Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Walking Dead: A recap of Season One, Episodes 1 - 3

So, I know I’ve talked about how I generally prefer to distance myself from this property and why, but in case you missed it, it is mostly due to the fact that I don’t want people to get the wrong impressions of my motives. If you want to read me ramble on about it a little bit more, you can find the whole thing here. So, yeah, anyway, this is normally my policy, but since the first season just wrapped up, I figured, everyone else is talking about it, why shouldn’t I?

So let’s do it.

Ok so, for the new kids and first timers, The Walking Dead is a comic by Robert Kirkman about a group of survivors in a world overrun by zombies. The book is pretty good, if somewhat overly expository on occasion, and it tends to explore more of a “realistic”, less flashy type of setting. It's generally a pretty good read. Kirkman has said that his intention was to make a never ending zombie movie. Your approval may vary, but I’m all on board for that. Anyway, along came Frank Darabont and AMC and together they have made a show.

This is what I’ll be blathering on about…

Now, keep in mind, I like the show. I do. Especially in the broad sense, but I’ve definitely got some issues with it and some nits too, all of which I will expound upon at length momentarily, but before we get started, I just wanted to be clear: over all… I like it. Also, this blog turned into a long one, so I’m breaking it up into two parts. First up, as evidenced by this blog’s title, Episodes 1 - 3.


Episode 1: “Days Gone By”

Written and directed by Frank Darabont

In this episode we meet our hero, Rick. Rick’s a cop. Rick got shot. Rick woke up from a coma to find… ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE… always a hazard. Anyway, as Rick stumbles about, slack jawed, trying to piece together just what in the bloody blue fuck is going on, he meets Morgan and Dwayne, fellow survivors who explain the status quo a bit, before Rick sets off alone to find his family, hoping against hope that they’re still alive (they are). In the end, we leave Rick the dumbass trapped inside a tank, out of ammo, and surrounded by zombies.

This is the episode that most closely adhered to the source material and is probably the best example of how adding things to the already established story really brought the show up a notch in terms of quality. It was a real “showcaser” of an episode. Good effects, nice pacing, excellent tension and art direction, it set a good tone and a high bar for the rest of the season to follow (and usually just miss…), especially in terms of “fixing” some the comic’s issues, i.e. the padding to Morgan and Dwayne’s story… the inclusion of Morgan’s zombie wife trying the door knob on the house… it was all great stuff. An all together great start. Well done.

If there was one thing I didn’t like, it would be this one zombie extra. He’s wearing a suit, has stringy hair, he stumbles off the bus in downtown Atlanta… He sucks. You can tell that he’s playing his zombie as really “evil” and he just ends up looking like an over-the-hill metalhead doing scary-Satan guy while working behind the counter at Brueggers, it’s lame… I hate that guy and I hope he knows it.

Is that a nit?

fuck this guy...

Episode 2: “Guts”

Written and directed by Frank Darabont

In this episode, due to some fancy footwork and his poor, poor, really dead horsey, Rick is able to duck out of the tank and slip past the ravenous Dead. He meets new survivor Glenn, who is scavenging a department store in Atlanta, with some other folks, for a larger group that is camped and waiting outside the city. One of their group is a dangerous hothead and he’s on the roof just a’shootin and a’shootin. His name’s Meryl and yes, he hates the colored folks. YEE-HA!!! Rick handcuffs him to the roof of the department store after they wrestle for a bit. But they’ve made a lot of noise and soon the zombies outside are going crazy with the idea of getting in and eating the hell out of everybody. Meanwhile, the group outside the city (including Rick’s wife Lori, son Carl, and his former police partner Shane, who is now boning Lori) all decide that the group in the city is “f” to the “u” to “c.k.e.d.”, so they do other stuff to pass the time. This means Rick and the others are on their own and must attempt a desperate and super gross plan in order to escape… which they then do.

