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'The Pacific,' episode two review: 'You're heroes back home'

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One aspect of The Pacific that many of you Commenters pointed out after my review last week was that this new HBO series lacks a core group of friends trying to survive World War II, the way Band of Brothers did. We like to shape real life into a comfortable, or at least familiar, narrative, and The Pacific denies us this comfort. Does that make it inferior to, or less satisfying than, Band of Brothers?

With eight more hours to go, it’s too early to make that call, but this week’s excellent episode brought together, however briefly, two key figures. Jon Seda’s Sgt. John Basilone and his 7th Marine division arrived on Guadalcanal to provide reinforcement for James Badge Dale’s PFC Robert Leckie and his 1st Marines. This episode set up a plot line that’s going to become a major part of The Pacific: Basilone’s heroic actions which end up (minor spoiler alert) earning him the Medal of Honor.

This episode, directed by David Nutter (The X-Files, The Mentalist), featured a lot of brutal hand-to-hand combat against the Japanese forces, which was contrasted with more mundane but no less crucial, important small details. I’m thinking of the way William Sadler’s Lt.Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller says with a combination of anger and hopelessness, “We don’t have enough men.” Or of the way Leckie tries to drink some peach juice and vomits it up from a combination of exhaustion and frayed nerves… and immediately acquires a new nickname: “Peaches.”

And then there is Basilone’s ferocious fighting, his uncommon bravery battling his natural fears as well as the enemy, resulting in third-degree burns on his arms and Puller telling the Marine he’s “putting you in for a medal.” At that moment, a medal — a reward — seems like the farthest thing from Basilone’s mind.

The Pacific so thoroughly immerses you in the grimy, bloody mess of combat that you feel much as the Marines do by the end of the hour: shaken. And surprised, as when a cook tells the grimy, wrung-out Marines, who think no one outside their immediate company wants to help them, “You guys are on the front page of every newspaper in America — you’re heroes back home.” They’re startled.

This may be one of the few TV shows now on the air to suggest that fame is empty, fleeting. As such, quite aside from its value as dramatized history, The Pacific can serve as an antidote to an awful lot of television that’s addicted to empty fame.

What did you think of the second installment of The Pacific? Is it holding your attention?

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