Monday, March 10, 2014

WALKING DEAD Alone, But Still Smilin'

This week was a bit of a middling ep of THE WALKING DEAD. "Alone" is a big step down from last week and had several problems but still enough noteworthy moments to keep them from entirely overwhelming the proceedings.

The ep threw me a curveball with its opening, a series of events I read as a great little joke aimed at Mazzara-era TWD. The cold opening is excellent, a music-video flashback showing how Bob, his previous companions having been wiped out in some conflagration, wandered aimlessly through a world gone dead before being found by the prison group. It's a terrific, bleak little minimalist essay on a fellow who has been through hell and seems to have lost everything, including any understanding of why he's bothering to continue walking around breathing. Bob has, to date, been a bit of a background character, and whenever such a character was given a prominent spotlight on Mazzara-era TWD it meant he'd be toast before the ep ended. After this flashback, focus shifts back to the present, and Bob, Maggie, and Sasha are huddled in a bank of fog fighting off zombies as they appear. It's a pretty good sequence. For a moment, it seems as if our heroes will be overwhelmed, and almost immediately Bob is bitten, which, of course, is certain death. When the fighting is over and he inspects himself, though, it turns out the zombie got only a mouthful of the bandage covering a gunshot wound he received at the prison. Bob makes it through this evening's episode, smiling most of the way. And yes, that was worth the laugh I offered it.

I was pleased to see that, after being given a bit of a spotlight in the last ep, Beth didn't die this week. Score another for the Gimple gang. She even had a few more good moments with Daryl, with whom she's growing closer.[1] There was a great horror-movie sequence wherein an unseen assailant apparently brings a gaggle of zombies to the door of the funeral home where the two are staying. With the creatures virtually piling over one another to get at him, Daryl leads them to the basement and has to fight them off with only a pair of embalming tables separating him from the horde. He manages to escape, but someone--probably whoever brought the dead there--has kidnapped Beth and driven away. Beth may not make it yet!

As all of this indicates, this was yet another episode featuring various groups of characters wandering the countryside in the wake of the fall of the prison, the fifth such ep so far. It featured an unnecessary amount of filler. Nowhere near as bad as usual, but the pace could have used some real tightening, particularly in the sequences featuring Bob, Maggie, and Sasha, which have been overly repetitive (and not only in this ep).

While the wanderings of the characters give viewers a look at more of the world in which the series is set--something TWD has needed for a long time--it's also the case that the longer they wander, the more rankling is the Idiot Plot issue. On Mazzara's TWD, every bit of plot progression was made entirely dependent upon every character being a complete idiot at all times, and this is yet another example of it. "Too Far Gone" established that the prison group did, in fact, have a rendezvous point in case anything went wrong--it's impossible to imagine people in that situation wouldn't. But there's been no mention of it since. Tonight, Maggie and co. were looking for Glenn, not by trekking to any planned rendezvous but by making ever-widening circles away from the prison. Worse, the last several eps have set most of the major characters to following a series of signs along the railroad promising safe haven at the end of the line. They're doing this instead of looking for one another. Tyreese, who is with Carol and the children, is following the tracks instead of looking for his sister. Sasha, traveling with Maggie and Bob, hasn't done anything to try to find her brother,[2] and has wagged in disapproval of Maggie's efforts to find Glenn. While Maggie has searched for Glenn, she's shown no interest at all in finding her own sister, and, tonight, gave up the search for Glenn too, choosing to follow the tracks and mark the signs with messages to him. Beth hasn't looked for her sister. Daryl, who is with her and for whom the group was the closest thing he'd ever had to a real family, hasn't looked for anyone either--he just assumes they're dead. He and Michonne would be the most capable in tracking down the others; she, with Rick and Carl, is, instead, just following the railroad. The characters walking the tracks instead of looking for one another have expressed the belief that they'll probably find any of the others who are still alive at the promised sanctuary, a completely ridiculous assumption with no in-story rationale that has been inserted solely because the writers want the characters to follow that railroad to whatever awaits them at the end.

The other weakness in "Alone" is the silly melodrama that accompanied the Bob/Sasha/Maggie plot. Sasha, for no real reason than to provide a plot, suddenly wants to stop and find a new place to live rather than following the tracks to their terminus. Maggie, hearing Sasha's plans, abandons her companions in the night, intent on following the railroad herself, a completely ridiculous and unnecessarily dangerous decision--traveling together is obviously safer, and if the other two want to stop somewhere, Maggie could continue from there alone if she liked. But the Theme of the evening, reflected in the ep's title, is that Maggie just can't do it alone, so she leaves only to be reunited with Sasha later, to whom she offers up some of TWD's trademark cliché-ridden anti-naturalistic speechifying about how she just can't do this on her own. The trio are reunited. Everyone smiles. Isn't that sweet?

