Sunday, February 26, 2012

WALKING DEAD Drags Viewers "18 Miles Out"

This week on TWD, showrunner Glen Mazzara's "throw zombies at the problem" approach to addressing the series' many shortcomings continues to yield less dull but still problematic results. Mazzara and his team have injected a bit of excitement into a series that desperately needed it. Unfortunately, the series continues to be plagued by many of the same problems that have made this season such a chore, and that usually prevent it from rising above merely risible.

In any series of this sort, there needs to be a workable balance between moments of action and tension and moments of character drama. Ideally, the two operate hand-in-glove with one another, and are inseparable. They've never worked together on this season of TWD. For much of this season, the writers simply removed the action-and-tension stuff altogether. At the same time, what they've pawned off as "character drama" is a string of putrid soap storylines, all of which are dependent on every character being written like an utter moron. These are completely uninteresting, built of mind-numbingly repetitive scenes, and actively insult the viewers' intelligence at every turn. They were creatively bankrupt at birth, and as they've been allowed to consume--and waste--much of this season, they've been run into the ground deeper than David Innis's iron mole. When TWD throws some action its viewers' way, it can be entertaining, but it has absolutely nothing to fall back on.

Only three episodes this season have featured extended action sequences--"Save the Last One," last week's "Triggerfinger," and this week's "18 Miles Out"--and all three also illustrate this problem.

"Save The Last One" featured Shane and the ill-fated Otis on a critical mission to fetch medical supplies needed to save Carl's life, and struggling to, themselves, survive in a chase through a pitch-dark high school campus swarming with zombies. It should have been a great, suspenseful, race-against-time story, emphasizing the hopelessness of their plight leading up to Shane's murder of Otis. Instead, the writers bled every ounce of tension out of this scenario by constantly cutting away to dull soap melodrama back on the farm.

The first 20 or so minutes of last week's "Triggerfinger" was quite exciting by TWD standards, but at the mid-point, the writers left the action on a cliffhanger they never resolved, and returned to their dull soap melodrama, bringing the episode--and anything interesting about it--to a dead halt.

With "18 Miles Out," the creators are cross-cutting again, following, on the one hand, a suspenseful Rick/Shane story, and, on the other, another dull, pointless, horrendously written soap storyline back at the farm, this one regarding Beth and her sudden desire to kill herself.

Last week, Rick rescued Randall, a member of a band of marauders who had been left for dead by his comrades with his leg impaled on a fence. Hershel stitched up the fellow's leg, and the plan, this episode, is to take him out to the middle of nowhere and dump him. As the story opens, Rick and Shane are on their way to do that very thing. Rick pulls over and tries to lay down some law to Shane regarding the situation with Lori and Carl. My wife, my son, he tells Shane, and says he'd do anything to keep them safe. It isn't a bad scene, in itself. It threatens to bring on a headache only because this "storyline" has been done absolutely to death by this point.

The two seem to have achieved some sort of understanding, but it falls apart shortly after. In an absurdly contrived twist, Randall reveals, at the last minute, he went to school with Maggie. He knows Hershel, and, unfortunately for him, this also means he knows where the farm is located. The point of dumping him, of course, was that he didn't know, and if he found his way back to the hostile group from which he came, he wouldn't be able to tell them.

Randall has been on the farm for a week, at this point. In the previous episode, Hershel said it would take about a week for him to be up and abouts, and at the beginning of this one, Rick tells Shane he's been "waiting a week" to dump Randall. The writers apparently had Hershel use the same Veterinarian's Magic Healing Potion on Randall as they'd earlier had him use on Carl--Randall's wound was horrendous, and should have taken a very long time to heal, if it ever healed at all, but after a week, he's able to get around with no more than a minor limp, and even breaks the arm of a zombie with the bad leg. Randall is very cooperative, professes to have no allegiance to the marauders who left him for dead, and the fact that his last-minute revelation about having gone to school with Maggie is a revelation suggests they haven't even bothered to question him in all the time he's been at the farm. Questions like, how many are there in the group from which he came? How well armed are they? These aren't just obvious questions; they're ones that would have certainly been asked and, given Randall's cooperativeness, answered. But not on TWD.

Now, Rick and Shane get into it over what to do about him. Rick wants to take the guy back to the farm and figure out what to do with him; Shane wants to immediately liquidate him. It leads to accusations, by Shane, that Rick is placing Lori and Carl in danger via his preferred course of action, and that leads to a fist-fight, which leads to a whole lotta' zombies turning up looking for dinner, which sets everyone to fleeing for their lives.

The zombies move really fast in this episode. They're agile. Some of them even do the equivalent of gymnastics. Like everything else on TWD, these are things that always vary based upon the needs of the plot at the moment.[1] Shane, down to his knife, holes up in a bus, where he wrestles to keep the front folding door closed against the zombie onslaught--the creatures are suddenly strong enough to carry out a credible onslaught against a guy trying to hold a bus door shut (something living people would only be able to do with great difficulty).[2] There is, of course, the emergency exit in the back of the bus. It's the first thing that pops into every viewers' mind--every viewer that has a mind, anyway--and Shane could go out it at any time, and escape the entire herd, but the writers decided it would be more dramatic if he stayed there, wrestling for control over that folding door, until Rick and Randall--the fellow Shane wanted to murder--show up to save him. By having him go out the emergency exit in the back.

