Goldman and Li Kiem sharing rice

Gray-Brown Odyssey
(Episode 16)

Li Kiem dying
  • Guest Stars: Rosalind Chao as Li Kiem.
  • Story by: Bruce Reisman
  • Directed by: Randy Roberts
Synopsis: In 1965, the Viet Cong announced that over 1,000,000 women were active in their movement.

Goldman, Horn and two other men drive back to Ladybird after having spent the last few days in the rear at Chu-lai. Goldman glances back at Horn, asking what his problem is. Horn replies that pulling two days of detail in the rear isn’t his idea of a vacation. When Goldman sympathizes, Horn gives him a hard time, saying Goldman spent most of his time in a nurse’s (Nikki Raines) hootch.

Before anyone realizes what happens, the jeep hits a mine in the road, throwing Goldman, Horn and Calhoun free. But Pointer is still in the now burning and wrecked jeep. Myron and Roger leap up, extinguishing the fire on Pointer and then drag the badly injured man free from the overturned jeep. Horn and Calhoun drag Pointer away to a safer distance while Myron tries to put the fire out in the jeep and retrieve the first aid kit. Pointer is now in serious pain, thrashing against Roger and Calhoun as they try to calm him down.

GoldmanMyron does his best to knock the fire down and finally finds the fire extinguisher. It’s too hot to handle and he has to use the towel from around his neck to get a grip on it. But when he tries to use it on the jeep, the fire extinguisher goes off in his face, spraying the chemicals into his eyes. Horn tells Calhoun to stay with Pointer and he runs over to the thrashing lieutenant, who will not let Horn touch him. Myron finally grabs Horn’s canteen and upends it over his face and eyes, desperately trying to wash the chemicals out as Horn kneels beside him. Wiping his face, Myron finally looks up and tells Roger he can’t see- that he is blind. [Click here for an actor's note on this episode.]

Before Horn can say anything, all of them come under attack by the VC. Telling Calhoun to grab Pointer, Horn leads Myron and they make a run for it into the jungle. They emerge at a small farm nearby, Calhoun shoving Pointer and Goldman into an empty hootch while Horn tries to hold off at least two VC intent on killing them. Leaving Goldman to take care of Pointer, Calhoun dashes back out to help Roger. But he is shot almost immediately. Roger manages to kill the two VC and then ducks into the hootch, not realizing there is a third VC watching.

Horn kneels beside Goldman, telling the lieutenant that Calhoun is dead. He checks Myron’s eyes and head wound, the L-T flinching from his touch. But Horn assures him that he feels it is only chemical burns and thus the blindness is temporary. Myron wants to know if Horn got all the VC. Roger is unsure, but tells Goldman he is worried that even if he did get them, a lot more are likely coming.

Outside, the remaining VC pulls one of the dead VC next to the body of the other before taking a homemade grenade from the dead man’s belt.

Horn and GoldmanInside the hootch, Horn binds up Goldman’s head wound, telling him they can’t stay there. Myron snipes that the blind can lead the maimed and that would be just great. Pointer then sits up, screaming and wild eyed, and Myron wraps him up in his arms, soothing the injured man and rocking him, assuring him they aren’t going to move as Pointer sobs he wants water and he is cold. Horn watches, shocked, while Myron holds Pointer close and whispers that he wishes he could help him. Roger finally grabs a canteen and pushes it in front of Pointer’s face. But Myron, still holding Pointer, says softly that he doesn’t think Pointer is thirsty any more.

The VC creeps in closer to the hootch, still carrying the homemade grenade.

Myron pulls Pointer’s dog tags while Roger cautiously peers outside. But even blind, Myron realizes there's a mezuzah with the dog tags. He kisses it with respect and Roger asks him what it is. Myron explains it is a religious symbol, like a St. Christopher’s medal for Jews. Myron takes Pointer’s hands in his and bends over the man’s body, whispering the Kaddish. Horn watches, confused and stunned. Myron is unable to finish and tells Pointer he is sorry, but it's all he can remember. When Roger asks him if it's some type of prayer, Myron tells him it's the Hebrew prayer for the dead. He then tells Horn he was beginning to think he was the only Jew in this war.

The VC finally gets close enough, pulls the pin and lobs the grenade into the hootch. Horn sees it when it lands, grabs it, and tosses it back out in time. He then grabs Goldman and yells at him to get down. The grenade goes off outside and Horn takes off after the fleeing VC.