So tonight is, like so many eps this season, somewhat a mixed bag. Not a bad show by TWD's ridiculously low standards, and with some worthy moments, but still indicative of a series mired in some unfortunate habits and still falling well short of its potential.

--j.

---

[1] They find an embalming room where zombies who have died have been stretched out and professionally prepared for burial, a sign that someone, whoever managed the funeral home, still thought they were worthy of that respect. It's a small touch, but of the kind TWD needs, and I liked it. The moments spent with Beth and Daryl have taken on a vague atmosphere of wandering souls trying to find, in a world of horrors, some semblance of a good life, one worth the living. I like this very much.

[2] Tonight, the writers inserted a hint of an explanation, that Sasha is afraid to know if Tyreese is alive or dead--the sort of "explanation" that only flies on bad soap melodramas.

6 comments:

Max Headroom said...

I was impressed with this one. It moved well enough and had enough suspense to keep me from thinking about all the idiot moves the characters are making. Bob is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters. I like his new "it's the zombie apocalypse, but it's the zombie apocalypse with friends" attitude. I like Beth and Daryl are progressing. And I was totally blown away by the twist with Beth. After she and Daryl had their little moment, the walkers attack and they get separated! I thought Beth was a goner. So what a surprise to see a far more conventional turn of events. Nice to see the marauders as well. I can't wait to find out how Daryl handles them.

But I completely agree about the heart-to-heart between Sasha and Maggie. Just terrible.

Kaye said...

This week's episode wasn't terrible. It wasn't necessarily the best, but it certainly wasn't the worst. I was just glad to see that Bob actually made it to the end of it more, or less, unscathed.

It gotta say, this is the first season in a long time where I am actually starting to care about the characters again. But with only a few episodes left, it seems like it took the current show runner far too long to gain his footing.

Admittedly, I was ready to abandon this show after season three. This show had (has?) a lot of potential, and I had hope that it would become so much more. And while the quality of the show has certainly improved over the last few episodes, depending on how things are handled from here on in will determine whether or not I bother to tune in to this show in the season to come.

Anonymous said...

These episodes have been pretty interesting. For years everyone has wanted them to leave atlanta.leave the farm.leave the prison. I like that each episode has tried to make whatever new setting they stumble into have a personality of its own. Like the golf course they made a interesting story of it that when the zombies happened the rich entitled people and the staff had a meltdown and killed each other that wouldnt of happened in another season gimple is good at that stuff. And of course the less episodes dealing with rick and carl the better. The terrible and cheesy dialog is still here bit at least there has been more detail put into the world. It seems when the actors are given more control is when the characters have been good like daryl and merle. Andrew lincoln should be more like that.
Dont most shows have a 'bible' the base everything on so they dont end up making stuff up along the way do you think that is the problem.having a succesful comic book to fallback on gives them an easy way out of any actual planning.

lebeau said...

We disagreed over last week's episode, Still. I thought it was one of the worst of the season. So I actually consider Alone to be a small step up from Still.

On the whole, I think both episodes were primarily filler. I give them some credit fro trying to make us care about characters like Beth and Sasha before they inevitably kill them off. Previously, the show would try to make us care for 5 minutes and then kill them immediately which never worked. Gimple seems to be dedicating the back half of the season to fleshing out the supporting cast.

It's a good strategy. Problem is, TWD doesn't handle the character stuff very well. Beth is quickly becoming the most annoying character on the show. Most of the character notes fall flat because they are dictated by the theme of the episode. You can tell by the one-word titles what everyone is going to be hung up on.

Aside from the kidnapping, was there anything to suggest the horde didn't just show up on the doorstep? I agree, it makes more sense for someone to have herded them there - although I'm not sure how anyone could do so with that degree of success.

Honestly, I couldn't suspend my disbelief that 1. Daryl just opened the door so nonchalantly dog or no 2. There were that many zombies hanging out on the porch ready to pounce on him and 3. Daryl survived without so much as a bite. I know he's super human and all, but that was too many zombies in too little space. He should be dead.

And good lord! Don't let them drag this Beth thing out forever!

