The Unit: Season 4

The fourth and final season of this show had a slightly different feel to the other seasons, and for me, it didn’t really work. While I think it’s important to shake things up a bit in long running series, it almost felt like the writers went a bit crazy and decided to change everything all at once. Maybe it’s a hangover from the truncated third season and long break between them (thanks to the writers’ strike) but so much changed it didn’t quite feel like the same show.

There’s a major arc running through the series for the first time, a massive terrorist threat that impacts the lives of not only the soldiers but the wives too, who are forced to go undercover to investigate the threat. That was the first thing that didn’t work – suddenly the show isn’t about the obvious contrasts and subtle similarities between the lives of the soldiers and their wives, but the wives are intruding on their husbands’ roles. Felt It just didn’t feel as realistic.

Then you’ve got a couple of new characters. A female operative joins the team (sort of), which could have been interesting but just didn’t quite work out. She spent the majority of her time back in the base, where she was just another member of the already predominantly female support team. On the rare occasions she did go out I just found it slightly creepy the way she was always the beautiful girlfriend, never involved in the really dangerous stuff. In the final few episodes they introduce a new full time team member, but he’s barely arrived before he disappears again, never really feeling like a full blown member of the team.

In fact the team spent more time as a three than a five, as Grey was absent from a good half the episodes. I’d previously complained that the bachelors in the team weren’t developed as well as the others, so this season’s solution was to have Grey fall in love and bring a new wife into the team. Which again would have been interesting if not for the fact that the storyline was really badly paced, first rushed and then awol when the character just disappeared for several episodes.

I don’t know at what point the show found out it wasn’t being renewed, maybe that caused some chaos in the writers room, but poor continuity and consistence has always been a bit of an issue. The individual episodes are all still interesting; with the usual quality of direction, writing, stunts and effects that really were the show’s hallmarks. But the season overall left me feeling disappointed, a sense that the writers actually got their own show killed.

Special Features
There are three little featurettes each of which are nice enough, but fairly short and unremarkable. There aren’t any commentaries which is a bit of a surprise given the enthusiasm and quantity of them on previous seasons, but I guess they’re harder to do once your show has been cancelled.

The Unit – Season 3

This season went by fast! Thanks to the writers’ strike it’s only 11 episodes long, and with two two-parters, it feels like there’s only really 9 episodes. Each of the double episodes is very interesting, the first resolving the cliff hanger of the previous season with the guys separated and having to fight their own government. The second is a very powerful piece of storytelling – a mission gone disastrously wrong with the boys in real peril, and then the fallout from that. Each shows how the team works together (even when separated) and the different dynamics within the group, I’ve watched feature films with less story and polish than these episodes.

In comparison a lot of the single episodes are unremarkable. The writing, acting and directing all maintains the high standards of the first season, but the stories are fairly instantly forgettable. Meanwhile the relationships and ‘fluffy’ stuff is starting to feel contrived, too obviously linking to the military missions. That half of the show always has to be careful not to stray too far into the land of soap opera and a few times they crossed that line this season. Maybe it’s just more obvious because of how real and uncontrived the military side of the stories feel.

Special Features
I have the complete series, so not sure if the special features are different to the single season box set. There’s an impressive collection of commentaries, which are reasonably interesting, although nothing earth shatteringly original. The cast clearly has a riot together because their commentaries are full of in-jokes, singing and giggling, not necessarily very informative but entertaining to listen to. There’s an interesting ½ hour interview with the writing team talking about the show, with Sean Ryan once again leading the discussion very well. There’s also a couple of deleted scenes, but nothing that wasn’t a justified edit.

The Unit – Seasons 1&2

The show is made of two halves which contrast and complement each other beautifully. The most prominent aspect is the military half, following a five man special forces team on their covert missions which could be anything from acting as body guards to diplomats, extracting information from behind enemy lines, or assassinating unfavourable characters. There’s plenty of spy stuff, running and shooting, jumping out of planes and explosions.

To contrast with that however is life on the base. A meaty chunk of each episode is dedicated to the wives of these men who live on base, keep their secrets and never know where their husbands are. Their lives raising kids, paying bills and dealing with the military machine is shown to be almost as much a battle as their husbands missions.

All this could be very cheesy but there’s a brutal honesty which makes it compelling. The series is based on a book written by a former special forces soldier and he serves as an executive producer and writes several episodes. While some of the missions may seem far-fetched, he swears by them and gives them credibility. Likewise the home life stories don’t pull any punches, showing how hard it is for these women to live, with their husbands bringing in pretty poor pay for their dangerous work and living with the knowledge that their husband may not come home and they will never be told why.

The storytelling is extremely well done. The action sequences are brutal and feel extremely real, I believe these characters can shoot and drive and speak all these languages, they really feel like a team of highly trained soldiers. Likewise the home life all rings true, the way the wives band together, doing whatever is necessary to protect their families and secrets.

The way the show also works well. Everything is handheld and has that slight documentary feel to it, energy and closeness. But at the same time the dialogue is slightly too perfect, almost poetic sitting on top of the chaos. It shouldn’t work, but it really does.

My only criticism of the first couple of seasons are that some of the characters are underused, it’s a five man team, but the two members without wives really aren’t developed, often entirely absent from episodes. It would have been interesting to contrast the families with the bachelor soldiers a bit more. There’s also some very questionable continuity in places, most notably the first season ended with an incident that (unless I missed something) was never really explained or followed up on.

Special Features
I have the full series box set, so I’m not sure if the special features are slightly different from individual season sets, it’s a nicely compact set, but nothing spectacular. There’s plenty of commentaries spread throughout with a good mixture of cast and crew. They do get a little samey after a while though. There’s a few interesting making of features, but I was disappointed there wasn’t a comprehensive featurette on how the series came about, how it was developed and cast. Those are usually pretty staple for first seasons.