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April 21, 2014

'The Pacific' - 'Peleliu Hills' Recap

by Jason Hughes, posted Apr 26th 2010 8:45AM
(E07) "Fear and Filth" - written by Eugene Sledge while on Peleliu in description of his experience there

This week, I finally saw the value of the opening narrative with Tom Hanks interspersed with interviews with the World War II veterans. They're presented to offer background information for the events to come. Most of us have never seen anything like the war in the Pacific, so we wouldn't know about things like the intricate tunnels the Japanese used on Peleliu.
By having Hanks and the vets fill us in before the drama begins, they don't have to worry about unnecessary exposition within the episode to make sure we understand what's going on. That way, the writers can keep the dialogue as realistic as possible. After all, the men hardly knew what was going on when they first got there so I doubt they'd stop and explain in detail about how many tunnels the Japanese were holed up in within the mountains.

There was a nice parallel with the beginning and ending scenes of the marines coming back into base camp. When Sledge and company were heading out, we got to see the First Marines coming in, battered and severely injured. It was a startling contrast to the fresh marines heading into the mountains, and yet when Sledge returned, his group looked virtually identical.

Despite that, I didn't think this episode did as effective a job of portraying the terrors the men faced in those mountains, based on the stories we heard in the opening interviews. We got a few very effective scenes of the Japanese seeming to come out of nowhere and be right in the middle of the men, but I didn't get this sense of constant terror and pressure.

There were some good emotional moments throughout to help us connect better with the characters. I thought it was very effective placing the scene of the young man crying into Sledge's arms right next to the lighter scene of him shitting himself trying to escape a Japanese soldier who'd been hiding out in the caves. The laughter among the marines felt so right in that moment. Surrounded by such horrific things every moment, heightened emotions would make that even funnier than it was ... and it looked like it would have been pretty damned funny anyway.

Later, we got a surreal scene of tranquility, with Sledge going to open a can of something while sitting next to a dead Japanese soldier. I wasn't sure what the plunking sounds were, but when it was revealed that it was Snafu plinking stones into the open head of another dead Japanese soldier, I was both disgusted and not surprised at all.

I'm not sure if Snafu is based on a real person, though I'd wager he is, but that is one seriously weird dude. His monotone, almost-slurred speech and those dead eyes. He looks like he's there to represent the soldier who's emotionally shut down; shell-shocked by the experience, though he did show a spark of emotion when the Skipper went down.

Joseph Mazzello turned in another brilliant performance. It's almost astonishing to think that this is the same eager kid from back home who was so heartbroken when his heart murmur kept him from enlisting. In the past few episodes, he's really proven himself as a marine, with sharp eyes and wits.

It was Sledge who heard the Japanese in the bunker, which led to a rather grisly scene as the marines went about killing all of them through a variety of methods. There were so many Japanese down there! After the Captain died, you could see the turmoil inside of Sledge as he struggled to find a meaning in everything that was going on, and why he should stand by his moral compass when the whole world has clearly gone to shit.

By the time the marines got back to the seemingly inappropriate tranquility of Pavuvu, I couldn't read his face at all. Once this nice kid, suddenly Sledge was scaring the woman serving lemonade and the navy guy trying to get him to move on by simply looking at them. Those cold eyes, and that expressionless face that had seen so much horror. It was Snafu times two.

I appreciated the naked run into the water even more, after that. These are still boys. Whether it's a sign that some of their youthful innocence remains is yet to be seen. Maybe they just wanted the chance to be out of those clothes and cleaner than they have been in weeks. I'd like to imagine they had a few genuine laughs out there, and enjoyed a few quiet moments before they were sent back into hell.

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Kevin

Sledge didn't kill a fellow marine. Another marine did that. Sledge witnessed this from his own foxhole. You even see the marine who fired the shot in tears the next morning being consoled by someone as the Gunny was screaming to everyone not to leave their foxholes.

April 26 2010 at 9:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kevin's comment
SwampYankee

Snafu is indeed a real character but he was not the one throwing the coral pebbles into the skull. The incidents are real but some of the characters are an amalgamation of the book. The series is based on 2 books. The Peleliu tales are from Sledges book, "With the old Breed" Could not recommend more highly. Best book about was since the Iliad. Short, start, gripping and to the point. He does not judge, just reports. This wonderful mini series is just a shadow of the book.

April 26 2010 at 10:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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