Monday, December 11, 2017

How It Always Is With THE WALKING DEAD

This season, THE WALKING DEAD has displayed a remarkable propensity for turning what should be exciting, fast-paced, suspenseful scenarios into dreary exercises in tedium and tonight's midseason finale, "How It's Gotta Be," has just become the standout example of this. What could have been a fairly taught hour-long tale is padded out to 90 minutes. The ep is full of slow-motion photography, long, meaningless montages of various characters' faces overlain with somber music, scenes that go on and on. Got to get those extra ads in there, if the show itself has to bust a gut to accomplish it.

Last week, Rick and the Garbage People returned to the Saviors' Sanctuary only to discover that the herd of zombies our heroes had previously led there was gone, along with the snipers who were supposed to repel any Savior effort to break free. A surprising cliffhanger on which to end but one tonight's ep does nothing to resolve, though the entire ep was premised on it. The issue is raised repeatedly; the only thing viewers are told is that Eugene came up with something and the herd was led away. As I've previously covered here, the sniper team has been made to appear and disappear at the writers' convenience and this continued tonight. Rick had found one of the snipers dead and being eaten by zombies. At one point, Jerry, who doesn't know this, speculates that the snipers must have taken their vehicles and escaped; Rick says he doesn't think they escaped.[1] Since none of the communities were warned that the Saviors had broken free--even with the known casualty, there were still enough snipers to warn every community--this would seem a reasonable assumption but later in the ep, Morgan, who was part of that sniper team, turns up at the Kingdom unharmed. And without explanation.

Tonight's ep begins where last week's ended. Upon discovering the zombies are gone, Rick, ever the idiot, moves in for a closer look on foot across open ground and is, of course, immediately fired upon by Saviors inside. The Garbage People retreat and aren't seen again! They just disappear from the ep. Rick is in a pickle, pinned down and with no hope of escape, but then, out of nowhere, Carol and Jerry suddenly drive up and save him. They'd gone to what was supposed to be a meeting outside the Sanctuary of the leadership of the various communities, Ezekiel having declined to go, but like Daryl and his garbage truck last week, they show up just in the nick of time and are able to magically sense Rick's predicament and affect a rescue.

The Saviors are somehow free, they're going to be out looking for revenge and if one concludes this should be a real barn-burner, well, one may have the instincts of a quality dramatist but one hasn't been watching TWD this season. The writers manage to make the Saviors' campaign against the residents of the three communities pretty damn boring. It makes sense that the Kingdom could be subdued with minimal effort--its fighting force has been wiped out--and, in fact, this happens off camera. But the Hilltop's forces are also taken without firing a shot. Maggie and some of her troops are driving to the Sanctuary meeting. Absent the use of magic, the Saviors have absolutely no way of knowing the Hilltoppers will be coming up that road but they've used this magic power before, in the season 6 finale, and with this supernatural knowledge, they just put a tree across the road to stop the convoy then move in and disarm the fighters. Though the Hilltop forces are armed and they appear to significantly outnumber the Saviors, they just give up their guns without a fight. Simon tells Maggie she can cooperate or meet a horrible end. She takes the deal, he shoots a Hilltop redshirt then he orders her to return home and continue growing food for the Saviors.

This contradicts everything we've been told would happen. Negan has made it very clear he intends to kill the three leaders of the uprising and display their remains at his headquarters. Viewers who may have forgotten that from before get multiple reminders in this ep--Gavin, the Savior leader at the Kingdom, says he's taking Ezekiel back to the Sanctuary and Negan himself says he's taking Rick there. Besides that, Simon's course of action with regard to Maggie is some really horrendous writing. Hilltop has just taken part in an armed uprising against the Saviors. It has lots of guns and it must be disarmed. The Saviors disarm everyone. For all the Saviors know, these communities have the bulk of their arsenal based at Hilltop. If Maggie is allowed to simply return home, those guns could either be stashed for later use or used to carry on the fight that has just been taking place. The only reason Simon, having captured Maggie, doesn't continue with her to Hilltop and disarm the community is because the writers just didn't want him to do it. When Maggie returns home, she's no more gotten through the gates than she has a new gun in her hand. She kills one of her Savior prisoners with it (to make up for the Hilltopper shot by Simon), orders her people to begin fortifying the community against the enemy.[2]

When the Saviors had been pinned down in the Sanctuary, they'd radioed another outpost to bring in a heavy machine-gun to clear the zombies. That outpost was destroyed and the machine-gun captured. Without it, they were considering increasingly desperate measures, such as sending dozens of workers into the zombie horde with melee weapons, sacrificing them on a suicide mission just to try to clear a path for someone who could lead the horde away.[3] The entire season to date has been premised on the notion that the villains didn't have the means or the manpower to fight so many but tonight, they not only have enough to simultaneously go after all three rebel communities, Negan has among his own force what appear to be a dozen or more men armed with grenade launchers, weapons that would have made very short work of all those zombies but were never employed to that end and appear only now, as if by magic, to reign fiery destruction down on the Safe Zone from outside its gates. Once inside, Negan tells his men to blow up every house! It feels like Negan should not have the strength to wage this sort of fight, a problem that goes beyond that magic grenade-launcher brigade.[3a] Our heroes just spent much of this season taking out Negan's outposts, killing or capturing everyone present in a series of lightning strikes. From the fact that they stopped hitting outposts and spoke of no others, one can safely assume there aren't any more.[4] So from whence comes this reserve?

And is there even a reserve? None of the Savior forces are shown to be particularly large. There are no Savior guards around the recently-liberated Sanctuary--until someone started shooting at Rick, it looked deserted. Both the Hilltoppers and the Alexandrians appear to outnumber the fighters thrown against them. The Alexandrians kill several Saviors in an ambush (I'll get to that in a moment). Though the Kingdom has few defenses left, we never see many Saviors there either. One assumes there could be more present in all of these places, lurking somewhere in the darkness in which most of this ep takes place, and that solves one problem but the more there are, the bigger the other--the source of these fighters--becomes.

With some sort-of assistance from turncoat Savior Dwight, the Alexandrians sort of escape Negan's siege--it's all handled in a very sloppy manner. Dwight puts a slim force around the rear of the Safe Zone to create a weak spot. The Alexandrians inside have absolutely no way of knowing he's out there and has done that but fortunately, they coincidentally pick the right place to break through their own walls and escape. Our heroes proceed up the road a short distance then stop to create an ambush for the pursuing Saviors; Dwight leads his own people right into it and they're killed. He takes out a few himself then, wounded, leaves with the Alexandrians. I say "leaves" but they don't actually go anywhere. Instead of getting the hell out of Dodge, they just return to the storm drain that runs under the walls of the Safe Zone, a place that is in no way hidden and that the Saviors could easily investigate (and would investigate if being written at all competently). They're still there at the end.

Rick returns home to find the Safe Zone ablaze and goes in to check it out. He goes to his own house and finds Negan waiting for him. The villain knocks Rick's gun from his hand and the two briefly fight it out. Negan is doing his usual Adam West Batman villain routine and Rick in response, goes meta: "Do you ever shut the hell up?" Pretty much what every viewer has been thinking about Negan's camp antics. It's the only bright spot in this ep. It made me chuckle, anyway. Rick recovers his gun, Negan, who has no gun, pushes him out the window and rather than simply going right back in and shooting Negan, Rick just runs away! If our heroes ever get their hands on the technology behind Negan's plot-armor, they'll be unbeatable.

Other items: Between and in addition to all of that, there's plenty that is only present to add to that running-time. Aaron and Enid have gotten it in their heads to attempt a rapprochement with the Oceanside community, so there's 6 or 7 minutes of that mission near the beginning of this ep that look as if they were cut in from the beginning of an entirely different one, then the focus shifts elsewhere and we're never shown anything else of it.[5] Eugene is again shown drinking and again feeling sorry for himself, then he facilitates the escape of Father Gabriel and the Hilltop's physician (who has been detained at the Sanctuary for some time now). When the Alexandrians are "escaping" down that storm-drain, Michonne stays behind, closing the man-hole and going back into the Safe Zone for no other purpose than to allow her to walk around a while then kill and mutilate a random Savior[6] (said mutilation occurring below the level of the camera, in line with the show's recent tone-down-the-violence directive).

Coral suddenly gets an inordinate amount of screentime, which is TWD's usual set-up for an impending death. He's Wesley Crusher, planning the Alexandrians' escape and even having a parley with Negan in which he offers to let the villain kill him if it will allow the Safe Zone to survive. He staggers around in slow motion while the Safe Zone is being hit with all those grenades. All of this leads where one expects, to the scene that, last week, was teased as being so shocking everyone would be talking about it. And even adjusting for the writers' laughable overestimation of the esteem they've engendered in their audience for this particular character, it may have been too, if the entire ep hadn't  been so heavy-handedly pointing to it from its opening moments. As usual.

