No One Wants to See This Girl Die|
a meditation on the homoerotic subtext of "The Rat Patrol"
|by Robin Mayhall|
In The Love Thine Enemy Raid, the Rat Patrol attack a convoy carrying medical supplies to a German field hospital. Investigating the halted trucks, Sgt. Sam Troy accidentally shoots a young, attractive female German nurse, wounding her severely. She begs him not to let her die, and stricken with guilt over his hasty shot, he agrees to take the Rat Patrol into enemy territory and deliver her to the field hospital. Determined not to let the woman die, he overrules Sgt. Jack Moffitt's strenuous objections that the patrol and their mission should not be risked in favor of the enemy, even a nurse.
His objections rebuffed, Moffitt retreats into a sulky near-silence for the remainder of the episode, speaking up only to repeatedly object to Troy's orders. He participates reluctantly in the raid, and only cracks a smile -- albeit a halfhearted one -- at the end of the episode, after the woman has been returned to the hospital and the patrol has successfully escaped its pursuers. Troy asks Moffitt what he would have done had he been the one to shoot the woman. Moffitt shrugs and says. "I don't know. It doesn't much matter now, does it?"
It does matter. I for one would love to know the answer to Troy's question, because it would go a long way toward clearing up a debate in my mind over whether the two men's relationship goes beyond friendship. I'd love to know what was going on inside Moffitt's head, and I'd love to know why I (and apparently, the show's producers) find this question so much more fascinating than the more conventional question of why Troy chooses to help the woman in the first place.
It's easy to argue that Moffitt's concerns are valid. The woman overhears part of a conversation including information that would be damaging to the Allies if revealed to their enemies. Moffitt worries that if the woman is taken to the hospital and saved, she will report the information she has heard to German officers. Considering the track record of attractive German women in previous episodes of The Rat Patrol, he has every reason to be worried. But as portrayed by Gary Raymond, Sgt. Moffitt behaves in a way that resembles jealousy over Troy's connection to the woman more than concern for himself and his fellow soldiers.
The homoerotic subtext of The Rat Patrol has been hotly debated -- there are fans who see sexual tension underlying the relationships of almost any combination of characters on the show, including Troy and Moffitt, Troy and Dietrich, and Moffitt and Dietrich, and there are many who dismiss such speculations out of hand. I believe The Love Thine Enemy Raid is one of the better arguments in favor of a relationship between Moffitt and Troy that goes deeper than that of friends and colleagues.
It's hard to say whether this relationship is something that the show's writers deliberately introduced, or whether the directors or even the actors themselves are responsible for creating the subtext. A case can be made for any of these factors or a combination of the three.
Several scenes in The Love Thine Enemy Raid indicate that the hint of sexual interplay between Moffitt and Troy is deliberately written. The sheer number of times that Moffitt objects to saving the woman and the way they're written are a powerful argument. He argues against taking her to an Allied hospital 80 miles away. He is the first to become suspicious when the woman initially tells Troy that there is a German field hospital nearby, and shoots down all of Troy's suggestions for finding a way to get the injured woman there. When the patrol come across a dying soldier, a victim of German attacks, it's Moffitt who notices that the woman has regained consciousness and is listening to the soldier's information about Allied reinforcements on their way.
One can argue persuasively that Moffitt's concerns are more than valid. The patrol are on a mission vital to saving an Allied division that has been penned in by German troops. The longer they delay, the more Allied troops may die. And it's true that taking the patrol into enemy territory is an insane risk. But any dedicated fan of The Rat Patrol might well wonder why Moffitt, who has willingly followed Troy into any number of insane situations, suddenly balks at this one. And consider this: in trying to convince Troy that the German woman is likely to betray them to her colleagues if they let her live, Moffitt tells Troy he's letting a "misguided feeling of guilt overrule his values." The statement is utterly inane in the context of the show and everything we know about the Rat Patrol, who are honorable to a fault. Who would Troy be if not for the values that insist he save an innocent life? "No one wants to see this girl die," Moffitt says, but he certainly acts as if he does.
