The HBO original mini-series “Band of Brothers” is the kind of filmmaking enterprise that makes the word “epic” seem inadequate. The series (smartly) takes a myopic view of the war, focusing on a small group of men instead of giving us a grand tale that encompassed all the different shades and theaters of the war effort. It is, for all intents and purposes, a personal story about the trials and tribulations, the victories and defeats, and the heroism and cowardice of a single company in a war that involved hundreds of thousands of companies. The company in question is Easy Company, a tiny fraction of the 101st Airborne Division, the American military’s paratrooper corp. The mini-series, which ran for 10 straight weeks on HBO, was produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, with Hanks serving as writer and director on a couple of episodes.
The men that starts and ends as the heart and soul of “Band of Brothers” is Dick Winters (Damian Lewis), a mild-mannered small-town man who proves to be an extraordinary leader, and Winters’ best friend, Lewis Nixon (Ron Livingston), a rich Easterner who discovers his many inadequacies during the war. The mini-series follows Easy Company from their training to their deployment into France during D-Day, and finally into Germany, where Easy Company liberates Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest — the Third Reich leader’s hideaway mountain retreat.
Through the 10 episodes, the focus shifts between different men of Easy Company, and by series’ end, everyone has been given their time in the spotlight. The remarkable thing is just how well the series works as a single series. At the beginning the characters blend together because there are so many of them, so many names and faces to remember, that they become indistinguishable. By the time the series wraps up with Episode 10, we have intimate knowledge of all those who have survived — and those who didn’t. Because the series is based on true accounts, all of the characters are based on real men, and those who die in the series actually died in real life. This gives the series a grounded and very gritty feel. These people actually died — or lived — through this hell.
The series is based on a nonfiction book by noted World War II historian Stephen Ambrose. Each episode, besides focusing on different groups of men within Easy Company, uses a round robin of directors and writers. Some names are more famous than others, but each one has a very good grasp on the subject matter, and the directors all employ similar filming styles. It helps that the series employs only two cinematographers in Remi Adefarasin and Joel Ransom. The two men provide the series with a constant look and feel, giving the impression of one long 10-hour movie instead of a 10-part mini-series.
The series’ maintenance on a constant vibe is also a testament to producers Hanks and Spielberg. The different episodes range from the storming of a French town to the hellish stand of Easy Company in the Bastogne forest under heavy German barrage. Each episode has its own unique view of the war, but the down-and-dirty and the you-can-die-at-any-moment feel remains throughout. Because the series was filmed for HBO, the language is raw, and so are the violence and massive bloodshed. In a word, “Band of Brothers” doesn’t flinch from the horrors and miseries of war, and those with a squeamish stomach will have plenty to close their eyes at. Everything is here, shown in brutal color. Death comes suddenly and without notice, and survival is a miracle of circumstances.
Besides Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston, other actors of note are Donnie Wahlberg, formerly of the New Kids on the Block, who shows up as an embattled soldier with an unyielding determination to not only survive, but keep his fellow “brothers” alive as well. There’s Matthew Settle as Ronald Speirs, a Captain who may or may not have murdered dozens of German POWs in cold blood. Speirs embodies the stone-cold courage and psychosis of a man born for the single purpose of fighting wars.
Another very smart move by the producers was to invite the real-life survivors of Easy Company to narrate the beginning of each episode. In each one, we see these grizzled men talking about the horrors of the war, the friendships they built, and the brotherly love they shared for the men of their unit — strangers who became closer than brothers. It’s all real and completely honest. The producers also refuse to identify the real-life men of Easy Company until the very end, in Episode 10. This keeps the audience who hasn’t read Ambrose’s book from guessing who will die and who will survive. It works, and the death of various characters was shocking and sad, and the survivals of others were stunning and euphoric.
The things that could be said about the men and women who fought and died in World War II could fill hundreds of books. Maybe that’s why there are already hundreds and thousands of books on the war and those who fought it, and maybe that’s also why there are hundreds — and will soon be thousands — of movies about the war.
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.
Episode 2 (of 10): “Day of Days” (August 13, 2004)
If you didn’t become hooked on “Band of Brothers” after Episode 2, “Day of Days”, then you weren’t cut out for war movies.
