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Austin Butler's Buck Cleven Surprise In Masters Of The Air Episode 6 Explained

This article contains spoilers for Masters of the Air episode 6.

Although the men of the 100th assumed what happened to Major Gale ‘Buck’ Cleven in episode 4, episode 6 of Masters of the Air changes everything when it reveals that Cleven not only survived, but is at Stalag Luft III, the POW camp where Major John ‘Bucky’ Egan is now staying. Among the many new and refreshing aspects of the sixth episode, this reveal was the most shocking and exciting. With Austin Butler now back in the series after a nearly two-episode hiatus, Masters of the Air is returning to its original lead character.

After Masters of the Air episode 4, there were many questions about what direction the series was going in. Although Masters of the Air always marketed itself as a series starring Austin Butler, the fourth episode left his character’s fate a mystery, and more than that, hinted that he was dead. This left many doubts as to why the series would emphasize Austin Butler so much if he was destined to die four episodes in. But now, after Masters of the Air episode 6, it is clear that the show wanted to surprise audiences with Cleven’s miraculous survival.

Though Masters of the Air does not show Major Gale Cleven’s experience from the Bremen mission in episode 4 to Stalag Luft III in episode 6, it can be assumed that, during the mission, he evacuated his plane and landed in German territory. He was likely picked up by Nazi forces soon after and brought to Stalag Luft III, a POW camp specifically designated for members of the Western Allied Air Forces. It is most likely that his prisoner of war experience paralleled John Egan’s experience, which is covered in depth in episode 6.

History backs up this theory as well. According to the American Air Museum, Cleven reported that his plane suffered severe damage during the Bremen mission, and though he tried to make it to the Dutch border, he and his crew had to bail out instead. In Cleven’s account, he landed at the front door of a German farmhouse, “lying on his back with a pitchfork on his chest.” He was promptly escorted, along with the rest of his crew, to a Luftwaffe station. He was then interrogated in Frankfurt and brought to Stalag Luft III.

When Buck Cleven is revealed as a POW in Masters of the Air episode 6, he likely has not been a prisoner for very long.

This is because Cleven entered German territory during the Bremen mission and Egan during the Munster Raid, and these missions occurred within two days of each other during the 100th’s Black Week. Bremen occurred on October 8th, 1943, while Munster happened on October 10th.

In this way, Cleven has been a POW for a few days by the time Egan arrives at Stalag Luft III. This can also be gleaned by how Cleven looks. He isn’t dirty or worn down, but instead, is dressed in his full uniform with only a bit of stubble on his face. His lack of wounds, as opposed to Egan’s bruised face, also hints that Cleven had an easier time arriving at the camp than Egan did. Despite what the 100th thought, Cleven was not killed in Bremen, and if anything, has been safe since they last saw him.

Ultimately, Major Gale ‘Buck’ Cleven remains a prisoner of war until the end of World War II in 1945. That means he remains at Stalag Luft III, alongside Major John ‘Bucky’ Egan, for a total of 18 months. Although there are escape attempts made at the POW camp, specifically an attempt famously called The Great Escape, neither Cleven nor Egan participate. This is mostly due to the fact that it was a mostly British operation. Cleven’s story does still end in escape, though it is of a different kind.

On January 27, 1945, the prisoners of Stalag Luft III are ordered to evacuate to Spremberg, as Soviet forces start closing in. Cleven, Egan, and the other 11,000 men begin the miles-long trek through the snow, which is full of cold, disease, and death. In a stroke of luck, Cleven successfully escapes this evacuation, and it is reported that he reappeared at Thorpe Abbotts 12 days later. From there, Cleven finishes out the war, and continues serving in the Air Force for years after the events of Masters of the Air.

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