During the third episode of “Six,” History’s new original series about a fictionalized group of Navy SEALs that run missions “inspired by” real operations, a captured ex-SEAL played by Walton Goggins sits in captivity with a Nigerian teacher and her students. He tries to bond with the teacher — in order to recruit her for an escape plan — and comfort her after she was sexually assaulted by a guard. But she’s suspicious of the American military, and tells him how ashamed her family will be of her if she ever sees them again.
“You were raped,” says Richard “Rip” Taggert (Goggins).
“Father will say I should’ve married, to be under a man’s protection,” she replies. “You don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t understand,” Rip says. “I will never understand that.”
The problem here doesn’t lie in the fact that “Six” fails to understand similar ideas of cultural disparity, nor that it doesn’t really try. Nor is it that the series purposefully uses an example triggering a similar response to Rip’s within viewers. This cliche-ridden, tonally uneven, “Hooyah!” yelling drama could have perhaps overcome such slights with a stronger opinion in general. But the real issue is that ideas like the one illustrated by the above exchange are so much more interesting than what “Six” has chosen to depict.
Tracking seven members of SEAL Team Six in the years following Osama Bin Laden’s death, “Six” comfortably jumps back and forth between the past, when Rip was leading the team, and the present, when the SEALs he trained are working to rescue him. Now led by Joe “Bear” Graves (Barry Sloane) and his second-in-command, Alex Caulder (Kyle Schmid), the relationships forged under fire are depicted with an emphasis on the forging. In between gunfights, the team must overcome a number of all-too-briefly discussed personal issues to come together and defeat their common enemy.
Now, if you already think you know what you’re getting into here, you’re 100 percent right. “Six” plays it very much by the book, both with its stock characters and simple-minded plot: These tough-as-nails Americans are gonna go over there and save their military brother, no matter what gets in there way. Such tried-and-true action fodder could have been fine, if never great, had familiarity been the “Six’s” only problem. But what, exactly, gets in their way is what plagues the series: Everyone who keeps them from their mission just so happens to be anyone who’s not a white male. Wives, ex-wives, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, foreigners, and even American minorities all keep the disturbing jingoistic narratives of ’80s action flicks alive, as “the other” surrounds our born-and-bred ‘Mericans — and each and every one pose a threat.
First, the casual, wholly unintentional, but still troubling choices to differentiate even American “others” needs to be acknowledged: Robert Chase (Edwin Hodge) is the new member of SEAL Team Six, and he’s the only black man present in the show. The overly stern orders given to the newbie, as well as the curt dismissals of Chase’s honest efforts, are acts we’ve seen before, as the uninitiated have to go through the gauntlet before becoming one of the boys. Yet while it’s not necessarily offensive that he’s treated as a nonmember considering he is one, why the one newcomer had to be black in a world of white faces seems…tactless, at the very least.
Far more intriguing is the choice to make the show’s main villain a Lebanese-American. Despite being raised in Michigan, this guy switches sides due to some egregious behavior witnessed overseas. Without spoiling the pilot’s twist ending, I can say the decision (as well as how, exactly, the villain comes to hate America) could lead to some interesting discussions down the line, but — based on the lack of interest in cultural discourse shown so far — his status as another non-white enemy of the state seems motivated for the surprise factor more than as an opportunity for the series to examine America’s role in fostering violence.
That the series half-heartedly attempts to engage in a discussion with ways of life outside the military is poor consolation. The women connected to our heroes are the best source of another world, but, again, these are one-note characters you’ve seen far too many times in similar war stories: Mrs. Ricky “Buddha” Ortiz is pushing her hubby to leave the team, even when his brother-in-arms is captured. She just doesn’t understand that he has two families: one with her, and one with his SEALs. Bear’s wife is angling to have a kid, and she’s similarly unconcerned with his other priorities; rarely does shop talk enter the household, nor does it go acknowledged by a wife who’s only that. Alex’s ex might take the prize for most antagonistic, as she demands more child support all while parading a daughter around who our soldier probably “doesn’t recognize.” She storms through in a quick cameo between Alex bedding a number of unnamed ladies, but we’re primarily asked to pity the soldier rather than blame him.
The series comes closest to finding significance when it’s willing to admit that the damage inflicted in one world can affect the other. Take the aforementioned scene between Rip and the teacher, which leads to a series of flashbacks explaining the former team leader’s downfall. Before, we were told his wife “left him and cleaned out his bank account,” which painted a pretty gross picture that wasn’t corrected soon enough. It took two hours-plus to flesh out the good reasons she had for abandoning the damaged warrior, and — even with a well-executed montage of the war abroad and the war at home to explain Rip’s struggles — it proved too little, too late. Each of these side stories may give a nod or two toward the men’s better halves, but they’re all presented as obstacles to be overcome so the men can get back to work, and we, in turn, can watch more (admittedly well-captured) battle scenes.
The action is well-captured, including a couple of beautiful shots (courtesy of Lesli Linka Glatter, who directed the first two episodes) better than the sequences themselves. But “Six’s” disinterest in anything fresh, from an outsider’s perspective to a stronger opinion about anything in this world, dooms the series to mediocrity. We all need to try a little harder to understand the other side, and “Six” is far too content to aim straight down the middle.