Monday, March 27, 2017

Something THE WALKING DEAD Needs Is Better Writers

Ladies and Gentleman, let's get ready to ruuuuummmmble!!!!! Presenting the main event of the evening. AMC and the King of Bum Steers, No-Wiser, presents "Something They Need," the latest installment of THE WALKING DEAD! In this corner, Filler Material! Ludicrously overextended, repetitive and tedious scenes that add little more than running-time to the proceedings. And its opponent in the red corner, Idiot Plot Syndrome! Stories that are dependent upon every character behaving like a complete imbecile and that reduce the proceedings to clueless half-wits randomly crashing into one another without real rhyme or reason! Which of TWD's deadly faults will dominate? Refereeing tonight's event, in this, his 93rd TWD article, J. Riddle!

After the cold opening, Filler came out slugging; Maggie is explaining gardening to the Hilltoppers, who, by all indications, were gardening just fine before she came along. Sasha, after her ill-advised one-girl attack on the Savior compound, has been captured and stuffed in that dreaded closet, the one we've already seen over and over again this season. About half of tonight's ep was set there as well. Negan decides he likes Sasha, as happened earlier in the season with Daryl, Carl and Eugene, and tries to seduce her into coming over to his side, repeating material we've already seen at length with Daryl, Carl and Eugene.[1] Then Sasha tries to manipulate Eugene into bringing her a weapon, on the pretense that she wants to kill herself when she's actually planning to kill Negan. He spoils her fun by bringing her a fairly worthless poison capsule.

Idiot Plot Syndrome fights back hard. Tara previously revealed to Rick the existence of the well-armed Oceanside community, which had been horribly mistreated by the Saviors. The bulk of the rest of the ep is devoted to what Rick does with that information. Rick is going to war and needs warm bodies for the fight. His plan for getting Oceanside to join him in this endeavor is the sort of masterstroke of diplomacy one expects from a great leader like Rick: he sends Tara to take its boss-lady Natania hostage at gunpoint and to announce that the Alexandrians will be arriving shortly to take all their guns! But you ladies can join us if you like. And it gets even better. When the Alexandrians appear, they actually attack the Oceansiders, using up many of the very few explosives they have to terrorize these already-terrorized women into submission. The explosives bring a horde of zombies from a beached ship nearby and Rick and co. have to fight them off.[2] Their decision to do so via weapons set to fully-automatic fire scores some additional body-blows against Filler; while it looks all kewl and stuff on camera, it makes even more noise and wastes large amounts of precious ammunition. The zombie attack was just thrown in to spice up the ep with some more action but it does underscore how dangerous this world can be. If our heroes' attack on Oceanside wasn't Savior-like enough, Rick and co. do, indeed, cart off all of the communities' weapons, leaving it defenseless in the face of that world. There's no negotiation, no real pitch for the cause. A great way to make lots of new enemies. Fortunately, the same writers are penning the Oceansiders. Some of the women want to join the fight. Natania refuses rather adamantly. Cyndie, the sympathetic girl who helped Tara escape earlier in the season, says "Some of us do [want to fight] but not all of us, and it has to be all of us." If that makes any sense to you, well... you know how this sentence ends. None of them join up.

Filler fights back with a minor subplot involving Gregory at Hilltop. The last time we saw Gregory, it was pretty clear he was going to go to Savior Simon and try to get the Maggie stone from his shoe. In this ep, he still hasn't done it, so we get to waste some more time on it. After Maggie saves his life from a zombie--some Idiot Plot Syndrome counter-punching here--he finally decides to set off to see Simon. At this pace, he should get there by about the fourth ep of the next season.

At the end of the fight, it's Irish rules--the ref gets to call it. Both the lads put up a furious battle. Neither deserves a hand. While I call the fight a draw, there is a clear loser:

The audience.

--j.

---

[1] Negan wouldn't be able to maintain any loyalty with this behavior. Daryl, Carl and Sasha liquidated multiple Saviors and his response was to try to recruit them. How well are the other Saviors going to accept new recruits who killed their buddies. Why would anyone be faithful to a leader who, upon seeing his loyal followers killed, seeks to reward their killers?

[2] The waterlogged zombies are actually one of the only good points about the ep; they're very EC Comics in their design. Stylized and ghoulish.


