Season 1, Episode 2
Date of airing: April 27, 1988 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 15.0 rating in Households
It doesn’t happen often that a new television show delivers a stunning second episode. CHINA BEACH just catapulted itself onto a list with very few shows on it, because this episode was indeed astonishing from beginning to the emotional end. The premise of a Viet Cong nurse attacking a couple of American soldiers, just to turn around and not be seen as the villain of the story, was quite fascinating, even if it was just a story to showcase McMurphy’s reformed opinion about the woman, let alone how she might be seeing her job. It’s one thing to hate the enemy, and it seems to be normal to do so as well, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to just do the job and be there for your patient, and at the end of the day McMurphy might have learned something about life: Even when you hate a person this much, because that person may have killed your friend, your opinion can still be formed and reformed later, and life is a lot different only a day later. Nothing is written on paper and everything is being decided by what is happening right now. The base has a party going on at the bar, with Laurette singing “I’ll Be There,” but what people did not know is that a couple dozen feet to the right or left, one of them almost died, but was saved by a Viet Cong nurse.Life has always a few surprises. Is that a universal language for a cover not being the book?
Seriously though, McMurphy’s story was great. She went through quite a journey during these 47 minutes, initially hating the woman for having killed one of the guys she knew, but then letting her walk, because she helped one of the guys she knew, and she knows that life as a Viet Cong in an American prison camp will be the end of this new mother’s life. Besides that, the scene of McMurphy giving the Viet Cong nurse her newborn was the center of the episode and it happened to be a powerful moment of humanity. All this time you believed that McMurphy wouldn’t do crap to help the woman and instead let her suffer, but guilt-ridden, she helped deliver the baby, and then she recognized the human in this evil Vietnamese woman who killed Dewey. It’s probably a good thing that the Viet Cong nurse happened to be a human as well, and it helps establishing CHINA BEACH as the Vietnam War series to be taken seriously when it comes to veterans and what they really went through, compared to the action hour that was TOUR OF DUTY. By the way, I do believe there was another story hidden inside the depiction of the Viet Cong nurse, because really, how old was she in this episode? Yes, she was a nurse, so she had training, but I can’t imagine her being older than the mid twenties, which means as a Viet Cong killing Americans, she might have been brainwashed by her superiors, only realizing at China Beach that her actions have been wrong, and that Americans are not as evil as she might have been told they are. If Americans are capable of saving your life and putting your newborn into your arms, they can’t be the devil, right?
The ending of the story had me wishing that CHINA BEACH is something of a serialized character study, as I would want to know what happens to McMurphy when superiors find out she let this prisoner of war go. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t get into any trouble, because McMurphy, if she is a bit conniving, could easily blame the MP on the job, but still, there has to be something of an aftermath, since the Viet Cong nurse was a prisoner of war and the American prison was expecting her and her newborn baby. Does anyone even care that she snuck out, potentially regrouping with the enemy to plan another attack, or did she realize the fault of her ways and tries to be a mother to her newborn? Will the Americans even care? Will they even notice that they lost a prisoner of war?
The rest of the episode was good enough, but I noticed that the writers forgot to include some of the other characters besides Laurette in the episode. Boonie and Beckett didn’t have a lot of screentime here, let alone did they have meaningful moments in their character arcs, and even Cherry was disappointingly pushed into the background, and here I was hoping that her tour through the base with the commanding officer would lead to her learning more about the business. Although I am still fascinated by her relationship with Jeff Kober’s character. The two were looking after Roger together, as if an actual romance was about to blossom, or at least something that would resemble Cherry’s understanding of what soldiers really have to go through in the jungle while fearing they will never reach their twentieth birthday. I’m not expecting that she and Dodge would ever get romantically involved, since it would be weird, but here is this young Red Cross helper, building a connection to one of the soldiers who has definitely seen some shit. And that I want to see more expanded throughout the show.
Laurette’s search for an act puts the fun in the show, and I don’t mind at all. CHINA BEACH can’t be dark and screwed-up in every minute, so getting some light-hearted fun into an episode is not a wrong thing to do, especially when it’s part of a musical storyline. Besides that, Laurette could turn out to be a pop star in this series universe, making her a valuable member of the crew of China Beach. Everyone comes to the bar to see her, and Laurette is the one keeping everything together, keeping the men happy and laughing and dancing, before and after they kill the next Viet Cong, or see their best friend die in an explosion. That makes for an interesting character.