Sunday, November 27, 2016
THE WALKING DEAD Makes Viewers Swear [UPDATED BELOW]
It isn't exactly news here that THE WALKING DEAD is in a death spiral. This author predicted it had plateaued back in the midst of season 5 and isn't really surprised to see that the ratings for this season have not only suffered their sharpest decline in the series' history but have fallen to their lowest levels since season 3. Still, TWD is the highest-rated series on cable--it would still be doing relatively healthy business for a cable series if its numbers were 1/4 what they are now. So while the show is over and dead, it's probably going to be a while before it's finally shot in the head.
TWD's creative collapse isn't just a matter of writers who are running on fumes. To be brutally frank, no one working on the show in that capacity ever showed much evidence of having much in the tank in the first place. They're not suddenly doing particularly bad work, as some of the series' increasingly weary fans have suggested. It's just that all of their bad habits, uncorrected over the years by their seeming indifference in the face of big ratings, appear to be finally wearing on more and more viewers.
Tonght's installment, "Promise," isn't going to be arresting this trend.
Showrunner Scott Gimple loves to break up the cast and scatter them to the four winds in order to do eps focused on only a few characters. To note the obvious (as I tend to do while often noting I'm doing it), this is entirely unnecessary--Gimple could still do eps like that with most of the cast remaining together. Among TWD's many borrowings from daytime soaps, the series moves with the speed of a drowsy snail on a slow day and Gimple's love of fragmentation only exacerbates this. The series has presently regressed to Mazzara Era levels of filler. What now passes for a "plot" is usually no more than a one-line item--one story point or development that actually matters or moves things somewhat forward, with everything else just extraneous stuffings used to pad out the rest of the hour. The main cast of TWD has only been together once in this entire season--in the opener in which most of them didn't have so much as a single line of dialogue. Every ep so far has been set at a different location with a only a few of the central characters present, while other characters entirely disappear for long stretches. Of the six eps so far aired, Rick, who is the star of the show, hasn't appeared at all in three and was only present for a few minutes in one of the others. Tonight's ep focused on Tara, who has been entirely absent from the series for 9 or 10 eps (this sudden spotlight on her doesn't bode well for her health).
Tara is out scavenging with Heath, they're attacked by zombies and get separated and, repetition being the soul of TWD, she finds an all-new survivor community--the second in only four eps. This one is a hidden community of fearful women, who, it's revealed, have tangled with the Saviors, lost and fled after the Negan's thugs killed all of their men. Now, they're paranoid about any outsiders--as in, they usually just try to kill them. They try to kill Tara too, but she escapes, promising a girl who aids her that she wouldn't reveal their existence. Tara gets away solely because the women on her tail, who are supposed to be so terrified at the prospect of their location being compromised that they murder anyone who happens upon it, are afflicted with TWD's patented Stupid Character Syndrome and simply decline to pursue her. Also noteworthy is that Tara, for this ep, received one of TWD's patented personality transplants and is suddenly acting like a silly teenager, which has been no part of her character up to this ep. As the story opens, she and Heath talk about having been out scavenging for two weeks, which should put them pretty far from the Safe Zone but after she escapes the women, Tara is able to easily walk home in what appears to be a single day.
Like last week's installment, this wasn't as badly underwritten as the other s7 eps have been. It just isn't very interesting. Tara is a very minor character and no one will recognize the "Tara" who appeared tonight anyway. Maybe this new version will find some favor. There's nothing here, though, to bring back those viewers who have been leaving the show.
UPDATE (28 Nov., 2016) - The premise and various story elements of "Swear" are similar to "Sisters of Mercy," an episode from the first season of Z NATION. It, too, featured a community of women who had been abused by men and were ruled by a stern matriarchal figure, they also killed strangers, albeit apparently only males ones, and also tried to get one of the series' regular characters to stay. The ZN version exiled their male children upon their reaching pubescence; in the TWD version, all male children over the age of 10 were killed by the Saviors. The two stories themselves are quite different and I initially resisted writing about this because I thought this community may have come from a point in the TWD comics beyond what I've read. From some reading I've done today--and if I get anything wrong about the comic here, I'm sure someone will correct me--it seems the Oceanside community is drawn from the comic but the the comic version included men, was very laid back and friendly instead of hostile and had never been mistreated by men. The changes made to the tv version were, it seems, all in the direction of aping Z NATION, which, of course, isn't the first time this has happened (ZN lifts elements from TWD as well but tends to make much better use of them). The Oceanside community doesn't turn up in the comics until quite some time after the material the tv series is currently exploring. This ep ended with Tara keeping her promise and declining to share any information about the community with her own people and since it's likely, given the comic timeline, that Oceanside may not even reappear this season, this can't help but make this entire ep feel like an exercise in filler. A diversion from what little plot there is, one that didn't need to be addressed for a long time to come.