Monday, March 12, 2018

Not Wanted: Dead Or Alive Or THE WALKING DEAD

As with so many episodes of THE WALKING DEAD, the writers of tonight's "Dead Or Alive Or" didn't bother to provide an adequate plot. As so often happens, they chose, instead, to take a few minutes worth of material and pad it out to fill the running time. As has so often happened in recent season, this padding was so extensive that the ep even ran 5 minutes over its regularly-designated timeslot. Have to get in those extra minutes of commercials to pay for all that "work" the writers are doing.

Two weeks ago, Daryl, Rosita and Tara departed the Safe Zone to lead its mostly-nameless-and-faceless residents to Hilltop. This is the latest example of the brilliant strategic thinking typically displayed by our heroes. Why make it tougher for Negan to defeat you when you can all hole up in the same small, closed-in community to which his forces can easily lay siege until he's starved out all opposition, right?[1] This being TWD, that Safe Zoners plot-string was skipped last week and, this being TWD, tonight's ep, which picks it up, didn't begin with those characters at the gates of Hilltop. Instead, that's how it ends. Way back in December, Eugene arranged for Dr. Carson and the ailing Father Gabriel to escape Savior custody. They were heading to Hilltop as well but as the show finally returned to their thread three months later, they're not there either. They're lost and driving around backroads. Most of the ep just follows around the Safe Zoners as they try to hike to Hilltop and Gabriel/Carson as they mostly just dick around and waste time instead of trying to find Hilltop.

Neither of these threads feature anything interesting; they're just present to eat up running-time.

The Safe Zone group opt to cut through a swamp on the premise that the Saviors wrote it off as dangerous and won't be poking around there. They run into a zombie logjam ported in straight from Z NATION season 2 but it doesn't lead to anything--they just kill the zombies and move on. Tara is still furious at Savior turncoat Dwight and, being a dimwit, tries to kill him. He eventually hooks up with a group of Saviors who haven't heard of his betrayal and leads them away from the Zoners.

Gabriel and Carson find a cabin, hang out there, go on and on about Gabriel's increasing loss of vision.[2] In order to safely walk among the dead, Gabriel, several eps back, covered himself in zombie guts. Characters on TWD have been using this same trick since the 2nd episode of the series, even those with open wounds.[3] We've seen people splattered with zombie blood and gore, seen it get in their faces, their eyes. No one has ever suffered so much as a cough as a consequence but this season, the writers suddenly decided zombie gore was toxic.[4] Gabriel is ill and going bind.[5]

We find out why this was suddenly written into the plot toward the end of the ep. After breaking out of the zombie-surrounded Sanctuary, the Saviors are running low on ammo and Eugene's reloading operation isn't turning out enough at a fast-enough clip--Eugene may be foot-dragging on purpose. When Negan leans on him, Eugene comes up with the idea of using primitive siege weapons to chuck zombie gore over the walls of Hilltop. Negan doesn't like this suggestion at all but from it, he gets the bright idea to have the Saviors coat their weapons in this grue, use it for a sort of biological warfare. I'm disappointed we're not going to get to see Medieval trebuchets and catapults chucking zombie-parts over the wall.

And that's it. Near the end, the gate guard at Hilltop yells that Rick has returned but because if he appears, Andrew Lincoln gets paid for the ep, we never see him.



[1] As if to compensate for this obvious idiocy, the writers have Gregory point out to Maggie that the Saviors are on their way and suggests evacuating Hilltop. "How can we win?" Maggie replies, "look around, Gregory. How can we lose?" But it's so idiotic, even she doesn't sound as if she means it.

[2] The Saviors reapprehend Gregory and Carson; when Carson goes for a gun, they shoot him, one of the last doctors in the world. Fortunately--and coincidentally--the stranger Coral took in has medical training. Absurdly, Negan assigns the dying and nearly-blind Gabriel to sorting empty shells in preparation for reloading them.

[3] In fact, Rick, the first one to use the trick on screen, had an open gunshot wound in his side when he first did it.

[4] Zombie grue should be potentially rather dangerous--human corpses are a regular stew of bacteria--but after 8 years of watching people intimately interact with it to no negative effect, it's a bit late to be making it poisonous.

[5] Negan's plot-armor comes with an immunity charm; he covered himself in gore from the same zombie as Gabriel but remains unaffected by it.

Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, March 5, 2018

THE WALKING DEAD Burns Bartertown

I've been a fan of THE WALKING DEAD's Garbage People from pretty much the moment they were introduced. After their first appearance, I wrote:

"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."

