Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Combat Review: The Long Way Home


                                                  The Long Way Home, Parts I & 2

                                                        Written by Edward J. Lakso
                                                            Directed by Ted Post
                                                       Part 1: Aired 08-Oct-1963
                                                       Part 2: Aired 15-Oct-1963

            “You’re wrong. We’re the ones winning this war, not you.” -Saunders

            There’s nothing like a good episode of Combat! when you’re feeling icky. This episode in particular is one of my favorites, though it paints a gruesomely realistic picture of human suffering. Our dear squad is captured, hustled away to a POW camp, and beaten and starved into submission in the hopes that they will reveal important military information. Everyone loses faith (except, of course, our upstanding Sergeant Saunders),but they eventually they all escape and make it back to a little French village in time for some nice wine and a reunion party. I won’t be that person that spills the beans of the entire plot (but…the marvels of electricity and water! Sometimes I wish I were a physics major).

Richard Baseheart plays Captain Steiner and does an excellent job making you hate him, just as Vic Morrow (Saunders) does an excellent job looking wounded, racked with pain, starved, and yet resilient and courageous. The rest of the squad, though in the background for the most part, still executes a stellar and heartbreaking performance and a fierce show of their loyalty to Saunders.
          Steiner is a very clever man—much more intriguing than your standard TV villain who does nothing more but cackle and rub their hands together. Instead of bashing heads and throwing people into solitary confinement, he chooses a much more subtle mode of attack—exploiting weaknesses. Watch carefully when Saunders and Steiner first look into each others eyes. Both men are proud, stubborn soldiers with fierce loyalty—Saunders to his men, Steiner to his Führer. Steiner knows that Saunders won’t crack under a few smacks on the chin, so he finds a breach in Saunders’ defenses—his love for his men. 

Littlejohn (Dick Peabody), Saunders (Vic Morrow) , and Billy (Tom Lowell)

Loving anything causes great sacrifice and pain, and Steiner knows it is exactly this kind of pain that will bring Saunders to his knees.

So what makes Saunders triumph in the end? Steiner undeniably trumps Saunders in wits and brute strength, choosing to attack him in a psychological as well as physical approach. Akers, the other sergeant present at the camp when our squad arrives, offers nothing but pessimism and immediately blames Saunders when their rations are cut and the first escape attempt fails. Even Kirby, Caje, and the rest of the squad begin to doubt their Sarge, giving way to despair at the helplessness of the situation.

Aha! We’ve struck the jackpot. Choosing not to despair is the key to Saunders’ triumph. 

Kirby, Saunders, and Akers

 Think for a moment about the Passion of Our Lord as it is recorded in the gospels, how He says to his disciples “All of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be dispersed.’” All of Jesus’ disciples abandoned Him during His trial, scourging, and journey to Golgotha, except John, who stood at the foot of the cross with the Virgin Mary. The disciples thought that Jesus was going to abolish the Romans and create a powerful new government, giving each of them important positions of authority. They saw Him heal horribly maimed and crippled people, cure children possessed by demons, and multiply a few loaves of bread and two fish to feed thousands of people. They knew Jesus could do anything.  

So when they saw their Master allow Himself to be captured by a bunch of cowardly scribes and elders, to be spat upon and blindfolded like a common criminal, to be scourged, crowned with thorns, and then condemned to the worst death imaginable—well, that was too much. They despaired. Their dreams of freedom, prestige, and political power were lost forever like the drops of blood running down Jesus’ mutilated body.

Despair is the only unforgivable sin. It caused Judas to take his own life. After all, God really cannot help us if we have made up our minds that we cannot be helped.

When Steiner beats Saunders at the end of Part One, it is not just to hurt Saunders but to discourage the squad men even further. If they see their fearless leader limping in silent agony, his clothes and flesh shredded, their faith in him will be shaken and they will despair. And despairing is easy—it’s ingrained in our human nature to want to give up and avoid suffering at all costs. 

Saunders in Steiner's Office of Doom

 But Jesus knew that a greater good would come out of His sufferings, namely, resurrection and complete victory over death. Throughout His horrific passion and the unspeakable torments He endured while hanging on the cross, He understood that the Father had not forgotten Him, even if all evidence demonstrated the exact opposite. Of course, Jesus felt abandoned, enough to desperately cry out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  But He knew ultimately that His feelings did not dictate the truth.

I’m sure we’ve all heard how faith is more than feelings. Feelings can change every hour, but the unmovable truth is that God is constantly present in all of our trials, an eternal anchor in a sea of despair. And although there is no explicit evidence given in the show, I like to think that Saunders practiced some sort of faith (Vic Morrow himself was Jewish, thought not a practicing one).

Saunders never forgot his goal: escape. We have an even better goal: heaven. Let’s not forget it.
Don't Mess with Morrow...


No comments:

Post a Comment