Monday, December 5, 2016
THE WALKING DEAD's Dirge Continues [UPDATED BELOW]
THE WALKING DEAD offered up yet another 90-minute episode this evening, the 2nd in only four weeks. This one--"Sing Me A Song"--has quite a bit more meat than did "Service," the previous effort, but it lacked any payoff. It just fills the allotted time then very abruptly ends.
When a nowhere character on TWD is suddenly made the focus of an ep or storyline, it usually doesn't bode well for his future health and this was a tale centered on Coral, a character who is usually treated as a background-noise redshirt but whom, it's conventionally assumed, wears the same indestructible plot-armor as Rick.
Several of my Golden Oldie Gripes were on full display this evening. Arbitrary shifts in characterization, nonsensical turns of events that happen only because the writers want them to happen, magical coincidences and setting up the main story, plot progression being made dependent upon the characters being written as complete idiots. Coral infiltrates Negan's compound in the back of a supply truck armed only with a knife and intent on doing away with the smiling no-goodnik. What, exactly, is the plan here? To somehow use his knife to kill Negan in the heart of the villain's lair, surrounded by Negan's heavily armed henchmen then... what? He isn't suicidal. The ep makes that plain. He's just out for revenge. The writers want to do an ep wherein Negan sort of takes him under his wing for a while, so they have him intentionally put himself in a situation he can't possibly survive, just because. Fortunately, the truck comes rather conveniently equipped with a fully-automatic weapon, which appears right at the moment Coral needs it. Unfortunately, Coral is no more intelligent with a gun in his hand than he was with the knife. When Negan's men begin to unload the vehicle, he shoots one of them, bursts into the open and declares he only wants Negan. "No one else has to die!" Negan is there--he'd come out to meet the truck. Instead of gunning down his intended target on sight, the way he just had that faceless minion, Coral just stands there, lets Negan prance around chewing the scenery for a bit then some guys rush and disarm him (in the scuffle, Coral manages to dust another of them).
Negan decides he likes Coral, the kid being so tough and all, so he spends most of the A-plot showing Coral around parts of the compound and doing his campy, '60s Batman villain routine. It's a one-note act that was already tiresome by Negan's second appearance on the show. It hasn't improved with age (and I've started to feel sorry for Jeffrey Dean Mogan). At one point in the proceedings, he manages to make Coral cry and drops it for a moment--yeah, it's as bad as it sounds ("I didn't mean ta' hurt your feelings or anything..."). And the camp only stops for that one moment. The rest of the time, he's taking Coral through various aspects of his operation and we get some soap opera nonsense about Dwight and his ex-wife, all of this rehashing utterly nonessential ground already covered in "The Cell" (further underlining the complete worthlessness of that ep).
This is one of the few eps this season to feature secondary plots, and these grant some screentime to some of the other cast-members (though Tara, who made her way back home last week, has now disappeared without explanation or mention). Rick and Aaron are still on their supply-run on which they left a few eps ago. Spencer and Father Gabriel go on one as well and Rosita and Eugene are paired up for a mini-plot. This felt like the writers, who have done almost nothing with the six previous eps, were suddenly trying to cram in a lot of material, which can't help but tug at another of those Golden Oldie Gripes--how badly structured, badly paced and packed with filler this season has been.
Gabriel is initially riding with Spencer but he doesn't like Spencer's attitude, has him stop the car and opts to walk back home. By one of those cosmic-scale coincidences--TWD, the mark of quality!--the place Spencer stops is just where he needs to be to hear a zombie grumbling in the forest. Merely because the writers want him to do so, he goes to check it out and finds a zombified hunter still buckled into a tree-stand. How in the world did that hunter... ? No, never mind. Anyway, the hunter has a bow and a note in his pocket that proves to be the hiding-place for a big cache of supplies. Spencer digs them up, returns to the safe zone and announces his intention to give it all to Negan. Go Spencer!
Meanwhile, Rosita and Eugene trek to the shop Eugene intended to turn into a munitions factory. By the time this angle was introduced last season, Eugene, though still a comic-relief character, had toughened up, become a lot less cowardly--brave, in fact, to the point of being rather stupid. It was presented as a major turning-point for the character. When, a few eps ago, Rosita found a gun and asked him to make a bullet, he was on board. But at this point, if the show didn't feature arbitrary character shifts, could we even call it TWD anymore? Eugene is now back to being a coward who gets cold feet and has to be berated shamed into making that bullet.
Michonne piles a bunch of dead zombies in the road and eventually, a Savior vehicle comes along and stops. The driver is traveling alone, something that, outside of emergency situations, simply isn't done in a zombie apocalypse, but the writers want Michonne to be able to take the truck. She does so and, for whatever reason, wants to be taken to Negan.
Rick and Aaron find some property on which the owner has posted warning signs for any travelers who happen upon it. They look into it and find a possible store of supplies from a possibly dead man but it's on the other side of a lake bobby-trapped with zombies--the sort of device one sees on Z NATION.
