So it's probably not the noughties anymore in an alternative world where around a decade earlier a faction arose in the Midwest of the USA calling themselves the Free States. They set up their capital in Montana and seceeded from the Union bringing them into conflict with the U.S government. The two sides fought to a standstill at New York and Manhattan Island, still inhabited by many people after a catastrophic evacuation became the DMZ. Newbie journalist Matty Roth was accidentally left in the DMZ on his first assignment there and has been chronicling the people and events taking place there ever since. Recently a charismatic leader called Parco Delgado won an election to become President of Manhattan. Unfortunately he acquired a nuclear bomb to use as leverage, while a star struck Matty was running a parailitary death squad for him. The US military found where the nuke was being held and nuked it themselves blaming Parco for setting off his. Parco fled and the U.S., bouyed by sympathetic world opinion, started a bombing campaign against the Delgado Nation while making aggressive overtures towards the Free States based in New Jersey. Matty after some time in the wilderness dealing with his guilt over getting fourteen civilians killed was given the mission by Liberty News to go back into the DMZ and be an unbiased reporter on the end of the war. Now we'll find out a little more about the time the Free States movement sprang out from with "Free States Rising: Prelude", then return to the present as we discover what happened to Parco and say farewell to the one Free Stater we have followed since the start in "Free States Rising" and finally we have the one-shot "Citizen Zee" which is our last one dedicated to Zee Hernandez as she mulls over her time in the DMZ and whether she can find the motivation to stay to the end.
Before we continue, I am going to complain about the incredibly woolly timeline Matty's time in the DMZ has taken. It's stated several times to have been five years not the three insinuated previously. We also are told that Delgado was in charge of the DMZ while Matty "played tough guy" for him for at least a year before the bomb plot started. But over the story we are given periods of time elapsed between events from Matty, Zee and Parco that simply don't add up with each other. Gah, space is warped and time is bendable! It's incredibly frustrating and it goes to my one complaint about the series that we really needed an arc between Parco winning the election and then buying the bomb to make the series as a whole flow better. Well that's my one beef with the story off my chest, let's continue.
FREE STATES RISING - PRELUDE: Artist Shawn Martinbrough. We begin with a two part story that tells "one history" of the formation of the FSA. We follow one character and although it isn't revealed until the end, it's the man only known as The Commander. As he isn't given a name in this story either to stop it getting awkward I'll be calling him the Commander from the start. Right? Right.
We begin in what must be the early noughties, the country is already in chaos thanks to an unpopular administration devoting more resources to overseas actions than people at home. There are riots all over, a breakdown of law and order and a mysterious symbol, a star with a slash through it appearing everywhere (the symbol of the nascent Free States). We begin with the man who'll be known as the Commander meeting some neo-nazi militia members, supplying them with guns. He tells them "God and race don't have shit to do with me". They switch cars and he drives off with a big bag of cash.
|Meet the Commander before he was the Commander.|
We return to the Commander who ruminates that he has no time for the coming war, he'll steal from one group and sell to another and buy his way through it. As he plans another heist he thinks about how the closest thing resembling the law out here is the ATF, and they're more like the Mafia than anything else. Unfortunatel for him he's been made, and flees his truck with a shotgun and bag of cash, "not the plan". He thinks about the American soldiers coming under fire elsewhere.
The Commander: "Stupid war, endless war, professional war, political war... the notion that starting a war is somehow a necessity. No wonder people are in revolt. They got a war declared on the too..."
His impetus is to resist via "stealing" back what they are paying for through taxes. A drone circles above and he thinks "so much for sitting the conflict out". Then we get a news flash regarding the FSA symbol, "rumours of its intent range from a benign student peace movement to nothing less than a violent insurgent army..."
He takes down one of the men hunting him, then escapes into the forest. He realises his face is probably all over the ATF network by now. His fingerprints are in the truck. Sitting there in the forest he wonders if he should give up, but then resolves no, "I'm not going to have my life or fucking death dictated to me by crooks and abusers". He kills the other men hunting him and finds himself walking down a highway.
|The soldier emerges.|
We join him months later having made it to New Jersey. More newsflashes record the gains made by the FSA, there are no leaders or public position from them, it just has many small fronts in "this very unconventional conflict" as the National Guard bases fall to them, "the twilight of our hallowed union". An anonymous soldier abroad is quoted saying they want to come home and fight to defend their country for once.
The Commander is getting frustrated at how long they have been camped out in New Jersey, he sees Manhattan as ripe for the taking and wants to move on it before the soldiers come home. But he is told to type up a proposal and submit it. He mentally grumbles that the Free States was "once an army, now merely a movement. I didn't join all of this just to generate paperwork."
