New War Drama Focuses On America’s Elite: SEAL Team Six

The cast of "SIX," HISTORY's upcoming television war drama on SEAL Team Six.
Photo via HISTORY

It’s 2014 in eastern Afghanistan. Under the cover of darkness, a small and highly trained unit of Navy SEALs are on a mission to secure a high-value individual. Unable to the find their target, they regroup and prepare to leave, but are ambushed. In the ensuing gunbattle, they capture a pair of men; one is an American working with the jihadist fighters the SEALs were tasked to track down.

The team’s leader Richard "Rip" Taggart steps forward, levels his rifle, and kills the unarmed man. The other is escorted away, with Rip’s teammates visibly shaken. This is the audience’s introduction to the principal character of “SIX,” HISTORY’s eight-episode, scripted series about the military’s elite SEAL Team Six.

There’s a lot at play in “SIX,” and while this is SEAL Team Six we’re talking about — a unit shrouded in mystery and tasked with the toughest and most dangerous missions imaginable — the plot is so outlandish, it’s beyond the realm of possibility.

But, it’s also a TV war drama so there’s going to be, well, drama.

Walton Goggins as Richard "Rip" Taggart in HISTORY's upcoming TV war drama "SIX."

The majority of the show is set two years after the operation in Afghanistan. Rip, played by actor Walton Goggins, has left the team, pushed out due to strained relationships with his teammates over the killing, and has taken up work as a contractor. While providing security at an all-girls school in Nigeria, Rip, the students, and the civilians he’s guarding are captured by Boko Haram and taken prisoner. Then, the exact same team he served with years earlier is tasked with rescuing him before he can be handed off to a jihadist terror cell, one which happens to be run by the brother of the unarmed man he killed.

“SIX” is just the latest series from HISTORY to pay homage to America’s elite operators, and draws heavily from accounts of actual Navy SEAL missions.  

During one mission in the show, the SEALs track down a courier for Boko Haram and board a heavily protected shipping vessel, stealthily killing the guards inside, before detaining their target and then fighting their way off the ship. As they prepare to leave, the team’s newest member attempts to breach a steel bulkhead with an explosive charge, before Ricky “Buddha” Ortiz, the team’s breacher and a senior SEAL, waves him off. Buddha, played by Juan Pablo Raba of Netflix’s “Narcos”, knows the resounding explosion could be catastrophic to the team and quickly cuts through the door with a blowtorch.

There’s no shortage of action, but there’s also a clear display of technical knowledge and research on the part of the show’s producers, writers, and advisors. This gives the drama an air of authenticity, even while parading an incredible, if hard to believe, plot out in front of the audience.

The story is written by William Broyles, who wrote the screenplay for “Jarhead” and David Broyles, a military special operations veteran. “SIX” also brought on retired Navy SEAL Mitchell Hall as a technical advisor. Hall previously worked as an advisor on “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lone Survivor.” To prepare for their roles as elite members of SEAL Team Six the actors went through training meant to simulate Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.

Unlike many fictional dramas around special operations, “SIX” doesn’t put these men on a pedestal. Instead, it grounds them in home-life drama, ranging from one SEAL’s dealings with an estranged daughter, to another’s attempts to balance family life and his work on the team. Finally, there’s the struggle to maintain a clear head and moral compass amid back-to-back deployments. It’s an internal battle each member of the team fights throughout the series.

According to HISTORY, each season will take place in a different area of operations, with the first set predominantly in Africa. The first episode of “SIX” premieres on HISTORY on Jan. 18 at 10 p.m. eastern time.

Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.

On April 11, 1966, Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger (played by Jeremy Irvine) responded to a call to evacuate casualties belonging to a company with the Army's 1st Infantry Division near Cam My during a deadly ambush, the result of a search and destroy mission dubbed Operation Abilene.

In the ensuing battle, the unit suffered more than 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached. Despite the dangers on the ground, Pitsenbarger refused to leave the soldiers trapped in the jungle and waved off the medevac chopper, choosing to fight, and ultimately die, alongside men he'd never met before that day.

Decades later, those men fought to see Pitsenbarger's Air Force Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On Dec. 8, 2000, they won, when Pitsenbarger was posthumously awarded the nation's highest decoration for valor.

The Last Full Measure painstakingly chronicles that long desperate struggle, and the details of the battle are told in flashbacks by the soldiers who survived the ambush, played by a star-studded cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.

After Operation Abilene, some of the men involved moved on with their lives, or tried to, and the film touches on the many ways they struggled with their grief, trauma, and in the case of some, feelings of guilt. For the characters in The Last Full Measure, seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the Medal of Honor might be the one decent thing they pull out of that war, remarks Jackson's character, Lt. Billy Takoda, one of the soldier's whose life Pitsenbarger saved.

There are a lot of threads to follow in The Last Full Measure, individual strands of a larger story that feel misplaced, redacted, or cut short — at times, violently. But this is not a criticism, quite the opposite in fact. This tangled web is part of the larger narrative at play as Scott Huffman, a fictitious modern-day Pentagon bureaucrat played by Sebastian Stan, tries to piece together what actually happened that fateful day so many years ago.

At the start, Huffman — the person who ultimately becomes Pitsenbarger's champion in Washington — wants nothing to do with the airman's story, the medal, or the Vietnam veterans who want to see his sacrifice recognized. For Huffman, it's a burdensome assignment, just one more box to check before he can move on to brighter and better career prospects.

The skepticism of Pentagon bureaucracy and Washington political operators is on full display throughout the movie. When Takoda first meets Huffman, the Army vet grills the overdressed and out-of-his-depth government flack about his intentions, calls him an FNG (fucking new guy) and tosses Huffman's recorder into the nearby river where he's fishing with his grandkids.

Sebastian Stan stars as Scott Huffman alongside Samuel Jackson as Billy Takoda in "The Last Full Measure."(IMDB)

As Huffman spends more time with the grunts who fought alongside Pitsenbarger, and the Air Force PJs who flew with him that day, he, and the audience, come to see their campaign, and their frustration over the lack of progress, in a different light.

In one of the movie's later moments, The Last Full Measure offers an explanation for why Pitsenbarger's award languished for so long. The theory? Pitsenbarger's Medal of Honor citation was downgraded to a service cross, not because his actions didn't meet the standard associated with the nation's highest award for valor, but because his rank didn't.

"The conjecture among the Mud Soldiers and Bien Hoa Eagles is that Pitsenbarger was passed over because he was enlisted," Robinson, who wrote and directed The Last Full Measure, told Task & Purpose.

"As for the events in the film, Pitsenbarger's upgrade was clearly ignored for decades and items had been lost — whether that was deliberate is up for discussion but we feel we captured the spirit of the issues at hand either way," he said. "Some of these questions are simply impossible to answer with 100% certainty as no one really knows."

The cynicism in The Last Full Measure is overt, but to be entirely honest, it feels warranted. While watching the film, I couldn't help but think back to recent stories of battlefield bravery, like that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who ran into a burning Bradley three times in Iraq to pull out his wounded men — a feat of heroism that cost him his life, and inspired an ongoing campaign to see Cashe awarded the Medal of Honor.

There's no shortage of op-eds by current and former service members who see the military's awards process as slow and cumbersome at best, and biased or broken at worst, and it's refreshing to see that criticism reflected in a major war movie. And sure, like plenty of war movies, The Last Full Measure has some sappy moments, but on the whole, it's a damn good drama.

The Last Full Measure hits theaters on Jan. 24.

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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

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