Monday, November 5, 2018

"Nah": What Comes After THE WALKING DEAD's Latest Dumpster Dive?

I've been slacking in my WALKING DEAD reviews this season. I've been in a real rut when it comes to writing anything recently and TWD doesn't exactly inspire. After a season opener chock-full of TWD's usual idiocy, which at least gives one something at which to poke fun, the series has settled into an astonishingly bland run of eps about the characters' efforts to repair a bridge and how this has been complicated by the Simmering Tension between the Saviors and everyone else. The writers tried to squeeze in a mystery wherein someone was bumping off various Saviors who were hauling critical supplies. This suggested someone was trying to cripple the other communities and maybe incite another war but it was eventually revealed that it was just some of the ladies from Oceanside carrying out revenge killings against the Saviors who murdered their men. Fair enough--revenge killings of this sort would be a regular occurrence on a competently-written TWD--but while the writers probably thought they were throwing in a red herring when it came to the supplies, the fate of those supplies was never addressed, the implication being that Oceanside is simply keeping the stuff (which gives the murder-spree a rather different character).

The last few eps have seen the writers repeatedly setting up storylines then, with tonight's installment ("What Comes After"), deciding to abandon them.

Last week, Maggie sets off to the Safe Zone with the intent of finally killing Negan. The Godfatheresque final moments of the previous season ender suggested that Simmering Tension over Rick's refusal to kill Negan would play a central role in this year's story, leading Maggie to assert Hilltop's independence and try to usurp Rick's leadership role, but after setting this up in such an overbearing way, the writers apparently just decided "Nah." Maggie, who, for no real reason at all, had already backed down from her more hardened stance re:the Saviors, had a brief confrontation with Michonne at the door to Negan's prison, confronted Negan then decided he was so pathetic, she wasn't going to kill him. And that was the end of that.

That this went nowhere lends an amusing twist to Rick's story.  Upon hearing that Maggie was heading to the Safe Zone, Rick deduced why and hitched a ride with Daryl, hoping to beat her there. Daryl is in on Maggie's plan, though, and misleads him. The two briefly scuffle and, like the show itself, end up falling into a hole and getting stuck there. The many versions of Rick have been written as complete idiots for years but in his handling of the Saviors and Negan in particular, this Rick has been written like a seriously deluded fool, insisting that, in memory of Coral, Negan remain alive and that the other communities accept and live in harmony with the Saviors, the thugs who murdered, pillaged and terrorized them. The writers seem oblivious to how far they've put his head up his own ass over this; they have Rick willing to fight his best friend, who has been with him throughout the entire zombie apocalypse, over the life of the mass-murdering Negan, and still write him as if he's pursuing some righteous dream of a better future for doing so. And, of course, it all turns out to be for nothing, as Maggie opts not to kill Negan anyway.

While Rick and Daryl are in that hole, a large group of Saviors show up at the bridge work-camp intent on liberating a cache of guns from the representatives of the other communities. The two sides square off, then, as shooting begins, the action cuts away. And it never cuts back. This was set up as a major stand-off, a full-blown Savior rebellion that had been brewing for 4 eps. It finally comes to a head and, with the lives of Carol, Jerry and several other characters in the balance, the writers say "Nah" again, and we're never shown what happened.[1]

Instead, the whole thing is just used as an excuse to have some shooting that attracts a pair of nearby zombie herds. Rick and Daryl make it out of that hole with zombies falling in on top of them. Rick decides to hop on a nearby horse, a runaway from the fighting, and try to lead away the herd that is closing in on them, though Daryl has his motorcycle, which would be much better-suited to the task. Rick leads the zombies up a road but when he comes to a turn, he finds the second herd bearing down on him from that direction. With nowhere to go, Rick wheels the horse and it spooks and throws him. He lands on a pile of rubble randomly deposited on the side of the road[2] and is impaled through his side on a piece of rebar. Last week's ep ended with the zombies closing in while he was pinned there. Tonight, he very implausibly manages to free himself, hop on the horse, which, after being so frightened, is just sort of milling around, and exit down a zombie-free road that suddenly appears before them, as what had previously been presented as just a turn in the road is revealed to be, instead, an intersection. It's a cheat via staging and editing; if the road just continued through the intersection all along, there would have been no reason for Rick--and the horse--to panic.

Yeah, right.
AMC has been promoting this as "Rick Grimes' final season." A few weeks ago, I wrote of this:
"Andrew Lincoln is supposed to be leaving the show after this season and AMC's promotional materials reflect this, though it wouldn't be at all out of character for TWD to merely be using this as an attention-grabbing ruse along the lines of Glenn's infamous dumpster dive a few years ago. There's no way Rick can just be made to leave; to be rid of him, TWD will have to kill off the character, their central character from TWD's first screen moments. AMC's greed is infamous. Its execs show every sign of wanting to milk this cash-cow right into its grave and beyond. But the smart ones--if there are any--must see the writing on the wall. Last week's ep, a season opener, drew the smallest audience since the show's 2nd season. The numbers, taken in the abstract, are still impressive for a cable series but anyone but the die-hards would be hard-pressed not to concede TWD is a fundamentally broken show that has been, in effect, dead for years now. Killing Rick can only further devastate the ratings. Continuing without him would be like the Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey Circus without the elephants (and would go over just as well). AMC should wrap up the series while Lincoln is still on board and try to give it some sort of dignified ending.

"Do I think that will happen?

"Not a chance."
Though tonight is only the 5th ep of the season, it was supposed to be the last Rick ep, but I certainly called it right.

Rick wanders around on the horse,[3] bleeding enough to kill an ordinary man a dozen times over while deliriously conversing with ghosts from his past. Shane, Hershel, Sasha--they mouth pleasantries that add nothing to the show except running time. By the end, Rick is staggering across the newly-repaired bridge, the massive zombie herd behind him. Our other heroes, presumably alerted by Daryl, show up but with Rick dying on his feet, they then run away to try to spare the bridge by diverting the herd. No one goes to Rick's aid! Daryl, who is beside and slightly below the bridge, snipes several zombies but he doesn't rush up the hill to help Rick either--he doesn't even move from his position. It's utterly inexplicable that our heroes would leave a very large cache of explosives laying around right in the middle of the bridge they'd just repaired, particularly with the Saviors rebelling and looking for weapons, but tonight, for no other reason than that the writers decreed it, there it was--a zombie knocked over a box, the lid came off and it was full of dynamite bundles. Rick shoots it, sets it off and the bridge--and apparently Rick himself--are blown all to hell, the burning zombies plunging into the raging river below.

Then the writers pull their last "Nah." Rick didn't die in the explosion. All that hype turned out to be another dumpster dive, as Rick was, instead, blown into the river, sent hurtling down it without drowning or being eaten by the dead (who somehow do seem to have drowned) and just happens to wash up on shore right where Jadis/Anne was standing, waiting for her mysterious helicopter people to pick her up. She has them patch up Rick and the helicopter flies off with him on board.

The last thing we see is a flash-forward scene wherein the show time-jumps at least 5 or 6 years into the future, maybe more, and the previews for next week make clear this is the new status quo. In the opening moments of TALKING DEAD, TWD executive producer Scott Gimple revealed that, contrary to all the hype regarding Rick's "final episodes," Rick's story will continue via a new series of movies AMC will be producing. Instead of letting this worn-out show die a peaceful death, Gimple describes this as a major expansion of the TWD "universe," that word every movie and tv studio in this MCU era loves. If Gimple had anything to say about how this essentially renders an entirely pointless exercise every episode of the season to date--over a third of the season--I didn't stick around long enough to hear it.

One gets the strong impression that this season was initially supposed to be very different and then, at some late point during production, the creators faced some sort of crisis and had to radically alter their plans. The eps prior to this were definitely building a story, even if it wasn't terribly engaging. "What Comes After" not only abandoned individual storylines, it abandoned the entire season. But for some intervening behind-the-scenes problem, it would have made much more sense to simply begin this season after this latest time-jump. Rick's "death" is the only event that has happened so far that will have any impact on anything that comes after, and that could have just as easily been filled in via flashbacks. As it is, these first 5 eps are now an island of entirely inconsequential filler in a sea of time--about a year-and-a-half between the end of last season and the beginning of this one and 5 or 6 years between last night's ep and everything that is to come. And AMC's immediate sequel to this latest expression of contempt for the audience is to double down on the franchise.

Perhaps the next "Nah" we'll get will come from viewers.

--j.

