China Beach (“Hot Spell”)

Season 1, Episode 3
Date of airing: May 4, 1988 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 12.6/22 in Households

I kind of didn’t understand what was going on for most of the time, and I am wondering why — was it because I didn’t pay much attention during this episode or did the writers and producers really attempt to be this cryptic and serious and moral-laden throughout the show, while also trying not to bring too much politics into the story, as the politics of the Vietnam war were shitty at times? Besides that, I am not so sure whether politics on the battlefield is actually a thing. I can imagine soldiers and Red Cross workers and doctors and nurses talk about politics at home here and there, but was it ever of importance on the battlefield? Did the soldiers ever care to get into the politics of why they were there or did they not have the time to do so, because the next trip through the jungle was scheduled for two hours from now, and chances were you’d be dead in four hours anyway?

What I didn’t get during this episode was K.C.’s efforts to get the old dynasty vase, and what the story had to do with Cherry’s missing brother Rick. I could assume that K.C. was trying to find out whether Rick was AWOL and joined the smugglers and black market dealers of Vietnam, as I can also imagine some more soldiers were doing that to a) get out of the fight and live a life, and b) because maybe those people have lived messed-up lives, so they decided to voluntarily get into messed-up situations, and dealing on the back market during a war might be one of those things. But it also looked like K.C.was working towards getting the hell out of Vietnam, although I do as myself why she couldn’t have used the money for the antique vase to get a plane ticket out of there and settle somewhere in America to start anew. The writers didn’t really want to connect my assumptions with the actual story, and at the end of the day, Cherry showing up at K.C.’s deal and screwing it all up seemed super random, missing any logic, and sort of dropped into the episode to force an emotional and personal connection between K.C. and Cherry.

Some friends need a cold breeze every once in a while.

I also didn’t get much out of the women in the bunker during the bombing, because the change in topics seemed random as well, besides the characters not at all going deeper into what they were so close to talking about. Still, that scene was great in general, as it established what CHINA BEACH can be about as long as the writers were figuring out how to put focus into the show. The scene with Cherry, K.C., Lyla, Laurette and McMurphy as a whole showcased that CHINA BEACH is about the women in the war, which is something the previous three hours did not do this heavily or noteworthy. The scene also showed what the series can do when it focuses on the characters and brings them closer to the audience. Hearing them talk about their first boyfriends and the first time they had sex definitely brought over some depth, and because Cherry didn’t have a story to tell about that, it reminded me once more that she is supposed to be a teenager still. 18, maybe 19 years old, without any experience in life, probably scared all of the times, because she is in a world she doesn’t understand, only here with one mission, and she gets confused and maybe a little angry, because no one wants to help her. I mean, K.C. seemed to not have interest in asking for Rick, and it’s not like anybody else on the base is interested in trying to help Cherry looking for her brother.

So here I am, scratching my head about this episode, which showcased what CHINA BEACH wants to be about, but also showing that CHINA BEACH also wants to be a mainstream, broadcast network television drama with complex storytelling that doesn’t just bring you inside a particular and easy to digest story. There are two sides to the show right now, and at this very moment those two sides are biting each other, which is why I hope the writers figured out what they wanted to tell with the premise, after CHINA BEACH was renewed for a second season. I would also hope that the emotional ballast created during the bomb shelter scene, as well as the emotional ballast that came out of the previous episode with McMurphy helping the pregnant Viet Cong nurse, isn’t just thrown aside with the next episode, because the writers figured they could tell a proceduralized drama like any other television drama in the 1980s and earlier, like TOUR OF DUTY has been doing it for almost an entire season.

Romance at the beach is hard when people die a football field away.

What I really loved about this episode was that one moment Laurette mentioned Boonie, and K.C. looked at Laurette like she was the next big villain on base when it comes to her own romantic love interest, which K.C. May or may not see in Boonie. Laurette obviously has interest in Boonie, trying to have him open up about his feelings, but there is also K.C., and she must have some kind of history with Boonie, judging by their little talk in the pilot, let alone her reaction when Laurette mentioned she was interested in Boonie. Not that I have the hots for a love triangle, but damn, Boonie is guaranteed to be an emotionally troubled character, and here are two women thinking differently of him, maybe even seeing themselves as his savior. There is definitely potential in that story, and I am intrigued to find out where it will go.

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