“Buckley’s Goat” is scattershot and inconsistent, but proves that Paramount’s new military dramedy won’t be pulling any punches.
This recap of 68 Whiskey Season 1, Episode 1, “Buckley’s Goat”, contains spoilers.
Hosted on the same network as the riveting, often deathly-serious Yellowstone, the most surprising thing about 68 Whiskey (Paramount) is how silly it often is. The military dramedy promises to pull no punches whatsoever when it comes to depicting American servicemen and women in Afghanistan, but its anarchic tone sugar-coats the satirical pill, even if the premiere episode, “Buckley’s Goat”, proves that the show can handle drama when it needs to.
None of this is to say that the show isn’t decidedly adult, either; 68 Whiskey Episode 1 opens with a sex scene in which it’s established that Grace Durkin (Gage Golightly) can’t achieve orgasm while her quickie partner, Cooper Roback (Sam Keeley) is inside her.
It is what it is, I suppose, and also the least of anyone’s problems on NATO Coalition Base Guardian, Laghman Province, Afghanistan, otherwise known as “The Orphanage”. For instance, Roback’s inability to get Grace off might do more than damage his pride, since her hulking boyfriend, Sasquatch (Derek Theler), has no problem hammering Roback in a boxing match – and that’s when he’s none the wiser about the affair.
A crisis arrives quickly in “Buckley’s Goat”. Roback and his medic team are flown out to evacuate an injured soldier running a rug hustle and a multilingual local from the supposedly friendly village. But the village is up in arms about the lack of medical supplies provided by the U.S. forces after the demolition job they’d done on the village; a surprising slant for 68 Whiskey to take so early in its premiere episode.
In another surprise, the American soldier promptly dies in transit, thanks in part to Rosa Alvarez (Cristina Rodlo, late of AMC’s woeful second season of The Terror) failing to notice an exit wound on his back. The local survives, barely, but lands Roback in more trouble when he’s taken to The Orphanage’s medical facility when there was a closer site available. Major Sonia Holloway (Beth Riesgraf), presumably in charge of the hospital, seems chagrined that a valuable bed is being taken up by an Afghani and not an American serviceman – again, a surprisingly frank angle to take. She’s further annoyed when she catches Roback and his men smuggling rugs in a body bag in honor of their fallen comrade, whose name is Corporal John Buckley.
We begin to get a sense of the dynamics in “Buckley’s Goat”. Alvarez, taking the man’s death hard because of her blunder, is comforted by Roback and his partner-in-crime Mekhi Davis (Jeremy Tardy); these three form the triumvirate of central characters at The Orphanage, but the number of allies – or perhaps co-conspirators would be a better term – increases as the episode goes.
That’s partly because Roback hatches a plan to make back the money he and Davis lost on the boxing match against Sasquatch by trading expired military vaccines with the aggrieved locals. But he needs Durkin’s help to do that, since she has the key to the supply hut, but their affair needs to be kept under wraps since Sasquatch, as well as being a giant, capable fighter, is also her only connection to a profitable side hustle in which she poses with weapons on Instagram. To get her on-side, Roback agrees to cut her in on the deal.
Shortly after, Roback and Davis are caught in the supply hut by the on-duty guard, Private Anthony Petrocelli (Nicholas Coombe), and pretty soon he, too, is in on the deal. Petrocelli is another of the main players introduced in 68 Whiskey Episode 1. We’ll be seeing more of him. And just for good measure, interpreter Khalil (Artur) is in on it too. Davis is fuming at this point.
Anyway, time for “Buckley’s Goat” to check back in on some burgeoning subplots. First, Alvarez: She’s steaming drunk on the roof of the barracks ranting about all kinds of things, having drowned her sorrows a little too much, and Major Holloway is having a sex dream about her handsome patient, which is interrupted by her husband and kids back home. Awkward.
That drunken outburst lands Alvarez in a great deal of trouble. Col. Harlan Austin (Lamont Thompson) informs her that her status has changed and she has been discharged. That status is her citizenship. She’s a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient and her father was recently deported. But she was allowed to enlist under MAVNI (Military Accessions Vital to National Interest), so her sudden status change is clearly someone up to something; nevertheless, there’s nothing Colonel Austin can do for her. Once again we’re in surprising territory, though I suppose a commentary on U.S. immigration policy is par for the course at this point.
The black-market swap is underway, and Roback, Petrocelli, and Davis head out in an ambulance with their pilfered medical supplies. At the Afghan village, they eventually find the right house (funny line from Davis here about not going door-to-door like a Jehovah’s Witness), where they’re disarmed by a hulking guard – a potential threat to Sasquatch’s title? – and meet the leader, who’s willing to exchange the medication for a hefty supply of hashish. Simple!
But not quite. The Afghans seem to think the deal is only for one brick of hashish, which Davis won’t accept, and Roback isn’t much help since he’s high as a kite from sampling the product. Words are exchanged. Guns are drawn. 68 Whiskey Season 1, Episode 1 is able to build tension surprisingly effectively here; I forgot for a moment that it was largely a comedy. Roback and Davis are able to make their escape by threatening to light the supplies on fire.
Finally, we meet the goat of the title – Petrocelli befriends it while he’s waiting outside. A local boy describes it as being “touched in the head”, or perhaps cursed by spirits, hence it hasn’t been eaten. Turns out this lad is the brother of the local in the Orphanage hospital.
The guys’ escape is temporarily thwarted by Sasquatch and his unit, who surround Petrocelli while he’s chilling with the goat, but Roback and Davis, who aren’t in his chain of command, aren’t fussed. But now Sasquatch knows they were there, and his enigmatic warnings to stay away from the village hint at a broader issue for later episodes to unpack.
On the subject of issues, “Buckley’s Goat” has one more: The stolen ambulance is on fire. Roback, Davis and Petrocelli have no choice but to hike back.