Horn and Li KiemThe two run into the jungle, occasionally trading gunfire until the VC’s rifle jams. Horn then chases the enemy soldier down, tackling and wrestling her to the ground. When he finally secures the struggling soldier, he realizes with a shock that he’s captured a woman.

Horn drags her back to the hootch where he tells Goldman they have a prisoner. But she spits on Horn who spits back and becomes very angry. Goldman tells him to lay off, but Horn bitterly snaps back, "The way she laid off the others? Man- you are BLIND because of her!" Myron pauses and then asks cautiously "Did you say 'her'?"

The prisoner finally gets a good look at the young lieutenant and realizes he is blind. She starts to laugh with unconcealed delight, Myron flinching back from her irony.

Horn finishes securing the woman. He again asks Goldman to come with him. He is very unhappy about leaving his friend behind, blind and alone with the VC prisoner. Goldman is adamant, though, saying that Horn needs to go and find help and bring a medevac back to Myron. Both men are silent for a long moment before the VC starts shouting at them in Vietnamese.

Goldman tells Horn to shut her up and Roger kneels down and gags her, using her bandanna. He tells Goldman that if she had one of them on the end of the leash, she’d be dragging a corpse. He then stands and comes up quietly behind Myron, carefully asking how his eyes are and what it is like.

Horn and Li KiemMyron tells him it’s empty, and that he can see shades of brown and gray and a little light. He then tells Horn to get going. But before Roger leaves, he once again kneels down next to the woman and whispers in a deadly serious voice that if she harms his friend, he swears he will hunt her down and kill her himself. A bit shocked, Myron snaps at Roger and tells him to leave now.

After Horn is gone from the hootch, Myron gathers up the leash, blindly kneels down to check the VC’s bonds and then carefully settles down a few feet away. He tells her "Welcome to the Waiting Game, I’m your host, Myron Goldman." After a few moments, he decides to take the gag from her mouth, but warns her to be real quiet. After he sits back, he asks her to tell him what she thinks she is trying to accomplish. Then maybe he could tell the parents of the kids she had killed.

Unknown to Myron, a peasant woman comes into the hootch. The VC sees her immediately and speaks carefully, telling her in Vietnamese that Myron is blind. Myron is oblivious and thinks she is talking to him. She says her name is Li Kiem and Myron immediately picks that up. Li Kiem asks the woman to get the GI’s gun. But when the woman tries to get the rifle, she makes some noise and panics as Myron lunges blindly. Myron realizes there is someone else in the hootch and he pulls his pistol, shouting and firing. The peasant woman bolts from the hootch, Li Kiem yelling to her to get help.

Myron is frightened and furious and grabs Li Kiem, wrapping the bandanna tightly around her throat and threatening to kill her until she understands and helps him. Choking, she becomes desperate and finally blurts out in English that she will help him. Myron is stunned she speaks English and it only furthers his fury and fear. Forcing her to look at him, he holds the pistol to her throat and snarls at her that he’s blind because of her, his men are dead because of her, and there is nothing he wants more than to blow her brains out. She is honestly terrified in the face of his rage, and when he asks her if that is what she wants, she begs him, no.

Myron notches his fury down a bit and then carefully gathers up his rifle and pack, telling her she is now his eyes and that she will lead him out. With his rifle at the back of her head and her hands still tied behind her back, they set off south into the jungle.

Goldman and Li KiemAs they slog through the jungle, Myron wants to know where she learned English and finds out she went to college. She tells him her father loved this country, but he went to prison for his ideas. She would not make the same mistake. Myron reminds her she’s a prisoner. And that the college kids back home would love her.

They come upon a sick VC man and his family. They are hungry and watch Myron and Li Kiem as she explains to Myron who they are. After considering a moment, Myron tosses his pack over to them. Li Kiem is startled and says that is his food. Myron replies it all he’s got. He tells her to tell them there is food in the pack. Li Kiem does as she is asked, but then asks the VC for his knife to cut her loose. When one of the children reaches for it, the father stops her and then calls out to Myron, thanking him in Vietnamese.

After they walk away, she tells Myron that was kind of him. He sarcastically tells her, do one good deed a day, that’s the American way. She snipes back, saying the American way is arrogance. Myron gets mad, but she pushes back, reminding him of things his country has done that he cannot dispute. He tells her that some of it is true, but not all, and he is not responsible for any of it. She doesn’t give in and accuses him of coming to her country, killing her people and turning it into one big brothel. He tells her that when they collect taxes and buy the bullets, then they could fight the war the way they wanted. Li Kiem warns him the Americans will never win the war, the revolutionaries will fight till the last man, the Americans will never kill them all. Myron sadly nods and says she may be right.