With D-Day in full swing, the men of Easy Company are being ferried to their drop zone in transport planes. It’s the dead of night, and everyone is anxious, scared, and going through emotions they didn’t know they had. And then it happens — they begin to hear the sounds of anti-aircraft guns exploding in the air.
Before Dick Winters’ plane even has an opportunity to drop its human cargo, planes are being blown out of the sky all around them. German guns are obliterating planes like ducks in a pond, picking them off one by one. It’s a hellish sight, made more horrific when we see a plane get hit and flames ignite, swallowing up the soldiers in the back like some angry mythical God of fire. Men die by the hundreds even before they have the chance to drop and fight.
We follow Dick Winters as he takes the plunge. Upon landing, Winters realizes that he’s not only alone and far, far behind enemy lines, but his weapons are gone, having failed to follow him down. Locating another lost soldier, Winters seeks out his own men, finding Lipton and more lost soldiers along the way. The drops were not on target, and American soldiers are spread out all across the French countryside in the darkness. Before the night is over, Winters’ men have executed a successful — albeit contentious — ambush, and by morning the men have located a makeshift command center.
With Easy Company’s new commanding officer missing, Winters becomes the de-facto leader. Before they can take a breather, Winters and Buck Compton (“Walking Tall’s” Neal McDonough) are ordered to take out a battery of German artillery firing on the beach. Once again proving he is a natural leader, Winters reveals his mettle as he leads a maddening charge into German-occupied trenches. Here, director Richard Loncraine elects to shoot much of the sequence with the camera moving backwards and the lens trained on Winters’ face as he charges through the trenches, firing and taking fire all the while. There are about three or four amazing sequences, all of them based on Damian Lewis’ hard, focused face as he screams and grunts his way through the mission.
“Day of Days”, besides giving a sampling of the harrowing war action that the mini-series will become known for, also introduces us to Captain Ronald Speirs (Matthew Settle), who along with Winters and Nixon will become the other face that stands out from the crowd. A hard, stoic professional man of war, Speirs is a man of mystery. When we first see him, he has just slaughtered a group of unarmed enemy prisoners. Or did he? We never actually see the confrontation, or if there was even any. Our only “view” of the “slaughter” is the reaction by an American soldier. And so begins the infamous legend of Ronald Speirs.
War has never looked more beautiful and poetic, and at the same time so destructive and evil, than it does in episode 2. The episode itself is short, running just barely 50 minutes. Not that it matters, because the script by John Orloff is crammed with such intensity and efficient character moments that a longer running time would only have been a hindrance. The grueling, 15-minute onslaught by Winters and his men on the German trenches will go down as one of the best war sequence ever shot, with not a single second passing that the viewer won’t be clutching his armchair. It is that good.
What I said before is absolutely true: if you don’t like the brutal war action in “Day of Days”, then you just weren’t made for war movies. If that’s the case, I suggest turning away now, because it’s only going to get worst — or better, from a cinematic point of view.
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.
Episode 4 (of 10): “Replacements” (August 17, 2004)
In terms of forwarding the progress of Easy Company’s core cast, Episode 4, “Replacements”, is the weakest of the bunch. As the title implies, the episode takes up the topic of replacement soldiers — the young, brash boys from America who came to kill Krauts and win the war single-handedly. But as the episode proves, even the veterans, who were themselves wide-eyed brash boys just a few months ago, still remember what it feels like to be scared in battle.
Throughout its run, “Band of Brothers” has tried to focus on one particular character, while at the same time wrapping the rest of the cast, and the war itself, around him. The main face this time around is Michael Cudlitz, whose Sergeant Randleman takes center stage. The replacements have been placed under Randleman’s squad, and it’s through their eyes we see much of the episode.
The episode opens in England, where Easy Company is ordered to take part in Operation Market Garden. They are dropped into occupied Holland, said to be held by “old men and boys”. There, they liberate a town without a single shot being fired, much to their delight. If only that was the end of it. As it turns out, the Germans are laying an ambush in a town farther up the road, and the resulting combat does not go well for Easy Company. Forced to retreat, the Company unwittingly leaves behind Randleman, who must take refuge for the night and try to survive to see morning.
