For Echo 3, 'mission accomplished' means sickening scorched earth

For Echo 3, ‘mission accomplished’ means sickening scorched earth [Apple TV+ recap]

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Actor Luke Evans holds a rifle in ☆☆☆☆
Echo 3 was always about military mayhem, but this week's raid is off the charts.
Photo: Apple TV+

TV+ ReviewIt’s finally go time on Echo 3, the Apple TV+ show about rescuing a CIA operative with a brother and a husband in the military. Prince and Bambi have cleared the runway for their secret invasion of the prison where sister/wife Amber is being held captive.

But big questions remain: Can they get in without getting killed? Is Amber actually there? Can they avoid a large-scale incursion with massive casualties? Can they flee the country to safety once they’re done? Is this at all a proportionate response?

Find out on this week’s installment of the most ideologically confused show on Apple TV+.

Echo 3 recap: ‘Scorched Earth’

Season 2, episode 9: In the episode, entitled “Scorched Earth,” Fireworks are being set off at the prison where Amber Chesborough Hass (played by Jessica Ann Collins) is being held captive. This complicates things ever so slightly for her brother Bambi (Luke Evans), her husband Alex “Prince” Haas (Michiel Huisman) and their cadre of Colombian mercenaries. The extra light might reveal them to the guards. On the other hand, all the noise from the party might cover the noise the rescuers are about to make.

They break through the prison’s first defenses pretty easily. Then they start killing cooks and other innocent people who happened to be awake past their bedtime and in the wrong place when the mercenaries walk by. They try to time their noises and bright flashes of light to the fireworks. They kill a bunch of guards and clear the main prison area — and they don’t find any sign of Amber. Maybe she’s dead?

“If she’s not here, fuck ’em, they had it coming,” shouts Prince. Time to just start killing everybody.

Where’s Amber?

Graciella (María del Rosario), one of Amber’s captors, knows when the bullets start flying why the intruders are here. And, after losing so much trying to secure Amber, she’ll be damned if Bambi and Prince are taking her back. They remember Graciella from their first engagement (where they killed her girlfriend), so when she rushes toward a heavily guarded part of the camp, they’re both sure that’s where Amber’s being held. Then the Venezuelans start killing a bunch of the mercenaries, and it’s looking like this nightmare is going to go the same way as their first attempts to get Amber.

Journalist Violeta Matiz (Martina Gusman) wakes up in the middle of the night to messages about the Colombian military invading the Venezuelan prison. She starts investigating, and all of her contacts are torn between confusion and sincerely believing that they think this is a put-on. The guys might be dressed like Colombian soldiers, but there’s no way that’s an officially sanctioned Colombian military operation. By the time Violeta gets any kind of an idea of what’s going on, the whole thing will have been mopped up anyway.

One final surprise

Bambi finally kills Graciella and makes it to Amber’s cell, but he can’t blow the door with explosives — they’ve filled her cell with flammable material. So he grabs a sledgehammer and breaks into her cell the old-fashioned way.

Amber’s so frazzled by the experience it takes her a long few minutes to decide for herself that her brother is actually there and not some kind of hallucination. He finally gets her out of the cell and into Prince’s arms, and then they all flee the scene together.

The horrors of war on film

The score that plays during the raid is absolutely bonkers. It’s got horror movie strings screaming all over the place, but they’re chopped and screwed like the sound effects in a Transformers movie.

It’s like they didn’t know how to make this seem like a more-interesting riff on the 10,000 scenes of military skirmishes before this one (including those in Echo 3 creator Mark Boal’s own movies, Zero Dark Thirty and Triple Frontier). So the Echo 3 creative team tried everything they could to make you think this was in any way novel. It isn’t. It’s just another gunfight, and not even a very good one.

Here’s an interesting thing about modern warfare in modern films. As I’ve said elsewhere, an unintended consequence of the reshaping of the Defense Department’s strategies abroad has been to reduce the ability to criticize the image of the U.S. military. Take, for instance, President Barack Obama’s drone warfare program. (It was only a matter of time, really, before drone warfare became a thing. It didn’t really matter that he was president when the era took hold).

Drone warfare doesn’t make for epic scenes

Deadly drones allowed the United States to kill people from a safe distance without deploying troops and having to explain to the American public why we were putting U.S. lives at stake. This helped us keep the news of our violence to a dull roar. I don’t think anyone you’d pass on the street knows even a ballpark figure of how many people have been killed by U.S. drones. This is the point.

When the Vietnam War was raging, it was easy to make movies critiquing it (at least in theory) because it’s easy to show soldiers shooting people. That’s an image people were seeing on TV every day. To put that into context, it’s got both the charge of excitement from being an American war movie — a tradition as old as the movies themselves — but also the added element of defiance. Or that was the idea.

Today, to criticize drone warfare in an American idiom, you need to show drone warfare. And that means you’re talking about guys in rooms pushing buttons. Not very cinematic. South African director Gavin Hood (Eye in the Sky) tried a few times to get us to understand the nightmare scenario of killer drones, but audiences remained largely deaf to his warnings.

Echo 3 raid is realistic — and truly revolting

All this is to say Boal and his crew shoot what he has engineered to be a very accurate depiction of what the raid in Echo 3 would actually look like. The thing about it is, it isn’t exciting. It’s sickeningly repetitive and numbing. We see figures in near-darkness shot in the head over and over and over and over again by silenced rifle fire. It’s just thudding sounds and heads exploding into a mess of squib blood.

Plus, the editing chops the geography of the prison to ribbons. You don’t know where anyone is — you just see them shooting people or getting shot. It’s horrible and miserable to sit through 30 minutes of this. What’s even more offputting is thinking that Boal was really putting the final punctuation on his argument that it was worth it to go rescue Amber. The reunion between Amber, Bambi and Prince is this breathless, emotional scene that can only mean one thing: mission accomplished.

Meanwhile, the pile of corpses and smoldering rubble is a testament to how important it was. Sickening. Grotesque.

☆☆☆☆

Watch Echo 3 on Apple TV+

New episodes of Echo 3 arrive on Apple TV+ every Friday.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.