--j.

---

[1] Rick, Carol and Jerry decide to take some vehicles, split up and go warn the various communities. Jerry suggests the snipers' vehicles probably won't be where they were previously parked because the riflemen would have taken them to get away from whatever happened, Rick says he doesn't think they got away. Viewers are never shown whether the sniper cars are still there but it's very unlikely that random cars that are just sitting around outside somewhere and that haven't been maintained for two years would still be in working order, yet Rick and Jerry do pretty quickly find cars to drive. When one considers the mystery of what happened at the Sanctuary, this is another hole.

[2] She also tells her people to dump the dead Savior so the others can find the corpse and posts a warning that she has others she can kill if they don't stay away, guaranteeing they'll be there soon.

[3] Last week, Eugene pitched Negan on an idea for getting rid of those zombies. Off-camera, of course. Negan was concerned that the plan, whatever it was, would require seriously depleting the Saviors' ammo supply and secured assurances that Eugene could replenish that stock if given the equipment. While Eugene's mystery plan was put into effect and worked, any such mass reloading operation would take months to carry out. The incident just underscores that Negan should not have the ability to do what he did tonight.

[3a] UPDATE (11 Dec., 2017) - Discussing this ep on Reddit, poster "Serialnoymb63" points out that those grenade launchers "could have been handy" when the three communities carried out that bizarre "attack" on the Sanctuary in the first ep of this season. Back then, I'd noted that Rick had charged into that situation to boldly take the low ground and that the Saviors in the building could have destroyed our heroes with fairly minimal effort. Those grenade launchers would have made this task a lot easier. And if they exist, they pretty much have to have been there at the Sanctuary all along; all of Negan's other facilities were wiped out.

[4] I've spent some time in my recent TWD reviews noting the serious dramatic problems that have arisen as a consequence of having the characters insist their campaign against the Saviors was part of some master Plan while refusing to share that plan with the viewers. It seems inconceivable there would be other outposts that just weren't hit but the writers have left a bit of a black hole here.

[5] While the ep dwells on such peripheral matters, Rick again disappears for much of the episode, present for only a few moments at the beginning then turning up at the end for that very brief dukearoo with Negan. Though the ostensible central hero of the show, Rick has been increasingly absent from it in recent seasons, often disappearing for weeks at a time. This season seems to be addressing fan complaints re:that development by including Rick in more eps but in what amount to glorified cameo appearances.

[6] At no point are we ever shown a large number of Saviors swarming over the Safe Zone after it's breached. Rick is able to enter it then leave unmolested. While wandering inside, Michonne only runs into that one Savior. I found myself wondering why the Alexandrians don't just go back and kill the Saviors who have entered their community, something they appear entirely capable of doing.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, December 4, 2017

No Time Like Time For After THE WALKING DEAD

THE WALKING DEAD continues to bog down in its own shortcomings. This evening's offering, "Time For After," was as full of holes as Clyde Barrow's stolen Ford and amounted to little more than a series of delaying actions aimed at getting events to the big 90-minute midseason finale next week.

The crack sniper team the Alexandrians left posted around Negan's big Sanctuary seem to appear and disappear at the writers' convenience. They're supposed to be camped out in high places around the zombie-besieged compound in the event that any Saviors appear. Last week, we learned that at least two Saviors had been able to drive up to the place, survey what had happened there then peacefully drive away unmolested. Two weeks ago, Negan himself had walked across the yard in the open, fighting and even shooting zombies, but no sniper ever tried to plug him. Tonight when Daryl, Tara, Michonne and Rosita turned up in a garbage truck, they were immediately spotted by the sharpshooters and identified as friendlies but a little later, Eugene was able to walk right out on to the roof of the main building and stand there for an extended period without drawing any fire. And he was working on a remote-controlled glider that would play music and lure away the zombies.

Last week, I wrote about how the writers have had the characters insist there is, behind everything they've done this season, some big master Plan to defeat the Saviors but have entirely failed to share even a vague outline of that plan with viewers. Thus rather than a storyline wherein the characters pursue clearly-defined goals while the writers manipulate events as a means of generating suspense, it's mostly just been a lot of random mayhem to no obvious end. This was further complicated by the fact that Rick went off alone to the Garbage People, threatened them and was immediately taken prisoner when they turned down his insistence they join the anti-Savior team--definitely not an outcome he Planned--while multiple other characters went off on non-Planned missions of their own and no one was doing anything in accordance with any Plan. The failure to explain the Plan continues to cause problems tonight. Daryl, way off-Plan, has brought that garbage truck with the idea of driving it into the side of the compound and letting the zombies flood into the place. This, he insists, will force the Saviors to "surrender" but one gets the idea he just wants to kill them all. Morgan, who has recently joined the sniper-team, likes that idea just fine, as does Tara, who has been after blood for a while now. The writers try to set up some drama by presenting Rosita and Michonne as conflicted about this but it's impossible to generate any real dramatic tension because while Daryl's idea makes perfect sense and seems really obvious, Rick's Plan remains entirely unknown, leaving viewers with no basis for comparison.While Daryl makes a strong case for his approach--the Kingdom's entire fighting force has been wiped out and if the Saviors reverse their fortunes and decide to fight, our heroes don't have the numbers to beat them[1]--no one points to any downside to it and the other side of the story is entirely absent.

The writers skip over all of that and initially just make it all about Rick but this doesn't make any sense as a point of demarcation either. Rosita refuses to go along with Daryl on the grounds that "I believe in Rick Grimes." This is the same Rosita who spent all of last season going off-script at every turn--impatient, wanting to kill the enemy, disregarding the communities' plans and even her own life. Now, she chides Michonne for being impatient and not realizing that sometimes, you just have to sit and wait--their assigned place, for the moment, in Rick's Plan. "I just wish it didn't take Sasha walking out of that coffin for me to realize it," she huffs as she walks away, which makes no sense at all. Last season, Rosita and Sasha had gone to the Sanctuary with the aim of assassinating Negan. This was acknowledged by both to be a suicide mission but Rosita was left behind when Sasha locked her out of a gate at the last moment before mounting the attack. Sasha failed and would later die in Savior custody (a suicide, though no one knows that) then come "walking out of that coffin" as a zombie. There's no lesson in any of that to inform Rosita's actions tonight; it's just invoking an emotional moment as a substitute for any argument. Worse is what the writers did with Michonne. Last season, Michonne was telling Rick that after the war with the Saviors was over, he should be the one to lead the various communities forward to the future. Tonight, she was ready to completely disregard Rick's Plan for Daryl's. She later backed out at the last minute but with no Rick Plan on the table could offer no rationale for doing so. As a substitute, the writers turned to some of their patented speechifying, producing an unintentionally hilarious swamp of nonsense:

"I came here because I wanted to see things for myself. I wanted to know that things were going to work. but y'know what? I don't get to know that. None of us do. What I do know is that things are working now, so maybe we just need to trust that things are going to keep working, because this, what we're about to do, it's not worth risking us."

"It is for me," Daryl grunts. "It just is."

"I hope it works--I really, really do--but I can't do it. I just can't."

"Then you shouldn't."

And she doesn't! But like Rosita, she doesn't try to talk Daryl out of it either. How could she? Exhorting Daryl to stick to Rick's Plan would require going through Rick's Plan. For that, Rick would have to have a Plan.

Daryl arrived at the compound at the end of the previous ep; the nonsense I've just outlined means this one is more than 2/3 over before he finally drives that truck through the wall.

Other items: The characters have always remembered or forgotten the old cover-yourself-in-zombie-grue trick at the writers' convenience. While it seems logical that one could get sick from using it, no one ever has. The writers have decided, rather late in the game after 8 years of seeing people use the trick, to address this; Gabriel may be on his death-bed after contracting some sort of infection in that manner.[2] He was sick at the end of last week's ep; he's still sick at the end of this one. Eugene is confronted by Dwight, who pointlessly confessed that he was helping Rick and co.[3] Eugene remains a coward who looks out for #1 and continues helping Negan even though his loyalties are somewhat divided--exactly where he was when the ep began and exactly where he's been since he switched sides. The Saviors fight the zombies that come flooding in after the truck crashes. They're nearly out of ammo and supplies. Eugene tells Negan he can make more bullets if he can acquire the machinery to do so but their situation seems pretty grim. Over in the landfill, the Garbage People seemed poised to feed Rick to a zombie when he breaks free, fights them, rips off the zombie's head (Z NATION!) and wrestles Jadis to the ground, finally securing her alliance with the other communities by threatening to let the zombie head eat her face. She wants him to pose for her to sculpt him as part of her fee for going along with this but he haggles her down. The outcome and the way it comes about makes it feel as if the entire business of refusing Rick and taking him prisoner was just thrown in to eat up screentime.

Rick and the Garbage People drive to the Sanctuary but only to see that the Saviors have been saved by that act of TWD's god known as the Inevitable Results of Defying Rick: the snipers are dead and the zombie horde that had surrounded the compound was gone.