They continue through the jungle and come out onto another path. Li Kiem spots a partially covered pit and pauses. When Myron asks what is wrong, she immediately lies, telling him she thought she heard something. She then continues to lead him toward the pit, asking what his name is. Myron is completely unaware of what she is doing and she cautions him to be careful, that there are rocks and things. It is muddy and slick and when they draw near, Myron slips, his rifle going off. Half in the pit filled with sharpened punji sticks, he struggles to not fall in as Li Kiem kicks and tries to shove him to his death. He threatens to pull her in on top of him before he finally manages to crawl out. With the near brush with death, Myron grabs her around the throat and shouts at her that if he wasn’t blind he’d kill her right now. She screams at him to do it, but Myron shoves her back and tells her he won’t, but he will turn her over to ARVN Intelligence so that they could have a field day with her.

Goldman and Li KiemThey continue, Myron pushing her on and she tells him they could move faster if he untied her hands. She then kicks him and he swears and grabs her to him, telling her he had just begun to trust her. She warns him to not be so stupid. It is her duty to escape him and once he turns her over to the puppet soldiers she would be dead. He reminds her it’s what she deserves and she snipes back how does he know what she deserves, is it not her country? Disgusted, Myron says "It's yours, it's mine, it's everybody’s and all I know is that my men are dead and you killed them."

The two hide in the tall grass at the edge of the jungle near a small farm. She tells him what she sees. Myron makes the decision to go in, hoping they can get something to eat. She tells him she hopes they find more Liberation Fighters. He replies if they do, she isn’t going to get any lunch. The two cautiously move through the farm until an old farmer with a rifle confronts them. Myron grabs Li Kiem to him, his arm around her neck and shoulders. She asks the farmer if he is a Liberation Fighter and he spits on the ground. She tells Myron that the farmer does not like VC. When Myron has her ask if he’s seen any GIs, the farmer again spits on the ground. Myron then says to ask him to give them some food and they won’t hurt him. It is here that the farmer realizes Myron is blind. He waves the gun in Myron’s face and then turns away, chuckling. Myron demands the farmer give them some food but the man is already gone. Li Kiem laughs, saying the farmer has walked away and could easily have shot Myron. She then flinches in pain. Confused and a bit concerned, Myron eases both of them down to their knees, his arm still around her. She is exhausted and panting in pain as she leans against him.

Myron calls out to the farmer, and makes a plea to please give them some food. The farmer comes back out and tells them to leave. Myron persists, Li Kiem also asking. The old man comes up to them and slams the butt of his rifle on the ground, causing the other two to flinch. He then goes into a tirade before he walks away. Myron wants to know what he said and Li Kiem tells him that the farmer wants them to go. Myron says he knows the man said a lot more than that. Li Kiem explains that the farmer fought the Japanese and the French with his rifle. Then both their sides came and destroyed his village and killed his family. He won’t feed them. Myron nods and says softly he doesn’t blame him.

He then hauls the exhausted Li Kiem to her feet, telling her he wanted to see some of that iron Cong willpower, but before they take more than a few steps, the farmer returns with a bowl of rice, offering it to them.

Goldman and Li KiemMyron quickly feeds Li Kiem from his hand after his failed attempt at chopsticks. She is starving and eagerly licks and eats the rice from his hand and fingers. Myron gently notes it’s been a while since she’s eaten. He adds that the farmer really hated them and that he could feel it. She says that the farmer still fed them and Myron adds, even though they were his enemy. Doesn’t that make her feel something? The gentle moment between these two is suddenly lost when she then tells Myron the revolution needs food. Myron continues to feed her, but he tells her what the farmer did was way beyond any revolutionary ideas and he was just being a decent human being. He accuses Li Kiem of being a slave to her own ideas. She couldn’t even appreciate a beautiful sunset because she would be too busy flapping her gums about revolution and politics. She glares at him and tells him to enjoy his sunset, calling him a rich American. That political indifference brought him there and would kill him. Myron says maybe, but just for a moment, he thought he felt the VC hatred slip away from her, or was that just her stomach growling?

Later, Myron wraps his fatigue jacket around her. He tells her she’s now an American target, just like him, for any of her VC buddies. She notes that they may die by her Army, and he replies, or live by his.

