'Army Wives': Chain of command

Sallypressman2_armywives_240This is the first episode of Army Wives written by Nick Thiel, who joined the show this spring, after filming of the second season had already begun, as the series' new showrunner. Anytime a new showrunner comes on board an existing series, you can be sure that he or she is going to want to leave his own stamp on the proceedings. So it's no surprise that this episode feels like it closed the book on the early part of season two, and opened up a new chapter that'll represent what the rest of the season is going to look like.

As I said two weeks ago, the bombing of the Hump Bar and its resulting aftermath was a big and bold plotline, and yet it wouldn't be big enough to sustain the entire season. We'd need new developments, to allow the character arcs that will transpire over the rest of the season. So in a way, you could say that this season's first three episodes represented a complete Hump Bar/Amanda story arc, and episode four is almost like an ad-hoc in-season 'premiere,' where Thiel and the writing staff have shown us what's coming down the pipeline for our characters.

Here's what we have going forward as a result of this episode. Roxy is going to spearhead the rebuilding of the bar on behalf of Betty. Trevor's coming home after sustaining an injury in Iraq. Roland's getting a new job. Joan has to deal with the effects of her pregnancy. We have to find out if the super-sensitive Michael is really the right person to run the post or not. Claudia Joy continues to have to hide things from her friends. And Denise starts to embrace a new freewheeling spirit, with potential consequences for her marriage to Frank.

Everybody's got a new plotline but Pamela. Hold tight, Pamela; I'm sure we'll get to you next week.

The really big news this week is a really big scare. Trevor gets shot by a gunman in Iraq. It's interesting the way this scene was set up. I've actually been impressed with the scenes of "Iraq" the show has done this season. I don't know if these scenes are being filmed in South Carolina along with the rest of the show, or if the show might be filming these scenes separately in Los Angeles, but they've been solid, given what I presume is not the world's biggest budget. The fact that the show isn't working on a huge budget informs the scene. Trevor isn't injured in a big roadside explosion or a big battle with insurgents -- which would be far more costly to film -- but rather by a lone gunman in a marketplace. But the fact that Trevor is shot by a single crazed gunman might actually be more interesting as a reflection of Iraq. A big IED explosion we know about, and sadly have been conditioned to expect. The fact that soldiers like Trevor have to worry not just about conventional battle, but rather have to be worried for their lives even in a seemingly calm marketplace, with kids running around, shows just how scary that environment is.

Roxy soon gets the call that Trevor has been taken to a hospital. It's the call she has been dreading, and Roxy panics as you'd expect. But before too long -- though undoubtedly for Roxy, even a second without a status update is too long -- she gets another call, with the information that Trevor is in stable condition and is going to be OK. Moreover, Roxy learns, Trevor's action saved a lot of people, and he's officially a hero. When Trevor finally is able to personally talk to Roxy, he has further news. He'll be coming home within a matter of days.

That's not all that Roxy has on her plate this week. She's also got fish guts on her plate, for starters, having taken a job as a fishmonger. But Betty soon puts a stop to that. Betty has received the insurance check for the bar, and she announces that she wants to rebuild. "What's gonna stop me?" she asks. Well, cancer, for one, which Roxy reminds her of. Betty's got a good attitude about this, though. She may live, she may die, but she's not going to abandon the bar without putting up a good fight. "I'm not gonna just let this die, Roxy. You've got your kids, and I've got mine. The bar is my baby."

So Betty tells Roxy to quit de-gooping shrimp, and come work for her again. Betty says she'll give some money to Roxy to keep her afloat while they rebuild the bar. But Roxy is going to have to work for it. "Why do you think I rehired you, to be my nursemaid? You are going to supervise this rebuild," Betty explains. Betty herself isn't strong enough physically to supervise this big project, so Roxy is going to do it for her. Roxy smiles. You can't really say no to such a proposition.

There's an unexpected roadblock, though. Rebuilding the bar isn't exactly a warmly welcomed idea among the local population. After Pamela announces the news on her radio show, she's deluged with callers arguing that the bar is a place of tragedy and can never be a place anyone will be able to enjoy ever again. Roxy flips out, storms over to the radio studio, and assails everyone for daring to stand in the way of Betty's vision and the rebirth of a place that means so much to so many people. Ah, yes, it's old firebrand Roxy! That's the most season one-esque Roxy moment we've had this season.

While Roxy is turning back the clock to season one, Denise is turning the clock even further back, to a time before the series began. She's got Mac's motorcycle, and the sight of it brings her back to her more free-spirited teenage years. Denise is initially uncomfortable with the idea of riding again, but when she decides to hop on the bike and take it for a spin around an empty garage, she's exhilarated. It's a rush that presumably brings her back to childhood, and she instantly craves more. Denise heads out of the parking garage, and 'Denise Sherwood, Biker Babe' is officially cruising the streets.

