Jeremy should have died.

One of my issues with the show “Army Wives” is that, as the only show on TV exploring the complexity of being married to someone in the military during war-time, it often fails to take advantage of its unique opportunity to really explore that complexity. In “Army Wives,” the lighting is often soft and golden, as are the characters. The women’s hair, even, often seems back-lit by what I can only assume is the Army Wife halo of goodness. The colors – walls, trees, Frank’s dress uniform – are saturated and rich. There is a subtle, but ever-present, reminder that this is entertainment.

The best war movies and the best war cable programs (“Generation Kill,” for example) are the best because they get dirty. They have moments of real truth.

In the first episode of “Army Wives” fourth season, the writers missed an opportunity to give viewers some real truth.

Jeremy should have succeeded in killing himself.

Denise and Frank come home from a military function and hear a gun shot. This, I understand, is how last season ended. (I missed season three.) When they open the door, they find Jeremy standing in the middle of the room with a weapon in his hand. Later, when Jeremy is in the hospital hiding his meds under his mattress, his distraught mother at home finds a broken picture frame lying face down. When she turns it over, she sees a hole torn through part of Jeremy’s head – this is presumably where the bullet went instead of through his real head, where it should have gone.

I say this not because Jeremy annoys me as a character (which he does), but because even though it’s “entertainment,” (in quotes because I’ve often been told, “It’s just entertainment!”), if “Army Wives” wants to offer viewers any real insight into the emotional trauma of war and its after-effects (and it should), it would kill off some key characters.

And not just daughters we’ve barely come to know who die in freak military-post bombings set off by unbelievable American suicide bombers.

If characters die unexpectedly, viewers who can’t imagine what it’s like to have a loved one at war will feel at least a fraction of the shock and sadness (a FRACTION – a small one) those truly going through it experience. This is something that cannot benefit enough from more understanding.

Even Jeremy’s own father, Frank, doesn’t get it. He says to his wife (Denise) after the sloppy shooting, “I just don’t know what’s going on with him, you know?”

Don’t you, Frank? A career military man who’s deployed several times, with years of experience with other soldiers, and you don’t have the slightest clue what’s going on with the son who’s just returned from a tour overseas? I know it’s overused, these days, and probably not even trendy anymore, but really?

That, above, is a Truth Moment -1. Booh, Lifetime.

As has been “Army Wives” way, however, they balanced that negative with an amusing positive, a funny Truth Moment +1, after Roland receives a call from wife Joan, who’s been wounded in a convoy attack in Iraq and is calling from her hospital bed. She wears a patch over her right eye, and her right cheek is badly scarred, lined with black stitches.

Watching this scene, I couldn’t help but think of my friend whose husband’s convoy was attacked in Afghanistan. He was hit by shrapnel, but was otherwise unhurt. One of the pieces got him in the face. (Note: in no way does what follows make light of what is a deadly, serious, and horrific situation that continues to happen, and continues to kill soldiers.) When my friend found out her husband was going to be fine, she told me she couldn’t wait to see the scar on his face. She thought it was incredibly sexy.

I wondered if Roland (or, a man) would find Joan’s (or, a woman’s) facial scar sexy. And then this happened:

Roland is told that Joan received injuries to her right side and face.

Roland: “Her face?”…pause…”She didn’t say anything about her face. I thought it was just her right side and shoulder.”

Not her FACE! Anything but that! Oh, please don’t let her turn…turn…ugly!

Okay, he’s redeemed later when we learn she’s fighting to keep her vision. Still. First reactions reveal a lot, don’t you think?

I was pleased to see there were quite a few moments of truth in this episode (excluding, of course, the caricature FRG Army Wife Queen Lenore who’s fighting Claudia Joy for the Spencer Award – or, the Army Spouse of the Year award – as if it were a Miss America crown, and the warm-fuzzy Army Wife group-hug around Roland’s baby at the end). For instance:

+1: Chase is more interested in doing Army things than he is in his family.  I’ve seen this a few times. Volunteer deployments even with families at home. It’s hard to blame him for wanting to go, and it’s hard to blame her for wanting him to stay. To some, the domestic life lacks adventure and purpose. It’s just the way it is, and “Army Wives” handled it well.

+1: Roxy and Pamela walk along the beach discussing Chase’s preference for the Army over his family.

Roxy, trying to soothe Pamela and blame the Army for Chase’s behavior, says, “We both know that Army life is this big cycle–”

“No,” Pamela says. “It is not the Army. It’s him.”

Yes! Far too often the military, or deployments, are blamed for bad marriages. Granted, separation can do harm to young or already damaged marriages, but the people are the key. All of it – cheating, emotional distance, loss of interest, divorce – can’t be blamed on the military. It’s a convenient excuse, but one that prevents couples from looking at their own issues.

+1: Claudia Joy’s house is sparkling, decorated for an event. In walks Roxy, who asks if someone is getting married.

Claudia Joy: “We’re having a Command dinner.”

Roxy: “Whatever that means.”

Excellent. Roxy, whose husband is lower ranking, would not be invited to one of these social functions. Some might say she should be happy about this.

Final Moment of Truth:

Jeremy reveals to Roland why he’s going through such a psychological struggle. It’s not just survivor guilt after the death of his best friend, who took Jeremy’s place on a mission and was subsequently killed.

Jeremy tells Roland he feels like a horrible person. A sick person. Why? Because, he says, “I’m glad that it was him and not me.”

Sure, it may seem obvious. Most of us would think this, and understand it. But we wouldn’t want to say it out loud, because out in the air, it sounds selfish. But that’s the way it is.

And these ugly, hard-to-admit truths affect military spouses, too.

More so when they’re going through a deployment, which many of these Army Wives don’t seem to do for longer than about a (laughable) month at a time…

Moment of Truth -1: Not enough long-lasting deployments.

If you’re in the military or a military spouse, what did you think?

And, if you’re not either of those, what did you think? Why do you watch this show?

NOTE: Click here for assistance finding PTSD support

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Join the conversation! 5 Comments

  1. i just wanted to say that my very good friend is in the army which is why i started watching this show in the first place, and i like the fact that the characters can go through so much and make it. i enjoy this “glass half full” outlook they portray and it really helped me stay positive while my friend was in iraq.

    Reply
  2. I hate the show, but I occasionally watch just to bitch about it. I’m not sure why they couldn’t have found anyone prior military to consult and make the show more realistic.

    I think they are very insulting to military folks, like how they make people come home from deployments either homicidal or suicidal, or sleeping around. War isn’t easy, but not everyone comes back seriously damaged.

    Reply
  3. I love the show but I am not personally involved with the military…. but I can see how Army families would be annoyed by parts of the show.

    On the other hand, I find the series very touching and love the characters. While the show does center around life in the arms, it’s really about the relationships between the women with army situations happening in the background.

    Either way, I love love the show. Love Catherine Bell – she’s amazing.

    Reply
  4. I love the show Army Wives…my husband is in the military and is currently deployed in Afghanistan. I don’t understand why you would want the show to be REALLY REAL. If it were too real…it would bring bad memories of my own back and then I wouldn’t want to watch it. Television shows AREN’T real…if they wanted it to be REAL they would have made a documentary. Its entertainment, so don’t read into it too much.

    Reply

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About Kris Tsetsi

Kristen J. Tsetsi is the author of the novels "Pretty Much True..." and "The Year of Dan Palace" and the short fiction collection "20 Short Stories," all published under the name Chris Jane. Website: http://kristenjtsetsi.com

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