“Replacements” is probably the weakest episode in the mini-series. Although Randleman works as an individual character in a sea of personalities, he doesn’t exactly work as the star of a whole episode. While Randleman’s interactions with his replacement soldiers are endearing and even awkward in the way fathers try to look after their grown boys, I’m not sure if there’s enough of Randleman, as a character, to center a whole episode around. Randleman always seemed to work best as a co-star, not as the star.
But of course this is a war mini-series, and the episode features a fierce battle. Like all battles in “Band of Brothers”, the action in “Replacements” could have been transplanted into a big-budget major motion picture without missing a beat. It’s well done, with German tanks wiping out American soldiers and British tanks from hiding. Once more, buildings explode and the ground implodes in a brilliant choreography of death and violence and fear.
As the Americans flee, we learn that this is, indeed, the first time Easy Company has been routed in combat, and commanding officer Dick Winters observes, with a bitter face, that he dislikes the taste of defeat.
Episode 5 (of 10): “Crossroads” (August 19, 2004)
If “Replacements” failed to find a worthy hero to center its episode around, then episode 5, “Crossroads”, has more than enough firepower to sustain its 50 minutes of soulful meditation and spurts of war action. In “Crossroads”, the focus is entirely on Captain Dick Winters, played brilliantly by Damian Lewis, who has always been good as the stalwart officer in previous episodes. Now, given the task of carrying a whole hour by himself, Lewis proves to be more than up to the task.
“Crossroads” was directed by actor/producer Tom Hanks, and Hanks’ presence behind the camera shows. Not so much in the action, since by now directors are interchangeable to the series — you can stick anyone behind the camera and the action would still look amazing, owing to the craftsmen behind the scenes. But where Hanks does make his presence known is with the actors, in particular Damian Lewis. If “Replacements” failed to show the heart and soul of its central figure, then “Crossroads” bares Dick Winters with a microscope.
As the episode opens, Winters has already been sent to Battalion headquarters; although this means a promotion, it also means he is no longer the commanding officer of Easy Company. Leaving the Company, men he calls “his men”, is not an easy thing for Winters. As he struggles with life behind a desk, worrying about men he now can no longer lead in person, you can practically see the turmoil within the man. When a secret mission by Easy is accomplished without casualties, Winters celebrates with them from his room, happy without having to actually be there.
Confined to a typewriter, Winters has to relive his last combat mission through flashback even as he types the after-action reports. As Winters painstakingly dictates every sequence of events, one gets the feeling he’s not so much a slow typist, or even a man obsessed with the little details, as he is trying to hold onto the memory of that last operation. He doesn’t quite want to let it go, and even though Nixon (Ron Livingston) jokes that he’s taking so long he mind as well write a novel, we know better.
But Winters’ promotion isn’t the only thing weighing on his mind. The face of a young German soldier sentry who Winters killed has been seared into his memory. In a battle that lasts from night to morning, Winters led 30 men into enemy territory, unwittingly finding themselves up against two German SS Companies. The battle turns into a rout, with the Americans picking off the Germans like, as one soldier puts it, “a turkey shoot”. But it’s that one, young soldier, barely old enough to shave, who continues to haunt Winters. Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that the young German SS officer would be the last man, enemy or otherwise, Winters would ever shoot again in the war.
As the episode ends, the men of Easy Company finds their rest once again shortchanged when the Germans break through the Allied ranks in the Ardennes Forest. Sent to replace a ragged army, there is a great sense of foreboding as the men of Easy sees defeated soldiers trudging back to base, having taken a tremendous pounding by the Germans. It’s a sight that won’t be unique, since the end of “Crossroads” signals the coming of the mini-series’ most dreary two episodes. If war is Hell, then what is about to come next is Hell up close.
Episode 6 (of 10): “Bastogne” (August 19, 2004)
Having been forced into the Ardennes Forest to stop the German counter-offensive without proper preparations, Easy Company finds itself short on ammo, food, supplies, and everything else a soldier needs to survive. And while they do have each other, even that may not be enough, especially with their replacement Lieutenant’s propensity for disappearing into his foxhole. Cut off from their supply route and with only the war-ravaged town of Bastogne as their retreat point, things are looking grim for Dick Winters and Easy Company.
