Monday, February 20, 2017

THE WALKING DEAD Goes To Bartertown

Tonight, on THE WALKING DEAD, Rick and co. appeared to have dropped into the pocket universe wherein the Max Max flicks are set; where characters with weird names and inexpressive faces dressed in black and grey Max Max-like gear stand around and speak through a monotone in clipped, half-sentences as if they've grown up in the aftermath of the nuclear apocalypse and regular conversation is strange to them. Their home is a maze of piled-up car-wrecks and trash that stretches to the horizon--with the whole world at their disposal for residences, they're mindful enough of the series' desire for visuals to live there--and they interact with our heroes while in the distance, a rusty car-door blown by the eternal winds of the wastelands atmospherically squonks away. I never noticed a crow cawing at any point--perhaps an oversight. At one point, Rick is even made to prove himself by fighting against a Medievaled-up zombie in the Garbage Pail equivalent of Thunderdome.[1]

It is, of course, completely ridiculous that such a thing should exist in TWD, a world less than two years removed from the end of civilization, and it couldn't more boldly clash with the established tone of the series if it had been a colony of clowns on unicycles but the writers are at least trying to branch out a bit. Or at least watching Z NATION. Perhaps feeling somewhat emboldened by having introduced a similarly odd place in the Kingdom. That the series had only recently introduced the Kingdom may have discouraged some writers from throwing this at viewers so soon but hey, this is TWD! Bring on the clowns![2]

Rick is looking for warm bodies to throw against the Saviors and he's pleased to encounter these Maxian garbage-dwellers. They know nothing of the Saviors--this seemingly-endless stretch of potential salvage populated by a virtual army right in the midst of Negan's territory has somehow escaped the villain's notice.[3] Fortunately, Rick is on hand to play Capt. Walker and explain the Pocky-Clips to the children. They're not interested in his war until he defeats their armored zombie. After, they're impressed enough to strike a bargain; if Rick, who doesn't even have sufficient guns for his own people, can bring them guns, they'll fight with him. Their leader Jadis--no, really, that's her name[4]--tells Rick they've been watching that boat full of supplies Rick raided for a long time but never tried to get at it through the zombie-trap surrounding it. We take; we don't bother." A warning about their potential abilities as combatants? Rick doesn't seem worried. Rick is just great. If you don't believe it, Gabriel offers him another monologue on the subject.

In tonight's b-plot, Richard, King Ezekiel's "knight," still wants a fight with the Saviors and gets it in his head to provoke one. At the meeting to hand over the Kingdom's regular tribute, he again gets into a scuffle with the same Savior thug he did in an earlier ep and it's pretty much a direct repeat of the earlier scene. The Savior boss says there will have to be a reckoning for this but then he and his men pack up and leave. Any reckoning, it seems, will have to come second to the need to stretch out the limited plot some more.

Richard inducts Daryl into his ridiculously roundabout plan to provoke a fight. He wants to wipe out a Savior patrol then leave a "trail" from the dead to a crazy woman who lives alone but who has been befriended by Ezekiel. If she's killed, Richard thinks that might convince Ezekiel to go to war.

Uh huh.

When Daryl learns the woman is Carol,[5] he is, of course, less than receptive and proceeds to whip the tar out of Richard in front of a trailer that, oddly enough, is a rusted-over replica of the Snowman's rig from SMOKEY & THE BANDIT!


Yeah, I didn't get that one either. And no one even checks to see if any cases of Coors were still in it.

Daryl tasks Morgan with convincing Ezekiel to fight. Last season, I spent a lot of time on the ridiculous pacifist persona the writers had arbitrarily grafted onto organ, assassinating the once-beloved character. At the end of the season, Morgan had what was presented as a major breakthrough; he realized such an outlook was incompatible with this zombified world and killed in order to protect Carol. If this hadn't been so clumsy and inorganic, one could almost call it character development! That's never going to fly on TWD; this season, Morgan is right back to looking sad-faced and shaking his head every time someone suggests a fight. But tonight, one of the Saviors took his stick! Perhaps, for the season finale, he can again have that same epiphany as last season.

--j.

---

[1] Yes, the writers chose the only bad Mad Max movie as the one to emulate.

[2] Which is not to say I disapprove of such a setting and group. It's handled pretty badly here, as things on TWD will tend to be, but I definitely approve of the Max Max-ian stuff. TWD could use a little madness. Ok, a lot. It will be interesting to see what its regular fans will say about it adopting the "crazy blender" approach of Z NATION.

[3] It escaped everyone else's notice as well, all of the communities so far established who have spent a couple years sending teams out into this same general area to scavenge for supplies.

[4] Another is "Tamiel."

[5] Daryl reunites with Carol for a time. She's afraid the Saviors have done something horrible; seeing how emotional she is, Daryl lies to her, concealing the murders of Glenn and Abraham. In context, this is a dramatically credible decision (or would be if Carol's current emotional state wasn't just an arbitrary imposition by the writers) but it's impossible not to view it through the lens of the usual business as just another delaying tactic, aimed at needlessly stretching out the storyline.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Coming End of the IMDb Message Boards (And Where To Go Next)

The Internet Movie Database has announced it will soon be shutting down its message board system. My IMDb profile tells me I've been active on those boards since 2004. For a lot of those years, it was my primary internet hang-out for talking movies. IMDb maintained boards on nearly every movie or television series; you could go there and write about nearly anything in the way of screen entertainment and find other interested people with whom to engage. Unlike so many places on the internet, it wasn't run by fanboys who acted as overbearing moderators, putting a stop to boisterous discussions or disallowing criticism or debate of things they, themselves, liked. It wasn't quite the Wild West either--if you cursed, the system would filter it into a *beep*[1] and there was a reporting system that allowed one to flag "inappropriate" content.[2] It didn't have any feature for sharing images, which could be seen as a shortcoming for a place concerned with an art built around images but this was arguably to its advantage; it was a place for discussion, and this limitation meant, among other things, it could never get buried in memes by trolls. Not that it lacked trolls--there are always trolls--but they were usually outnumbered and relatively harmless.[3] It was an open forum with a great interface that drew a big crowd of people with a passion for its subject. In many ways, the best the internet can be.


