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MORIARTY Reviews BAND OF BROTHERS: "The Breaking Point"

Published at: Oct. 14, 2001, 7:47 p.m. CST by staff

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

This episode breaks convention as soon as it begins. There are no survivor interviews this time out, and it’s disorienting. We’re so used to them setting the context of each episode by this point in the series that it seems odd to not see them. I’m not sure what the reason is for the decision, but there’s not a wasted moment in the actual episode. Maybe it was a matter of available time. Whatever the case, the episode starts simply with a date: January 2, 1945.

It picks up almost immediately after the events of “Bastogne,” the previous episode. Easy Company has been ordered to push into the woods near the town of Foy and clear those woods in preparation for a move into the town itself, which is heavily occupied. At first, it’s a cakewalk, 1000 yards of only occasional resistance.

Donald Hoobler, one of the guys who’s been in the show since the very beginning, shoots a German who he surprises in the woods and finally gets hold of a Luger, something he’s talked about wanting since we first met him. There’s a sad irony to the way Hoobler ends up leaving the series, and it sets the mood for this episode, one of the hardest to watch. “Bastogne” may have been marked by horrible conditions, and it may have featured a wrenching conclusion (Doc Roe using the kerchief of the nurse to bandage the hand of one of his soldiers), but this is by far the saddest episode of BAND OF BROTHERS. Be warned; if you have a heart, it will be broken by the end of this hour.

As it is with each episode, the point of view has shifted once again. This time, 1st Sgt. Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) is the focus of the piece, narrating for us. There hasn’t been a lot of narration in the series so far, and allowing us this glimpse at Lipton’s inner life really opens him up as a character. So far, he’s been a solid presence on the series, but quiet. I find it unthinkable that this schlub with the sad eyes was once a New Kid On The Block. Mark Wahlberg may be a movie star, but Donnie is an exceptional character actor. Unrecognizable at the start of THE SIXTH SENSE in a key role, he’s virtually invisible here as well. In some ways, that’s what makes Lipton so great. He’s as ordinary as can be, a great personification of the average American at war. He’s not a great strategist or a fearless warrior or a rugged G.I. Joe. He’s just a guy doing what he’s asked to, doing what he must. If there’s a job to be done, no matter how small, Lipton steps in to help. He’ll dig foxholes with the men of Easy, even after his own is taken care of. He’ll do his share and more in each case. And when he has to, he’ll cover for his C.O.

By this point, Lt. Dike (Peter O’Meara) has taken over command of Easy, and he’s “an empty uniform,” as one character puts it. He vanishes for long stretches of time, abusing his connections to upper brass to shirk responsibility. He’s the exact opposite of Lipton in many ways, and the relationship between them is key to the episode as a whole. Lipton covers for Dike not because he likes him or even respects him, but because he feels it’s important for the overall integrity of the company. Winters (Damien Lewis) and Nixon (Ron Livingston) both know Dike is incapable of doing his job, but they also know there’s no way to remove him gracefully. All Winters can do is hope Dike rises to the occasion at the right moment, and that no one gets hurt in the meantime. They discuss possible replacements for Dike, and we get a frank assessment of each man’s faults and weaknesses, a sign of how well Winters and Nixon know these men. The only person who comes even close to measuring up, in their opinion, is Buck Compton (Neal McDonough), but both are acutely aware of the shift in Compton after being shot in Holland and hospitalized. There’s something more serious about him, almost haunted. Even the men notice, and that worries Winters and Nixon.

As they dig into their positions above Foy, the men use that time to talk and joke and reflect, and it’s rough to watch. There’s no sign in these moments of a war. It’s just a group of men doing any job. By this point, seven episodes in, we’re really starting to recognize the faces, and we’ve seen these men change over the course of the series. Bill Guarnere (Frank John Hughes), Lipton, Donald Malarkey (Scott Grimes), Babe Heffron (Robin Laing), Shifty Powers (Peter Youngblood Hills), Frank Perconte (James Madio), Popeye Wynn (Nicholas Aaron), Bull Randleman (Michael Cudlitz)... these men have come to be closer than friends. They really are a band of brothers, as the title suggests. The ties they share go deeper than typical friendship. They’ve suffered together. They have matching scars. At one point, they do an injury roll call, and we realize just how much of Easy’s blood has been spilled on the soil of Europe, and just how tough these men are to get back up and soldier on.