ADDENDUM (27 March, 2017) - Something I forgot to mention: the writers, last night, tried to retroactively plug some of the narrative problems they'd created. As I've noted here in the past, Eugene's story arc from last season was entirely erased and he was reverted back to a sniveling coward. In this ep, he offered a revisionist take on this, explaining that his heroism in the previous season amounted merely to when he was driving the RV "into the sunset" at the end of the last season but then were frightened so badly, he realized that was folly and reverted to type. That is, of course, not what happened. It was actually a story arc that played out throughout the prior season in which Eugene fundamentally turned a corner and became rather crazily brave, even in the face of death. Apparently, someone on the writing staff finally remembered part of this.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Other Side of THE WALKING DEAD's Idiot Plot Syndrome Is Still Idiotic [Updated Below]

This was an evening of Idiot Plot Syndrome on THE WALKING DEAD. One of the very few substantive things that happened in the first half of the show's present season is that Maggie usurped the spineless Gregory's leadership of the Hilltop community. But when the second half launched, it was as if the writers hadn't been watching their own show, a fairly common phenomenon with TWD, and everyone was back to treating Gregory as if he was still in charge. Though Gregory had just betrayed them and tried to turn over Maggie and Sasha to the Saviors, our heroes even laid out before him their plan to organize a rebellion against the villains. Not much happened on "The Other Side," tonight's installment, but the ep did underscore the danger posed by Gregory, as he's clearly poised to spill his guts to Negan lieutenant Simon. Merely poised, of course--if wouldn't be TWD if it didn't try to artificially stretch every bit of what passes for plot to the absolute breaking-point.[1]

Tonight's a-plot was the Saviors stopping by Hilltop to appropriate its doctor after Negan torched his own. That's all. The b-plot followed Sasha and Rosita as they made their way to the Saviors' compound to try to kill Negan. A few eps ago, both admitted they expected this to be a suicide mission. If they attempt such a thing and are killed, captured or even identified, the likely outcome is that the Saviors descend on the various communities in force and out for revenge, an onslaught both Sasha and Rosita know full well those communities are, at present, entirely incapable of resisting, but Negan murdered their co-beau with his bat and as TWD's writers are sure, women are just completely irrational children who let their emotions drive them, even if it puts everyone in danger.[2]

Leaving Hilltop, they wire a car that under no circumstances would still have a usable battery after sitting idle for nearly two years, and make their way to the compound. The Saviors have talked about the need for security in a few different eps and do it again in this one. They're so concerned about it (and are such dangerous characters in general) that they leave tall buildings overlooking the main yard of their compound sitting empty and unguarded for any sniper who may come along. The ladies hole up in one to wait for Negan. It's a perfect set-up and would allow them to dust him from afar and have an excellent chance of getting away after. He even comes out into the open at one point but Sasha never gets a clean shot. No problem, just wait until he comes out again, right?

Hey, are you kidding? This is TWD.

Our heroines have a captured Savior radio and upon hearing over it[3] that Negan will be staying in for the night, they decide they simply can't wait [see Update below] and must immediately try to break into the huge compound full of hundreds of armed antagonists, try to locate the baddy--they have no idea where his boudoir may be--and kill him. They could stay right where they are and just shoot him in the morning or the day after that or the day after that, whenever he shows himself, but they're women. They break in at night and, encountering Eugene, randomly tell him they're here to rescue him, something that wasn't on their agenda at any stage of their operation. Given that they're both planning to suicidally plunge into the compound with guns blazing, who, exactly, was going to take Eugene to safety? The moment is included solely to give the cowardly Eugene the opportunity to decline their offer and leave the viewer with the thought, "Ooooh, he's changed sides!" As if Eugene has any backbone at all.[4] Sasha then doublecrosses Rosita, locking her out of the fence, telling her to go home--"they need you"--and then launching her hopeless attack.

And that's how TWD burned through another hour tonight.

--j.

---

[1] The ep was full of the usual delaying tactics in general--practically every scene is pointlessly extended. Simon tells Gregory to come see him if anyone attempts a coup at Hilltop, as if Gregory (or anyone else) can just zip right on over to the Saviors' compound any time they like. Showing he's no brighter than anyone else, Simon even tells Gregory where said compound is located (because, of course, the writers needed to impart that to Gregory). After Gregory is overthrown and possibly killed, I'm sure he'll drop in to lodge a complaint.

[2] This is particularly egregious when it comes to Rosita, as her previous fly-off-the-handle effort to assassinate Negan already resulted in one person being killed and Eugene being carted off. Rosita herself wasn't killed on that occasion solely because the writers didn't want her dead.

[3] When they listen in, they have it turned up way too loud, so much that people on the ground would be able to hear it.

[4] Actually, Eugene did grow a backbone in season 6; it's just that the writers decided to ignore that development this season.


UPDATE (Mon., 20 March, 2017) - This morning, a few readers have insisted Sasha and Rosita opted to leave their sniper's nest because Eugene, over the radio, ordered the outbuildings searched. That this would be an utterly absurd twist constitutes, of course, no argument against these writers using it--this is TWD, after all--but that isn't really what happened either. Eugene ordered those stationed in the outbuildings to go round up some zombies. His full broadcast:

"This is Dr. Eugene Porter, Chief Engineer, speaking. I'm gonna need a dozen more walkers, a.k.a. 'dead ones' in the local parlance, for expanding the fence protocol PDQ. Actually, PFQ. This is per Negan, who I also am, even if it takes all night to procure them, so I need able-bodied persons out there in the surrounding blocks of buildings snoopin' and snatchin', stat. Negan will be indisposed in the boudoir, so in the meantime, any questions should be directed to yours truly. Dr. Eugene Porter, Chief Engineer, also known as Negan, who I am."