Episode 6, “Bastogne”, unfolds through the eyes of medic Eugene Roe (Shane Taylor), a Louisiana Cajun from a family of healers. Before, we had only seen Roe in blurs, as he appeared and disappeared with the casualties. For Roe, his job in the war begins when someone shouts “Medic!”, and ends when they either die or are taken away from him and to a proper doctor. In-between the call for his services and when his services are no longer needed, Roe is detached, alone, and an observer with too much time to think.
If the previous five episodes were rough, they’re nothing compared to the harsh, snow-covered hard grounds of “Bastogne”. Hidden in their foxholes, finding salvation and warmth wherever they can find it, the men of Easy Company are liable to lose their life to the elements rather than the enemy. Speaking of which, the enemy is everywhere. The Allied lines holding the Germans back are so thin and spread out that enemy soldiers occasionally wonder into Easy Company’s camp and vice versa. In one scene, Winters captures a German soldier trying to go to the bathroom a few yards from his foxhole; in another, two American soldiers literally fall into a German foxhole.
Written by Bruce C. McKenna, who also scribed “Replacements”, “Bastogne” earns high marks for its dreary, doom and gloom atmosphere. But if things look at their worst in the forest, Roe’s trips into Bastogne brings some sunlight into the somber episode. In town, Roe comes into contact with Renee (Lucie Jeanne), a pretty local nurse, and a relationship held tenuously by their profession develops. But this is no ordinary Hollywood romance, and “Band of Brothers” is no ordinary Hollywood mini-series. There is no sudden rush to bed, and certainly no blooming lust. What Roe and Renee develop is mutual friendship and understanding; a meeting of minds that ends when he returns to the field and she to her patients.
As the episode comes to a close, a number of themes have begun to show up in preparation for future episodes. Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) has begun to become an important part of Easy Company, asserting himself more among the ranks, even as Dick Winters continues to fade further into the background. Also, replacement Lieutenant Norman Dike’s true colors are becoming apparent, as everyone starts to notice, including the men. As Dick Winters proves, leaders are born, not taught; and Dike is no leader.
Episode 7 (of 10): “The Breaking Point” (August 19, 2004)
Having survived the forest of Bastogne, Easy Company now finds itself in the forest around the town of Foy, waiting for the inevitable order to take the town itself. But before that time can come, the men are forced to wait out German artillery. As the shelling begins, one suddenly realizes that this must be what it’s like to see Hell up close. The trees explode, the grounds crater, and body parts fly. For the men of Easy Company, things have just gotten a lot worst.
Episode 7, “The Breaking Point”, features a starring turn by Donnie Wahlberg, who proves once and for all that he’s the more talented actor in the family. Brother Mark may have the high-paying salary, but I haven’t seen the ex-underwear model do anything approaching what the older Wahlberg pulls off here. It’s probably one of the universe’s biggest mysteries, then, that Mark continues to make the big bucks while starring in one bland movie after another, and Donnie has to rely on TV work to pay the bills. Where’s the cosmic justice in that?
Before “The Breaking Point” is over, the Company’s troubles with replacement Lieutenant Dike, nicknamed “Foxhole Norman” by the men, will have come to a head. Not that we don’t know how the absent Lieutenant, whose greatest talent seems to be disappearing, will react when forced to actually lead the men. We’re not surprised because it’s Carwood Lipton who has carried the load, taking over where Dick Winters had left off. As a character later says to Lipton, he’s been holding the Company together ever since Winters was promoted — he just didn’t know it.
Also, the legend of Ronald Speirs continues, with the number of German prisoners he is supposed to have shot in cold blood growing to 30. Of course we know it wasn’t 30 prisoners from “Day of Days”; then again, when it comes to Speirs, sometimes the hazy legend is on purpose. When Dike freezes during the bloody charge on Foy, it’s Speirs who rides to the rescue, literally slicing through the German ranks like knife through butter. Is it bravery, stupidity, or both? As is the case with all the rumors about Speirs, one can never know.
