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Our journey has come to a close. I watched the season finale of Enlisted with a heavy heart, knowing that this episode also serves as the de-facto series finale. But the little show that could fought the good fight, earning the respect and admiration of a solid number of devotees, despite its prime time death slot. This season of television may not have made huge waves or big news, but it has earned a special place in the hearts of many by handling its unique subject matter with uncanny earnestness, distinguishing itself from the modern grim & gritty entertainment landscape. And true to form, Enlisted goes out on a high note, showcasing some of the best examples of its trademark mixture of humor and heart.
The soldiers of Fort McGee rejoice as the Sergeant Major announces that the annual Regimental Ball is upon them, and CSM Cody is particular tickled to reveal that the guest of honor is none other than himself. Meanwhile, SSG Hill gets to enjoy a special celebration of his own as he commemorates his “Alive Day,” the anniversary of the day he experienced an RPG attack that nearly took his life. Rather than being a morbidly defiant kiss-off to the grim reaper, the celebration is instead an expression of progress and healing, as Pete is able to fully open up and come to terms with his combat trauma thanks to his decision to enroll in therapy - and through the love of his little brother. It definitely helps knowing that when it comes to festive cakes and thoughtful gifts, PFC Hill is the #1 man for the job.
But not everyone is in the mood for celebration, as Derrick arrives with the news that he and his girlfriend Erin have broken up. In the previous "Army Men" episode, Derrick was crushed to learn that Erin would soon be moving away, so in cynically pragmatic CPL Hill fashion he decides to break off the relationship to ease the pain. However, what is supposed to be a humane surgical separation plays out as a glorious train wreck, since such clean mutual breaks are of course hardly ever successful, especially when the relationship has grown strong.
Everyone is looking forward to enjoying the festivities in their own uniquely hilarious ways, but no sooner are those dreams shared than they are dashed by the sudden bad news from CSM Cody that the Ball has been canceled due to budget cuts. When Sergeant Major decides to express his lamentation by broadcasting his would-be commencement speech, the entire post is moved to tears by his heartfelt words, whereas Pete is moved to take action by organizing the ball that CSM Cody deserves, budget or not. SSG Hill motivates the soldiers to make their dreams a reality in order to make this ball a night to remember. Randy lands the important job of distracting the Sergeant Major with his powers of pampering while everyone makes preparations for his surprise party. Pete forces Derrick out of his post-breakup depression slump to run PA duty, which includes helping SPC Chubowski make one of those much publicized celebrity date request YouTube videos in hopes of wooing the lovely Lori Loughlin, famous for her role in the family-friendly, late '80s-early '90s sitcom Full House.
When the night of the party arrives, Randy manages to complete his mission despite a major misstep as CSM is surprised to be greeted by his adoring soldiers in full regalia. The CSM receives the touching tribute he deserves, after which the party gets suitably crunk (including a wild dance-off battle between PFC Gamble and Pv2 Robinson that can only end one way) and everyone is rewarded for their efforts. Derrick reconciles with Erin after Chubowski's ruminations on hope and love prompt him to seek forgiveness, and Randy gets to experience the Officer and A Gentleman moment he's been longing for, though probably not in the circumstances he had hoped. On top of the festivities, the troops are treated to a very special surprise when they get a live teleconference message from their fellow deployed soldiers stationed in Kabul. However, just as Pete is about to be recognized for his outstanding leadership, he is nowhere to be seen. Apparently overwhelmed with emotion upon seeing the soldiers out in harm's way, Pete makes a hasty exit from the ball.
CSM Cody knows all his soldiers too well, so it doesn’t take long before he finds Pete sitting alone on the beach lost in his mind, a place he promised he would never be again. It seems that, despite the progress made in therapy and his readjustment to life during his time on Rear-D, Pete cannot let go of the guilt he feels being a survivor of combat when others around him were not so fortunate, making the ultimate sacrifice. The road to recovery is long and winding, and some ghosts and demons may never completely be laid to rest, but just as he learned after his many battles, CSM Cody reassures Pete that he has earned the right to celebrate life. It's okay to feel guilt, but it's also okay to feel joy as well. SSG Hill escaped death where his brothers in arms had fallen, but found even more purpose in life by living for his brothers since birth, and his new found brothers comprised of the soldiers of 2nd platoon.
