Friday, December 10, 2010

The Walking Dead: A recap of Season One, Episodes 4 – 6

Here we are again, standing at the precipice of the second half of my review of the first season of the Walking Dead TV show. Last time we were here, we heard way too much about Meryl and Daryl and not enough about anything else. Blame Darabont. Now, I’ll admit, I was a bit harsh last time out, true, true, all very true. What can I say? I roll with the snark. You can read it here.

Ok, let’s get two things straight here, right off the bat:
1. I like the show. I do. In broad general terms, I like it. I just have a few issues with it close up.
2. Yes, you are right, the comic isn’t literature, not by any stretch, but it’s good enough that I figured some pros could polish it up enough to shine on the TV, you know? There’s some good action and drama there. The story itself is strong; it really is, but the first half of the season? What’s my overview? It was just alright. I expected better.

So, how does the second half go, you ask? Do they get better?

Read on, gentle readers. (No, no they don’t.)

Episode 4: “Vatos

Written by Robert Kirkman, directed by Johan Renck

In this episode, we follow the four idiots as they search for Meryl One-handed, the strongest, most ornery sumbitch alive, not only has Meryl cut off his own hand, but he’s also killed three zombies and then cauterized the wound with sterno cans! He’s like the Davy Crockett of the zombie apocalypse. The four idiots lose Meryl at a broken window and decide to completely forget about him forever or at least until season 2, we’ll see… Back at Camp Stupid, previously unremarkable survivor Jim is digging holes. Shane tells him to quit, but Jim says no way and then they wrestle and then Shane ties Jim to a tree. Back in Atlanta, the four idiots turn their focus on the big bag of guns that Rick left in the street at the end of Episode 1, the same guns that then got rained on in Episode 2…. Moving on! They enact a plan to get the guns, only to be jumped by the feared Latino gang: the Sharks from West Side Story! The Sharks kidnap Glenn and they want to exchange him for the guns, they then back away to the sound of slow choreographed snapping… Soon everyone is pointing guns at each other, it’s a stand-off (a Mexican stand-off, if you will… ah-ha, ah-hahaha… oh, how droll) and oh how the tension is a’rising. But wait! PLOT TWIST! The Sharks are actually protecting an old folk’s home filled with old folks! Head idiot Rick takes pity on them and hands over some guns and everyone parts ways, having learned a little bit about each other… and themselves. But wait! PLOT TWIST NUMERO DOUS! Their van is gone! Oh, that Meryl! He is one ornery sumbitch! The idiots think Meryl might return to camp and One-hand the fuck outta everybody, so they start running back to camp, but it turns out he didn’t. Meanwhile, back at Camp Stupid… They’re throwing a party! Fish fry, baby! Here’s to good friends… tonight is kinda speci—AH ZOMBIES! CHOMP! CHOMP! EAT! AHHHH! LOUD NOISES! BLOOD-BLOOD-BLOOD!

I just… I mean… sigh… come on, man! I can’t even talk about the stupid gang-banger plot, it’s as stupid and as complete a waste of time as you would assume… And again, Meryl… he will not go quietly into that good night. They pretend like he’s a plot point, but he’s really not. It doesn’t really matter though, because this is the last time you really ever hear him mentioned… Three of the six episodes are practically focused like a laser on the guy and for what? Nothing.

What are they doing? Did they not realize they only had a little less than six hours with which to tell a whole story with a beginning, middle, and end? What if they hadn’t gotten a season 2? Yes, this episode was written by series creator Robert Kirkman, I know and I hear, for all intents and purposes, he’s a real nice guy, but this episode? Weak sauce, sister. This is the low point of the season…

Also, Shane is once again the only person in the entire group without his head firmly up his ass. Every time someone wants to do something stupid, who is it that tells them that it is stupid and then turns out to be right? Shane. Who took care of his buddy’s family after he was unable to save that buddy from the zombie apocalypse (or so he thought)? Shane. And the worst part is… I’m pretty sure they mean for the audience to be feeling this way about Rick, head idiot and a big time Mr. Weepy-pants. Also, did they insinuate that Jim was psychic? Ugh… Let’s move on…

This was a poorly done, poorly written episode.

Episode 5: “Wildfire”

