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The Long Road Home Roundtable: “Black Sunday”

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The Long Road Home, based on the New York Times best-selling book by internationally acclaimed journalist Martha Raddatz, is the new eight-part global event series that debuted on the National Geographic Channel on Tuesday night with a 2-hour debut. Based on actual events, the series tells the story of what happened to the First Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas who were ferociously ambushed in Sadr City, Baghdad, in April 2004, which became known as “Black Sunday.” The global series chronicles the heroic fight for survival by all those involved, as well as their families’ agonizing wait on the home front back in Texas.

The large cast includes Michael Kelly (House of Cards), Sarah Wayne Callies (Colony and The Walking Dead), Jason Ritter (Kevin Probably Saves the World), Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns), Jeremy Sisto (Suburgatory), Noel Fisher (Shameless), E.J. Bonilla (Unforgettable) [among many others].

Here is the synopsis of the 2-hour debut of The Long Road Home:

“It’s the first day on patrol for Task Force Lancer when troops under Lt. Shane Aguero are ambushed during a routine sanitation mission.”

Join Cara and Rueben as they talk about the debut:

The mini-series is portraying real people in real events, and the series appears to be avoiding making this look or feel like an action movie. How do you feel about the way the series is handling the characters and situations that we’ve seen so far? How do you feel about the way characters are portrayed?

Cara: I feel like a conscious effort has been made to make this more than an action flick or war documentary. The focus is on the people involved and their lives, and I think they’ve successfully kept our attention on that. We don’t know everyone’s story yet, but I think the ones we do know have been shown well. I think Darius Homayoun is doing a nice job as Jassim, and Michael Kelly’s Gary Volesky made clear the gravity of the situation at times when the action of the show didn’t. The scenes with SPC Riddell (Joey Luthman) were very moving for me. Within a short span we see his naive inexperience turn into anger at the situation and what it has made him do. It was very moving for me. So far I think the actors have done a great job portraying these characters in a way that gives us a sense of who they are.

Rueben: Wow, so very well, said. Cara. That’s a hard one to follow-up. When you have a movie that is based on actual events, it’s always better – at least in my honest opinion – to not over-dramatize it. Let the story actually play out as real as possible since it’s based on real events. I think this mini-series has done that, giving us a glimpse into the background of one central character in each of the two hours of the debut. And, well done on the actors’ parts for playing the characters so well. I was actually moved by Shane Aguero (E.J. Bonilla) when he thought back to his children as he was working his way down that alley after they were ambushed.

At first the situation didn’t seem as dire as we know it will become. How do you feel about the build-up of tension and how the developing situation is being revealed to us?

Cara: At first, I think I was thinking of this as a movie, so I felt like things were moving very slowly, but given that we’ve got a long way to go, I think they’ve done a nice job of introducing the characters and portraying the atmosphere in the city before Black Sunday. I also really like that we only know about as much as the characters know. One thing I appreciated was that they didn’t show us the scene of the two vehicles being ambushed by men dressed as police officers. We saw a glimpse of the men in police uniforms, which gave us a hint of the events, but the scene wasn’t turned into an action sequence. I really appreciate the effort the show has made to demonstrate the drama and the tension without relying on explosions and gunfire alone. The bulk of the sense of urgency and dramatic tension comes from the actors and their responses. Overall I think the show is very nicely made and respectful to the soldiers and individuals involved.

Rueben: I think they did a good job of giving us those quick glances at what happened and then bouncing back to focus on the characters so we would become invested in what does eventually happen to them. I’m glad the path to the incident wasn’t wham-bam in our face first. They are building up to it all – for the most part – just as it happened to the men.

There seemed to be a bit of a herd mentality after the men stopped trying to save the fatally wounded Sgt. Eddie Chen (Kenny Leu), aiming their ire at Jassim the interpreter. What were your thoughts on how Lt. Aguero handled that situation especially with how intent Sgt. Bourquin has been against Jassim?

Cara: I was relieved too. We know from the premiere that Jassim is working with the Americans for a reason. I just hope it’s a good one. Lt. Aguero did a good job of getting himself in check, and then getting his team in line too. I such an unexpectedly tense situation, it’s impressive that he didn’t let emotions get out of control.

Rueben: I was, quite frankly, relieved that he handled the situation so well – he did what the leader of a squad is supposed to do – not allowing the men to take their anger out on Jassim. Although given the fact he has not been completely honest with his interpretations of what the men they have encountered have told him – not interpreting word-for-word – he should really be much more honest with them. I don’t want to believe that he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Commander Volesky had 20 years of service to his country under his belt at the time of this mission, and never lost anyone (according to his wife Leann). Perhaps he was right in making the promises to the families left behind during this deployment – given his track record – but did you think that he was making promises he couldn’t keep?

Cara: I think he’s going to struggle with that for sure. Then again, he was going off decades of experience, and all information about the supported what he was saying. I raised my eyebrows when he was making assurances about bringing everyone home, but I though he handled the mother’s criticisms of the mission well.

Rueben: Since he did have that much experience – both life and military – I would think that he would have been a bit more careful in his words to the families at Fort Hood. I have to wonder if we will see in future episodes his resolve on that stance be shaken or even shattered.

What are your thoughts on the debut of the new global event series? Please share your thoughts in our comments section below.

The next new episode of The Long Road Home will air on the National Geographic Channel on Tuesday, November 14 at its new time of 10/9c.

Using her favorite online handle, Rueben is an East Coast-bred gal who is now a permanent Californian and a lifelong tv-oholic. She watches at least 25 TV shows a week, goes to the movies as often as possible, listens to music every waking moment, reads every day and “plays” on the internet every chance she can. Some of her current favorite TV shows are Outlander, Arrow, Grimm, The Blacklist, Teen Wolf, Killjoys, Dark Matter, The Shannara Chronicles, Good Witch, When Calls the Heart, The 100, Switched at Birth, Jane the Virgin, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Flash and The Fosters (among others). Follow her at @ruebenrambling or contact her at rueben@nicegirlstv.com.

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