So, Joan’s looking good this episode. Her face gash is a shallow, almost-healed scar line, and her eye – which looked blue the previous episode and offered hope there would be at least some lasting trace of her convoy attack  (in the way of many war-related wounds) – is back to brown.

We see more severe war damage in a sweet woman who lost most of her arm in an RPG attack, but there’s little reason to care about her. She’s there this episode, and if she lasts another I’ll be shocked. She’s a character no one knows or cares about; thus, the seriousness of her injury has as much impact as a story in the news that fades from people’s memories by the next day. The response to something like this, the story of a stranger, is, “Tsk. Oh, my. So sad. So, so sad what those soldiers suffer.”

It’s hardly, “GASP! NOOOOO! Not JOAN! Why did it have to happen to JOAN!? Oh, how will she–what will she–*sob*sob*–And Roland! He must be devastated! I can’t believe it!”

THAT is the reaction “Army Wives” should be going for. Not all the time – no one wants “Army Wives” to be a bloodbath – but my goodness, take away someone’s arm. Let someone kill himself (Jeremy is pretty non-essential, anyway, as a character, isn’t he? but essential enough in the larger picture to make viewers feel his loss). At the very least, let Joan’s face not completely heal without a trace of what happened. Not only will this make the viewing audience feel but a smidge of the “homefront war,” but there also would be an opportunity to have a “damaged” character live a normal life. Show the nature of the human spirit. Prove we can heal even if we’re forever carrying around the signs of earlier damage.

The one-armed woman shares her sad story with Joan, talks about her plans for her life, laments the difficulty she’ll have finding a partner, and ends – for the big emotional appeal – with, “I’ll never be able to pick up my own baby.”

Sure you will – with your one arm. I’m not downplaying the tragedy of a lost arm, and I’m sure it’s hard to pick up a baby with just one, but we’ve all seen enough reality TV to know people can pick up babies with no arms. Using their feet, even. This effort to make us have sympathy is – sorry to say – just poorly executed. Sure, I saw the stump and thought of the real service members going home with their own stumps. It does effectively communicate, “Worse things happen than a scratch on the cheek.” But that’s about all it communicates.

Come on, Lifetime. We can take it. Hit us with a cold, hard dose of painful reality. Not all the time, but once in a great while. If you’re going to put on a show about war, put some “war” into it.

That said – the armless girl does have a pretty powerful message to deliver to Joan when Joan complains that she isn’t going back to her unit, but has instead been temporarily assigned to a more peaceful school-reconstruction duty. At some point, before or after telling Joan that she likes a lot of peppers on her soft sandwiches, she shares the story of a mother who feared her daughter would never get an education before she witnessed the rebuilding of a school. No one else had ever said thank you, the one-armed girl says. Not for holding checkpoints, not for trying to create peace in town. But this woman had been grateful.

“If that’s what I lost my arm for,” she says, “I’m good with that.”

As for the rest of the show, I’m going to end up sounding curmudgeonly when I say: I was bored. The Spencer Award ceremony ends predictably (was there any doubt Claudia Joy would receive it?), but does include a chuckle-ha! when Pamela raises the volume of Lenore’s mike while Lenore bad-mouths Claudia Joy to Roxy in the hallway (and, at the same time, shows her petty, social-climbing side).

[For those curious about the Spencer Award and whether there is such a thing, there is something called the Spencer Award – but it’s not for being an exceptional military spouse, and there are several of them.  There’s one for food service, one for folk music, one for schools…

However, there are actual awards for outstanding military spousedom. Here are just two:

Flagship Military Newspaper: Heroes at Home Military Spouse Award – launched in 2005

HQ USAREC (Headquarters United States Army Recruiting Command) Spouse Award – awarded to spouses “contributing significantly to military and civilian communities command-wide.”]

Other ho-hum story lines (and such things – ho-hum story lines, that is – happen to the best of shows) –  Roland’s “homefront battle” with the return of Price, who is sought after by the FBI for being loosely associated with an activist group who set off a bomb in a federal building decades ago, and teens and alcohol. The daughter of Claudia Joy and General hubby – Emmalin? – brings a new girl to a party to introduce her around, but new girl – who is bored because she apparently lived an exciting party life at “Camp Darby” – pulls out a bottle of vodka and eventually passes out and has to be brought to the emergency room.

There is a pretty cool exchange of dialogue during the party scene, though:

EMMALIN: (after new girl pulls out a massive bottle of vodka) I didn’t come here to watch you get trashed.

NEW GIRL: So, watch something else.

Yeah!

The last of my complaints in this uncharacteristically mostly-negative review is this:

In one of this episode’s final scenes, Joan brings a sandwich to the one-armed girl, who is being discharged/transferred. Joan says she made sure they added lots of peppers, and gravy, too. “I can’t vouch for German gravy,” she apologizes.

Can’t vouch for German gravy? Is she CRAZY? Has she ever HAD German gravy??

“We live in our small American neighborhood in our small American town. All we worry about is ourselves and how this war will affect us and the people we love. When Jake is home, you’ll see. You’ll care less about the war.” She shrugs. “It’s callous, but it’s true. You’ll care less because the soldier blown up by an IED won’t represent Jake, and the woman crying on TV won’t represent you.” – Homefront, page 163

Read my review of Season 3 Episode 4 here. “Claudia Joy’s looming independence is as exciting as the wacky time zone difference between Fort Marshall and Iraq.”

Read earlier reviews:

Episode 1/Season Premiere

Episode 2

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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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