Masters of the Air – Season 1 Episode 3 “Part Three” Recap & Review

Part Three

Episode 3 of Masters of the Air begins with the promise of the biggest air strike ever attempted in modern warfare history. Colonel Harding briefs the unit with the mission that aims to land a telling blow to the Germans that will take them months to recover from. On this occasion, the 8th Air Force will be targeting several ball-bearing production lines in three German cities. These small yet significant instruments go into every machine; without them, they cannot function. 

Harding drills home the point that given the tempting upsides, the mission has as much risk. The 8th will be divided into three task forces, each playing a distinct role in achieving this goal. The first task force will be targeting the factory in Regensburg. One of the 100th will lead the charge. However, this task force will also have to face the heaviest brunt of Kraut resistance.

The chances of casualties will be high. But the 418th will have to endure the onslaught to allow the other two task forces to fly deeper into German territory and hit the factories in Schweinfurt and Frankfurt. Another surprise for the boys is the last leg of the plan – the return home. There will be no coming back to Abbots and Thorpe because the 8th will be flying further South to Telergma in Africa. Harding also informs the boys, to their utter disappointment, that they will be flying Tail-end Charlie, meaning that they will be the most exposed to enemy fire in the air.

Egan will fly this mission as a reserve command pilot in Major Crookshank’s fort. This confuses Cleven who unsuccessfully enquires about it from Egan. What compounds the difficulty levels for the mission is the dense fog that envelopes the base later that day. It delays the unit’s take-off quite a bit.  The crewmen are anxious to get in the air. All of this nervousness vanishes when Harding gets instructions from central command to go wheels up…without the second and third task forces. 

Harding is taken aback by the order. He knows the instruction will lead the first task force straight into enemy territory without support. But he has little agency to act otherwise and relays the order to the planes. Mid-air, the unit realizes they are on their own. The German Flaks are very light and easy to navigate, indicating that the German fighters are preparing to bombard the task force. And it soon follows suit. The fighters go straight for Cleven’s fort. The Germans take out the entire second element, leaving Cleven and the plane further exposed.

The task force is able to negate a few German fighters as well. But the damage to the Americans is telling. A visual from the control room reveals that the unit is still almost three hours away from the IP. This mission is headed towards being a colossal disaster and there is very little that can be done to avert it. One plane after the other goes down fighting. In the midst of it all, Curt’s plane is also damaged beyond saving. Dickie, his copilot, is hit around the neck area. But he is still breathing, barely. 

Curt doesn’t want to abandon him but is reminded by Ewan that there is no choice. We see other crewmen facing similar situations and the entire perspective of the men in the air becomes crystal clear for the viewers. It is a losing battle, one that makes them feel powerless and without hope. Although Curt had promised to follow Ewan, he stays in the cockpit and is killed when the plane crashes. News finally breaks that the other two task forces have crossed the English channel, marking a giant five-hour delay. 

Cleven’s plane also faces a similar fate as Curt’s after getting hit in the fuel tank and one of the engines. However, he makes it clear to the crew that they will continue flying and won’t bail until the plane is still in the air. What’s left of the 8th finally reaches above the IP as the German planes return to refuel. The crewmen finally breathe a sigh of relief as they destroy the factory. The mission is successful, although only ten US planes remain in the air. Cleven’s plane desperately falls back in the pack.

He still isn’t ready to bail out. Cleven instructs the crew to dump everything not bolted to the plane in order to stretch its range a little further. With no more German fighters to endure, the first task force of the 8th finally makes it to Africa. Only nine planes remain in the group. Quinn, who had bailed and landed somewhere in France, is confronted with the choice of either surrendering and becoming a prisoner of war of the Germans, or escaping back to England and risking his life.

All the airborne planes land safely; Cleven’s is the last. Egan greets him and the rest in a jeep. However, one from Cleven’s crew, Norm, didn’t make it. Cleven and Egan discuss with the others that they might have lost but believe that Curt would have made it safely somewhere. 

The Episode Review

Episode 3 brings a bitter-sweet conclusion that really makes you wonder about the cost of war. It puts into perspective all the lives that are lost in such scenarios, something that can never be made whole again. The dramatic beats managed to find space in the mid-air sequences. It is a difficult combination to execute and manage but the makers do a fantastic job. Blake Neely’s score elevates the emotional appeal of episode 3, tying up its highs and lows with poetic grandeur.

Austin Butler continues to scale new laurels as an actor. This was the toughest battle yet for his character, giving him a chance to make a leader out of Cleven. The camaraderie isn’t as strong as Band of Brothers but it is natural owing to the format. 

I cannot stop admiring the enormity of the production that keeps on delivering pleasant surprises. Masters of the Air is a major technical feat that will be hard to replicate. We are only three episodes in and it feels like we have already endured a season’s worth of drama and action. Could this be the best show of 2024?

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You can read our full Season 1 Review of Masters of the Air here!
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