Episode 1 (of 10): “Currahee” (August 13, 2004)
Surprisingly, Episode 1 of “Band of Brothers”, titled “Currahee”, is probably the mini-series’ weakest. Not weak in the sense that it’s no good, but weak in the sense that it’s the first of a 10-episode mini-series, and although it has 70 minutes to work with, that’s still not nearly enough time to introduce the show’s wealth of characters. The writing by Tom Hanks (who also produced the series) and Erik Jendresen is probably too clich’d in spots, and the direction by Phil Alden Robinson (“Field of Dreams”) is decent, with the sequences that opens and closes the episode being stirring and poetic, while at the same time frightening.
“Currahee” opens in England, with the men of Easy Company preparing to board their planes and participate in D-Day. Their job: parachute in behind enemy lines in the dead of night and aid in the invasion of the French beaches by Navy forces. As it turns out, weather conditions make the mission impossible, and the men are treated to a movie to wait out the coming storm. Outside, Easy Company’s leaders, Dick Winters (Damian Lewis) and Lewis Nixon (Ron Livingston), enjoy some quiet time, and the name Sobel comes up.
Sobel, we learn, is Captain Herbert Sobel (“Friends” alumni David Schwimmer) who was once in charge of Easy Company while the men were in training back in the States. A shrill, unlikable, and petty man, Sobel spends much of the episode belittling and tearing down his own men, working under the impression that the more he browbeats them the more they’ll respect him. In fact, the exact opposite occurs — Easy Company does indeed shape up, but only to spite their commanding officer.
The faces and names blur by, but we do get glimpses of personality from some of the mini-series’ more prominent faces: the compassionate Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg); the crass but tough Bill Guarnere (Frank John Hughs); the disciplined and strict John Martin (Dexter Fletcher); and the bull of a man, Bull Randleman (Michael Cudlitz). Although we learn something about these characters, the ones that stick out are Winters and Nixon, especially since they must find a way to save the men of Easy Company from their own commanding officer.
When the action switches to England, the trouble with Sobel comes to a head. Realizing that they cannot go into battle with a man of Sobel’s personality and weak battle acumen, the men decides to resign their ranks unless Sobel is removed. The gamble works, and a new leader is assigned. As the episode closes out, the men of Easy Company gears up once again, and as their planes take off, we see a majestic view (the result of real, authentic props and lavish CGI) of transport planes filling the air as, underneath, warships fill the ocean. D-Day has arrived.
In some ways, opening the mini-series with what amounts to a “basic training sequence” isn’t all that unusual in war movies; it allows you to know the characters and their personalities, and see them bond so that when they do likewise in battle, you understand it. And to be honest, if you haven’t seen the rest of the mini-series, I’m sure “Currahee” won’t come across as the quietest episode of the bunch. After all, you still don’t know what’s coming next, and expectations have not yet set in. But having seen the mini-series through multiple times, I suppose my response to calling “Currahee” the weakest of the 10 episodes was greatly aided (or is that mislead?) by hindsight.
FYI: the title “Currahee” refers to the mountain behind the training camp where Easy Company trained in the States. As punishment by Sobel, the men are forced to run Currahee multiple times, thus the word “Currahee” becomes something of a battle cry for them. By surviving Currahee, they didn’t just conquer basic training, they also conquered Sobel.