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Masters of the Air: Episode 6 Review

Bel Powley hugs Anthony Boyle in episode 6 of "Masters of the Air,"

Masters of the Air turns the corner in episode 6 by foregoing its typical formula, examining its characters’ fraying psyches.

I don’t want to say that episode 6 is what I’ve been wanting from Masters of the Air from the beginning, but it’s pretty tough to argue with the results. For a little over an hour, the show exhibits that it’s possible to create tension, stakes, a heavy sense of dread, and interesting character development without putting its heroes inside a plane. In fact, only in the film’s final moments does episode 6 even step foot on the air force base which has been the center of the show. Combined with last week’s solid episode, it really feels like the show has turned a corner and is living up to its potential.

The most harrowing storyline to follow, which opens the episode, is with Bucky (Callum Turner) after he lands deep in German territory. It doesn’t take long for him to get captured by some German farmers and is taken on a series of voyages that show him the real brutality of war. Yes, he saw the after-effects of German bombing when he was in London, but this is a brand new side of things. The scene, as Bucky and a few other unlucky POWs are paraded through a bombed-out German town and things quickly get out of hand, gives Bucky a new perspective on the war. That is, that Americans are not viewed as the “great liberators” that they perhaps signed up to be. Were there times when it feels like Bucky was wearing plot armor, like when the Nazi suddenly runs out of bullets in the aforementioned scene, or when his captors simply let him run off into the woods? Yes, a little bit, but episode directors Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck make those moments feel tense and palpable, which helps salvage the believability.

From there, Bucky’s journey becomes a little safer, but his fate is essentially sealed. He arrives for interrogation with Lieutenant Haussmann (Louis Hoffman) but refuses to give anything more than his name, rank, and serial number. I imagine episode writer John Orloff wanted the scene to evoke the Hans Landa “friendly but menacing Nazi” vibes from Inglorious Basterds, but the scene never rises above “we’re not so different, you and I” territory. Anyway, it’s redeemed by the equally horrific, wordless scene as Bucky is taken to the train.

The rest of episode 6 is decidedly more relaxed, as Crosby (Anthony Boyle) is sent to Oxford to attend a lecture, and Rosenthal (Nate Mann) aka “Rosie” is sent to a countryside estate to get his mind off of recent events. Let’s start with the more conventional of the two: Crosby goes to Oxford to attend a series of lectures and meet his British counterparts. There isn’t much to the “lecture” beyond a quick scene with a jab at American democracy, but that’s not exactly the point of this plotline.

Nate Mann plays poker in episode 6 of "Masters of the Air"
Nate Mann in episode 6 of “Masters of the Air”, now streaming on Apple TV+. (Courtesy of Apple TV)

The point of this plotline – and Rosie’s to some extent – is to give Crosby an outlet for his feelings about the war, and the death of his friend Bubbles. That arrives in the form of Alessandra Subatern Westgate (Bel Powley), an unspecified British member of the RAF who happens to be his roommate. She’s pitched as a romantic complication for Crosby, as she’s essentially the polar opposite of his wife. Whereas Crosby’s wife consistently writes him letters, Westgate is terrible at writing. But Westgate at least knows the torment that soldiers face firsthand, and provides a shoulder for Crosby to cry on. Powley and Boyle have palpable chemistry together, and Westgate gets a strong introduction, so I absolutely would have bought a potential tryst between them. Thankfully Orloff takes her away before Crosby is really tempted, but I can’t help but wish this entire subplot didn’t feel so ill-defined.

Meanwhile, Rosie is ordered to take some time off at what’s known as the “flak house” – a posh estate in the English countryside specifically used for soldiers to have some leisure time – after partaking in a taxing three missions in three days. But, like most hardened soldiers, he’d rather get back in the cockpit than talk about his feelings. I found this segment of episode 6 to be the most effective, showing the psychological effects of the war in the most interesting way. I especially loved the moment when Rosie, venturing about the estate grounds, sees a fellow soldier crying uncontrollably in a moment of solitude. Here are men who have seen terrible things they’ll never forget, but can’t muster the strength to express themselves to others. It’s a profound moment of introspection for Rosie, and it’s all brought home in the episode’s final moment, when he has to psyche himself up just to physically get back in the plane.

The contrast between the endings of Rosie and Bucky’s storylines to elicit some interesting thematic material. Whereas Bucky is in a terrible, uncontrollable situation in a Nazi POW camp, at least he’s now reunited with Buck (Austin Butler), whom he believed dead. But Rosie, in an undoubtedly safer place by episode’s end, is filled with fear and uncertainty. While episode 6 is far from a perfect episode, it’s hard to not be excited for the remaining episodes of Masters of the Air.

Watch on Apple TV

Episode 6 of Masters of the Air is now available to watch on AppleTV+.

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