---

[1] Only, a bit later, something of its aftermath; at one point this evening, Rick stumbled into the work-camp and found it abandoned except for some zombies. Presumably, these are the people who were killed in the confrontation, though they're sporting make-up jobs that make them look as if they've been dead for months. At the end of the ep, Carol turns up with the other characters, so at least she survived.

[2] This is apparently, the debris from the mysterious Hulk zombies that wrecked the bridge in the first place then were never explained.

[3] TWD definitely isn't noteworthy for particularly interesting cinematography but it does occasionally manage to pull off a spectacular image, and there was a really good one tonight, Rick, on white horse, leading what seemed to be an infinite army of the dead:



Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, October 15, 2018

THE WALKING DEAD Cain't Afford Ta' Lose No Horses, You Dummy!

THE WALKING DEAD kicked off its 9th season last week but while the ep was entitled "A New Beginning," it felt an awful lot like everything that had gone before it, and tonight's installment, "The Bridge," had one checking the expiration date stamped on it well before it was over. "New," one suspects, really just isn't in the cards for this show.

If my absence here over the last few months doesn't speak to it, I haven't been writing much lately. Life has been what it always is with me and I've recently been through an overly long illness as well but I was feeling blocked up and uninspired even before that bug bit me. TWD certainly hasn't done anything in the last two weeks to make me rush to my keyboard. Still, I continue to do these TWD articles as, in part, a discipline, so I probably should have wrote about it last week, whether I felt like it or not. If I sound disjointed or pretty badly off my game, it certainly wouldn't be the first time that happened when writing about this particular subject but I apologize in advance.

Near the beginning of, well, "A New Beginning," a large group of our heroes trek to Washington D.C.. The city should be like Atlanta back in the 1st season--crawling with millions of zombies, essentially inaccessible and a place no one should risk even trying to enter unless utterly desperate for something he thinks he will find there. Perhaps budget restrictions prevented any massive zombie hordes from ever materializing; our heroes are able to go into town with minimal effort or notice by the dead and invade a museum that, oddly enough, looks just like the Georgia state capitol building in Atlanta. They're after a collection of seeds, a worthy target in an apocalypse, and some primitive farming/fishing gear.

The gear, which is the stuff that eventually causes all the trouble, doesn't really make a lot of sense. Maggie notes that an old horse-drawn plow will provide a pattern for their blacksmiths to copy. Fair enough, but a plow of that sort isn't exactly space-age tech; any good blacksmith tasked with creating one would do just fine without needing an existing one as a guide. Making even less sense is the heavy replica of a dugout canoe lifted by the leader of the Oceanside community. No one needs a pattern for a simple Stone Age dugout, just a good section of tree and the time to hack it out. Oceanside is a community that lives, yes, oceanside and already has far better fishing vessels. The biggest item is a replica of an old prairie wagon. Though building a wagon of that sort would be comically simple and we know our heroes already know how to do it, as they rode into town on one of their own, they go through a great deal of trouble to get this one, treating it as if it was made of gold in a world where that still meant something.

The wagon does seem to weigh enough to be made of gold. To create a moment of suspense, it's made to destroy the transparent masonry on the landing at the base of the building's stairs as our heroes try to make off with it. Hundreds of thousands--perhaps millions--of visitors would have trekked over that floor in the life of the museum--it's large enough to accommodate dozens of people at a time and would have been built to hold up far more weight than that--but in the TWD writers' hands, it crumbles like candy glass under a wagon that weighs about as much as 7 men. Our heroes risk life and limb to roll the wagon out over the floor as it's giving away, then carry the entirely worthless canoe over it but when Ezekiel and Carol try to move the plow, it finally gives out, and the King ends up falling through it.[1] The zombies milling about on the level below nearly eat him before he's hauled back to safety.

Never let it be said that our heroes won't put their lives on the line to protect a valuable asset! Even if there's absolutely no reason why these items would be regarded as such. Never let it be said... well, until about 5 minutes later.


"Hulk Zombie Smash Bridge!"
Traveling home with their salvage, our heroes come to a bridge that looks as if the Hulk has crashed through it, a mess of now-coallpsed and twisted steel supports and reinforced concrete that has been smashed to bits. With a straight face, Rosita explains that a zombie herd destroyed it, a feat that is, for a TWD zombie herd, roughly the equivalent of constructing a warp-drive. No one seems unnerved by--or even concerned with--this evidence of zombies with superpowers far beyond those ever seen on the show; they just paint "Bridge Out" on a nearby road-sign, as if that was necessary, and decide to take another way home.[2] Doing so, they run into a little mud. Very little mud. As in, maybe an inch of it. Though there's so little it isn't even worth mentioning--more budget limitations, perhaps?--they decide their horses can't possibly haul the wagon through it, so they unhitch the critters and they, themselves, pull the wagon through it. Because on TWD, the people are so awesome that they're better at moving a wagon than are a team of horses. 


Budget Zombie Herd Approaching Budget Muddy Spot
As they're finishing up, a handful of zombies appear out of the bushes behind them. There are maybe a dozen--light work for our heroes, who number half a dozen and whose best fighters (Rick, Daryl, Michonne) are present--but Rick orders the wagon abandoned, along with one of the horses that had been rehitched to it! The ep later establishes that they're using horses for transport now because fuel has (FINALLY) become too scarce. Unlike the dugout, the plow and the wagon, a horse would be one of their most valuable assets but while, only minutes earlier, Rick was willing to risk everyone's necks for those trinkets, he's suddenly dead-set on needlessly allowing zombies to chow down on one of their mounts.

An anonymous redshirt, who seems to be the fellow who takes care of the  horses, doesn't much cotton to that idea. He goes back to free the horse but he runs into one of TWD's patented teleporting zombies, which suddenly appears beside him, bites his arm and spooks the horse so badly that it kicks him. Rick orders everyone to go back and fight the zombies, the thing they should have done in the first place, and they destroy the ghouls in a matter of seconds with minimal effort. Redshirt Kid dies though.

This sets up a not-terribly-interesting subplot wherein the elderly mother of Redshirt Kid becomes very angry that their boy has died on, as she sees it, a mission to help the Saviors (?!). The idea--spelled in neon letters 10 feet high--is to convey the boiling resentment among some Hilltoppers, who were enslaved and terrorized for so long by the Saviors at Sanctuary and are now being asked to accept them as just another community to which they render mutual aid, but that's an obvious point that shouldn't really need this amount of attention. Carried out both badly (because the museum job wasn't just to aid the Saviors) and ham-handedly, and with characters we don't even know, it just feels like an exercise in filling time with something that, in a better-written show, would just be accepted. Trying to get the Saviors' former victims to be all nicey-nice with them was obviously going to be a problem.

Remarkably, Gregory is still around. He suggested Hilltop hold elections for their leader and is fuming because Maggie beat him. Redshirt Kid's father is an alcoholic who has been dry for years; Gregory plies him with hooch and convinces him to try to assassinate Maggie. That doesn't go so well and when Maggie confronts him, Gregory attacks her. For that, Gregory finally ends up at the end of a rope.

Tonight's installment was mostly just a filler ep. The premise of it was the Rick was visiting Negan, locked up in a jail-cell at the Safe Zone, to give the villain a status report on the great new world the communities are building, and Rick narrates the show but it's full of all kinds of things that happen outside Rick's knowledge, events for which he wasn't present, things that, absent previously undisclosed super-powers, he has no way of knowing. The writers apparently don't expect their viewers to notice such things and as TWD's audience is increasingly being pared down to a core of die-hards, most of them probably won't.

In this one, the communities set out to repair that bridge. Because they're getting so much help from Hilltop, Maggie insists that the Saviors do most of the work. The ep spends some time showing they're an unruly bunch, some of whom cause a lot of problems.[3] Daryl, who never liked the idea of letting the Saviors live, has been charged with overseeing them and his disgust, made plain in the previous ep, is repeated here. Redshirt Kid's mother stages a protest at being cut off from her husband, who has been locked in a storm cellar since his failed attack on Maggie. This leads to a lot of drama regarding whether Maggie should let her see the old boy, whether he should be locked up, his backstory and a lot of other things about which viewers care not a whit but which are used to consume a great deal of screentime. The writers are forcing a come-out-of-nowhere, zero-chemistry romance between Father Gregory and Jadis/Anne. As Gabriel is entirely blind in one eye and may not see so well out of the other, he's assigned lookout duty. At night (he decides to make out with Anne instead). Later, Anne sees a helicopter overhead. She's never really explained the helicopter, which we've seen before and which had some connection to her. At one point, our heroes' system for diverting wandering zombies breaks down when one of the least likable Saviors goes temporarily AWOL and a horde end up marching right through the middle of one of the bridge lumber-camps. This seems to happen only to get some zombie action into an otherwise very dull, filler-filled ep.

