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Masters of the Air: Episode 5 Review

Callum Turner pilots a plane in episode 5 of Masters of the Air

A mission goes tragically wrong in episode 5 as everyone grapples with recent losses, setting up an intriguing home stretch for Masters of the Air.

Here’s the thing about franchises: if you set the bar so high in early installments, your expectations are raised for any  subsequent iterations. If Masters of the Air wasn’t essentially a sequel to Band of Brothers and The Pacific, would it be more highly regarded, or does it suffer by comparison? There’s some incredible material in episode 5, as the air battle sequence that takes up the middle portion features perhaps the best bits of action in the series so far. Not only is it harrowing and tense, but it utilizes the emotional stakes that have been built up in previous episodes rather well.

My favorite scene of the episode comes during the mission briefing, as the squadron is tasked with bombing a railroad depot just outside the center of the German city. None of the airmen are too thrilled about the prospect of a potentially high number of civilian casualties, which calls to mind the argument between the American and British soldiers. But Bucky (Callum Turner), despite witnessing the indiscriminate bombing from the Germans last week, is too wrapped up in his grief over the death of Buck (Austin Butler). “It’s a war. We’re here to drop bombs,” he coldly declares to put an end to an argument before shipping out. Kudos to episode writer John Orloff for not simply making Bucky a drunken mess in the aftermath of his best friend’s death.

Why does the central mission go so wrong? Was it the result of poor planning, or a lack of manpower, or something else? Episode 5 posits it’s because of any number of factors. There isn’t much new substance-wise to the mission, but I appreciate episode directors Anna Bowden & Ryan Fleck’s depictions of the visceral, sometimes gruesome nature of the attacks. I’m confident that, if you slow down the playback enough, there’s an occasion or two when you can see the individual bullets that pierce Bucky’s plane.

Anthony Boyle, Edward Ashley, Stephen Campbell Moore and James Murray stand guard in episode 5 of Masters of the Air
Anthony Boyle, Edward Ashley, Stephen Campbell Moore and James Murray in episode 5 of “Masters of the Air”, now streaming on Apple TV+. (Courtesy of Apple TV)

It all ends in striking fashion, with Bucky and his crew abandoning their plane, and Bucky now stuck behind enemy lines – much like Sgt. Quinn (Kai Alexander), who’s not seen this week. Finally the action shifts to Rosenthal and his crew, the last remaining of the Hundredth, as they valiantly fight off the stragglers of the German Luftwaffe fighters.

Crosby (Anthony Boyle) returns this week with a promotion to lead navigator, which could be a positive going forward or a negative, given his nervousness while responsible for a single plane. Episode 5 doesn’t implicitly place the blame for the mission on him, but I wonder how much this deflating loss will impact his mission strategies, and his confidence, in the future.

It feels like I’ve been saying this for a few weeks now, but the actions in episode 5 make me excited for what next week could bring. Of course, the “next week on” clips – a remnant of a bygone era in the age of streaming – are exceptionally helpful in that regard. (Maybe we’ll finally get to meet the Tuskegee Airmen! But probably not!) We’re entering the home stretch of Masters of the Air now, and while episode 5 may not exacerbate some of the show’s problems, it’s an enjoyably simple hour of television. Maybe if it didn’t have the burden of expectations because of Band of Brothers or The Pacific, it would be more than that.

Watch on Apple TV

Episode 5 of Masters of the Air is now available to watch on AppleTV+.

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