Written by Glen Mazzara, directed by Ernest Dickerson

In this episode, we see that it can sometimes take hours for a dead person to change into a zombie… HOURS… Clean-up from the previous night’s party is the focus of most of the first third of the episode. While sweeping, it is discovered that Jim was bitten during the night’s festivities. Rick takes action. “To the CDC,” he says “they may have a cure for Jim.” Shane says, “That’s a dumb idea” and the two almost slap fight. Then he and Rick go hunting and Shane does his imitation of Dick Cheney, but he’s just pretending. Rick never gets to see the impersonation though, but Dale, the wise old man of the group (you can tell by the beard), sees this and gives Shane a disapproving look. As a result, Shane feels guilty and agrees to Rick’s plan. No one else gets a say. So the survivors take as many vehicles as possible, instead of conserving fuel and having everyone pile into one or two, and head off down the road… minus a few more Red shirts. You see, unbeknownst to the viewing audience, there was a really nice family of Mexican Redshirts among the survivors at the camp. Thinking back, I do remember seeing them in the background once or twice. What a bunch of nice Redshirts. So anyway, instead of going to the CDC, they decide to go their own way (go their own waaaaaay) and the viewing audience barely notices or cares. Back to the road, the survivors are trucking along, but Jim is turning too quick and he wants to be left behind. So they leave him, and despite the fact that without Jim they don’t really have a reason to go to the one place in America guaranteed to have the zombie virus present, they keep going. Meanwhile, in the CDC, Dr. Scientist is doing his best impression of Charlton Heston as the Omega man. He is interrupted by Rick and the others banging on his door. At the last moment, he lets them in.

This episode wasn’t bad, although admittedly I don’t remember much of my reaction toward it, so maybe that’s the most telling part right there. Ambivalence, they name is Episode 5: “Wildfire”.

The journey to the CDC is the biggest divergence from the book so far, maybe not thematically, but at least setting wise. I think if there was anything I’d point out as not liking, it would be a few missed opportunities, both new ones and the results of previous ones. Take Dale and Andrea, for instance… please. (ba-dum-bum tssch! I’ll be here all week!) Dale, you may recall is the old guy with the beard, so he’s wise. He’s got a special bond with the sisters: college age and now dead and zombified Amy and her older sister, sad and not zombified Andrea. Of course, you wouldn’t really know about their bond unless you read the comics, as they’ve spent more time with Meryl, Daryl, and T Dog (the name of my next band BTW) then they have on this trio, but they act like this isn’t the case in the script. What you get is a “touching” scene between two characters that haven’t really interacted before this, but are both acting like they have. A little bit of character building might have lent some more emotional weight to the moment… Missed opportunity. I also had a little trouble with the beginnings of the “Shane is not just a mega-jerk, but he might be ca-ca-ca-crazy” storyline. Of course, I had the same problems with the abruptness of that storyline in the comic too, so maybe that’s a different issue and not really the show’s fault.

Also, Amy’s turning took forever.

Episode 6: “TS-19”

Written by Adam Fierro and Frank Darabont, directed by Guy Ferland

In this episode we see a flashback to Shane’s attempted rescue of Rick from the hospital as it is being overrun. The military is shooting everything that moves, the Dead are everywhere and they are biting people like crazy. Gunshots. Explosions. Smoke. The chaos is too much and Shane is forced to leave Rick, blocking off his room before fleeing the hospital. He tries. He really tries. Back to the present with our survivors in the CDC and it looks like it’s about that time… That’s right. P-A-R-T… Y? Because they gotta! They’re drinking and eating and laughing and showering! It’s like college. But every party has a Debbie downer and this party’s Debbie downer is named Shane. Still visibly upset over his new lack of access to Lori’s Va-jayjay, he gets drunk in the shower, then he pees on everyone’s parade at dinner and then he tries to force himself on Lori. She bitchslaps him. The next day everyone is hung over, so Dr. Scientist explains how the infection works and then lets it slip that the CDC will be blowing up in less than an hour…ah… WHA!?!? That’s right, blowing up in less than an hour. The survivors get upset at this. Really upset. Dr. Scientist thinks it will be better if they all just blow up. Rick eventually convinces him that that is not in their best interest, so Dr. Scientist releases them and then whispers a secret in Rick’s ear. As the CDC explodes, the survivors realize that one of their last Redshirts has stayed behind: Skinny black lady is dead. The survivors pause briefly and then drive off into the unknown…

Thematically, this episode was important. You’ll hear some people out there gripe about the show not doing the “Wiltshire Estates” storyline, but that’s just fan-wank. “Wiltshire Estates” is a story arc where the survivors attempt to occupy an abandoned gated community only to find out the place is already occupied… BY THE DEAD… and this CDC storyline covers the same ground. Basically, they both teach our heroes that the old world is gone and that nowhere is safe. And that’s important for them to realize, because it changes them from being refuges hoping for rescue, to survivors looking to build a new life. It’s also the final culling, where the folks who were hoping for rescue give up. The people who make it through that realization have their own reasons to live and keep on surviving.

This episode also explained the zombie infection, not where it comes from, but how it works, which is alright, I guess. Personally, I feel like the information is mostly unimportant and a narrative waste, because it doesn’t change anything about the survivors’ daily reality. Knowing how the virus works doesn’t mean you don’t have to run as fast anymore. I mean, I guess I don’t mind the virus explanation, if they must, because how it works is obvious, I’m just glad they avoided explaining the origin. I like it better as a massive cosmic side-swiping rather than… you know, a space virus or a lab accident or toxic waste or whatever. It’s better when there is no meaning and no one to blame. It’s better when it just is and the survivors have to deal or die. Once you define it, it’s lessened, you know?