After a lot of his usual mugging and camping it up, Negan takes Coral back home. With Rick gone, he asks for and receives a bizarre little tour of the place wherein he acts quite pleased to see utterly mundane things he saw only a few eps ago when he and his men combed through it. It's presented like a sequence in a comedy, a montage featuring upbeat music and goofy moments, as if the creators suddenly forgot what show they were making.
Negan is sitting on the front porch with Coral and a sleepy baby Judith, sipping lemonade, waiting for Rick and grousing about how maybe he should move to the suburbs, then the ep just stops, in a way that makes me think there's some heavy editing going on. There's no ending, no dramatic capper. It feels like we're right in the middle of an ep and it's suddenly over. The obvious dramatic conclusion, Rick returning home, won't be happening for a while yet--he still has to try to navigate that zombie water-hazard. The end credits tonight informed viewers that next week's midseason finale will be another 90-minute ep, which makes me wonder if the extra half-hour in this ep had originally been part of the subsequent ep then had been edited into this one, either to greedily suck up another hour of commercial time or because they just didn't like what they had with the originally-shot eps. Given the extraordinary amount of filler this season, it seems incredible to me that TWD would do this--basically assemble an extra ep worth of material when they're barely even filling the eps they have--but this one left me somewhat convinced that's exactly what has happened. If that's the case, I guess we'll learn of it eventually.
 Spencer shares with Gabriel his hatred for Rick and Gabriel doesn't like it. Gabriel speaks of Rick in an admiring way, tells Spencer he's being an asshole then leaves. This is TWD attempting one of its usual end-runs around one of its major dramatic problems. Rick has never been shown to be a good or even mediocre leader. He's flat-out awful. He's stupid, he makes terrible choices and he gets people needlessly killed. To prop up one of the central conceits of the series--that he is the leader and that his people continue to follow him--the writers have the other characters describe him as a good leader. Which, of course, just makes them look like idiots and insults the viewers. The writers don't mind taking it an extra step either--anyone who criticizes Rick or his leadership tends to end up on a slab.
 Coral killed two of Negan's men, which Negan makes plain can't go unpunished. Earlier, in a moment that was supposed to be creepy, Negan had Coral, who was obviously scared to death, sing "You Are My Sunshine" while he menacingly practiced his brain-smashing bat-swings only a few feet away. By this montage, they're like buds.
UPDATE (7 Dec., 2016) - I haven't been doing many comparisons of comic TWD to the tv version lately but after I wrote this piece and posted it in various locales, I immediately started getting feedback to the effect that the business with Carl's assassination attempt came straight from the comics. This was used both by critics of my article in an effort to defend the series and by critics of the tv scenario who were sometimes blaming the comics for this dumb bit of plotting and its poor execution. Unlike myself, Lebeau over at Le Blog had the right instincts regarding this matter--in his rundown on the ep, he brought in the comic, not spending a lot of time on it but at least pointing out the huge difference in what happened there vs. what happened in the tv version.
It's still another of my Golden Oldie Gripes that tv TWD is constantly pillaging moments from the comic while entirely removing the context that, in the comics, made them make sense. Events often happen on tv TWD merely because they happened in comic TWD and the television writers don't bother to create any new context that makes these moments work. Carl's assassination attempt on Negan is yet another example of this. Mechanically speaking, the tv version played out almost exactly as did the comic version. The gremlin in the works is that Carl, in the comic, is a little kid--prepubescent, small. His actions are explicable by his lack of maturity (and his particular character development). When, however, these same actions are given to Chandler Riggs' Coral, who is 17 and basically an adult, they look a lot more like utter idiocy, just as I described them.
The age of comic Carl also informs everything that follows.
He's so small, he can barely even hold the rifle he's carrying and whenever he cuts loose with it, he can't control it. He liquidates several of Negan's men and opens fire on the villain as well but the gun is simply too big--he sprays wildly, taking out some more Saviors while the main baddy himself hits the dirt and the recoil from the rifle knocks Carl on his ass. That's how Negan's men are able to disarm him.
TV Coral, by contrast, can handle fully automatic weapons just fine--not only is he fully proficient with one here, we've seen him do it more than once in the past. He also has Negan in his sights and dead to rights at point-blank range for about half a minute but never even tries to shoot the guy, the thing he'd gone there to do. He just stands there like an idiot, tracking Negan with the gun and not pulling the trigger.
The fact that comic Carl is so young is a big part of why Negan is fascinated by him and doesn't just gut him on the spot, a mercy a 17-year-old is very unlikely to receive. Later, Negan makes Carl sing "You Are My Sunshine"; when he makes Carl cry, he feels bad about it; and so on. As these pages I've included help illustrate, Negan, throughout the comic dialogue, is clearly addressing a child. That's the dynamic in play in all of this. Incredibly, the tv version ports over all of this material and most of the comic dialogue, with little change!
It's impossible to so radically alter the circumstances of something that happens in so specific a context and still have it play out the same. The tv adaptation is an ill-conceived fail.