In the only real substantive development, Saviors are disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Some of these are probably just leaving because they don't like having to work for a living but some are unlikely to have just disappeared under their own steam--they have families, children at Sanctuary--and others have gone missing with important supplies--in particular, a shipment of fuel intended for Hilltop's tractor. These disappearances should raise some alarms but don't. At no point does anyone seem to be trying to find out what's happening. Toward the end, one Savior, exiled by Rick, is wandering in the woods, comes across someone he knows, starts talking and is apparently killed.

Andrew Lincoln is supposed to be leaving the show after this season and AMC's promotional materials reflect this, though it wouldn't be at all out of character for TWD to merely be using this as an attention-grabbing ruse along the lines of Glenn's infamous dumpster dive a few years ago. There's no way Rick can just be made to leave; to be rid of him, TWD will have to kill off the character, their central character from TWD's first screen moments. AMC's greed is infamous. Its execs show every sign of wanting to milk this cash-cow right into its grave and beyond. But the smart ones--if there are any--must see the writing on the wall. Last week's ep, a season opener, drew the smallest audience since the show's 2nd season. The numbers, taken in the abstract, are still impressive for a cable series but anyone but the die-hards would be hard-pressed not to concede TWD is a fundamentally broken show that has been, in effect, dead for years now. Killing Rick can only further devastate the ratings. Continuing without him would be like the Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey Circus without the elephants (and would go over just as well). AMC should wrap up the series while Lincoln is still on board and try to give it some sort of dignified ending.

Do I think that will happen?

Not a chance.


--j.

---

[1] When the floor gives way, it appears to be about as thick as an ordinary pane of glass.

[2] Robert Kirkman, the co-creator of TWD, also wrote Marvel Zombies, which saw the Marvel universe of superheroes and villains transformed into super-zombies. Perhaps this is subtley laying the groundwork for a later TWD/Marvel Zombies crossover?

[3] Among other things, they're nostalgic for Negan, and it feels like the show is setting up some scenario whereby Negan (possibly a reformed Negan?) could return to whip them into shape.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, April 16, 2018

On THE WALKING DEAD, No Wrath Need Apply

This evening, THE WALKING DEAD capped yet another lackluster season with yet another breathtakingly unsatisfying finale. TWD's writers evince a strong preference for "Tell, Don't Show" over "Show, Don't Tell." They substitute ridiculous, melodramatic speechifying in place of naturalistic dialogue. As this writer has long noted, this is a show about survival in a zombie apocalypse that rigorously adheres to an anti-survivalist ideology. It's a stupid show. These and many other long-running TWD problems appeared with a vengeance in "Wrath," which was supposed to wrap up the war with the Saviors.

That storyline should have been essentially finished a few eps ago when our heroes liquidated most of the remaining Savior fighters but as has happened repeatedly this season, many, many more magically appeared to take the place of the fallen. In the previous ep, Negan decided to bait our heroes into a trap. Equipped with that Respawning Saviors cheat, he sacrifices even more of his men so that Rick can capture a map misdirecting the forces of the rebel communities to... well, you get the picture. Ultimately, Rick and the gang end up in a field surrounded by a large number of enemy fighters. When the Saviors reveal themselves, they just stand in the open, arranged like a firing-squad rather than firing from cover or a prone position. While this allows for a dramatic (if now well-worn) Kurosawa shot of the shoulder-to-shoulder enemy army cresting a hill, it guarantees that, in a fight, many of them will immediately be needlessly killed as well. Eugene suggested this arrangement and Negan went along with it.

In a turn like something from Monty Python, the Saviors open fire simultaneously only to have their own weapons explode in their faces, courtesy of Eugene sabotaging the ammo he's been manufacturing. There follows what's supposed to be a very dramatic final battle[1] in which our heroes defeat the Saviors, leading many enemy fighters--too many--to surrender.

Rick chases down Negan--hey, it wouldn't be a season finale without a one-on-one between these two, right?--but just as always happens, the two find a way, in the middle of a fight to the death, to talk, talk, talk. Rick points out that Negan's forces are defeated. Negan is unconcerned. "I'll get out of it," he says, "I always do." And damned if, by the end, he does. Rick, after seriously wounding the villain, decides to spare his life. Maggie is quite upset by this,[2] as everyone else should be, but the writers try to paper over it by having Rick give one of TWD's patented speeches about how they all have to work together to build a new world. "We are life!", he declares. "The new world begins." And a lot of other things just as cringe-inducing. He tells the Saviors to go home! And other than Maggie, no one, among an entire army of people who have suffered under these marauders, seen their hard work stolen by them, their lives ruined, their friends and family-members murdered, offers any objection at all.

Besides being handled exceptionally badly, the series has entirely failed to do any of the work that would have been required to make such a turn succeed, dramatically speaking. The Saviors have been portrayed as sadistic bullies, fanatical ("I am Negan!") thugs who get a kick out of terrorism and murder, who enslave entire communities and live large off those they keep beneath their boot. Only a few eps ago, they enthusiastically massacred an entire population of unarmed people who had already submitted to them. There's been no indication that they have any misgivings about the horrors they've perpetuated. Negan himself is a vicious terrorist who bashes heads with a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat, who tortures and murders helpless people through a smile, taunting his victims even while he's snuffing them out. Rick decides to keep Negan alive as a prisoner, telling him he's going to spend the rest of his life in a cell watching this better world grow up around him so he can see how wrong he was, but the writers removed nearly every trace of the character's humanity when adapting the comic-book version to the screen, rendering him a one-dimensional cartoon (a frequent complaint here). Not someone who is going to be tormented by this very limp effort at poetic justice, just someone who has a large following of like-minded fanatics and will represent a danger for as long as he lives.[3] The Saviors are a mortal enemy to be defeated, not people with whom one can ever link arms and sing Kumbaya, and there's no way to see Rick's play as anything other than suicidally stupid. There's absolutely no reason to believe the Saviors would do anything but return to base, regroup under a new sadistic leader or break out their old one and start all of this over again. Born of TWD's aversion to raw survivalist sentiment--killing them would be a nasty business--Rick's decision is shown as being driven by Rick's memories of Coral and while the writers want viewers to think it's a noble and moral decision and a tender tribute to his departed son, this just makes it seem worse, like Rick has his head utterly up his own ass and isn't considering what is, from a practical standpoint, in the best interest of those he leads.

Earlier this season, the writers had some of the Saviors switch sides, and one assumes this was done with an eye toward the ultimate resolution of the storyline, an effort to establish at least some basis for Rick's actions, but these turncoats have, with only one exception, been nameless non-entities (and even with the one, I can't remember his name). They've done nothing to counter the overwhelming impression of the Saviors that viewers have been given over the last couple of seasons but because they exist and because the one fellow has been nothing but cooperative, the writers apparently consider this sufficient. They've gone Tell, Don't Show again. During tonight's ep, the Saviors invaded Hilltop. Tara stayed behind to fight them and a contingent of these ex-Saviors stood with her--the same sort of nonsense.

It was made even worse in this instance because just as things were about to get rolling, the approaching Saviors suddenly burst into flames from what turn out to be super-powered Molotov cocktails[4] lobbed by the just-arrived women of the Oceanside community. They've decided to join the other communities in fighting the Saviors but when they arrive, they have no way of knowing what's even going on. Their surprise appearance is completely random. They just walk up and start burning people. This is a community whose entire male population--these ladies' husbands, fathers, sons--were murdered by the Saviors. One suspects they'd probably have a very strong opinion of Rick's decision to let Negan live and the Savior community continue.

One suspects just about everyone Negan and the Saviors have terrorized, whose friends and family the Saviors have murdered, would have a very strong opinion on these matters but in real time, no one but Maggie offers any dissent. And, this being soap melodrama, she just collapses, screaming and crying about how it's not right to let Negan live, instead of taking charge of the situation like a leader (as in, "anyone who helps save that fucker dies").