The evening closed with a the midseason finale will feature a shocking scene about which everyone will be talking and I'm sure that's exactly what will happen.

--j.

---

[1] Though, it should be noted, this is a questionable conclusion. While the Kingdom's force was wiped out, the Saviors' manpower should have been pretty seriously depleted by what's happened so far this season.

[2] It doesn't make any sense to throw this in now. We've not only seen characters covering themselves in zombie grue for 8 years--Rick did it the first time when he had a gunshot wound in his side--we've also seen countless other occasions when characters have gotten zombie gore in their eyes and even their mouths and have been entirely unaffected.

[3] Eugene, who was recording himself just before this, may have a tape of the confession. Nothing was made of this, which means it's unlikely anything ever will be. Eugene was prepared to tell Negan about Dwight but backed out.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, November 27, 2017

THE WALKING DEAD Talks Too Much

Throughout this season of THE WALKING DEAD, the series' writers have made it clear that everything our heroes are doing in the war they've launched against the Saviors is being done in accordance with some master Plan. Though the characters are all aware of this Plan (and Rick drones on endlessly about it), the writers have so far declined to share it with the audience, which has presented a raft of dramatic problems that seriously boiled over during tonight's ep.

Up front, it should be acknowledged that in a better series, viewers would have been introduced to at least some broad outline of this plan from the beginning and the writers would have milked it for suspense. Can our heroes succeed at this goal, capture this-or-that objective, take out this critical target, etc.? Will the Saviors anticipate what's up and counter or will Rick prove to be a few steps ahead of them? What unexpected developments will monkey-wrench both sides along the way? The season could have played out like an awesome game of action-movie chess and, at times, poker, with goals, reversals, fake-outs as the two sides try to outdo one another. Instead, viewers have been left entirely in the dark, which has reduced most of what has happened so far to just a lot of random mayhem with no obvious point beyond generating a string of emotional scenes--yet another example of TWD's soap melodrama model completely ruining what should be a great show.

Tonight's ep, "The King, the Widow & Rick," opens with the leaders of the various communities sending one another letters, essentially progress updates. This doesn't make a lick of sense--whatever mailman is driving around the apocalypse delivering them could just as easily have acted as a messenger himself and simply told everyone what they needed to know. Instead, we're to believe everyone stopped in the middle of this rapidly-developing action and wrote letters. Not necessarily helpful ones either--much of what's quoted from Rick goes on about how many brave people have sacrificed their lives so that the Plan may succeed. All of these communities have suffered casualties. Do any of them really need to hear such sentiment? Is sitting and writing such things really the best use of Rick's time in such a situation? "The plan is working." Rick's text assures everyone. "We're doing this. We're winning." Something else Rick wrote immediately caught my attention. Regarding Negan's headquarters, he records, "the lookouts are all around the compound. They open a door, we fire." Last week, the Saviors had speculated that there may e snipers outside. Perhaps they'd even observed said snipers. The other thing that happened last week: Negan not only opened a door, he opened two and between them, he fought his way through a long stretch of zombies across open ground and no sniper even so much as took a shot at him, even after Gabriel, who was accompanying him, began shooting zombies. That isn't a case of shitty snipers asleep at their posts; it's shitty writers asleep at theirs.

Rick, in what amounted to another glorified cameo, tried and failed to negotiate a new treaty with the Garbage People. Demonstrating yet again what an imminently skilled leader he really is, Rick doesn't take an armed force along so he can negotiate under a white flag and then leave; he just turns up at their landfill alone--the camp of a faction aligned with the same enemy against which he just launched a war earlier that same day. And then he threatens them; if they don't join up, they'll be destroyed. Jadis promptly turns him down--takes her a matter of seconds--and locks him up, presumably to turn over to the Saviors. "Talks too much," she says of him as he's led away, which comes across as a funny meta-commentary. With Ezekiel depressed and unable to pull himself together, Rick's capture leaves only Maggie. In the first day of this war,[1] two of our heroes' three leaders have already been taken out. Not by the Saviors but by their own shortcomings.[2]

One rather suspects that wasn't part of Rick's Plan.

Much of tonight's action, however, was taken up by several of our heroes, in various combinations, deciding to go completely off-script from any Plan that may exist.

The writers apparently remembered Rosita and Michonne, who haven't appeared on the show in a month-and-a-half. Whatever part they were supposed to play in the Plan, they were supposed to be at the Safe Zone but they decide, instead, to team up, take a car and drive all the way over to the Saviors' zombie-surrounded compound because Michonne just wants to see it for herself. No kidding, that's why she wants to go. And Rosita goes with her because, well ,why not, right?[3] They're on the payroll--the writers need something for them to do.

Driving down the road, they hear some loud music coming from somewhere, stop and go to check it out. They find a pair of Saviors in a warehouse with a truck loaded with huge speakers, a contraption that would be perfect for luring zombies away from Negan's compound. These Saviors aren't driving it around on orders to do that though. They've been to the compound and describe the carnage at the scene, which means they're two more those crack snipers failed to nail, but they don't know who or what caused it. They apparently went to fetch this speaker-filled truck of their own initiative, then, on their way to this critical task, while Negan and the other Saviors could be fighting for their lives against zombies, decided to stop in and do a little scavenging. They're a coincidence. Michonne and Rosita are driving up the road by coincidence and hear the music by coincidence, all so the writers could stage a fight inside the warehouse.

Earlier in the ep, Michonne had advised Rosita not to come with her. "You're still healing," she insisted, "You were shot. I was just beat up." When the warehouse fight breaks out, Michonne finds that, because of her injuries, using her sword is difficult for her, which can't help but remind viewers that Rick was shot in the same ep in which Michonne took that beating and he's been going, going, going all season while suffering no ill effects from it.[4] Rosita suffered no ill effects from her own gunshot wound tonight either.

I've written quite a bit about how TWD has borrowed from Z NATION over the last few seasons and this particular fight has a Z NATION ending. As with so many of the other occasions in which TWD had aped ZN, these moments are by far the highlight of the ep. Rosita discovers a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in a box (!!!) and confronts one of the Saviors with it. She gives him a chance to surrender, he taunts her and she blasts him into atoms from a few feet away. Entirely impossible, of course, but HILARIOUS! The other Savior jumps in the speaker-filled truck and skedaddles but as Michonne and Rosita watch her disappearing down the road--and before one even recovers from the laughter that grenade-launcher scene just induced--we get the second very funny ZN moment, as a garbage truck suddenly appears out of nowhere, comes around the side of a building and completely crushes the vehicle. It turns out Daryl and Tara had also coincidentally decided to operate outside the Plan, had coincidentally been in the vicinity of this warehouse, which isn't on the main road,[5] coincidentally turned up just as that Savior was escaping and coincidentally slammed into the truck, though they couldn't have seen it until seconds before they hit it having no way of knowing who may be driving it! If anything makes TWD worth watching these days, it's these tone-purloined moments.

Daryl, Tara, Rosita and Michonne continue on to Negan's compound, Daryl talking about how they're going to "end this raht now," a call-back to his insistence in last week's ep that they could crack open the main building and let the dead stream in. Elsewhere in the ep, Carol herself sets out for some unknown, unPlanned personal mission to Negan's compound as well. She's interrupted and calls it off only because a kid from the Kingdom follows her--yes, they did that "don't follow me" scene yet again--and she has to take him back. Carl also went off on a non-Planned personal mission to find the fellow he'd seen in the opening ep. With war underway, he's looking to recruit this stranger into their community.

This season has been an incessant drone about the Plan, the Plan, the Plan, sticking to the Plan, but while this ep opened with more of that, nothing that happened in it had anything to do with the Plan. Whatever that Plan may be, our heroes have started a war and no one was doing anything that had anything to do with it. Why, one would almost think there is no Plan and the writers have just been faking it all along!

Anniversary Dept. - If one includes side pieces, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD reviews, etc., I've written more than a hundred articles on TWD over the years but I've always numbered my episode reviews and in that run, this one marks my 100th. So if you wanna' wear an Hawaiian shirt and jeans...

--j.

---

[1] This entire season has so far taken place over the course of a few hours' time; the first day ended with a night during the course of tonight's ep.

[2] Maggie, meanwhile, has been burdened by Jesus' decision to take a large number of Saviors prisoner. She builds a crude pen for them and Hilltop is now forced to once again feed them, the marauders who had terrorized the community, out of its own food. Immediately after Maggie says she won't tolerate any misbehavior by the prisoners, evil smirker Jared makes a dive for the pen's gate; rather than on-the-spot execution, all he gets is a slug to the face.

