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!!!"



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