Toward the end, there's a truly bizarre aftermath scene wherein Maggie, at her desk, lit like a supervillain and with ominous music playing under her words, says Rick was right to let the Saviors live (shiver) but very wrong to leave Negan alive. She throws in Michonne as well. She says we'll put Hilltop back in order, build up its defenses, get strong. "We're gonna' bide our time, wait for our moment and then we're gonna' show him," clearly implying some sort of violent retribution one could read as extending to the entire Safe Zone community. The camera reveals she's talking to Jesus and Daryl. The former offers an agreeable smile and a nod while Daryl verbally agrees, neither being reactions that make any sense. Jesus has been the pacifist all season, throughout, even, this very episode, when he convinces Morgan to stop killing Saviors. Daryl's bond with Rick has been nearly unshakeable throughout the run of TWD. Even earlier this season, when he broke with Rick over the idea of releasing the dead into the Sanctuary, he apologized to Rick--the guy he calls "brother"--after. It's reasonable to think he would strongly disagree with Rick's decision re:Negan[5] but it's impossible to imagine him even considering some sort of violent action against his own "family." For that matter, it's impossible to imagine Maggie herself contemplating such a thing. To deal with a problem that could be easily solved by a quick visit to Negan's cell (and, if one wants to be unreasonably vengeful, to Rick and Michonne)?

Thrown in to provide what's meant to be a shocking twist, this is just stupid. Sort of like the rest of TWD this season.

--j.

---

[1] The staging and editing of the big battle are absolutely atrocious. Negan speaks to our heroes through electronic devices which, along with the geography, make it seem as if it's coming from all around them. The whole time, they're looking around and fruitlessly trying to pinpoint it and no Saviors are visible in any direction. When the Savior firing-line appears, it seems to be behind them but when the bad ammo takes out that line, Rick orders a forward charge, in a direction where no Saviors are visible. That direction is where Negan and his lieutenants are standing. A hill between the rebels and Negan's contingent allow them no view of one another. During the initial Savior volley, Negan and co. fire their guns, which makes no sense--they don't have any targets in sight, just a hill of dirt. The rebels, unmindful of the Saviors behind them, rush over the hill and defeat those in front of them.

[2] Though this being soap melodrama, Maggie, the leader of Hilltop, just screams and cries about how what Rick's doing isn't right, instead of taking charge of the situation (as in, "anyone who helps save that fucker dies").

[3] The writers' decision to gut the relationship that developed between comic Negan and Carl is particularly fatal here.

[4] They explode in bursts of flame that shoot 30 or 40 feet into the air, incinerating wide areas.

[5] Daryl has just spent more than 2 seasons lamenting the fact that he didn't kill Dwight upon their first encounter, which is rubbish from the writers, and vowing to kill Dwight once the Savior war is over. Tonight, prior to this scene where he's plotting with Maggie, he decided, instead, to let Dwight live--gives the guy a truck and lets him leave.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Worthless WALKING DEAD

In "Worth," tonight's WALKING DEAD, Negan makes his presence known at Sanctuary and deals with his disloyal lieutenants Simon and Dwight.

That's it. That's the plot. In a better-written series, this would have been a subplot in an ep about something else. Here, it's the featured--and nearly sole--attraction, with only a rotating handful of scenes with other characters to pad out the rest. There's only one more ep left in the season; this was just a standard TWD delaying action to get things there.

There are a few scenes with Aaron, camped out beyond the Oceanside community, that exist primarily to get in a zombie-fighting sequence. He hasn't been there long but seems to be nearly dead from exhaustion, hunger or something. His community terrorized the ladies of Oceanside and stole their guns. Now they have none but he's trying to recruit them to fight the Saviors, presumably with the sticks and stones Rick left them.

Last week, Rosita and Daryl were scoping out Eugene's ammo plant and there seemed to be a lot of Saviors around. On tonight's ep, set the next day, the operation appeared to consist of seven or eight people and only two armed guards. Our heroes swoop in, take out the two heavies carrying guns and hijack Eugene as he steps outside but there's no reason they couldn't have just stepped inside and taken out the entire operation, taken away as much ammo as they could carry, probably even recruited the workers. Instead, they just take their prize and leave. Minutes later, Eugene escapes them using a ruse that wouldn't have fooled a 7-year-old.[*] By the time he makes it back to his shop, a lot more armed guards have turned up and he's assured the security situation has been addressed.

Where in hell did the Saviors find any more gunmen? I spent a lot of time in my previous review pointing out that no matter how many Saviors Rick and co. have killed in an entire season devoted to systematically killing them, an endless number of replacements are being continuously written into the story. Savior manpower should be down to practically nothing by now but instead, it's as if Eugene had invented a respawning cheat. It's been a recurring absurdity throughout the back end of this season. When Negan drops the hammer on Simon, he kills Simon's loyalists too--7 or 8 more guys. The two then move inside for a final hand-to-hand battle to the death and that respawning cheat has been working overtime again--there may be a hundred other people present to watch the festivities:


And even that doesn't include those who are elsewhere (like at Eugene's ammo factory). So after a whole season of all-out war, taking out Saviors left and right, the Savior force looks about the same now as it did at the end of last season before a shot had been fired:


They aren't even trying.

Not much else to add; it just wasn't much of an ep.

--j.

---

[*] UPDATE (11 April, 2018) - About this, regular reader Jim the Hammer writes, "I like how Daryl, the hillbilly who in season 2 was able to track Shane and that kid through a forest, in the dark, to the extent where he points out who walked where and when, etc.... is unable to discern Eugene's cartoon escape method in a pile of ashes. In broad daylight. Once again, established character traits/abilities get thrown out the window to advance a plot point for the simple reason that the writers couldn't think up a reasonable and more believable method to do so."


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, April 2, 2018

THE WALKING DEAD Still Don't Mean Nothin' v.1.5

In a completely ridiculous episode of THE WALKING DEAD last week, our heroes destroyed what should have been most of the remaining Saviors, effectively ending the tyranny that has dominated their world for two seasons. There was no celebration. No one seemed particularly happy about it. In a show on which everyone talks, talks, talks all the time, no one even mentioned it. The tone of the show continued to be as downbeat, humorless and joyless as usual. Tonight's offering, "Still Gotta Mean Something," should have been a wrap-up ep in which our heroes mop up the last of the Saviors and begin to look to the future they're going to have to build but it seems the writers aren't quite willing to give up their played-out storyline just yet.

Just how many Saviors are there? It's a question of absolutely central importance to this season and to any plan to defeat them but though Savior turncoat Dwight would have provided this information to the rebel communities, it has never been shared with viewers. We've had, over time, some indications. A few seasons ago when Negan first appeared, his men staged some elaborate roadblocks and he confessed that doing so had seriously taxed his manpower; there were, at the time, maybe 30 or 40 Saviors on-hand. At the end of the previous season, Negan assembles his Saviors to declare war; he's shown addressing perhaps a hundred people, which felt like an escalation but go with it.

This season, Rick and co. engineered a zombie siege of the Sanctuary then proceeded to wipe out every other Savior outpost. The carnage was extraordinary and the kills and captures should have reduced the Saviors to a very manageable number. This impression was reinforced by all of the scenes set inside the Sanctuary during the siege, which made it clear the Saviors were dangerously short of manpower and increasingly desperate. At one point, there was a near-rebellion by the Saviors' slave labor force, one the Saviors certainly feared. It was stopped only by the timely reappearance of Negan--in a rather silly moment, the fear he instills in those lessers was enough to cow them into backing off. The Saviors even considered a plan to arm their laborers with melee weapons and send them out to fight the zombies. Whatever force was holed up at the Sanctuary, it shouldn't have been an enormous one, but viewers were denied even an estimate and had to depend on those past clues, so when the Saviors escaped the siege and suddenly had sufficient numbers to launch simultaneous punitive expeditions against all three rebel communities as if nothing at all had changed, viewers were left wondering if Eugene had invented a respawning device. Was he holed up in a hidden laboratory off-screen spontaneously generating new Saviors by the dozen? It felt like something that shouldn't have been remotely possible.

The Saviors' numbers have been further reduced since then. The night the Safe Zone was attacked, the Alexandrians--with an assist from Dwight--liquidated Dwight's crew. Only one escaped and she's still missing in action.[1] Morgan and Carol wiped out Gavin's force at the Kingdom down to the last man.

A few eps ago, the Saviors loaded up what should have been nearly all of their remaining fighters and set out to attack Hilltop. All the Savior leaders who hadn't yet been killed, including Negan himself, went along; all of the remaining background-noise Saviors we'd seen seemed to be among the fighters as well. As before, it felt like a force that just shouldn't have been possible. Last week, that force was completely annihilated, only about half a dozen of them escaping an insanely ill-considered attack. Later in the evening, some of Hilltop's Savior prisoners escaped and fled. Not enough to be much of a problem--many of their comrades opted to stay behind and switch sides, others became zombies or were eaten by the critters.

