Masters of the Air episode 5 review: "Shattering loss and large-scale spectacle"

Masters of the Air episode 5
(Image: © Apple)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

With bloody spectacle and shattering loss, this is an episode defined by absence

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Masters of the Air episode 5 heralds the halfway mark of the limited series' run, with just four episodes remaining. Appropriately, the show hits a seismic turning point this week in an installment that brings shattering loss, large-scale spectacle, and more lingering grief. 

There is an opening moment of genuine cheer to guide us through the bleakness of the rest of the episode, though: Crosby makes it back to base alive and well after last week's misadventure. It's sobering when Cros and his crewmates return to find replacements already in their beds – even more uncanny is when Crosby's fellow navigator, Bubbles, admits he penned a letter to Cros's wife about his death. Luckily, it went unsent. 

But while Crosby has staged a miraculous return, Cleven notably has not. This is an episode defined by absence: Egan, usually one part of a double act with Cleven, begins the episode mourning his friend alone, while later, after Cros gets promoted, he cuts a lonely figure as he eats solo, waiting for the men – his friends – to return. 

Previously, I've said Callum Turner steals the show – and while he very much does, it'd be remiss not to give Anthony Boyle his due. Cros, our narrator and often our audience surrogate, is endlessly likeable thanks to Boyle's physical expressiveness; his persistent imposter syndrome and fear for his friends is displayed openly and earnestly from his face and posture alone. 

Bloody spectacle 

Masters of the Air episode 5

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

The bulk of the episode, though, is dedicated to the bloody spectacle of aerial combat as the men set out on another death defying mission. The score's rhythm falls into something like a ticking clock as the squadron is driven to their planes; it's clear that something is about to go spectacularly wrong. 

The VFX as the men hit the skies remains consistently excellent (this is not an episode for those who fear heights), complete with a dizzying view of a glass gun turret that looks straight down at the ground before the flak sets the plane to shuddering. 

The focus of the first half of the battle is strictly on Egan's aircraft, which effectively narrows the scope of what could otherwise become an overwhelming action sequence. It'd be easy to get lost in the sheer chaos, but when we have familiar faces to ground us, the emotional beats hit even harder as flak rips gruesomely through the squadron. 

Blake Neely's score lurches to the nightmarish as German planes fill the sky and the situation turns from bleak to truly hopeless; it's a goosebump-raising moment. The battle that follows is on a blockbuster scale, with immaculate sound design that sharpens every bullet, every droning engine, and every anguished cry. 

Ultimately, Egan and his crew have to abandon their plane, which results in a vertigo-inducing free fall to dangerous ground: Egan touches down in Germany, and you can't help thinking he might have been safer in the air. 

The focus then switches seamlessly to Lt. Rosenthal. He quickly emerges as a key character to lead us forward in the absence of more familiar faces, and he proves to be an excellent leader, holding his nerve to drop the bombs only at the precise moment, manoeuvring around enemy planes on the attack, and even humming a rousing tune to encourage his crew. For much of this sequence, Rosenthal is wearing a mask, which means it's down to Nate Mann's eyes alone to convey the stress, the intensity, and the determination of flying a plane in such extreme circumstances – and he delivers. 

Shattering loss 

Masters of the Air episode 5

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

It's disturbingly eerie when Rosenthal's plane finds itself the only intact Allied aircraft in the sky. In the quiet, debris floats down oddly slowly in a surreal, ghostly scene that impresses upon us the utter devastation of this battle. In just one episode, almost the entire Bloody Hundredth has been lost. It's staggering, and the only thing that might have made the sequence even more impactful is if we'd had more of a chance to get to know the men who have been lost, rather than just the handful of key characters the series has focused on so far. 

The episode ends with Cros, alone in the frame, reading the eulogy Bubbles wrote for him and crying silently. It's deeply affecting to see Cros attempting to cry in secrecy, even as others work around him to remove the personal belongings of the fallen flyers. It's also a contrast to Egan, who, all episode, tamped down his grief – even as it was obvious suppressing his misery was only priming him to fall apart. 

When Cros leaves the frame, the camera lingers on that empty bed, and all the empty beds beside it, in a quietly moving emphasis on the scale of the episode's losses. Whatever comes next for the Bloody Hundredth, it's clear that they will never be the same. 

Masters of the Air continues weekly on Apple TV Plus. For more, check out our guide to all the best Apple TV Plus shows to stream now. 

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Molly Edwards
Entertainment Writer

I'm an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things film and TV for the site's Total Film and SFX sections. I previously worked on the Disney magazines team at Immediate Media, and also wrote on the CBeebies, MEGA!, and Star Wars Galaxy titles after graduating with a BA in English.