Seemingly born of the writers' exposure to Z NATION, the Garbage People didn't make a lick of sense in the context of TWD's world, but they were entertaining, through a time when little else about the series has been, an odd, unpredictable element that felt like something phasing into TWD from a different--and better--show. Given my usually less-than-stellar estimation of TWD's writers. I can't really say it's any surprise that they apparently didn't understand what a good thing they had with this community. In the only meaningful development in "The Lost & the Plunderers," tonight's installment, they liquidated it.

That dreadful decision began with a conflict between Simon, who wants to be the big boss of the Saviors, and Negan, who is the big boss. Simon just wants to kill off all these rebellious communities and move on with life but, in a sequence that runs several times longer than was necessary, Negan insists they're still a resource. He and Simon argue and he orders Simon to bring to heel the Garbage People, who briefly joined the rebellion. But once at the Big Dump, Simon, still smarting over Negan's tongue-lashing, gets a little too ambitious and starts shooting people. When Jadis, the Garbage Queen, slugs him, he gives the order and the Saviors kill everyone. Negan will probably be just as pleased by this as I was.[1]

A lot of the screentime devoted to Rick and Michonne here is just filler material. Near the beginning, they're packing up and about to depart from the Safe Zone, which has been torn up by the Saviors, and Michonne gets it in her head that, before she leaves, she simply must go put out the fire that is consuming a gazebo, so she and Rick charge into action, risking their lives in battle against zombies in order to waste two of the only fire-extinguishers left in the world trying, for no real reason, to put out the blaze on a structure that has already mostly burned up.

Yes, that really happened.[2]

Later, they turn up at the Big Dump and find the zombified Garbagers. Only Jadis is left. She's distraught and, in a development that makes no more sense than the community itself, suddenly remembers how to speak proper English, as if all that Mad Maxian stuff was just a put-on. Given that she had been allied with Rick and had just seen all of her friends and family wiped out by their common enemy because of that alliance, one would think Rick would have a great deal of sympathy but instead, he's openly hostile--tells Jadis this is all her fault, refuses to help her escape, even points his gun at her when she's fighting through zombies while trying to follow him out--shoots over her head as a warning. If this ep was the story of the end of the Garbage People told from Jadis' perspective, Rick could fill the role of the ghost of her guilt as leader for the death of her people. As it is though, she's just an element in Simon's story then Rick's, and Rick's behavior is just more random and bizarre shit, as if he's this thing entirely disconnected from what we've seen him experience[3] and who we've seen him be.[4]

The ep only ever adopts Jadis' point of view when she has to see to the disposition of the walking dead who were once her friends. In what could, in better hands, have been a most remarkable scene--and in these hands still stands out as fairly striking for TWD--she leads the dead into an industrial shredder, watching with sad resignation as, one by one, they drop into the machine and are ground up into gory oatmeal that runs out on a conveyor belt beside her final painting--a fine, arty touch on paper that doesn't really come off as well on screen.

The ep checks in on Aaron and Enid, who, in a random sequence inserted into an earlier ep, went off to find the Oceanside community, were attacked, killed Oceanside's matron leader and were captured. Tonight, they're chained, about to be executed, Enid makes a speech and the new leader, the granddaughter of the dead one, just decides to let them go. As they're leaving, Aaron decides he's going to go back and convince them to join the fight--the reason Aaron went there in the first place--which makes one wonder what has been the point of anything that has happened with this thread. Aaron will try to make his case, Oceanside will listen or it won't--nothing shown tonight added anything to this except running time. With TWD though, that's often all it takes.

Near the end, Rick talks to Negan over a purloined radio, tells him Coral is dead. Rick says he's going to kill Negan, Negan says Coral is dead because Rick failed him. In the Walking Dead comics, Negan and Carl developed an interesting relationship that would have made a scene like this very interesting but that was almost entirely cut from the series and the scene, lacking any real dramatic weight, just plays out as Negan being the villain and taunting the hero.



[1] During his interrogation of Jadis, Simon suddenly mentions a helipad and solar panels on the landfill grounds, things never before mentioned. Rick saw a helicopter flying over a few eps ago and when Jadis does away with the Garbage-ite dead, she has electricity to do it. Simon hints that the site may have been something much more than just a garbage dump before the end of the world but later, Jadis seems to explain living there as strictly an artistic choice. The helipad will probably turn up again but the electricity may have been introduced merely to allow Jadis to carry out that zombie-killing sequence.