I was a little disappointed in this episode. This is mostly due to the fact that it features my least favorite moment from the comic. I’m referring of course, to the titular “guts”, where Rick and Glenn must douse themselves in zombie in order to walk among the Dead and steal a few cars so they can pick up the others and hi-tail it out of Atlanta. You see this occasionally in the genre and I think it is one of the stupidest ideas out there. Here’s why: First of all, you’re insinuating zombies recognize each other by smell… dumb, but let’s address it anyway. What about fresh zombies? They’re not all gross and rotty, does that confuse older zombies? Also, there is too much thought process involved when you have a zombie sniff Rick and then decide that, since he stinks, he must be a zombie, you know? Deductive reasoning? Come on, it’s stupid… unless the film is Shaun of the Dead, then it’s hilarious. Also, would a zombie who lost his sense of smell in life be effectively blind in undeath? Stupid and problematic. Then, for a big stupid cherry on top of a big stupid sundae… it rains and washes Rick and Glenn completely clean, clean as a whistle in fact, and all the zombies are like: “WTF?!?! What’s that delicious smell?!?!? Humans!?!? Amongst us!?!?!” I mean… come on…

Another thing I noticed in this episode is that this is where you can really see the beginnings of a greater problem. Namely: there are a lot of Red shirts hanging out. This is a problem for two reasons.

1. Red shirts and what inevitably happens to them is never surprising or touching, it’s always expected and therefore lame.

2. These Red shirts seem to be taking center stage to the detriment of several main characters from the book. I’m not saying you’re missing out on anything “amazing” or whatever, but spending time on the Red shirts INSTEAD of the real characters, means we’re missing out on the nascent bonding that will provide the foundation for believable later interactions between the main characters. This is one of those situations where you have to ask: Why? Why toss out a good (or eventually good character) for a 2-D one that doesn’t survive the next couple of episodes? Waste of time. You only get six episodes. Case in point: Meryl. He’s a little bit more than a Red shirt, but he’s not quite a character. He’s also kind of pointless. I mean, he might come back later on in the story at a point that is obvious to fans, but he wasn’t needed in the book for that story to happen, so he isn’t needed now. He is superfluous. And of course, he is also the most 2-D of the 2-D. He’s the racist redneck. Now, I don’t deny their existence, if we learned one thing since Obama was elected, it’s that this country has no end to 2-D racists, but still… it’s poorly done and worst of all… overly familiar.

Basically, after the strong showing of the first episode, this episode was a more than a bit of a letdown and sadly, much more representative of the average episode’s quality level than I’d like.

Episode 3: “Tell it to the Frogs”

Written by Charles Eglee and Jack LoGiudice, directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton

In this episode we finally see the tearful reunion of Rick and Lori and Carl, a family re-united after so many arduous and terrible days apart, days filled with blood and guts and terror and death and nightmares given flesh, days now finally over, because our hero has found that which he sought so hard to find… his family… and then he ditches them to go back into Atlanta and save the crazy red-neck Meryl they had accidentally left handcuffed to the department store roof. We also meet Meryl’s other brother: Daryl, proving that not only is Meryl an unoriginal cliché, but so were his parents. Daryl is a wee bit upset at them forgetting Meryl, so Rick, Daryl, Glenn, and T-Dog (… sigh… really? T-Dog?) go traipsing back off to Atlanta. Meanwhile, Lori tells Shane that she is no longer interested in doggy-styling in the woods due to the fact that her husband is alive. Shane is visibly upset. Later, the women-folk are busy doing the laundry when fellow survivor and tank top wearing douchebag Ed decides to smack his wife around. Still visibly upset Shane happens upon this and then pounds the unholy shit out of Ed; however, this is presented to the audience as if it were bad thing. Meanwhile in Atlanta, The four idiots discover that Meryl has sawed his own hand off and disappeared from the entire storyline.

Problems abound and compound here, folks. First off, there’s more Red shirt nonsense than you can shake a stick at and it’s been awhile since the add-ins and divergences from the source material, that I had previously praised, had actually added anything good. Okay, to be fair, I make fun of Daryl, but he actually very briefly turns into one of the more rounded characters, AND I have to admit, he actually is a welcome addition to the group, a distinct voice that I hadn’t realized was missing, but he doesn’t do anything and then kind of fades away into the scenery. Here’s the big problem with him. It’s obvious that they wrote the first two episodes as the series pilot, right, and that they added Meryl to the mix for two reasons.

1. The group needed a little more overt tension (read: more filmable and also more easily understandable by the wider TV viewing audience) within the group.

2. The writers are all from California and only know about the south from TV and those Brad Pitt hurricane house infomercials, so they read the comic and was like: “Where’s the redneck racists?”

