Masters of the Air episode 6 review: "Doesn't quite fulfil its potential"

Masters of the Air
(Image: © Apple)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A muddled lull in the action that feels like a misstep – but with a tense, harrowing plot for Egan

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The following contains spoilers for Masters of the Air episode 6. 

It's time for a breather. Last week, Masters of the Air focused on a large-scale battle that annihilated almost all of the Bloody Hundredth. It makes sense, then, that episode 6 might ease off the gas to give the men – and us – time to process and mourn, just as episode 4 relocated to the ground following a similarly devastating battle. But, Masters of the Air episode 6 stumbles in the execution, offering a muddled lull in the action that doesn't quite fulfil its potential. 

The episode is split between Cros, Rosenthal, and Egan. With Rosenthal and co., we head to a rural retreat in the English countryside so the squad can have a dearly needed reprieve. Though the show makes admirable attempts to engage with the flyer's clear post-traumatic stress disorder (back then, understood with terms like "combat fatigue"), it unfortunately ends up feeling rather surface level for such a deep issue. 

The countryside

Masters of the Air

(Image credit: Apple)

Rosenthal is determined to get back in the air, but is clearly suffering from what happened in last week's episode and wants to cope by re-entering combat. In the end, all it takes for him to be seen at ease with jumping back into his plane is a single conversation with a doctor, which helps to impress upon Rosenthal the importance of leadership. His impulse to stay in the air goes mostly unexamined. Elsewhere, some of the men strike up a faltering conversation about their experiences in the skies, and it's implied this openness – and the ability to laugh about it all – helps them come to terms with their situation. But it just feels too light-touch to really be effective, and it's especially odd when compared to Band of Brothers' raw and compelling depiction of PTSD. 

Over in Oxford, Cros is struggling with survivor's guilt, but, similarly, it's apparently resolved after a single – albeit emotional – conversation, which helps him understand he's not responsible for Bubbles's death. It's all a missed opportunity to take the time to really dig into what the men are going through, and, as a consequence, the bulk of this episode ends up feeling like a misplaced, meandering diversion rather than an insightful break from the action (again, like episode 4's very effective look at war on the ground and the home front). When juxtaposed with Egan's pulse-pounding experiences in Germany, it's even stranger.  

Cros's time in Oxford also carries some other oddities. There's a bizarre attitude towards British soldiers: Cros has his pronunciation corrected, faces down a snooty officer who criticizes the behaviour of Americans – only to be humiliated by Cros reminding him those Americans could die at any time – and there's even a low-effort joke tossed in about the American Revolution. Combined with the spiteful, downright cruel RAF men we met earlier in the season, it all starts to feel a bit like patriotism going overboard. Towards the end of the episode, we hear a song that speaks of how every Allied nation had to stand together to defeat fascism; why isn't the series reflecting that same spirit? 

There is one likeable Oxford character, though, in the form of Subaltern Westgate. Her time with Cros is another acknowledgment of women's many roles in the war, but, again, it feels like an out of place digression. It's nice to see Cros get a break, but when that's really all the storyline accomplishes, it feels aimless. 

Enemy territory 

Masters of the Air

(Image credit: Apple)

This interlude in the countryside, however, is broken up with Egan undergoing an intense, terrifying ordeal overseas. After being shot down and landing in Nazi Germany, Egan is quickly discovered by farmers. It's horror movie tense when Egan slips into a body of water and is pursued through the reeds by the armed farmers – the click of a gun heralding his capture is devastating. 

What happens to Egan and the other captured men is brutal; the shocking violence of the majority of the POWs being executed in a destroyed village and a badly wounded Egan later making his escape – as his own grave is being dug – is stomach-churning. 

Egan refuses to spill any secrets to the Nazi officer interrogating him – in a surprisingly, unsettlingly genial fashion – and that gets him transported to a POW camp. It is absolutely, physically harrowing when Egan and the other POWs see a train transporting civilians, each of them wailing for help. What goes unspoken here is powerfully effective. 

The Major's journey through this episode is also made up of striking visuals, with ferocious dogs, a train arriving in the dark surrounded by the ghostly hiss of steam, and distorted, furious shouting from Nazi soldiers stacking up to create an atmospheric nightmare. 

When Egan eventually arrives at the POW camp, there's something uplifting to balance the bleakness: Cleven is revealed to have survived, and calls out to Egan. The duo are reunited, but in terrible circumstances, emphasised by a slow, ominous pan up to the full, sprawling camp. 

By the end of the episode, it feels as if the only significant development in the show's overarching narrative is this reunion. Masters of the Air has been consistently excellent until now, though, so I'm confident this is just a slight misstep in what would otherwise prove to be a stellar miniseries. With three episodes left, that remains to be seen – but, for now, we're primed for a return to the skies next week, and a catch up with Cleven. 

Masters of the Air continues weekly on Apple TV Plus. Fill out your watchlist with our guide to the best Apple TV Plus shows streaming 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.