[2] Though with a war on and all, one would expect the Saviors would be out looking for the Safe Zone gang, they don't seem to be doing so. Rick seems to take out a Savior in the Safe Zone near the beginning--it happens off camera--and it makes sense someone would be posted there to see if anyone returned but he was apparently all alone and Rick and Michonne are able to drive the road unmolested and without even encountering any Savior lookouts. Near the end of the ep, we learn that Negan hasn't heard from Gavin's crew at the Kingdom. They've all been killed, of course, but that happened the night before and no one, it seems, has checked on them.

[3] And this would stand out even to someone who had only ever seen the last two eps of TWD--Coral had just given Rick the we've-got-to-do-better-about-holding-on-to-our-humanity speech as some of his dying words in the ep prior.

[4] It doesn't help matters that the writers throw in a later scene wherein Michonne is giving Rick the eye for this behavior and he tells her he just wanted Jadis to go away.

Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, February 26, 2018


When last we visited THE WALKING DEAD, the Saviors had somehow managed to escape the Sanctuary, which shouldn't have been possible and wasn't explained, and were able to terrorize our heroes' communities, which they shouldn't have had the remaining manpower to manage after a half-season of being killed in bulk, with, in the case of the team that lay siege to the Safe Zone, a platoon of guys armed with never-before-mentioned super-grenade launchers--weapons that would have made escape from the zombie-surrounded sanctuary rather easy but that only appeared after the Saviors had spent the half-season buttoned up at their compound and increasingly desperate about how to escape.

(Takes a breath)

"Honor," tonight's midseason debut, reverses gears in the pre-credit sequence and makes a show of explaining what happened at the Sanctuary but while the Saviors' escape is a massive plot problem, it may have been better not to even try. The writers had painted themselves into a corner on this one. The scenario they created--the compound surrounded 50-deep in zombies, with snipers posted beyond the dead with orders to blast any Savior who shows himself and all of this further complicated by Daryl's decision to punch a hole in the building  so some of the dead can get inside--is basically impossible to defeat. While one can imagine ways to get out of it--those grenade launchers would have made it a pretty simple task--the writers had already spent half the season piddling around inside the compound showing that the Saviors clearly had no means of dealing with the problem and were becoming increasingly desperate. In such a circumstance, nothing this writing team is going to concoct is going to be satisfying.

It isn't. For the purposes of allowing the Saviors to escape, the zombie army is suddenly reduced to 50 or 60 guys milling around in the parking lot. The Saviors show up at the windows with automatic weapons. The snipers observe them but for no reason at all, decline to shoot them. The snipers just sit there with multiple enemies in their sights and watch as the Saviors shoot zombies, which, hilariously, are kind enough to fall into neat piles that form  a sort of barricade. The Saviors then come charging out the front door through the trail protected by those barricades. Again, the snipers do nothing, and the Saviors begin firing at them. And that's it.

From there, it's all downhill. Before the midseason break, Coral had just been bitten by a zombie and was looking pretty rough. It was an open question whether the writers would drag out his inevitable death or just do a one-and-done but given the soap melodrama format of the show, the latter was to be particularly feared. It's the one the writers, in fact, chose. Most of the ep tonight is just Coral taking a long time to die while making a very long string of TWD's patented pseudo-profound anti-naturalistic speeches. The TWD version of a slow-motion death from POLICE SQUAD but without any (intentional) laughs.

That business starts where it left off, with our Alexandrian heroes huddled in a wonderful metaphor: down the drain, under the Safe Zone. Above, the town is being pummeled by grenades but below, Coral is on his deathbed saying his teary-eyed goodbyes to his companions. If our heroes were caught down there, it would be the end of them but the heartless villains apparently respect the need for melodrama; none of them bother to check out the drain, an obvious escape-route and clearly visible on both sides of the Safe Zone's walls.

Eventually the Saviors leave, and everyone decides to depart for Hilltop. Coral is obviously in no shape to be moved, so Rick and Michonne stay behind to see him to the end but shortly after everyone leaves, Rick randomly decides to move Coral anyway. Down the drain, Coral is in a safe place on a nice cot with a pillow--as good a deathbed as he could have in such circumstances--but Rick insists on dragging him topside, hauling him around the now-ruined Safe Zone and eventually bringing him to rest on the hard floor of the smoking remains of the church. The deathbed is a speech-breeding staple of the melodrama and perhaps the writers decided only one wasn't good enough for TWD--had to get that second one in there.

They certainly get in the melodrama. Coral makes speeches through all of this, interacting with the others while maudlin music whines away.

This seemingly interminable plotline--if one can call it that--is the centerpiece of tonight's ep, which the creators turned into another extended, 90-minute affair to accommodate all that emoting. Well before it's over, one suspects even the viewer with the sternest appetite for this rubbish will be wishing they'd just get it over with and let him die. Even when he finally does, though, it probably isn't over--Coral wrote goodbye notes to everyone, something future eps will no doubt dwell upon with substantial gravity.

