were so many other totally heroic people who sacrificed so much and I think they could have been a bit alluded to, if not fleshed out, not to mention many units within the 1st Marine Division that aren't even mentioned who gave all.
By the way; Bruce, stay turned. There are cities and tanks to come. And no, it's not true that if you have seen one Japanese vs American Marine battle ,they are all the same. Far from it; Guadalcanal was a cakewalk compared to other Marine battles to come. In this series, they are taking on Pelelieu and Okinawa, both much different types of battles. They quit doing the banzai charges ala Guadalcanal. In six months of battle on Guadalcanal, less than 1,000 Marines died. On Tarawa a year later, 1,000 died in three days. On Iwo Jimi, in a little over one month, almost 7,000 died.
I do agree with the part of the cook being the in the first
part of the show, but their uniforms should have been almost unrecognizable by that part of the campaign(late October 1942)when they had almost disintegrated from the tropical heat and they should have all been constantly smacking mosquitoes. What I am hoping will come out of this program will be people to become interested and get Robert Leckie's Helmet For My Pillow and Eugene Sledge's With The Old Breed, two excellent books amongst hundreds of others. My father was in the US Navy Sea Bees in the Pacific and I consider anone who was over there or the European or CBI(Cina, Burma, India)a hero.
Semper Fi.

March 23 2010 at 12:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm enjoying it, but it's not as good as Band of Brothers. The reason is simple - the war in the pacific is not as dramatic as the war in europe. Yes they're equally brutal and the soldiers are equally brave for having fought there. But from the point of view of making a miniseries like this about it, there's a reason Band of Brothers was entirely about the European Theater, with not a second spent on the war in the Pacific. It's just a bunch of island shootouts. No tanks, no cities, no civilians caught up in the mix.

The most interesting parts of the war in the Pacific are the strategy. Things like the Battle of Midway, the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot... the decisions made by the brass (the decisionmaking of Fletcher vs. Nagumo at Midway, for example) are the most interesting, captivating things about the Pacific theater.

It's just hard to get too involved with random soldiers shooting and getting shot at on random islands beyond hoping they live (and we know Leckie, Basione, etc live because they're based on characters who lived and talk to us at the beginning of each episode). Most people don't know their history, and more people can tell you why we invaded Europe than why we tried to take Guadalcanal, Midway, Tarawa, Tinian, etc.

Moreover, I fear that, from an entertainment standpoint, if you've seen one USA v. Japan pacific island battle, you've seen them all.

I think it might have been more interesting to have people like Adms. Nimitz, Fletcher, Nagumo, Yamamoto, and some other navy commanders on both sides be the "stars" of the miniseries. It would be more interesting I think. But we're only two episodes in, and we're now leaving Guadalcanal, so maybe it will get more interesting.

So far BoB is definitely better, but anyone who says the Pacific is a horrible failure is just nuts. It's very well done thus far. I just think the problem is the subject matter... again no disrespect to the troops who sacrificed so much fighting there.

One more thought: would have been cool to have Robert Oppenheimer be one of the characters as we watch him and his team develop and test the A-Bomb during the course of the miniseries, with the ultimate dropping of the bombs on Japan to end the war. That's a helluva innarestin' story right there, and Oppenheimer is a great character.

March 22 2010 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to bruce's comment

This series is certainly more than just a bunch of island shootouts. I realize that having a personal connection surely makes me appreciate the series more than most. My husband and I were spellbound and I was in tears for most of the first 2 episodes thinking about my father-in-law who is no longer with us. He island hopped all over the Pacific and we have been fortunate to read his personal journal and note where he fought and remember the stories he told us the few times he would talk about the war. We have his army-issue pocket New Testament with the metal cover that he carried next to his heart throughout the war. We have pictures of him at Hiroshima just days after the atomic bomb hit. Perhaps we don't know as much about the Pacific because the soldiers were subjected to such unimaginable horrors in and out of battle that they couldn't tell us. For example, my best friend only recently discovered years after her father's death that he was General MacArthur's public relations liaision when her husband spotted his picture in an old Life magazine she had bought at a flea market. They had no idea until then but later confirmed it through his miliary records and were able to get more info & pictures of him through the National Archives. Perhaps rather than trying to be entertained, we should all try to learn more about what our soldiers go through to protect our freedoms. It certainly hit home for me when the soldiers learned that they were considered heroes on the homefront. Quite a bit different for our soldiers who fought in Viet Nam and are in Iraq and Afghanistan today. May God forgive Code Pink, John Kerry, Jane Fonda, Barbara Boxer, John Murtha and countless others who have shown their contempt and disrespect for the American soldier. I, for one, have a hard time doing so. I'm sorry for the rant, but we all take too much for granted. In my opinion, Band of Brothers, The Pacific and the Hurt Locker and probably a few other war films should all be required viewing for high school students.

March 23 2010 at 1:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

rightmom: being against a war does not mean one is against the soldiers fighting it. No war has ever been as unquestionably proper, necessary, and "good versus evil" as WWII. Everything since then has been debatable by reasonable people. But even some of the Americans who were against WWII at the time were not against our troops.

It amazes me how republicans are able to convince so many people that opposing a war means you are opposed to "the troops." Meanwhile nobody treats US troops more crappy, more expendable, and with more utter disrespect than Republicans. "Bring our troops home" is not hatred for our troops.

Now I've heard stories of some people spitting on vietnamese veterans when they came home. While I think the frequency of such things is greatly overblown and probably never happened more than a dozen times in all of American history, I will certainly agree that anyone who spits on a war veteran for being a soldier is a total scumbag and deserves a serious beating. But like I said, I doubt more than a dozen or so people ever did such things... and they were likely all Republicans dressed up as hippies trying to hurt the anti-war movement. That's how republicans work, and it's why republicans will always win - because Democrats are just too weak and cowardly to play such evil and disgusting politics... the Dems just cant bring themselves down to that level.

March 23 2010 at 2:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The problem with 'The Pacific' is the inevitable comparisons to 'Band of Brothers', which was one of the finest mini-series ever.

So far, The Pacific hasn't done it for me. But I will hang in there. Hope that it gets better.

March 22 2010 at 3:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@Jason: I'm not sure if a flashback would have done the Marines justice. The way the episode played out, the viewer is as surprised and astonished as are the Marines when they hear their battles are front-page news. Up until that point, weren't we, along with the Marines, beginning to question both the purpose and price being for holding a tiny speck of an island in the South Pacific?

March 22 2010 at 2:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Your blog was good summary. I too have been a bit disappointed so far , just can't seem to get a sense of where it is all going? the battle scenes are intense for sure but I am having hard time saying I am really getting into it. I agree if they would've had the cook on in the beginning, we would have been able to pull the footage together and tie it to that pivotal scene better. It would have impacted the viewers more. They kept saying we were going to get under the helmet of the soldier well we are waiting for that aren't we.

March 22 2010 at 11:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Pretty sure Eugene's heart murmur isn't gone, but he's enlisting anyway.

March 22 2010 at 8:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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