The Commander: "This country is broken. I'll be the first to admit that picking up a gun isn't always the way to fix something, but in this case the quicker we move past the fighting, the faster we'll be onto the next phase. Bulding a better America. The big payoff. And I ain't redneck enough not to realise that Manhattan over there is the key to it all."
He mulls over how they have lots of men there, but every minute they delay is time U.S. soldiers are being flown back to the USA. He pshaws the fact that people around him are congratulating themselves on bringing an end to some of the foriegn wars, "...like that's the point of what we're doing. Like that'll be the END of it".
So he gathers together a group of men and whispers to them, "wanna go invade a city?" He builds a team and arms them, spent two days walking from Jersey City to Weehawken to get into position. Then they find a van and drive into the Lincoln Tunnel, strewn with rubble and abandoned cars. The power has been cut to the New York grid, the lights go out forcing them to use torches. One of the men says in twelve hours the lack of power to the pumps will render the tunnel unpassable. The Commander says they have a timeline then.
|And the Commander is born.|
They see daylight and he organises them to find a way to get power back to the pumps. Then set up a checkpoint on the Jersey side. "We fought for this tunnel, we're keeping it. People can start listening to me for a change". As the others get to work he gazes out across New York City. "Time for the Free States to be an army again. It starts here". And that brings the prelude to an end.
FREE STATES RISING: We start with Matty taking some photos of the soldiers about to be deployed. They sneer at him but he brushes it off, "smile for the camera, boys. The whole world's watching". He then thinks on how in the past thirty hours the U.S. has dropped more tonnage of bombs have fallen on the DMZ than in the last half decade of the war. The whole world is "unequivocably on their side, the United States government finally opened the stockpiles".
The real battle is yet to be fought, the pretense this is all about Parco's army has fallen away, the U.S. want the FSA crushed and they'll go to war not FOR Manhattan but WITH it, in pursuit of that goal. Making things hard for Matty who has grown to love the city and its people.
Matty: "I'm sure it has a proper name, something like Operation: United Homeland, maybe. But everyone knows what's really about to happen. If the City of New York is the door that leads to the Free States Army... We're about to kick it down on our way through."
He's called into an armoured car at the front of a tank procession and taken to a U.S army command outpost. The commander there says he has something to tell him, he didn't want this posting, it's going to be an ugly war and he'll never wash the dirt off, "I'll always be the guy who destroyed New York City. This is the last command I am ever going to have."
|Matty fully officially embedded now.|
Commander: "That you expect someone to take a shot at you. That you deserve it. Hey lighten up. If it makes you feel any better.. I was havng a hard time finding men who would actually agree to protect your ass out there".
Later Matty is sent out to make a move on The Bowery with a squad of men. He thinks about how he could tell them who controls the ground, their weapons and blindspots, give them a nightful of intel in less than ten minutes, "but so far no one's asking".
As they carry on forward, finally someone asks his opinion on the status of a street, but before he can give a full reply they are ordered to shut up. They move to higher ground in a bombed out building. Matty is still making notes. When he says he isn't judging them but camping out in this building isn't an effective way to recon the street. The soldier asks him aggressively "what do you know about any of this?" Coolly Matty responds, "are you asking me an actual question?"
|Out in the field.|
Next day after the bombers hit their targets they move out. The strategy is "absurdly simple" a slow methodical sweep west across the Island, the blackhawks clearing the way for tanks and troops.
Matty: "So far, it's been quiet. The unspoken assumption on everyone's mind was that the enemy (who is the enemy exactly) is waiting for the army to get midway before closing from behind and on the flanks. The only viable counter to that is to overwhelm with sheer numbers."
The U.S. has been slowly recalling troops the entire length of the war, the bridges and tunnels are crowded with U.S. soldiers entering the city, "so far, nothing at all from the Free States Army."
Later he is in Chinatown handing out medical supplies. A young woman who was Wilson's lover calls to him. Matty asks her where Wilson is, but she says "oh, you haven't heard". Before she can continue, two armed men in suits come for him saying someone is asking for him. They take him to a secure location where the FSA Lincoln Tunnel Commander is shackled and will only speak to Matty.
|And it's The Commander again.|
Tanks and men move through the DMZ, what looks like the Empire State Building has it's top blown off. Back with Matty he leaves the interrogation room thoughtfully. He is asked what the Commander said, their mikes couldn't pick it up. Matty says he didn't tell him anything, he's not friends with the guy and Matty wasn't able to get anything from him. He leaves, calling after him that they need to win the war and if the FSA is running some kind of operation behind their lines they need to know, "for.. you know, the good of the city".
Matty retorts that he might have believed him if he hadn't said the last bit. He's well past the point of him having to listen to what anyone tells him, especially the U.S. military, "and so, with respect... you do what you have to do, and I'll do the same." He then grabs a car and takes off on his own. As he travels he thinks about all the crap the Commander put him through over the years and always get it to serve his agenda, it has to stop. But what can he do?