Over at the Kingdom, Carol and Morgan are set on rescuing Ezekiel. Morgan gets to go Terminator on a bunch of baddies. In the highlight of the ep, he disembowels one of them who is in the process of killing him. It's sort of a bummer that Morgan didn't then use the guy's innards to strangle him. Seems an obvious use for them, right? Gavin, the somewhat "reasonable" Savior, is on hand and throughout the evening, Ezekiel keeps hinting to him that he should switch sides. He's pretty intransigent but maybe he'll come over. Then it turns out that was just a ploy by the writers to fill time; Morgan captures Gavin, sets out to destroy him and we get another of TWD's usual bullwinders where everyone stands around contemplating whether Morgan really wants to kill the fellow. In the end, it doesn't matter; a kid with a sharp stick turns up and pokes Gavin in the throat (one of Gavin's lieutenants murdered the boy's brother).

That's "Honor," an ep that, if it had any, would have committed seppuku early in the evening.


Twitter: @jriddlecult

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Ninety-one years ago today--10 Jan., 1927--Fritz Lang's magnificent sci-fi fantasy METROPOLIS first hit the screen in Germany. This is the kind of movie the phrase "visionary masterpiece" was coined to describe, a gloriously weird epic of the future as seen from the late Weimar era wherein the working class robotically toils away on machines beneath the earth while the well-off live in a shining, paradisiacal city above, rich kids develop social conscience while experiencing visions of devils and mad scientists create androids in the form of humans to beguile and confound men.

Like so many silent films, a lot of METROPOLIS was broken up and lost over the years. The film survived in often quite truncated prints--the first version I saw when but a lad was only about an hour long--and the tantalizing nature of what survived created a mystique about what was missing and what it all meant. A few decades ago, when film preservationists got serious about saving the disappearing early cinema, there began a series of efforts to find the missing pieces and restore the film. Many bits and pieces have turned up over time, leading to restorations both major and minor. The big breakthrough came in 2008 when a print of the film that had been in circulation through several owners since 1928, turned up in Buenos Aires and provided us with a near-complete print of the film.

METROPOLIS is a cinematic landmark. One of the most influential films ever made, there had never been anything like it and despite 91 years of imitation, homage, knock-offs and rip-offs, there's hasn't been anything like it since. But while true--and distinctly true in this case--that particular accolade is also a bit of a cliché. A dusty one. Monuments--things that often collect such dust--are things stored away in museums but movies, especially great ones, are things to be watched, to be experienced. By virtue of their being the product of an age so removed from out own, films of this vintage can often put contemporary viewers in a somewhat alien headspace. Many dislike this, may others simply find it too removed from their experience to appreciate it but for those able to immerse themselves in it, such films can be an euphoric trip. Movies are, among so many other things, dreams. Dreams are often--even usually--strange, and strange can be wonderful indeed. METROPOLIS was strange in its own time. All those years since have just made it better.


Twitter: @jriddlecult

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Happy Birthday, Lloyd Kaufman!

Born today, 30 Dec., in 1945, Lloyd Kaufman, producer, writer, director, the co-founder of Troma Entertainment and one of the magnificent bastards responsible for, among so many other off-the-wall classics, the Toxic Avenger movies, POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD, TERROR FIRMER, TROMA'S WAR and TROMEO & JULIET. Highbrow snobs may scoff at Lloyd's shoestring productions, with their abundance of bodily fluids, breasts, beasts and lowbrow humor, but for all these stiff-necked snoots' very tasteful tsk-tsk-ing, Lloyd is something they can't touch, something one doesn't often find in the picture business or, indeed, in life: a genuine original. In a milieu abundantly populated by painfully unimaginative knock-off artists, Lloyd makes movies that aren't like anything you've ever seen. He's borne the spirit of indie cinema trough a lot of years when it seemed in danger of being snuffed out entirely. One hopes he will continue to do so for many more to come.


Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, December 11, 2017

How It Always Is With THE WALKING DEAD

This season, THE WALKING DEAD has displayed a remarkable propensity for turning what should be exciting, fast-paced, suspenseful scenarios into dreary exercises in tedium and tonight's midseason finale, "How It's Gotta Be," has just become the standout example of this. What could have been a fairly taught hour-long tale is padded out to 90 minutes. The ep is full of slow-motion photography, long, meaningless montages of various characters' faces overlain with somber music, scenes that go on and on. Got to get those extra ads in there, if the show itself has to bust a gut to accomplish it.