They continue on southward, the artillery growling in the distance. They eventually come up to a river, Li Kiem telling Myron it is the Song My. Myron wants to cross, but Li Kiem starts to panic, finally blurting out that she can’t swim. Myron pushes her ahead anyway and the two wade into the river, Li Kiem terrified. Once in, she panics and Myron drops his anger and frustration and tries to calm the frightened woman as he wraps his arm around her and carriers her further into the river.

Li Kiem and GoldmanHe loses his footing in the deeper part of the river and both go under. They surface, Myron still with a grip on her as she chokes and continues to panic. He keeps reassuring her, trying to calm her. But again they go under and this time Myron loses her and his rifle. He emerges, calling out to her and she surfaces several yards away, struggling and choking until he finally pulls her back to him with the help of the leash. Grabbing Li Kiem again, he assures her the worst is indeed over and it will be all right as she thrashes in fear. They finally make it across, Li Kiem crawling into the shallows, panting in exhaustion. Myron pauses and pushes his wet hair back, eyes wide when he realizes he now can see. Excited, he tells Li Kiem he can see! But on the other bank, the VC have caught up to them and open fire. Myron pulls his pistol and returns fire as Li Kiem shouts in Vietnamese, but she is shot in the exchange. Still under fire, Myron crawls to her, realizing she is now badly wounded. She tells him now he must help her and he gathers her into his arms and carries her away from the river.

Later, he gently lays her down, still a bit confused himself with now being able to see. Li Kiem is struggling in pain and shock but she realizes Myron can now see her for the first time. She tells him she is bleeding and dying. Myron gently assures her he’s going to get her help. She wants to know why, so that they can later torture her and kill her? Myron softly shakes his head and tells her no, it’s because she is a human being. And so is he. He then gathers her up and sets off again.

HornIn a different location, Horn emerges from the jungle, exhausted. He stumbles upon some GIs and a Huey and runs up to them, shouting in relief. He quickly explains to the stunned captain what had happened and that they needed to help him get his lieutenant back.

Myron and Li Kiem continue onward. Li Kiem tries to convince him to go on alone, it would be his only chance. But he refuses to leave her. They emerge from the jungle at the remains of a smoldering village. He cautiously walks in with her and gently lays her down. She is dying and he knows it. She says to him that he thinks she is not worth it. Myron shakes his head and says no, that he is thinking about how much things had changed. She reminds him that she is still his enemy. He tells her she doesn't look like much of one now.

Myron leaves Li Kiem to search the remains of the village for something of use. Spotting a thatched panel, he pulls his knife and cuts it loose. But when he pulls it free, he finds himself staring in dismay at a dead family in the remains of the hootch.

Myron uses the panel to make a travois for Li Kiem and now drags her behind him as he continues south. She tells him he is dragging them to their death. Myron, still dismayed at what he had just seen in the bombed out village, tells her he is doing the best he can. He then tells her what he saw, that it was a little kid and her mother and father- all dead. His voice is anguished and she reminds him that if they had been alive, they may have killed him. But Myron shakes his head in sorrow, saying no, they were just lousy farmers. And that all he knows is that he gets his sight back and the first thing he sees is a dead family. It could have been his side that killed them, or hers. Li Kiem understands his anguish and tells him it is that way here. That they did not start the war, it just turned out that way.

GoldmanEventually he stops and sets Li Kiem down when he hears an exchange of gunfire nearby. She is near death as she asks Myron if it is their two sides fighting. He replies everyone but them. She tells him they had their fight and she lost. She begs him to leave her and Myron gently tells her he can’t, that she needs help. Li Kiem tells him she is dying and Myron looks at her in sorrow, knowing that she is speaking the truth. She tells him that when he lost his men, she lost her man, too. She again begs him to leave her there, with her land, with her people.

Myron realizes she is slipping away and quickly unties her hands and holds one as he then strokes her hair softly, his eyes brimming with unshed tears. Li Kiem smiles distantly and tells Myron to enjoy the sunset before she finally dies, leaving an anguished Myron holding her hand and trying to hold his tears back.

He gains his feet, then sees a Huey come in over the trees and hears more gunfire. With a last look at Li Kiem, Myron runs towards the fight.

It is the Huey with Horn and they come in to extract a recon team that is under heavy enemy fire. Killing the VC, they gather up the recon team and Horn begs the captain that they now go find his L-T.

The Huey is in the air but still in the LZ when Myron bursts into the clearing, shouting and waving his arms in desperation. Horn spots him and shouts to put the slick back down- that is his lieutenant and he can now see!