Anyway, so at the end of Ep. 2, they had left Meryl on the roof, he’s done. But that’s alright, this is only the pilot, they’ll worry about later episodes later, right? Problem. Then they got picked up for a season. And they realized they need Meryl; they must rescue him so they can continue to use him for group tension! But what do they do until then…? Eureka! Use a brother who is essentially the same character! Brilliant! Uh-oh, but wait, by the time the episode is going, they like Daryl better than Meryl, so they decide they don’t actually need Meryl anymore, so they write him out of the show (maybe we can use him later? Brilliant! It’ll look like we planned it all along.). But wait a minute more… if they’re writing off Meryl, because they now have Daryl, why even bother with this rescue storyline at all…?


There are others, true, like how we’re seeing an accidental (I believe) rise of Shane’s character into a sympathetic, understandable, root-able character, which means they have to scramble to make him more hate-able later on, but really Meryl and Daryl is the big issue, both in and of themselves and in what they represent toward the greater storyline as a whole.

So basically, much like Episode 2, I liked this episode, but I’m beginning to realize that I like it more because of the “what if” factor zombie apocalypse stuff brings to the table for me, more than anything that is actually happening on-screen. It’s not bad; it’s just not that good or more appropriately, all that well-executed.

I expected a better, tighter focus... especially judging by AMC's other TV offerings.

Ok, so that’s episodes 1 through 3.

It was real strong out of the gate, then it faltered a bit. I think the good is still outweighing the bad at this point, but that the show is definitely angling off in the wrong direction, and I’m really disappointed in the lack of a cohesive story arc being built to span these initial six episodes. Yes, they’re dealing with the immediate fall out of a zombie apocalypse, but what are they doing? Who are they? Where are they going? What’s the point of these six episodes? What’s the realization? It’s hard to identify at this point just where exactly the creators of this show are aiming and it’s becoming more and more apparent that they just might be doing nothing more than shooting blindly in the dark.

Tomorrow: Episodes 4-6



Qlaudie said...

Very interesting, Jon... well put.
About the sucky zombie: Worm Tongue! Amirite? I don't so much blame the actor as the director. They made him up that way, and he was definitely the 'featured zombie extra' of that episode, in fact he was shown in several previews and promotional stills. They wanted that Worm Tongue satanist chic look, apparently.
In re Red Shirts: You've read the comics, and I haven't, but keep in mind the example of True Blood - Lafayette was supposed to die after season one, but the creators very astutely realized he was a) the best actor on the show, and b) one of the most interesting characters, and they kept him on as a main character. You never know how a TV show is going to veer away from the source material.
Meryl vs. Daryl - You are spot on. Daryl is waaaay more interesting. I like the idea of 'how do we deal with a sociopath (Meryl) after the apocalypse, but he was such a cartoony, uninteresting sociopath. How about a quiet, Dexter type who initially satiates his desire for killing through zombie slaughter, but after a while, it's not enough... The most interesting thing about Daryl is that he's such an asset to them, zombie-killing-wise.
Rick - He is forgiven a lot in this camp, due to his hotness. I actually think the idea that his desire to do right outweighs his love for his family could be a very interesting character trait, provided the writers are consistent and careful with his development. I believe the actor has the chops to do it justice...
Which brings us to Shane. I think Shane IS really a nasty person, I think that the writers write him as such. He lied about his best friend's death in order to bone his wife - (and why hasn't that come up again between Lori and him?) -and there are other moments of his general shiftiness - I wonder if the actor is failing us in that sense. His character comes across not as intriguingly morally ambiguous, but as murky. TBD.
And that, sir, is my 200 cents.

Jon said...

Worm tongue... good call.

I still hate him.

You haven't watched last episode yet, especially concerning the whole Rick/hospital part... I do agree he is nasty, but I'm okay with that, because he's more complex than 99% of the rest of the cast. Really though, I support him over Rick because his zombie survival decisions are better.

And I'm not against them adding new stuff, I think they did great with the first episode, and I like Daryl, but that's not really the case... we get instead is we miss moments that could be spent on some of the established characters in exchange for simply adding more characters who are even less rounded out than the first ones:
"We have sixteen minutes to spread among seven characters, what do we do?"
"Add five more charcaters."

You're totally right about Meryl.

Qlaudie said...

Absolutely - better to develop main characters than to diddle around uselessly with redshirts.
I LIKE that Shane is nasty. I wish the actor pulled it off better, is all.

Jon said...

Yeah, but he's not nearly as bad as Lori though... yeesh.