Later, she tells Frank on the phone about her new bike. Frank is confused. He thinks it's totally unsafe, and moreover, it's potentially inappropriate for an officer's wife to be tooling around the post on a motorcycle. Denise defends herself and says it'll be fine, and that she wears a helmet when she rides,Arm204_denise so nobody will know it's her anyway. Frank huffs that she can do whatever she wants, and hangs up. And then Denise calls all her friends to show them the bike. So much for keeping her identity a secret when she rides. But that's a minor problem. It's the possible tension between her and Frank that could be a bigger deal in the long run. The emergence of a fellow bike-loving doctor whom Denise will be working alongside is bound to contribute to that tension as well.

Meanwhile, after her curious absence from last week's episode, Joan has to officially face the consequences of her decision to keep the baby. The next step, an even harder step than telling boss Michael about her pregnancy, is to tell all the soldiers under her command of her condition. She has had to work so hard to gain their respect, and part of that has always been, at least in her mind, getting them to not think of her as a woman. Being pregnant kind of makes that impossible.

As it turns out, Joan has nothing to worry about. If there's anybody who doesn't respect her because she's a woman, such a person isn't revealing himself here. Instead, all of her soldiers seem to love and totally respect her. After she makes the announcement about her pregnancy, her soldiers rise up and give her a round of applause. Nonetheless, while Joan has always tried to come off as "one of the boys," by the end of the episode it's clear that she has another calling. She's going to be training with a number of other pregnant soldiers, for whom no doubt Joan will attempt to serve as a role model.

Roland has also found a new calling, though his will wind up leading to a complete career change. Roland talks to Joan about the work he has done with Emmalin and some of her friends. "It's got me excited about psychiatry again," he admits. He says that he's starting to reevaluate what he wants to do with his life. He has found working with kids to be reinvigorating. He tells Joan that he wants to work with kids full-time, and is interested in applying for a job as a counselor at the local high school. But the post school doesn't have an opening. The principal, though, calls Roland back later with another offer. They still don't have a counseling position open, but instead, the principal asks Roland to be a substitute English teacher and GED tutor while a current teacher is on leave.

Speaking of working with kids, it's the tragedy of having to send kids off to war that has Michael contemplating his own career change. A friend of Amanda's has decided to enlist, and it's the tipping point in really bringing Michael down. The girl is eighteen years old. Amanda's age. And now she's going off to war. And having just buried his own daughter, the thought of more 18-year-olds dying has Michael sick to his stomach.

Arm204_michael Michael's stressing out. Claudia Joy catches him sitting on the couch in the morning, staring off into space, basically procrastinating from having to go into work. It's pretty darn uncharacteristic of Michael, who didn't get to be post commander without being known for a sterling work ethic. Later on, after Michael explains to Claudia Joy that a friend of Amanda's has decided to enlist, Michael continues to appear down. After he has left the room, Claudia Joy finds a faxed brochure about a retirement community in Hilton Head.

The next morning, Claudia Joy brings up the retirement question and asks if he's serious, and Michael says yes. And not just as a down-the-road thing, but as something he thinks he might want to do soon. The job has officially gotten to him. Attending funerals, and being the person to sign deployment papers for soldiers who may well someday be in caskets themselves, has drained him. You can't blame him for that, of course, but he does blame himself -- the post commander is held to a higher standard, and he can't be an effective commander if he's not in the right frame of mind.

Eventually, we find out what's really bugging Michael. He blames himself for what happened to Amanda. Before the bar bombing, when the possibility of a terror attack was first suspected after munitions were stolen from the post, he had options available to him. And he'll forever blame himself for not putting the post on full lockdown, because if he had done that, Claudia Joy and Amanda would never have gone to the bar. Claudia Joy tells him that he can't blame himself, that he really can't blame anybody for acts of fate. In the end, Michael takes the advice to heart, and says that he even forgives bomber George Polarski, when he meets with Polarski's sister.

With that mostly happy ending concluded, I have to be a meanie now and posit some uncomfortable questions for the Holdens moving forward. Sorry, but somebody has to be the bad guy. First, let's talk about Michael. We said a couple of weeks ago that Michael is basically the nicest, sweetest guy ever. He's a wonderful guy. But is that necessarily what an Army post needs in a commander? This is a guy who gets really emotional about signing orders for soldiers to deploy, who tears up upon hearing that his second-in-command is pregnant, and who is overwhelmed by regret about the way he handled a recent decision as commander. Michael's a great character. But I think it's inevitable that he's going to face criticism at some point this season for not being the type of strict, unflappable presence that's more commonly expected of a military commander. Be ready for that.

And then there's Claudia Joy. Once again, she's put in the position of having something weighing on her mind but being completely unable to talk about it with any of her friends. It's a very different situation from last week and being unable to talk to Roland about her grief. Here, Claudia Joy can't possibly tell any of her friends that Michael is considering quitting his job, because such a secret could really undermine Michael if anyone ever found out. But though these are very different situations, it's a growing problem that Claudia Joy is going to keep having things that she just can't talk about with her friends. I'm certain that there's going to be strain between Claudia Joy and the others as the season winds on. Sorry to be so nasty and present these uncomfortable questions, but they're there, and we have to be ready for them.

Just one big question for y'all this week: in the spirit of this being such a forward-looking episode, which character's future plotline are you most interested in, and why?

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