Horn and GoldmanThey land, Myron running across the clearing and Horn calling to him, encouraging him. Myron leaps at Roger, who pulls him in and the Huey quickly gets back in the air. Horn wants to know what happened, keeping his arms around Myron who now sits with his legs hanging over the skids. Roger wants to know what happened to the girl. Myron shakes his head, exhausted, and says it’s a long story. Much too long.

ToD Advisor's Episode Notes: The female character in this episode was originally supposed to be a woman South Vietnamese Army deserter, disillusioned with the war. The problem was that, while the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam - our allies) had some women soldiers, they were used almost exclusively in nursing and clerical roles. The writer and I tried out several scenarios like that, but finally she ended up being a Viet Cong.

At one point in the episode, they encounter an old farmer who orders them off his land at gunpoint. This is the second episode, the first being "Dislocations," to show an individual who has taken himself out of the war and is defending his right to do with a weapon. Vietnamese normally lived in villages and hamlets amid extended families and an individual on his own was almost unknown. There were, of course, occasional hermits or outcasts.

I supplied his rifle. I had two suitable weapons in my own collection I offered to the show and I got an urgent phone call from the prop master requesting them IMMEDIATELY. I had just gotten home from work, 8AM. Happily, it was trash day in my neighborhood and I ran around until I found a discarded cardboard applicance box in someone's trash. I took it home and cut it up into a shipping carton for the rifles. I then had to get them to Hawaii. It was too late for FEDEX. ToD's office manager (I wish I could remember her name, she was great handling stuff like this, which she did all the time) authorized me to take a cab to the airport and undertake an emergency shipping procedure. I found the first available flight leaving for Honolulu and asked the airline people if they could get it on the plane (I believe it was United.) I explained what was in the box and who it was consigned to. The only way to get a weapon on a commercial aircraft is if the pilots agree to take it and keep it in the cockpit with them. They agreed! (A lot of airline pilots are ex-military and I like to think one may have been a Vietnam veteran and a fan of the show.) I called the show from the airport and passed the flight information to our people in Hawaii. They met the flight, collected the rifles, selected one and it was in front of the camera the following morning! I remember looking at my watch as I left the airport. It was 1 PM. Quite a busy morning.

The rifle I supplied the show was a Russian Moisen-Nagant 1891. The show asked me to explain (for the record), why these would have been correct. The Russians supplied several hundred thousand such rifles to the Chinese in the 1920s, during their period of cooperation with Chiang Kai Shek. Afterwards, through desertion, barter, or capture, many fell into the hands of pirate gangs and bandits. In the late 1930s, the French disarmed many of these groups and passed the rifles to local militias. Our hermit evidently hung on to his. In reality, neither the Japanese, the Viet Minh or the Viet Cong would have permitted such a thing.

The woman Viet Cong would have had a serious problem if she had escaped from Goldman at the end. The Communist forces did not make much of a distinction between deserters and their own fighters who were captured. Both showed a willingness, on some level, to value their lives over The Cause. They could no longer be trusted.
Worth another look:

1) Li Kiem is starving and she lets Myron hand feed her from the bowl of rice. The two have been at each other’s throats up until this moment, but now all fronts are dropped. Myron helps her to eat, and when she desperately licks the rice from his hand and fingers, he gently notes it’s been a while since she's eaten. He then tells her that he could feel the farmer’s hatred, yet he still did a decent thing and gave the two of them food. She spoils the gentle mood when she reminds Myron who she is as she tells him the revolution needs food. Disgusted, he says she is a slave to her ideas and that there could be the most beautiful sunset but she wouldn’t see it because she is too busy with her revolution and politics. She calls him a rich American, and he says maybe so, but just for a moment he thought he felt that VC hatred slip away, or was that just her stomach growling.

2) Myron sets the travois down with the dying Li Kiem. They both can hear the nearby battle and she wants to know if it is their two sides fighting. Myron tells her yes, everyone is fighting but them. She asks Myron to leave her, but he tells her he can’t, that she needs help. But she is dying and she tells him as much. Myron’s eyes are bright with unshed tears as she asks if he remembers back when he lost his men. That she had lost her man, too. She begs him to leave her with her land, and with her people. Myron realizes she is slipping away and quickly unties her hands. Holding one, he softly strokes her hair and she tells him to enjoy the sunset before she finally dies.

Music:
  • I Feel Good- James Brown.  At the beginning of the episode as Goldman, Horn, Pointer, and Calhoun drive down the road in a jeep back to Firebase Ladybird.
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