Season 1, Episode 3
Date of airing: October 8, 1987 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 12.0/19 in Households
What I have come to learn about TOUR OF DUTY after three episodes is that zero women have been involved in the making of the show, and that women weren’t really of importance here anyway, as TOUR OF DUTY wasn’t supposed to be the serious character drama set during the late 1960s in Vietnam and instead was created to give the TV viewing audience a weekly action spectacle. It is 1987 and maybe executives thought that delivering action-packed shootouts each week like this is THE A TEAM, but set in Vietnam was a good idea — the thing is, it is definitely a good idea for 1980s standards, but I am waiting for the moment the constant action becomes boring, annoying and generic, all at the same time, and TOUR OF DUTY becomes a horrendous show that once tried to make the viewers familiar with the nightmares of a decades-long war and will become a silly action show at the end. I am also wondering if the CHINA BEACH premiere seven months later has changed TOUR OF DUTY as a show and it will start focusing on the characters a little more with the second season.
What I also have come to learn is that TOUR OF DUTY is a testosterone-filled macho action hour, which must have had its target audience back in 1987, who liked the way Anderson was talking and behaving, like he could not have been cooler and more snippy about the things that happen around him, and who like the constant battle scenes in the bushes and between the tree lines, because big strong men take their machine guns in their hands and shoot about like this is the “kill the jungle” scene from the first PREDATOR movie. Who knows, maybe TOUR OF DUTY wasn’t just inspired by the success of PLATOON, but also by the way PREDATOR turned into a jungle war movie all by itself. So, the conclusion may be that TOUR OF DUTY isn’t at all a version of 24 set in the jungle and with the real-time premise removed, but it’s a mixture of THE A TEAM and PREDATOR, having been given life by the success of PLATOON. It makes for an interesting show for a few seconds, because what it gives you is how television shows come to be in the first place. Things are an unexpected hit, and what follows is writers, producers and executives wanting to recreate that hit. That’s why TOUR OF DUTY exists. That’s not at all how CHINA BEACH came to be half a year later.
The episode was okay. A few more things I have come to learn about the show were depicted in this episode, like it’s a proceduralized action show without character development (after three hours, barely anything is known about the characters, except Horn is a conscientious objector and Baker is a vegetarian), and the soldiers in this fictionalized version of the Vietnam War were as much pigs when it comes to Vietnamese women as some of the real-life soldiers probably were. When Ruiz, Taylor and Steve Akhahoshi’s character (has he been given a name yet?) were taking three of the Vietnamese women in their arms, suggesting that they should keep each other warm and interested, offering their services to the women, I was flashing back to all the stories I have heard about soldiers raping Vietnamese women, because it’s what the world has come to in the middle of a green muddy hell. Turns out TOUR OF DUTY wants that kind of realism for their show, but things went a little creepier than that when Goldman started to have a crush on Tia Carrere’s character. Before he covered her with his rain parka during the second half of the episode, he had a very weird and almost dangerous look on his face, like he was hungry for her, like he was about to do something to her. Consider my eyes popping out the back of my head due to rollage, when Tia Carrere’s character suddenly put her head on Goldman’s chest after he covered her with the parka, essentially reciprocating his affection for her. Those weird scenes happen when you don’t have any women in your writers room, let alone among the producers — it’s the prime example why TOUR OF DUTY is a testosterone show and not an honest depiction of the Vietnam War.
There was no surprising twist at the end, when Tia Carrere’s character was picked up by her Viet Cong husband at the end of the episode. During the first gun fight with the unseen enemy in the middle of the night, she looked like she recognized the Vietnamese voice that was yelling out into the jungle, hoping for a response. She was talking earlier about her husband being a fighter, so I was naturally expecting then already that she may be married to a Viet Cong, just so the writers can make things a little more interesting for Goldman later. When she and her husband were finally reunited, there was no surprise there, although the notion of an American soldier and a Viet Cong soldier not killing each other could be seen as something to talk about within the story. Then again, TOUR OF DUTY is a testosterone action fun hour, so it was predictable that Goldman would mention that he wasn’t killed by a Viet Cong and that was the end of that conversation with Anderson. The writers didn’t want to follow up on that story, because it didn’t gel with their agenda of wanting to write THE A TEAM set in the world of PLATOON.
Ruiz’s story was a little more interesting, because he cared for a particular Vietnamese woman for the first time, giving him an experience on what he is actually fighting for in this jungle. What a shame that he wasn’t able to communicate with the elderly Vietnamese woman – I would have loved to hear them talk about how she sees him as her son or something like that, and how he may have been remembering his own mother every once in a while, seeing her in the eyes of the woman he was protecting and fighting for. It led to the fine Spartacus moment at the end when he told off William Sadler’s character, and every one of Ruiz’s comrades went with the “I am Spartacus” kinda quote to show the General that his orders were piss and that the platoon did the right thing by not following those orders and leave the Vietnamese stranded in the middle of the jungle. It’s a great way to depict what soldiers were thinking when fighting in Vietnam, and it’s a way to respect the veterans of the war, who may have been watching this show in 1987 and figured it was either crap and dishonest, or the greatest fun they ever had experiencing the war they lived through from another point of view.