[3] This leads to a continuity error. When the two leave the Safe Zone, Michonne is driving--it's her trip--but when we cut back to them a few minutes later, Rosita is suddenly driving. Another such error occurs when Rick arrives at the Garbage People's landfill. When he knocks on the door, Jadis is sitting wearing nothing but some sort of smock (perhaps dreaming of an "after" with Rick?); he's escorted into her presence and she's suddenly fully dressed.

[4] The writers try to retcon that matter. Jadis shot Rick in the side but when Jadis mentions that she shot him, he says she only "grazed" him.

[5] When they'd gone to check out the noise, Michonne and Rosita had left their car in the middle of the road and Daryl and Tara could have come across it and been looking for them but this makes Daryl's swooping in and slamming into that truck even more inexplicable--for all he knew, Michonne or Rosita was driving it.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Friday, November 24, 2017

In Defense of Cult Films

"I beseech you, learn to see the 'bad' movies, they are sometimes sublime."
--Ado Kyrou, "Le Surrealisme au cinema"

James Franco's THE DISASTER ARTIST deals with the creation of Tommy Wiseau's 2003 movie THE ROOM, which has earned both a reputation as a profoundly awful film and a devout cult following of fans who celebrate it for its awfulness. Cassam Looch, "Film and TV Editor of Culture Trip," doesn't much care for THE ROOM or its following and he's written a sour article on the matter, "Why Is Hollywood Obsessed With Celebrating Failure?" He calls the Franco picture "the latest in a series of films preoccupied with a lack of success," but he cites as examples only it and ED WOOD, Tim Burton's loving biographical sketch of perhaps the most notoriously inept filmmaker in the history of the medium. The two films were made 23 years apart, which doesn't even suggest a trend, much less an obsession. Looch's real targets are cult films and he snottily dismisses THE ROOM, Paul Verhoeven's SHOWGIRLS and the films of Ed Wood.

I can't speak for THE ROOM, which certainly looks pricelessly inept, but I'm definitely a fan of the others and, more generally, of the kind of off-the-beaten-track cinema Looch is trying to dismiss. Looch describes cult films as simply worthless rubbish, failures that earn only scorn and belong in some forgotten corner of landfill. This is both ahistorical and appallingly blinkered. Movies regularly fail to find immediate financial success and critical praise for an infinity of reasons that have nothing to do with their quality. They can be misunderstood. They can be ahead of their time. They can just fall through the cracks of our immense entertainment landscape. They can be low-budget affairs, which are much closer to individual expressions of the hearts and minds of their creators than films deliberately engineered by sophisticated studio machines for mass appeal. A film attracts a cult for the same reason any film draws an audience, because it's possessed of some quality that connects with a certain segment of viewers. The very qualities that can alienate a mass audience from such films--their uniqueness, their individuality, their quirkiness, their entertaining of heretical ideas or flouting of social norms, even their unwillingness and/or inability to conform to the usual standards of technical proficiency--are those that can draw a cult. Many fans see such productions as a refreshing alternative to stifling mainstream pap. Rejecting films merely because they're transgressive of contemporary mass-audience tastes or because they challenge traditional notions of what's entertaining--what Looch has done--is reactionary. It may steer one away from a lot of genuine rubbish but it also closes one off from an entire world of delightful, unique and fascinating films. However obnoxious he may make himself, it's hard not to feel sorry for a film fan who who does that to himself.

At this late a date, it's a little strange to see SHOWGIRLS included in this particular snort. Verhoeven is a top-notch filmmaker and more than one of his movies was widely--and wildly--misunderstood in its own time then has, upon subsequent reevaluation, garnered much respect. The cult that formed around SHOWGIRLS was made up of the people who actually got it the first time around. The film is a gloriously smutty, over-the-top, cynical, darkly humorous--and sometimes just dark--rendition of a classic "Hollywood story" movie that uses Vegas as a metaphor for certain unflattering aspects of American culture.[1] We have a plucky, girl-power heroine trying to take on a man's world by getting naked for its entertainment, sexy Gina Gershon, catty as nip through a y'all-come drawl, as the wisened starlet looking to hold on to her hard-earned spotlight and it's impossible to greet the dual renditions of convulsive rutting by Kyle MacLachlan and excruciatingly gorgeous Elizabeth Berkley with anything but hysterical laughter--only a few of the film's significant repertoire of charms. SHOWGIRLS is a blast. Upon its initial release in 1995, it became a fad among critics to bash it and it proved a massive bomb at the box-office but in the years since, that tide has definitely turned. Looch's description of the film--"a blight against all involved that deserves to be dismissed as a foolish endeavour that never needs to be spoken about again... and certainly one that should not be watched by any right-minded film lover"--is decades out of date, and would have been the words of a fool even back then.

SHOWGIRLS is now celebrated because it's good, not, as Looch would have it, because it's regarded as "so bad it's good" but into the latter category would certainly fall the works of Ed Wood. A former Marine and World War II vet, Edward D. Wood Jr. was an angora-adoring transvestite unter-auteur who, joined by an evolving troupe of oddballs, turned out a string of ultra-low-budget pictures in the 1950s and '60s. By ridiculing his work, the Medved brothers' Golden Turkey books brought it a posthumous cult following in the late 1970s which has only grown in the decades since. Wood is regularly cited as the "worst filmmaker of all time"--he's become the pop answer when the question arises--but that appellation (appallation?) really isn't defensible. While it's undeniably true that Wood was usually an awful storyteller who had absolutely no serious talent for filmmaking, it's also the case that he was a genuine artist. A bad artist, to be sure, but when one sees his films--GLEN OR GLENDA, BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, etc.--one is seeing him, not some cynical drive-by conducted by a disinterested mercenary or committee of studio business suits only looking to make a quick buck.[2] Underneath his inexpert productions, there is sincerity. One is watching a guy struggling, usually rather hopelessly, to bring to the screen stories for which he has a great personal passion. This makes his work interesting and gives his films an endearing quality, while their extraordinary shortcomings are some of the marks of his unique cinematic vision. Obviously, the "worst filmmaker of all time" is an entirely subjective judgment but it seems to me that if we're going to slap that title on anyone, the cinema is simply too heavily littered with entirely worthless, unwatchable junk to bestow it on someone whose work is possessed of these traits. Wood's films are imminently watchable and even if much of their entertainment value is derived from their ineptness--and the ineptness of Wood's productions is a never-ending parade of hilarity--that still counts as entertainment value.

Looch doesn't think that counts. He asserts that it's a "problem" that Wood's films are regarded in some quarters "as somehow being worth watching."[3] Of THE ROOM, he writes, "fans quote along to the wooden acting and inexplicably bad dialogue as if it's entertainment, something Wiseau himself has said he fails to understand..." That bolding is mine and to Looch, I would say, if you wished to establish that you don't understand why people find such films entertaining, you could have saved all that writing by simply saying so. It would have taken a single line. A paragraph, if you wanted to get wordy. You call so-bad-they're-good films "an oxymoron of epic proportions, and one that doesn't really stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever," but you don't offer it any real scrutiny and your own absurd notion that these films aren't entertainment can't withstand the obvious reality that so many people do, in fact, find them entertaining; that's how they became cult films and of sufficient notoriety that you're writing about them. The project on which you embarked with your article is to wave an ugly, stifling notion of Good Taste as a fetish against things you see as so beneath your contempt that you don't feel the need to offer any substantive case for your own view or substantive critique of the films you dismiss with verbal bulldozers; you instead treat their complete lack of merit as a given and ask your readers, who may love them, to "drop the pretence that these are good films when they most certainly aren't." What you've written is presumptuous, pretentious and preposterous and I suspect film connoisseurs with a more diverse palate than your own will continue to imbibe and enjoy entertainments that fall well outside the coffin-shaped box you've here labeled "good" and that the only thing of which you've convinced them is that you're not a writer on these matters worth reading. Of one, I can say that for certain.

Do better.

--j.

---

[1] Twenty-two years old, the film is particularly timely this year, given the current rash of Hollywood sex-abuse scandals.

[2] Which shouldn't be read as a condemnation of such cash-in productions; they're often sublime as well.

