Sunday, March 27, 2016

WALKING DEAD: L'East [Updated Below]

Carol leaves, meets some random Saviors on the road, shoots them all. Rick and Morgan, trying to find her, happen on the aftermath of this and, trying to find Carol, follow a blood-trail across a field for a while. Meanwhile, Daryl goes off in search of the armed group he encountered last week; Rosita, Glenn and Michonne follow; all end up captured by said group (and Daryl shot).

Such is "East," this week's installment of THE WALKING DEAD. As so often happens on the show, it's 15 or 20 minutes of actual plot packed with padding as plentiful as it is pointless. Anything to drag it out until it fills the contractually obligated hour.

As usual, getting it there involves a lot of stupid decisions.

There are groups of armed hostiles in the area who both know of the safe zone and have designs on it and our heroes are uncharacteristically concerned about it and looking to beef up their defenses but when Daryl leaves, no fewer than three of the top fighters also leave in pursuit. Their purpose isn't to help him track down and battle the baddies, which would actually be a somewhat acceptable excuse for such a force. They just want him to come back. They're obviously not going to wrestle him down, hogtie him and bring him back against his will, so why do three of them need to go? And when they do catch up, the writers have Glenn display a spectacular lack of self-awareness by making him try to guilt-trip Daryl for leaving the safe zone shorthanded. "We need you. And everyone back there needs us right now." Daryl is on the trail of an enemy that could be very near; deep in Injun Country, the others opt to loudly argue with him.

Last week, Carol left Tobin, a stranger, a Dear John letter as if they were involved in some sort of romantic relationship--she told him she was leaving town. At the beginning of this ep, the writers include a short bit intended to retroactively shoehorn into the series the relationship between the two they'd entirely failed to establish up to that point. Tobin apparently didn't get the memo that he was the retconned romantic interest; he doesn't go after her. Instead, Rick, learning that five of his best fighters (constituting nearly all of his muscle) have left town, displays some of those same keen leadership skills so often lauded on this blog: he decides the best course of action is that he and Morgan should also leave in pursuit of Carol. And yes, a little later, he repeats his "I don't take chances anymore" line.

While Morgan and Rick and trailing Carol, they talk about her having killed those sick people at the prison and Rick exiling her. Aware that this continues to be a real stain on Carol's character, the writers have Rick tell Morgan that if that happened today, he would thank Carol--probably the low point of this episode. Morgan prevents Rick from winging a fleeing fellow who could have provided them with some information then goes into an incredibly obnoxious "all life is precious" speech. It seems to go on forever but unlike last week with Denise, no arrow streaks through the air to put a merciful end to it. Morgan confesses he captured one of the Wolves and kept the fellow locked up, tells about Carol trying to kill said Wolf, the Wolf getting free, kidnapping Denise and rushing right out into the zombies outside. That Wolf, as he tells it, then ended up saving Denise from the zombies. This, he says, means people can change. And because that Wolf saved Denise, she was there to save Coral. "It's all a circle. Every thang gets a return." Of course, if Morgan hadn't imprisoned that Wolf, whose actions in protecting Denise were self-interested, Denise wouldn't have been in any danger in the first place and, in fact, would have been in the infirmary when Coral needed medical attention, but while such a gap in this logic can't help but be apparent to any reasonably intelligent viewer, it still manages to entirely escape Morgan.[see Update below] Earlier this season, I noted Morgan had been reduced to a one-note caricature and ever since, this "all life is precious" schtick has become Morgan's one note in his every scene. His character has been as thoroughly assassinated as any currently on the show--he can't die quickly enough.

When Rick and Morgan follow that blood trail off the road, one of the Saviors whom Carol had shot emerges from hiding and appears to follow them. A little later, Rick returns to his vehicle and drives back to the safe zone but he never encountering this fellow. Back in town, Maggie is having tummy pains, probably the start of a miscarriage. At the end, Daryl and Rosita are made to get really stupid, walk into an obvious trap and get themselves captured. Dwight, the leader of the thugs who catch them, then shoots Daryl. Blood spatters the camera and that would have been a good last image but the writers haven't the guts to make it even appear as if they're killing Daryl, so they have Dwight offer a final line, assuring viewers Daryl isn't dead.

