"Bomb in the Garden" (1x07; HBO, 8/24/08)
Read more after the jump.
We expected Generation Kill to be ugly because it's about the military (our military, no less), it's about Iraq, and because it's a David Simon/Ed Burns production. And as it begins, introducing the Marines at their most racist, sexist, homophobic, chauvinistic, juvenile, and jingoistic, the miniseries certainly keeps our sympathies for its subjects at arms' length. However, as we should all expect by now from Simon and Burns, Generation Kill devotes time and care to stretch its portrayal of Marines -- and especially the guys in Bravo Company's second platoon -- beyond the merely ugly. The grunts that we see are thoughtful and reptilian, pragmatic and hopeful, eloquent and profane, baby-killers and peace-keepers, Dartmouth grads and goonish mouthbreathers, idealistic and homicidal, sometimes all at once, and almost all self-aware. In short, these grunts, in their acrid, fragrant glory, are the most realized characters you can get in seven episodes -- which is a testament to the possibilities that televisual narratives offer over other entertainment media -- and go a long way to dispelling the odious myth of an American service full of immoral, criminal, brain-dead thugs.
Similarly, the entire series itself is at once hilariously irreverent and despairing, an incisive depiction of the difficulties plaguing the Iraqi invasion delivered through the most scathing and humanist indictment of institutional power since... hey, The Wire. "Bomb in the Garden" drives home all of the themes that arced through Generation Kill (which will remind viewers of The Wire): that individuals trying to affect structural change will always be crushed by those faceless, detached leaders whose first duty is to make good political theater, a structural hierarchy dramatized most vociferously once First Recon Battalion reach and occupy Baghdad. Sgt. Colbert tries to single-handedly defuse the unexploded ordinance littering one neighborhood, explaining that "if we keep killing civilians, we're gonna waste this fucking victory," only for his one-man mission to be cut short, leaving a live shell half-buried in a hole next to a residential home. (To add insult to injury, he's told that a bunch of Iraqi kids playing on a destroyed tank were slaughtered by newly arrived Marines. "They're screwing this up," Colbert says in disbelief. "Fucking idiots. Don't they fucking realize the world already hates us?" This from the guy who once told some liberated Iraqis, half-jokingly, to vote Republican.)
His commanding officer, Lt. Fick, tries his best to organize efforts to restore basic services for the civilians but is thwarted by the chain of command which constantly re-billets his platoon before they can effect any significant, positive change. In the end, because of how poorly the whole operation was planned (the entire battalion has only one Arabic-speaking translator, which prevents them from sending out more than one patrol a day -- to wit, "How the fuck are we supposed to take over Baghdad on one patrol a day?"), all of their best efforts are about as lasting as Ray's, who in the beginning of the episode left his mark on Iraq: writing "USA" into the sand with his piss.
Indie rating: Roger Miller - "King of the Road"