Then, tonight, it was yet again as if nothing had changed. Early in the proceedings, Maggie gets a briefing on where things stand at Hilltop and we learn that they've redeployed their scouts to watch the approaches for another Savior attack. When Maggie asks how much ammo they have, she's told, "not enough to fend off another attack of that size." Another attack of anything like that size should not be possible. There shouldn't be more than a few of them left but at various points in the ep, we're shown Daryl and Rosita surveilling Eugene's recently-established reloading shop and the place is crawling with Saviors, then later, we're shown that Sanctuary is still manned.

From whence comes all these Saviors? The villains' ability to return again and again as if unaffected by the losses they've incurred makes the war campaign--and thus the entire season--feel meaningless. Making this worse is the fact that our heroes should know roughly how many Saviors are left at any given time. They would have gotten troop-strength numbers from Dwight--no attack would have been launched without that--and they know roughly how many they've killed or captured. The only reason this isn't written into the story is the same reason the other specifics of the war-plan weren't written into it earlier in the season: so the writers can just make it up as they go.

That's a problem. The way our heroes got in trouble with the Saviors from the beginning was to stupidly launch an attack without a plan--without, in fact, doing even minimal recon of the enemy. The consequences were disastrous, something they can't afford to repeat. The only vague excuse for a "plan" that ever emerged this season was that, after taking out the Savior satellite outposts, Rick and the leaders of the other communities were going to travel to the Sanctuary and demand the Saviors surrender. Now, obviously, the Saviors weren't meant to break the siege of the Sanctuary and that they did and how they did it--the snipers who are supposed to be shooting anyone who sticks his head up just stand around and watch as the Saviors enact a cartoon escape-plan--is completely ridiculous, but setting that aside, the implications of what we've seen is that there were somehow enough fighters holed up there to defeat the combined forces of all of these communities. What were our heroes going to do with them? Any effort at creating a peace that wasn't preceded by significantly reducing their numbers would have been suicidal but there doesn't appear to have been anything in this vein even on the drawing-board. Daryl's idea, to let the zombies into the Sanctuary, seems like a good one here but Rick rejected it. If that Savior force was big enough to do everything it has since, this fact should have been a part of the narrative long before what's been happening in the last several eps.

Tonight, Rick and Morgan tracked down the Savior prisoners who escaped Hilltop. Like a pair of amateurs, they're quickly and stupidly captured, the Savior leader Jared dreaming of marching Rick back to Negan, but a zombie herd is conveniently approaching the old building where the escapees have holed up. When the herd begins to swarm into the place, some of the Saviors free Rick and Morgan on Rick's promise that they can return to Hilltop. Instead, our heroes just kill them. Morgan finally gives Jared a long-overdue gruesome death. The herd takes out the rest and then disappears. It's steaming in one moment, gone as soon as the Saviors are beaten. Rick even shoots the last villain. No zombies appear in response.

A few weeks ago, Jadis, Queen of the Garbage People, had captured Negan. She's rather upset about the Saviors liquidating her entire community but instead of just killing Negan outright, she takes him back to her junkyard, ineffectually ties him up so that he's able to move around, then conveniently leaves a gun, a flare and some photos she treasures laying around so that he can get his hands on them. He does then threatens to burn her pictures but she gets the flare away from him; he then uses the fact that he didn't burn them to help talk her into releasing him. The whole thing is completely ridiculous and it's impossible to believe she would cut him loose.

Something I did appreciate is that in the midst of all of this, that mysterious helicopter from a few eps ago turned up at the landfill. It hovers overhead for a while then, not seeing a flare (because Jadis extinguished the one Negan had), it flies off while she runs after it yelling. It was meant to pick her up. Before he leaves, Negan asks her about it. She says nothing. Another bizarre element of the nutty Garbage People saga.[2] Even with all but one of them dead, they still manage to be the only bright spot in an otherwise dire ep.[3]

--j.

---

[1] Negan picks up some unidentified someone near the end of this ep--probably the missing woman with her tale of Dwight's betrayal.

[2] On more than one occasion, Jadis consults a watch she's wearing!

[3] Another Garbage plus is that Pollyanna McIntosh, who has been decked out in cruddy Mad Max gear and made up to look rather rough throughout her time on the show, was finally allowed to clean up a bit. McIntosh is a statuesque goddess of a woman but viewers of TWD have gotten little indication of this before tonight.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Stupids Send THE WALKING DEAD Astray Again

Deadlier and more prolific than the zombie virus, the Stupids continued to plague THE WALKING DEAD tonight. Simon leads the Saviors to attack Hilltop with no guns, just a few bows and a bunch of melee weapons. Last week, regarding this plan, I asked,

"How, exactly, are the Saviors, who are supposed to be getting low on ammo, ever going to get close enough to cut people barricaded in a walled fortress on a, yes, hilltop, particularly given that those people have guns--fully automatic weapons--to keep any attackers well at bay?"

Tonight, we got the answer: Hilltop, infected by the Stupids, just opens the gate and lets the Saviors in. When the Savior force arrives at its objective, some spike-strips placed on the road take out the tires on their lead vehicles, so they stop within easy range of the fortress to remove these obstacles. It's dark but they're lit by their own headlines--sitting ducks--yet the Hilltoppers don't fire on them, just lets them mill about. At this point, they can be turned to Swiss cheese before they even get to the gate--there's absolutely no way they're getting inside, and no way they can lay siege to the place either. If they stay there, they can be shot down at Hilltop's leisure. They've brought knives to a gunfight and that's that. Fortunately for them--and for the ep's running time--the writers haven't yet filled their contractually-obligated quota of moments during the season when Daryl is supposed to be made to look cool. Returning from lookout duty on his motorcycle, Daryl drives right through the middle of the enemy force, shooting them down as he goes. Hilltop opens the gates to let him in and just lets the Saviors roll right on through too.

As embarrassingly Stupid as this looks, it gets instantly worse: it turns out this was Maggie's plan all along. She has people waiting to ambush them as they come in.[1] The Hilltoppers, who probably outnumber the Saviors, are armed with fully-automatic weapons. Only on TWD can this be anything other than a one-sided massacre that lasts a few seconds but, the Spirit of Stupid having descended, the Saviors somehow make a hard fight of it. At one point, Hilltop's defenders are even forced to retreat into their Big House. The Saviors approach the house by walking straight up through the yard, right in the open with no cover. Hilltop is waiting--they light the yard and open up on them from the windows. Again, something that should be a one-sided massacre (when, earlier in the season, the Kingdom's forces were caught in a similar situation facing only one machine gun, they were all killed). The Saviors are sent fleeing toward the front gate but just at that moment, Rick arrives with the rest of the lookouts and the Saviors are caught with guns at their backs, guns at their front and no avenue of escape.

Game over, right?

Well, no, because maybe half a dozen Saviors just dive behind the Hilltop defensive wall on one side of the gateway. The returning lookouts, who are within spitting distance and couldn't possibly have missed this maneuver, just walk right past them. The Saviors run out the gate, get in a pair of vehicles and drive away. Rick and Maggie shoot at them as they flee but neither Rick nor Maggie nor anyone else jumps in vehicles, runs them down and finishes them off. Hey, there are still three more episodes to fill.[2]

Still, nearly the entire Savior fighting force was wiped out. Throughout this season, the Saviors have displayed a remarkable respawning ability; regenerating at the whim of the writers. The attacks on their outposts in the first half of the season should have reduced their numbers to the point that they didn't have the manpower to cause all the trouble they have since. In these last two eps, the Saviors threw their remaining fighters at Hilltop and lost badly. This should be the end of the war, an ordeal that has dragged on for two and a half seasons now, but there's no acknowledgement of this by anyone, no cheering, no celebrating. The tone remains as dreary as ever. Carol and Tobin have one of those cliche conversations about what Carol will do after the war in over, as if it wasn't. To get in some mixed signals, Rick takes the boards off the window of the Hilltop Big House, as if it is over.

In the night, the Stupids come again. The Saviors' weapons were coated in zombie grue and everyone they cut begins to zombify, rising from their beds and going off in search of people to eat. They growl and grunt and are none too quiet but even as they start killing people, their noise doesn't disturb the sleep of anyone.[3] One of them even falls down the very long staircase in the Big House with what looks like most of Hilltop's population sleeping at the bottom. No one so much as stirs.