Where would TWD be this season without repetition? Rick gives Shane exactly the same extended speech he did at the beginning of the episode. Will it take this time? No. The preview for next week's episode makes it clear Shane has achieved no enlightenment on the matter. When they take Randall back to the farm, they bind him with a hood over his eyes, which they'd previously done to try to conceal the location of the farm, but which doesn't make much sense by the end of the episode, because it's already been established that he probably knows where the farm is anyway.

That's the "A" plot this week.[3]

Intercut with this throughout the episode is a "storyline" back on the farm. Beth has been so isolated from the zombie apocalypse that she bought into her father's insane notion that zombies were merely sick people, yet now, she's so distraught about the fact that there's a zombie apocalypse and that she could die horribly in it that she just wants to do herself in before that can happen. So much so that she totally brushes aside, as insignificant in comparison to this, her lover and family. All of this angst is, once again, offered in a house in the midst of beautiful rural farm country where she has all the luxuries of civilization, and there are no zombies in sight.

The series' usual contempt for the women is front-and-center in these scenes. Beth had kept a knife from her dinner tray with which to slit her wrists. Lori had talked her out of it and had taken the knife back to the kitchen. Andrea jumped down Lori's throat over this, saying suicide was Beth's decision, and that Lori should let Beth make it. Lori countered by complaining that the newly "liberated" Andrea was now doing men's work, when a woman's place should be in the home, making it a fit place to live. Andrea went to see Beth and offered up a few words that veered perilously close to encouraging her to kill herself, if that's what she wanted. And then left her! Such charming creatures are the women of TWD!

This entire Beth "storyline" was, of course, like a stone around the neck of the more exciting Rick/Shane portion of the episode, repeatedly bringing everything to a jarring halt. TWD can be entertaining when it features action, but it can't feature action all the time, or even most of the time. It needs solid writing to hold it up in the moments when there isn't mayhem on the screen. It just doesn't have it in its present creative team.

All of that said, though, the final image of "18 Miles Out" was actually quite striking, a reprise of one glimpsed earlier in the episode. Shane looks out the window of the vehicle, as he and Rick are returning to the farm, and glimpses a lone zombie at a distance, slowly moving through a field adjoining the road. It's a simple moment, haunting in its simplicity. When I mentioned it on the IMDb Walking Dead board, poster HelenBackAgain wrote of it:

"This one great, artistic image, all alone within this cheesy, stupid episode that added absolutely nothing in terms of story. There are within the episode no others like it; it stands apart, a monument and a martyr to the lost possibility of greatness."

Couldn't have said it better myself, and, in fact, didn't.



[1] One of them was a lot smarter, too--when Rick points his gun at it, the creature actually pushes it away to save itself!

[2] Zombies suddenly become vampiric and go after blood in this episode, instead of living people. Rick and Shane decide to use their knives to kill zombies when they're able to do so. Their mere presence, however, isn't enough to attract a pair of walkers they come across inside a fence--to bring the critters in, they have to cut their hands so there is visible blood. When the zombies get close, they then drive a knife into the creatures' skulls, causing zombie-infected grue to spew all over the cuts they've opened in themselves. Smart move, guys. So smart that Shane, when he's holed up in that bus, pulls the same trick several times.

[3] And this "A" plot threw zombies at TWD's problems without advancing the story even an inch. At the end, the Randall situation remains unresolved, stuck at exactly the same point it was at the beginning, and, as the preview for next week makes plain, Rick and Shane failed to come to any resolution of their conflict. One could not only entirely skip this episode without missing a thing; doing so would probably improve the overall series. In the preview for the next ep, it looks as if they're finally interrogating Randall about that group of armed hostiles of which he was a part. It's not credible that they wouldn't have already done this (it is, in fact, ludicrous). Skipping this ep would make that big, gaping hole go away.

[Cross-posted to my comics blog]

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Few Words in Memory of Lina Romay

A few years ago, it was announced that filmmaker Jesús Franco and his longtime muse, companion, and collaborator Lina Romay would be attending the Fantastic Fest in Austin. At the time, I'd been falling hopelessly in love with a woman who was almost as big a fan of this pair as I, and I suggested we trek to Texas on the appointed date and spend some time in the flesh with this remarkable couple to whose work we'd devoted so many hours of our lives. She thought it a grand idea.

The economic straits of an indie filmmaker and small businessman being what they are, I was never able to make the trip. The woman I wished to accompany me on it is someone I came to love more than I've ever loved anyone or anything in this world, and she became my own muse, in much the same way Romay was Franco's. She professed to love me and I doubt a more perfect couple could be assembled in a laboratory by all-knowing gods. And then she threw me away like an old newspaper. The sparsity of my contributions to this blog in the 15 months since mirrors the sparsity of my contribution to living in that same time--without hyperbole, it has been the worst 15 months of my life.

