Masters of the Air episode 9 review: "A satisfying conclusion, but doesn't surpass Band of Brothers"

 Masters of the Air.
Masters of the Air.

Spoilers for Masters of the Air episode 9 follow.

Masters of the Air has come to an end. I said last week that the pacing in the latter half of the series has been off, which leaves episode 9 with a lot to pack in – and results in a supersized, almost feature-length installment. It works, fortunately, because each of the storylines given prominence in this episode is compelling, intense, and dramatic enough to be worthy of a finale, even if it does leave the series as a whole feeling unbalanced.

But after Masters of the Air began to lose its way around the midpoint, the final episode is a return to the show at its best – and it all comes together to form a strong ending for the Apple TV Plus series.

Rosenthal's journey

Masters of the Air
Masters of the Air

The show opens with a thrilling aerial sequence starring Rosenthal, who once again demonstrates his steady nerves and unflinching leadership. It's tense as the plane starts to go down while he desperately tries to navigate it across to safer, Russian territory – and it's touch and go whether he'll even make it out.

This opening scene is the show at its best. Nate Mann has done a stellar job bringing Rosenthal from newcomer to leading man, turning him into one of the show's most essential components – and the series is consistently superb with its scenes above the clouds. It's a shame that they dropped off so steeply after the show's midpoint, but it's gratifying to see Rosenthal shine as a key character in the finale.

Rosenthal does go down in Russian-controlled territory, though he's not safe by any means: he desperately shouts "Coca Cola!" at soldiers approaching with their guns drawn to prove he's American. Luckily they believe him, and he ends up on the long road back to England. Along the way, though, he stumbles across the truly harrowing scene of an abandoned concentration camp. It's difficult to watch his realization of the depth of the atrocities committed there.

Eventually, Rosenthal makes it back, and he resettles into the swing of things without issue – as we've seen from him throughout the show, he's most comfortable in combat. He remains a steady presence for the rest of the episode, too, welcoming home the returning Cleven and offering a struggling Crosby some words of wisdom. We've come full circle with Rosenthal, from newbie to established stalwart, and it's very satisfying.

Liberation and reunion

Masters of the Air
Masters of the Air

The show's main figures, though, remain Egan and Cleven. The finale makes it clear that their bond is and always has been the heart of the show.

When the prisoner of war camp is evacuated, conditions are harsh and near-lethal on the trek through Germany. Eventually, Cleven, Egan, and a few others are in a position to attempt escape – the tension ratchets up as they try to slip away one by one. Egan, though, is caught and almost shot. It makes Cleven's long-awaited escape poignant, but does mean their eventual reunion is all the sweeter back in East Anglia, when Cleven realizes it's his pal talking to him over the radio.

Before that, though, there's a rousing, action-packed sequence as the new camp Egan is transferred to is liberated. Seeing the men fight back after so long is stirring, and while Egan hoisting the stars and stripes above the camp might be a little on the nose, it's gladdening to see all the captured men – of many Allied nations – finally getting their freedom. It's slightly disappointing that the Tuskegee Airmen are largely in the background, though, after their introduction last week positioned them as major players.

Back on the base, there's a touching change of pace as Rosenthal, Crosby, and Cleven fly a supply drop mission in clear skies, before Egan welcomes them back on the radio for that joyful reunion. It's a fitting, final hurrah for the characters we've been following for so long, before VE Day ends the war and sends the men of the Bloody Hundredth home at last in a moving ending.

Reflections

Masters of the Air
Masters of the Air

In my review of episodes 1 and 2, I said Masters of the Air could be worthy to stand alongside Band of Brothers. Now that the credits have rolled on the finale, it's fair to say that, while the new show is a fine companion, it hasn't surpassed – or even equaled – the excellence of the original show.

That's partly to be expected, of course, considering the quality of Band of Brothers. But after Masters of the Air's incredibly strong start, delivering a run of outstanding episodes, it is disappointing that it dragged its feet so much in the runup to the finale. It could've been a much stronger show without the muddled pacing.

Part of the problem was a lack of action towards the end – which didn't have to be a bad thing, as my favorite episode remains the fourth, which saw no aerial combat at all – and the fact that the Bloody Hundredth never really felt like a cohesive whole. Instead, we had our handful of main characters to follow, and that was that.

Still, though, the show ends on a high, bringing Masters of the Air to a satisfying conclusion. If there are further war stories to be explored in a fresh companion series from executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, I'd tune in. For now, though, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and Masters of the Air form one solid trilogy.


All episodes of Masters of the Air are now streaming on Apple TV Plus. For more, check out our guide to the Masters of the Air true story, or fill out your watchlist with our rundown of the best Apple TV Plus shows.