Some interpreted that to mean he was ordering a search of the buildings. That isn't at all clear though. Negan wants zombies; the third or fourth floor of some building (where Sasha and Rosita are encamped) would be the last place anyone would think to look.

(I admit I find that interpretation rather delightful, the show's usual incompetent writing stretched to the nth degree. In one broadcast, Eugene tells our heroines Negan won't be back out tonight, gratuitously tells them where he will be for the night and by a win-the-lottery-odds-level coincidence, also orders the outbuildings searched at that very moment, of all times, necessitating their leaving. It's absurd.)


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, March 13, 2017

Bury THE WALING DEAD Here [Updated Below]

Of the many people who have circulated through the WALKING DEAD writer's room over the years, few have shown any real interest in trying to organically develop any of the characters, preferring, instead, to stick with the soap melodrama model and arbitrarily impose new and often radically different characterizations on them to suit the momentary needs of the plot.

Like all of the characters on TWD, Carol has been subject to multiple personality transplants over the years.

Carol 1.0 was weak and pathetic, the formerly abused housewife who wouldn't even search for her own missing daughter, who resented being asked to help decide the fate of a prisoner our heroes had captured, who disappeared only to see everyone else declare her dead and dig a grave without bothering to look for her.

With season 4, the writers took her experience of losing her daughter (and a random, way-out-of-character moment from the previous season)[1] and created Carol 2.0, almost the polar opposite of the original. This was a Carol who had learned the hardest lesson of this zombified world in the hardest possible way and had vowed "never again," a Carol who was tough, uber-capable, the strongest character on the show and who, when she saw a problem, coldbloodedly did whatever she thought had to be done to deal with it. This Carol knew some would object to her teaching the children how to fight and to kill; it needed to be done, so she did it. When she saw the need to kill two entirely innocent people to try to prevent others from being infected by their illness, she did it. When a child she loved had killed another and become a danger, she murdered that child. When our heroes were taken prisoner by the Terminusians, she loaded up, Rambo-style, and laid waste to their compound and to them. And so on. Carol 2.0, a blatant contradiction of 1.0, wasn't an evolution of what had come before. Rather, she was a logical extrapolation of what someone might be like if they'd experienced what Carol had experienced, slapped on to the character herself. This Carol was often a depressed fret but her central personality trait was that she did what had to be done and by dreaming up this personality, the writers took her from the least interesting character to the most interesting one. And the best was yet to come.

Carol 3.0 suddenly appeared, fully formed, toward the end of season 5. By then, Z NATION had appeared on SyFy and was getting a great deal of mileage out of injecting humor into its zombie apocalypse. TWD had, up to then, been so relentlessly humorless that the very rare and always brief efforts at comedic moments always looked as if they were edited in from another show (and always came off badly). Fans even complained. Upon our heroes' arrival at the Alexandria Safe Zone, though, Carol suddenly became a wisecracking schemer who smiled for everyone and pretended to be a meek housewife while tossing out snarky quips and secretly plotting to overthrow the Republic. Or at least the Safe Zone leadership. This Carol carried over the do-what-needs-to-be-done ethos of 3.0 and married it with this new element to yield the high-point of the character--my own favorite and if the anecdotal evidence of the internet fan reaction is representative, the fan favorite as well.

But if there's one thing TWD's writers have proven over the years, it's that there's no good thing they can't utterly screw up, so in season 6, they invented and imposed another new personality for Carol. The 4.0 model flushed everything positive they'd built and all the lessons the previous incarnation had been written as having learned and became almost the direct opposite of 3.0, a suddenly weak, weepy woman who, though still capable, randomly decided she just isn't willing to fight for those she loves anymore, leaves and has spent the entire series since--over a season's worth of episodes to date--in self-imposed exile, doing nothing but looking droopy-faced and insisting she wants no part of anyone else's business.

This Carol sucks.

The writers have had a problem with her since shortly after they created 3.0. It's a long-running trope of TWD that anyone who advances, broadly, raw survivalist sentiment--the idea that hard, ugly choices are sometimes necessary in order to survive--is demonized by the writers. Carol's largely pointless murder of the sick people in season 4 was only the latest in a long string of examples of this.

When she was able to make a comeback after being exiled for this, it looked as if the writers may have turned over a new leaf (on that point, at least) but I think that exile itself is also significant. One of this author's long-running critiques of the series involves the fact that Rick is always written as an incredibly incompetent leader. The many personalities the writers have grafted onto Rick are (like the other characters) dumb. Really dumb. They're frequently weak and they always make stupid, wrongheaded decisions that get people killed, yet the series is sort of stuck with Rick as the ongoing leader and central character. As I've often noted, the writers compensate for this by having the other characters give speeches about how Rick is a great leader (which, of course, makes all of those characters look stupid as well). The writers have also became absurdly defensive on this point, making a regular practice of actually killing any character who questions Rick's leadership abilities. With Carol 3.0, the writers created a strong, decisive character, one who, when a problem arises, doesn't dick around, and then saw her become extraordinarily popular. She is, in this sense, a living embodiment of a critique of Rick, one who may even be seen as a rival (she's certainly much more likable). It seems significant that, during the Woodbury 2.0 business, she was in exile.