[3] He also writes that "the B-Movies Wood is famous for are hated for good reason... they are abysmal." But one sees very little "hate" for Wood's movies. Four decades ago, the Medveds treated them with snickering contempt but they survive and are kept in constant circulation because people find them entertaining. Wood has been the subject of multiple documentaries over the years, a great book ("Nightmare of Ecstasy") and Tim Burton's film, which is also Burton's masterpiece. Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE has, among other things, been turned into a comic book, three different stage plays, a musical and has been remade for the screen. Speaking personally, when I owned a video store some years ago, PLAN 9 was a regular rental, so much so that each of the three times it was stolen, it had made enough to justify continuing to replace it--in my little video store, a remarkable achievement for a film of that vintage.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, November 20, 2017

THE WALKING DEAD's Big Unscary F U

The revamped BATTLESTAR GALACTICA from 2004 was, warts and all, one of the best tv series of its kind and from its first season to its last, its remarkably talented creative team always struggled to fit into a mere hour-long timeslot all the great material they'd cooked up. As great as a given episode would be, the deleted scenes would break your heart. "Damn," would begin my perpetual reaction upon seeing the cut material, "why couldn't they have gotten this into the show somehow?!" It was usually just cut for time. One wishes BSG had been allowed to exceed its allotted hour a lot more often than was the case. These days, THE WALKING DEAD is quite often given that liberty--eps routinely run five minutes, fifteen minutes, even half an hour beyond their regularly-designated allotment--but TWD is a show whose creators can barely even fill the regular hour they're contractually obligated to deliver. It has been one of the most filler-packed series television has ever seen and one of the real curiosities about its extended episodes is that virtually none of them[1] are jam-packed with lots of things happening that couldn't be cut without causing serious narrative harm. They tend, instead, to be the ones in which the least actually happens. That's the case with "The Big Scary U," tonight's installment, which pulls back from the more action-packed eps of the season to date to deliver what amounts to a glorified bottle episode that was nevertheless allowed to run for 75 minutes.

Tonight's a-plot takes place almost entirely at Negan's headquarters, now overrun by zombies. In a trailer outside the main compound, Negan and then Father Gabriel have taken shelter from the dead. That happened over a month ago and we haven't seen them since.[2] Back then, Gabriel dove into the trailer and Negan, who was already inside, announced his presence with his usual campy swagger. Gabriel was carrying a fully-automatic rifle, a pistol and a long knife but the force-field from the villain's plot-armor left him paralyzed and he did nothing, even as the villain threatened him. We rejoin the scene seconds later and Negan charges up to Gabriel, knocks him down and disarms him. The cold opening ends with a provocative notion; Gabriel suggests he's there to take Negan's confession. This set-up would have been an opportunity for the writers to try to humanize the awful cartoon they've made of this character. Unfortunately, they just take a pass. We learn merely that Negan once perhaps worked with children in some entirely unknown capacity and was married prior to the apocalypse. And we get to hear him do more of his usual posturing.

Rick and co. brought a small army to Negan's door at the beginning of this season. They had Negan and the entire Savior leadership in front of them at near point-blank range and with no cover and declined to simply kill the villains on sight. Gabriel didn't kill Negan when he dove into that trailer and had the opportunity. Later, when the writers have he and Negan remember the old cover-oneself-in-zombie-gore trick which will allow them to escape the trailer and walk unmolested among the dead,[3] Gabriel has a pistol he recovered from Negan. Again he doesn't shoot the guy. He even offers to give back the gun! And Negan allows him to keep it! Covered in grue, Gabriel could have plugged Negan and just walked home. Instead, he helps Negan get back into the main compound and becomes his prisoner.

A problem that has plagued TWD for most of its run--and that I've covered here over and over again--is how its writers make every progression of what passes for plot entirely dependent upon the characters being complete idiots with no sense of self-preservation. Even as the writers were giving Gabriel these further opportunities to take out Negan and having him decline to do so, they decided to further rub viewers' noses in the indefensible idiocy of this. Inside the main compound, there was much dissension among the Savior leaders; without Negan, they argue, jockey for position, challenge one another are are on the verge of completely falling apart and when the workers, kept in check by Negan's terror regime, begin to revolt, they're entirely incapable of dealing with the situation,[4] all of which just underscores how killing Negan would, to a large extent, solve the Savior problem.


The b-plot is really only a few brief moments, basically a cameo by Rick and Daryl in which they're going through what's left of the Savior truck they crashed in their cameo appearance last week. Daryl recovers some dynamite and decides they should use it to blast open Negan's compound, let the dead flood in and "they'll surrender. It'll be done. Hell, we could end this by sundown." He's probably right but Rick is worried about the workers. What if doing this turns the workers against us? "There's a plan, he says, "and everyone is stickin' to it." Viewers have, of course, never been let in on this plan, so instead of this season being a suspenseful chess-game between our heroes and the Saviors, it's mostly just been a lot of random mayhem with little hint about what this unspoken "plan" is supposed to accomplish or how or what part anything we're being shown plays in it. Viewers have no information with which to judge its merits vs. Daryl's idea but Daryl must be unimpressed with it because he decides to go with his own. Rick vetoes it and Daryl physically attacks him! It's not a minor altercation either--Daryl tries to pound him into the ground and throws him in a choke-hold. Daryl calls Rick "brother" and Rick has been more of a brother to him than his own ever was. The two have been established as best pals, thick as thieves, absolutely loyal to one another, each willing to do anything for the other, Daryl being especially attached to Rick. The writers have done absolutely nothing to establish any foundation for this sort of sudden, extreme clash; it's just Daryl going violently out-of-character for the sake of adding a little action. Rick grabs the bag of dynamite and throws it in the burning truck, ending this stupid conflict by blowing up what, in a war situation, is a priceless asset.

That's it, another one-line-item plot--"Negan makes it back to the main Savior compound"--with a brief diversion that doesn't go anywhere. As Rick is walking up the road near the end,[5] a helicopter flies over, which is definitely the most interesting thing that happens.

--j.

---

[1] None at all come immediately to mind.

[2] Though the show has, of late, featured a lot more action than usual, the pace is still wretched. At the end of 5 eps, the season has only covered perhaps a few hours of time. Story threads and characters still completely disappear for long stretches.

[3] Since this gimmick was introduced--a carryover from the comic--the characters remember or forget it at the writers' convenience. Carol couldn't remember how to do it just last week. It also seems to work or not at the writer's convenience; tonight, it suddenly failed while Negan and Gabriel were in the midst of the dead.

[4] In fact, if Negan had returned to the main compound only two minutes later than he did, the workers would have probably liquidated the Savior leadership.

[5] Yes, in a wartime situation where the enemy could turn up at any second, Rick is just walking right up the road in the open.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, November 13, 2017

Some Guy, Some Cliché, Some WALKING DEAD

Recent installments of THE WALKING DEAD have, in the ham-handed way typical of the series, set up Ezekiel for a major fall. The King's bold and blatant displays of hubris seemed to signal his end was near and when "Some Guy," tonight's offering, opened with yet another, it looked as if his number was probably up. It wasn't though. In the end, he was able to hobble home but only as a greatly reduced "king" presiding over a greatly reduced Kingdom.

The Savior compound he and his men hit turned out to be the temporary residence of the big Browning machine-gun for which Rick has been searching. The Saviors put the weapon to work on the Kingdom's fighters, who were, at the time, in an open field, and wiped out the entire force. Ezekiel survived because several of his people had moved to shield him with their bodies; he had to crawl out from under what was left of them. This set up what could have been an extraordinarily ghoulish horror movie moment, as Ezekiel, with an injured leg that prevents him from immediately walking, is not only faced with the awful deaths of all of his beloved subjects but then has to try to crawl away from and over them as they begin to reanimate and pursue him for his flesh. Unfortunately, this is TWD, so that moment is entirely squandered by unimaginative direction and flat staging and editing, capped by the first of what will become many "surprise" last-minute saves in the ep.

In this first one, Ezekiel is about to become Zombie Chow when a random Kingdomite who somehow didn't die in the massacre suddenly arrives out of nowhere and announces his presence by shooting the menacing zombie bearing down on the King. This is, of course, one of the most overused clichés in action pictures, and it's the central preoccupation of this ep; in a little over 41 minutes of running time, it happens no less than five times. Ezekiel is saved from this zombie, his man Jerry rescues him from a Savior who had captured him, he and Jerry are saved from a zombie horde by Carol, Rick is saved from being machine-gunned by Daryl (a moment which, unlike any other action in the ep, is well-shot and edited) and finally, Ezekiel is again saved from a horde of zombies by his animated tiger Shiva.

That last horde is TWD's latest swipe from Z NATION, a group of zombies grotesquely mutated by a swamp full of toxic waste in which they've been milling around! ZN revels in offering up all kinds of unusual zombies like this. These particular critters are utterly random. There's no reason at all for them to be there, except that they're cool. But sometimes, that should be reason enough. Definitely a nice touch. Fill in my usual comments about the best part of this show--and these toxic-waste zombies were unquestionably the highlight of the evening--being something it lifted from ZN.

There are plenty of stupid bits, as always. Ezekiel, attempting to flee from zombies, grabs up a rifle and instead of shooting the creatures with it, uses it like a crutch, repeatedly driving its barrel down into the mud beneath him. Then, he tries to shoot it. Fortunately for him, it seems to have randomly jammed while its previous owner still had it, so he's spared having its barrel explode in his face. Later, as zombies are closing in on he and Jerry, who have no guns and are up against a chained-up gate, he notices one of the zombies has a pistol its hip. Instead of grabbing it and shooting off the lock, he continues to fight the zombies with his sword and both nearly die before being saved by Carol. Rick's plot-armor--and, one suspects, the creators' lack of familiarity with the weapon they're featuring--saves him from being turned into instant Swiss cheese when the Saviors turn their machine-gun on him and the Jeep he's driving. Rick drives up right beside the Saviors' humvee and jumps into the cab while the driver watches, when all the driver had to do was swerve out of the way, hit the gas, hit the brakes--do literally anything--and Rick would have been road-pizza.[1] A pissed-off 500 lb. tiger is overcome and killed by a handful of zombies who not only had the physical weakness of the long-dead but were practically falling apart from exposure to that toxic waste. Carol announces she's almost out of ammo even as she continues firing full-auto bursts at the large number of zombies she's attempting to evade rather than dropping down to semi.[2] And so on.