Last week, Rick and the Garbage People returned to the Saviors' Sanctuary only to discover that the herd of zombies our heroes had previously led there was gone, along with the snipers who were supposed to repel any Savior effort to break free. A surprising cliffhanger on which to end but one tonight's ep does nothing to resolve, though the entire ep was premised on it. The issue is raised repeatedly; the only thing viewers are told is that Eugene came up with something and the herd was led away. As I've previously covered here, the sniper team has been made to appear and disappear at the writers' convenience and this continued tonight. Rick had found one of the snipers dead and being eaten by zombies. At one point, Jerry, who doesn't know this, speculates that the snipers must have taken their vehicles and escaped; Rick says he doesn't think they escaped.[1] Since none of the communities were warned that the Saviors had broken free--even with the known casualty, there were still enough snipers to warn every community--this would seem a reasonable assumption but later in the ep, Morgan, who was part of that sniper team, turns up at the Kingdom unharmed. And without explanation.

Tonight's ep begins where last week's ended. Upon discovering the zombies are gone, Rick, ever the idiot, moves in for a closer look on foot across open ground and is, of course, immediately fired upon by Saviors inside. The Garbage People retreat and aren't seen again! They just disappear from the ep. Rick is in a pickle, pinned down and with no hope of escape, but then, out of nowhere, Carol and Jerry suddenly drive up and save him. They'd gone to what was supposed to be a meeting outside the Sanctuary of the leadership of the various communities, Ezekiel having declined to go, but like Daryl and his garbage truck last week, they show up just in the nick of time and are able to magically sense Rick's predicament and affect a rescue.

The Saviors are somehow free, they're going to be out looking for revenge and if one concludes this should be a real barn-burner, well, one may have the instincts of a quality dramatist but one hasn't been watching TWD this season. The writers manage to make the Saviors' campaign against the residents of the three communities pretty damn boring. It makes sense that the Kingdom could be subdued with minimal effort--its fighting force has been wiped out--and, in fact, this happens off camera. But the Hilltop's forces are also taken without firing a shot. Maggie and some of her troops are driving to the Sanctuary meeting. Absent the use of magic, the Saviors have absolutely no way of knowing the Hilltoppers will be coming up that road but they've used this magic power before, in the season 6 finale, and with this supernatural knowledge, they just put a tree across the road to stop the convoy then move in and disarm the fighters. Though the Hilltop forces are armed and they appear to significantly outnumber the Saviors, they just give up their guns without a fight. Simon tells Maggie she can cooperate or meet a horrible end. She takes the deal, he shoots a Hilltop redshirt then he orders her to return home and continue growing food for the Saviors.

This contradicts everything we've been told would happen. Negan has made it very clear he intends to kill the three leaders of the uprising and display their remains at his headquarters. Viewers who may have forgotten that from before get multiple reminders in this ep--Gavin, the Savior leader at the Kingdom, says he's taking Ezekiel back to the Sanctuary and Negan himself says he's taking Rick there. Besides that, Simon's course of action with regard to Maggie is some really horrendous writing. Hilltop has just taken part in an armed uprising against the Saviors. It has lots of guns and it must be disarmed. The Saviors disarm everyone. For all the Saviors know, these communities have the bulk of their arsenal based at Hilltop. If Maggie is allowed to simply return home, those guns could either be stashed for later use or used to carry on the fight that has just been taking place. The only reason Simon, having captured Maggie, doesn't continue with her to Hilltop and disarm the community is because the writers just didn't want him to do it. When Maggie returns home, she's no more gotten through the gates than she has a new gun in her hand. She kills one of her Savior prisoners with it (to make up for the Hilltopper shot by Simon), orders her people to begin fortifying the community against the enemy.[2]

When the Saviors had been pinned down in the Sanctuary, they'd radioed another outpost to bring in a heavy machine-gun to clear the zombies. That outpost was destroyed and the machine-gun captured. Without it, they were considering increasingly desperate measures, such as sending dozens of workers into the zombie horde with melee weapons, sacrificing them on a suicide mission just to try to clear a path for someone who could lead the horde away.[3] The entire season to date has been premised on the notion that the villains didn't have the means or the manpower to fight so many but tonight, they not only have enough to simultaneously go after all three rebel communities, Negan has among his own force what appear to be a dozen or more men armed with grenade launchers, weapons that would have made very short work of all those zombies but were never employed to that end and appear only now, as if by magic, to reign fiery destruction down on the Safe Zone from outside its gates. Once inside, Negan tells his men to blow up every house! It feels like Negan should not have the strength to wage this sort of fight, a problem that goes beyond that magic grenade-launcher brigade.[3a] Our heroes just spent much of this season taking out Negan's outposts, killing or capturing everyone present in a series of lightning strikes. From the fact that they stopped hitting outposts and spoke of no others, one can safely assume there aren't any more.[4] So from whence comes this reserve?

