Monday, February 16, 2015

Lookit Them WALKING DEAD

"Them," tonight's installment of THE WALKING DEAD, is one of those TWD eps that could be outright great if the writers would just allow it. Very much a minimalist excursion into some of the hard damn times brought on by a world gone dead. The reason minimalism works so well with this series is because it allows its strengths--the better elements of its production design--to come to the fore and, perhaps more importantly, minimizes its major weaknesses--nearly anything that comes out of a characters' mouths. You could see the potential throughout "Them," but the writers kept spoiling it.

As the tale opens, the characters find themselves traveling the backroads of an odd version of Virginia that looks a lot like Georgia and that's suffering the kind of devastating drought one might find in some far-off Southwestern state but never in Virginia or Georgia. Though there's lush foliage all around that seems none the worse for wear, the dry spell seems to have dried up every possible water source and is rapidly doing the same to our heroes, who, bereft of transportation, have taken to walking the roads. One could, if one was so inclined, look at this as a bit of a metatextual joke--in five seasons of TWD, I don't think it has so much as rained--but it isn't really a very funny one.

And there's no place for humor on TWD anyway. The script is mostly the usual cliche-ridden anti-naturalistic faux-profound soap-opera angsting and exposition. TWD's writers haven't any real talent for dialogue but won't allow the actors to show you what their characters are feeling--they make the characters tell you about it. And tell you about it. And tell you about it. Among this, though, were some lines that actually worked, or sort of worked. "Then you won't"--Sasha's pronounced judgment on Noah's questioning whether he will "make it." It's a pitty the drought couldn't prevent this sort of thing from mostly being drowned beneath the same old same ol'. There's a good moment where Maggie is inspecting a car on the side of the road and finds a zombie in the trunk, a frail, sad-looking former woman who had obviously been kidnapped, tied up and left to die there by whoever took her. Maggie initially closes the trunk, not wanting to deal with the sight, but as the creature bumps around, she ops to kill it before leaving but can't get the trunk open again. It's a nice little bit of writing, with very little dialogue. In another moment, Eugene suggests he doesn't think their situation could get any worse and on cue a pack of wild dogs charge out of the forest intent on chowing down on everyone. Yeah, I know. Sasha is quicker on the draw--shoots them down and our heroes cook them and eat them. A perfect opportunity for some jokes, which are, in fact, positively begged by the situation, but TWD's writers fear the series would shatter into a million pieces if they ever allow it to smile about anything, so rather than joking about eating dog it's presented as yet another terribly somber moment. Oh, just look how far our heroes have fallen! This after Daryl was already shown eating a redworm.

Early in the ep, there's a spectacular shot of the worn-out, asses-dragging band wandering up the road in the heat of the day followed by a growing gaggle of slow-shuffling zombies they're too hot and tired to bother killing. That one shot is the highlight of the episode and one of the best shots that has ever appeared on TWD, a series that isn't really noted for the daring of its cinematography. It tells the story of "Them" far better than any of the godawful dialogue with which the writers tell the story.

It's also a source of some really glaring continuity errors. Earlier in the show, Rick is apparently discussing the following dead with Daryl, telling him we'll deal with them when we get to high ground or some other area where we'll have the advantage. The problem: in the shots in which they're having this discussion, the road behind them stretches entirely out of sight in the distance and there isn't a single zombie on it anywhere. The dialogue is completely inexplicable except in retrospect.[See Update below] In the marvelous composition that shortly follows, the dead are present and are shuffling fairly close behind our heroes. A moment later, Sasha and Michonne, bringing up the rear of the living, are talking and the dead are suddenly far behind. Much further away than they were only seconds earlier.

The moment when, after all that heat and toil, it begins to rain is overplayed where a more reserved reaction would have been more powerful. The characters begin to pull out receptacles with which to catch the downpour then, their desperate need for drinking water seeming to have been forgotten, immediately decide instead to take shelter in a nearby barn. More garbage dialogue follows; the series utterly wastes the "we are the walking dead" line from the comic.[1] There's one more inspired beat, a spectacular moment when a collection of zombies try to break into the barn (Seeking shelter from the storm? No zombienadoes on TWD!). Very well edited but a scene without an ending.