This blog has, from its birth, been intimately connected to the IMDb boards. When I launched it, it was partly to act as a repository for a pile of articles I'd been producing for various places, primarily those boards and particularly the Horror board, which was not only my IMDb home for many years but my primary internet home as well. The Horror board was, in my view, the gleaming jewel of the board system. Usually the heaviest trafficked of the mainboards, it developed a cadre of great regulars who, for those who spent much time there, became a network of friends, the ones who love all the black and bloody flicks that most people disdain and think you strange for watching. A disproportionate number of articles from the early years of this blog were written for the Horror board, developed from things I'd written on the Horror board or written in part with an intention to share them on the Horror board and spawn discussions there. I wrote for other boards (and other forums) in those years as well but Horror was the big one for me. In more recent years, I've been writing about THE WALKING DEAD, which I at first assumed would also be a Horror topic but it found more traction on the board devoted to that show (where I'd been lurking for a while before writing anything there) and that's where I've spent more time in more recent years, producing--heaven help me--over 80 articles here on TWD.

For those who have been there so many years, the end of the IMDb boards is like a favorite tavern closing. For years, it's been a place "where everybody knows your name," where you could go after work, get away from the drudgery of life for a bit and relax among friends and familiars. Lots of memories are tied up in the place. It seems odd to me, maybe because of my age, that a "virtual" place like that could elicit those feelings. This one does though. I'm very sad to see it go. I'll miss it and the people there.

In my view, the IMDb boards are irreplaceable. That doesn't, however, mean they can't be succeeded. Rather than resign themselves to being scattering to the winds, the communities developed there have taken various measures to stay together. I've tried to compile all of these efforts here, to make this article one-stop-shopping for those trying to reunite with their former colleagues and comrades beyond the demise of the IMDb boards.

An obvious stop is the Movie Database, a competing db that also has a message board system:
https://www.themoviedb.org/

There are several efforts to continue the IMDb main boards:
http://imdb2.freeforums.net/
http://thegotboard.com/
http://trashepics.com/tedb/
http://www.moviechat.org/
Alas, as these replicate the IMDb mainboard system and often even the look of IMDb itself, they seem destined to be short-lived--takedown notices from IMDb's lawyers on intellectual property grounds don't seem a matter of if but of when.

Further general movie discussion here:
http://www.icmforum.com/index/

There are several projects aimed at preserving that Horror board community. There's an IMDb Horror Board Facebook group (which has been great so far--lots of old friends):
https://www.facebook.com/groups/383080958735617/
And others message boards:
http://thehorrorboard.com/

I've created a Facebook group aimed at preserving the IMDb Walking Dead and Z Nation communities:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/426197277711671/

For a few years now, I've maintained Cinema Cult, a Facebook group devoted to movie talk:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/725443977565314/

There's a related site called Comic Cult, where we discuss comic books stuff, including comic-related movies and tv shows:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1540711039519394/

There's an effort to preserve the Film General board community at a new Reddit locale:
https://www.reddit.com/r/IMDbFilmGeneral/

"The Lost Cinephile"--an appropriate title--has been repurposed as "a hangout for IMDb message board castaways":
http://tylerandjacksmovieparadise.yuku.com/directory

If there are any I've missed, I'll add them as I find them; if readers know of more, send them my way. The IMDb ends its message boards on 20 February.

--j.

---

[1] But if we users really needed to insert a "shit" or give a "fuck," we found ways around the filter.

[2] Users who were fuckers--or, on the boards, "fvckers," would sometimes misuse that reporting system, which was automated, to have removed posts they didn't like. I ran into this problem a couple years ago when an obsessed stalker started doing that to my posts on the Walking Dead board. The other posters there--bless 'em--reacted to this by copying and reposting my posts themselves. That's the kind of place IMDb could be.

[3] Exceptions to this were particularly common on boards devoted to tv shows that were off the air or in repeats most of the year, which could leave fewer fans around to talk about them and allow the trolls to take over for a time. I take a milder view of IMDb trolls than do a lot of users. Fans of a given show often try to treat as a "troll" anyone who disliked that show; if I had a dollar for every time the accusation has been thrown at me (over THE WALKING DEAD, mostly), I'd have no trouble financing my first feature. I have no use for people who set about trying to render a given board dysfunctional but most troll activity is much less extreme and even if I don't see a point in some of it, it isn't really harmful.ctional but most troll activity is much less extreme and even if I don't see a point in some of it, it isn't really harmful.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, February 13, 2017

WALKING DEAD's Plot In The Road

A few days ago, the Internet Movie Database announced it would soon be ending its message board system; on 20 February, it's going away for good. I'm a longtime user of that system--IMDb tells me I've been there since 2004--and I'm going to have some thoughts on it here within the next few days. There have been various efforts by users of the board system to preserve the communities that have grown up there over the years. As my own part in this, I've launched a new Facebook group aimed at giving sanctuary to the refugees of the WALKING DEAD, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD and Z NATION communities.

My position as an arch-critic of TWD has left some TWD fans to express some skepticism about the project, so before I get to tonight's installment of the show, I thought I'd try to make clear my aim. The immediate purpose of the group is, of course, to preserve these communities, such as they are. The IMDb boards are, in my view, irreplaceable. Besides the mainboard system, parts of which are really great, it's one of the few places one can go and interact with other viewers of just about anything. Boards, pages or even most Facebook groups that are devoted to a particular movie or tv series tend to be run by hardcore fans and far too many of them have an unfortunate habit of disallowing any criticism of their subject or even any sort of boisterous, full-bodied discussion of it. On the other end, you have the I-hate-TWD pages and groups, which don't allow fans. I'm more of a feel-free-to-speak-your-mind kind of guy. If someone says something with which I disagree, I prefer to simply make the case to the contrary and let whoever cares decide who has the better argument. I haven't liked TWD for a long time, it's true, but I love plenty of other shows and I understand how hard it can be to find good places to discuss them with other viewers, places that aren't forced by some heavy-handed moderators to be merely uncritical love-fests or omni-critical hate-fests. I have little use for that particular species of fan group, no matter how much I may love the movie or the show to which they're devoted. I've been kicked out of plenty of them over the years, not only for being critical of their subjects but also in defending people who were critical and were unfairly punished for it--I've stood up for them even when I've disagreed with the criticism and I've gotten the ban-hammer dropped on me for it. So it goes.

