Army Wives is a fun show. Over the years we’ve grown to love the friendships, the romances, and the drama like on any other television show. But Army Wives is also a lot more. When it debuted in 2007, four years after the invasion of Iraq, I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that six years later we’d still be at war. For so many Americans, this is the reality – sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers away from home for months and months at a time. When soldiers return home – if they are fortunate enough to return – we want to believe their reunions are all excitement and happiness. The truth is, though, that the trauma of what was experienced can haunt them and destroy them. The mental health of our veterans is not a conversation we are having loudly enough in this country, and Army Wives has brought it to the forefront.
Adjustment Period followed the men of Fort Marshall as they made their way back from Afghanistan. Tim, having been forced to kill a man with his bare hands and defend the base after Hector was injured, is suffering the most outwardly. He has been unable to connect with Holly, he is drinking heavily, and he seems to only be comfortable when he is around his fellow soldiers. Holly, who was expecting a joyous reunion with the love of her life, doesn’t know what to make of Tim’s behavior. It’s incredible to see this topic explored on television in a real way – from the perspectives of both the solider and the family he’s returned to. Tim is going to need a lot of help to get through this trauma and hopefully he will be able to get it. It’s already great to see Eddie taking control of the drinking and driving situation, but will he recognize the significance of Tim’s drinking? Therapy can sometimes be seen as less-than-masculine and soldiers may feel like they are weak if they seek help. Hopefully, Army Wives can make a dent in that notion, and help us all recognize the importance of getting support when you need it.
If mental illness is the hidden dragon of combat, physical injury is the obvious one. Quincy was significantly wounded during the attack on firebase Reno and has been flown to the hospital in Germany to undergo surgery and begin his recovery. Army Wives tackled another severely under-discussed topic as Quincy and Latasha struggled to come up with a worst-case scenario plan of action. With a son suffering from cystic fibrosis, the medical insurance provided by the Army is not a benefit, it is a necessity. Without the use of his hand, Quincy won’t be able to be a chef, either, the one skill he had planned to fall back on if necessary. What will they do if Quincy is forced to leave the Army for medical reasons? Eddie tries to reassure him, but Quincy knows the reality of the situation. That young men who get injured defending our country have to worry about how to make ends meet seems cruel and unfair. Army Wives is doing an incredible service to our veterans by bringing it up and starting the conversation.
The way that gender roles play out in this episode is also fascinating. Trying to think ahead and make arrangements for the future, Latasha mentions wanting to go back to work. Quincy, already aware of his low chances for full recovery, immediately shoots down the idea, saying that the children need their mother home with them. Even as he panics about how the family will stay afloat, Quincy can’t let go of the notion that he is the one who is supposed to provide for them. It will be interesting to see if and how he comes to terms with his new circumstances. We haven’t gotten to see much of Joshua Henry, but after his solid performance in this episode, I really hope there is more to come.
Further along the gender roles conversation, Joan has made a decision. She tells Michael with tears in her eyes that she is going to pass on the position with the war college in favor of retiring. Michael is clearly taken aback and dismisses her rather abruptly, but finds her later to apologize. As her mentor, Michael is certain that Joan would have found much success had she continued with her career, but as a husband and father he understands her decision completely. I have been following the fans reactions online and it is clear people are not happy about Joan’s decision. A woman General is a very big deal, and Joan has worked so hard to get to this point. People are angry with Roland for giving her an ultimatum and angry with Joan for giving up her dream.
I bring this up in regards to gender roles because had Joan been a man who chose to retire and give up his career to follow his wife and allow her a chance to shine, we would not be having this conversation. In fact I think we would be applauding him. What’s upsetting about Joan’s decision is largely that it was such a big opportunity for women in general, and watching her turn it down feels disappointing on behalf of all of us. But the question is, what is going to make Joan happy in the long run – or more accurately, which choice is going to be filled with fewer regrets? Joan is likely going to feel some regret over her decision no matter which one she makes. It’s important not to underestimate how little time she would have had with her children and how much of their lives she would have missed had she taken the opportunity with the Army. She was already feeling guilty and unhappy about how much she was missing. It was unfair of Roland to give her this ultimatum, but even without it she was making a choice. Had she enrolled in the Army college she would have been choosing her career as the priority in her life at that moment. She would have found prestige and fulfillment, but ultimately she decided it wouldn’t replace being with her family. It has less to do with Roland and more to do with the struggle Joan’s been having all season.
And, speaking of season-long struggles, is it condescending to say I’m so proud of Hector? Hector has shown very few signs of decency since showing up at Fort Marshall last season. He’s so impulsive and so quick-to-anger and it’s been hard to feel sympathetic towards him. (For the record, the cheating was way less of a problem for me than the unwillingness to provide support to Penny and the baby) But, if the experience in Afghanistan has had overwhelmingly negative consequences for much of the platoon, maybe Hector is the one case of positive response. Being that close to death seems to have set something off in Hector, who is now really trying to be a good man. I don’t know that he deserves another chance with Gloria, I think I’d prefer to see him start over with someone new, but it is nice to see him being genuine.
Some final thoughts:
I said this earlier, but just want to reiterate how great it is to see the drinking and driving issue being dealt with.
Perhaps my favorite scene of the episode was the conversation between Frank and Kevin regarding the point of the war. It’s such a tough question, and after all the years and all the casualties, it’s a terrfying one to ask. The dialogue was beautifully written and Terry Serpico and Robert John Burke nailed it.
I’m worried about Patrick.
Eddie and Maggie, for the win.
Thank you, thank you writers for that incredible moment of comic relief when Eddie walked out of Tim’s bedroom to find Patrick, Hector, and Gloria in the living room. It was such a dense, tension-filled episode and that scene was delightful and so so needed.