We open with actual scenes from Gulf War I including George H.W. Bush, General Schwarzkopf, and various scenes of shock and/or awe. Mix in some soldiers and tanks, bring to boil with a man on fire, and garnish with the American flag. In case you don’t know the real enemy yet, the producers cut to a Veteran’s Day celebration.
We are subjected to the last lines of a speech, by some unctuous idiot politician: “Remember when you walk down Main Street under the blues skies of liberty, those who paid the price for our freedom.” I’d prefer to remember those who sent other people’s sons to pay the price for the liberty of a bunch of yahoos who have no idea what to do with it. Can’t say all those dead Americans have done much for my sky. But I digress.
Stillman sees three of his men in the crowd and they ask him to join them for a drink at the tavern. He replies, “What time?” One of the men says, “We’ll find ya.”
At the tavern, which seems to double as the VFW Hall, we get older vets discussing whether the Korean War was a true war or a UN Police Action. And whether Viet Nam was a war or a conflict. And so on with actions in Bosnia, through Baghdad. Stillman shows up looking for his friends. The codgers recognize Stillman as the local hero who saved his entire squad, and mention that he is unemployed. But do they buy him a beer? No.
Stillman has a flashback to the war. Their vehicle hit a landmine and rolled over in the desert, the men barely escaping from enemy snipers. Stillman is captured and literally thrown into a bunker doing a nice tuck and roll. His Iraqi captor loads a revolver with 5 bullets and questions him about the location of his platoon. On a scale of 1 to Sayid, this interrogator is about as Iraqi as I am. When he refuses to answer, the Iraqi pulls the trigger, but Stillman gets lucky and it jams. He then dowses Stillman with gasoline and threatens to light him up if he doesn’t talk.
Back in the bar, there seems to have been a sandstorm as the floors and counters are covered. He finally sees that his old crew has arrived. As they talk, we hear gun fire and cracks in the bombed-out walls. Missiles shoot over head in the sky visible through a half-destroyed roof. Clearly, this is all in Stillman’s head, yet he does not much react to any of it.
The men accuse him of abandoning them, but he reminds them that he got a medal for his uncommon valor. They tell him that they are dead, suddenly appearing wounded in their fatigues — this, he does see. Their recollection of that night is a little different. Stillman was paralyzed with fear. In fact, he watched another man being tortured — a man who actually was set ablaze. This display prompted Stillman to give up his outfit’s location.
In his hallucination, Stillman sees his men shot just as they had been in the war, again by a gunman clearly not middle eastern. The last shot is aimed at Stillman. He falls from his bar stool and blood pours out of a bullet-wound in his noggin even though there is no weapon found. Now he truly is a still man. Cut to a stop watch which is engraved “To Lt. Dale Stillman for Uncommon Valor.”
First the positive — Jay Mohr is very good as Stillman. And, though not really original, the story is a classic genre trope that I always like. Second, a caveat — it is impossible to know how much the terrible You-Tube quality effects my perception.
As usual for Night Visions, there are some loose ends that don’t make sense. What’s up with all the uncommon valor talk? Why not just call it a Medal of Honor? And was he awarded a pocket-watch rather than a medal? Is this one of the hints that all is not as it seems (along with the PTSD, the pills, and the offhand reference to Stillman’s unemployment)? The watch seems more like a participation trophy or maybe the equivalent of a “World’s #1 Dad” t-shirt. But, remember, the bogus story of his heroism is the official story, so he would have been entitled to the real medal.
This watch has a crazier pedigree than the one in Somewhere in Time. The Iraqi interrogator took it from the man he actually killed and gave it to Stillman. Rather than pass it along to the man’s son like Captain Koons, Stillman keeps it. To be fair, it probably smelled better that the one Koons handed over.
The watch has nothing engraved on it when Stillman looks at it earlier in the episode. At the end, it contains the inscription “To Lt. Dale Stillman for uncommon valor.” Why did he not perceive the inscription earlier? He had possession of the watch the whole time; did he get it engraved himself?
None of this really matters. I enjoyed the episode for its performances and direction.
- Kudos for the update while I was away, WordPress! You have made adding a link 50% more difficult. Some might have taken the easier route.
- Opening: Lt. Dale Stillman has the face of a hero. But most heroes only have to live through Hell once. OK, I’ll buy into the 2nd half, but what exactly is the face of a hero?
- Closing: The greatest heroism isn’t facing the enemy, it is facing the truth. The truth takes no prisoners. Fair enough.