In the third part of Band of Brothers, Private Albert Blithe struggles to cope with the horrors of war. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Band of Brothers.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of war, shell shock, PTSD, and extreme gore.
- Jesus christ, what an experience, y’all.
- I feel like I’m going to be repeating myself on a few notes while watching this, though it’s due to the consistency of the cinematography in this show. It is very easy to get lost in the experience of these battles, and the intimate camera work is largely responsible for that. I really hope there’s some sort of documentary on my Blu-ray set that helps shed light on how the fuck it was possible to make this show, because I’m flabbergasted. It’s so realistic that it barely feels fictionalized. Not that this is fiction, per se, since the battle over Carentan was very much real, and I knew going into it that it was a brutal, deadly, and prolonged fight. (I’m still dreading the Battle of the Bulge, which, timeline-wise, really has to be a part of this. Oh gods, are they going to do Bastogne, too? That’s only a few months down the line from where they are now in the show.)
- In a change from the first two episodes, “Carentan” instead follows someone other than Lt. Winters, though Winters is integral to the story. Marc Weber (who is also fantastic in State of Play) gives us a haunting performance of a man shocked into blindness who must overcome his own fear in order to avoid letting down the men around him.
- To say that “Carentan” was difficult to watch is an understatement. This is an incredibly violent depiction of the siege that doesn’t shy away from showing us what this experience is like. And I think it’s important that this episode is so much more intense than the others because it’s about Blithe’s response to that intensity.
- And his growth over this episode is bookended by the Edelweiss, the flower Blithe finds on a dead German paratrooper, one that’s supposed to be the mark of a true soldier. It’s initially shown to us as a sign of irony, since that “true” soldier is dead on the battlefield. It – oh. oh god I just realized the horrible irony of what it comes to represent for Blithe, too.
- Wow, this episode is ruining me still.
- If the twenty-minute sequence portraying the Brécourt Manor Assault was vivid for me, though, then the siege on Carentan is a billion times worse. From the get-go, these men are at a disadvantage, and then it’s just one disaster after another. And yet, they still persevere. But this doesn’t ignore the cost of that perseverance. Two men are downed right from the start, and then there’s a steady procession of brutal, gory deaths and unfathomable injuries. And “unfathomable” feels like the right word because I can only view the carnage. I can’t understand it. I have no experience with it, and I can’t empathize with it. I can only watch in horror and shock. The show is almost clinical with these depictions, moving from one blown up leg to a headshot to an explosion that rents a body apart. If the deaths are sometimes impersonal, I felt like that was more about how this war had to be impersonal at times. It’s an almost existential horror unfolding before us.
- Which touches directly on what 1st Lt. Speirs addresses later in “Carentan.” How much humanity must these men give up in order to preserve it for the rest of the world? Do they sacrifice their own compassion and heart for the good of the world? How much of that is expected of them? And what of people like Albert Blithe, who can’t let it go, who can’t disassociate or detach from the horrible violence around them?
- The images on the screen are, as I’ve said before, as surreal as they are intensely real. The image of a Father blessing dead bodies while bullets and shrapnel and grenades go flying by was haunting, but it’s part of the fabric of this world. We may not always see through Blithe’s eyes in “Carentan,” but the director wants us to understand what Blithe is surrounded by. Why would his mind suddenly shut off his sight? Why would he be so worried about letting his men down? These questions are answered by the context clues provided in the course of the episode. We know from the interviews at the opening that fear was always present in these men, but they had a need to avoid disappointment from others. So how was Blithe going to overcome his own fear?
- Initially, he doesn’t. He’s faced with the ambush the company got hit with while marching from Carentan, which is particularly brutal. As men around him die violently, he can’t find a way to get a grasp on reality. It was clear that the men who knew Blithe, like Sgt. Martin, were aware that he wasn’t dealing well with the trauma of war, but what could they do? Nearly all of them were scared shitless themselves.
- And lord, 1st Lt. Speirs DOESN’T REALLY HELP, at least not at first. His speech about believing that you’re already dead tapped into Blithe’s more intense fears, and it only made him worse.
- It’s meaningful, then, that the only person who truly helps Blithe is the same man who helped him snap out of his hysterical blindness: Lt. Winters. Winters offers Blithe a kind of stability that none of the others did, and I think it’s because Winters encourages Blithe to find his courage instead of berating him for his lack of it.
- That whole second ambush was a difficult thing to process, and it’s the goriest part in a lot of ways. (Except for the scene with Tipper during the Carentan fight, good lord.) And yet it’s here that Blithe is able to focus, to find stability, and to take down his first German soldier. As much as Speirs insisted that the only way to make it through war is to sacrifice one’s humanity, I found Blithe’s actions to be the opposite of this. There’s something touching about him going to find the man he shot and to transfer the Edelweiss to his own jacket.
- Unfortunately, Blithe’s growth due to his experience has a tragic consequence: it leads him to volunteer to check out a cabin days later, where he’s shot in the neck at the front of the line. It was heartbreaking to watch, but then we see him alive in the hospital a few scenes later!
- Which is then followed by the devastating scene in Mrs. Lamb’s house, where Malarkey learns of the dead by finding out who didn’t pick up their laundry. GOD. GOD.
- AND THEN THE CAPTION AT THE END SAYS BLITHE DIED IN 1948 AFTER NEVER RECOVERING FROM HIS WOUNDS
- AH, FUCK. FUCK.
- You know, I just sort of realized that Mrs. Lamb and her… daughter? Assistant? They’re the first women in the show. Lord, this really is a dude fest.
- So, that was intense. And I’m dreading where this is heading next.
The video for “Carentan” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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