The new Facebook group is meant to be the sort of discussion forum I would want for a show I love. And, in fact, Z NATION is a show I love. Jenn, my co-conspirator on the project, is a big TWD fangirl. At their best, the IMDb boards have been something really special but their open-door, everyone-is-welcome way of doing business seems to be fading from the internet, as everyone retreats into "safe" enclaves that don't talk to one another. This isn't just the case in entertainment fan communities but in everything else. I'd like to keep around that more open and diverse idea of a discussion forum. That's what I want the group to be.

If it takes off, this group may eventually expand to cover other shows--after all, TWD and ZN won't go on forever. Right now, the important thing is to draw in as many viewers/readers/fans/critics/mutants as possible before the IMDb boards end. You, dear reader, are invited. Everyone is invited. It's here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/426197277711671/

Hope you'll drop by.

The other business of the evening is, of course, TWD's midseason debut tonight, "Rock In the Road." This should have been the second ep of this season. Life under the permanent thumb of the Saviors was always a non-starter but it took 9 often-extended eps of needlessly drawn-out indignities absent much substance for Rick to finally decide they have to fight back. Tonight, our heroes are out looking for allies. Hilltop's spineless Gregory wants nothing to do with any fight and nothing more to do with the Safe Zone group at all. His people, however, seem to have a different view. They openly express their willingness to fight. If anyone is concerned about this sort of thing being openly discussed among an entire community that may have Savior spies or people willing to rat out this would-be resistance, it's never raised as an issue. Gregory himself has already shown himself willing to betray our heroes, yet they lay out the whole enterprise for him. It isn't really clear why Gregory is still being treated as if he's the leader of Hilltop. Maggie essentially wrested that position from him in the first half of the season. Viewers apparently aren't supposed to remember that. Gregory himself is like Father Gabriel in his first season, another of TWD's one-trick ponies. The only act the writers have ever given him grew old a few minutes after it was introduced. A real waste of a solid actor in Xander Berkeley.

Next, Jesus pulls a rabbit out of his hat, revealing to Rick the existence of the Kingdom. When Jesus was first introduced, he'd suggested that there were many survivor communities--"Your world's about to get a lot bigger," he'd told the Alexandrians--but then, this being TWD, nothing more was said about the matter. As incredible as that is on its own, it is, in light of the things that happened next, mindboggling. The fact that Jesus knew there are other communities under the thumb of the Saviors means that when Rick and co. were convinced the Saviors were just a small band and were plotting to wipe them out, he was withholding some rather critical information. Its not unreasonable that such communities would swear Jesus to secrecy about their existence--as, indeed, turned out to be the case with the Kingdom--but its ridiculous that, after Jesus had already suggested there were others, no one would even ask about them. Even if Jesus couldn't give out specific details, their mere existence suggests the Savior problem was much larger than Rick originally assumed. What else do those communities know about the Saviors, Jesus? Probably some stuff that would have been pretty important to learn as preface to attacking a Savior outpost. Viewers aren't supposed to contemplate such things. Or TWD doesn't want viewers who do. So tonight, Jesus' big reveal is like a magician's trick, not the last one in this ep.

Contemplating none of this, our heroes set off to try to get King Ezekiel on their team. The King turns them down as well, throwing the story into another TWD stall and promising the usual--further eps of fretting and no plot progression aimed at burning through more of the season's order before characters become convinced to do the obvious. Overall, "Rock in the Road" featured an extraordinary amount of plot for TWD but it appears the show will shortly be returning to formless form.

On the way home, the characters stop for a suspense set-piece, which becomes the highlight of the show. They come across a trap set by the Saviors and intended to blow up a zombie herd--a cable laden with explosives stretched across the freeway and anchored to a pair of automobiles on either side. As the zombies close in, Rick and co. unwrap and make off with the precious dynamite, an essential commodity for any war. Then, as a final touch, the creators deliver a Z NATION gag.[1] Rick and Michonne jump in the cars anchoring the cable, hot-wire them in record time--we're not supposed to be surprised by this or to notice the fact that these dust-covered cars, which have probably been sitting there unused for years, still have charged batteries--and drive, in tandem, up the road, using the cable between them to mow down a huge section of the zombie herd. It's an hilarious, gory, physics-defying bit of business, pure ZN material, but the editor of the ep was apparently never let in on the joke--he cuts it as a straight action scene, with the same ever-so-serious tone as everything else TWD. Which, of course, only makes it funnier. To make their getaway after this stunt, Rick and Michonne somehow fight their way through a huge crowd of zombies without getting bitten,[2] jump in the vehicle with everyone else and speed away! Rosita even gets a funny quip about some damaged dynamite she'd left behind and that blows up in their wake. It's a glorious sequence--not only the high-point of this ep but the high-point of the last 2 1/2 seasons.

In tonight's cold opening, Father Gabriel making off with all of the Safe Zone's weapons and food and headed to the boat Rick found a couple eps earlier. He was apparently the hidden figure watching Rick and Aaron on that particular adventure and not helping them, having stumbled upon them by some one-in-a-trillion coincidence.[3] His motives in hijacking supplies are unclear but by the end, Rick and co. are on his trail and, in the next magic trick of the evening, suddenly find themselves surrounded by what looks like about a hundred armed people. Rick, seeing soldiers rather than people who are probably looking to have him for dinner, smiles.

"Rock in the Road" ran 15 minutes over its usual timeslot and covered a lot of ground. That it seemed to be straining to contain all of its plot material can't help but remind one of how much time was simply wasted in the first half of the season, time that could have been spent better developing all of this, instead of just jamming it in like this in the back-end.

--j.

---

[1] The preview for next week's installment features a zombie with a Medieval-looking helmet that is remarkably reminiscent of something ZN did in its season 3 debut. We'll have to see where that goes. TWD has often borrowed from ZN, just as ZN has borrowed from TWD, but whereas TWD can learn a lot from ZN, it doesn't have much to teach ZN.