That wasn't the last time either. Having created such a tough and to-the-point character, the writers have repeatedly resorted to taking her out of the action in order to allow their poorly constructed plots to proceed along the lines they prefer. After the prison exile, she went with Daryl to Atlanta in search of Beth, missing the return of the Terminusians. In Atlanta, she was run over by the "police," putting her in a hospital bed until that business with Beth could play out. When Rick wanted to do his insane zombie parade, she stayed home and baked cookies. That one could sort of be justified--she was pretending to be a wouldn't-hurt-a-fly housewife at the time--but Rick's zombie parade idea was so incredibly stupid, it seems very unlikely that Carol, if asked to weigh in, would have gone along with it. Carol 3.0 wasn't always smart, to be sure.[2] No one on TWD is written as smart. Her to-the-point persona, however, did pull against that sort of thing. Merely by being there, she's a better example than Rick, a  much stronger and more capable character. When the Wolves attacked the Safe Zone, she went into the street and took them out, no mercy, no prisoners. When she tried to deal with Morgan having kept one of them as a prisoner, something Morgan had done without telling anyone, she was again k.o.'d and put out of action. When the writers embarked upon the Saviors storyline, she was already taking on the newer persona. Still capable, when she was taken prisoner she managed to escape and to liquidate her captors but then she went full-on 4.0 and went into exile again before Negan appeared.

This last is more than just another example of the uncreative writers repeating themselves (another long-running problem with the show). Like all the rest, it looks like a move dictated by the necessities of the weak plotting. The writers wished to waste the first half of the present season on filler eps wherein our heroes bent over and acquiesced to the demands of the Saviors and didn't even so much as plan to ever fight back. Can anyone imagine Carol 3.0 going along with such a program? Rather than change the poorly-constructed plot, the writers yet again sent Carol into exile. Since Carol 2.0 launched, she has probably been out of action for various contrived reasons for as many--or more--eps than she's been available for it. In order to make this latest one happen, the writers have assassinated the character. She's being further victimized by the other defects of their plotting--the glacial pace, one-line item plots and filler, filler, filler. In practice, this has meant she just sits around in her adopted house looking sad, repetitively professing her unwillingness to deal with reality or stand with her family (which rubs viewers' noses in those stupid, arbitrary changes) and doing nothing else for ep after ep and ep.

That brings me to tonight's installment, "Bury Me Here." Carol is troubled by thoughts of what may have happened back at the Safe Zone when Negan appeared. A few eps ago, she talked to Daryl but in order to further artificially prolong her exile, the writers had Daryl lie to her and tell her no one back home was hurt. She goes looking for answers at the Kingdom, encounters some zombies and we get an example of her abilities--she pulls up a road-sign, climbs up a tree and takes out the creatures while comfortably sitting there. Morgan won't tell her what really happened, insisting that what she discussed with Daryl is between she and Daryl.

"Bury Me Here" offers multiple examples of the writers failing to watch their own show. When Morgan tells Carol she'll have to take up that matter with Daryl, for example, he tells her Daryl is back at the Safe Zone and repeatedly offers to go back there with her to talk with him. Daryl, of course, can't go back to the Safe Zone--he's a fugitive from the Saviors, who will be looking for him to return there. More to the point, Daryl, before he left the Kingdom, specifically told Morgan that he was going to Hilltop, not the Safe Zone. A few eps ago, after Ezekiel's man Richard had twice gotten into scuffles with one of the Saviors at the Kingdom's regular "tribute" meeting with the villains (more scene duplication), Ezekiel said Richard would no longer be attending those meetings. But--you guessed it!--tonight, there was Richard, attending the next one.[see Update below] Moreover, his presence was essential to the plot because he puts in motion a scheme to cause tension between the two groups in a bid to try to convince Ezekiel to join with the other communities in making war on the Saviors.[3] If this was the course to be taken, would it have been so difficult for the creators to simply remove that earlier line? Or just not have included it in the first place? For that matter, Ezekiel is being written as a half-wit for ever again having Richard attend those meetings after the first instance of trouble.[4]

Early in the ep, Benjamin, Morgan's young trainee at the Kingdom sees Carol take out those zombies from the tree and asks if he can watch her do her thing. He's trying to learn to fight. She turns him down. Later, he goes to fetch Morgan and brings his mentor a picture to hang on the wall. He knows a girl, he says, who fixed it up. He's reluctant to say more about her and gets some good-natured ribbing from Morgan over it. Seasoned viewers will recognize the pattern in this. Watching the ep with my mother, of all people, I turned to her, after Morgan brought up the girl the second time, and told her that kid is going to be dead soon. Sure enough, he didn't make it out of the ep.[5]