And is there even a reserve? None of the Savior forces are shown to be particularly large. There are no Savior guards around the recently-liberated Sanctuary--until someone started shooting at Rick, it looked deserted. Both the Hilltoppers and the Alexandrians appear to outnumber the fighters thrown against them. The Alexandrians kill several Saviors in an ambush (I'll get to that in a moment). Though the Kingdom has few defenses left, we never see many Saviors there either. One assumes there could be more present in all of these places, lurking somewhere in the darkness in which most of this ep takes place, and that solves one problem but the more there are, the bigger the other--the source of these fighters--becomes.

With some sort-of assistance from turncoat Savior Dwight, the Alexandrians sort of escape Negan's siege--it's all handled in a very sloppy manner. Dwight puts a slim force around the rear of the Safe Zone to create a weak spot. The Alexandrians inside have absolutely no way of knowing he's out there and has done that but fortunately, they coincidentally pick the right place to break through their own walls and escape. Our heroes proceed up the road a short distance then stop to create an ambush for the pursuing Saviors; Dwight leads his own people right into it and they're killed. He takes out a few himself then, wounded, leaves with the Alexandrians. I say "leaves" but they don't actually go anywhere. Instead of getting the hell out of Dodge, they just return to the storm drain that runs under the walls of the Safe Zone, a place that is in no way hidden and that the Saviors could easily investigate (and would investigate if being written at all competently). They're still there at the end.

Rick returns home to find the Safe Zone ablaze and goes in to check it out. He goes to his own house and finds Negan waiting for him. The villain knocks Rick's gun from his hand and the two briefly fight it out. Negan is doing his usual Adam West Batman villain routine and Rick in response, goes meta: "Do you ever shut the hell up?" Pretty much what every viewer has been thinking about Negan's camp antics. It's the only bright spot in this ep. It made me chuckle, anyway. Rick recovers his gun, Negan, who has no gun, pushes him out the window and rather than simply going right back in and shooting Negan, Rick just runs away! If our heroes ever get their hands on the technology behind Negan's plot-armor, they'll be unbeatable.

Other items: Between and in addition to all of that, there's plenty that is only present to add to that running-time. Aaron and Enid have gotten it in their heads to attempt a rapprochement with the Oceanside community, so there's 6 or 7 minutes of that mission near the beginning of this ep that look as if they were cut in from the beginning of an entirely different one, then the focus shifts elsewhere and we're never shown anything else of it.[5] Eugene is again shown drinking and again feeling sorry for himself, then he facilitates the escape of Father Gabriel and the Hilltop's physician (who has been detained at the Sanctuary for some time now). When the Alexandrians are "escaping" down that storm-drain, Michonne stays behind, closing the man-hole and going back into the Safe Zone for no other purpose than to allow her to walk around a while then kill and mutilate a random Savior[6] (said mutilation occurring below the level of the camera, in line with the show's recent tone-down-the-violence directive).

Coral suddenly gets an inordinate amount of screentime, which is TWD's usual set-up for an impending death. He's Wesley Crusher, planning the Alexandrians' escape and even having a parley with Negan in which he offers to let the villain kill him if it will allow the Safe Zone to survive. He staggers around in slow motion while the Safe Zone is being hit with all those grenades. All of this leads where one expects, to the scene that, last week, was teased as being so shocking everyone would be talking about it. And even adjusting for the writers' laughable overestimation of the esteem they've engendered in their audience for this particular character, it may have been too, if the entire ep hadn't  been so heavy-handedly pointing to it from its opening moments. As usual.



[1] Rick, Carol and Jerry decide to take some vehicles, split up and go warn the various communities. Jerry suggests the snipers' vehicles probably won't be where they were previously parked because the riflemen would have taken them to get away from whatever happened, Rick says he doesn't think they got away. Viewers are never shown whether the sniper cars are still there but it's very unlikely that random cars that are just sitting around outside somewhere and that haven't been maintained for two years would still be in working order, yet Rick and Jerry do pretty quickly find cars to drive. When one considers the mystery of what happened at the Sanctuary, this is another hole.

[2] She also tells her people to dump the dead Savior so the others can find the corpse and posts a warning that she has others she can kill if they don't stay away, guaranteeing they'll be there soon.