"East" was a lousy, underplotted episodes full of scenes that go on and on but don't actually go anywhere. A delaying action to get to the season finale.

--j.

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UPDATE (28 March, 2016) - Morgan's logically empty "circle of life" argument in this ep brought to mind something I'd written earlier this season in reaction to "Here's Not Here":

"Morgan, when he was introduced, was a fellow who just couldn't bring himself to kill the zombie that had once been his wife. This made him very human. It's the reason the character became so beloved. Later, in 'Clear,' it was revealed that he'd continued to put off killing the creature until, one day, it killed his son. In last night's opus, he senselessly murdered a fellow but didn't pike the fellow's brain. As Lebeau notes, that was an entirely arbitrary decision and as I wrote, the fellow Morgan murdered came back as a zombie and bit Morgan's Jedi sensei. 'One can see this as being Morgan's fault for killing the fellow but given Morgan's recent actions, the reading of it that screams to the viewer is that this was a situation with which Morgan failed to properly deal and that came back with disastrous consequences--if he'd have piked the fellow in the brain, his sensei would still be alive.' Toward the end of last season, one of the Wolves turned up at the now-'enlightened' Morgan's camp. He announced his intention was to take everything Morgan had, including his life. Morgan allowed the fellow to live; the same fellow later came back with his Wolf buddies and carried out horrendous atrocities against the Alexandrians. When Morgan faced those marauding Wolves, he stood around like a naive idiot who had never lived so much as a day in this zombified world and didn't know what to do, trying to reason with them while they were committing gruesome murders he could have prevented. When he faced down the final group of them, he told them to run away and allowed them to escape. Minutes later, storytime, they attacked and tried to kill Rick. In arbitrarily imposing this "all life is precious" business, the writers have not only reduced this once-very-human fellow to a one-note caricature--his one all-time-worst mistake repeated into infinity--they've now made him ideologically committed to being nothing more. Morgan, the dumbass who gets others killed because he can never learn his one lesson."

When those Wolves attacked Rick, they had the gun they'd stolen and shot the RV Rick was using, rendering it inoperative. As a result, Rick wasn't able to lead away the zombie herd then marching on the safe zone. The safe zone was surrounded, the creatures eventually got inside and a whole hell of a lot of people died. Morgan is trying to make a case for a "circle of life," but his own life has become nothing but a circle of death for everyone around him--death for which he is responsible.

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Devil of a DAREDEVIL (Season 1)

As Netflix has just released the second season of Marvel's DAREDEVIL series; it's probably about time I got around to delivering on my long-promised review of the first. I'd watched most of it in a fairly rapid burst shortly after its release but then, as so often happens, life intruded. I only just got around to seeing the final episode last week.

My pokiness in finishing it certainly shouldn't be taken as any indication of my estimation of its merits. DAREDEVIL was released last spring to almost-universal praise and it earns it. This is a very good piece of television, one of the best Marvel or Marvel-based productions to date. It works as an adaptation and stands up as a very good series in its own right. That isn't to say it's flawless. One of the pitfalls of seeing this particular series through the eyes of a very longtime Daredevil fan is that one is acutely aware of the potential of such a project and of where it fails to live up to it. On that score, the series sometimes hits and sometimes misses.

DAREDEVIL is the story of Matt Murdock, the son of a broken-down fighter, who, as a child, is involved in an accident wherein he's struck by some radioactive gunk that takes his sight but amps up his other senses to superhuman levels. His father is later killed by gangsters after refusing to take a dive during a fight; Matt grows up, becomes a lawyer as his father wanted but he assumes another identity by night, that of a costumed crimefighter. Daredevil.