The zombies who are in the medical trailers have to cross the yard and get inside the house to cause their mayhem. They're able to do so because yet again, Hilltop has no watchmen posted. This was an issue last season, when the lack of watchmen meant the Saviors were able to wreak all sorts of impossible havoc on Hilltop's grounds, and, as usual, our heroes haven't learned a thing since. With a war that may still be ongoing and a pen of dangerous prisoners in the yard, there isn't a single guard on duty, no one keeping a watch.

Speaking of those prisoners, they're in a crude, hastily-constructed pen. Anyone in it could easily slip out of it. They've only credibly remained there because of the presence of guards, which makes the complete absence of guards here even more egregious. As the zombies begin to rise, the brat Henry goes down to the prisoner pen with a rifle and demands to know which of the Saviors there killed his brother. Last week, Morgan told him the now-deceased Gavin had done so and there's no reason the boy wouldn't believe that but the Stupids are upon him too; he drops in on the prisoners and threatens to begin randomly shooting them if they don't identify the murderer. Henry can do this from outside the pen just fine but even as audible mayhem erupts in the house, the boy, who doesn't seem terribly interested in what may be happening to his friends inside, unlocks the pen and steps into it. As could be expected, he's then easily tackled and many of the Saviors escape.

As with the previous ep, the Stupids claimed everything this week.

--j.

---

[1] Throughout TWD, Rick has been presented as an absolutely wretched leader but because the writers have wanted him to remain the leader, they've compensated by having all the characters gratuitously praise his leadership. Tonight, they did the same with Maggie. There's no way to characterize her plan for unnecessarily allowing the Saviors inside her fortress as anything other than utterly idiotic, a thing that got people needlessly killed, so the writers have multiple characters come up to her after the fight to praise her great leadership skills, to the point that it begins to look really awkward.

[2] During the course of the fighting, Savior turncoat Dwight, who wants to help our heroes win, is running around behind Simon conspicuously failing to kill him or even trying to do so, for no reason other than that the writers decree it. Both he and Simon are with the small group who escape.

[3] Except for one fellow who, assigned the duty of watching over two seriously wounded people in a world in which people who die return as flesh-eating monsters, lays down between them and goes to sleep.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Key To THE WALKING DEAD Is the Stupids

Tonight on THE WALKING DEAD, everyone got stupid. That's nothing new, of course. TWD's writers have made nearly every inch of plot progression in the bulk of the show's run entirely dependent upon and occurring as a consequence of the characters being stupid. Typically not just run-of-the-mill stupid; we're talking profound cretinism so beyond the bounds of credible as to constitute an open, ongoing insult to and mockery of viewers. No one is this Stupid, and no one so unfailingly, relentlessly Stupid would survive very long in a zombie apocalypse. There are other problems with "The Key," tonight's installment, but this is the one that towers over all others.

Savior turncoat Dwight has cast his lot with our heroes. He's accepted that he'll be dead with the current war is over but he wants to help them win before he goes out. Last week, he was forced to return to the Savior fold to protect the denizens of the Safe Zone. A few eps ago, Dwight intentionally led his group of Saviors into an ambush and helped the Alexandrians kill them all, but one, a woman who witnessed his treachery, got away. When he went back to the Saviors last week, he learned that she is still missing in action but he has to figure she's going to turn up at any moment, and then it will be curtains for him. As tonight's ep opens, he's back at his apartment at the Sanctuary and the Stupids kick in really hard; Negan comes to visit him and Dwight doesn't assassinate the villain on sight. He doesn't do it while Negan stands around jawing. Negan is alone and would never see it coming but Dwight let's him talk for a while then leave in peace. Another victory for Negan's plot immunity and not even the only one this evening.

Negan's forces are going to attack Hilltop and Negan has come up with the idea of coating their melee weapons in walker grue in the hope that those cut by them will then die and zombify,[1] so there's a sequence of the Saviors cutting up zombies and getting their knives and axes good and gooey. It's an idea that came from the comics but there, guns and ammo were, by this point, a lot more scarce and fighting with such weapons much more common. Simon barks Negan's orders to the troops: cut some of 'em and make 'em turn but don't kill them all--they're going to go back to work for us when this is over. How, exactly, are the Saviors, who are supposed to be getting low on ammo, ever going to get close enough to cut people barricaded in a walled fortress on a, yes, hilltop, particularly given that those people have guns--fully automatic weapons--to keep any attackers well at bay?

Simon has a bad case of the Stupids too. Contrary to Negan's direct orders, he has genocided the Garbage People then lied to Negan about it. His situation is less ambiguous than Dwight's missing witness--when it comes to Negan discovering the truth, it's just a matter of when, not if.[2] He wants Negan gone and wants to lead the Saviors himself and his big idea is to simply wipe out our heroes. Kill off the rebel communities and move on. But from everything we've seen, the Saviors are very heavily dependent upon their subjugated communities for food and supplies; it's the very reason Negan continues to argue for a measured response. The Saviors are thugs whose loyalty is partially purchased via the apocalyptic version of a luxurious lifestyle this arrangement provides them. Simon is proposing wiping out the lower caste in this carefully-organized caste-system without any replacement.

Back at Hilltop, our heroes have gathered and are preparing for the Saviors' coming siege. Maggie spies some crates in a field, checks them out and finds a note promising a "key to the future" if she'll fill the crates with food or "phonograph records"[3] and bring them to a designated rendezvous. It sounds like a rather obvious trap but Michonne immediately dismisses the idea that it could be the Saviors solely on the grounds that it isn't dramatic enough for them. At first, Maggie is clear-headed on the matter: "If someone is tryin' ta' help us and we miss out, we miss out. If someone is tryin' ta' kill us, we die." Maggie is the leader of the community and given the circumstances, this is a no-brainer, but Michonne works on her for a few minutes and astonishingly, with a Savior attack imminent, she opts to take Michonne and Rosita--two of their best fighters--and leave Hilltop for this meeting with  who-knows who!

It turns out there really is a benevolent benefactor behind this[4] but there's no reason it couldn't have been a Savior ambush. How stupid are the Saviors if they can't easily overcome people this stupid?

Rick puts in a turn on lookout duty, watching the roads for any approaching Savior activity and--can you believe the coincidence?--he ends up watching the very road Negan's forces are taking. He sees their convoy, sees Negan bringing up the rear and starts to give the signal to alert his own people of the enemy presence then decides, instead, to leave them in the dark about the approaching danger, jump in his vehicle and launch a hopeless solo attack on Negan's car that somewhat succeeds and doesn't get Rick killed solely because the writers decree it.

Negan has a large, open bucket of zombie grue in his front seat with his pet bat Lucille marinating in it. Apparently, Rick rather spectacularly t-boned the villain's car, smashing it and sending it flipping until it landed on its side but there doesn't seem to have been the budget to shoot such a thing--we only see Negan fleeing, Rick in pursuit, a cutaway to the other Saviors then the aftermath of what looks like a hell of a crash. Negan would probably be pretty banged up and all that zombie grue is all over him and the interior of the car but his plot armor saves him again. Rick has an automatic weapon but instead of charging in and killing Negan, he just starts ineffectually pumping rounds into the bottom of the overturned vehicle, allowing Negan to escape into a nearby building. Rick is close behind but throws away his rifle before entering! He then draws and empties his pistol, missing every time. Hearing the hammer click on an empty chamber, Negan, who has climbed a flight of stairs, turns to mock Rick--all outta' ammo now! Negan is far out of reach and Rick could easily just reload but instead, he puts the pistol away, pulls out an axe he had tucked in belt and... throws it away. He actually throws it with the intent of hitting Negan and misses but why in hell would anyone do that instead of just advancing up the stairs and taking the guy apart?

This ridiculous nonsense goes on for a while--the two end up in a dark basement talking smack to one another, fighting some zombies then escaping the building without ever causing each other any harm.[5] Negan, in an amusing twist, is captured by Jaydis of the Garbage People.

Meanwhile, Simon is salivating over this being his opportunity. He'd been trying, in a roundabout way, to recruit Dwight to his cause. When Rick attacks Negan's car, Simon bottles up the Saviors in an alley, tells them this could be a trap--in which case bottling them up in an alley in which they could be fired upon from buildings on both sides is just about the worst possible idea--and that they should set up a perimeter while he and Dwight will go see if Negan needs a hand. Comically nonchalant about the whole thing. Dwight and Simon come upon Negan's smashed up car. Negan could be hurt or dead somewhere nearby, they could kill him without being observed but instead of looking for him, and despite the consequences that will befall them if, as is likely, he turns up, they just decide to write him off. Simon goes back to the Saviors and tells them that after this attack on their leader, they should go to Hilltop and kill everyone. Despite the obvious consequences of such an act, they think this is a great idea.