But “The Breaking Point” belongs to Donnie Wahlberg, as his Carwood Lipton glues the men together even as the Germans unleash Hell itself on the forest. Directed by David Frankel, Episode 7 is probably one of the bloodiest episode, not to mention the most harrowing, of the entire mini-series. By the time the episode has run its course, more than half the regular faces are gone — either killed, wounded, or given in to their humanity. The episode’s coda says it all: what Easy Company endured at Bastogne and Foy scarred everyone, even those who weren’t wounded.
Episode 8 (of 10): “The Last Patrol” (August 20, 2004)
Having miraculously survived the hellish maelstrom of Bastogne and Foy, the ragged men of Easy Company find themselves in the comparative paradise of Haguenau, France. With the war winding down, the Americans and Germans are left to stare at each other across a small river, firing volleys to, one suspect, break the monotony and nothing else. Suddenly realizing that they might just make it out of the war alive, the veterans become more cautious; at the same time, those who had not experienced combat seeks it out before their chances are gone, along with the war.
Episode 8, “The Last Patrol”, is seen through the eyes of Private David Webster (Eion Bailey), nicknamed “The Professor” for his Ivy League education. When we last saw Webster, German shrapnel in “Crossroads” had wounded him; that minor wound sent him to the hospital, where Webster conveniently missed Bastogne and Foy. Now just returning to combat, Webster discovers that he’s looked on by his fellow comrades as no more than a replacement, and that nothing he had done before Bastogne matters.
Realizing, suddenly, that he has lost what fellowship he once had with Easy Company, Webster seeks out new friendship with the just-arrived and very young Lieutenant Jones (Colin Hanks, son of producer Tom Hanks), a recent West Point graduate. A newcomer to the war, Jones has yet to see combat, and his first day on the job brings him to Haguenau, where despite his rank he’s treated just as shabbily as Webster. To the men of Easy Company, who have survived Hell, rank on the shoulders of men who didn’t endure Bastogne means nothing.
With the Germans and Americans at a stalemate, and neither side willing to risk anything with the war on the verge of ending, Winters is ordered to launch a patrol onto the enemy side and bring back prisoners. He does so reluctantly, and once again Easy Company is put into service. None of this sounds very good to Sergeant Malarkey (Scott Grimes), who has seen his best friends killed, maimed, or shocked out of the war. Like many others in the Company, Malarkey may have survived Bastogne, but he carries wounds that aren’t visible to the human eye.
In an odd way, “The Last Patrol” actually makes a better story about replacement soldiers than “Replacements”, which was supposed to be about the topic. Having missed Bastogne, Webster is relegated back to replacement status, and forced to prove himself all over again. The scorn, derision, and general dismissal of him as a human being and as a soldier by the battle-hardened members of Easy Company are effective, thanks to a terrific and subtle script by Bruce C. McKenna and Erik Bork.
While lacking a lot of the war action we’ve come to expect from the mini-series, “The Last Patrol” is still one of the better, and smarter, written episodes. You’d have to watch it more than once to get all the snide attacks on Webster and Jones. As the episode ends, there is a sense that, indeed, the war is about to be over, and all these men might just live to see home again. It’s a shocking realization, but more so to the men who lived it.
Episode 9 (of 10): “Why We Fight” (August 24, 2004)
With the war in Europe all but over, Easy Company finds itself pushing further into Germany. There is no resistance, and any Germans in uniform have fled the advancing Allied forces. As Episode 9, “Why We Fight”, begins, we learn that Nixon (Ron Livingston) hasn’t fired a single shot in the entire war. Winters is now a Major and running the entire battalion.
In a lot of ways, Episodes 9 and the upcoming 10 are the epilogues to the mini-series. There is no major combat left, and Easy Company is left to play military police to the defeated Germans. As the unit continues to push uncontested into Germany, taking over towns as they go, we see the massive German army, defeated and unarmed, marching back home. It is a brilliant sight, the kind of major visual effects that, like most of “Band of Brothers”, is achieved seamlessly.
As life starts to return to the faces of our main characters, and discussions about what they’re going to do when they get back home surfacing with renewed vigor, Webster wonders out loud why they were dragged away from their normal lives and sent across half the globe to fight a war, echoing many of the men’s thoughts, but most of all that of Nixon, whose life back home has completely unraveled. That answer becomes all too clear to both of them in the episode’s second half, when Easy Company stumbles upon the remains of a Nazi concentration camp.