This story was adapted to the screen once before, a creative abortion of a feature film from 2003 that certainly did the property no favors. Marvel reacquired the screen rights from 20th Century Fox and produced this series in-house. It was good to see carried over here a heaping helping of the "pulp noir" aesthetic of the book during all of its finer moments and this and the overall quality of the series marked a bit of a comeback for a Marvel Daredevil. At the time it appeared, the comic of the same name had been a mess for years; Mark Waid, its contracted scribe, seemed determined to upend, undo and defecate upon everything that made DD great and unique and had, for nearly four years, been grinding out an overbearingly lighthearted stew of silly, jokey, Silver Agey trash--a "Daredevil" that was still called Daredevil but was otherwise thoroughly unrecognizable. The series wisely steers clear of anything reeking of that particular run. For longtime DD fans, it was good to finally get the character back in a recognizable form and being done well.

This DD is set in a recognizable place as well. When Marvel first announced DAREDEVIL and its other Netflix series were going to be shooting in New York itself, I was pretty skeptical of that decision. Shooting Marvel stuff in New York, where so much of it is set, seems, on the one hand, a dream--something one wishes could always be done--but New York is an extremely expensive place to shoot, needlessly expensive, and my filmmaker bone felt it would probably be better to spend a television budget on recreating the city somewhere much cheaper. It's impossible to argue with these results though. From the waterfront to the rooftops to the view of it all from fancy apartments and expensive restaurants, the city just looks awesome. DAREDEVIL needed even more of it--more broad vistas, more stuff from the street, traffic, people to-ing-and-fro-ing, local color, atmosphere. It isn't enough just to have the characters talk about the city and what they think of it (and there's plenty of that); the series needs to show it, and while DAREDEVIL uses the city well, it doesn't use it enough. Hopefully something future seasons will remedy.

Matt has only just started his nocturnal activities here and his crimefighter persona is still a bit of a work in progress. He's privy to a lot of the ugly things people do to one another, carrying around a lot of anger and at the same time seems afraid of that part of himself, the "devil" in him that makes him want to do very bad things to very bad people. A Catholic, he goes to confession as the series opens and soon strikes up relationship with the priest, Father Lantom, who proves to be an interesting character and counsel as the series moves along.

The entire supporting cast is excellent, not a miss in the batch. When it comes to writing them, the series uses the comic to great advantage. Instead of looking down upon the book and approaching it with the idea of "fixing" it, the series' creators are very respectful and closely port over a lot of what has made the original work for so many years. The characters are strong, their relationships mostly well-played, a terribly watchable tableaux of very human and very likable characters. Some of the more colorful personalities in the Daredevil universe are brought to life with great gusto. Scott Glenn as Matt's ninja-master mentor Stick, Rob Morgan as Turk, low-level hod and Daredevil's frequent informant, Vincent D'Onofrio as archvillain Wilson Fisk, Bob Gunton as his chief money-man Leland Owlsley,[1] Toby Leonard Moore as his well-spoken right-hand man James Wesley. The comic version of Karen Page was a young innocent who worked as secretary for Matt and his law partner Foggy Nelson then, in later years, saw her life take a dark turn into drugs and prostitution. The series version, essayed by the breathtaking Deborah Ann Woll, has her history reversed, her shady future becoming instead a shady past she's trying to escape. In the comic, Ben Urich was a reporter for the New York Daily Bugle who figures out Matt's secret identity then becomes a frequent Daredevil ally; the series reimagines him as a sort of hybrid of the comic Urich and Spider-Man newsman Joe Robertson, giving him a promotion, making him older and changing his race. Vondie Curtis-Hall is rock-solid in the part but near the end of the run, in what's probably the single biggest misstep of the entire series, the writers opt to bump him off. Urich features, often centrally, in a lot of the best stories in the comic--a lot of potential adaptations of great Daredevil lore died with him.

The writing breaks down in a few places. Some sharp dialogue is often made to rub elbows with some significantly less-than-sharp lines. Some arbitrary drama plays out near the end of the season when Matt's law partner Foggy learns of his powers and vigilante activities. Up to this, Matt and Foggy are best pals, thick as thieves going back years, and Foggy becomes way, way too angry upon learning of these things. It doesn't really affect him in any meaningful way and he should be as fascinated as he is upset but he treats the matter as if Matt had sex with his wife--absolutely furious and doesn't even want to know the guy anymore.[2] Throughout the series, Wilson Fisk's criminal empire is shown to be massive, pervasive and he's a master of covering his own tracks but toward the end, when Matt manages to find a key witness and get the guy talking, this empire unravels far too easily. What should have been a gradual process taking months or even years and maybe never touching the man at the top at all is relegated to a brief montage in the final episode and ends with Fisk being marched away in cuffs. Should have been done better.

