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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Band Of Brothers: “Points”

The cast of Band Of Brothers (HBO)
The cast of Band Of Brothers (HBO)
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“Points” (episode 10; originally aired 11/4/2001)

In which the war comes to an end

(Available on HBO Go and Amazon.)

After the raw hell of “Bastogne,” after the chaos of “The Breaking Point,” after the unexpected humanity of “The Last Patrol” and the devastation of “Why We Fight,” it’s easy to find “Points” slightly anticlimactic. It’s an episode of television that ends with a lengthy monologue where one character tells us in voiceover what happened to everybody else as the camera catches glimpses of them during a baseball game. It would be so easy for it to feel like it was unnecessarily dotting every i and crossing every t. And if not that, it would be just as easy for it to feel unbelievably corny. And I’ll admit there’s a point in this episode every time I watch it where I briefly wonder if this is really how the creative team chose to end this miniseries, with a quiet disintegration, instead of something more forceful and powerful. When push comes to shove, I much prefer the final chapter of The Pacific to this one.

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Yet every time I think that, I inevitably get to this episode’s midpoint, where it begins depicting just how difficult it is to transition from being ready for war to being ready for peace—particularly when you’re still in the place where you were at war—and I find myself starting to appreciate what the episode is going for. Yes, Winters’ final monologue is a bit much, and it stalls the momentum. But that’s also rather the point: These men lived. They got to go home. They got to live lives—as attorneys and writers and mailmen and handymen—and they often got to live long ones. They’ve earned a bit of a pause in the momentum, a quick salute to everything they accomplished and everything that followed from there. It’s easy to over-mythologize those who fought in World War II, so ingrained is it in our national consciousness by this point, but Winters’ monologue reminds us of the utter ordinariness of most of these men, how they were elevated as much by the times as by something inherent inside of them.

That goes just as much for Winters himself, on whose shoulders this episode rests. Put simply, it wouldn’t work without Damian Lewis there to hold it together, and it’s Lewis who finds the deeply hidden, yet gracefully executed, spine at the episode’s center. See, throughout this episode, Winters is given the choice of going back to war or trying to find his way back to peace, to that little farm he dreamed of at the end of “Day Of Days.” And he’s genuinely torn about it. Nixon wants him to go back to New Jersey, to take a job at his family’s company. But when he talks with the German colonel who surrenders to him, the colonel tells Winters that he wonders what will happen to men like them when there is no more war to wage. Winters was picked as our window into this world both because he was present for so many of the major events and because he had the sort of career arc that makes for an upward trajectory suitable for a miniseries. But he’s also perfect for this show, because the life he longs for is such a normal one. Yeah, there are very few of us who long to buy a little, quiet farm in the Pennsylvania countryside anymore (at least if the declining numbers of people entering the agricultural industry are any indication), but we can recognize in Winters’ dreams a kind of longing for something quiet and normal that we’ve all felt.

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It’s a gutpunch, then, when “Points” suggests that Winters might plunge right back into the mires of war. Yeah, we know intellectually that even if he was transferred to the fighting in Japan, the end of the war is right around the corner. But Dick Winters doesn’t know that, and he seems ready to lead more men into more battles, both because he just wants to get back to fighting if that’s where he’s headed and, it’s suggested, because he’s starting to fear that he’s been changed enough by war to no longer be the man who can quietly settle on that little farm and live out his days. “Points” is about a lot of things, but its spine centers on the journey of Dick Winters from the man who fears that he’ll never find his quiet oasis back to the man who is not just able to find it but also is revealed to us as one of the series’ talking head interview subjects, still living on that farm and very much a man worthy of the beautiful portrayal he received from Lewis. The war over, Band Of Brothers finds a way to make us long again for peace in “Points,” and Dick Winters is instrumental to that.

It’s also material that not all war stories get to cover that Band Of Brothers looks at by virtue of having 10 hours to play around with. Yeah, many war movies have the section where the characters’ eventual fates are detailed to the audience, but so many of them also place the climax with the big battle. Band Of Brothers places said battle in episode seven, then just keeps going, and even if I find “Points” a bit overindulgent in places, I appreciate the way that it depicts men who are slowly losing their focus and resolve because they’re stuck in Europe after hostilities are over. The structure of Erik Jendresen and Erik Bork’s script for “Points” is driven much more by vignettes than is typical for this series, and that’s part of what makes it feel a little bogged down and logy. But it’s also likely the only way to get inside the heads of these men as they wait for the break that sends them back home to the lives they miss more than anything now. The script also uses the threat of fighting block-to-block through Tokyo well, creating that tension between what we know will happen and what we (and the men) fear might happen.

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But “Points’” strongest element is the sense of waste that comes from every casualty that arises after the German army surrenders. Tellingly, the one death in this episode comes thanks to a car accident, with the other two injuries thanks to a different accident and a drunken private who shoots Sgt. Grant in the head after the latter catches him in the immediate wake of committing two murders. I talked a couple of weeks ago about how I found it interesting that the show didn’t really make an effort to humanize the Nazi soldiers, even if I understood why it did so. Yet “Points” presents them, too, as normal men swept up into this war and longing to return to a world of peace. The old soldier who chats with the young men at the crossroads, the general who delivers the speech to his men that Liebgott translates, the colonel that surrenders to Winters—they’re all presented as the flipside of the men of Easy. It would have been so easy for our protagonists to end up on the losing side of history, and yet here they are, watching as other men try to move past that devastation and on to another life.