[2] There's absolutely no reason they couldn't have just continued through the zombies a little further until they'd cleared a trail then backed up to their getaway vehicle but Rick had earlier said they needed the herd on the road. Why? Who knows? But, of course, that begs the question of why he decide to kill so many in the first place. Here, TWD hasn't learned from ZN; the goofy gags on that show always have a purpose.

[3] Prior to the midseason break, Gabriel had been riding with Spencer, Spencer pissed him off with a negative review of Rick and he got out of the car and announced is intention to walk home. This was apparently on the same road Rick and Aaron had been traveling and though they were way back off that road and not visible from it, Gabriel somehow stumbled upon them. And didn't help them. Tonight, Rick found his footprints in the mud, which was dry as if it had been there more than a week, when, by the show's timeline, it was just the day before.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, December 12, 2016

THE WALKING DEAD's Hearts Ain't Beatin'

There's a moment in "Hearts Still Beating," tonight's midseason finale of THE WALKING DEAD, when Negan becomes rather disgusted with Spencer. The alcoholic half-wit had been trying to convince the evil overlord that he should bump off Rick and put a new guy in charge of the Safe Zone--none other than Spencer himself, of course. Negan didn't like that. Rick, said Negan, has guts. While Rick is out there in this zombified world risking his life to try to scavenge supplies for the Saviors so no one in the Safe Zone will die, Spencer had been there sucking up to Negan behind Rick's back and talking this smack. You've got no guts, says Negan. And then he guts Spencer. If viewers were concerned about the big hole the writers put in Negan's reasoning here--Spencer himself had, only moments earlier, returned from a supply run laden with choice goods he'd turned over to the Saviors and they'd been so pleased, they'd made some overtures toward eventually recruiting him--it was no doubt overawed by their delight at finally seeing the obnoxious Spencer ended.

Spencer's death conformed with the usual conventions. He was a redshirt and so a prime target in a finale ep. He was a character written in such a way that no viewer could possibly be upset if he went away and most would be far more likely to be pleased by the development. His death was heralded by his sudden decision to really start hating on Rick. As longtime viewers of TWD know, that last is an even shorter path to an early grave than being the established black guy character when the new black guy shows up. The writers play a rather silly game here. They consistently write Rick as a dangerously incompetent leader--I've covered that point here since my very first article on TWD--then to try to compensate--because it isn't really cool if your lead alpha-male hero is a dimwitted buffoon--they have the other characters speak of his leadership in glowing terms, trying to cut a dodge around their own work and convince viewers to share such a view, rather than the one suggested by what they've actually written into the show. Believe the words of praise offered by these characters, this says, not your lying eyes. This eventually took an ugly turn: any character who was written as criticizing Rick was suddenly signing his own death warrant. This is a ridiculously overly defensive reaction to critics who question how they handle Rick and it can't help but beg the obvious: If they're so bothered, why not just write Rick as a good leader, for a change?

Tonight was another 90-minute ep--85 minutes, actually, just as was last week's. Something I wrote about that previous ep:

"Negan is sitting on the front porch with Coral and a sleepy baby Judith, sipping lemonade, waiting for Rick and grousing about how maybe he should move to the suburbs, then the ep just stops, in a way that makes me think there's some heavy editing going on. There's no ending, no dramatic capper. It feels like we're right in the middle of an ep and it's suddenly over. The obvious dramatic conclusion, Rick returning home, won't be happening for a while yet--he still has to try to navigate that zombie water-hazard. The end credits tonight informed viewers that next week's midseason finale will be another 90-minute ep, which makes me wonder if the extra half-hour in this ep had originally been part of the subsequent ep then had been edited into this one, either to greedily suck up another hour of commercial time or because they just didn't like what they had with the originally-shot eps. Given the extraordinary amount of filler this season, it seems incredible to me that TWD would do this--basically assemble an extra ep worth of material when they're barely even filling the eps they have--but this one left me somewhat convinced that's exactly what has happened. If that's the case, I guess we'll learn of it eventually."

Still no word on whether anything like this actually happened but several plotlines from roughly the first half-hour of tonight's ep seemed to wrap up stuff launched in the last half-hour of last week's.[1] In the aired versions, these are half-plots that seem to belong together but that have been divided. Spencer, as noted, returns with his supplies and turns them over to the Saviors, who are pleased. That hole I mentioned in my own opening above--Negan's faulty rationale for eventually killing Spencer--would be more explicable if both of those moments were originally the work of different writers working on different eps and just not really reaching harmony. Negan, who had been hanging around Rick's house, finishes preparing a meal. At first, he's waiting for Rick to return so they can all eat together. Then at one point, he just decides to go ahead and eat--a beat that feels very much like a finished-for-now moment. Rick and Aaron complete their adventure through zombie-infested waters to a boat full of supplies, load up said supplies then leave, only to have the camera reveal that some mysterious figure has been watching them. That feels like the conclusion of an ep--a final scene--and the rest of the material tonight, in turn, feels like one cohesive hour-long ep. The idea that these were originally three eps instead of two is speculation on my part and perhaps a bit of an aside but I am curious about whether this was the case and if so, why? TWD airs half-seasons in batches of 8 eps but if these were originally three, that could mean the stuff from the first half-hour tonight was originally the end of the midseason finale. Was the intended conclusion of the midseason ender, that mysterious figure, judged to be an insufficient note on which to end? Doesn't seem likely. TWD's creators have never been troubled by their own serving up lame-ass finales. Here's one better (and more likely): Maybe these were three eps and all were meant to be shown in the first half of the season then, for some reason (probably greed having to do with ad revenue on two half-hour eps), they were combined and a new ep was cooked up (probably at the conceptual stage), shot and inserted earlier in the season to fill out the half-season order (similar to what happened in season 2). The obvious choice for the extra ep in such a circumstance is, of course, "The Cell," a filler ep which covered nothing of any import and that replicated some things that happened in last week's ep, making it entirely redundant, as well.