[3] Last week, Eugene pitched Negan on an idea for getting rid of those zombies. Off-camera, of course. Negan was concerned that the plan, whatever it was, would require seriously depleting the Saviors' ammo supply and secured assurances that Eugene could replenish that stock if given the equipment. While Eugene's mystery plan was put into effect and worked, any such mass reloading operation would take months to carry out. The incident just underscores that Negan should not have the ability to do what he did tonight.

[3a] UPDATE (11 Dec., 2017) - Discussing this ep on Reddit, poster "Serialnoymb63" points out that those grenade launchers "could have been handy" when the three communities carried out that bizarre "attack" on the Sanctuary in the first ep of this season. Back then, I'd noted that Rick had charged into that situation to boldly take the low ground and that the Saviors in the building could have destroyed our heroes with fairly minimal effort. Those grenade launchers would have made this task a lot easier. And if they exist, they pretty much have to have been there at the Sanctuary all along; all of Negan's other facilities were wiped out.

[4] I've spent some time in my recent TWD reviews noting the serious dramatic problems that have arisen as a consequence of having the characters insist their campaign against the Saviors was part of some master Plan while refusing to share that plan with the viewers. It seems inconceivable there would be other outposts that just weren't hit but the writers have left a bit of a black hole here.

[5] While the ep dwells on such peripheral matters, Rick again disappears for much of the episode, present for only a few moments at the beginning then turning up at the end for that very brief dukearoo with Negan. Though the ostensible central hero of the show, Rick has been increasingly absent from it in recent seasons, often disappearing for weeks at a time. This season seems to be addressing fan complaints re:that development by including Rick in more eps but in what amount to glorified cameo appearances.

[6] At no point are we ever shown a large number of Saviors swarming over the Safe Zone after it's breached. Rick is able to enter it then leave unmolested. While wandering inside, Michonne only runs into that one Savior. I found myself wondering why the Alexandrians don't just go back and kill the Saviors who have entered their community, something they appear entirely capable of doing.

Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, December 4, 2017

No Time Like Time For After THE WALKING DEAD

THE WALKING DEAD continues to bog down in its own shortcomings. This evening's offering, "Time For After," was as full of holes as Clyde Barrow's stolen Ford and amounted to little more than a series of delaying actions aimed at getting events to the big 90-minute midseason finale next week.

The crack sniper team the Alexandrians left posted around Negan's big Sanctuary seem to appear and disappear at the writers' convenience. They're supposed to be camped out in high places around the zombie-besieged compound in the event that any Saviors appear. Last week, we learned that at least two Saviors had been able to drive up to the place, survey what had happened there then peacefully drive away unmolested. Two weeks ago, Negan himself had walked across the yard in the open, fighting and even shooting zombies, but no sniper ever tried to plug him. Tonight when Daryl, Tara, Michonne and Rosita turned up in a garbage truck, they were immediately spotted by the sharpshooters and identified as friendlies but a little later, Eugene was able to walk right out on to the roof of the main building and stand there for an extended period without drawing any fire. And he was working on a remote-controlled glider that would play music and lure away the zombies.

Last week, I wrote about how the writers have had the characters insist there is, behind everything they've done this season, some big master Plan to defeat the Saviors but have entirely failed to share even a vague outline of that plan with viewers. Thus rather than a storyline wherein the characters pursue clearly-defined goals while the writers manipulate events as a means of generating suspense, it's mostly just been a lot of random mayhem to no obvious end. This was further complicated by the fact that Rick went off alone to the Garbage People, threatened them and was immediately taken prisoner when they turned down his insistence they join the anti-Savior team--definitely not an outcome he Planned--while multiple other characters went off on non-Planned missions of their own and no one was doing anything in accordance with any Plan. The failure to explain the Plan continues to cause problems tonight. Daryl, way off-Plan, has brought that garbage truck with the idea of driving it into the side of the compound and letting the zombies flood into the place. This, he insists, will force the Saviors to "surrender" but one gets the idea he just wants to kill them all. Morgan, who has recently joined the sniper-team, likes that idea just fine, as does Tara, who has been after blood for a while now. The writers try to set up some drama by presenting Rosita and Michonne as conflicted about this but it's impossible to generate any real dramatic tension because while Daryl's idea makes perfect sense and seems really obvious, Rick's Plan remains entirely unknown, leaving viewers with no basis for comparison.While Daryl makes a strong case for his approach--the Kingdom's entire fighting force has been wiped out and if the Saviors reverse their fortunes and decide to fight, our heroes don't have the numbers to beat them[1]--no one points to any downside to it and the other side of the story is entirely absent.

