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‘Band of Brothers’ Is About More Than WWII

‘Band of Brothers’ Is About More Than WWII


The Big Picture

  • Band of Brothers
    ‘ portrayal of mental health struggles during WWII is ahead of its time and still resonates today.
  • The series presents mental health as a constant struggle, rather than a single, isolated episode, making it feel more realistic.
  • Band of Brothers
    set a precedent for depicting mental health on television, fostering acceptance and understanding.



TV shows over 20 years old don’t always stand the test of time, but Band of Brothers, which originally aired on HBO back in 2001, is one of the few that has still managed to hold up. In just about every facet of its production, the series went above and beyond, from its right-in-the-action cinematography to its continuous, palpable grit. Those are just a few pieces of the series that made it an unmissable watch, but what really makes Band of Brothers stick out today is how ahead of the time it was in depicting the mental health struggles of soldiers during World War II.

It’s taken quite a while for mental health to be taken seriously as a real struggle in our society as a whole, and even longer for it to be noticed when it comes to soldiers and veterans. In Band of Brothers, mental health played just as large a part in WWII as it did in the actual battles; it was a constant struggle, flowing in and out of the soldiers just like the tides. Mental health wasn’t just spotlighted in a bottle episode, either — it was ever-present in the series, creeping up again and again just as it happens in real life. Band of Brothers doesn’t stigmatize mental health, either, instead accepting it as part of the life of a soldier, which is exactly why the series managed to feel like it was reaching right through the screen to its audience.


Band of Brothers HBO poster

Band of Brothers

The story of Easy Company of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division and their mission in World War II Europe, from Operation Overlord to V-J Day.

Release Date
September 9, 2001

Seasons
1


In ‘Band of Brothers,’ Mental Health Was Always a Factor

Other series might have opted to depict mental health in a more one-shot-deal fashion, seemingly highlighting the issue in an in-your-face way to drive the point home. But Band of Brothers decided to do just the opposite. Sure, certain episodes were slightly heavier on mental health, but, for the most part, the series was well-balanced in keeping the soldiers’ mental health as part of the dialogue, even if it wasn’t outright about it. Sometimes, it was just a certain look that a soldier would give or a slightly longer pause that seemed out of place. By opting out of a bottle episode that did a deep-dive into mental health and then abandoning the issue afterward, Band of Brothers made the point that mental health is a constant struggle for soldiers.


In many ways, it was a much more effective way of showing mental health, as it’s not always outwardly apparent to those around that someone is struggling. Because the soldiers in Easy Company know each other so well, they’re able to pick up on the little differences to tell when one of their own is feeling the effects of the war. When the medic, Eugene “Doc” Roe (Shane Taylor), is clearly distraught at one point in the episode “Bastogne,” Lieutenant Dick Winters (Damian Lewis) tells him, “Get yourself into town, get a hot meal.” It’s a small gesture, but it’s an acceptance and an action; sometimes, just knowing that someone else is looking out for you can make a major difference.

The Episode, “Carentan,” Emphasized Soldiers’ Struggles With Mental Health


The third episode of the series, “Carentan,” marked a major turning point in both the war and the way that mental health was depicted in the show, especially with Private Albert Blithe (Marc Warren). The episode focuses greatly on Blithe, who reunites with his team after being separated from them on D-Day and has to jump back into action. He says that he wandered around for quite a while after being separated, uninterested in rejoining the war effort. “When I woke up, I didn’t really try to find my unit…to fight,” Blithe says. “I just…I just kinda stayed put.”

Part of the way through the episode, after a rough battle, Blithe completely loses his vision as a result of “hysterical blindness.” When Winters asks an out-of-it Blithe what happened, all he can say is, “I don’t know, sir. Things — they just kinda went black on me.” Winters tells him to take it easy and that he’ll be able to head back to England, which immediately makes Blithe tear up. Eventually, he does regain his sight and heads back into action instead of going home, but he struggles on the battlefield later on.


Related

Why ‘Band of Brothers’ Is Still Harrowing After All These Years

It’s a gut-wrenching, immersive WWII experience.

His body practically shuts down while taking cover in a foxhole from incoming fire, but eventually, his brain kicks into overdrive, and he’s able to focus on the mission at hand. This quick shift in his mental state shows just how up-and-down things can be when it comes to mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), making every situation he’s thrown into incredibly tough to adjust to. Blithe shoots and kills an enemy soldier, surprising himself in the process. After the battle dies down, he goes to locate the soldier he killed, showing how much he was affected by his action. Blithe is the personification of battle, both internally and externally, and witnessing him close-up in “Carentan” allows the audience to pick out the smaller, less noticeable symptoms of mental health struggles in the episodes to follow.


‘Band of Brothers’ Set a Solid Precedent for Depicting Mental Health Struggles on Television

Marc Warren as Private Albert Blithe in 'Band of Brothers'
Image via HBO

Mental health is depicted fairly often on television today, but in the early 2000s, it was far less likely to come up, let alone in as delicate a way as it was in Band of Brothers. In this sense, the series opened a door that had been shut for quite a while by not shying away from the mental health aspect of war. Not only did it help other war-centered shows and movies that would come along after, like The Pacific and Homecoming, but it also aided in de-stigmatizing talking about mental health in projects outside the war realm.


Band of Brothers was a revolutionary series for many reasons, but its depiction of mental health is quite possibly the most revolutionary. In a way, it gave a voice to the voiceless, choosing to show an issue that has been so hush-hush over the years in a serious and realistic manner. In doing so, the series fostered a sense of acceptance within the camaraderie between the soldiers on screen and viewers who have experienced mental health struggles in their own lives.

​​​​​​​Band of Brothers is available to stream on Max in the U.S.

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