Dead men litter the place, and those still alive are walking bags of bones. It’s a horrific sight, and director David Frankel never once flinches from the quiet viciousness of the place; the sheer brutality inflicted by man upon man. It’s a harrowing sight, and a great dichotomy to the quiet German town nearby, where the civilians claim they knew nothing about the camp. In an act of vengeance, Allied Command orders the townspeople to clean up the camp, stacking up the dead bodies in bony piles, one after another.
As the episode ends, there is no longer any doubt why being uprooted and shipped half across the globe was worth it.
Episode 10 (of 10): “Points” (August 24, 2004)
In many ways, Episode 10, “Points”, is anti-climactic. After the devastating combat of previous episodes, and even the emotional impact of “Why We Fight”, there isn’t much for “Points” to do but wrap the mini-series up. And it does that well enough, with Easy Company now in Austria, doing more military police duty. There are still problems: men are dying from accidents and carelessness, and the ongoing war in the Pacific is threatening to once again conscript Easy Company back into service.
With all these things weighing heavily on his shoulders, Dick Winters conspires to get as many of his war-weary men home as possible. But before Winters can get everyone home, the war in the Pacific comes to a sudden end, and the mini-series closes out with a 5-minute narrative where, in voiceover, Dick Winters tells us what has since happened to the men of Easy Company.
It’s a bittersweet moment, with some old faces returning, including David Schwimmer’s Captain Sobel and the shell-shocked Buck Compton. As we learn what has happened to the survivors, one can’t help but be affected, especially in light of the fact that not all of them had happy endings. Most sad is the ending for David Webster, the Ivy League-educated soldier who simply disappeared off the face of the Earth one day. Others would go on to live a full life, with some still alive at the date of the mini-series’ airing.
As the episode ends, we see the actual survivors of Easy Company, performing their final narration. We had seen these men talk about the war throughout the mini-series, but the show has cleverly never told us who they were until now. We learn that Dick Winters is alive and well, and so is Carwood Lipton, Bill Guarnere, and others. As we look at their eyes, we know the war has changed their lives completely. And it helps to remind us just how much they had sacrificed, and how much we still owe them, and will always owe them.
David Frankel (part 7, 9), Tom Hanks (part 5), David Leland (part 6), Richard Loncraine (part 2), David Nutter (part 4), Phil Alden Robinson (part 1), Mikael Salomon (part 3, 10), Tony To (part eight) (director)
CAST: Damian Lewis … Maj. Richard D. Winters
Donnie Wahlberg … 2nd Lt. C. Carwood Lipton
Ron Livingston … Capt. Lewis Nixon
Matthew Settle … Capt. Ronald Speirs
Rick Warden … 1st Lt. Harry Welsh
Frank John Hughes … SSgt. William ‘Wild Bill’ Guarnere
Scott Grimes … TSgt. Donald Malarkey
Neal McDonough … 1st Lt. Lynn ‘Buck’ Compton
Rick Gomez … Sgt. George Luz
Eion Bailey … Pvt. David Kenyon Webster
James Madio … Sgt. Frank Perconte
Kirk Acevedo … SSgt. Joseph Toye
Michael Cudlitz … Sgt. Denver ‘Bull’ Randleman
Richard Speight Jr. … Sgt. Warren ‘Skip’ Muck
Dexter Fletcher … SSgt. John Martin
Ross McCall … Cpl. Joseph Liebgott
Shane Taylor … Cpl. Eugene Roe (medic)
Peter McCabe … Cpl. Donald Hoobler
Robin Laing … Pvt. Edward ‘Babe’ Heffron
Matthew Leitch … SSgt. Floyd ‘Tab’ Talbert
David Schwimmer … Capt. Herbert Sobel
Marc Warren … Pvt. Albert Blithe
Peter Youngblood Hills … SSgt. Darrel ‘Shifty’ Powers
Mark Huberman … Pvt. Lester ‘Leo’ Hashey
Dale Dye … Col. Robert Sink
Nicholas Aaron … Pvt. Robert ‘Popeye’ Wynn