Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode Three: Save the Last One

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! There's a new episode of the Walking Dead on TV tonight, which means it's about that time again, time to post my review for last week's episode. I'm reviewing one episode at a time this year, grimly slogging through each one, each week. You can read the other reviews here, if you want.

"Save the Last One"

So what's the verdict in a nutshell?

Another week, another episode with a marked improvement in quality.

This only adds fuel to the question I posed last week: Was Frank Darabont ultimately the problem? With two Frank-less episodes now in the bag, I gotta tell you, people, all signs point to yes. I'm not claiming these last two episodes have been genius, because they haven't, they fall far, far short of that mark, but regardless there is just no denying the very apparent fact that since Frank left, each episode has been better than the last. Better pacing. Better dialogue. Better storytelling all around.

I mean, there is still a ridiculous amount of scenes where the characters are merely waiting patiently for their turn to speak so they can step to center stage and deliver the biggest, most bombastic and ham-fisted soliloquy's in the history of man, but then... that's a definite hallmark of Robert Kirkman, maybe complaining that the characters on Walking Dead deliver too many uber-heartfelt speeches is akin to complaining that water is too wet. So there's that again, of course.

But hey, at least Lori didn't do anything too crappy this episode, right?

That's a plus, right?

So, this episode jumps ahead of last week's cliffhanger, effectively killing the tension and leaving viewers with one burning question: Why is Shane shaving? Also, what happened to Otis?

Is there anyone out there who can't guess?

Before we get into that, though, let's talk about the two major problems with this episode, otherwise known as the reason why, even though this was one of the show's better episodes, it still wasn't a very good episode of TV, or how this episode is more akin to a really good episode of V, instead of, say... a regularly awesome episode of Fringe.

To begin: The beginning.

What does the beginning tell us right off the bat?

Shane lives.

As it very obviously takes place in the present, that means he must have survived the hub-bub at the high school. Also, as he looks at himself in the mirror, one can't help but notice from his movements and facial expressions that he looks a little... hmmm... Shocked? Stunned? Conflicted? Horrified? So, what does that tell us? How about that maybe some mistakes were made and now someone is dead? But who? Well, remember the head shaving thing? Ask yourself, does he have lice? ...No. No, he does not. Wait a minute... head shaving is often seen as a form of penance, right? Couple that with the idea that someone could be dead and what do you get?

Shane lives. Otis doesn't.

You only have to be faster than the slowest guy...

See, this is why a flashback like this is a stupid, hacky narrative device. With just half a brain and a little bit of paying attention, you know what happens in the story. You may not know how exactly, but you still know. It's the same problem The Prequels had (one of them, at least...) and that is, because of the narrative set up, we knew exactly what happens to every character, except for Mace Windu, but since he was the only character we didn't know what happened to, we end up knowing by default (He died). It's hacky, because here's what the writers were playing off of: In the comic, Otis survives this part, while Shane is long dead. They know the audience is looking for Shane's death, so they were trying to "rip the rug out from under us" ala Ned Stark. However, by showing us the end, we can all rest comfortably knowing that Shane makes it. The question of how Otis dies isn't a burning one because he's new and no one cares.

More on Shane and Otis later.

Let's move on to problem number two, or as I like to call it: Everybody else.

You people bore me.

Dale is still standing on the roof of the RV, spouting off generic old-man-isms and looking through his binoculars, even though he didn't see the last herd of zombies until they were 30 feet away. Carol is still useless. Hey lady? Your stupid daughter (who never does anything) is missing, how about you quit sobbing and start leading the search yourself? Take action! And what the fuck is with the stupid missing daughter? She ran into some woods that are right next to a fucking highway, right next to it! This is America! She's in some woods right next to a highway and she's been lost for days! DAYS! Really? Christ, maybe she deserves to be dead... And Andrea is soooo mopey, so whiny, so stomp-around-hissy-fitty. Oh, are you sad? Are you still weighing whether or not you want to live or not? Oh, please, remind us of this some more. Oh, poor baby... Kill yourself! And Daryl? As fun as it is to see him kill zombies, he's done nothing, but fake snark.

Oh, my god! Glenn did something! Everybody! Everybody! Glenn did something! He went to Hershel's farm with T-Dog (...I know, I mean... what the fuck? T-Dog? Come on). Anyway, he and "T-Dog" drove to the farm to offer help during Carl's surgery. Then they sat down on the porch and hung out. And cried a little. I may have fallen asleep there for awhile. There was chatting.

Oh, look. Rick and Lori are having a prolonged heart-to-heart. "Should we try to save our child or is it better to let him die?" That was their argument. Guess what they picked? Yep, that's how tense and dramatic it was too. This was the soliloquy part... on and on and on. Oh so bland. Oh so boring.

Back to Shane.

So, all the fun stuff is back at the hospital, with the zombies and the guts and the bang-bang-bang. Shane and Otis have been all over the place trying to ditch the zombies at their heels, they've saved each other, they've beaten back dozens of walking dead, and at the end they're both hurt, hobbled, and worn the fuck out. So, they're limping across the parking lot, almost completely out of ammo, the zombies closing in... and Shane makes a choice.

He shoots Otis in the leg and leaves him behind.

"Ow! Owwwwie! Ow! Ow-ow-ow-ow! Ow!"

And this is why Shane is the best character, not because he's such a great guy, but because he is not sometimes. He's complex and conflicted and does awful things for good reasons. Carl is kind of his son, you see, and the kid needs the gear they have or he will die. Otis is the man who shot Carl, accident or no accident. To Shane, the choice between Carl and Otis, is no choice at all. He didn't do it because he's evil, he feels bad about it, he did it because he's a survivor and surviving can mean having to do some ugly things.

So why the head shaving? Well, personally, I think the writers are trying desperately to understand the appeal of Shane that they have accidentally created and they are turning (admittedly rightly so) to Walter White from Breaking Bad (played by the great Bryan Cranston). My proof of this theory is the fact that this would technically be the second Breaking Bad reference, after the appearance of Walter's infamous blue meth in Daryls' brother Meryl's (Yes, they did do that) stash in the previous episode. So basically, Walter has had to make some decisions, some bad decisions, some horrible decisions and all for what started out as a noble goal. Shane is the same, so I think the writers are going to try to mirror that character's path. Unfortunately, I'm expecting that they are probably only really capable of the surface details, so the head shaving is happening, because Walter shaved his head too.

Also, probably because it looks bad ass.

So, to sum up, some ups, more downs, but looking better. Good, but still not great. The big problem now? After tonight, the season is half over. Can the last four episodes right the ship and make it a season worth watching or--gasp!--dare we hope? One worth revisiting?

Time will tell, my friends, time will tell.

Watch where you're walking,

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