One thing that probably couldn't have been done any better is the appropriately visceral way DAREDEVIL handles its violence. Villain Fisk is a real sadist--nearly beats one of his own men to death in a pointless rage, kills a Russian gangster by slamming the fellow's head in a car door until it comes off, doesn't mind having old ladies killed. DD lacks super strength or speed and doesn't carry around a lot of anti-personnel gadgets; he puts down his opponents the old fashioned way, by beating them until they don't get up anymore. In one spectacular sequence, he shows up to rescue a kidnapped child from a building full of hoods. In a single shot, he goes down a hallway the thugs have staked out, bashing every one of them to a pulp until he gets to the room at the end with the child. The fight scenes in this first season are excellent, some of the best I've seen in a television production.

The series adopts the noir aesthetic so central to the best Daredevil work. Its darkness is ever-present but not indulged in a silly, juvenile, aren't-we-kewl-to-be-so-"dark" way like MAN OF STEEL (and, by most reports, the just-released BATMAN V. SUPERMAN). A few relatively minor items do, at times, bring it close to that territory. Matt, in the early episodes, walks around looking unkempt and with unshaved beard stubble, the way comic Matt sometimes looks when he's at the depths of a downer. But tv Matt isn't at the depths of a downer at that point and this definitely smacks of a production trying a bit too hard to sell the idea of Dark Character. Thankfully, that bushy look disappears as the series continues. It's also the case that the characters are way too quick to turn to massive amounts of alcohol to deal with their troubles, to a point that it becomes rather silly and feels more like lazy writing. Something to fix in the future. On the other hand, I would have liked to have seen some of the darker thematic elements taken much further, with, among other things, much more Expressionistic cinematography[3] and a more ambiguous wrap-up (as evil that pervasive is never entirely defeated).

There's a lot to like about DAREDEVIL and despite the fact I would do some things quite differently if I was behind it, there isn't a lot to dislike. In an era that so often produces safe, mediocre screen translations of popular comics, it's definitely a keeper and I'm looking forward to taking in season 2.

--j.

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[1]  The comic version of Leland Owlsley is also known as the Owl, a mutant crime-lord. The series mostly ditches the character's comic persona, carrying over only Owlsley's past as a bigshot Wall Street money man. Gunton's ever-acerbic Owlsley is--forgive me--a hoot.

[2] In the comic, Foggy learns Matt is Daredevil only after they've been law partners--and Daredevil had been active and often involved in their lives--for many years. Karen had known of Matt's dual identity for years as well and Foggy is initially angry with her, thinking she must have known Matt was alive when he'd faked his death (a long story). His anger, which was much more justified, doesn't last beyond that initial outburst.

[3] And better-managed cinematography as well. At one point, there's a classic noir moment, two people in an office at night with light coming through the window blinds, but the characters (Karen and Foggy) are having a warm, friendly discussion. This set-up would have been better employed for some of the darker moments that came later but which, paradoxically, often aren't photographed to reflect the mood.

Monday, March 21, 2016

THE WALKING DEAD Takes Twice As Long To Get Half As Far 2.0

If one was writing a TV Guide blurb for "Twice As Far," tonight's installment of THE WALKING DEAD, it could read something like "Idiots randomly crashing into one another." For that matter, that description would be entirely adequate for more eps of TWD than not. I think I'm more forgiving of it at some times than at others. This evening, I didn't feel inclined to grant its perpetual shortcomings much mercy. The filler, the Idiot Plot Syndrome, the random characterizations--this one had it all in spades. Whatever else one may say about it, this was a damn sorry excuse for dramatic television. An aggressive insult to every viewer.