Two other scenes are good examples of the screenwriters' complicity in the development of a subtextual relationship between the two men. Once they have successfully entered the German camp and carried the woman into the hospital, they clearly hear the German surgeon say that if she is moved, she'll die -- yet Moffitt again insists that they can't leave her with her German friends. And after they have managed to escape, when Troy says hopefully that the woman must not have betrayed them, Moffitt answers coldly, "Or she didn't live."
It may be the screenwriters' deliberate instruction as well that Moffitt spends a great deal of time skulking away from the rest of the patrol during this episode, or this could be the director's choice. It's hard to say, but there are a number of scenes that do serve as evidence that the director is steering the episode in a certain way. Right after the woman is shot, the two privates gather around to help Troy with her, while Moffitt, not seeming terribly concerned, hangs back. He only steps forward when Troy starts talking about saving her. He gets testy right away, and there's a long, talky and smoldering scene as Troy decides to overrule Moffitt -- a combination, perhaps, of the screenwriter's imagination and the director's visualization.
A particularly striking scene occurs early in the episode as the two jeeps are shown traveling toward the German field hospital. In the first jeep, Troy cradles the wounded woman in his lap as Hitch drives. As the jeep turns slightly with the natural geography of the desert, the space between Troy's face and the gun trestle frames Moffitt, following in the second jeep and watching intently.
After the dying soldier reveals his information, Moffitt again objects to saving the German girl. Troy offers Moffitt his gun, essentially challenging him to go ahead and kill the woman since they can't leave her to die. The scene is composed of taut closeups of the two men as their eyes meet. Finally Moffitt shakes his head. When Troy presses his point, insisting that the patrol will take every chance to save her life "until there are no chances left," Moffitt only nods and mouths the word "okay." After holding Troy's eyes a moment longer, Moffitt stalks off. He looks for all the world like a lover who's jealous but too angry to admit it -- and a good argument can be made that this particular decision was made by the actor and not the director.
But there are a few more scenes that indicate a director's vision. After the above confrontation, Moffitt sticks to Troy's side like a remora for the rest of the episode, hanging back only when Troy lays the girl down in the German field hospital. He also clearly is keeping himself separate from the rest of the patrol at the end of the episode when they hear the radio broadcast telling them that the trapped Allied division has broken the German line.
Still, many of the scenes described above can also be used to make an argument that it's the actors themselves who are putting a homoerotic spin on their scenes together. It's hard to say whether it's the director or Gary Raymond who makes some of the decisions about Moffitt's physical actions. It could be Raymond who makes his character hang back, appearing to be sulking or testy, during many scenes in this episode. It's certainly Raymond, along with Christopher George, who puts the smolder into the two major confrontation scenes between Moffitt and Troy. Moffitt's gestures and actions throughout the episode recall a jealous lover. He purses his lips and appears reluctant to help move the German woman onto a stretcher. He puts a chill in his voice when he says "No one wants to see this girl die." He gives Troy a particularly smoky look after Troy passionately vows to take every chance to save her. He touches Troy frequently, as in the field hospital tent when he takes his arm to show the patch that has caused the German officer to mistake Troy for a demolition expert. He looks excessively perturbed when Troy refuses to leave the woman, and again in the final scene when Troy asserts hopefully that she must not have betrayed them, since the Allied reinforcements made it to their goal.
Finally, there are the smiles between the two -- Moffitt's halfhearted, slightly bitter one for Troy when he claims "it doesn't much matter" what he would have done if he had been the one to shoot the girl, and Troy's peaceful, almost forgiving smile in answer. A director might tell an actor to smile, but it's the actors who put the real warmth into the portrayal.
