China Beach (“Brothers”)

Season 1, Episode 6
Date of airing: June 1, 1988 (ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 10.5/19 in Households

This episode felt like it was the intended season finale of this midseason of television, judging by the premise of Cherry finding her brother and letting go, as well as the final image of the hospital workers running towards the injured soldiers, ending up in a freeze frame, which is usually something you would do to reinforce the image of what most of the characters are about, when the show isn’t about the character arcs: McMurphy is still a nurse, Dick is still a doctor, albeit without a wife at home, and China Beach is mostly a base that is famous for its hospital (and maybe the bar).

The episode was okay. I didn’t mind that Cherry’s story of searching for her brother has found an end here, because now the show can focus on why she is really in Vietnam, and how she is growing out of her shell and becoming an accepted member of the China Beach family while successfully connecting with soldiers who think they already lost themselves in the wilderness of the war before they were dragged out of the black hole by the angel that is Cherry. That should be her arc in the second season, all while Cherry may be losing herself, having to deal wth all these traumatic storylines coming her way thanks to all the traumatized soldiers. At least that’s how I would approach the show in the second season, if I would have had a hand in it. Still, I was hoping for a bit more excitement in the end of Cherry’s reason for her stay in Vietnam. It was somewhat to be expected that Rick got lost in the craziness of the Vietnam world, especially after she (and Lyla and Laurette) met Captain Osborne’s men after the chopper crash a few episodes ago, but I was thinking that the drama between Cherry and Rick could have been bigger and better, and there could have been a more clear picture of Rick having lost himself fully and entirely to the black and dark world of Vietnam, instead of seeming like he still has some of the mugs in the cupboard, when he talked to Cherry at the end and pretty much said goodbye to her. But all this doesn’t negate the fact that Cherry finding, and yet still losing, her brother in this episode was a great premise. One that hopefully helps along her arc and pushes her forward to the next story arc.

Time for basketball in the scathing heat of a war zone.

Meanwhile, Dick returned after an episode off, and of course his story had to restart with a divorce. When he said he learned a new word, I immediately thought that word was “divorce” (knowing that he had R&R to get back to his wife for a few weeks), but when he said “Aloha,” I had to remember that the word also means “goodbye,” so in a way it’s still the same. It’s nice to see that the characters (and soldiers) have to deal with troubles at home, too, which I see as one of the cliches of the genre, as it was a stereotype of real life as well — soldiers are gone for too long, and their girlfriends and wives simply said goodbye to them, because it’s not like they were always able to live without their soldier husbands and boyfriends on the battlefield. One can only hope Dick isn’t the only one having to deal with this issue, and that there will be soldiers here and there getting letters from home with bad news. Like the three soldiers Cherry was talking to at the end. Something like this is a good way to fill some airtime with guest characters, since it’s the most approachable storyline which you could do a lot with.

Meanwhile, Laurette’s story was here for comic relief, and I was happy to see that the very complex and deep CHINA BEACH can also do comedy. I was certainly amused by the playback show turned comedy skit (albeit the predictability of it happening during the number), and I was almost laughing out loud when both Lyla and Boonie contradicted themselves about how to treat Laurette’s laryngitis, and in comes Dick, only interested in talking about the divorce, and finding a good person to talk to in Laurette, since she couldn’t respond anyway. The show needs those kind of comedic moments more often, which is why I’m hoping the second season has some of them. After seven episodes of the show in this season, the writers had chances to figure out what worked and what didn’t, and employed the lessons they have learned for the rest of the show. Episodes like “Home” worked beautifully, while K.C. going on a trip into town to make some deals did not work for me at all.

Dick offers his alcoholic services to the woman who lost her voice.

Finally, the story Beckett was involved in. I liked seeing Glenn Plummer in here, and I was saddened that his character ended up dead and blown up, making me wonder whether Fluke had a hand in Omar’s death and all of this wasn’t just an accident. If that’s the case, this shouldn’t be the only episode dealing with the story and the aftermath of it, and Fluke might be able to become a recurring antagonistic figure in the show. It would certainly give more credence to Beckett’s character arc, as he wouldn’t just be dealing with the emotions of his “men,” but also be involved in an active storyline. Besides that, I can assume that trafficking drugs out of Vietnam with the help of fallen soldiers was a big thing back in the day, and who knows what gangs back in the United States made in money with the help of a multi-year war. It’s another storyline the writers were ale to fill airtime with, and this time around it’s a story that could have depicted the dark side of the American involvement in Vietnam.

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