Episode 3 (of 10): “Carentan” (August 14, 2004)
If “Day of Days” was a punch in the face, then “Carentan” is a repeated kick in the groin. The episode continues to follow Easy Company in the days after their jump into France, as they are ordered to take the town of Carentan. But taking it is just the first part — the second, and more important part of the mission, is to keep it.
Episode 3 opens with, and follows, the hesitant adventures of one Private Blithe, played brilliantly by Marc Warren. A Southern boy (judging by the drawl), Blithe was lost on D-Day, and as he later confesses to an unsympathetic Speirs, once he realized he was lost, he made no effort to find his comrades and get into the fight. In fact, Blithe hasn’t fired a shot, and isn’t entirely sure if he can. He readily admits to being a coward, and during the taking of Carentan he suddenly suffers from “hysterical blindness”.
In Blithe, the mini-series focuses on the sudden shock of getting thrown into war. It is worth remembering that not a single member of Easy Company has fired a shot at an enemy, or taken a life, before they were parachuted into France in the dead of night in “Day of Days”. While most of the men have grown accustom to the killing, and indeed some even revels in it, Blithe represents those still suffering from prolong shell shock of actually being in a war. A seemingly easygoing, friendly enough fellow, Marc Warren hides his character’s deepest fears in vulnerable looks and a soft, innocent face.
“Carentan” was directed by Mikael Salomon, a cinematographer turned TV director. It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that the filmmakers probably built an entire town just to completely and utterly tear it to pieces with gunfire and explosions. The breathless charge on Carentan is amazing, continuing the gritty visual flair that the mini-series adopted from movies like “Saving Private Ryan”. Salomon choreographs the episode’s many small battles, following individual characters like Carwood Lipton, while managing to keep the larger battle for the town in focus.
The episode was written by E. Max Frye, who continues the infamous legend of Ronald Speirs. In the days after Speirs’ maybe-maybe not execution of German prisoners, we learn what rumors have sprung up around the mysterious Captain. When it comes to Speirs, truth and fiction are one and the same. As Speirs later tells Blithe, the reason why he (Blithe) is afraid is that he hasn’t yet accepted that they’re all going to die. It’s that acceptance of his fate that propels Speirs into death-defying moves, literally charging into Death without a care in the world. If Speirs is the ultimate soldier, then Blithe is the antithesis.
“Carentan” is an outstanding episode, offering the battle for Carentan and then a second battle as Easy and its brother Companies fight off a German counter-offensive in the outskirts of the city. It’s another brutal battle, this one with exploding trees and sod instead of cobblestone floors and brick buildings. Like most of the episodes of “Band of Brothers”, “Carentan” opens with a poetic shot, and closes out with a heart-wrenching scene as one of the soldiers, having forgotten about the dead, is reminded of those who didn’t return to England with him in the most innocent of circumstances — a trip to the laundry.