The boy's death doesn't just reacquaint Morgan with his killing instinct, it threatens to make him go full-on "Clear." He does do some clearing, in fact, hacking through a bunch of zombies on his way to Carol's place, where he tells her what actually happened between the Saviors and the Alexandrians. It looks like the writers have finally decided it's time to pull Carol out of the mothballs and get her involved again. Another of the writers' longstanding habits is that when a major characters is to be killed, they frequently spend some time making that character unlikable so viewers won't miss him when he's gone. For some time, Carol's storyline--if one can call sitting around doing nothing a "storyline"--has looked very much like her character assassination at the hands of the writers was going to go rather literal.

By TWD standards, this was definitely a passable ep. Ezekiel's Lando Calrissian routine has been both badly handled and needlessly prolonged. How many times are we going to have to repeat the meetings with the Saviors? Morgan's entire story is just a repeat of his arc from last season; after finally learning some things are worth fighting and killing for, he was devolved back to a peacenik so he could go through that same process again. Thirteen eps into this season, he's finally back roughly where he was last season (though it's worth noting that it was done better this second time around and he's meaner by the end of it). Carol appears, by the end, to be back to her 2.0 persona. Everything here that should have happened should have done so much earlier in this season. Besides the problems covered here, this wasn't really a bad ep, taken in isolation. But it doesn't happen in isolation either.

--j.

---

[1] When Andrea was visiting the prison in which our heroes were holed up, a prison that was then in conflict with Woodbury's dictator GINO, Carol took her aside and told her to screw GINO silly that night then, as he slept, put a knife in him. Entirely out of character for Carol 1.0 but indicative of a trait that would become a key element of Carol 2.0.

[2] The big, obvious example of this is that when Rick was plotting his stupid coup against the Safe Zone leadership, she was written as fully committed to going along with it, bending to Rick's leadership like all the rest.

[3] Part of Richard's big plan was to short the Saviors a cantaloupe out of a dozen that were being delivered to them. The Savior leader realizes the shipment is short one melon despite the fact that at no point has anyone told him there were supposed to be an even dozen. Don't mess with Savior magic! But it seems even that magic has its limitations; it didn't tell the Saviors what happened to the missing melon.

[4] Richard must not have been very well-liked in the Kingdom. After his scheme gets Morgan's pupil killed, Morgan, who is the only one who figured out that plot, attacks Richard, puts him down and slowly strangles him to death with his bare hands while the entire Kingdom delegation stand around watching and none of them make so much as a move to try to stop Morgan.

[5] In one of the most jaw-droppingly stupid moments tonight, one of the Saviors shoots the kid in the leg, he's bleeding out and Morgan yells, right in front of the Saviors, that they have to rush the boy to Carol's place, as she's closer than the Kingdom and had a bunch of medical supplies!


UPDATE (Wed., 15 March, 2017) - Several readers have told me that after the second problematic meeting between the Kingdom delegation and the Saviors (in "New Best Friends"), Gavin, the Savior leader, insisted that Ezekiel keep bringing Richard to their meetings, which wasn't my recollection[1] but upon review, is correct. After Richard caused problems for the second time, Ezekiel said he wouldn't be attending these meetings and Gavin replied, "No. No, Ezekiel, you're gonna keep bringing him. 'Cause if this doesn't stop, if this starts becoming a real problem, you remember what I said  He is still batting first in the lineup"--the first head on the chopping-block.

This leads to other narrative problems. The Saviors' arrangement with the Kingdom is a much more cordial affair than with the other communities they keep under their thumb. The Saviors have never killed any Kingdomites or ransacked the Kingdom itself. Rather, the Kingdom provides "tributes" as sort of a negotiated treaty to avoid any such messiness.[2] This has been a beneficial arrangement for the Saviors, who get the spoils of victory without ever having to win one. In Sunday's ep, Gavin tells Ezekiel, "I appreciate that you've been delivering but things have been unnecessarily tense and that makes me unnecessarily tense. I didn't go this route for stress. No, just the opposite." Makes perfect sense. What doesn't make any sense, in light of it though, is why Gavin, a fellow who has proven quite reasonable, would not only continue to drag along Jared, his rat-faced prick of an underling who has caused that "tension"--a pair of physical altercations--during at least two sequential meetings, but would also insist Ezekiel continue bringing Richard, the target of Jared's persistent bullying.[3] It's another of those things that happen merely because the writers want things to play out that way. The script requires that the Kingdom and the Saviors have to be brought into conflict, so everybody gets stupid.

--j.

---

[1] As I'd remembered it, Gavin had told Ezekiel that excluding Richard from the meetings wouldn't fix the problem.

[2] No one in the Kingdom outside of Ezekiel's inner circle even knows of the arrangement.

