Monday, December 3, 2012

WALKING DEAD Viewers Made To Suffer

My articles, here, have rather exhaustively documented the wretchedly low quality of the writing of much of THE WALKING DEAD. The persistence of this awfulness suggests a fundamental problem with the authorial talent, namely, the almost complete lack of it. It's a harsh judgment. The writers of TWD have earned it. Earlier this week, I was discussing it over on the Internet Movie Database "Walking Dead" board. A poster, there, suggested the series was its own creature, and that its critics have to stop comparing it to the comic. I replied:

"It's dishonest to say 'you guys have got to move away from the comics here' when the series creators abjectly refuse to do the same. There is, to put the matter more acutely, zero creative work going into the writing of TWD. The writers have taken all of their storylines and nearly all of their characters (along with a large number of random plot scenarios) right out of the comics. And every change they make in adapting the comic to screen--their contribution to it--is for the worse, fouls up things that make sense in the comic, and just makes a mess of what is, in the original, a very well-written tale. The rubbish with which they fill it is, in almost every case, merely cribbed from bad movies and, in particular, soap operas. There's no creativity at work, here--they're just pillaging a superior source and a large compost pile of inferior ones."

Tonight's midseason ender, titled, appropriately, "Made To Suffer," offered even more examples of what I was describing in that little rant.

It kicks off, though, with an example of the same impeccable sense of drama TWD's writing team has always displayed: after spending the entire season building up the conflict with Woodbury (and with Rick and co. armed to the teeth and right outside the town's walls), they abruptly cut away from it entirely, in order to spend the opening of their closer introducing a whole new group of characters. Leading them is a big, hammer-wielding fellow named Tyreese. He's a fan favorite from the comic, but here, he's merely used for filler, something to add running-time to yet another terminally underplotted adventure. To be fair, filler, properly speaking, doesn't add anything but running-time, and that's not really the case here. The arrival of Tyreese is a significant event. It's just totally out-of-place in this particular episode.

As it turns out, it spells bad news for Oscar, as well. TWD has taken a lot of ribbing for treating T-Dog as the Token Black Guy, an obvious redshirt given virtually nothing to do except be black until such time as he could be bumped off. Earlier this season, the writers introduced Oscar, one of the inmates at the prison our heroes have made home. In the same episode in which Oscar was accepted into the group, T-Dog was finally allowed to be eaten by zombies. At the time, it led to a lot of Token Black Guy jokes on the various TWD message boards. At the time, some of these jokes were of questionable taste. Tonight, the writers lived down to all of them, though. The opening introduces Tyreese--by the end of the ep, Oscar is pushing up daisies.

In the comic, the Governor was a fellow who had abandoned himself to abject barbarism--a living symbol of what the world of the dead could do to people if they allowed it. He was set up as the ultimate contrast to Rick, who constantly struggled to hold on to his humanity in a world in which it seemed a burden. Rick and a much larger group of survivors had built something resembling a community at the prison, and it was suggested that the Governor wanted it because it was so much better than Woodbury, which was subject to constant assaults by the dead, and was difficult to keep together. The tv version has reversed this, and makes Woodbury the idyllic locale. Tonight, tv TWD's "Governor" (GINO the Liam Lesser) explicitly rejected the idea of moving Woodbury's population to the prison. He wants to exterminate the group presently occupying it. He offers no reason for this, and, in fact, has no reason, other than that he's the designated villain.

The fact that the Governor kept Penny, his zombified "daughter," on a leash in his apartment was, in the comic, just another example of his Sick-Fuck-ism. It even hints at a sexual attraction to her. GINO, by contrast, is the kinder, gentler "Governor," who genuinely loves and wants to somehow restore Penny. This and she become the subject of multiple scenes, this week, in which the big, tough villain becomes a mewling baby. This kind of pussification is aimed at making the character more "sympathetic," thus loudly breaking from the comic, where the entire point of the Governor is that there isn't a sympathetic bone in his very bad-to-the-bone body. But while the creators want to make a show--or, more appropriately, whimpers--of breaking from the comic, they don't have anything better--or even remotely as good--to replace what they're trying to overwrite. The Governor is the comic's greatest villain, a vibrant, mainacal, single-mindedly evil character who marked a natural progression of the central theme of TWD. GINO is just another b-movie villain.

After Rick's group sneak into Woodbury and rescue Glenn and Maggie, Michonne slips away and hides out in GINO's apartment with her trademark scowl, the only facial expression TWD can give to its Angry Black Woman caricature version of the character. It's another moment cribbed from the comic, and another one robbed of the logic and the power it had there. Comic Michonne was sexually tortured by the Governor. Repeatedly. When she went so far as to slip away and hide out at his apartment, it was to lay her vengeance upon him. TV's TWD, as pussified as its "Governor," had no intention of subjecting its milquetoast, middle-American audience to any of that, but, without it, Michonne has little reason to go after GINO in this way. GINO sent his men to kill her a few episodes ago, and viewers are supposed to find this sufficient cause. Another example of very powerful material being replaced by standard-issue b-movie-ism.

TWD's chronic Idiot Plot Syndrome kicks in, big-time. Throughout this season, Michonne was constantly accumulating evidence that Woodbury wasn't safe, was constantly trying to get Andrea to leave, and was constantly refusing to share, with Andrea, any of that evidence she'd collected, even when Andrea demanded it. Tonight, after fighting it out with GINO and blinding him in one eye, Michonne is confronted by a pistol-wielding Andrea, who, appearing, presumably, to service and be serviced, isn't happy at all about what she sees, and offers up the standard cliché rhetorical: "What have you done?"

Possible response: "I'm here with your old gang to rescue Glenn and Maggie. This trash"--and she'd wave her sword at the mewling GINO on this beat--"kidnapped them. While you were polishing his knob up here, he's had them tortured in the basement. Oh, and by the way, he sent his men to kill me right after I left Woodbury. See this nice gunshot wound in my leg?"

But instead of any of this (and solely because the writers want to continue to drag out this matter), Michonne doesn't say a word again. She just leaves.

GINO gets his eye taped up and goes out to make a ludicrously misplaced George Bush Jr.-style speech to his followers about "terrorists" (quite topical, if it had been offered a decade ago). The big cliffhanger on which things end is that his men have captured Daryl, and GINO opts to use Merle as a scapegoat for the "attack" by Rick's group. Whatever.

TWD, at mid-season, remains a show mired in crises. Lots and lots of them. One is a creative crisis. The crisis, there: No creativity. It lacks the guts to tell anything remotely as bleak as the comic it allegedly adapts, yet doggedly refuses to step away from that comic and strike out on its own, choosing, instead, merely to pillage and travesty one character after another, one storyline after another. In an era of groundbreaking, high-quality dramatic television, the iron was hot for a series based on this property. That this is what we get instead is a damned shame.