combat! episode review/analysis: “the hostages”

The second annual Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon is upon us, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts, and I couldn’t be more excited.  Last year was a blast for me with my review of the Combat! episode, “Masquerade”, and even though the episode I’ve chosen for this year is more serious, I know this will still be lots of fun.  (Really, though, I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since the last blogathon.  So cool.)  I briefly tossed around other TV shows like Wanted: Dead or Alive (so many thought-provoking episodes) and The Rat Patrol (there was one or two particularly emotional episodes I felt like discussing) but, in the end, I returned to Combat!  Anyway, there’s always next year (and the year after that, and so on) to cover different shows.  Picking a Combat! episode also proved to be hard, but “The Hostages” won out over “Losers Cry Deal” and “The First Day” because I love it and it makes for a lot of good discussion.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a guest star to gush over in this episode (Mark Richman, you do NOT count) but seeing as Doc is my favorite character in the show and one of my favorite fictional characters ever, there’ll definitely still be some fangirling.  Anyway, on to the episode review!

So, the episode starts out with some random stock footage and clips of the squad that they dredged up from Season 1 (honestly, they re-use those clips so many times, I’m not even sure which episode they originated in).  I say ‘random’ because the supposedly exciting opening has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot.  After we get through that and the air clears, the real plot begins with a talkative GI named Barnarbo, telling Saunders, Caje, and Doc about some hot showers he found in a house in the newly liberated village (the reason he’s telling them all this is because they found some soap and he wants to have a share in it).  This episode starts out like a holiday episode, doesn’t it?  No fighting, everything’s relaxed and peaceful (though Saunders does make sure to check the barber shop thoroughly before he relaxes, as is typical of him). 

Caje, Doc, and Saunders shower while Barnarbo keeps an eye out for any trouble (though not very well) as he rambles about how handsome he is.  And then he gets knifed in the stomach.  Germans, obviously – it’s Mark Richman as Captain Aptmeyer, a dastardly villain, formidable foe, and the reason I can never trust Richman in anything else (Friendly Persuasion, for one).  And the captain’s aide, Ecktmann, played by Rat Patrol’s very own Hans Gudegast (later Eric Braeden).

Doc is ordered (by Aptmeyer) to go commandeer an ambulance – or a truck, but preferably an ambulance – while Saunders and Caje stay behind as hostages.  Saunders tells Doc to let Hanley know about everything that’s happened, but Doc tries the direct approach first by marching into the motor pool and asking for a truck.  But the mechanic who runs the place needs a signed requisition and, of course, Doc doesn’t have one so that fails. He then tries to see Hanley, but as it turns out, Hanley’s away for the day.  I’m never sure whether or not Doc would have told Hanley or not and I think it would’ve been an interesting twist if Hanley had been available (of course, the story would have gone an entirely different way).  I sense some fanfiction lurking beneath the surface…

I love the way the tension plays out through the entire episode, with close-ups of watches and quick shots back to the hostages and their captors and Conlan Carter’s excellent acting.  Even though I know exactly what’s going to happen, it’s still intense.

After trying to steal a truck, Doc decides to head back to the motor pool where he tells the mechanic that he used to tinker around with cars before the war and he’s aching to try again.  The mechanic turns out to be a great guy and he has some good lines (like “That song you got in your voice – where’re you from, boy?” which makes me grin).  I’m glad he went ahead and told Doc to take the ambulance on whatever ‘little chore’ Saunders wanted him to do, because that way, Doc didn’t have to just make off with the truck.  Anyway, Doc takes the ambulance out, only to run across yet another obstacle (and time is ticking away) – a sniper holed up in a church steeple. Seriously? It’s impossible for anyone to get through (and Doc almost gets killed for trying) so finally, he backs up and makes for the barber shop via a different route.  More time lost…

But it turns out okay (as much as anything like this can turn out okay).  He makes it back in time, but not before Aptmeyer knocks out Saunders and Caje, horribly man that he is. I wouldn’t say that Aptmeyer is the worst Combat! villain (Colonel Steiner, from “The Long Way Home”, takes first place) but he is a slimy creep.  And Mark Richman ended up playing another slimy infiltrator creep in the Season 4 episode, “Counterplay”, so I really don’t like him.

Even though Doc brought the ambulance back in time, the tension doesn’t end.  From Aptmeyer so obviously lying about what his plans for Saunders, Caje, and Doc are (Doc is so brave, facing up to Aptmeyer even with a gun pointed straight at him) to that guy who won’t stop talking about farm animals (also, Walt Davis cameo!), the nail-bitingness of this episode never lets up. 

Aptmeyer and Ecktmann don American uniforms and they all set for whatever mystery destination the Germans have in mind.  I have to admit that Aptmeyer is a pretty smart guy (kind of reminds me of Kanger in “Masquerade”) when that MP stops the ambulance and he has to come up with a bunch of answers to the guy’s questions on the spot. (Still don’t like him, though.) (And lucky guess for him with Saunders’ blood type.)