One of those things it replicated was Daryl's predicament, which was another of those half-plots continued tonight. Daryl is locked in a room at the Saviors' compound when someone comes to him with a message, just as happened in "The Cell." In that earlier ep, the door to his room was left unlocked; tonight's message came accompanied by a key to open it. And Daryl goes through trying to escape again, just as before (though this time, he succeeds). The dramatic problem involved in this particular bit of Xeroxing is that, the first time around, the business of leaving his door unlocked turned out to be a trap and Daryl took a beating for it, yet only a few eps later, he's faced with essentially the same situation and does the same thing again, as if the first time had never happened. Mind-numbing repetitiveness, characters failing to learn and plot progression being made dependent upon them acting in incredibly stupid ways are all hallmarks of TWD, so it may be a mistake to read too much into this. Still, food for how much ever thought one wants to expend on this matter.[2]

Michonne hijacked a Savior last week--still another half-plot--intent on forcing the woman to take her to Negan. Tonight, in an utterly bizarre twist, she tells her captive that she isn't going to kill Negan. She's taken an action that will mean her death in order to get to Negan and she isn't even intent on killing the man once she gets to him? None of this leads anywhere either. When the pair get close to the Savior's compound, Michonne just turns around and leaves, apparently liquidating her hostage. Perhaps this will leave some viewers wondering what in hell was the point of any of this but seasoned viewers will recognize what this subplot brings to the ep, the most valuable things in the world to TWD's writers: it eats up screentime.

Other items: Ezekiel's right-hand man, whose name escapes me, is still trying to get Ezekiel to fight the Saviors, more material we've already seen. He tries to recruit Morgan and Carol to his cause. Morgan is back to his peacenik routine, while the writers' character assassination of Carol continues as she declares she wants no part of it or of anyone either. Both refuse to help, making this yet another meaningless screentime-consuming subplot. When Negan kills Spencer, Rosita draws her gun and shoots at him with her only bullet.[3] It hits his baseball bat instead. He isn't pleased. For no reason other than one of those idiotic fiats of the writers, Negan picks up and examines the shell-casing from this single round. He decides it was home-brew and demands to know who made it. Of course, even if Negan could determine the round had been reloaded at some point, there's no reason at all to assume this was done either recently or by anyone in the Safe Zone and, indeed, the fact that Rosita had only one is enough to make that an entirely counter-intuitive assumption--no one would bother going through the trouble involved in reloading ammo just to do a single bullet--but this is TWD.[4] When no one will tell him who made the bullet, he has one of his underlings shoot Olivia, another redshirt to fill out the finale-dictated death-quota that seems to be the only reason TWD's fans follow this series.

In the comics, Rick was only pretending to go along with Negan while secretly working against him. TV TWD has opted, instead, to do yet another tired version of Broken Rick, wherein Rick is the milksop with the blank stare who entirely gives in to Negan--more of those stellar leadership qualities. In discussing last week's ep with Lebeau over at Le Blog, I wrote:

"It wouldn’t be TWD if it didn’t have all the subtlety of a jackhammer. I think something will happen next week that will set Rick on the path of opposing Negan. Maybe that’s even how the ep--the midseason finale--will end, with Rick giving one of those patented TWD speech about how they’ll overtly play along for now but they’re secretly a’ gonna’ be workin’ against Negan fer however long it takes. 'We survive everything. We’ll survive this!'"

And that's pretty much how it played out tonight, except it was Michonne giving that speech. Negan's killing of Spencer and Olivia proves to be the miracle cure that unbreaks Rick's back. Most of our major characters go to Hilltop and are reunited--lots of hugs and semi-teary smiles set to emotional music--and decide they're going to find a way to take the fight to Negan. Just as soon as the next tv ratings sweeps period comes along.

--j.

---

[1] It isn't as mathematical as that--there's plenty of editing going on.

[2] The awful soap material with Dwight and his former wife was also repeated between those eps.

[3] Last season, Rosita, in the emotional backwash from Abraham's so cruelly dumping her, slept with Spencer. She never seemed particularly fond of him and this season, Spencer has gone out of his way to alienate her. In still another example of the writers trying to convince viewers of Rick's great leadership, she became furious with him for his ranting against Rick. If Spencer had been some little glimmer of hope on to which she'd been holding, she'd clearly lost her grip--she spent the entire ep plotting to kill Negan, knowing this would mean her death. Tonight, as Spencer was on his way over to kiss Negan's ass, he stopped and talked with Rosita for a while and they ended up flirting and parting on good terms, with the suggestion of dinner later, which didn't make a damn lick of sense. Spencer not only hasn't done anything to smooth over their divide, he immediately went to Negan and tried to convince the villain to bump off Rick and make him the leader, while Rosita watched.

[4] In another amusing bit of nonsense, the single shell-casing that Rosita recovered and that Eugene reloaded came from a Desert Eagle fired by Negan himself--probably a .44 Magnum round--yet the gun Rosita uses is a Beretta 92, which is a 9mm. Not compatible. Negan's bat stopped the bullet, which is credible in the case of a 9 (but wouldn't be credible at all in the in the case of a .44).


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, December 5, 2016

THE WALKING DEAD's Dirge Continues [UPDATED BELOW]


THE WALKING DEAD offered up yet another 90-minute episode this evening, the 2nd in only four weeks. This one--"Sing Me A Song"--has quite a bit more meat than did "Service," the previous effort, but it lacked any payoff. It just fills the allotted time then very abruptly ends.

When a nowhere character on TWD is suddenly made the focus of an ep or storyline, it usually doesn't bode well for his future health and this was a tale centered on Coral, a character who is usually treated as a background-noise redshirt but whom, it's conventionally assumed, wears the same indestructible plot-armor as Rick.

Several of my Golden Oldie Gripes were on full display this evening. Arbitrary shifts in characterization, nonsensical turns of events that happen only because the writers want them to happen, magical coincidences and setting up the main story, plot progression being made dependent upon the characters being written as complete idiots. Coral infiltrates Negan's compound in the back of a supply truck armed only with a knife and intent on doing away with the smiling no-goodnik. What, exactly, is the plan here? To somehow use his knife to kill Negan in the heart of the villain's lair, surrounded by Negan's heavily armed henchmen then... what? He isn't suicidal. The ep makes that plain. He's just out for revenge. The writers want to do an ep wherein Negan sort of takes him under his wing for a while, so they have him intentionally put himself in a situation he can't possibly survive, just because. Fortunately, the truck comes rather conveniently equipped with a fully-automatic weapon, which appears right at the moment Coral needs it. Unfortunately, Coral is no more intelligent with a gun in his hand than he was with the knife. When Negan's men begin to unload the vehicle, he shoots one of them, bursts into the open and declares he only wants Negan. "No one else has to die!" Negan is there--he'd come out to meet the truck. Instead of gunning down his intended target on sight, the way he just had that faceless minion, Coral just stands there, lets Negan prance around chewing the scenery for a bit then some guys rush and disarm him (in the scuffle, Coral manages to dust another of them).

