'The Pacific' - 'Iwo Jima' Recap
by Jason Hughes, posted May 3rd 2010 9:04AM
(E08) If it seems like forever since 'The Pacific' spent any time with John Basilone, that's because it has been. As Basilone himself said, it's been more than a year since he saw action. Since he couldn't just go back into the heart of the war, he asked for the next best thing: the opportunity to train the next batch of marines who'd be heading out to back up his friends still on the line.
Other than a brief interlude with Sledge, who's back at base camp with a Snafu slipping toward hypochondria, we spent the entire hour with Sgt. Basilone. In doing so, the writers and producers managed to find yet another facet of the war to show us. The emotional struggles of a soldier away from the war, and the conflicting ties that pull him in both directions at once.
Basilone, a marine through and through, wants nothing more than to serve his country, protect freedom and probably end this war single-handedly if the opportunity to do so presented itself. So it's no real surprise that he re-enlisted after his term of service was up, as the job wasn't yet done.
Being at home for so long hadn't settled his passion for being a marine, but it had settled that eager young boy into a man. A man who was ready for love, if love would have him. I enjoyed that Lena wasn't going to be as easy a catch for Basilone as most of his past conquests had been. But this was a woman he felt worth pursuing, so he took the time to court her as right as he could, which in the end turned out to be just the right way.
The fate of their relationship was inevitable, but it didn't make it any less sweet to watch it progress. Balancing their moments of happiness with the harsh methods he used to train the marines showed the strength of his passions on both fronts. He wooed, dated, married and loved Lena just as hard as he could, and with the same conviction and strength he wanted to prepare those young soldiers for the reality of what they were up against.
The whole episode was framed and executed beautifully to show us the soldier-at-home, and no moment captured it as perfectly as the calm of the sea framing Basilone's final wartime experience on D-Day. After a night of lovemaking with his new bride, Basilone looks out across the waters and we switch immediately to the brutality of D-Day, with marines dying all around him.
Basilone is as brave and courageous a leader to the young men all around him as we'd expect him to be, but the carnage is too thick, and the bodies piling up too fast. As much skill and training as these men had, luck is as much a factor as anything when facing an impossible task like crossing that beach.
He might have made it and survived if he hadn't been so concerned about his men all around him, but in the end the battlefield claimed Sgt. John Basilone, as the men who'd worshipped and trained under him watched in helpless disbelief. The "Hero of Guadalcanal" taken down like he was just another soldier.
The pan up from Basilone's body in those closing moments managed two things. It showed us just how small a piece of the puzzle each individual soldier is, and it reminded us that each of those bodies scattered across the beach tells a story as rich and wonderful and human as the stories of John Basilone, Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie.
We learn of wars with numbers, dates, fronts and lines, but war is the people who make those things happen. Every soldier is a story, and every soldier is a loss felt as deeply as Lena's grief in the final minutes of the episode. This was perhaps the most beautiful installment of the entire mini-series, and might just be worth the price of admission alone.