If any episode would convince an open-minded fan that Moffitt and Troy are more than friends, this would be the one. So the next obvious question would be "Why?" Why do we sense a subtextual relationship between Moffitt and Troy, considering that in the contexts both of a Sixties television show and of World War II-era manly men, it's truly not very likely? (If someone else wants to write an essay on the subject of wartime relationships and Men Without Women, I invite you to do so and submit it to the owner of this site!)
One might say prurient interest causes fans to look for something that isn't there. It's easy to take a perfectly innocent line, especially something written in the somewhat less guarded 1960s, and turn it into something it's not. Also, as beautiful as Gary Raymond and Christopher George are, it's almost impossible not to start thinking of them as sex objects -- and when there are remarkably few women around with whom the characters can express their sexuality, it's only natural that those expressions might be turned to one another.
But in that last statement lies the true answer. Why are we so interested in the text and subtext of the relationship between the two men? Because it's far more interesting than any relationship either of them has with any female who has the misfortune to show up on "The Rat Patrol," and the same can be said broadly of most shows on television -- both in the Sixties, and today.
The majority of screenwriters in the 1960s were male, and the disparity exists still, although not in as alarming a proportion. It's my contention that most male screenwriters (and the exceptions merely prove the rule) have trouble portraying interesting and complex relationships between men and women. Most such relationships on television, particularly in the half-hour format, can be listed under one of two categories: romances in which the male and female characters follow a predictable path toward true love, and tragedies in which the course of true love doesn't run smooth, so to speak. The second category can be further divided into two subcategories: the female character either turns out to be bad in some way by the end of the episode, or she dies.
In The Rat Patrol, examples of the second category dominate, and in fact abound. The members of the patrol never seem to show the slightest interest in women unless they're young, exceptionally attractive and doe-eyed, and when they do, trouble isn't far behind. Call it the Bonanza Law of Inconvenient Relationships: Rat Patrol girlfriends have short lifespans. Maryann, the French Resistance girl in The Last Harbor Raid, is doomed the moment she and Hitch become involved.
Troy and Moffitt both encounter countless wicked German frauleins, such as the woman who pretends to be the wife of the soldier Moffitt is impersonating in The Decoy Raid. In fact, The Love Thine Enemy Raid is a glaring anomaly in the fact that the German woman, although young and attractive, turns out not to be wicked and yet apparently survives the episode (although the ambiguous ending makes it hard to tell for sure).
One can name numerous examples of this phenomenon from other shows, including those on television today. On shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, all incarnations of Star Trek, Profiler, The Pretender, and a host of others, the main character's love interest, usually a woman, either becomes an enemy to be vanquished or an expendable character to conveniently die before the credits roll. They're getting better, but overall, I believe the male-dominated television community finds it difficult to portray complex and interesting male-female relationships without falling into the easy path of making the two characters fall in love. A few notable exceptions give me hope, including the deep and complicated friendship of Agents Mulder and Scully on The X-Files, the sometimes contentious working relationship between assistant district attorneys Jack McCoy and Jamie Ross on Law & Order, and the lopsided love story of Capt. Janeway and Commander Chakotay on Star Trek: Voyager, in which the sensitive male character longs unrequitedly to get closer to his commanding and apparently oblivious female superior officer.
While there seems to be considerable difficulty in portraying significant male-female relationships, screenwriters, producers, directors and actors seem to find complex male friendships endlessly fascinating. Numerous fine examples of writing, acting and directing can be found across every genre of TV show in which two (or more) male characters develop deep and lasting relationships. It's a particularly common theme in war- or combat-related shows, from M*A*S*H to Star Trek to, yes, The Rat Patrol. Drawn together by a common goal, kept together in comparative isolation, and forced to help each other survive traumatic experiences, it's no wonder any two given characters would seek comfort in one another. On television, if the two characters are opposite in gender, they'll almost certainly fall in love. So if the person you're around most often, who stands by you during the difficult times, who saves your life and keeps you company during the long boring parts between missions just happens to be a member of the same sex, who's to say the same resolution won't occur? The difference here is that, because society as a whole still does not easily accept the concept of homosexual love, it's not easy for a screenwriter or director to push toward that typical resolution.