Despite how it markets itself, TWD has never really been a particularly action-packed series. Its stock-in-trade is tedious, wretchedly-paced one-line-item plot episodes wherein almost nothing happens. In recent weeks, the action quotient has been significantly amped up but we're now getting relatively action-packed eps that, paradoxically, manage to be pretty damn dull anyway. Go figure. One can't help but wonder how much of the season's budget is being burned up by all of this; it may well portend a very slow second half-season.

--j.

---

[1] Daryl's motorcycle has some interesting speed capabilities and limitations. Daryl was fired upon by the Savior in the hummer and crashed but he somehow recovers, gets back on his bike and catches up with the other vehicles in the chase, which should have been long gone by then. He gets there just in time to suddenly appear, shoot the gunner and save Rick (in a well-done little moment) but when Rick then jumps into the humvee and crashes it, Daryl, who should be right behind him, isn't even in sight and only drives up (from a substantial distance) after. It's possible Dwight's possession of the bike imbued it with some of the magic the Saviors have employed at various points, allowing Daryl to teleport in for the save then teleport back to his original position--far behind the chase and trying to catch up.

[2] At one point, Carol shoots it out with some Saviors, both she and they concealed behind some cars. As has been the case throughout this season, no one can hit one another, despite being at near-point-blank range using fully-automatic weapons, and the Saviors, who significantly outnumber Carol (at first) don't just go around the vehicle behind which she's crouched and shoot her, which would be easy to do. Instead--as has also been the case throughout this season--both she and they just pointlessly spray the bodies of the vehicles. Worthy of note--at least here in a footnote--is that one of the windows on the vehicle Carol is using for cover does break at one point (though it took some time). In previous eps, characters hid behind vehicles and threw an ungodly amount of lead--or was it cotton?--at one another without ever taking out windshields or windows.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Sunday, November 5, 2017

What's That Coming Over the Hill? Is it Monsters? No, It's Just THE WALKING DEAD

Last week's WALKING DEAD ended with Rick, then prowling around for guns inside a Savior compound, being confronted by a gun-wielding Morales, a character who hadn't been seen since he and his family decided to split from the regular cast way back in season 1. He'd become a Savior, said other Saviors were on their way and his reappearance was such a portentous event, it became the note on which the curtain fell. "Wow!", the viewer is led to think, "where will this go?" The move seemed to herald some significant plot-twist, so when, a few minutes into tonight's ep, Daryl shows up and just shoots Morales in the head without a word, it was a moment of dramatic awkwardness that was absolutely hilarious. Moreso for me because sitting watching it, I'd just made a joke about how Daryl was up there somewhere--he'd been on the same floor as Rick--and suggested he should slip up on the fellow and kill him. Because that would be funny, not because I thought it would actually happen. After, Rick looks stunned. "Th- that was..." he stuttered and then Daryl cuts him off: "I know who it was," he says in that mumbling, dismissive way Norman Reedus has made part of Daryl's signature. "Don't matter." Which just made the already-damn-funny situation really damn funny.

Though the definite entertainment value in this was strictly unintentional, it proved to be the high-point of the ep.

It seems TWD's writers went through all the trouble of bringing back Morales just to have him introduce the Big Theme of the episode. Subtlety simply doesn't live in the TWD writer's room, so before Morales' hysterically funny demise, he called Rick a "monster," said the only difference between Rick and himself was that he had a gun and that this didn't make Rick any better, it just made him lucky. OUR HEROES ARE JUST LIKE THE VILLAINS, get it? It's material TWD has recycled so often the actors probably don't even need a script anymore to recite the requisite sentiments.[1]

And recite it they do. TWD has always set up and milked moral dilemmas for melodrama but genuine moral complexity has proven to be as beyond the capabilities of its writers as warp-drive technology. Throughout TWD's run, our heroes are, on rare occasions, shown doing ignoble things, almost always for the sake of some plot of the moment, but in the moral landscape in which they exist they're clearly on the side of the angels.[2] Last week when Rick killed a fellow who, it was then revealed, was protecting a baby, he was clearly sickened, even horrified. By contrast, the featured Saviors are just presented as the embodiment of every bad and vicious characteristic of the human species, brutish ravagers who slaughter their way across the landscape killing, terrorizing and stealing whatever they want, enslaving communities and taking great glee in their crimes against humanity. Their leader is a camp cartoon who bashes in the brains of a helpless prisoner in front of the fellow's pregnant wife then mocks the victim as he dies, who threatens to have his men gang-rape a teenage boy for shits and giggles. Rick and co. would have to suck really badly to suck as badly as the Saviors and they just don't. Not in that way.[3] That leaves nothing but false equivalences to be wrung from this "look how alike they are" theme but the writers throw it in the viewer's face repeatedly. The title of tonight's ep, "Monsters," flat-out screams it. Morales straight-up says it. Morgan repeats it like a mantra. "Y'see, we're the same! We're the same! We're the same." Mr. Sulu, warp factor 6.

As I've so often noted, words and actions on TWD are often disconnected and TWD's writers give no indication they've ever been exposed to the 1st Rule of Screenwriting, "Show, Don't Tell." Here, they can't inject their preferred theme into the ep by writing that draws genuine parallels between the actions of the heroes and Saviors--the Saviors are simply too deplorable--so they weave it into the ep as I've described, by having people talk about it. It's hard to find in the actual actions of the characters. Rick saw to it that the baby he'd found would be cared for. When Gregory, who betrayed the Hilltop community to the Saviors, shows up back at its gates and makes an impassioned plea to be able to return, Maggie--incredibly--allows it. Last week, Jesus created the show's current moral dilemma by, well, acting like a Jesus. Out of the blue and while his mission was already underway, he suddenly decided the whole thing bothered his conscience and instead of simply wiping out the Saviors against which his group was engaged (as was apparently the plan), he insisted on negotiating a surrender. Hilltop has no capacity for dealing with a large number of hostile prisoners and these are people who, as Tara noted last week, will kill you the second your back is turned. Jesus is acting incredibly stupid here but the writers are siding with him, having him mouth noble platitudes about "peace" and how we will have to live with these people after the war is over. Because overt survivalist sentiment is never given a fair hearing on TWD, no one points out to him that the war has only just started, that his own side in that war is totally outnumbered and outgunned, that the idea of a people peacefully coexisting with another that has only ever terrorized, abused and murdered them is extremely dubious or that the only reason they'd ever have to live with any of this particular group of murderous sadists is that he unwisely opted to spare them. Instead, his foils are Tara, who, after one of TWD's patented personality transplants, has been set up as an increasingly vicious, almost proto-Savior character, and Morgan, who is presented as completely insane. They just want to kill 'em, even after the Saviors are disarmed--a much uglier act than would have been defeating them in a battle. Jesus stands firm, even fights Morgan over it. In context, viewers have seen plenty of who the Saviors are and what they do and if anyone needs a refresher, the vicious Jared continued, in this ep, to taunt Morgan over Morgan's young pupil, whom Jared murdered, but it's still like a final insult when, near the end, the writers choose as the one who draws attention to their savage nature the despicable, back-stabbing Gregory; he calls them "monsters,"[4] bookending when Morales used that same word for Rick. While nearly the entire ep presents our heroes as basically good people who are, among other things, merciful to the point of being TWD-level stupid, they're really just all the same, see?

To try to justify the presence of this theme in a story in which it's really entirely out of place, the writers throw in a moment in which Rick coaxes a lone Savior into surrendering in exchange for some information, making a big show of giving his word that the fellow won't be harmed if he cooperates then, after Rick gets the info, Daryl shoots the guy. Sort of a half-assed effort at theme-service; if the writers were serious, they would have had Rick pull the trigger.

Like last week, there's a lot of shooting and wasting of what should be precious ammo. When the Hilltoppers transporting those captured Saviors are set upon by a horde of zombies, they open up, full-auto, even though there's no reason for it (and to prove that the heroes and Saviors are all just the same, some of the good guys even get killed trying to protect those prisoners). Last week's silly, shallow-field shootout between Rick's group and the Saviors finally wraps up--who knew military-grade weapons couldn't shatter the windows on cars? As happened last week, the Saviors killed in that exchange zombify and though they've only just died moments earlier, the zombie make-up and appliances are caked on to them, making them look as if they've already been dead for weeks or months.