[3] Through the course of these provocations, neither Richard nor Jared show any sign of having been reprimanded by their respective bosses.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, March 6, 2017

THE WALKING DEAD Say Yes To The Deer

There was a moment on "Say Yes," tonight's installment of THE WALKING DEAD, wherein Rick and Michonne are discussing the future and imagining the downfall of Negan's order. Someone, Michonne suggests, is going to have to be in charge of reordering the world of the survivor communities."It should be you," she tells Rick. "You can do it. You'd be good at it." Rick, of course, has never shown himself to be "good at" much of anything in TWD's long run. One of show's tropes is that the writers, perpetually lost in the fever of Idiot Plot Syndrome, always show Rick to be entirely incompetent then, to justify his continuing position as leader, try to do an end-run around their own bad plotting by having the other characters constantly talking about what a great leader he is. Don't believe your lying eyes! Immediately after Michonne suggests he's cut out to be Maximal Leader, the writers give us another look at Rick's typical leadership skills. He and Michonne, out scavenging for guns and supplies, have happened upon what appears to be an old county fair that, when the world was falling apart, was apparently used by the military as some sort of base of operations. Everyone there, soldiers and civilians alike, are long dead but the many soldier-zombies are still toting their weaponry. Jackpot! But there are probably over a hundred zombies inside the fairground. Does Rick high-five Michonne and return home to collect some extra muscle to take the place? Nope. He decides he and Michonne will try to take on this army of the dead all by themselves.

Clearly, the guy who should be running the world.[1]

The discovery of the fairground, which also came with tons of still-boxed-and-shrink-wrapped MREs, was another magic-trick by the writers who, having wasted over half this season on filler material, are now jamming in these huge, paradigm-altering discoveries one after another. When last we saw Rick, he'd cut a deal with the Garbage People (who were another magic trick); if Rick could arm them, they'd fight with him. Presto! The next time we see Rick, he's finding exactly what he needed, and no one from any of the communities, all of whom have been scavenging throughout this area for something approaching two years, have ever come across it! Other than being just what they needed, the site doesn't make a lot of sense. There are shell-casings scattered around that suggest there was some sort of ferocious fight yet the perimeter fences appear to be entirely unbreached and most of the soldier-zombies are walking around with their weapons conveniently slung and holstered, as if they somehow died without having used them at all. Bored to death while on guard duty? One of the mysteries of TWD.

Adding to the feeling of the ridiculous magic of the discovery, our heroes come across the site in the first place by following an animal spirit-guide. Actually, it's supposed to be a deer but it's rendered in CGI and looks it. It's poking around when Michonne spots it and decides to try to score some venison. And yes, she and Rick do talk about the Deer. Trying to follow it (in a way that proves they've never been hunting in their lives), they walk over a hill, find a fence and beyond it is the fairground. Alas, our heroes will get no more help from this particular spirit-guide. It turns up again later in the ep inside the fairground where it's eaten by a mob of zombies. The lumbering creatures would, of course, have no chance of catching--or even getting near--a real deer but it seems spirit-guide deer aren't as fleet of foot and their real-world counterparts. The writers use the moment to stage their cheapest gimmick of the ep. Rick spots the Deer and, in the midst of killing a massive horde of zombies, decides it's the ideal time to entirely stop what he's doing and try to shoot it. He climbs out on a Ferris wheel to get a better angle, never gets a shot, falls among the dead and is apparently eaten. This is seen from Michonne's point of view; while seasoned viewers should immediately recognize this as some sort of fake-out--the zombies are eating the Deer[2]--she's horrified by it, drops her sword and just sort of stands there in disbelief when Rick suddenly pops out of a crate over to the side like, yes, a rabbit out of a hat. The entire scene is poorly shot and edited in such a way as to reinforce this impression. The deer was nowhere around where Rick fell and Rick was on the ground, prone and surrounded. Escape was impossible and some of the dead in that same shot even drop to their knees to get at  him. There's a very brief cutaway to Michonne then back to the dead, who are having a feast. Then Rick pops out of a box over to the side of the carnage. Absent magic or his being gifted with the powers of the Flash, his getting there is entirely impossible. No zombies followed him to the box either and while he popped out at the dramatically appropriate time--surprise!--there was no other reason for him doing so; for all he knew, the zombies he had just evaded were right on top of him. Perhaps the good spirit-guide Deer, recognizing that Rick is such a great and irreplaceable leader, teleported him to the box and sacrificed itself to save him. Whatever the case may be, it seems remarkable that the writers would pull a stunt like that given the very negative reaction to Glenn's dumpster dive last season but perhaps they were feeling cheeky.[3]

