In the sixth part of Band of Brothers, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so haunting ever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Band of Brothers.
Trigger Warning: For talk of war, death, blood, and gore.
- It’s going to be weird saying I have a favorite episode of this miniseries because the whole thing is so relentlessly upsetting. I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate to say that watching Easy Company suffer through the initial week of Bastogne is my “favorite” thing.
- But goddamn, this episode is an incredible experience. I lost track of how many times I was stunned by the sets or the cinematography or Shane Taylor’s brilliantly subtle acting. So much of what is communicated to us throughout “Bastogne” is unsaid. Obviously, this is a visual episode because there are long stretches without music or without dialogue, and so Taylor has to convey Doc Roe’s headspace to us through grimaces, through physical touch, and through his eyes. It’s a difficult thing to write about, too, because it feels like a novel. I’ve said that before, but it really does fit here.
- I knew Bastogne would be upsetting and frustrating to watch, but lord, I wasn’t ready for this. Doc Roe is the focus of this episode, and it’s really the best choice to show us the chaos and the boredom and the horrors of what these people went through in that forest. But it also allows us to see the other side whenever Roe visits Bastogne to drop off injured soldiers.
- And Doc Roe is an important figure here because we watch as he routinely places himself at risk of harm in order to help his fellow company men. He’s completely in the background of the narrative prior to this episode, so I think it was a bold move to suddenly choose to focus on him. But how does that change our perception of the Battle of the Bulge? What do we learn from it?
- I knew that the forest of Ardennes held a hellish experience for these men, one that was foreshadowed in “Crossroads.” There weren’t enough men to cover the line; they were running out of food and ammunition; they didn’t have the proper clothing; and they were relying on supply drops that, for a number of reasons, just plain didn’t happen. So why show us this experience through the eyes of the medic?
- For me, this episode worked so well because it felt so personal. With only one real exception, “Bastogne” is Doc Roe’s journey through and through. And looking back on what Roe went through, it’s a startling example of the mental toll that war can take. That’s not to say that war doesn’t affect the soldiers, since we’ve seen many examples of that before this. It’s important, though, that Roe’s experience is so different from the other soldiers. He’s running from foxhole to foxhole, often staring at unbelievably intense wounds on people he cares about, and then transporting them to town, where the sheer number of men injured or dying is undeniable. And through Roe, we understand just how low supplies are and just how intense this battle was. We learn about how Toye deals with trench foot, which I didn’t even know existed until this episode. (Those kind of details are so helpful for me, since I don’t know shit about what this was like.) His quest to find a goddamn pair of scissors is part of the storytelling.
- Of course, his emotional journey is also routed in his experience with Renée, a nurse he meets in Bastogne who, along with Anna, are the only people assisting the countless injured men who need help. I’d like to think that there’s almost an envy in Roe, that he wishes he could comfort people as Renée seems to do. He watches her with the men in that church, and she’s always so kind and open to them. It’s not that Roe is a bad field medic or anything of the sort; he’s repeatedly shown to save men’s lives. But he is always separate from the men in those trenches. He eats separate from them, he only uses their “official” names, he’s not really buddies with anyone at all. That distance clearly eats at him, but I also wonder if it’s intentional, you know? Maybe if he stays separate from these men, it won’t hurt so bad to lose them.
- I say that because we witness Doc Roe lose a man while Anna and Renée do their best to assist. The moment drives Roe to a bitterness that’s just sad, and I think that’s why he’s so heartbroken over Renée. He speaks openly with her following the unnamed soldier’s death, and it’s when she utters the most GUT WRENCHING line in the whole episode. That whole bit about her comfort being a curse just punched me right in the heart. Because she does want to help. She’s clearly good at it, and she wants the Allied forces to win. But she is also tired of being surrounded by so much death and suffering, all of which her comforting touch can do nothing to stop.
- I mentioned that there was only one exception to Roe’s POV in “Bastogne,” and even that feels like a direct parallel to what Roe experiences with Renée. Sgt Martin leads a recon mission that ends horribly, as Heffron has to watch as his foxhole partner, Private Julian, dies terribly right in front of him while they are just a few feet away. It’s the futility that eats away at Heffron and Roe, so it meant a lot to me to see Roe comfort Heffron later in this episode with the same bar of chocolate that Renée had given him.
- “Bastogne” is about showing us what it means when someone says that war takes a toll on a person. That’s what we see in Doc Roe, who spends the last ten minutes or so of “Bastogne” in a heart rending state. He’s so… numb? I don’t know how to describe it properly or do it justice. But he spaces out right at the start of that fight (most likely caused by the fire Sisk set) that gets Sisk horribly injured; then, after heading in Bastogne and witnessing the horrific damage caused by the bombing, he discovers Renée’s body amidst the wreckage. And goddamn, y’all, it just hits that man so hard. Again, Shane Taylor is so unreal in this role, and I’m surprised I’ve never seen him in anything before.
- But you know what? He doesn’t give up. There’s a powerful symbolism in him using part of Renée’s clothing to help Heffron, who he finally calls Babe. The Battle of the Bulge, particularly this section of it, was always about resilience, about how these men gave up their Christmas and fought back everything the Germans threw at them. And I don’t think there was a better way to convey that perseverance than through Doc Roe. This was a masterful episode, y’all, and I STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW THEY FILMED THIS.
The video for “Bastogne” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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