Monday, December 2, 2013


TWD has been extremely uneven this season. Showrunner Scott Gimple and his team have crafted a significantly reformed version of the series that, as I've noted here, often seems intentionally aimed at rejecting, refuting and righting some of the worst rubbish of the Mazzara era. Glen Mazzara continues to cast a long shadow over the series though, and parallel to this effort, TWD has repeatedly backslidden into that same cretinous creative cul-de-sac of error, laziness and poor decision-making. These trends began to come together in last week's episode and spectacularly collided in tonight's.

It's easy to read a lot of metatextual commentary in this season's TWD and an angle about which I nearly wrote last week was whether the Gimple Gang was taking its big textual Theme for this season--can we come back from the bad things this world has made us do?--and applying it to their handling of the series. Can TWD really come back from the godawful Mazzara era? The last two episodes have featured a blatant rehash of the Woodbury storyline from season 3 and it's impossible to see this as anything other than Gimple trying to prove he can do it better than Mazzara.[1] No one could seriously argue that Mazzara's handling of what had been one of the absolute high points of the comic was anything short of godawful, the authorial equivalent of a pirate raid without any cool pirate stuff. He showed it no respect, pillaged and raped it and didn't come up with anything better, anything as good or anything that in any aspect would deserve to have the word "good" applied to it. That is, however, a crime that can't be uncommitted. Sure, it can be redone and handled better--tonight's ep proves that--but doing it far better is, forgive me, comically easy. It can effortlessly top the original without even being very good--something else tonight's ep proved. Spending a chunk of the season rehashing such a storyline may prove you're better than Mazzara but what it really means is that you didn't have anything else of your own to say. It's a sequel that's basically a remake; even if it works, why bother?

So what TWD delivered tonight was something closer to what it should have delivered in season 3. Taken in isolation, the episode itself was an a stupid but at-times-entertaining diversion. The more interesting "Brian Heriot" had, last week, been devolved back to GINO with the instantaneousness of a light-switch being flipped, to the point that even when his new "daughter" had been attacked by a zombie, he'd simply shot the creature and coldly stalked off without bothering to comfort the child or even inquire about her well-being. Tonight's ep backed away from that to an extent and he is given a few scenes that suggest he genuinely cares about his adopted "family." Whereas back in season 3 he'd had no motive (beyond being the series' designated villain) for wanting to attack the prison, the present rehash restores the motive of the parallel character from the comic--he wants the prison because it's a better and safer place to live. There is dark irony; while GINO is trying to take over the prison to secure his families' survival, his "daughter" is bitten by a zombie and dies; at the end, it's his lover who puts a bullet through his own brain. There are a few noteworthy moments of a visceral variety. Daryl using a dead zombie as a shield/disguise in order to take out a tank was a nice touch. I liked the fact that, when trouble turned up, the prison group had an escape strategy in place. That's such a minor detail that it would barely seem worthy of mention but it represents yet another major break with and repudiation of Mazzara's TWD, which, as I've so often noted, never spent a moment on such basic survival matters except to demonize them.[2] The concluding moments featured some nice, Romero-esque shots of roaming, rotting zombies inheriting the earth.

Any kind words directed at "Too Far Gone," though, come with some serious caveats.

Its first line, GINO addressing his Woodbury 2.0 group, is, "I have to talk all of you into doing something." That particular "something" being to attack the prison and drive out its occupants. Last week, the just-add-water ease with which GINO, an almost total stranger to these people, took over as their leader wasn't believable and it's even less believable that what mostly appear to be a group of ordinary people would not only readily acquiesce to participate in such a monstrous act but would follow GINO as he nearly decapitated a defenseless old man right before their eyes, destroyed the prison's defenses (the very reason they wanted the place) and provoked a heavily armed resistance from its defenders, who had done them no harm at all and had offered to let them live there. In spite of it all, most of them follow GINO right to their doom with the devotion of some fanatical cult. Or like a herd of zombies.

Prior to the debut of season 4, I offered an evaluation of Scott Gimple in which I noted his apparently extreme disdain for Rick. "His reign," I suggested, "could mean hard times for Rick fans." That was certainly the case tonight, when the creators subjected Rick to yet another full-blown character assassination. When GINO shows up with an army on his doorstep and demands a parlay, Rick rather jaw-droppingly demurs, limply asserting he doesn't run things anymore and that there's now a governing council. When he finally makes his way to the fence and talks, his voice cracks, he seems perpetually on the verge of tears, and with hilariously bad accent blinking in and out by the second, he virtually begs his enemy not to make a fuss. In the face of a massive existential threat, this is as pathetic and weak and stupid a Rick as TWD has ever presented. When, later, he and GINO get at one another hand-to-hand, I found myself wishing GINO would kill him, then almost immediately wishing they could both just kill one another.