Negan decides he likes Coral, the kid being so tough and all, so he spends most of the A-plot showing Coral around parts of the compound and doing his campy, '60s Batman villain routine. It's a one-note act that was already tiresome by Negan's second appearance on the show. It hasn't improved with age (and I've started to feel sorry for Jeffrey Dean Mogan). At one point in the proceedings, he manages to make Coral cry and drops it for a moment--yeah, it's as bad as it sounds ("I didn't mean ta' hurt your feelings or anything..."). And the camp only stops for that one moment. The rest of the time, he's taking Coral through various aspects of his operation and we get some soap opera nonsense about Dwight and his ex-wife, all of this rehashing utterly nonessential ground already covered in "The Cell" (further underlining the complete worthlessness of that ep).

This is one of the few eps this season to feature secondary plots, and these grant some screentime to some of the other cast-members (though Tara, who made her way back home last week, has now disappeared without explanation or mention). Rick and Aaron are still on their supply-run on which they left a few eps ago. Spencer and Father Gabriel go on one as well and Rosita and Eugene are paired up for a mini-plot. This felt like the writers, who have done almost nothing with the six previous eps, were suddenly trying to cram in a lot of material, which can't help but tug at another of those Golden Oldie Gripes--how badly structured, badly paced and packed with filler this season has been.

Gabriel is initially riding with Spencer but he doesn't like Spencer's attitude, has him stop the car and opts to walk back home.[1] By one of those cosmic-scale coincidences--TWD, the mark of quality!--the place Spencer stops is just where he needs to be to hear a zombie grumbling in the forest. Merely because the writers want him to do so, he goes to check it out and finds a zombified hunter still buckled into a tree-stand. How in the world did that hunter... ? No, never mind. Anyway, the hunter has a bow and a note in his pocket that proves to be the hiding-place for a big cache of supplies. Spencer digs them up, returns to the safe zone and announces his intention to give it all to Negan. Go Spencer!

Meanwhile, Rosita and Eugene trek to the shop Eugene intended to turn into a munitions factory. By the time this angle was introduced last season, Eugene, though still a comic-relief character, had toughened up, become a lot less cowardly--brave, in fact, to the point of being rather stupid. It was presented as a major turning-point for the character. When, a few eps ago, Rosita found a gun and asked him to make a bullet, he was on board. But at this point, if the show didn't feature arbitrary character shifts, could we even call it TWD anymore? Eugene is now back to being a coward who gets cold feet and has to be berated shamed into making that bullet.

Michonne piles a bunch of dead zombies in the road and eventually, a Savior vehicle comes along and stops. The driver is traveling alone, something that, outside of emergency situations, simply isn't done in a zombie apocalypse, but the writers want Michonne to be able to take the truck. She does so and, for whatever reason, wants to be taken to Negan.

Rick and Aaron find some property on which the owner has posted warning signs for any travelers who happen upon it. They look into it and find a possible store of supplies from a possibly dead man but it's on the other side of a lake bobby-trapped with zombies--the sort of device one sees on Z NATION.

After a lot of his usual mugging and camping it up, Negan takes Coral back home. With Rick gone, he asks for and receives a bizarre little tour of the place wherein he acts quite pleased to see utterly mundane things he saw only a few eps ago when he and his men combed through it. It's presented like a sequence in a comedy, a montage featuring upbeat music and goofy moments, as if the creators suddenly forgot what show they were making.[2]

Negan is sitting on the front porch with Coral and a sleepy baby Judith, sipping lemonade, waiting for Rick and grousing about how maybe he should move to the suburbs, then the ep just stops, in a way that makes me think there's some heavy editing going on. There's no ending, no dramatic capper. It feels like we're right in the middle of an ep and it's suddenly over. The obvious dramatic conclusion, Rick returning home, won't be happening for a while yet--he still has to try to navigate that zombie water-hazard. The end credits tonight informed viewers that next week's midseason finale will be another 90-minute ep, which makes me wonder if the extra half-hour in this ep had originally been part of the subsequent ep then had been edited into this one, either to greedily suck up another hour of commercial time or because they just didn't like what they had with the originally-shot eps. Given the extraordinary amount of filler this season, it seems incredible to me that TWD would do this--basically assemble an extra ep worth of material when they're barely even filling the eps they have--but this one left me somewhat convinced that's exactly what has happened. If that's the case, I guess we'll learn of it eventually.

--j.

---

[1] Spencer shares with Gabriel his hatred for Rick and Gabriel doesn't like it. Gabriel speaks of Rick in an admiring way, tells Spencer he's being an asshole then leaves. This is TWD attempting one of its usual end-runs around one of its major dramatic problems. Rick has never been shown to be a good or even mediocre leader. He's flat-out awful. He's stupid, he makes terrible choices and he gets people needlessly killed. To prop up one of the central conceits of the series--that he is the leader and that his people continue to follow him--the writers have the other characters describe him as a good leader. Which, of course, just makes them look like idiots and insults the viewers. The writers don't mind taking it an extra step either--anyone who criticizes Rick or his leadership tends to end up on a slab.

[2] Coral killed two of Negan's men, which Negan makes plain can't go unpunished. Earlier, in a moment that was supposed to be creepy, Negan had Coral, who was obviously scared to death, sing "You Are My Sunshine" while he menacingly practiced his brain-smashing bat-swings only a few feet away. By this montage, they're like buds.


