While there has been plenty of tragedy so far in Catch-22, Episode 5 is fittingly the shit-hits-the-fan episode. Davies and Michôd pack much of the novel’s dark material into this episode, and while the pile-up feels a bit much, it mostly works in spite of some contrivances. They evenly pace each discrete event, allowing them to convey individual impact until it reaches a cumulative crescendo. It begins with Yossarian receiving a promotion so that Cathcart and Korn can save face, and ends with him jumping out of a plane with his balls possibly blown off. In between, Yossarian’s mental state finally starts to crumble.
After receiving his promotion, Yossarian requests a 48-hour leave to go to Rome to inform Nately’s fiancée, Clara the prostitute, of his death. Cathcart quickly denies his request, but Yossarian hitches a ride with one of Milo’s planes anyway. But when he arrives, he finds Rome in a state of complete disarray. The brothel has been raided and closed. The streets portend doom around every corner, such as when Yossarian finds a group of men beating a dog with a stick. Director Grant Heslov imbues each of the Rome scenes with subdued chaotic energy, communicating that this once-beautiful place has completely devolved. Davies and Michôd neatly capture this mood in the scene when Yossarian struggles to tell Inez, Clara’s kid sister, about Nately’s death despite the language barrier. Yossarian hands Nately’s ring to Inez so that she can give it to Clara, but he can’t understand her when she tells him that Clara has abandoned her. On top of that, Inez believes Yossarian is trying to exchange the ring for sex. He’s dismayed when she pantomimes a handjob and soon walks away from the girl entirely.
While Yossarian roams the streets, Aarfy finally shows his true nature by raping and murdering Michaela, the residential maid. Catch-22 has not exactly been coy about Aarfy before this moment. There have been enough seeds of his creepily detached, perverted sensibilities before to make Michaela’s assault not feel like it’s from out of left field. Davies and Michôd draw the scene out to maximize the horror, but it doesn’t feel especially prolonged or exploitative. Heslov cuts between Yossarian’s solo adventure and the crime in the apartment so that the audience isn’t forced to sit with Aarfy and Michaela throughout the whole ordeal. He employs the sound of a record player’s needle scraping against a record to provide the scene with an unsettling edge. Heslov even cuts to an insert shot of the record player at one point to break up the scene and to aurally communicate the isolated terror of the moment. Better still, Heslov doesn’t actually show Aarfy throwing Michaela off the balcony. He includes a shot of him peering over the balcony from afar only to reveal what happened when Yossarian finds passersby surrounding her body.
In the book, Michaela’s rape and murder has a dual function: to illustrate the hypocrisy of Aarfy’s protective attitude toward women (he refuses to pay for sex and often “protects” women from fellow officers in the hopes that his nobility will later pay off), but mainly to reflect the perversity of a military institution driven by such inhumane ends. Davies and Michôd re-create the scene from the book when the military police raid the apartment following Michaela’s death. Yossarian expects that they’re coming to arrest Aarfy, but it turns out that they’re really there for him because he went AWOL. They leave Aarfy in the apartment and subsequently vindicate his own belief that he could commit such a horrific act and get away scot-free. After all, they’re not gonna put good ol’ Aarfy in jail.
Heller never explicitly follows up on Aarfy’s fate beyond that moment in the novel. It’s designed to be sickly ironic that the system will protect someone like Aarfy but not the likes of Yossarian. It obviously wouldn’t play very well if Davies and Michôd treated Aarfy’s crime like a casual afterthought in the series, so they make the interesting choice of using the act as a linchpin for Yossarian’s discharge. Cathcart and Korn travel to the Roman jail where Yossarian sits to offer a deal: He stays quiet about Aarfy and he gets to go home. Davies and Michôd are clearly trying to reframe the scene in a post-#MeToo context; it’s not difficult to imagine a similar scene in a corporate setting with buyouts and NDAs instead of verbal agreements. If you’re going to incorporate Aarfy into a prestige-TV version of Catch-22, this is probably the best way to do it.
Unfortunately, it ends up being a moot point. Scheisskopf, now a general, travels to Pianosa to take over operations from Cathcart after Milo bombs the Army’s own base so that the Army will have to purchase replacement parts and planes from the syndicate. Naturally when Scheisskopf gets word that Yossarian stands to be discharged, he takes control of the situation, voids Cathcart’s deal, and demands he fly four more missions to meet the quota of 55. As he walks out the door, Scheisskopf mentions that his wife sends her regards. Yossarian realizes that as long as Scheisskopf is in charge, he’s never going home.
In the end, Michaela is dead, Aarfy walks, and Yossarian is back up in the plane once again after receiving yet another assurance that he would never have to fly again. Plus, for all his trouble, Yossarian takes a hit in the groin, possibly blowing his balls to kingdom come. As the plane begins to go down, Orr tells the crew to make a jump for it and that he’ll catch up to them. But as Yossarian slowly floats to the ground, he watches the plane to see if Orr jumps. He never does. All of Yossarian’s friends are now gone. His worst fear has come true. He’s all alone, with shrapnel in his testicles, tumbling toward land with three more missions to go.
• I wasn’t wild about how the big Milo set piece plays out. Sure, it’s fun to watch explosions and such, but it’s made hollow by the fact that the series doesn’t really address the reality of the situation. Davies and Michôd treat Milo attacking his own country’s men and property for profit like it’s just another quirky event. I suppose it’s consistent with the series’ view of Milo, but if every war scene has Saving Private Ryan–esque gravity, then this bit deserves at least a follow-up.
• It might be overkill, but it’s a pretty cathartic moment when Yossarian threatens to kill Aarfy on the tarmac. Even better is when he tells him he hopes he dies just before he jumps out of the plane. Abbott plays the rage very, very well.
• The episode closes with Vera Lynn’s rendition of “We’ll Meet Again” scored over Yossarian slowly parachuting to the ground.