Otherwise… a lot of fake tension. I mean, what the fuck? A ticking clock? Oh no, will they all blow up? What will they do? I’m so unsure… PPPPHhhhhhhbbbbbbtttttttttt! Fuck that shit; it’s like bad star trek writing. How stupid. Also, here we get more Dale and Andrea acting as if this bond they have isn’t brand new to viewing audience as Andrea gives up and decides to stay at the CDC until convinced by Dale that she should keep fighting to live, so she agrees and they run off, jumping toward the camera as the CDC CGI explodes. The funniest part was Skinny black lady was all like: “I’m staying.” And everyone is like, “Cool, later.” Then Andrea goes: “I’m staying too.” And everyone is like: “NOOOOOOOO!” Yeah, in your face, Skinny black lady, we hate you, go blow up.

I’m torn on the Shane rape scene; I think it came off awkward. Kind of like that sentence...He definitely assaulted her (which is definitely bad), but I don’t think he intended to "rape" her, I think the character was supposed to be drunkenly convinced that if he could just get her to kiss him, she’d admit her love for him. It’s the same thing, but I think the intent comes from a different place, which makes Shane a deeply flawed character instead of sudden Snidely Whiplash out of nowhere bad guy… Maybe this scene is a good example of how the show just fell short of pulling off the little details and nuances that really kept it from being a great show.

Like, Rick is the new guy, right? In the show, he’s been awake for about a week, give or take. Everyone else has been living in the zombie apocalypse for 5 weeks, give or take. So how come everybody seems just as clueless as Rick? How come they all act like they’re just experiencing all of this for the first time? They were there for the end of the world; they saw it and they survived. Why aren’t they a little more hardened? The way this season went, I fell like the writers never even considered this. I mean, wouldn’t the survivors all know about the CDC? If a zombie virus was tearing up the world, wouldn’t you think the CDC would be the center of the Universe, the last hope, and on TV constantly before the power goes out? Wouldn’t you think everyone would know about the place? Wouldn’t the pictures of the zombies hanging out there at the end have been flashed around the world? Wouldn’t everyone know to stay away? You'd would think so, wouldn't you? A nit, sure, but still... going to the CDC after a plague based apocalyopse would be like robbing a bank and then deciding to hide out at the police station.

But then, that’s the show in a nutshell, there were so many broad strokes requiring a caring audience to fill in the gaps, so much time wasted on characters that didn’t matter. It wasn’t that they were new and not in the comic, it was that they did nothing except take up valuable space and now… pretty much all of them are dead. What a waste of narrative time. The good news is: there is one redshirt character left (Daryl), and at least he was a 3-D character for awhile, until he faded away in the background for the past two episodes. Of course, this probably means they’ll meet a busload of redshirts in the first five minutes of next season’s premiere. “Hi, I’m Ted, I’m a dentist. I’ll just stand over here…” “Hi, I’m Julie, I was a housewife who lost her family, I plan on flipping out and letting zombies into our camp.” “Hi, mi nombre es Tito, man, I ain’t a Meican’t, I’m a Mexican AND comic relief, vato! Wacky!” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

So, what was the secret Dr. Scientist whispered in Rick’s ear? Do you want to know?

Do you really want to know…?

Ok, so it was either 1 of 3 things or a combination.

1. Lori’s pregnant (who’s baby is it?)

2. Everyone is already infected, so everyone will eventually become a zombie when they die, no matter what. Which would make the survivors… wait for it… the Walking Dead (oh, so clever).

3. He tells Rick where he has been sending his video transmissions to (most likely a government bunker or something like that.)

I lean toward 1 or 2.

Overall, yeah, I liked the show, but it comes with too many caveats and addendums for me to really feel good about recommending it to anyone who isn’t into the same shit as me.

There’s too many issues. What was this season about? Where was the realization? Yes, I said the CDC arc is all about showing the survivors that the old world is gone, that no help is coming and that they must start building and defining their new world on their own, but when did we get to SEE that realization happen? I’ll tell you when… we didn’t.

So what was the point?

The problems with this show start at the writing and end at the writing, let’s hope the rumors are true, because as a standalone mini-series, from a story point of view, I gotta say this show was a failure. Whose story was told? How did they change? These are basic questions. Does “story” really matter there, AMC? Prove it. You can’t write toward a series you don’t have yet, you have to tell a complete story in the time frame you are given, the pilot, the first six episodes… This is where the story was supposed to be. All those strings leading off into possible future story lines are extra, they’re secondary and to my mind, much like a Receiver running before the ball is in his hands, this is where the show fumbles, this is why this show was ultimately subpar… But then, what do I know, the thing just got a WGA nomination, so… ppphhbbttt.

In the end, yeah, I’ll tune in next season. Definitely. Like I said, the show wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good. Besides, I love me a good apocalypse. So, I’ll tune and hope for focus. Focus on character. Focus on story. We’ll see.

There are others discussing this show. Be sure to swing by Io9 and Badass Digest, if you’re interested.

Fuck that guy…


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