The writers skip over all of that and initially just make it all about Rick but this doesn't make any sense as a point of demarcation either. Rosita refuses to go along with Daryl on the grounds that "I believe in Rick Grimes." This is the same Rosita who spent all of last season going off-script at every turn--impatient, wanting to kill the enemy, disregarding the communities' plans and even her own life. Now, she chides Michonne for being impatient and not realizing that sometimes, you just have to sit and wait--their assigned place, for the moment, in Rick's Plan. "I just wish it didn't take Sasha walking out of that coffin for me to realize it," she huffs as she walks away, which makes no sense at all. Last season, Rosita and Sasha had gone to the Sanctuary with the aim of assassinating Negan. This was acknowledged by both to be a suicide mission but Rosita was left behind when Sasha locked her out of a gate at the last moment before mounting the attack. Sasha failed and would later die in Savior custody (a suicide, though no one knows that) then come "walking out of that coffin" as a zombie. There's no lesson in any of that to inform Rosita's actions tonight; it's just invoking an emotional moment as a substitute for any argument. Worse is what the writers did with Michonne. Last season, Michonne was telling Rick that after the war with the Saviors was over, he should be the one to lead the various communities forward to the future. Tonight, she was ready to completely disregard Rick's Plan for Daryl's. She later backed out at the last minute but with no Rick Plan on the table could offer no rationale for doing so. As a substitute, the writers turned to some of their patented speechifying, producing an unintentionally hilarious swamp of nonsense:

"I came here because I wanted to see things for myself. I wanted to know that things were going to work. but y'know what? I don't get to know that. None of us do. What I do know is that things are working now, so maybe we just need to trust that things are going to keep working, because this, what we're about to do, it's not worth risking us."

"It is for me," Daryl grunts. "It just is."

"I hope it works--I really, really do--but I can't do it. I just can't."

"Then you shouldn't."

And she doesn't! But like Rosita, she doesn't try to talk Daryl out of it either. How could she? Exhorting Daryl to stick to Rick's Plan would require going through Rick's Plan. For that, Rick would have to have a Plan.

Daryl arrived at the compound at the end of the previous ep; the nonsense I've just outlined means this one is more than 2/3 over before he finally drives that truck through the wall.

Other items: The characters have always remembered or forgotten the old cover-yourself-in-zombie-grue trick at the writers' convenience. While it seems logical that one could get sick from using it, no one ever has. The writers have decided, rather late in the game after 8 years of seeing people use the trick, to address this; Gabriel may be on his death-bed after contracting some sort of infection in that manner.[2] He was sick at the end of last week's ep; he's still sick at the end of this one. Eugene is confronted by Dwight, who pointlessly confessed that he was helping Rick and co.[3] Eugene remains a coward who looks out for #1 and continues helping Negan even though his loyalties are somewhat divided--exactly where he was when the ep began and exactly where he's been since he switched sides. The Saviors fight the zombies that come flooding in after the truck crashes. They're nearly out of ammo and supplies. Eugene tells Negan he can make more bullets if he can acquire the machinery to do so but their situation seems pretty grim. Over in the landfill, the Garbage People seemed poised to feed Rick to a zombie when he breaks free, fights them, rips off the zombie's head (Z NATION!) and wrestles Jadis to the ground, finally securing her alliance with the other communities by threatening to let the zombie head eat her face. She wants him to pose for her to sculpt him as part of her fee for going along with this but he haggles her down. The outcome and the way it comes about makes it feel as if the entire business of refusing Rick and taking him prisoner was just thrown in to eat up screentime.

Rick and the Garbage People drive to the Sanctuary but only to see that the Saviors have been saved by that act of TWD's god known as the Inevitable Results of Defying Rick: the snipers are dead and the zombie horde that had surrounded the compound was gone.

The evening closed with a the midseason finale will feature a shocking scene about which everyone will be talking and I'm sure that's exactly what will happen.



[1] Though, it should be noted, this is a questionable conclusion. While the Kingdom's force was wiped out, the Saviors' manpower should have been pretty seriously depleted by what's happened so far this season.

[2] It doesn't make any sense to throw this in now. We've not only seen characters covering themselves in zombie grue for 8 years--Rick did it the first time when he had a gunshot wound in his side--we've also seen countless other occasions when characters have gotten zombie gore in their eyes and even their mouths and have been entirely unaffected.

[3] Eugene, who was recording himself just before this, may have a tape of the confession. Nothing was made of this, which means it's unlikely anything ever will be. Eugene was prepared to tell Negan about Dwight but backed out.

Twitter: @jriddlecult