Once the bombing starts, the episode starts to get crazy. The German artillery shreds the forest, turning the trees into firebombs, sending sprays of flaming wooden shrapnel everywhere. There’s something oddly beautiful about it, and Lipton compares the moment to the Fourth of July at first. That’s before the men start to get hurt, and hurt badly. Joe Toye (Kirk Acevedo) is the first one down, and here’s one of those moments where a reality-based makeup goes so far beyond even stuff like GUINEA PIG or Bill Lustig’s MANIAC for me in terms of impact. Toye has one of his legs blown off, and the way the scene is orchestrated, the way the makeup is shot, and the way Acevedo acts all combine to really sell the horror of the image. You ache out of empathy as you watch Toye struggle to find cover. Guarnere hears Toye’s cries during a lull in the shelling, and goes to try and help. What happens next is so horrible that it literally ruins Buck Compton once and for all. There’s a shot of Compton that is show each week during the show’s opening titles, him dropping his helmet in the snow, and this is the episode where that shot finally shows up. It speaks volumes about the emotional wounds that war inflicted, and how in some cases, those were deeper than the physical ones. This is his breaking point, the end of his leadership.

Warren Muck (Richard Speight, Jr.) and Alex Penkala (Tim Matthews) also suffer a shocking, terrible fate during the shelling of the woods, inches from where George Luz (Rick Gomez) is crawling towards them, trying to join them in their foxhole. He ends up huddled with Lipton in another hole, and when a shell lands in the hole with them, they have no reaction. They are frozen by fear, by what they’ve already seen, and they simply wait for the inevitable. It doesn’t come, though. The shell is a dud. They are spared, free to join the other men to pick up the pieces, both physically and emotionally, of what’s left of Easy Company. Lipton finds one private who is so scared, so freaked out, that he’s trying to dig a foxhole with his bare hands, shredding his fingernails clean off in the process. Lipton sends him away, commenting in his narration that “fear is poison in combat... destructive... contagious.”

When the assault on Foy finally comes, there is both total failure and total success, depending on which characters you’re referring to. Dike screws the pooch, but Lipton and Ronald Spiers (Matthew Settle) are there to make up for it. They’re the ones who prove to be real leaders, natural leaders, and they both exhibit heroism that can only be called uncommon during the battle. It’s amazing stuff, strongly etched here by Graham Yost, who wrote the episode, and David Frankel, who directed it. In the end, this episode is terribly sad, as is fitting, since it demonstrates the enormous cost these men continued to pay, even this far into the war, and just how many scars were left, both seen and unseen.

As always, HBO premieres BAND OF BROTHERS on Sunday night at 9:00 with repeats throughout the week.

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • Oct. 14, 2001, 8:06 p.m. CST

    Wow

    by fladnaG

    This series has just been absolutely incredible. It has all these extra and vital emotional attachments that I felt was somewhat missing in Saving Private Ryan. When I saw the preview for this episode I knew it was going to be an assault on the senses. I hope it's all Moriarty says it is. Finally, I have to say it. I promised myself I wouldnt but what the hell. FIRST. At least I hope Im first. If not then go Cardinals.

  • Oct. 14, 2001, 9:53 p.m. CST

    It's good..but..

    by Horus

    I dunno , it just seems like reheated Saving Private Ryan a lot of the time {with a lot of Full Metal Jacket and a touch of Thin Red line}Overuse of that weird ,none blurring jumpy film technique is robbing it of a lot of it's original impact.And to be honest, if theres no tanks or wrecked buildings in frame , some of the battles look woefully like four guys f***ing around in someones back garden, and playing at being soldiers!That said , it is exceptional TV I suppose.

  • Oct. 14, 2001, 10:26 p.m. CST

    Actually...

    by Andrew

    ...this episode did have survivor interviews at the beginning. You must have come in late.

  • Oct. 14, 2001, 10:29 p.m. CST

    but NOTHING, this is manditory television

    by Fresno Bob

    I dont know what show you're watching pal, but this is one of the greatest miniseries of all time. The action in BoB looks a lot like SPR and Thin Red Line because its all in WWII. There is nothing here to bitch about. These guys saved the world. This is their story. It deserves, needs, to be told to everyone. Period.