UPDATE (7 Dec., 2016) - I haven't been doing many comparisons of comic TWD to the tv version lately but after I wrote this piece and posted it in various locales, I immediately started getting feedback to the effect that the business with Carl's assassination attempt came straight from the comics. This was used both by critics of my article in an effort to defend the series and by critics of the tv scenario who were sometimes blaming the comics for this dumb bit of plotting and its poor execution. Unlike myself, Lebeau over at Le Blog had the right instincts regarding this matter--in his rundown on the ep, he brought in the comic, not spending a lot of time on it but at least pointing out the huge difference in what happened there vs. what happened in the tv version.

It's still another of my Golden Oldie Gripes that tv TWD is constantly pillaging moments from the comic while entirely removing the context that, in the comics, made them make sense. Events often happen on tv TWD merely because they happened in comic TWD and the television writers don't bother to create any new context that makes these moments work. Carl's assassination attempt on Negan is yet another example of this. Mechanically speaking, the tv version played out almost exactly as did the comic version. The gremlin in the works is that Carl, in the comic, is a little kid--prepubescent, small. His actions are explicable by his lack of maturity (and his particular character development). When, however, these same actions are given to Chandler Riggs' Coral, who is 17 and basically an adult, they look a lot more like utter idiocy, just as I described them.

The age of comic Carl also informs everything that follows.

He's so small, he can barely even hold the rifle he's carrying and whenever he cuts loose with it, he can't control it. He liquidates several of Negan's men and opens fire on the villain as well but the gun is simply too big--he sprays wildly, taking out some more Saviors while the main baddy himself hits the dirt and the recoil from the rifle knocks Carl on his ass. That's how Negan's men are able to disarm him.


TV Coral, by contrast, can handle fully automatic weapons just fine--not only is he fully proficient with one here, we've seen him do it more than once in the past. He also has Negan in his sights and dead to rights at point-blank range for about half a minute but never even tries to shoot the guy, the thing he'd gone there to do. He just stands there like an idiot, tracking Negan with the gun and not pulling the trigger.

The fact that comic Carl is so young is a big part of why Negan is fascinated by him and doesn't just gut him on the spot, a mercy a 17-year-old is very unlikely to receive. Later, Negan makes Carl sing "You Are My Sunshine"; when he makes Carl cry, he feels bad about it; and so on. As these pages I've included help illustrate, Negan, throughout the comic dialogue, is clearly addressing a child. That's the dynamic in play in all of this. Incredibly, the tv version ports over all of this material and most of the comic dialogue, with little change!

It's impossible to so radically alter the circumstances of something that happens in so specific a context and still have it play out the same. The tv adaptation is an ill-conceived fail.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Sunday, November 27, 2016

THE WALKING DEAD Makes Viewers Swear [UPDATED BELOW]


It isn't exactly news here that THE WALKING DEAD is in a death spiral. This author predicted it had plateaued back in the midst of season 5 and isn't really surprised to see that the ratings for this season have not only suffered their sharpest decline in the series' history but have fallen to their lowest levels since season 3. Still, TWD is the highest-rated series on cable--it would still be doing relatively healthy business for a cable series if its numbers were 1/4 what they are now. So while the show is over and dead, it's probably going to be a while before it's finally shot in the head.

TWD's creative collapse isn't just a matter of writers who are running on fumes. To be brutally frank, no one working on the show in that capacity ever showed much evidence of having much in the tank in the first place. They're not suddenly doing particularly bad work, as some of the series' increasingly weary fans have suggested. It's just that all of their bad habits, uncorrected over the years by their seeming indifference in the face of big ratings, appear to be finally wearing on more and more viewers.

Tonght's installment, "Promise," isn't going to be arresting this trend.

Showrunner Scott Gimple loves to break up the cast and scatter them to the four winds in order to do eps focused on only a few characters. To note the obvious (as I tend to do while often noting I'm doing it), this is entirely unnecessary--Gimple could still do eps like that with most of the cast remaining together. Among TWD's many borrowings from daytime soaps, the series moves with the speed of a drowsy snail on a slow day and Gimple's love of fragmentation only exacerbates this. The series has presently regressed to Mazzara Era levels of filler. What now passes for a "plot" is usually no more than a one-line item--one story point or development that actually matters or moves things somewhat forward, with everything else just extraneous stuffings used to pad out the rest of the hour. The main cast of TWD has only been together once in this entire season--in the opener in which most of them didn't have so much as a single line of dialogue. Every ep so far has been set at a different location with a only a few of the central characters present, while other characters entirely disappear for long stretches. Of the six eps so far aired, Rick, who is the star of the show, hasn't appeared at all in three and was only present for a few minutes in one of the others. Tonight's ep focused on Tara, who has been entirely absent from the series for 9 or 10 eps (this sudden spotlight on her doesn't bode well for her health).

Tara is out scavenging with Heath, they're attacked by zombies and get separated and, repetition being the soul of TWD, she finds an all-new survivor community--the second in only four eps. This one is a hidden community of fearful women, who, it's revealed, have tangled with the Saviors, lost and fled after the Negan's thugs killed all of their men. Now, they're paranoid about any outsiders--as in, they usually just try to kill them. They try to kill Tara too, but she escapes, promising a girl who aids her that she wouldn't reveal their existence. Tara gets away solely because the women on her tail, who are supposed to be so terrified at the prospect of their location being compromised that they murder anyone who happens upon it, are afflicted with TWD's patented Stupid Character Syndrome and simply decline to pursue her. Also noteworthy is that Tara, for this ep, received one of TWD's patented personality transplants and is suddenly acting like a silly teenager, which has been no part of her character up to this ep. As the story opens, she and Heath talk about having been out scavenging for two weeks, which should put them pretty far from the Safe Zone but after she escapes the women, Tara is able to easily walk home in what appears to be a single day.

Like last week's installment, this wasn't as badly underwritten as the other s7 eps have been. It just isn't very interesting. Tara is a very minor character and no one will recognize the "Tara" who appeared tonight anyway. Maybe this new version will find some favor. There's nothing here, though, to bring back those viewers who have been leaving the show.

--j.