At this point, that sounds a bit like a metaphor for THE WALKING DEAD.


--j.

---

[1] Morales was given several minutes to make his own speech introducing all of this, which just added to the impression that the writers were going to do something important with him and made it more funny when he's immediately killed.

[2] Even when they stole guns from the Oceanside community, which was very wrong, no one was hurt and the action was done in the cause of fighting a common enemy. There's no doubt that when the fight is over, the only way Oceanside won't be welcomed as a friend is if it chooses not to be one.

[3] That's also why it's completely ridiculous to drag this theme into the show over and over again until it's worn down to parody. "Don't matter" indeed!

[4] When Gregory is raving about the evil of the Saviors and insisting Hilltop not let in Jesus' prisoners, there's a moment I found very funny when Maggie, looking to shut him up, angrily shouts at him--"GRIGORY!"--like she's trying to make a young child behave. It's all in Lauren Cohan's delivery.

"GRIGORY!!!"



Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Damned WALKING DEAD... With Pictures!

There was a lot of shooting tonight on "The Damned," this week's installment of THE WALKING DEAD, but for all that sound, fury and fully-automatic gunfire, not a lot of clarity and, this being TWD, not a lot of logic either.

Our heroes' "all-out war" against the Saviors continues, with a number divided into teams who are tasked with hitting various Savior compounds in different locations. Unlike last week, the ep is very fast-paced but the action is, for the most part, very badly shot and edited. While there seems to be some overarching plan at work and definite mission objectives, the writers never let the audience in on either, so instead of a script that establishes a set of goals and builds suspense around how and if our heroes can achieve them, as would be appropriate to make an ep of this sort work, it's all just mayhem. Heroes and Saviors crash into one another--sounds a bit like SURVIVOR, doesn't it?--then needlessly burn through incredible amounts of ammo.

A team from the Kingdom including Ezekiel and Carol are on foot and heading to the site they're supposed to attack, while another featuring Morgan, Tara and Jesus are supposed to hit a different compound, the one Rick and co. hit after first encountering the Saviors back in season 6. In both cases, the characters stress the need to be stealthy, which would make sense if these attacks were timed to occur simultaneously with the operation against Negan's headquarters in the last ep but makes absolutely none in the aftermath of that event. It's been established since shortly after the Saviors first appeared that they use radios and satellite phones to communicate. They've even, on occasion, employed magic to accomplish impossible tasks, including teleporting from one location to another. After the attack on Negan's hq, there's no more reason to assume the Saviors won't know they're coming than there is logic in the Saviors not knowing they're coming. When Morgan and co. are scanning their target, Jesus says, "If they see us, if they fire a gun, we're not getting in."[1] Ezekiel and his team, meanwhile, are on foot and heading for their objective when they encounter a lone Savior who ducks behind a car and instead of someone just flanking him and shooting him, twenty people plant their feet and open up on the car with fully-automatic weapons, a clamor that would be heard for many miles around. Then they just as loudly wipe out a horde of zombies. The Savior still escapes, and Carol delivers the punchline: "If he tells them we're here, it's over before it started." And if the audience didn't get the point (or have enough of a laugh), she repeats this sentiment a little later.

Rick's team is attacking another facility. One group shoots it out with the Saviors in the yard while Rick, Daryl and several other men slip in through a different entrance. As we eventually learn, they're in search of a cache of guns that are supposed to be on the 4th floor. From the fact that they're mounting an operation of this scale to acquire it, we can assume it's supposed to be a big cache of guns but Rick and Daryl leave the rest of their group behind in order to climb to the 4th through an elevator shaft. Presumably, the two are going to find some room packed with weapons then somehow carry them down all by themselves.

The shootout that rages in front of this same building offers some of the worst staged and edited action in TWD's run. Perhaps for budgetary reasons, the two sides are shooting at one another from very close quarters, the sort of combat that, using military-grade weapons, would be over very quickly but here is prolonged merely because the script says so. I've put together some screen grabs to illustrate. The fellow in the foreground with the rifle just can't seem to hit that bald guy:


The guy at the lower right can't take out this fleet-footed duo:


 Just duck your head a bit; they'll never be able to nail you, even as you run right toward them:


How hard is it to machine-gun this guy from this angle?


At one point, Aaron sees some Saviors trying to flank Eric and some other fighters. These infiltrators are practically in reach of him. This is his point of view on them:


...as they come streaming in...


Instead of just gunning them down, he jumps in a car and backs over them. The car seems to go from 0 to 70 in the space of about two feet. This is how close it is to them as he cranks it and they pass behind it:


...yet when he throws it in reverse, the impact on the no-goodniks is so great, they're sent flying over its hood to their deaths.

The entire shoot-out is filled with this sort of thing. Eventually, the dead Saviors begin reanimating and eating their former comrades; these zombies, which are people who were just killed moments earlier, are made up so that they're grey, have sunken features, inhuman eyes and look like they'd been dead for weeks:




There are some other amusing errors in the ep as well. At one point, a group of Saviors gun down a pair of redshirts who were with Morgan. One of the redshirts had been very nervous about gong on the mission and after he dies, his corpse stares at Morgan in a way that was meant to be creepy and probably would have been if the actor hadn't been visibly breathing every time the camera fell on him. More bizarre is an image Morgan sees when he emerges from the Savior compound after going on a bit of a killing spree. Jesus, Tara and their team had just captured and disarmed a group of Saviors, who dropped their guns, walked out of the building and surrendered. When Morgan steps out in the aftermath, there among the Saviors is Jared, the bastard who, last season, stole Morgan's stick and murdered Morgan's young trainee Benjamin. And he's holding a rifle! That's him over Morgan's left shoulder:


Morgan has a lightning-fast flashback then walks up to Jared and the rifle is suddenly gone:


Jared is nothing but a murderous bully but Jesus won't let Morgan kill him, which is part of another ridiculous retread element in this ep, a badly-handled effort to craft a moral quandary. In the midst of what appeared to be simply a search-and-destroy mission, Jesus suddenly developed an humanitarian streak and insisted his people not just wipe out the enemy. This basically comes out of nowhere. Earlier, a Savior had hidden in a closet and pretended to be a terrified innocent only to turn on Jesus and Tara when Jesus sought to offer him mercy. Like most of the Saviors, this one was drawn as cartoonishly evil, making a grand flourish of crushing beneath his heel the prenatal vitamins the Saviors had stolen from Hilltop and that Tara had just said Maggie needed. He didn't offer a hearty "MUAHAHAHAH!!!" when he did it but if viewers heard that in their heads anyway, they were alert to the spirit of the moment. Jesus managed to put down this vitamin-crushing lout then still insisted on taking him prisoner instead of killing him. Our heroes, who are already short the manpower they need to fight the Saviors, certainly have no capacity to deal with prisoners, nor apparently were they part of any plan. The Saviors have proven themselves to be nothing but sadistic murderers who will kill you if you turn your back on them for even a second--something that had, in fact, just happened again. I'm sure Jesus' course of action will work out for the best all around, just as these things always do on TWD.

Rick, meanwhile, never finds that cache of guns but he does fight and kill a fellow whom he assumes is protecting it. The man's shirt is helpfully torn open and we see he has a tattoo of the name "Gracie." When Rick explores further, he finds a room with a sleeping baby, its name "Gracie" helpfully spelled out on a mobile over the crib. "TWD: We Do SUBTLETY!!!" Rick is clearly upset by what he's done and looks in the mirror handily present for just that moment, one of Rick's "what have I become?" moments.

Somewhere else in the world, Ezekiel learns from a radio that the Saviors have learned he and his team are coming (gee, ya' think?) and he decides to carry out the mission anyway. He's just spent the entire ep smiling, crowing about the great victory to come and expounding on the fact that he's smiling and crowing about the great victory to come. He is, in short, being set up for an epic fail, something that will no doubt play out next week.

This should have been a suspenseful ep but lacked any suspense. It was an action-packed ep but the action was handled just as badly as the drama in every ep. Like last week, the lack of any explanation for what the different teams are supposed to be doing, besides just killing Saviors, leaves viewers without much of a narrative line to follow[2] and when even that goal is abandoned, one can't help but wonder, what's the point?[3] This is TWD's 4th stuck-around-way-too-long season and in these first two weeks, it's shown no sign of life.

--j.

---

[1] After the Safe Zone's first attack on this facility, the Saviors had installed a zombie "moat" around it, a double fence with the space between filled with zombies, just as Murphy built around his own headquarters in last season's Z NATION. And though our heroes are standing and talking only a few feet from the zombies in that moat, none of the creatures react to their presence until the script says it's time for them to do so.

[2] In the comic, our heroes led the zombie horde to Negan's compound in order to pin down Negan's best fighters there and take them out of action. On tv, they mounted a major attack on Negan's compound just so we could get a few more minutes of Jeffrey Dean Morgan mugging and camping it up.