The next morning, everything is sunny and peaceful and a new character appears at the barn, bringing, he tells us, good news. A traveling Jehovah's Witness who has been lost in the styx throughout the zombie apocalypse? Only the next ep will tell. This one was a disappointing waste of an ep that, unlike a lot of TWD these days, had a lot of potential.

--j.

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[1] In the comic, the "we are the walking dead" line was an explosive moment that expressed an ugly truth the characters had been unable or unwilling to recognize. The creators of the show are unwilling to recognize it as well; they made it into a punchline to yet another stupid anecdote that effectively reversed its meaning, turning it from a bleak, hard truth to a part of a story about hope--another how-we're-gonna-make-it-through-this lecture. Horrible, horrible writing.


UPDATE (16 Feb., 2015) - Good ol' Spectre, over on the IMDb's WALKING DEAD board, has pointed out to me that there is, in fact, a visible zombie in the background when Rick is talking to Daryl. I went back and looked at it again and I think he's right. When Daryl and Rick look back and begin talking about the zombies, there is what appears to be at least one of them in the road in the far, far distance. On my significantly-less-than-HD tv, it's almost impossible to distinguish, even when I zoom in on it. Watching it in real time, I hadn't seen it at all.

11 comments:

  1. Yay. Now we get to have 5 episodes of them hanging out in a barn

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    1. or just one more episode.

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  2. Ugh. All style and no substance last night. The water shortage seemed forced, especially since they're only 60 miles from DC. You'd think instead of being on the road out in the sticks, they'd be in the surburbs with plenty of oppurtunities to scavenge. But no, they have to hit rock bottom right before they hook up with Aaron.

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    1. Yeah, as someone else has noted you can't walk 2 miles in any direction in the southeast without hitting a water source, even in bad drought years.

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    2. How would you say the "We are the Walking Dead-line" stacks up against the books? The context was very different. Frankly I found it a bit lackluster in the show, whereas in the books it was well-written, put in good context(after Tyreese and Rick's fight) and related a lot more to what this new world is going to put them through. Seemingly painting a much grimmer tone.

      In the show Rick merely seems to suggest that they should, until they find a place to "live", "tell themselves" that they are the Walking Dead. It just didn't feel as complete and interesting.

      Btw, I recently read your articles, many of them very good. I am myself very critical of the show, yet I still find myself giving it 60 minutes of attention every week.

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    3. In the comic, it was an explosive moment that expressed an ugly truth they had been unwilling to recognize. The creators of the show are unwilling to recognize it as well, which is why last night's ep wasted the line as a stupid punchline to yet another stupid, badly-written anecdote.

      Welcome to the Dig. I do write about things other than TWD; it just ended up getting an outsized amount of attention here the last few years (for a lot of weird reasons).

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    4. Good point about just being a punchline to an anecdote instead of actually have it really mean something for the characters and for the series as a whole.

      Well I didn't just read the TWD-articles, but reading "reviews" about this show that isn't mindlessly praising every goddamn thing about them was fascinating. Most other reviewers just spews out praise for it, completely forgetting that maybe something about the show isn't good.

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    5. Yeah, I've thought about doing a round-up of some of the incredibly stupid things that are blogged about TWD but I've never gone further than saving some links. Lebeau (from Le Blog--in my links section) is critical of it and often quite good (though he seems to have mostly stopped writing about it lately), and there are a few others. They're vastly outnumbered, though, by the scores of blogs and Youtube channels that offer up uncritical praise. I've long thought that was one of the reasons my TWD material is so popular; it taps into some underlying discontent with the series, something people feel but never see anyone else voice.

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  3. It rained Season 1 Episode "Guts". But it only rained because they needed it to rinse the guts off of Rick and Glenn to make their stroll through the walkers into a sprint.

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    1. It rained on and off that episode. So it happened a little more naturally

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    2. That's right, I'd forgotten. In both instances, it only happened because of the needs of the plot.

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