Throughout the series, each Enlisted episode contains a central emotional moment that serves as a catharsis or turning point in the evolution of these characters. The final scene of this episode is a culmination of all of those moments, leading into an overwhelmingly resonant display of honesty and heart. It was the conceit of SSG Hill's journey into reconnection with life and love. And I have to say, even after all this time, all these episodes and all these years, it was a reverberating resolution that I didn’t even know I needed.
As a support soldier, I am rarely, if ever, in harm's way. I am never on the front lines, and I am seldom in imminent danger. Yet....in some way, I still fear. I always have. The thing is, I didn't need to patrol Baghdad to experience what a hostile urban environment feels like. I didn’t need to be within striking distance of rockets and mortars to know what it felt like to be in danger of random acts of violence and possibly meeting my end at the impact of a stray projectile. I fear for the soldiers outside the wire like a fear for my little brother and older siblings as they walk home from work late at night. I fear for the sanity and safety of my soldiers and comrades doing an inhumanly stressful job like I fear for my wife and close friends who are trying to make it through the struggle each day. I fear for the uncertainty and chaos which plagues the people we are trying to help like I fear the uncertainty of realizing that my ailing parents may not be long for this world. Though I am relatively safer than others, the spectre of death has always haunted me in some fashion. That is why it was such a....relief, or release rather, to take in such an uplifting message at this show's end, with characters who represent different parts of me and the multitude of different personalities I have had the honor of serving with. Even with all its heart, I never expected such a nice, simple comedy to move me in such a profound manner. All I can say is, to the cast and crew and creators and supporters: Thank You.
I want to give special thanks to Kevin Beigel and his talented writing crew for daring to commit to such a premise with the utmost positivity and respect for the “source material,” by which I mean all of us in the Armed Forces. I was not really aware of your previous works, but I want you all to know that even if Enlisted is truly over, I wish you all the best of luck in all of your future projects. Know that whatever is next on the horizon, you have earned my goodwill and ardent support.
I want to thank the cast for representing us in such a respectful and positive manner. Geoff Stults, I would have never imagined anyone would have been able to make an Alpha Male douchebag ground-pounder such a sympathetic, charismatic and positive character. It is really crazy because in the real world I see this all the time. I've encountered many rough men with chips on their shoulders and crosses to bare, but it's the same fortitude and courage which allows them to carry that weight and suffer those wounds that makes them exemplary human beings, even in the toughest of circumstances. I never truly saw that in any piece of modern military fiction until your performance. Chris Lowell and Parker Young, thank you for giving your all into your performances. I feel as though you all connected significantly, in a real way, reflected onscreen in the bond you exhibited as brothers. Together, you all really cemented the bond of brotherhood that was so central to the show.
Kyle Davis, thank you for all the hilarity. One of the great things about the Army is that you meet people from all walks of life that you would never normally encounter. I was surprised to learn that some guys from the Midwest had never met black people until basic training. Even though I'm from the city, I myself was sheltered in that I had never met a Trailer Park Red Neck type until I signed up. But in our meetings, together we learned that we all shared similar struggles and, in the end, we really weren’t all that different. While your hijinks provided much laughter, your character also speaks to a real element of our experiences, and I’m glad you pulled it off. Mort Burke, thank you for representing the unabashedly nerdy side of the modern soldier. Many may be of the impression that our ranks are filled with macho dude-bro meat head Call Of Duty players. And while there is certainly truth to that, I am consistently amazed by those same kinds of people who also turn out to be hardcore WoW players, RPG Gamers, classical musicians, band/glee club geeks, artists, philosophers, hippies and all-around way more intellectual and thoughtful than their profession would lead you to believe. Maronzio Vance, thanks for somehow playing it cool yet totally aloof. With all the skills and knowledge we obtain, we have a weird way of getting full of ourselves but at the same time having no clue of what's going on because the situation at hand is always changing. Still, the ability to keep cool and confident has gotten many a soldier out of the toughest of spots. Mel Rodriguez, thank you for delivering the combo of big laughs and big heart. You're likely already aware that you have become a fan favorite, and Enlisted just wouldn’t be Enlisted without you to add that special magic. And Keith David...you probably hear this all the time, but you are a hero of stage and screen for our people. Just as an actor, few have the range and diversity that you have displayed in your career, and you are exemplary of the idea that we can do anything we set our minds to. I would only add that with your role as the Sergeant Major, the magnitude and gravity of your presence perfectly encapsulates the respect and authority that a real Sergeant Major commands. It also happens that, typically, there appears to be a substantially larger number of black senior enlisted leaders compared to senior officers, so it adds even more credibility to the performance. In other words, your work on this show may be your finest performance yet.