The men of Easy don’t meet a single German soldier in combat in this episode, which sets it up as a neat mirror image of “Currahee” (where the same is true, but because everyone is preparing to head into battle). Instead, their enemies become restlessness and anomie. More than other episodes in this miniseries, “Points” gets into the way that it feels to be stuck in a place you’re supposed to have moved beyond. There’s a summer vacation feel to some of the early scenes, as the men head into battle, knowing full well that they won’t encounter much resistance (and ultimately encounter absolutely none), but by the time that they’re still waiting around to find out what happens next—or if they’ll go to Japan—things have taken on a tense, anxious edge, particularly as men begin to get injured or die. I like the way the episode lingers on these moments when it seems like the men might be trapped in some kind of unending Purgatory. It’s war, but it’s not war. There are no battles, but there’s still too much death.

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What’s most notable about “Points” is how it suggests that as much work as it takes to become a soldier, as hard as that training at Toccoa was, it takes just as much work to train yourself to not be a soldier anymore. Around the episode’s midpoint, Liebgott tracks down a man he believes to be one of the officers guilty for the death camps, and he first terrifies the man before chasing him out into the open for someone else to shoot. No matter of what you think of the morality of what Liebgott has done, it’s still a premeditated murder, carried out by men who’ve been exposed to so much death and so much killing that they’re not sure what else to do. To be able to let go of that rage and hatred (especially when it’s deserved, as it is when directed toward the men responsible for the camps) takes just as much concentrated effort as turning yourself into a man capable of extreme heroism and courage. Had Liebgott and company killed that man in battle, it would have been perfectly fine. But with the war over, it becomes something far worse, far more desperate.

“Points,” then, is a mirror for “Currahee” in another, subtler way. If that episode was all steadily mounting escalation, then this one is a steady de-escalation, a backing away from combat that will inherently have less dramatic interest than a crescendo but doesn’t have to be without worth. What’s nice is that “Points” doesn’t strain for effect. Even when it’s outlining the fates of every man who’s still stationed with Easy in the Austrian Alps, it does so quietly and with a gentle dignity. The whole episode is structured not as a paean to heroism but as a release from the horrors of war. It’s about learning to let go, and it invites the audience to do the same, to leave this series and these men behind for a little while. To that end, the final coda—revealing the faces of the older versions of the men we’ve just spent so long following—is a fitting conclusion. By going through this hell, by bonding with their brothers, these men were handed the gift of life, and they did so much with it.

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Life keeps going, and the world keeps spinning. The men who fought in World War II certainly left pieces of themselves back in battle, but they also found a way to get back to an ordinary life. There was a day when they were soldiers, and then there was a day when they were just men again. “Points” and the miniseries that contains it understands that it’s worth celebrating being a good man in peacetime just as much as it’s worth celebrating being a hero in the midst of combat. Listen to the way that Winters outlines what became of these men in the years after the war, the details chosen to highlight who they were. The one I’m always struck by is the fact that Luz’s funeral was attended by 1,600 people—that many people for a handyman! But that’s the world these men were fighting for, the life they quietly went back to living when the war was over. It’s worth honoring that, too, worth honoring the small, silent importance of ordinary lives.

Stray observations:

  • Women and children alert: Interestingly, this episode has almost nothing in the way of women and children (we get a few women in the scene where the war is declared over). Instead, women are talked of more than seen. They’re waiting at home, but the men can’t get to them.
  • It’s a little jarring when Buck Compton turns up again as the catcher. I’m sure it happened in real life, but this episode just throws it in there at the end, because why not. On the other hand, I love the little cameo payoff here, with Winters telling Sobel to salute the rank, not the man.
  • This episode is goddamned gorgeous, it must be said, with Mikael Saloman’s camera capturing the beauty of Austria and the place where the men end up based after the war ends. I particularly love the way that lake is used as a reminder of the natural world that’s starting to reassert itself.
  • Nixon offering a job to Winters always gets me, and even if it’s a little horrifying by modern standards, Winters reciprocating the favor by giving Nixon that whole liquor cellar is another great little moment in the friendship between those two, which the series deepens so well without doing a whole lot to call attention to it.
  • I love how Lewis’ gaze in the scene with the German general giving the speech to his men so perfectly indicates that Winters would give this speech to his men, too, if he only knew how to find the words.
  • Since Alan Sepinwall ranked all 10 episodes in his final review of the series, I will do so as well. In order from best to worst: “Bastogne,” “Why We Fight,” “The Breaking Point,” “Currahee,” “The Last Patrol,” “Day Of Days,” “Crossroads,” “Points,” “Replacements,” “Carentan.”
  • Thank you for reading along with these reviews these past 10 weeks! The audience wasn’t huge there for a while, but it’s been quietly building week by week since “Bastogne,” and that’s always heartening to see. (I’m sure it has more to do with the quality of the show than my writing, but a guy can dream.) From here, I highly recommend you go on to The Pacific, which is a much harder miniseries to watch than this one but possibly even more rewarding. And if you’re interested in what happened to the men when they returned home, check out the ‘90s series Homefront, which isn’t perfect but offers some neat riffs on that idea. As for me, stick around, because next week, I begin a very different journey.
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Next week: Join me as we travel back to the Island for the first season of Lost, starting with the pilot.

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