Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO
“Hurry up and wait”: It’s a ruling concept of military life, and it was the ruling conceit of the first installment in HBO’s seven-part Iraq-war mini-series — which, after all, was written by David Simon and Ed Burns, reality-obsessed masterminds of The Wire, and based on the account of an embedded reporter for Rolling Stone. So, yeah, nothing really happened last night: As we meet them, the First Reconnaissance Battalion Marines are hanging around Camp Mathilda in Kuwait, indulging their homoerotic impulses and wondering when they’ll get to invade Iraq; then they begin leading the invasion of Iraq. But this onion’s got layers, of course. And if the tears aren’t flowing yet, the series has at least started revealing itself. We’ve color-coded our recap: Red for the hawkish, un-p.c. stuff, Blue for the blue-state bait, and Rainbow, well, that’s where we round up all the homoerotic happenings.
An opening monologue, delivered over a robust piss, ends this way: “It’s destiny, dog. White man’s gotta rule the world.” We’re not sure, but this may prove germane to the animating conflict of the series. Mostly, though, our grunts jabber for bravado’s sake. A letter from a schoolboy elicits a ha-ha rant from Corporal Ray Person (James Ransom — Ziggy from The Wire) that turns on the phrases “Wine-sipping Communist dicksuck” and “Peace sucks a hairy asshole.” And then you have the charming Corporal James Chaffin (Eric Ladin) telling Scribe (Lee Tergesen), as he arrives from Rolling Stone and is assigned a bunk, “They got you in the ghetto” as a prelude to some racial slurs that we didn’t even realize were in use anymore. The ensuing tension wends its way to Chaffin declaring that he and a buddy should go and “talk about what we’re gonna do when we get out of the Corps — join border patrol and shoot us some wetbacks.” It all comes to a fine point as they Marines are told how to deal with the fact that they might not able to distinguish Iraqi innocents from enemies: “If in your mind you fire to protect yourself or your team, it’s the right thing.” (Whispered aside: “Yo, I don’t wanna shoot no fuckin’ farmer.” Offscreen rejoinder: “I’d shoot a fuckin’ farmer.”)
Muses Corporal Jeff Carisalez, as he wrenches on his broke-down Hummer (we bet it’s not properly armored, either): “Once a year we need holiday where the blue-collar man gets to go into the home of the white-collar man, eat his food, sleep in his bed, and fuck his shit up.” Replies Person: “Jeff, you realize you’re a Communist.” “Fuck I am!” Class war, though, isn’t the issue here — it’s plain war, and whether the troops are properly supplied and supported. Captain America is already a fount of bitterness. Scribe, he’s from the liberal media, so naturally he’s gonna ask, “You’re invading Iraq with just one translator?” But when we finally meet some Iraqis, on the run from the death squads, and they are “unsurrendered” so the soldiers can keep on the move, we witness the kind of thing that makes your heart bleed: that one translator confiscating the Iraqis’ cigarettes as they trudge off, destination unknown.
Well, there’s Rudy “Rhymes With Fruity” Reyes (apparently playing himself). He likes being naked around the other guys; he talks of moving to San Francisco after the war — with his girlfriend, which prompts some good-natured jeers. And of course there’s all the chatter (Person, shortly after shoving a truck part between Jeff’s legs: “I had to suck an officer’s cock to get this”), some intense shirtless wrestling, and close moments made possible by Hustler. Sergeant Major Sixta, meanwhile, uncorks his rage when he notices improperly trimmed facial hair (“Police that mustache!”) or an untucked shirt (“What are you, some kind of goddamn hippie faggot?” — and what if Person said he was?). It’s all very cute, until one of those surrenders is found to have a photo of himself embracing a male friend, and the excitement ratchets up to something like you might see on a battlefield. —Nick Catucci