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'Masters of the Air' Episode 8 Introduces the Legendary Tuskegee Airmen

In past Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg-produced World War II dramas—like the celebrated Band of Brothers—the we'd often see the POV briefly shift from the main characters to see another group's harrowing life on the battlefield. Band of Brothers episode 4 focused almost solely on the crew's replacements, while episode 6 followed Easy Company's medic through a bitter cold winter. In this week's episode of Masters of the Air, we recapture some of that broader storytelling with the Tuskegee Airmen.

Speaking of Band of Brothers, the Apple TV+ series just passed the invasion of Normandy on the World War II timeline. The 100th delivered air to the ground troops in Normandy, cutting off communication centers and attacking airfields during the Battle of the Bulge. This period of time may feel shortened due to the episode's focus on Gale Cleven (Austin Butler) and John Egan (Callum Turner) in the prisoner of war camp at Stalag Luft III—but the 100th flew over 300 missions throughout the war.

Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal's heroic decision to keep fighting in the last episode was a big part of that successful campaign. He took part in 52 missions throughout World War II—and even prosecuted Nazi officers during the Nuremberg trials. In Masters of the Air's penultimate episode, the U.S. Air Force does its best to get our boy some help.

We kick things off this week with Ncuti Gatwa (Sex Education) finally in the cockpit. He plays Tuskegee pilot Robert Daniels, a second lieutenant in the all-Black 301st Fighter Squadron. He's accompanied by Josiah Cross (A Thousand and One) as pilot Richard D. Macon and Branden Cook (Industry) as lieutenant Alexander Jefferson. Jefferson is seemingly the star pilot of the trio, while Macon is the brains. Macon stands up during the briefing and spitfires a ton of numbers, including insanely specific distances. (Fuel ranges of 999.8 miles? Damn.)

masters of the air episode 8
Branden Cook (left), Ncuti Gatwa (center), and Josiah Cross (right). Robert Viglasky - Apple

During their next flight over Marseilles, Sant-Tropez, and Toulon in France, the trio is shot down and taken to Stalag Luft III. Though questioned by the S.S., none of them crack. The Nazi officers even try to make them betray their fellow pilots by arguing that their country is so racist that they won't even receive full recognition for their service. "I know what my country's shortcomings are," Macon says. "I know it's trying hard to become what it says it's supposed to be. And when I get back, I'm gonna help them do that a lot faster."

The trio later connects with Egan and Cleven as Stalag Luft III, where they plan an escape together. Jefferson, who leads the group alongside Cleven, is an interesting figure in history. In his book, Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW, he wrote that the Nazi officers didn't treat him differently than the white prisoners. However, he was being marched to Dachau—one of the first and longest-running concentration camps under the Nazi regime—when he was finally freed by General Patton's forces. It was only when he got back to America that he realized just how much work still had to be done back home. "Having been treated by the Nazis like every other Allied officer," Jefferson wrote in his memoir, "I walked down the gang plank wearing an Army Air Corps Officer's uniform towards a white US Army sergeant on the dock, who informed us ‘Whites to the right, n*****s to the left.'"

masters of the air
Lookin’ good, boys.Robert Viglasky - Apple

Elsewhere in this episode, we see the bizarre story of Major Harry H. Crosby cheating on his wife in London. The navigator is losing sleep because he's making frequent trips away to visit the woman he met in episode 6. He clearly wanted to cheat on his wife at the time—but audiences may recall that he was too forlorn about his fallen comrades.

If you thought Crosby would've been uncomfortable with his affair making its way into the series, know that the story comes directly from his own memoir, A Wing and a Prayer. On page 250, he writes, "Never before in my life had I been a target for good-looking women. I had [my wife] Jean at home and Landra in England."

Eek! "[Landra] was making my life much more enjoyable," he continues. "I did not tell Jean about Landra." Rough. Though Crosby and his wife presumably enjoyed a happy marriage until the end of their lives, that has to sting. Next week, we'll return to the prison escape plan for Masters of the Air's big finale.

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