Apple TV+’s ‘Masters of the Air’ is a WWII drama series that follows the 100th Bomb Group, who arrive in the heat of the battle to fight the Nazi forces in 1943. They take to the skies to win a war whose outcome significantly impacts the face of the world. The men understand the importance of their responsibility and why it’s important they win, but that doesn’t make their experiences any less horrifying. Apart from the enemy, they also have to fight the challenges posed by the high altitude as well as their own psyche, which starts to budge under the pressures of war. A similar experience was presented to the audience with ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific.’ Is ‘Masters of the Air’ related to them?
Masters of the Air is the Spiritual Successor of Band of Brothers and The Pacific
When ‘Band of Brothers’ was released in 2001, it was one of the most expensive shows of the time, with a sprawling cast that consisted mainly of unknown actors (a lot of whom have now earned fame and popularity). Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Stephen E. Ambrose, ‘Band of Brothers’ follows the journey of the Easy Company (506th US Infantry Regiment), presenting war as previously unseen on television. With Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks at the helm, the show was set apart by the fact that it didn’t just rely on the plot point of defeating the enemy and saving the day. It was much more concerned with the men of Easy Company and the toll that war takes on them.
In 2010, this formula was repeated in ‘The Pacific’ with Hanks and Spielberg returning alongside Gary Goetzman. Instead of going back to the Second World War and the Infantry unit, it turned its attention towards the Pacific War, shown from the perspective of the US Marine Corps. The narrative also took a different approach as three soldiers from different regiments of the same division shared the focus instead of an entire regiment. Once again, the inspiration for the story was found in the books ‘Helmet for My Pillow’ by Robert Leckie and ‘With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa’ by Eugene Sledge, serving as the main source material. Once again, the plight of the soldiers and their solidarity with the brothers-in-arms took preference over defeating the villain.
‘Masters of the Air’ takes a similar approach, built by Hanks, Spielberg, and Goetzman in the image of ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific.’ It is less of a sequel and more of a companion piece, sort of serving as the third entry in the trilogy of war dramas, with each show presenting a different side of it. The Apple TV+ series is closer to ‘Band of Brothers’ in some aspects, mainly because both of them are set during the Second World War. While its predecessors covered the land and the water, ‘Masters of the Air,’ as the name suggests, covers the aerial aspect of war. Once again, a book (Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany by Donald L. Miller) serves as the inspiration for the series.
Much like ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific,’ ‘Masters of the Air’ focuses on the collective experience of the 100th rather than focusing on a single protagonist. Like its predecessors, it is more invested in the idea of the group rather than its one or two leaders to be presented as the heroes of the story. While Austin Butler and Callum Turner’s Bucks are at the front and center, they don’t hijack the entire series for themselves. Instead, every side character, from the pilots to navigators to the engineers who fix the planes, is given ample space for their stories to be explored with the attention they deserve.
‘Masters of the Air’ also has a plethora of well-established names, who were mostly unknown names at the time they were cast, like Austin Butler, Callum Turner, Ncuti Gatwa, and Barry Keoghan. ‘Band of Brothers’ did something similar, casting mostly unknown actors at the time, most of whom appear in blink-and-you’ll-miss cameos, who are now a brand in themselves. From Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy to Andrew Scott, James McAvoy, and even Jimmy Fallon, ‘Band of Brothers’ had a lot of space for the newcomers. ‘Masters of the Air,’ with its sprawling cast of characters, does the same. (Though only the future will decide whether the cast of ‘Masters of the Air’ reaches the bar created by the cast of ‘Band of Brothers.’)
Considering all this, it is clear that ‘Masters of the Air’ is cut out of the same fabric as ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific.’ However, it remains a unique show in its own right, establishing itself rightfully next to its sister series.