Masters of the Air episode 8 review: "Still shaky in parts, but an appreciated return to form"

 Masters of the Air.
Masters of the Air.

The following contains spoilers for Masters of the Air episode 8.

After a few muddled episodes, Masters of the Air has found its footing once more in episode 8. Though still shaky in parts, it's an appreciated return to form, especially as this installment marks the penultimate episode of the Apple TV Plus show. With the finale next week, there's not much time left for Masters of the Air to stick the landing: but episode 8 brings with it the major repercussions of D-Day, some new faces, and a set-up for a dramatic ending.

The episode begins with the introduction of the Tuskegee Airmen, in a slick opening sequence that establishes these newcomers' considerable skill. One of my biggest gripes with the show so far has been how the small number of key players sometimes just hasn't worked, so introducing more – even this late in the game – is very welcome.


Masters of the Air
Masters of the Air

Soon after we meet the Tuskegee Airmen, though, we're informed that the biggest day of the war is approaching: D-Day, AKA the Allied invasion of Europe. We see the lead-up through Crosby's eyes, which is a smart way of shrinking such a huge, historical event into something with personalized impact.

Cros, as we've seen from him throughout the series, takes the responsibility of helping to plan the invasion tremendously seriously. It takes a huge toll on him, and he becomes pale, shaky, dissociated – even, at one point, experiencing auditory hallucinations of a ticking clock. It's a very effective illustration of the enormous pressure of planning such a mammoth operation, and it emphasizes just how essential the looming mission truly is.

It all comes to a head when, after being ordered to get some sleep, Cros collapses. The next time he wakes up, he's informed by an amused Rosenthal that he slept through the entirety of D-Day. We catch a goosebump-raising glimpse of the mission itself, scores of planes in the sky, but that's all.

It does feel strange not to see any of the mission through Rosenthal's eyes, though, especially since he's one of our key characters. In fact, Rosenthal is largely in the background of this episode, another odd decision when last week's installment ended on what felt like his pivotal decision to re-up. Again, when we only have a handful of major players to focus on, sidelining one is odd, and it leaves the episode feeling unbalanced. It's especially bizarre when D-Day is such a massive turning point, both historically and for the series's narrative.

Too much has been squeezed into this episode: D-Day, the Tuskegee Airmen, and some shake-ups for the POWs is a lot of ground to cover in 50 minutes. When the previous two episodes were slower, it's a shame that these developments couldn't have been spread out further and given more breathing room.

Make or break

Masters of the Air
Masters of the Air

While those in East Anglia are busy with D-Day, though, Egan, Cleven, and the others are still stranded in the prisoner of war camp. It's clear that Egan in particular is struggling, playing imaginary baseball with himself and, later, antagonizing the others until Cleven steps in and the duo brawl in the dirt. Circumstances in the camp so far have been dire, but the group seems to have been holding up well. Seeing Egan start to crack is a reminder of how awful the situation truly is – and how long the men have been captured.

Some downed Tuskegee Airmen also eventually join the members of the Hundredth in the camp, but it's here the show stumbles again. The United States, in the thick of Jim Crow era racism, segregated its forces during the war. Masters of the Air makes an attempt to engage with this racism, but shallowly; Macon asking if any other country is better than the USA when it comes to race feels particularly tone deaf (either way, it hardly excuses such prejudice), though these "shortcomings" are at least acknowledged.

But when the Tuskegee men do arrive, things begin to shift into gear and the stakes are raised to breaking point for the captured men. They're drip fed information via their makeshift radio, so they know about the invasion of Europe – though after a two month time skip, nothing has changed for them. It becomes clear that they'll need to save themselves if they want to escape the camp alive. They begin to plan a way to regain their strength, in the meantime preparing for every scenario, ranging from execution to open battle with the Nazi guards. Jefferson and his cartography skills prove pivotal to their plans, suggesting he and his comrades will be a focus for the upcoming finale; hopefully, that means seeing more of Ncuti Gatwa, too, who makes an impression even with his very limited screen time so far.

The episode ends with the revelation that Russia has successfully invaded Germany. If you know your history, you know what that means – the end of the war is nigh. Whether the POWs will make it out alive remains to be seen, but, with just one episode of Masters of the Air remaining, we'll discover the fate of the Bloody Hundredth soon enough.

Masters of the Air is streaming weekly on Apple TV Plus. You can fill out your watchlist with our guide to the best shows on Apple TV Plus.