  • Oct. 14, 2001, 10:38 p.m. CST

    Wonderful

    by Medium_Cool

    Band of Brothers is the best show on television ever. It's so great to be able to experience something like this. Both my grandfathers were in Europe in WWII and now I can get a visceral glimpse into what it must have been like for them. Band of Brothers is simply wonderful.

  • Oct. 14, 2001, 11:37 p.m. CST

    Nitpicking

    by Media Fiend

    Moriarty, while I greatly enjoy your reviews ( for the most part ), last week in your BOB review you mentioned Hitler was German. Actually he was Austrian. This week you said no interviews at the beginning, there were. While relatively small points, your misinterpretation of these facts wound up coloring both your reviews on whole. All in all, usual great job, but as a former College paper film columnist, and all around fact-freak, I couldn't help myself.

  • Oct. 15, 2001, 1:59 a.m. CST

    Best and Worst

    by RowdyHagg

    This is one of the best episodes yet, and it is one of the worst. It painted a realistic picture of what happened to these men and how they felt. On the other hand we had to say goodbye to certain members of Easy Company that we had grown attached to. If anyone had any doubts before as to the horrifying trauma of WWII, all they need to do is watch this episode. I think BoB has made more people realize the sacrifices that so many people have made for this country and the world. Thanks.

  • Oct. 15, 2001, 2:28 a.m. CST

    Hmmm...

    by drew mcweeny

    Mea culpa on the Hitler/Austrian thing, but I double checked my tape. I guess for whatever reason, the survivor interviews weren't ready to be put on the review copies that were sent out for this episode. None appear on my tape at all. I'll tune in to see the beginning when it repeats this week. Eager to see what I've missed...

  • Oct. 15, 2001, 10:19 a.m. CST

    Best of the Best!

    by soloh

    Must viewing in this series and for Television in general this year. What a Fantastic episode- excellent work by all actors (even a Whalberg ;), stunning visual work, great writting. When Spiers leads the final charge and helps save E company my girlfriend and myself were cheering :) Excellent expose on the importance of leadership ! MTFBWY Soloh out

  • Oct. 15, 2001, 12:53 p.m. CST

    Moriarty - you speak the truth!

    by Coolhand Luke

    "Be warned; if you have a heart, it will be broken by the end of this hour." Mine was. The bombing that Easy Company endured was truly heartwrenching. I don't think I took a breath or blinked during the bombing scenes. This series is really something special. Something not related to last night's episode - Has anyone else seen the half hour special on HBO on the making of Band of Brothers? I've only seen it on once and I feel asleep halfway through. I was on at a really random time like at 2AM on a Tuesday morning or something. I think it was after episode 2. I'd love to check it out again but I never see it on. Anyway, this is an amazing series and I'm already getting a little sad knowing its going to be over shortly. Thanks for the great review Moriarty. Coolhand Luke

  • Oct. 15, 2001, 1:53 p.m. CST

    Glad that shelling is over

    by BeefsteakCharlie

    It

  • Oct. 15, 2001, 2:32 p.m. CST

    incredible

    by twan_deeth_ree

    I didn't think that they'd be able to top last week's episode, but goddamit if they didn't do a heck of a job trying. I think I've cried at just about every episode and I almost did during the survivor interviews alone during this one. God I'm such a pussy. That scene with Spiers running through the Germans to get to I-company and then running back through again. Jesus. POOPED MY PANTS. BoB has done the impossible: made me forget how much I've been missing my Sunday night Six Feet Under.

  • Oct. 15, 2001, 3:08 p.m. CST

    Backstreet Boy

    by Maturin

    I can't believe this is the same guy that I so despised in the early nineties. He really pulled off one of the better performances in the series so far. But (and I know I'm nitpicking here) why didn't he have a West Virginian accent? I have relatives from W. Virginia, and they don't sound anything like Donnie Wahlberg. The series has been so good about having accents be dead on--why didn't they get old Donnie a voice coach?

  • Oct. 15, 2001, 4:49 p.m. CST

    Survivor interviews

    by Purple Toupee

    I could have sworn there WERE survivor interviews in the beginning....they were all talking about not being able to think about it when their friends dropped dead during combat. Yes, there were most definitely some survivor interviews.