And that was "The Key." Dumbassery and Decay and the Stupids held illimitable dominion over all.

--j.

---

[1] This line of thought emerged when the writers, 7 1/2 seasons into the show, suddenly changed the rules and made zombie grue toxic, making Father Gabriel get very sick from covering himself in it. It makes sense that it would be toxic, of course, but the long run of TWD has seen countless characters--even characters with open wounds--absolutely covered in zombie gore, their faces and eyes spattered with it, etc. and no one has ever gotten the least bit sick from it. While Negan thinks people will get die and zombify from wounds from treated weapons, Gabriel himself didn't and, treated with antibiotics, seems on the road to recovery, other than having lost a lot of his eyesight. Negan, of course, knows this: Gabriel is his prisoner.

[2] And, in fact, Negan learns of it in this ep.

[3] I'm old enough that it sounds weird for someone to call records that.

[4] It's a bizarre--and very Z NATION--fairy-tale character named Georgie who promises knowledge in exchange for music. She offers a collection of schematics for windmills, watermills, aqueducts, etc.--what she describes as "a book of Medieval achievement, so that we may have a future from our past." She says she will one day return and when she does, she'd better see great things. A glimpse, perhaps, at the ultimate end of the series?

[5] At one point, Rick does bash Negan with his own zombie-infected barbed-wire-wrapped bat but Rick was kind enough to set it on fire beforehand, presumably cauterizing it and leaving Negan non-infected.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, March 12, 2018

Not Wanted: Dead Or Alive Or THE WALKING DEAD

As with so many episodes of THE WALKING DEAD, the writers of tonight's "Dead Or Alive Or" didn't bother to provide an adequate plot. As so often happens, they chose, instead, to take a few minutes worth of material and pad it out to fill the running time. As has so often happened in recent season, this padding was so extensive that the ep even ran 5 minutes over its regularly-designated timeslot. Have to get in those extra minutes of commercials to pay for all that "work" the writers are doing.

Two weeks ago, Daryl, Rosita and Tara departed the Safe Zone to lead its mostly-nameless-and-faceless residents to Hilltop. This is the latest example of the brilliant strategic thinking typically displayed by our heroes. Why make it tougher for Negan to defeat you when you can all hole up in the same small, closed-in community to which his forces can easily lay siege until he's starved out all opposition, right?[1] This being TWD, that Safe Zoners plot-string was skipped last week and, this being TWD, tonight's ep, which picks it up, didn't begin with those characters at the gates of Hilltop. Instead, that's how it ends. Way back in December, Eugene arranged for Dr. Carson and the ailing Father Gabriel to escape Savior custody. They were heading to Hilltop as well but as the show finally returned to their thread three months later, they're not there either. They're lost and driving around backroads. Most of the ep just follows around the Safe Zoners as they try to hike to Hilltop and Gabriel/Carson as they mostly just dick around and waste time instead of trying to find Hilltop.

Neither of these threads feature anything interesting; they're just present to eat up running-time.

The Safe Zone group opt to cut through a swamp on the premise that the Saviors wrote it off as dangerous and won't be poking around there. They run into a zombie logjam ported in straight from Z NATION season 2 but it doesn't lead to anything--they just kill the zombies and move on. Tara is still furious at Savior turncoat Dwight and, being a dimwit, tries to kill him. He eventually hooks up with a group of Saviors who haven't heard of his betrayal and leads them away from the Zoners.

Gabriel and Carson find a cabin, hang out there, go on and on about Gabriel's increasing loss of vision.[2] In order to safely walk among the dead, Gabriel, several eps back, covered himself in zombie guts. Characters on TWD have been using this same trick since the 2nd episode of the series, even those with open wounds.[3] We've seen people splattered with zombie blood and gore, seen it get in their faces, their eyes. No one has ever suffered so much as a cough as a consequence but this season, the writers suddenly decided zombie gore was toxic.[4] Gabriel is ill and going bind.[5]

We find out why this was suddenly written into the plot toward the end of the ep. After breaking out of the zombie-surrounded Sanctuary, the Saviors are running low on ammo and Eugene's reloading operation isn't turning out enough at a fast-enough clip--Eugene may be foot-dragging on purpose. When Negan leans on him, Eugene comes up with the idea of using primitive siege weapons to chuck zombie gore over the walls of Hilltop. Negan doesn't like this suggestion at all but from it, he gets the bright idea to have the Saviors coat their weapons in this grue, use it for a sort of biological warfare. I'm disappointed we're not going to get to see Medieval trebuchets and catapults chucking zombie-parts over the wall.

And that's it. Near the end, the gate guard at Hilltop yells that Rick has returned but because if he appears, Andrew Lincoln gets paid for the ep, we never see him.


--j.

---

[1] As if to compensate for this obvious idiocy, the writers have Gregory point out to Maggie that the Saviors are on their way and suggests evacuating Hilltop. "How can we win?" Maggie replies, "look around, Gregory. How can we lose?" But it's so idiotic, even she doesn't sound as if she means it.

[2] The Saviors reapprehend Gregory and Carson; when Carson goes for a gun, they shoot him, one of the last doctors in the world. Fortunately--and coincidentally--the stranger Coral took in has medical training. Absurdly, Negan assigns the dying and nearly-blind Gabriel to sorting empty shells in preparation for reloading them.

[3] In fact, Rick, the first one to use the trick on screen, had an open gunshot wound in his side when he first did it.

[4] Zombie grue should be potentially rather dangerous--human corpses are a regular stew of bacteria--but after 8 years of watching people intimately interact with it to no negative effect, it's a bit late to be making it poisonous.

[5] Negan's plot-armor comes with an immunity charm; he covered himself in gore from the same zombie as Gabriel but remains unaffected by it.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, March 5, 2018

THE WALKING DEAD Burns Bartertown

I've been a fan of THE WALKING DEAD's Garbage People from pretty much the moment they were introduced. After their first appearance, I wrote:

"Tonight, on THE WALKING DEAD, Rick and co. appeared to have dropped into the pocket universe wherein the Max Max flicks are set; where characters with weird names and inexpressive faces dressed in black and grey Max Max-like gear stand around and speak through a monotone in clipped, half-sentences as if they've grown up in the aftermath of the nuclear apocalypse and regular conversation is strange to them. Their home is a maze of piled-up car-wrecks and trash that stretches to the horizon--with the whole world at their disposal for residences, they're mindful enough of the series' desire for visuals to live there--and they interact with our heroes while in the distance, a rusty car-door blown by the eternal winds of the wastelands atmospherically squonks away. I never noticed a crow cawing at any point--perhaps an oversight."

Seemingly born of the writers' exposure to Z NATION, the Garbage People didn't make a lick of sense in the context of TWD's world, but they were entertaining, through a time when little else about the series has been, an odd, unpredictable element that felt like something phasing into TWD from a different--and better--show. Given my usually less-than-stellar estimation of TWD's writers. I can't really say it's any surprise that they apparently didn't understand what a good thing they had with this community. In the only meaningful development in "The Lost & the Plunderers," tonight's installment, they liquidated it.

That dreadful decision began with a conflict between Simon, who wants to be the big boss of the Saviors, and Negan, who is the big boss. Simon just wants to kill off all these rebellious communities and move on with life but, in a sequence that runs several times longer than was necessary, Negan insists they're still a resource. He and Simon argue and he orders Simon to bring to heel the Garbage People, who briefly joined the rebellion. But once at the Big Dump, Simon, still smarting over Negan's tongue-lashing, gets a little too ambitious and starts shooting people. When Jadis, the Garbage Queen, slugs him, he gives the order and the Saviors kill everyone. Negan will probably be just as pleased by this as I was.[1]

A lot of the screentime devoted to Rick and Michonne here is just filler material. Near the beginning, they're packing up and about to depart from the Safe Zone, which has been torn up by the Saviors, and Michonne gets it in her head that, before she leaves, she simply must go put out the fire that is consuming a gazebo, so she and Rick charge into action, risking their lives in battle against zombies in order to waste two of the only fire-extinguishers left in the world trying, for no real reason, to put out the blaze on a structure that has already mostly burned up.

