Tour of Duty (“Notes from the Underground”)

Season 1, Episode 2
Date of airing: October 1, 1987 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 10.3/17 in Households

The action fun hour of TOUR OF DUTY continues, which means this show is supposed to be light entertainment set in a pretty green and dark place. Viet Cong attack, maybe kidnap an American soldier they hold hostage for information, and while a team of soldiers goes into the battle to save the kidnapped soldier, there is still a little bit of humor going around with the rest of the troop, as depicted through Baker and his chase to catch the wild boar before it eats all his muscle protein powder, as well as the arrival of the three tunnel rats, which was kind of weird all by itself. I have no idea if Baker really is just a dumb blonde who doesn’t know crap about life and may even be an idiot when it comes to being respectful to other humans, but the way the leader of the tunnel rats came out of Baker’s attempt to be funny (and confuse elves with dwarves in the process) and returned the favor by threatening him with his pistol was kind of worrisome for someone like me who does not have any kind of factual knowledge about the Vietnam War, since I was not visiting an American high school (I can tell you a whole lot about World War 2 from the German perspective though). Did soldiers in Vietnam really “play” with each other like that? Did some of them get pierced by a bullet, because someone did not understand the humor and thought that he was getting verbally attacked?

Here, have some of this white powdering this green country!

The tunnel rats seemed to have been sort of the punchline of the episode, and not just because Baker made fun of them when they arrived. They got into the tunnel, they saw Anderson and Goldman, they said that they would be out of there in 30 seconds, but two seconds later they get blown into pieces. I had a bit of a chuckle during that scene, although I am pretty sure that reaction of mine was an unintended one. The death of the tunnel rats was supposed to show that the Viet Cong tunnels were not only a maze and a city in their own right, but boobytrapped until the cows come home to roost the chickens, and that there is practically no way out for an American soldier who gets stuck in one of those tunnels. Anderson and Goldman were jumping over a few wires during their trip through the tunnel maze, but the fact that not even the tunnel rats were successful in getting out of there alive (which is their freaking job) must mean that Vietnam is a hell hole. Yet someone like Baker, who isn’t really bright to begin with, still thinks he is cracking jokes.

Meanwhile, I did like Taylor’s story and how he led the viewers to see the point of view from the Viet Cong for the first time (in the second episode no less). CHINA BEACH needed a while to do that, although its second episode had a Viet Cong nurse be both troublesome for the central characters, as well as a great help, so in a way both CHINA BEACH and TOUR OF DUTY can still be compared nicely. The thing that was working well in that story was the Viet Cog doctor, who was knowledged enough about American culture to remind Taylor that maybe he shouldn’t be in this war at all, because at the end of the day he is still being seen as a slave (like he said, drafting could be defined as “legal slavery”). Of course, the story turned into a predictable mess at this point, as the Viet Cong doctor expectedly turned into a friend of Taylor’s, leading to the inevitable showdown between those two guys and the doctor’s platoon leader. Of course the doctor wouldn’t be able to end a life, and of course the writers would make an attempt at humanizing the Viet Cong – it was 1987, and America was a decade and a half out of the Vietnam War, which means they were able to learn what the other side was thinking about it and how they fared during the war. That is not a bad idea for the show, but as long as TOUR OF DUTY still tries to be an action series, humanizing the Viet Cong won’t work that well. The doctor himself merely felt like a Vietnam-American character than an actual Viet Cong. Hell, he even looked American with the shadow on his face, as well as the glasses. I’m actually surprised his commanding officer didn’t kill him before the events of this episode, as he clearly liked Americans in general.

A Vietnamese asks an American if he has read an American biography.

Anderson and Goldman’s journey through the tunnel maze was pretty good as well. They didn’t like each other much during the pilot, but this episode gave them an opportunity to bond. They saved each others lives a few times, and they even did some mouth-to-mouth (granted, Goldman was saving Anderson’s life then), which can only help getting the viewers used to gay storylines. That makes me wonder though, has there ever been a romantic relationship between two men coming out of the Vietnam War? Would that be a possible storyline in TOUR OF DUTY, considering how much it’s going to focus on a platoon and therefore men?

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