  • Oct. 16, 2001, 12:03 a.m. CST

    TRULY BRAVE AND REAL

    by punisherusmc

    I think that last night the show was brave eliminating such strong and notable characters and at the same time the viewer not only gets a slight glimps but also shares in the emotional turmoil and personnel investment in these men that the survivors had. I truly think that this was one of the best episodes so far in a truly great mini series, that i believe conveys the war better than 99.9% of the movies out there can.

  • Oct. 16, 2001, 5:25 a.m. CST

    Great Episode but even greater...

    by DarthLebowski

    ...is watching BoB in Dolby Digital and High Definition! IF you have HDTV and a receiver that can decode dolby digital, go now and get digital cable from Time-Warner cable, and make sure to ask for the HD receiver! I was out of town this weekend so I had to watch this week's episode on a regular TV without dolby digital... I must say I just couldnt get close to the guys like I could with the incredible sound and picture I get at home. I'm just waiting for HBO to rerun it again so I can experience like I have the last 6 episodes. Some of you just don't know what you are missing. To experience the best show ever made for television, make it a movie going experience, get HDTV!

  • Oct. 16, 2001, 2:18 p.m. CST

    real names

    by BeefsteakCharlie

    I know for certain Sobel is the same name as the one in the book. So I'm pretty sure it's true, and Dike's as well. Ambrose's book is extarordinarily well researched, from interviews with many of the men. The portrayals are accurate, though not always flattering, but that's history. And for all of Sobel's pettiness and cruelty, the book makes very clear that he played a major role in shaping the Company.

  • Oct. 16, 2001, 8 p.m. CST

    excellent episode (plus some thoughts on the real Sobel)

    by Brother Putney

    Excellent episode but I'd have to say it took me places I didn't really want to go. That's definitely saying something, though, because I'm about as jaded a viewer of pop culture as you can find, and I was... forcably moved by "The Breaking Point." As for the real Sobel, his is truly a tragic situation, something far beyond good guy/bad guy classification. He never really got over the blow of losing Easy Company and felt betrayed by the men, even when many of the members later claimed that his harshness was a key component to what made them special and close. Later in life, he struggled with mental illness. Guarnere ("Gonorrhea")tried to reach out to him and kept his veteran's dues paid but Sobel couldn't bring himself to speak to him. Eventually, he attempted suicide but was unsuccessful and remained alive for two years afterward. I think (with hopeful optimism) that nobody really sets out to be a mean person on purpose. Some of it's ego and psychology, articulation and execution, and a lot of it is simply this: it's very frickin' hard to be the boss, particularly in matters of combat. Every time I watch the show, I think, "God, I wouldn't want to be out in the snow," or "I wouldn't want to be a medic, they have to run into the worst stuff and they can't shoot back." But mostly, it occurs to me that being in that situation and being responsible for the lives and well-being of others would definitely be the worst.

  • Oct. 17, 2001, 12:53 a.m. CST

    Finally saw it...

    by shadowbox

    Missed it on Sunday and finally saw it tonight. This series just gets better and better. My favorites so far have been Ep. 3, 6, and now 7. The telling of Albert Blithe's story in Ep.3 was stunning. Last week, I sat watching, huddled on my couch, worried my toes would freeze off, unaware that it was about 72 degrees in my living room. And now this week--I was deeply moved. And then felt so amazingly patriotic and had a smile from ear to ear when Lt. Speirs kicked some serious ass. And Walhberg continues to amaze me. From "Teddy" in Randsom to the Sixth Sense, and now BoB. Can't wait for HBO to release this on DVD.

  • Oct. 21, 2001, 9:32 p.m. CST

    The awesome Lt. Spiers is still with us

    by Lt. Torello

    Hope he's been having a great life 'cause he sure earned it. Did he kill German POW's? Who knows? Fact is, he saved Easy Company. BTW, that's Malarkey who's been jonesing for a Luger since ep 1. He's also still with us. So is Guarnere (sp?). This ep has survivor interviews, but for some reason they come before the opening credits, rather than after. Slightly different opening, same unbelievably great show. BRING ON THE DVD!!! Both this AND Buffy on F/X five nights a week -- I've never felt so blessed to own a TV.