So there's a lot of beating around the bush, but in the choices made by screenwriters, directors, and actors, the subtext seeps through. Many of the best examples on today's small screen can be found in syndicated programs that can afford to take more risks than the mainstream network fare. On Star Trek: The Next Generation, the tender relationship between Capt. Picard and Commander Data is remarkably more watchable than any of Commander Riker's more ordinary seductions. On Star Trek: Voyager, the producers have been trying to instigate a relationship between lieutenants Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres, which so far seems to be going almost nowhere -- perhaps because Tom better enjoys spending time with close friend Ensign Harry Kim. Tom and Harry certainly spend more time together than they do with the Delany sisters, the supposed objects of their affection early in the show's run, whom viewers have never seen. Fans of Xena: Warrior Princess have been engaged in an ongoing debate over whether the show's two female characters are involved sexually; a recent episode in which Xena kissed sidekick Gabrielle in a less than platonic manner, albeit in a vision that dissolved to find Gabrielle kissing a male companion instead, was merely a tease that did nothing to resolve the debate.
Even on more mainstream shows, in which little evidence or indeed motivation can be found for actual sexual relationships between same-sex characters, the chauvinism in favor of abiding male friendships is rampant. On ER, doctors Mark Greene and Doug Ross each have been through an endless succession of wives and girlfriends while their own passionate and often contentious friendship remains solid. Why can't these two men, who are capable of inexhaustible love, patience, compassion and compromise for one another, devote the same effort toward their relationships with women? My answer is that, by and large, even in 1997, on television women are bad, or at least scary. Screenwriters don't know what to do with them, so we must either pair them with a man in a love relationship or make them evil and vanquish them like Moffitt and Troy vanquish their evil German frauleins.
Similarly close relationships exist or have existed between leading male characters on Hawaii Five-0 (Danno and McGarrett), I Spy (Alexander Scott and Kelly Robinson), thirtysomething (Elliot Weston and Michael Steadman), Star Trek (Kirk and Spock), NYPD Blue (Sipowicz and Simone), Homicide (Pembleton and Bayliss), and Chicago Hope (Shutt and Geiger). Yes, it's true that the "buddy" storyline is revered and honored by time. But why can't women and men be buddies with one another? Because women are bad and scary. Perhaps if more women were active in television production, that adolescent-male viewpoint could be mitigated somewhat.
I certainly don't want to see the end of the buddy relationship. I love the interplay between Greene and Ross and between Moffitt and Troy as well. What I would like to see is more relationships like this between two female characters or between a male and a female. I certainly am not saying that I never want to see a male and female character fall in love on TV again, either. There have been some wonderful examples of interesting and well-written male-female relationships, including very traditional romances, that could be used to disprove everything I've written in the last few paragraphs . One major example is the romance between Dr. Quinn and Sully on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, one of the few dramas on television that truly gives women equal time, without neglecting the male characters either. I suppose that's what I'd like to see -- equal time for women and women's relationships amid the complex buddy system of male characters on television. As mentioned above, some of the popular hour-long dramas of the late 1990s, particularly The X-Files, have made great strides toward this goal.
Lacking time travel, I can't go back and change the social climate of 1960s television, and I have to admit in this case I don't care to. I enjoy watching the complex relationship between Jack Moffitt and Sam Troy. Not being inside the show's creator's head, there's no way for me to say with certainty that there is anything between them beyond the friendship of two men who have experienced numerous traumatic situations together. Probably, in the alternate reality in which Moffitt and Troy really exist, when the war was over they went their separate ways, back to conventional relationships with attractive, doe-eyed young women. But I do think that Sgt. Troy missed his Jack. I think that part of Moffitt did want to see that German girl die. And in the complex friendship between the two men, at some point, Moffitt probably gave Troy the answer to his question. Because it does matter.
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