He thinks back to what the Commander whispered in his ear, he tells him Parco is in possession of some "very interesting documents". Matty says that sounds tired, the Commander says it's a cliche sure "but so is 'faulty intelligence' and 'war criminal'" He goes on to tell him the India Point detonation was a U.S. airstrike. He says he couldn't care less about Parco and his nation, but he can be useful to embarrass the U.S. and gain some leverage.
The Commander: "You aren't Free States, Matty. I know that. But you're sure as shit pro New York City. Take a look around... how much of it do you think will be left standing when this is all over?"
We then get a newsflash: It's Day Four of the Battle for Manhattan and soldiers are still pouring in meeting with little resistance. Massive arms caches found many weapons foriegn made, pockets of insurgent activity still to be rooted out. The President is offering a swift end to the final battle, "and a thorough one". The U.S. commander says the soldiers are not their as tourists and New York is a field of battle, the news says it is impossible to judge how history will think of this conflict but it will likely "be tinged with profound sadness that I suspect we've only begun to realise."
|Parco having hidden for |
Matty angrily says it was still his bomb that caused this. And he put Matty up in front of the world and made him an accomplice. Parco asks if he forced him? "You made me believe in you" responds Matty.
Matty: "And I lost it all. I lost Zee, I lost five years of work. I lost every friend I had in the city. You cost me my soul".
Parco says he's lost everything too, he lives in a hole in the ground and has nothing. He tells Matty to just read it when Matty questions if it'll prove the U.S. have no moral mandate and that Parco is an innocent man. Matty regards the stick quietly.
Then he says that Parco has a way of making people wanting to follow him to the ends of the earth, and he let everyone down and made it meaningless. He says Parco pissed his power away and when he finally climbs out of his hole in the ground he'll see what he's done to the city, "that's your legacy Parco". And he leaves. In the car he reads the computer files and just says one word, "Christ". Again he thinks, "Can I do this? Do I have a choice?" as he rings someone up.
|The U.S army sweeping through the DMZ.|
Then Matty drives to what's left of Chinatown, he meets with the woman who was Wilson's lover. She is there on a day pass helping clear out some of the more difficult buildings, "helping them see the inevitable. Before the war I was a social worker". Matty asks her to tell him about Wilson with some difficulty thanks to the guilt he feels.
He thinks about Wilson, how his relationship with him was the "sanest" he had in the DMZ, "Did I ever think, even briefly, that he wouldn't make it through this war? I don't think I ever did. He's Wilson". He wonders as he listens to the woman speak that did he ever know the real Wilson, or did he just know a fake Wilson put on for outsiders like him? He wonders how the Wilson he knew could give up on his people and have them shipped across the river into custody.
Matty: "I feel like I'm missing some part of the puzzle. But then I realise that what I'm really missing - who I'm really missing... is Zee".
More newsflashes: Trustwell is on trial for many crimes including the assassination of a U.N amabassador. There has been a settlement reached with the family of PFC Stevens, found innocent of the Day 204 massacre but dropped into the DMZ by members of his own unit and killed by a mob. DJ Random Fire has a single debuting at number one in the French and Japanese charts...
More bombs fall, as Matty has some soldiers look out for Zee for him. Then the suited man calls him into where The Commander is being held. He's agreed to give up Parco in exchange for his freedom. They've agreed. Everyone looks at Matty. He's asked if he has a problem with it. Matty says "not at all", while thinking does he? Did he want to be the one who gaving him up, or the one who saved him? He had a friend at Kelly Connollys station hold onto the data stick for now as he though about his next move. He wonders what the FSA Commander is up to.
The U.S. commander sends in a team to retreive Parco, "history in the making people". As they wait Matty can't understand what the FSA is playing at, after a multi-year operation supporting the only legally elected President of Manhattan and the proof of his innocence and everything needed to strip the U.S. of its mandate and bring the invasion to a halt, they give him up just like that.
The team call in and say they have Parco. Matty is told there is no need of him there for now, and they all disappear into the room the FSA Commander is being held in. Matty stops, and goes back and flips up the laptop screen still showing the inside of the interrogation cell. As the FSA Commander asks for a ride back to Jersey, he is shot point-blank in the back of the head as Matty watches.
|And that's the end of the FSA Commander.|
Matty: "This is an ugly battle, which is saying something about a Civil War that has raged for close to a decade. But the U.S. has taken its self-described mandate firmly in hand and has run with it... this is the end, now. And it'll be a decisive end. No interim government or ceasefires. The U.S. military action is so heavy handed... the U.S. army is a boot grinding down.. and when it lifts back up, what will be left intact?"
He goes onto say there are days left for the DMZ, New York City will continue to exist and what will the relationship between the city and a new American government. "Does anyone expect, after all this... that we'll listen to anything they have to tell us?"