The one feature of TWD against which I've probably raged more than any other is the random characterizations. I'm a firm believer in strong characters who are conceptualized as real, three-dimensional human beings and plots that go where they go because of who those strong characters are. When, as with TWD, characterizations are dictated solely by the plot of the moment, have no internal consistency and are radically changed on a dime then changed again then changed again, one doesn't have characters, just a random mess--stand-ins for the real thing that have no continuity beyond having the same faces and the same names. There's no point in even trying to develop any affinity for such "characters"; if you find something you like, it will be gone when the next storyline comes around, whenever the plot dictates they become someone else entirely.

Daryl is a rare example of a character who was actually developed during the course of TWD, rather than just subjected to this process. In the series' first season, he was just a unidimensional hot-headed asshole caricature. In response to the godawful Sophia storyline, he actually grew and matured into the noble, uber-capable redneck with a heart of gold that quickly made him the most popular character on the show. Whereas there have been many entirely different versions of every other major character, he's pretty much stayed the same since. While every other character on the show has had entirely new personalities grafted on to them over and over again, he's been the rock, the one they haven't touched. When Rick 5.0 appeared and wanted to turn Michonne over to GINO, Daryl was the one who said this was wrong. When Rick 8.0 appeared and was casually plotting against the Alexandrians, Daryl was the one who recognized it was the wrong path to take. That's his role in the show; he's the hero. I like Norman Reedus and I like this aspect of Daryl a lot.

In the current storyline though, he's suddenly getting the same treatment as the rest. It started when Jesus first appeared; Rick had undergone the latest of his random transformations and had suddenly decided it was a good idea to recruit new people to the safe zone while out of the blue, Daryl was suddenly the fellow very skeptical of this, the one who, after Jesus was injured, just wanted to leave the guy laying. This has continued since. Near the beginning of tonight's ep, he's talking to Carol about the people who, earlier in the season, stole his motorcycle. Carol notes that he had saved them. "It's who you are. We're still stuck with that."

"No, we ain't." Daryl replies. "I shoulda' killed 'em."

But no viewer of that ep would have considered that an appropriate response. These were people who had just escaped a dangerous cult and, for understandable reasons, didn't trust anyone. One of them was afflicted with diabetes, a real curse in a post-apocalyptic world and a reason for the others to be particularly defensive. They caused Daryl some inconvenience and at the end, they stole his bike, which wasn't very neighborly, particularly after he'd saved them, but it's hardly a hanging offense. This callous, murderous Daryl who comes to the dumb and inappropriate conclusion that he should have simply killed them is Daryl 2.0--entirely at odds with the Daryl we've known since season 2. His new outlook isn't a consequence of anything he's experienced.

Carol is another who, when the storyline changed, became a different character. To date, I've sort of looked at the new characterization that has been imposed upon her as making her a bit of a throwback to some of the earlier, less appealing Carols but tonight made clear she's definitely Carol 4.0--an all-new version. I really liked Carol 3.0, the sly wisecracker who is always on top of the situation, always with a twinkle in her eye and always ready to do what needs to be done. I'll freely concede this version of Carol had practically no connection to any of her previous incarnations--this was another arbitrary characterization created in the shadow of Z NATION--but it worked. Even when she was wrong, such as when she was plotting with Rick against the Alexandrians, she was a delight to watch.

In the current storyline, that personality has been entirely abandoned.

When, last week, the Saviors captured the new 4.0 model, her apparent panic, which looked at first like a typical Carol 3.0 ruse, turned out to be real. She spent tonight's ep smoking and looking droopy-faced then at the end wrote Tobin a "Dear John" letter. Says she's sorry, she never meant to hurt him, didn't want it to have to end this way--every cliche to which TWD is heir.[1] The big reason she says she's leaving not only Tobin but the safe zone as well is that she just can't kill people on behalf of those she loves anymore. This is entirely inconsistent with every previous version of Carol. Carol 2.0 is the one who, in order to protect everyone else, mercilessly killed two people merely because they got sick. The one who taught children to kill and insisted even the weak ones learn it. Even the much wimpier 1.0 model told Andrea to screw GINO silly then pike him in his sleep. And of course, 3.0 took on the whole army of Wolves and even executed the one Morgan tried to capture. Immediately before the current storyline began, she was willing to try to take down Morgan in order to eliminate even the perceived threat of that last Wolf he'd imprisoned. That's Carol. She does what has to be done because she understand the consequences of not doing it. Now, the new 4.0 appears and writes Tobin to say that if she stays, she'll have to kill on behalf of the others and she just can't bring herself to do that anymore. Meaning she knows there will be trouble but she, one of the few capable ones, is going to leave the others to the mercy of whatever it may be.