I also want to thank the lovely ladies of Enlisted for all their contributions. Tania Gunadi, thank you for committing to such a harebrained but heartfelt performance. It's funny: my first NCO was a 4 foot nine Asian woman, but even though I was practically twice her size, I was absolutely terrified of her because of her steely professional demeanor. However, I soon learned that despite her superior intellect and grinding work ethic she could be as air-headed and neurotic as any younger solider or college kid. It's always nice to show the wacky side to contrast with the serious one we are usually portrayed with. Michelle Buteau, thank you for being a steady rock of comedy. Your performance was central to the establishment of the unit as a real team. As well, it is a pleasure to have a black woman female character that could easily have come off as a simple stereotype be shown instead as an example of how we all still can have a sense of individuality even though we are conditioned into conformity. We are not robots and it shows in how a character like PV2 Robinson is never afraid to just be herself. Learning to maintain my sense of individuality has been one of the most important things in my life that has kept me sane and healthy, so it's nice to see it expressed in the show. Angelique Cabral...I’ve probably gushed over you more than I'm comfortable admitting, but know that when I said that SSG Perez is one of the best role models for women that I've ever seen on television, I meant that with all my heart. If I had a daughter, I know I would love to watch this show together with her and have you there before her eyes as an example of what right looks like. There is no doubt that there are girls out their right now watching you who have your role as Jill as an example to look up to. All of you wonderful women, I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for your efforts. You are all my Lori Loughlin.
Oh yeah, big props to Lori Loughlin for her guest appearance as well. Just like Chubowski, I had a crush on you as Mrs. Katsopolis, and I don’t think that’s changing any time soon; looking great!
And before I go, as I've said countless times now, I want to give many thanks to Meredith Borders, Devin Faraci, and all the crew at Badass Digest for even considering to partake in this experiment. I am just another anonymous internet nobody compared to you guys, so it means the world to me that you would consider my amateur efforts worthy of inclusion into your real world professional dealings. It has long been my dream to become a writer, but even though this may be a simple TV review, I can honestly say what few people in life can ever truly say: you guys have made my dream come true.
And with all that, it goes without saying that I want to thank each and every single one of you readers and members of the BAD Community. Whether it's sharing running jokes, dissecting the deepest subtext of films, getting into sometimes heated and contentious arguments, or even meeting up in real life to share a pint, as the case may be, you all are an invaluable part of this experience. I don’t know where I would be without all of you, but I can say for certain my life is better with all of you in it. I hope that in some minuscule, infinitesimal way, my words have done the same for one of you out there.
Y'know its weird ........ here where I am in Afghanistan, when you run it really hurts your lungs and throat. The combination of thin air, pollution and dust kinda chokes you up. Sometimes that dust and crap gets in your eyes. You could be Skyping your wife that you haven't seen in six months or sitting alone in the dark with your thoughts or staying up late writing a really long article, and all of a sudden your eyes get all watery, like they're doing now. Ah well...its been a long 20 hours so maybe I just need to wash up and get some rest. Sure, my eyes won't be red tomorrow. Gonna be a long day tomorrow, if only cuz they're all long. But it's okay., just one day closer. It's all good. Peace.