A battle-heavy Masters of the Air episode 3 provides some exciting action and great visual effects but a frustrating lack of characterization.
While watching episode 3 of Masters of the Air, I was reminded of episode 6 of Band of Brothers, “Bastogne”, which is widely considered the best of the venerated series. It’s been at least 10 years since I watched the show, but I can still remember marveling at its deft balance of action and characterization. The episode depicts the Battle of the Bulge, as the men of Easy Company fight the harsh winter and the Nazis simultaneously, and it’s all told through the eyes of the hapless medic.
I bring this up not because episode 3 measures up to its predecessor’s greatness, but because of the stark contrast in Masters of the Air’s approach to storytelling. This week’s episode essentially functions as one extended action scene, as the “Bloody Hundredth” is tasked with a major mission to bomb a German ball bearings facility and fly to Africa to touch down. But it doesn’t deepen our understanding of any of the main characters, nor does it introduce a new presence, and that’s what holds it back from being memorable. Our heroes are one third of a massive battalion that will provide extra protection for the bombers, but a foggy morning causes the mission to be delayed. This doesn’t stop Major Harding (James Murray) from sending them out early anyway, and the result is predictably disastrous.
Since it’s impossible to describe the action that takes place throughout the bombing raid in minute detail, just know that it plays out fairly similarly to previous action scenes that have taken place in both of the previous episodes. That is, some planes get hit, some enemy fighter pilots enter, and some sail on through by the skin of their teeth. I briefly wondered, when one of Buck’s (Austin Butler) engines is hit early on, if the show had simply recycled the same shot showing the destroyed wing from when Biddick’s (Barry Keoghan) plane had suffered a similar fate in the last episode, but I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt.
The major exception in episode 3 is in the massive number of casualties suffered in this mission. Most notably, Biddick’s plane gets shot down and explodes in a fireball, with Biddick still inside. It’s a surprising development, likely killing off one of the major stars of the show, but I like the boldness in the decision. Another highlight comes when William Quinn (Kai Alexander) – a character we’ve seen pop up in episodes prior, but remains mostly unknowable – tries and fails to pull his crewmate out of the turret hatch before jumping out of their plane. While episode 3 may not be perfect, or even great, it raises a number of interesting potential plotlines for next week.
First and foremost is the likely reckoning that Buck and Bucky (Callum Turner) will come to when they realize the leadership left them high and dry, sending them into the fire without proper support. If I’ve learned anything from years and years of watching wartime movies and television, it’s that a soldier always has to know that his fellow soldier has his back. What will this do to the morale within the Hundredth, especially when it resulted in the deaths of so many of them? Also intriguing is the fate of Quinn, who safely lands in France, but is quickly captured by a semi-sympathetic German. Not only is he stranded behind enemy lines, but he’s alone on foot, with nothing but the horrific memory of bailing on his fellow soldier.
I’m mildly frustrated by what feels like wasted potential with Masters of the Air so far, but not enough to declare the show a failure, or to stop watching. I’m no more connected or sympathetic to any of the major characters after this week – save for Crosby (Anthony Boyle), god bless him. I can’t believe I’m still saying this after a third of the series has gone by, but we still have yet to meet any of the Black airmen from the opening credits. And yes, I’ll continue to note it in each episode until it no longer becomes applicable. Episode 3 shows once again that Masters of the Air can handle action about as well as most television projects, but it’s still missing a few major pieces.
Episode 3 of Masters of the Air is now available to watch on AppleTV+. Read our review of the series premiere of Masters of the Air.