Nothing--nothing--has happened to lead Carol to such a radical change of personality. Like Morgan earlier in the season, she's caught the "all life is precious" bug as if it was some airborne disease. As usual, the writers want the story to go a certain way and they just change their "characters" in whatever way is necessary to get it there. To put the matter bluntly, their character assassinations of both Carol and Daryl suck.

When it comes to redshirt characters who have been targeted for death, TWD's usual formula is to suddenly thrust the mark into the spotlight, giving them lots of time and trying, in their final hour, to make the audience care about them before they're put to rest. Tonight, Daryl, Rosita and Denise go off in search of a pharmacy. Denise has never been out in the zombified world and being the closest thing they have to a medical professional--should be a blue shirt instead of a red, btw-- never should be allowed out in it but while the other two don't want to bring her along, they do finally acquiesce, for no other reason than that the writers want them to do so.[2] In the field, Denise proves to be one stupid, potentially fatal screw-up after another. While in the pharmacy, our heroes hear a zombie but it's behind a closed door so no need to worry over it. Denise, who has never fought or killed a zombie in her life, opts to break away from the others without alerting them and go check out the noise. And she opens that door. That time around, she gets lucky enough not to get eaten or to unleash a zombie herd on the others but later, as they're walking home, she comes across a derelict vehicle with a zombie in it. There's a cooler on the car-seat and for no reason at all, she decides there could be something useful in it, a cooler that has obviously been sitting there for years. Daryl and Rosita tell her to forget it and walk on, the experienced hands paying no attention to their amateur charge solely because the writers want things to go that way. Heedless of her experienced comrades, Denise opens the car door, unleashing the zombie and nearly getting herself killed. When it's over, Rosita and Daryl are very disapproving of this course of action and Denise goes into one of TWD's trademark speeches to try to justify it but her random diatribe, which isn't going anywhere anyway, is interrupted with an arrow from the forest mercifully pierces her brain.

The arrow came from Daryl's old crossbow and the fellow wielding it turns out to be the guy who stole his motorcycle. He's now suddenly an utter villain and leading a group of armed, like-minded thugs. He demands Daryl take them back to the safe zone so they can loot it. Daryl 2.0 really, really wishes he'd killed that guy. The thugs have captured Eugene, who had earlier been in the field with Abraham looking for a machine-shop at which Eugene intends to manufacture bullets. Eugene manages to distract them then bites the dick of the bike-stealer, allowing the others to get to their weapons and put the thugs to flight.

Yes, that actually happened. And for a moment on which TWD's writers had imposed some gravity, it was actually pretty funny. Humor is nearly non-existent in the world of TWD but Eugene and Abraham are sometimes given amusing dialogue. This week, they were allowed to go at one another in some brief verbal jiu-jitsu. At one point, Eugene set out to prove his new manliness by piking a zombie and it turned out to be one on which molten metal had, at some point, been poured, encasing its head in an impenetrable coating! Though it looked as if this material was edited in from some entirely different program--*cough* Z NATION *cough*--it was genuinely amusing.

A lot more of this and a lot less of everything else that happened in this ep would have been most welcome. I've been analyzing recent TWD as having entered the "stuck around way too long" seasons. Its bad habits have gotten much worse, it openly mocks its viewers and it has now taken to eating itself, a process that is presently chewing up two of its only good characters, who happen to be two of the only good things left about it. Too bad.

--j.