There are other problems. At that fence parlay, GINO gives a little speech to Rick then repeats it 3 or 4 times. Apparently the ep needed a little extra running-time and no one could think of anything more for the unidimensional cartoon villain to say. Rick, for his part, ends up reciting the season's big Theme, telling Woodbury 2.0 "we can come back," though in context it doesn't make a lick of sense.[3] Characters on TWD often have magical, Wolverine-style healing powers and these were on overdrive tonight. GINO slices into Hershel's neck with Michonne's katana, cutting perhaps a third of the way through it, and Hershel is still alive and tries to crawl away! But he doesn't make it. Michonne later skewers GINO on the same blade but GINO proves a tough fucker, too--even long after having a sword shoved right through his heart, he's still alive for his girlfriend to come along and self-righteously put down--a fan-service double kill. The teleporting zombies the series has so often featured were back with a vengeance tonight--as soon as the fence around the prison comes down, they materialize well within the prison grounds, attacking the living on both sides. And so on.

I think it would have been interesting tonight to have on hand Karen, the sole survivor of GINO's massacre, last season, of Woodbury 1.0. TWD is, unfortunately, long in the habit of killing off people who would lend interesting dynamics to a given scenario. T-Dog was responsible for Merle's loss of his hand, and a confrontation between them, when Merle returned, would have been fodder for drama. At the very least, it would have given T-Dog something to do except be black. Instead, T-Dog was killed off before Merle had reunited with the group. Merle himself offered an invaluable dynamic to the group, both via his brother and through his rocky relations with everyone else. Lots of dramatic opportunity there and the excellent Michael Rooker essaying the part but was killed off before any of this could be explored. Karen's absolutely pointless murder by an entirely-out-of-character Carol earlier this season--a plot decision made with the knowledge GINO was going to be at the gates of the prison a few eps later--is just the latest example.

The series did break another related Mazzara-era habit tonight in killing off Hershel. As I've often noted, the series has handled the sticky, potentially audience-alienating matter of killing regulars by either relegating such fates to redshirted non-entities (like Karen) or, if the character is a major player, so demonizing them that by the time they die, the audience is glad to see them go. In the entire run of TWD, Hershel was the first unquestionably major player to be killed who wasn't subjected to this treatment. Unfortunately, he was subjected to another Mazzara-era abuse; it's the habit of TWD to telegraph character deaths by suddenly making those about to die the central focus of an episode. Hershel was the central focus of his last complete ep ("Internment"). Some bad habits, it seems, die hard. I don't approve of the habit of some fans of making the deaths of regulars a thing they anticipate or of TWD's habit of catering to this by using such deaths for shock effect but in this case I'll take half a loaf. It's more than we'd gotten before.

As things stand, our heroes are scattered and have fled the prison, though it's still standing, still usable and there really isn't any need to leave it other than the metatextual desire to have the group move on. At the midseason break, TWD still sways between the promising reformism of this season and that long shadow Glen Mazzara casts over the production. It's still written subservient to a predetermined Theme, rather than with an eye toward going with what works. Every two or three steps forward seems to be accompanied by a step backward. I'm not really sure what its future holds but the pointless rehash of season 3 is finally over and the Gimple Gang can get back to doing something else.



[1] This was so blatant that when GINO's Woodbury 2.0 marches on the prison, it announces its presence by blowing up one of the prison's guard-towers, just as the 1.0 version did last season.

[2] If someone on Mazzara's TWD had suggested taking a moment away from the relationship melodrama to create an escape plan in the event of trouble, he would have been presented as a war criminal or child rapist, his plan entirely self-serving in some terrible way.

[3] Rick could have made clear to the assembled who and what GINO was and he'd have the survivors of Woodbury (to whom he only made a passing reference) to back him. Since GINO was insisting there was nothing personal in his actions, he could have offered to take in everyone except GINO. Nothing personal (a few eps earlier, Rick had pitilessly exiled Carol; now, weepy Rick offers to take in GINO!). He could have flatly told the lot of them that if they cross that fence, his people would make it a point to kill as many of them as they could (it's horrible to think that Mazzara better understood the likely reaction of ordinary people to such a threat than the current Gimple regime). There are about 10,000 things a competently written Rick could have done and several he should have done. Instead of striding down to the fence and playing it smart, he's cowardly, weepy, dumb, and weak--disgusting to watch.