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