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[1] This choice is, in itself, an utterly bizarre and arbitrary plot imposition. Carol has no relationship with Tobin to end with a "Dear John" letter. The two have only ever shared maybe 3 or 4 scenes. There were two very awkward attempts at kisses, but no larger relationship has been shown or even hinted. They're essentially strangers but when Carol decides to leave, she writes him and not any of the people with whom she has lived for years.

[2] She argues she knows what meds to choose; when they get to the drug store, they simply opt to take everything, which is obviously what they would have done all along.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Captive in the Same Boat as THE WALKING DEAD

Alicia Witt has done tons of television the last few years but it's television I haven't seen and it was a pleasant surprise to see her on THE WALKING DEAD tonight. "The Same Boat," the ep, was a bottle episode--a few characters on a modest set. We start with an event that happened off camera last week--Carol and Maggie are apprehended by some of the Saviors who weren't at the compound Rick and co. hit. Their captors talk with Rick over walkie-talkie then hole up with their captives, who, after a lot of everyone talking to one another about things that don't matter, eventually escape and kill them all. Basically 15 or 20 minutes of plot needlessly stretched to an hour.

Earlier in the season, uber-confident, wisecracking ass-kicker Carol v. 3.0 was suddenly and arbitrarily devolved to her 2.0 version, a model that was a humorless, depressed fret. Throughout much of this episode, we're even getting glimpses of Carol 1.0. She acts as though she's terrified of the Saviors. Tells them Maggie is pregnant and seems horribly concerned when talking to them that some harm will come to the baby. Even hyperventilates! Throughout the ep, one expects this to eventually be revealed as a clever ruse, psychological manipulation, an effort to make her captors drop their guard. But that moment never really comes. Even when Carol escapes and manages to get her hands on a gun, she's still shaking as if she can barely hold it. Pleads with Alicia Witt's character, tells her to run away so she won't be killed. Nervously grasps a rosary until her hand bleeds.

After our heroines are free, Carol randomly blames herself for their getting captured, even though we see their capture and there was neither anything she could have done about it nor anything for which she could possibly blame herself either. As their capture had played out in the cold opening, Carol shot one of the Saviors who had come out of nowhere and was charging Maggie but she only wounded the guy rather than killing him. The wounded man's companions, who had obviously been creeping up on them, appeared all around them almost instantly. Killing the fellow wouldn't have made any difference at all but Carol insists that if she'd done so, none of this would have happened. It's TWD; angst, even if it's utterly random and nonsensical, is always the order of the day.[1] Carol's recent depression about killing people, something on significant display here as well, is also entirely random, something that was never a problem before.

Maggie, for her part, behaves like an imbecile throughout the ep, needlessly throwing her pregnant self into dangerous situations, even, toward the end, with an armed Carol on hand who could have handled the rough stuff. If one were to examine this rationally, rather than with the soap expectations built into TWD, one would get the distinct impression she really doesn't want to have a child.

By the end, the villains are destroyed and the escaped captives reunited with the larger group. By TWD standards, this wasn't really a bad ep, but considering how rigidly mediocre, needlessly padded and packed with randomness it is, I'm not sure that accounts for much. The brief preview for next week's installment, which makes it look like another slam-on-the-brakes-and-throw-out-the-drag-weights filler ep, makes me ache. Maybe it will defy expectations.

--j.

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[1] The version of Carol I most liked appears to have been sacrificed to the writers' compulsive habit of making the show a dreary slog. It looks like a going-away-miserable party. There aren't enough good things about TWD to so casually eliminate something that actually worked.

Monday, March 7, 2016

For THE WALKING DEAD, It's Not Tomorrow Yet; Looks More Like Yesterday [Updated Below]

I'm fairly certain no one watched tonight's installment of THE WALKING DEAD--I'm sure everyone was watching the Democratic presidential debate over on CNN instead. "Not Tomorrow Yet," the unwatched TWD ep, does have a bit of a parallel with the Democratic National Committee's efforts to minimize voters' exposure to any candidate not named Clinton--both are tales of unmerited hubris on the part of very bad leaders leading to a fall. Beyond that, it becomes less distinct; unlike with the DNC, TWD's characters don't really have a better option.