You covered the problem with the rendezvous point. That is no small matter. It is a huge strike against every episode in the second half of the season. And Terminus might as well be called Lazy Writing.

Yes, this is better than last season. But last season was unspeakably bad. This season (especially the second half) has not risen above "meh". And strengths are offset by equal or greater weaknesses.

Next week looks interesting though. I kind of want to watch a show about Carol instead.

The Joesen One said...

So I just noticed something: it's the new writers of Gimple that produce mixed episodes while the Mazzara/season 2 Darabont writers that actually write the solid episodes:

Mazzara:
*Scott Gimple - current showrunner, wrote good "30 Days Without an Accident", plus next week's episode "The Grove"
*Angela Kang - wrote boring/bad eps of the past two seasons, writes fantastic "Infected" and polarizing "Still"
*Nichole Beattie - wrote last season's "Sick" and "Home", responsible for "Live Bait" aka the most interesting Governor ep ever and solid "Claimed"
*Robert Kirkman - we all know him, wrote worst ep of season "Isolation", and polarizing "After"; possibly and sadly only exception to this rule.

Gimple:
*Matthew Negrete - wrote ok "Indifference", co-wrote "Inmates"
*Channing Powell - mixes filler with exciting tension; "Inmates" and "Internment"
*Curtis Gwinn - also suffers from mixed filler-action; this episode and "Dead Weight" aka revoked the interesting Governor
*Seth Hoffman - produces completely mixed eps, Gimple's co-writer is spectacularly awful Ghost Rider 2; "Too Far Gone" & "Claimed"

So in essence, the Mazzara & season 2 Darabont writers improved, while the new writers need a bit more work.

By the way, I liked this episode. It's pretty ok, although I agree with you about the melodrama part.

cinemarchaeologist said...

Bob's attitude sort of goes along with the parts of what's happening with Daryl and Beth I've liked. The idea of trying to hold on to parts of The Good Life is a constant theme of the comics. Its nearly complete absence from the series throughout season 2 and 3 is yet another indication of how wrong a path it had taken.

I mentioned that the last several eps have given viewers a much-needed look at the larger world. Way back in my very first article here on TWD, I wrote:

"In the comic, when the characters are out on the road, they're short of everything, starving, stinking, at the mercy of the elements, of zombies, of other humans, and are rarely far from devastating harm. There was little sense of this in the series, and the atmosphere of desperation it produced was almost entirely absent."

Not everything needs to be spelled out in detail, of course, but leaving the complete collapse of civilization at the level of mere inference had serious dramatic ramifications. The characters drifted from one safe-haven to another while the narrative offers no guide as to how very rare and special a safe haven can be in this world. They spent season 2 on a nice, safe farm with all the comforts of home, and all they did was stress and bicker over personal matters that, if their situation had been properly contextualized, would be utterly ridiculous as a primary concern. After the farm was overrun, they spent 8+ months wandering around, and, again, viewers were denied any glimpse of the larger world--the series time-jumped over it and the next season began with their finding and moving into the prison. In the absence of illustrating the conditions in which they were living in that gap, the question that loomed large over the third season was, why would they even bother with the prison? It's a dingy, claustrophobic shit-hole, and dangerous--whereas we know they made it through those 8+ months on the road without a single death or serious injury, people begin dying and suffering injury almost immediately after they move into it. And when GINO appeared, why on earth would they fight for the facility?

The characters' efforts this season to hold on to The Good Life and all its simple pleasures is a Gimple innovation for the series, and this look we've been getting at the larger world provides those efforts with the context needed to make them dramatically effective.

This is definitely one of the reasons I thought last week's ep was effective, Lebeau. Daryl had decided life was over, while Beth was saying, hey, life goes on, and the ep decided the world that's been lost wasn't always so great anyway, so fuck it all. I'm definitely a sucker for that; I wrote a string of zombie tales myself a few years ago around that idea.

Last night, I immediately thought the zombies had been intentionally herded to the door, using the dog as bait. That was the obvious implication--the dog yelped in pain just before Daryl opened the door, presumably as it was eaten.

I hope the time Gimple is spending on the characters isn't just a lead-up to their being bumped off. Insert my standard litany about how TWD can't work if it isn't a character study. A series of this nature needs to spend time with all of the characters.

Mazzara's writers have definitely improved this season. Angela Kang is the most impressive example. I'm left to wonder if this is because Mazzara so entirely stifled them, because Gimple exercises a strong influence over them, or because they're just coming into their own. Or a combo of the above.