They certainly were elsewhere in the ep, where they once again turn to Z NATION-inspired wackiness for a pretty good little comedy setpiece. Rick and Michonne are trying to push a car into an opening in an internal fence at the fairground to seal off one part of it from the other and allow them to more easily battle the dead. When Rick gets to the car, he discovers a zombie is lodged in its windshield, the creature's head right over the wheel! Rick has a hatchet but does a double-take when he sees it's wearing a helmet! So Rick goes around to the front of the car to pull it out. He grabs its foot and pulls. The foot comes off in his hand. He grabs it by the waist. It splits in half. After much grue, he does finally get it out. He and Michonne start to push the car to the fence and they're fired upon by a zombie with a machine gun! The creature's gun is slung on its shoulder and the trigger was being touched off by some rebar in which the critter had become entangled. Michonne dives into the car trunk to avoid getting shot and Rick discovers the car has no breaks--it coasts right past the hole they meant to fill and right in the midst of the hordes of zombies beyond. What a revoltin' development. This sequence was the highlight of the ep, the one thing that made it worth watching. As happened with another ZN-style setpiece a few weeks ago, someone apparently forgot to let the editor in on the joke. He again edits it as if it was a straight action sequence and again, this makes it even more funny. ZN is a much better show. TWD is much improved by ripping it off.[4]

Our heroes somehow manage to defeat the hundred+ zombies and recover, in total, 63 guns,[5] which, after having been out in the weather for a couple years, appear to be in almost pristine condition. Instead of taking a selection of these weapons and stashing them for his own community's use, Rick takes all of them--every gun--to the Garbage People. Hey, he's a great leader with a record to keep up! Jadis, their leader, tells him it isn't enough. There are twice as many Garbage People as guns and besides, if they agreed to fight now, the plotline couldn't be artificially stretched over several more eps. Rick has to barter with her to get to keep any of the weapons.

Rosita is becoming increasingly angry and bent on going after the Saviors--when Jadis says there aren't enough guns, she becomes enraged.[6] Earlier in the ep, Rosita stops in to see Father Gabriel and goes on an entirely irrational tirade about how, back when she had a gun and a single bullet, Gabriel had talked her out of suicidally trying to kill Negan with it. She asserts that if she hadn't listened to him, Olivia would still be alive, Spencer would still be alive and Eugene wouldn't have been taken by the Saviors. Viewers with a memory of that ep will recall that Rosita actually disregarded Gabriel's advice and did try to kill Negan with that gun. She failed and Olivia was then killed and Eugene taken because of that attempt. And, of course, if she'd succeeded, there's no reason to expect the Saviors would have done anything other than murder the entire Safe Zone population. By no scenario would there be no dire consequences for that action. TWD's ugly misogyny is one of the few long-running defects that has actually been reformed to an extent over the years. It's disappointing to see this sort of backsliding to the days when the women were all written like the writers' least favorite ex-wives. Rick and Michonne found a large cache of guns but because she couldn't find any and is so gosh-darn ragey, impatient and irrational, Rosita sets off to recruit Sasha to help her kill Negan, both conceding this will be a one-way trip for them.[7] As for the consequences to their family back home in the aftermath, they devote not a word. We all know women are overly emotional and entirely irrational, though, right?

When Rosita is explaining why Rick and co. aren't yet ready to make their move, she says they need more guns, more people and, with a tone of bitterness, "more excuses," which, along with her entire current plotline, sounds suspiciously like some sort of unflattering metatextual commentary on those who have taken note of how much time the series has wasted this season. It wouldn't be the first time TWD's writers compound their own shortcomings by taking petty swipes at critics. This mission upon which Rosita and Sasha have embarked is doomed to fail, thus showing those writers were right all along and, as they would have it, putting egg on the face of all those people who want the show to hurry along and the characters to rush into things instead of drag, drag, dragging along with filler-packed snail's pace eps that don't go anywhere. Am I crazy for thinking that perhaps a better solution would be to write a series that didn't earn so much criticism?

--j.

---

[1] Doing it themselves would have been entirely feasible if they'd used the old cover-yourself-in-zombie-guts trick--proven perfect camouflage to walk among the dead. But as usual, the characters only remember this when the writers' plot needs them to do so.

[2] Is this apparent death the final appearance of the Deer? Well, if it is a spirit-guide, I wouldn't count on that. What would TWD be without the Deer?

[3] They're also feeling somewhat romantic. The entire ep sees Rick treating this supply-run like a date with Michonne. After she briefly thinks he's been killed, she tells him she couldn't live without him; in reply, he tells her he could live without her, seeing as how there's all these important future things to be done. Don't it make you feel warm and fuzzy? Rick, it seems, is just as great a lover as he is a leader.

[4] TWD could certainly learn more from ZN. For example, the very nature of a fairground, where this ep takes place, offers many opportunities for gags. TWD made almost no use of this unique setting, other than having Michonne use her real rifle on the shooting gallery (right after that happened, the roof on which she and Rick were standing collapsed and they dropped out of the scene, another visual gag).

[5] And having learned absolutely nothing from their experience with Negan, wherein the detailed log they kept of all of their weapons ensured he was able to confiscate all of them, our heroes made a manifest covering all of these new finds as well.