Yes, that really happened.[2]

Later, they turn up at the Big Dump and find the zombified Garbagers. Only Jadis is left. She's distraught and, in a development that makes no more sense than the community itself, suddenly remembers how to speak proper English, as if all that Mad Maxian stuff was just a put-on. Given that she had been allied with Rick and had just seen all of her friends and family wiped out by their common enemy because of that alliance, one would think Rick would have a great deal of sympathy but instead, he's openly hostile--tells Jadis this is all her fault, refuses to help her escape, even points his gun at her when she's fighting through zombies while trying to follow him out--shoots over her head as a warning. If this ep was the story of the end of the Garbage People told from Jadis' perspective, Rick could fill the role of the ghost of her guilt as leader for the death of her people. As it is though, she's just an element in Simon's story then Rick's, and Rick's behavior is just more random and bizarre shit, as if he's this thing entirely disconnected from what we've seen him experience[3] and who we've seen him be.[4]

The ep only ever adopts Jadis' point of view when she has to see to the disposition of the walking dead who were once her friends. In what could, in better hands, have been a most remarkable scene--and in these hands still stands out as fairly striking for TWD--she leads the dead into an industrial shredder, watching with sad resignation as, one by one, they drop into the machine and are ground up into gory oatmeal that runs out on a conveyor belt beside her final painting--a fine, arty touch on paper that doesn't really come off as well on screen.

The ep checks in on Aaron and Enid, who, in a random sequence inserted into an earlier ep, went off to find the Oceanside community, were attacked, killed Oceanside's matron leader and were captured. Tonight, they're chained, about to be executed, Enid makes a speech and the new leader, the granddaughter of the dead one, just decides to let them go. As they're leaving, Aaron decides he's going to go back and convince them to join the fight--the reason Aaron went there in the first place--which makes one wonder what has been the point of anything that has happened with this thread. Aaron will try to make his case, Oceanside will listen or it won't--nothing shown tonight added anything to this except running time. With TWD though, that's often all it takes.

Near the end, Rick talks to Negan over a purloined radio, tells him Coral is dead. Rick says he's going to kill Negan, Negan says Coral is dead because Rick failed him. In the Walking Dead comics, Negan and Carl developed an interesting relationship that would have made a scene like this very interesting but that was almost entirely cut from the series and the scene, lacking any real dramatic weight, just plays out as Negan being the villain and taunting the hero.

--j.

---

[1] During his interrogation of Jadis, Simon suddenly mentions a helipad and solar panels on the landfill grounds, things never before mentioned. Rick saw a helicopter flying over a few eps ago and when Jadis does away with the Garbage-ite dead, she has electricity to do it. Simon hints that the site may have been something much more than just a garbage dump before the end of the world but later, Jadis seems to explain living there as strictly an artistic choice. The helipad will probably turn up again but the electricity may have been introduced merely to allow Jadis to carry out that zombie-killing sequence.

[2] Though with a war on and all, one would expect the Saviors would be out looking for the Safe Zone gang, they don't seem to be doing so. Rick seems to take out a Savior in the Safe Zone near the beginning--it happens off camera--and it makes sense someone would be posted there to see if anyone returned but he was apparently all alone and Rick and Michonne are able to drive the road unmolested and without even encountering any Savior lookouts. Near the end of the ep, we learn that Negan hasn't heard from Gavin's crew at the Kingdom. They've all been killed, of course, but that happened the night before and no one, it seems, has checked on them.

[3] And this would stand out even to someone who had only ever seen the last two eps of TWD--Coral had just given Rick the we've-got-to-do-better-about-holding-on-to-our-humanity speech as some of his dying words in the ep prior.

[4] It doesn't help matters that the writers throw in a later scene wherein Michonne is giving Rick the eye for this behavior and he tells her he just wanted Jadis to go away.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, February 26, 2018

No Honor Among THE WALKING DEAD

When last we visited THE WALKING DEAD, the Saviors had somehow managed to escape the Sanctuary, which shouldn't have been possible and wasn't explained, and were able to terrorize our heroes' communities, which they shouldn't have had the remaining manpower to manage after a half-season of being killed in bulk, with, in the case of the team that lay siege to the Safe Zone, a platoon of guys armed with never-before-mentioned super-grenade launchers--weapons that would have made escape from the zombie-surrounded sanctuary rather easy but that only appeared after the Saviors had spent the half-season buttoned up at their compound and increasingly desperate about how to escape.

(Takes a breath)

"Honor," tonight's midseason debut, reverses gears in the pre-credit sequence and makes a show of explaining what happened at the Sanctuary but while the Saviors' escape is a massive plot problem, it may have been better not to even try. The writers had painted themselves into a corner on this one. The scenario they created--the compound surrounded 50-deep in zombies, with snipers posted beyond the dead with orders to blast any Savior who shows himself and all of this further complicated by Daryl's decision to punch a hole in the building  so some of the dead can get inside--is basically impossible to defeat. While one can imagine ways to get out of it--those grenade launchers would have made it a pretty simple task--the writers had already spent half the season piddling around inside the compound showing that the Saviors clearly had no means of dealing with the problem and were becoming increasingly desperate. In such a circumstance, nothing this writing team is going to concoct is going to be satisfying.

It isn't. For the purposes of allowing the Saviors to escape, the zombie army is suddenly reduced to 50 or 60 guys milling around in the parking lot. The Saviors show up at the windows with automatic weapons. The snipers observe them but for no reason at all, decline to shoot them. The snipers just sit there with multiple enemies in their sights and watch as the Saviors shoot zombies, which, hilariously, are kind enough to fall into neat piles that form  a sort of barricade. The Saviors then come charging out the front door through the trail protected by those barricades. Again, the snipers do nothing, and the Saviors begin firing at them. And that's it.

From there, it's all downhill. Before the midseason break, Coral had just been bitten by a zombie and was looking pretty rough. It was an open question whether the writers would drag out his inevitable death or just do a one-and-done but given the soap melodrama format of the show, the latter was to be particularly feared. It's the one the writers, in fact, chose. Most of the ep tonight is just Coral taking a long time to die while making a very long string of TWD's patented pseudo-profound anti-naturalistic speeches. The TWD version of a slow-motion death from POLICE SQUAD but without any (intentional) laughs.


That business starts where it left off, with our Alexandrian heroes huddled in a wonderful metaphor: down the drain, under the Safe Zone. Above, the town is being pummeled by grenades but below, Coral is on his deathbed saying his teary-eyed goodbyes to his companions. If our heroes were caught down there, it would be the end of them but the heartless villains apparently respect the need for melodrama; none of them bother to check out the drain, an obvious escape-route and clearly visible on both sides of the Safe Zone's walls.


Eventually the Saviors leave, and everyone decides to depart for Hilltop. Coral is obviously in no shape to be moved, so Rick and Michonne stay behind to see him to the end but shortly after everyone leaves, Rick randomly decides to move Coral anyway. Down the drain, Coral is in a safe place on a nice cot with a pillow--as good a deathbed as he could have in such circumstances--but Rick insists on dragging him topside, hauling him around the now-ruined Safe Zone and eventually bringing him to rest on the hard floor of the smoking remains of the church. The deathbed is a speech-breeding staple of the melodrama and perhaps the writers decided only one wasn't good enough for TWD--had to get that second one in there.

They certainly get in the melodrama. Coral makes speeches through all of this, interacting with the others while maudlin music whines away.


This seemingly interminable plotline--if one can call it that--is the centerpiece of tonight's ep, which the creators turned into another extended, 90-minute affair to accommodate all that emoting. Well before it's over, one suspects even the viewer with the sternest appetite for this rubbish will be wishing they'd just get it over with and let him die. Even when he finally does, though, it probably isn't over--Coral wrote goodbye notes to everyone, something future eps will no doubt dwell upon with substantial gravity.

Over at the Kingdom, Carol and Morgan are set on rescuing Ezekiel. Morgan gets to go Terminator on a bunch of baddies. In the highlight of the ep, he disembowels one of them who is in the process of killing him. It's sort of a bummer that Morgan didn't then use the guy's innards to strangle him. Seems an obvious use for them, right? Gavin, the somewhat "reasonable" Savior, is on hand and throughout the evening, Ezekiel keeps hinting to him that he should switch sides. He's pretty intransigent but maybe he'll come over. Then it turns out that was just a ploy by the writers to fill time; Morgan captures Gavin, sets out to destroy him and we get another of TWD's usual bullwinders where everyone stands around contemplating whether Morgan really wants to kill the fellow. In the end, it doesn't matter; a kid with a sharp stick turns up and pokes Gavin in the throat (one of Gavin's lieutenants murdered the boy's brother).

That's "Honor," an ep that, if it had any, would have committed seppuku early in the evening.

--j.


Email: jriddlecult@gmail.com
Twitter: @jriddlecult