We then cut to an extraordinary military tribunal which has Parco Delgado on trial with no laywers or anyone allowed to speak for his defence. He admits that the FSA supported his election bid, financially, covert militarily, he was meant to be their foot in the door, but he had no intention of being a puppet. His presence as governor was to clear Manhattan of U.S. military, once that happened they would move through the DMZ on their way to their goal and Parco would be left to govern.
|Parco on trial.|
They move onto the nuke. He says he won't deny he bought the nuke nor had it transported. He won't deny he used it to threaten and intimidate. He moved it to India Point for security reasons, he never detonated it. He is told there was a significant blast, "I just deny it was my weapon that caused it" he responds. The tribunal pause then ask if he is making some sort of accusation. Delgado says he has proof. "Where is it? Well?" they ask. Parco looks away. Matty who is watching the trial looks thoughtful.
Later he sits by the Hudson river holding the memory stick. He wonders what the lesson of all this is, "the truth at all costs... or that it's better to maintain the lie, because it'll end the war faster?" He thinks about tossing Parco's evidence into the river. "Couldn't I? Could I? What would Zee do?" And Zee comes and sits next to him.
|Zee's always been his touchstone.|
Zee: "It kept you alive, you mean. Did it end the war any faster? Did it make any of the players act any better? Did it prevent any of the horrible shit that's gone down in the last five years?"
She gets up saying he can think about the greater good and the truth, he might be able to boil that conflict down to a moral issue and bodies will still pile up in the streets. He calls after her saying the truth should count for something, she responds "it's time to end the war Matty. The truth can wait for later. Go take care of it". And she departs telling him to find her later, she has a surprise for him speaking of truth.
He phones someone, then we see him negociating for Parco's freedom. There will be a mock execution, then they can reuinite him and his sister in Haiti.
Matty: "And the story remains the same. Parco is guilty, the mandate holds, the invasion plans continues... and you end the war."
Parco is never to be told it was him who arranged this as he doesn't want to see or speak to him, he stays in exile. Matty is told that he has to hand over the Viktor Ferguson footage too, Matty refuses saying it's his lifeline. But it's no deal without it. So he tells them, end the war in six months and he gets it all, every copy. He is then revealed to have been dealing directly with the President, "and son, if we're going to be one big happy nation again soon, I suggest you get in the habit of addressing me as 'Mr President'".
As he leaves the building his dad greets him, beaming from ear-to-ear. He says to him that "you've helped end the war!" Matty heads for the chopper telling him to "hold that thought". His dad queries why he's going back. "Reality check time" thinks Matty. As we see the scenes of Parco being mock-executed and then flown overseas to a joyful reunion with Rose his sister, we also hear Matty's thoughts:
Matty: "The war isn't over. But its time has definitely come... and it doesn't even matter why. After all the years of chasing down truths, this is a lie I can maintain. This is a cause worth the decption. If nations can lie and manipulate to start wars, I can do the same to end one. But what my dad wouldn't get is that the promise of an end isn't enough. Even after the last bullet is fired, the last tank turns around, and ink on the peace deal is dry... we have a city to rebuild."
End of the war? Maybe. End of this arc, definitely!
|The truth is sacrificed, so the city can be saved.|
She starts thinking about the day five years ago she found Matty injured in the street after the news chopper he was on got blown up. She dragged him to safety and patched him up while checking out all the cool gear he had, "the idiot had come bearing gifts". As she tended to him she realises he must be press, "or someone desperately trying to be, anyway". She justifys her taking him in as him maybe being useful to her.
Zee: "He's probably a little imperialist, like everyone else from across the river. Come to speak to the natives. But, like I said, he's got some power. Clout. Depending on what he does with it... he might suprise me."
Back in the present, she walks through the deserted streets. She contemplates going back to family upstate, but eash time she does, "something pipes up from deep inside me...'bad idea' Zee".
|Zee wanders the deserted streets.|
She thinks back to when she was first living with Martel, why she has carried Matty's notes for him when he never made an effort to come find her, "too busy playing warlord with his personal army." Then she remembers seeing Matty make the call that got fourteen civilians killed, and finally the explosion at India Point.
Zee: "And now he's back, or so I hear. Matty Roth, just in time to end the war. They can have each other. I'm DONE. I've played my part. I've carried the pain and suffering of this city on my shoulders for too long. I've borne the brunt of exactly the sort of shit the Roths of the world dish out".
She leaves her medical bag and starts to walk away. Then she hears someone feebly calling for help, she rushes back to her bag and goes to help him realising if she left now, what would it all have been for? As she treats the man, she thinks finally, "Long after the Parcos, the Martels, the Roths and the like have left me... I'll still be here. Until the end of it all and whatever comes after."
|But she just can't walk away...|