[6] In one of those inept editing quirks one sometimes gets from TWD, the very next scene is set back at the Safe Zone and Rick is looking for--yep--Rosita, who, after sharing the scene seconds earlier, is supposedly missing.

[7] Sasha says she has a map Jesus created of the outside of the Saviors' compound. Instead of sharing this critical intel, it's presumably going on this suicide mission with her.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, February 27, 2017

THE WALKING DEAD's Half-Dozen Calamities

Tonight's episode of the THE WALKING DEAD goes beyond Thunderdome but doesn't go anywhere interesting. "Hostilities & Calamities" is, instead, by-the-numbers TWD dreariness incarnate, like a greatest hits package of many of my past criticisms of the series.

1) Filler - Yep, this was yet another filler ep featuring yet another one-line plot in which nothing of any real consequence happened. Eugene is taken to the Saviors' compound and Negan, recognizing his skills, gives him a privileged position. This was the explicit reason Negan took him; if any further explanation had been necessary, a competently written series would have disposed of the matter in half a sentence in a later ep.[1]

2) Slam on the Brakes, Throw Out the Drag-Weights - After two eps in a row that had moved at a relatively reasonable clip,[2] this one brings all that momentum to a screeching halt for that static filler story, which ever-so-slowly deals with entirely irrelevant events that occurred prior to the stuff we've been watching for a few weeks now.

3) Repetition Is The Soul of TWD - TWD has a terrible habit of repeating exactly the same material over and over again and this entire ep was just a rehash of material previously covered this season in "The Cell" and "Sing Me A Song." Eugene take the place of Daryl and Coral from those eps, hanging around the Savior compound, learning how things--the same things--work, recovering Negan's marital arrangements and its discontents, watching Negan do his one-note '60s Batman villain act, going among the workers, learning the hierarchy, seeing the nicer apartments Negan's favored are granted (the apartment Eugene is given appears to be exactly the same apartment Negan used to try to tempt Daryl over to his side). It even replicates the scene from the Coral ep wherein Negan gathers his workers to dispose of someone whom he believes has crossed him. In this case, the fellow is killed rather than merely being burned nearly to death. The b-plot replicates the material from those early eps regarding Dwight, the melodrama with his wife and his rocky relationship with Negan, which is yet again challenged and to which he yet again decides to cling. We even get a brief reprise of the dreadful pop tune Dwight previously used to torture Daryl.[3]

4) Where In Hell Is ____ (Character)? - TWD's habit of breaking up the cast and focusing on filler eps that only involve one or a few characters at a time means that large numbers of characters and entire storylines disappear for extended periods. With the midseason break, it's been 2 1/2 months since we've last seen Eugene; viewers could be forgiven if they'd entirely forgotten about him. As this ep began, we see Dwight discovering Daryl's escape immediately after it happened--again, an event that, for viewers, happened 2 1/2 months ago. The Saviors have, in fact, already visited the Safe Zone looking for the fugitive. Two eps ago.

5) Arbitrary Characterization - Eugene has long been a character defined by his cowardice but last season, the writers put him through an evolution which saw him become confident, assertive, brave even to the point of being stupid brave. TWD is allergic to any real character development, so this season, the writers have reimposed Eugene's previous cowardly persona. This, to be fair, isn't a sin specific to this ep--it was done earlier in the season--but Eugene was the star of tonight's installment, so it rubs one's nose in it more than did his brief appearances in prior eps.

6) Stupid Characters Syndrome - At one point, Negan rightly mocks Rick for not making any real use of Eugene's skill-set but Negan himself later liquidates a doctor. A rare commodity in the zombie apocalypse but the way Negan chucks him in a furnace, one would think medical professionals grew on trees. As another stupid and inexplicable turn, the lesson big brain Eugene takes from this--and enunciates--is that Negan doesn't consider people with special skills like himself to be replaceable! Eugene tells Negan about the machine-shop he put together. This would seem a rather valuable resource as well; Negan shows no interest in it.

"Hostilities & Calamities" is a complete waste of space, aimed only at filling another ep in the season order instead of having to write one. Feels like I've written that one a time or two too.

--j.

---

[1] Despite having no real story to tell and being filled with needlessly long scenes and scenes repeated from earlier eps, tonght's installment was allowed to run 10 minutes beyond its usual timeslot. Gotta' get that ad revenue before this walking dead critter dries up for good.

[2] For TWD, at least--admittedly, a not-insignificant caveat.

[3] There's another Z NATION-style gag at one point, where one of the fearsome zombies Negan has fastened to a fence has rotted so much that it simply falls apart as if on cue. In a bit of idiocy, Eugene suggests covering the creatures in molten metal to preserve their bodily integrity and protect the brain but if applied to the head of a zombie as Eugene suggests, molten metal should, of course, fry the creatures brain instantly.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

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--his "New Best Friends" (the title of the ep). 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