[3] The Kingdom team stays together (though it has a secondary group off camera that hooks up with it toward the end), the Morgan/Jesus/Tara team splits into two different groups and Rick's team is split into two different groups, then Rick and Daryl both go off on their own. With so many simultaneous threads and without a narrative line to contextualize them, the matter of who is where becomes at times a bit of a jumble.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, October 23, 2017

At 100, THE WALKING DEAD Needs Mercy

Tonight's season 8 kick-off of THE WALKING DEAD also marked the series' 100th episode and the heavy promotion given that fact by AMC in the lead-up to it suggested the creators were planning something special. It was certainly the time for it. Last season, our heroes and the Saviors declared all-out war on one another. Unfortunately, TWD has been running on fumes for several seasons now and the only "something special" its creators could manage was to turn an all-out war into a moronic exercise in tedium.

As last season had ended, the combined forces of our heroes had decimated the Savior contingent Negan had brought to subjugate the Safe Zone. Negan used his plot immunity to escape. Though he made his exit in a lumbering military vehicle and was hours from his home base, Rick thought it was more important to have a weepy moment with Michonne than to send fighters in vehicles to run down and capture/kill the villain. It isn't clear how much time has passed between this and tonight's installment but it is clear the writers are showing their traditional disregard for this critical element. Maggie is pregnant. She first revealed she knew this at the time of Glenn's fake dumpster-dive "death," way back in the middle of season 6. Upon the introduction of the Hilltop community, the Hilltop doctor gave Maggie a transabdominal ultrasound, something that would only work if she was 8 weeks along or more. At the end of that season, she suffered a serious complication and the effort to get her to the doctor at Hilltop led to our heroes' first encounter with Negan. That complication was later diagnosed as a placental abruption, a condition that can only occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy (and typically happens much later). At this same time, Carol, who had left the Safe Zone, was shot to pieces--multiple gunshot wounds. It would be a minimum of 5 or 6 weeks before she would recover from such injuries, probably significantly more. She did recover, convalescing at the Kingdom, then spent x amount of time living alone outside the community, basically written out of the story. In the middle of that season, Aaron took an incredibly vicious beating that could have killed him and probably should have. It would have been another 4-6 weeks before he would have been fully operational again. Then in the last few minutes of season 7, Rick was shot. But tonight, he's fully recovered--another 5 or 6 weeks.[1] Maggie's pregnancy should have been quite visible since at least 12 weeks in and by tonight's ep, she should be ready to pop but instead, she still isn't even showing. And she even made a joke about her pregnancy--"They say you can wage war through the second trimester."

A 5-or-6-week gap between the seasons is problematic in other ways. In his previous appearance, Negan was shown to have assembled his forces and told them they were going to war. Now, we're to believe it's been that long and not only has he entirely failed to go to war, he was so unprepared that he was caught with his pant's down by even one of Rick's idiotic schemes.

Rick's big plans are... well, you've seen the show--you know. This one was a mess of both the writing and the staging. Daryl is able to get a list of all of the guard outposts around Negan's compound. He gets it from Dwight. They tie messages on arrows and shoot them back and forth to one another over what's made to look like only a few feet of distance, like some POLICE SQUAD joke. Rick and co. take out the guards, rig some explosives to prevent any reinforcements from getting in then just drive some cars with metal plates on them right into the Saviors' compound and up to Negan's headquarters, circling them to form a defensive perimeter right in front of a building that is probably 20 stories high. That's Rick, the screen general who tries to deliver a rousing speech,[2] draws his saber then boldly leads his forces to take the low ground. The Saviors could sit in any one of their seeming infinity of widows and pick them off  like fish in a barrel. It's already been established that the Saviors have all kinds of explosives. A few grenades (or pretty much any explosive) chucked down into that little nest--something that could have been done by the Saviors inside with no danger to themselves--and it would have been all over for our heroes, not just the end of the operation but of the leaders of all three communities, all of whom were present on the ground. That's how bad Rick's plan was.

A gunshot in the air signals our heroes' presence and--wouldn't you know it?--the first guy to stick his head out the door is none other than Negan himself. The series has established that the Saviors, who are mostly dimwits and bullies, are basically a personality-cult built around their leader. More specifically, fear of their leader, who steals their wives and maims and murders them for transgressions. When Negan steps out, there are dozens of people with guns on him and ending the problem of the Saviors is probably as simple a matter as putting a bullet in him. There's no way around this. Even if, like Rick, one foolishly wants to try to make some kind of peace with his lieutenants, killing him is the first step. No scenario for where to proceed doesn't begin with that. And if, afterwards, those lieutenants won't play ball, they're all dumb enough to have followed him out of the building and into plain gun-sight and can also be liquidated on the spot. They're all there in a line, the entire Savior command structure. There's no rationale for doing anything except killing Negan on sight but impossibly, no one does it. Instead, we get several minutes of  his usual smiles and wisecracks and campy, way-over-the-top villainy, as he postures away about how his dick is bigger, how Rick doesn't know what's about to happen and even threatens Rick and co. with death without eliciting a bullet. The television incarnation of Negan is a one-trick pony and this is the trick. We've already seen it over and over again--by now, it makes for very dull television and when Negan isn't being killed any second of any one of the minutes he's prancing around like this, very bad television too.

Rick eventually opens fire on Negan but though he's aiming right at the man at near-point-blank range with a fully automatic weapon, the villain's plot-armor proves too much. That armor apparently projects a powerful forcefield as well, as none of Negan's underlings are killed either. In fact, even though a big shootout erupts, no one on either side is killed in it. It's as if the cache from which they all drew their weapons was left over from THE A-TEAM. Our heroes waste a lot of what should be very precious ammo, mostly spraying the buildings' windows, then hop in their cars and skedaddle, while Daryl leads a herd of zombies onto the grounds,[3] something that could have been done without putting any fighters inside the compound and at risk.

Before the shooting started, Negan had Gregory, the cowardly former leader of Hilltop, try to get the Hilltopians to stand down, which goes about as well as could be expected. A little later, when everyone is escaping, Father Gabriel, one of the least useful castmembers, sees Gregory in distress and tries to rescue him. For his trouble, Gregory steals his car and leaves him behind in the midst of an advancing zombie horde. Gabriel ducks into a trailer in the yard--the same trailer, it turns out, in which Negan had, only moments earlier, taken refuge. Negan emerges from the darkness, alone nad unarmed but with a grin and some threatening words and Gabriel, who is carrying a fully-automatic rifle, becomes the last person in the ep who can kill Negan but for no reason at all doesn't.

As is TWD's custom, the ep featured an extraordinary amount of filler. The pacing is terrible, there's no tightness in the editing, practically every scene long overstays its welcome. Items like apparent fantasy sequences showing Rick as an older man and a series of scenes in which Coral encounters some crazy fellow at a gas-station[4] are present just to eat up running time. Fill in my usual SMH sentiment about the fact that this is yet another ep that couldn't even fill its allotted hour yet was still allowed to exceed its scheduled running-time by five minutes.

The "war" looks as if it's going to continue--more Savior outposts to hit, probably at just as glacial a pace and with as few consequences. In its last few seasons, TWD's only bright moments came when it was ripping off the spirit of Z NATION, the vastly superior zombie apocalypse on SyFy. Tonight's ep (which featured barely a hint of ZN)[5] was called "Mercy." On ZN, to "mercy" someone is to put them down after they've died and zombified. TWD has needed that kind of mercy for several seasons now.

--j.

---

[1] This reconstruction, of course, allows for, among other things, reasonable healing times and actual human prenatal development. A timelin is one of the most basic elements of competent narrative construction but it's also something TWD's writers have never been able to manage. They had, for example, Carol leave the Kingdom shortly after she arrived. They'll do enough research to learn what a placental abruption is but not enough to learn when such a thing actually happens.

[2] The ep in fact opens with Rick delivering one of his awful speeches, the usual TWD-patented trite sentiment that's meant to sound noble and stirring. The writers have recycled this so many times that Lincoln could probably deliver it without a script.

[3] Daryl was leading the zombies with on his motorcycle but driving along at a slow pace, as he did when leading the zombie herd in season 6, was apparently judged to be insignificantly dramatic--it's being intercut with the events inside the Saviors' compound--so he's shown gunning the engine and riding it far faster than slow-shuffling zombies could possibly follow. Yet they're able to follow him anyway.

[4] Rick drives the fellow away with gunshots. Coral looks unkindly on this. Rick thinks the man could be a Savior lookout but, being the brilliant leader he is, lets him run away anyway, right on the verge of the assault on the Savior compound.

[5] In the fantasy sequences/flash forwards/whatever-they-are--Rick seems to be experiencing them in the present--the world is a lot brighter, a lot more dreamlike and there's always Weird Al in the air. It's a small nod but it counts.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult