May 17, 2019
War is hell. Catch-22 is a gritty representation of it and it’s effects on the men who show up in the face of danger and almost certain death. Some don’t deal with it and some find every way to get out of it. Adapted from the novel by Joseph Heller of the same name, Catch-22 is a six-episode limited series on Hulu. Read on for our deep dive recap of Episode 1.
BEWARE OF SPOILERS!!!
We open the series on a very naked and bloody John Yossarian (Christopher Abbott). Yo-Yo, as he will be affectionately called throughout the series, is in the midst of an airfield where military planes are on fire. There’s several men’s voices shouting urgently and somewhat incoherently. The dialogue you do hear isn’t from this moment; its echoey and no one is around him. Plane engines are roaring. Sirens are blaring. Its mayhem. Suddenly Yossaian screams a primal, fearful yell.
Santa Ana Army Air Base Flight Training School. Lt. Scheisskopf (George Clooney) is drilling and screaming at soldiers about military parade drill. They’re hot and standing at attention. Scheisskopf wants to win the Inter- Squadron Parade Jamboree. Yo-Yo, and the soldiers around him make snarky remarks about Scheisskopf when he’s out of earshot. The camera pans around to the soldiers as a means to introduce us to some of the cast. We meet Dunbar (Josh Bolt), Kid Sampson (Gerran Howell), Major Major (Lewis Pullman), McWatt (Jon Rudnitsky), Nately (Austin Stowell), Aarfy (Rafi Gavron), and Orr (Graham Patrick Martin).
Scheisskopf is clearly asking rhetorical questions about their inherent lack of performance, focusing on their arm swinging and the appropriate distance from their wrist to thigh despite all their practice. Clevinger (Pico Alexander), standing next to Yossarian, has an answer for Scheisskopf, having read the parade manual. Clevinger offers an excerpt from the manual detailing a different approach than Scheisskopf using smaller drill groups and starts suggesting what Scheisskopf’s error might be. Yossarian is urgently trying to get Clevinger to stop talking.
“Clevinger, stop fucking talking!!”
Whether or not if you’re familiar with the theme of Catch-22, the novel, you’re rightly asking yourself why these men are drilling for a parade pageant when they’re at war and should be training harder to defeat Nazis and Fascists.
Cut to an aerial shot of Clevinger and Yossarian walking a circular tread in the grass to the tune of Tuxedo Junction by Glenn Miller. Their punishment for talking back is to carry two water buckets each in the blazing sun. Yossarian is pissed at Clevinger.
“This group small enough for you?”
After trying to explain to Clevinger why “they” hate him so much, we cut to Yossarian getting training as a bombardier. He’s looking through his sight and turning the knobs to get his aim right. He seems like he gets the gist of what is expected of him as a bombardier. Oh, he has no idea what’s coming.
Cut to Yossarian making whoopie (seems apropos for this show) with Marion (Julie Ann Emery). He thinks he can come up with two things to be miserable about for every thing she can come up to be thankful for. Such a Yossarian move. Marion plays his game and Yo-Yo is predictably dour but I’d point out that he only actually comes up with 1 bad thing for every good thing she thinks of.
Yossarian tells Marion that God doesn’t work in mysterious ways, rather, He is just playing with us and basically has forgotten about us.
“How can you have reverence for a supreme being who finds it necessary to rob old people of the power to control their bowel movements, hmm?”
Not a big fan of God, that Yossarian.
The soldiers from the squadron are in their bunks just ahead of lights out, the night before the the big Jamboree. They’re griping about how early they have to be up, 0600, and in my head I hear the segment from Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer from Good Morning Vietnam “It’s 0600. What’s the “O” stand for? Oh my God it’s early!” They’re also questioning the point of the parades at all. Clevinger defends parades as building discipline and cohesion within the unit. Yossarian calls him out, saying parades are humiliating and to remind them they are not the ones in charge. They do parades for Scheisskopf to feel important. Speak that truth, Yoyo!
Hospital wing. Yossarian is lying in a hospital bed complaining of pain in his appendix. Doc Daneeka (Grant Heslov) examines him and finds nothing wrong with him. Doc jokes around with him, saying next time Yo-Yo should complain about his liver. That would earn Yossarian a couple of weeks in the hospital wing.
Yossarian asks how a doctor ended up here. Doc explains that he tried to claim himself unfit for duty but the draft board sent their own doctor … and well, they disagreed with Doc’s findings on himself. Doc Daneeka is still bothered by this, as if his word wasn’t good enough. Yossarian wants out of the parade, but the good doctor is having none of it. He does make Yossarian a deal though, telling him that he’ll help him out when it can really be of use, telling Yossarian to pick his battles.
The Inter Squadron Parade Jamboree is underway with the Army band playing the US Air Force song, the squadron doing their parade drill with Scheisskopf smiling on. Marion is sitting next to him. Ooooh snap, dude! Sleeping with the Lieutenant’s wife, you sly dog!! Yossarian winks at Marion. The soldiers are in an impressive formation with judging underway when Clevinger starts to sway. Scheisskopf sees this and his face is twitching. Clevinger faints, falling to the ground. Scheisskopf looks on in horror. Not because one of his men is now bleeding and injured, but because this means he won’t win the Inter Squadron Parade Jamboree.
In a large hanger, Clevinger stands bloodied and bandaged before Scheisskopf having charges read out to him for his offenses: “Stumbling without authority, breaking formation while in formation, indiscriminate behavior, mopery, provoking.”
Yossarian is there too and we learn he’s been charged with aiding and abetting all of Clevinger’s charges. Clevinger pleads not guilty to the charges, which just incites Scheisskopf. Some really fun back and forth ensues between Clevinger, Scheisskopf, and Major Major. It’s all very Abbott & Costello and captures the absurdity found in Catch-22 (the novel) almost better than anything else in this episode). Seriously, find the clip between Clevinger and Scheisskopf to get a true sense of the scathingly satirical nature of this story.
Cut away to another round of Yossarian and Clevinger making their circles in the well-worn tread carrying their water buckets, with Clevinger apologizing to Yossarian.
Marion Scheisskopf asks Yossarian if he’s sleeping with her because he likes her or because he hates her husband. She tells him to leave the hating of her husband to her. A little from column A and a little from column B is essentially Yossarian’s comeback. His training is complete and he’s being shipped over to Italy for combat. Yossarian tells her that he joined the Air Corps as a gamble. He was thinking that the extensive training he’d get would outlast the war. The first of his many miscalculations.
The next scene is an air battle over Italy with lots of flak shaking the planes in formation as Yossarian tries to lock onto his target despite the chaos around him. He locks onto his target and the bombs are away. They’re still getting shelled as they pull away and Yossarian is looking at the scene and freaking out a teensy bit. The squadron lands and they deplane.
Onscreen reads, “Missions left: 9.”
Yossarian enters his bunk which he shares with Orr. Yossarian is telling Orr about the mission. Chaplain Tappmann (Jay Paulson) brings Henry Mudd to their tent. Milo Minderbinder (Daniel David Stewart) comes to visit the tent, bringing Hershey’s bars. Mudd goes to the admin tent to check in. Lt. Colonel Korn (Kevin J. O’Connor) sends Mudd out although he’s a gunner, just not THE gunner they’re looking for; the distinction doesn’t matter to them. They have a gunner. We don’t hear from Mudd again.
Cut to an interlude we’ll see several times throughout the series to demonstrate the time between missions: Soldiers having some R&R drinking beer and jumping into the water as some snappy, peppy jazz plays in the background.
In the mess hall, Dunbar and Yossarian meets Sgt. Major Major Major, hilarity ensues around the etymology of his absurd name. Enter Major —deCoverly (Hugh Laurie) who wants nothing to do with the people-ing involved in the mess hall, demanding sardines on toast to be delivered to him in his tent. Orr tells Yossarian that Mudd was killed. Yossarian is quiet about it. You can tell it’s really bothering him.
The squadron soldiers are in communal showers, talking and joking around, when Yossarian announces that he will not fly anymore missions.
“I don’t want to be the one who dies showing them [the Nazis and Fascists] the door.”
Back in the hospital, trying to convince Nurse Duckett (Tessa Ferrer) of his liver ails. He points to where it hurts and she’s redirects him to where his liver actually is. She’s buying none of what he’s selling. Doc Daneeka happens upon the scene, rightly guessing his liver has run afoul. Yossarian levels with Doc saying he can’t do any more missions and he wants to wait out the war in the hospital. Daneeka spells it out, telling Yossarian that there’s also a Pacific front and once the European theater has quieted down, well, Yossarian definitely doesn’t want to go to the Pacific. It’s got malaria, parasite, leeches, and fungus. Doc’s advice? Fly the missions.
Milo visits Major —deCoverley in his quarters with pork chops in an elaborate tray. Major —deCoverley is throwing horseshoes in the back. Milo gives us a glimpse of his elaborate black market operation based on trade, favors, finagling, and price gouging. Milo needs planes to support his operation and to do so he seduces deCoverley’s desire for some finer things in life while stuck in a war zone.
“Do you like strudel, sir?
Everybody like strudel, son.
And just like that, Mile gets himself made the Mess Officer in charge of the food operation. Milo’s charisma cannot be denied. He has deCoverley hook, line and sinker, now invested in his operation.
Another mission is underway. Yossarian sees the next plane get shot mid-air and Dunbar’s body is slammed onto Yossarian’s bombardier window, blood smeared all over. And in a flash, he’s gone. Yossarian is freaking out and trying to get on task to do the bombing run.
Later, while the soldiers take a break and are out swimming. Yossarian is still thinking about the moment in the air.
“I can see everything. Every hair in his nostril, that crooked tooth. And his eyes … there was no life flashing before them or any of that. It’s just terror. That’s all it was.”
The squadron is in a briefing room and they’re very unruly, lots of talking and not a lot of listening. The commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Korn (Kevin J. O’Connor), is unable to get their attention. Colonel Cathcart (Kyle Chandler) decides he’s had enough of this tomfoolery.
He shoots his pistol into the ceiling with some crazy eyes. He announces he’s the replacement for Colonel Copeland. Cathcart’s mission is to toughen them up and his strategy is to up the mission count from 25 to 30 missions. Yossarian looks like he’s seen a ghost. Cathcart is trying to bolster enthusiasm for his decision with a round of hip hip hooray that is met with stunned silence at first and then the men crazily fall in line. They’re cheering and tossing their hats into the air, as if they’d won the war.
Yossarian takes off frantically for the medical tent. He needs to have a heart to heart talk with Daneeka but instead, gets schooled on the cold, hard truth of the Catch-22. Essentially, if you’re crazy, Daneeka can ground you from flying missions. But, you need to ask to be grounded from flying missions and once you do, at that point, you’re no longer crazy at all.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22.”
“It’s the best there is.”
Back in the air, Yossarian is trying to clean off Dunbar’s blood smear through the small window in his bombardier hatch as bombs burst around him to a snappy jazz song.
I have LOVED this book since I was 17-years-old. Yossarian was even my handle in college. I quote this book and its themes so often. It’s a genius piece of work. I am so excited to see this adaptation starring Christopher Abbott, George Clooney, and Kyle Chandler. As I mention above, Catch-22 is a gritty representation of how war is hell and how is affects the men who show up in the face of danger and almost certain death. Some don’t deal with it and some find every way to get out of it and we see both of those extremes in this first episode.
The humor is so dark, you have to remember this a satirical piece designed to lambaste the entire military industrial complex and the bureaucracy of war. A lot goes on in this short 45 minutes. We meet the squadron and see how their personalities are starting to shake out. Colonel Cathcart, in his brief brief, completely stole the show for me. And George Clooney portrays his character so well. Scheisskopf is German for “shithead.” And Hugh Laurie, as Major —deCoverley, is, to quote a famous blogger, “A goddamned National (borrowed from the British) treasure. He owns every role he’s in.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, thanks Pop Culture Review Mike for that! Hugh Laurie can win Emmy’s based on his facial expressions alone.
The writers have adapted this screenplay from the book by moving around the timeline from the book, which makes for better on-screen flow. The production is kind of sepia toned which gives it a vintage look. The music is snappy, lively, and completely within the realm of the time frame of the period. Lots of jazz, big band, and swing music to be the antithesis to the macabre, crazy themes within the story. Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman get some good air time in this first episode.
I am all in for the remainder of Catch-22. This episode got a lot of things right for me at the outset. You feel Yossarian’s terror, his confusion as to the revelation of Catch-22, the absurdity and nasty underbelly of the war machine (looking at you Lt. Scheisskopf, Colonel Cathcart , Milo, and Major —deCoverley), with disastrous outcomes.
Thank you for reading along! Please follow all the pop culture news at popculturereview.com. You can find us on Twitter @popcultureview and @SheilsMcGangsta for lots more! See you in a few days for the recap on episode #2!