---

UPDATE (28 Nov., 2016) - The premise and various story elements of "Swear" are similar to "Sisters of Mercy," an episode from the first season of Z NATION. It, too, featured a community of women who had been abused by men and were ruled by a stern matriarchal figure, they also killed strangers, albeit apparently only males ones, and also tried to get one of the series' regular characters to stay. The ZN version exiled their male children upon their reaching pubescence; in the TWD version, all male children over the age of 10 were killed by the Saviors. The two stories themselves are quite different and I initially resisted writing about this because I thought this community may have come from a point in the TWD comics beyond what I've read. From some reading I've done today--and if I get anything wrong about the comic here, I'm sure someone will correct me--it seems the Oceanside community is drawn from the comic but the the comic version included men, was very laid back and friendly instead of hostile and had never been mistreated by men. The changes made to the tv version were, it seems, all in the direction of aping Z NATION, which, of course, isn't the first time this has happened (ZN lifts elements from TWD as well but tends to make much better use of them). The Oceanside community doesn't turn up in the comics until quite some time after the material the tv series is currently exploring. This ep ended with Tara keeping her promise and declining to share any information about the community with her own people and since it's likely, given the comic timeline, that Oceanside may not even reappear this season, this can't help but make this entire ep feel like an exercise in filler. A diversion from what little plot there is, one that didn't need to be addressed for a long time to come.

Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, November 21, 2016

THE WALKING DEAD's Get-Up-And-Go Done Got Up & Went


On THE WALKING DEAD tonight, a few of the writers came back from their month-long vacation to author up "Go Getters," and while their plotting is still plodding and their filler still fulsome, there is at least some work going into their end of the show for a change. Not in the graveside melodrama moments[1] and certainly not in the insipid "romantic" scenes between Coral and Enid, about which no one could possible care, but this ep engineered, however, clunkily, a substantial change--a power-shift at the Hilltop community. Maggie, who is suffering a problematic pregnancy, has taken over.

The Hilltoppers essentially commissioned the Alexandrians to wipe out the Saviors, which didn't work out as planned. Now, the Saviors are displeased by this. They launch an attack--I suppose one could sort of call it that--in the dead of night. Maggie and Sasha awaken, look out the window and the main gate is open, a car parked inside with loud musing coming out of it and there are several bonfires suddenly burning inside the walls. Zombies are pouring through the open gate and this leads to a big zombie-killing action scene in which Maggie acts as a sort of field general. Hey, if she's going to take over, she has to prove she's up for leadership, right? Heaven forbid she be written as a competent leader character all along, so this quality in her didn't have to be established in this crude way. She gets to drive a tractor over the welded-up car. Isn't that sweet?

Absent the aid of magic they're not supposed to possess, how in hell did the Saviors stage this scene? They didn't crash the gate--that would have been heard and the gate would be damaged. They didn't drive up in that car with the music playing either--we hear its sound-system kick in and it's already parked inside the gate. The car also appears to be welded shut and inaccessible, this done so no one can turn off the music. There are four large bonfires and piling up the material for them would have taken time as well, and everyone seems to have been locked/sealed into their living quarters too![2] Negan's men not only somehow managed to get inside the gate without being seen but spent a substantial amount of time working on this prank inside the compound while no one noticed and then successfully made their retreat before anyone realized anything was happening, right through the midst of the zombies pouring through the gate. No one was on watch at the gate to sound an alarm? No guards making rounds? And while the idea of the music and the bonfires seems to be to draw into the compound a horde of zombies, TWD established last season that zombies don't just come to fire but walk right into it, burning themselves to a crisp, which renders both the Saviors' plan--to unleash these zombies on the population--and the big action scene wherein the Hilltoppers go out and fight off the critters entirely gratuitous and spectacularly idiotic. Just stand back and let them do themselves in. But that wouldn't allow Maggie to prove herself, now, would it? And it wouldn't have those kewl fires as a background for the action sequences!

The next day, the Saviors show up in force. Well, as much of a force as they've managed so far this season--about 25 people, with some editing trying to make it look like more. Here, I'll give the creators props for at least trying. Negan's lack of a visible force of any real size has been a plot problem throughout the season. At one point, Maggie tries to cheat a bit, saying of them, "there are a lot, maybe hundreds." Or maybe not.

The Saviors carry out a retaliatory looting of Hilltop. Gregory, the community's cowardly leader, has Maggie and Sasha hide in a closet. They end up in a different closet than he intended--Jesus correctly anticipates Gregory would spinelessly try to betray our heroines and moves them--but it doesn't make any sense that this ruse works, regardless of the closet. The Saviors are picking the community apart, filling four big panel trucks and a pick-up with booty. They don't look in the closets?

By the end, Maggie is in de facto command and Sasha, who has it in her head to kill Negan, dispatches Jesus to learn the location of the Saviors' main base. Jesus sneaks on to one of the Saviors' trucks and--what a remarkable coincidence!--it happens to be the same one on which Coral has stowed away, himself intending to try to find and kill Negan! Last week saw Rosita asking Eugene to make her a bullet for a gun she'd found. Resistance percolates among the underlings while Rick, their always-inspiring leader, is out trying to find supplies for Negan. With only three eps left before the midseason break--yeah, that much has already gone by--will the remaining writers return from their vacation or will those who came back this week rejoin them? I'm sure everyone is just as excited to learn that answer to that as I!

--j.

---

[1] As this is the first ep that returned to Maggie after Glenn's destruction, I'll give the show credit for not spending an inordinate amount of time on teary faces and showing the characters despairingly rehashing what viewers have already seen. That's absolutely S.O.P. with TWD and I'm glad the writers decided not to proceed in that direction.

[2] To get outside, Sasha and Maggie have to climb out through the roof of their trailer, while Jesus and some others had to climb out the second-story window of the big house. How in the world did the Saviors manage this? There are no visible obstructions to the doors. Sasha descends from the roof right in front of one of the trailer doors, Jesus kicks away a zombie that was clawing at the door of another and we get a shot of the door of the main house--there is no obstruction there either. Doors to residences that can't be opened from the inside and to which the Saviors--but not the residents--have keys? Jesus had to climb out that second-story window, though there was a door leading out to the landing there, which we're meant to believe was locked as well. The Saviors scaled the walls in order to somehow lock the second-story door? The entire scenario is impossible without the aid of magic, including a spell to seal the doors.

Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult