The war is finally over. The boys can return to their civilian lives.
But a mere declaration of peace does little to settle a soul, as the concluding episode of HBO’s terrific miniseries "The Pacific” demonstrates to moving effect.
The Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks production, based on the memoirs of those who fought in the Pacific Theater, winds up with an hour following its surviving Marines as they try to readjust to civilian life.
In contrast to what has gone on before, particularly the combat depicted so graphically in the last three episodes, the pacing is almost idyllic.
But after spending so many weeks with these men, the extended epilogue is vital.
The finale, written by Bruce C. McKenna and Robert Schenkkan and directed by Jeremy Podeswa, reunites the men with the families left behind in the first two episodes.
Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) is recuperating in a military hospital when he learns the war has ended. In the last four years, his family seemingly has moved on without him.
He barges his way back into his old job as a newspaper sportswriter (with a raise, no less) and makes a play for next-door neighbor Vera (Caroline Dhavernas) - the gal we met in the premiere who has behaved for 20 years as if he didn’t exist.
The results may surprise you.
Other Marines, such as "Snafu” Shelton (Rami Malek), disembark into their civilian lives without a fare-thee-well to the men with whom they faced death.
Eugene B. Sledge (Joe Mazzello), the youngster who overcame a heart murmur and defied his parents by joining the Marines, faces the most wrenching readjustment.
When a college admissions officer presses him on any job skills he might have picked up in the military, Eugene leans in and whispers, "They taught me how to kill Japs. I got pretty damn good at it.”
Eugene is tormented by the knowledge that he survived when so many around him perished. His brother, who also served, advises him: "You just gotta pull yourself out of bed in the morning and get on with the day. You do that enough times in a row, you forget some things. For a while, anyway.”
There are some brilliantly understated moments here: a father waits patiently outside his son’s door, listening to the young man’s sleep-induced thrashings; a widow tenders her husband’s Medal of Honor to his parents; one soldier decides to stand up and reclaim his life. "The Pacific” has been the biggest surprise of the spring and easily the best production to air on television this year.
The closing coda shifts from images of the actors to pictures of the real-life men (and one woman) they portrayed and reveals the fates of these veterans in the ensuing decades.
Most married, raised children, worked hard in their communities and have since died. A few still survive.