Doc tries a couple of different ways to get away from Aptmeyer but neither of them work, and the ambulance eventually crashes and starts burning (I never figured out why – I also never figured out how Ecktmann got killed).  This always, always makes me think of the episode “Survival” because Saunders and Caje are kind of trapped in the ambulance until Doc helps them out and there’s been fanfiction written about how getting burned in “Survival” made Saunders afraid of fire and…yeah.  I over explained that.  Anyway, when they all get out and the ambulance explodes, Doc bandages Caje’s broken leg (it looks extremely painful) and Aptmeyer then orders Saunders and Doc to come with him.  Leaving Caje to die.  (And here’s where I hate Aptmeyer the most.  YOU DON’T JUST LEAVE CAJE TO DIE.)

Okay.  So.  The minefield scene. *deep breath*  Sooooo intense. (May I point out, though, that however despicable Aptmeyer might be in forcing Doc and Saunders to walk through a minefield, Moseby Lovelace did the same thing in “The Squad” with those German soldiers.  I’ve never been quite sure of what to think of that.)  Since Doc and Saunders refuse to go through the minefield, Aptmeyer threatens to shoot Saunders, and is about to do just that when Doc jumps him.  They fight and all the pent-up tension and anger that has been steadily building in Doc through the episode explodes and he ends up killing Aptmeyer.

And THEN we get the scene that, in my opinion, got Conlan Carter his Emmy nomination (which he should have won, honestly).  Actually, it isn’t so much a scene as the range of emotions on Doc’s face – disbelief, realization, horror, and so much more – as he stares at Aptmeyer’s corpse.  It’s so powerful and heartbreaking (and I can’t handle the FEELS). In the hands of a less skillful actor, this part would have been lost to the audience, but Conlan Carter conveys everything with only his facial expressions.  I watched “The Hostages” right on the heels of “The Long Way Home” (I tend to episode skip when I’m discovering a new show) and it really cemented my love for Doc and my admiration for Conlan Carter’s acting abilities.

Saunders is rather awesome in this scene as he knows exactly what Doc needs to be brought back to a level of normalcy, but it’s not enough for me.  There’s so much going on in the last few minutes of this episode, so much turmoil, so many emotions, that I really need more.  A tag scene, at least. (That’s pretty much my only quibble with Combat! – the episodes never have tag scenes, unlike Rat Patrol or 12 O’clock High or other sixties TV shows.)  And what happens to Caje?  The scriptwriters may have forgotten him, but I certainly didn’t.  I did write some fanfiction set after this episode (though not directly after) to give Doc more closure; I don’t know how well I succeeded, but at least it’s something.  HOWEVER.  Don’t think that because I’m kind of bashing the way the ending was handled that I don’t love this episode anyway.  ‘Cause I do.  It’s amazing and deep and emotional and one of the very best stories Combat! offered to us, the viewers.  (It’s in my top five – maybe even top three – favorite C! episodes list, after all.) “The Hostages” is a splendid episode and that’s that.


14 thoughts on “combat! episode review/analysis: “the hostages”

  1. Good to see Doc get some recognition. Combat is still one of the most under-appreciated shows in television history. Doc(Conlan Carter)tends to get overlooked, but whenever his character was called upon he came up strong. Remember that episode he did w/Robert Duvall? And not to get too much off subject but Morrow’s ‘Sgt.Saunders’ may be the best of any TV show…ever.


  2. I have never heard of this show, but it sounds terrific. I love reading your obvious connection to the series, and if it inspires derivative works in the realm of fan-fics, it must be fab!

    Thanks for introducing this series, I’ll keep my eyes open.



  3. It’s been a while since I’ve seen “The Hostages”, but this episode always stood out for me. Doc always was one of my favourite characters, so I’m going to like any episode where he is featured prominently! I have to agree that one of the great things about Combat! is that many of its episodes were not resolved neatly, quite unlike other shows of the era! It did make it feel more realistic. Thank you for the great post and for contributing to the blogathon!


    1. Combat! was definitely one of the more realistic TV shows of the sixties – I haven’t seen the show Band of Brothers yet but several fans compare the two.

      Thanks for hosting this blogathon! I had a great time. 🙂


      1. Ah–thank you! I’ll try and check that out 🙂

        So–they really don’t tell you what happens? In the official show, I mean? That’s MEAN.


      2. Nope, they don’t. I mean, Caje is in the next episode and all, but I need details, people! That’s one thing I don’t like about old TV shows – the lack of continuity. If a main character had their leg broken and almost died and was abandoned by a villain on one of today’s shows, you can be sure it’d be mentioned and the storyline would be wrapped up in a satisfactory manner.


  4. I think you’re right — Aptmeyer is second only to Steiner in the Slimy Creep division.

    This is such a great episode! I tend to space out my watching of it so that I can still feel a bit of tension and not get ho-hum-I-know-what-happens-next about it.

    I like that C! eps don’t wrap up neatly with a little tag scene of resolution. Makes them feel more realistic. “Oh, we’re not even done with this problem completely, and the next one’s going to hit us already anyway.” That’s how I feel, anyway.

    Good review, as usual 🙂


    1. Offhand, I can’t think of another C! villain as dastardly as those two. Except maybe Albert Paulson’s character in “The Pillbox”…

      Most of the time, I’m totally fine with however the scriptwriters chose to end any given episode (“A Gift of Hope”, anyone) but sometimes – especially in episodes where one of the guys (usually Saunders or Hanley) has been lost and alone the whole time – I’d like a little more resolution.

      Thanks. 🙂


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