That isn't to say the latter go about what they do in a wiser manner. Rick has to convince the Alexandrians they have to fight Negan's group of "Saviors," which means he has to make another of TWD's patented speeches. The Saviors are brutal, merciless killers and pirates who try to rule the area with an iron fist but Morgan, that countdown clock still ticking away on his head, wants to negotiate with them instead of attack. Give away the element of surprise and warn them off. That idea doesn't get very far. When Morgan asks Rick if he's sure they can beat the Saviors, Rick inadvertently gets at the dramatic problem at the center of this storyline: "What this group has done, what we've learned, what we've become, all of us, yes, I'm sure."

Rick's group, of course, hasn't proven itself capable of handling much of anything. They tend to be their own worst enemies, people who screw up even the most basic tasks so badly that people die. They do it over and over again and it's impossible to ignore that when the series keeps throwing it in viewers' faces in storyline after storyline. Here, the writers persist in trying to craft a story around the characters having this very high opinion of their own abilities after having crafted a long-running series that refutes this at every turn. Rick and co. don't just hold to this uber-confidence in a vacuum; they do so in spite of everything they've experienced.

The writers are clearly aware of this problem. Tonight, in an effort to buttress the badass-ness of Rick's group, they have one of the Alexandrians tell Carol she does things that scare him. Later, they have one of the Hilltop residents offer the same sentiment to Rick. "The Saviors, they're scary but those pricks got nothing on you." But Rick hadn't done anything to earn that. And the writers then further underscore our heroes' incompetence by having them attack a Savior compound without even a single reconnaissance run. They just go in blind against an enemy of entirely unknown strength, stabbing then shooting and hoping for the best. While blundering around like this, they manage to kill nearly everyone but the ep ends with the tables being turned. Yep, our heroes have underestimated their enemy. Shocking for such a group of pros, right?

It wouldn't be TWD without TWD speeches, so Glenn delivers one to Heath about killing. Tobin, the Alexandrian who finds Carol scary, makes a speech in which he outlines his belief that Carol is the mom of the safe zone.[1] In a scene that appears present only to burn screen-time, Tara talks to Father Gabriel about telling her girlfriend she loved her as a means of covering up something else; Jesus gives it a punchline about her knowing what she's fighting for. Hallelujah!

It's the habit of TWD to cut the pace down to a crawl in the second half of a season, perhaps because the budget runs out, but these last three eps have bucked that trend. Though a big improvement over the rest of this season, they haven't really been any great shakes and this, though the most action-packed, was definitely the least of the three. Fortunately, no one will ever know--they all watched that Democratic debate instead.

--j.

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[1] It's good to see the series remember Carol exists and the pre-title sequence, in which Carol is making and distributing beet-and-acorn cookies, is actually very well done. Carol 4.0 is unfortunately looking more and more like Carol 1.0 here, slipping back into that disposable--and, more troublingly, expendable--non-character she was before.


UPDATE (8 March, 2016) - Something I forgot to mention is that this ep featured one of TWD's magical time-jumps, this one from night to day. This sort of thing is so common on TWD that I've come to ignore it unless it has some impact on the story. This one did though. Rick's plan was to attack the Savior compound in the wee hours of the morning when most would be asleep. There's absolutely no reason to assume there aren't shifts--another reason to conduct a proper recon before attacking--but Rick does and, this being TWD, just gets lucky. His team enters, kills the Saviors in a lightning-fast strike then when they make their way out the back, it's broad daylight, hours of time having passed. They mull around a bit, Heath takes a Savior vehicle and leaves and the rest soon learn the enemy has captured Carol and Maggie. The preview for next week's ep showed the capture itself--the Saviors were able to creep up on them because it was still blackest night. This means the Saviors had Carol and Maggie for hours and no one even knew. In all that time, no one in the main team had communicated with their own checkpoints or vice-versa--checkpoints that presumably had orders for what to do if they don't hear from the main team (come get us us, alert the others, etc.).