The aim of today's little blog entry, however, isn't to offer up boring personal details about which no one cares a whit. I start at this point because I was reminded of something today. When I suggested to my love we go to meet Jess and Lina, I didn't have to make much of a pitch. We were fans. Once, we'd even cooked up a movie idea that was a sort of homage to their work, particularly FEMALE VAMPIRE and its derivatives (it's a project I plan to eventually produce). I did offer that Jess wasn't getting any younger, didn't come to the U.S. very often and that this may be our last chance to see him. Maybe it was. Jess is still around though. The reason I'm reminded of those remarks today is that news has just arrived that Lina Romay isn't. All those cigarettes finally seem to have caught up with her. She has died of cancer on Feb. 15th, at far too young an age.

Hearing about it so late, I thought word of this must have had to cross the Atlantic by steamship but as it turns out, Jess simply hadn't announced it yet. Probably didn't feel up to doing so. There hasn't been any press attention, which isn't surprising. In the last 40 years, Lina appeared in over 100 movies but few, indeed, would ever be mistaken for mainstream fare. Jesús Franco made obscure, mini-budgeted exploitation pictures, usually well beneath the notice of the "mainstream" and, with few exceptions, Lina Romay made movies with Jesús Franco.

Lina was a striking beauty and a born exhibitionist, which made her a perfect subject for the camera of the obsessively voyeuristic Franco. He preserved her every millimeter in celluloid many times over. When it came to performance though, it wasn't all about getting naked. Not even close. Lina, as actress, was absolutely fearless and it wasn't the kind of "fearless" generously attributed to A-list actresses when they make films in which they cry a lot, bare their breasts to the undeserving masses for a moment, behave in an unladylike manner or play a part that could hurt their mega-box-office by alienating some little coterie of their infinity of fans. This was the real bravery of someone utterly committed to her craft, a woman uninhibited by absurd egotistical concerns who was willing to do just about anything, whatever a part required. She's mostly renowned--by those who go about renowneding such things--as an earthy sex goddess, and, indeed, her sexually charged performances could be breathtaking to behold but she was a much more versatile talent than this suggests. She appeared in a wide variety of films--horror movies, comedies, thrillers, prison movies, mysteries, spy pictures, hardcore sex pictures--and played a wide variety of roles in them--strong heroines, heartless villainesses, hapless innocents, sympathetic monsters--and she was, for the most part, damn good at whatever she did. Lina's early specialty was what may broadly be described as "sexual frenzy," but she developed quite a range as she went along. Tim Lucas, in his excellent obituary, comments on this:

"...Lina became a skilled actress under his [Franco's] tutelage, acquitting herself admirably not only as vampire women and nymphomaniacs, but in roles requiring the deft touch of a light comedienne. She could carry a film without dialogue; she could be funny, tragic, insanely desirable, shocking, even embarrassing in ways that left one admiring her bravery. On the two occasions when she ended a film by screaming--LORNA... THE EXORCIST (1974) and MACUMBA SEXUAL (1980)--she could chill the blood like no one else, on the strength of her performance alone."

Lina also sometimes wrote, she directed, and she starred in a handful of films by other directors. Her collaboration with Franco, which accounts for most of her filmography, has produced a body of work like nothing the cinema has ever seen or is likely to ever see again. A lot of people would say the latter was a good thing but fortunately for such simple souls, the only penalty they'll ever have to pay is to miss out on something that was often quite special, just as I did when I didn't make that trip to Austin. When on the screen, Lina could make you laugh, cry, cringe, shiver, hate her or fall in love with her. Which, in itself, can sort of make you fall in love with her if you appreciate such things. I do, and I did. And I will miss her.


Monday, February 20, 2012

WALKING DEAD Gives Viewers the "Triggerfinger"

Another week, another episode of THE WALKING DEAD, and here I am writing about it again. "Triggerfinger," this week's installment, instantly become the best TWD of this season, and by a wide margin. Rather than thinking this a turnaround for the series, one should bear that judgment in mind when reading the rest of this.

This was the best we've seen of TWD this season because of the first 20 minutes, which allegedly picks up immediately after the events of "Nebraska." Allegedly, because, once again, the writers have paid absolutely no attention to their own continuity. I'll get back to that in a moment, though.

First, the set-up: Lori, having survived the car wreck at the end of the writers' last effort to prove all women are just stupid bitches, struggles to survive zombies looking for road-kill, while, in town, Rick, Glenn, and Hershel are involved in a tense shootout and escape with a gaggle of thugs. Rick shot some no-accounts from Philly at the end of the last episode; their buddies turn up, looking for some payback. For 20 minutes, we get some pretty good drama, for television. By the standards of this season's TWD, it's great drama.

As the situation unfolds, the thugs are driven off by the combined efforts of our heroes and of hordes of zombies who appear in town,[1] but they leave, for dead, one of their own, a young fellow who took a leap off a building and ended up with his leg skewered by an iron fence-post. Our heroes don't want to shoot such a youthful specimen, but if they leave him, he'll be eaten by the encroaching corpses, so they struggle to free him as the hungry dead creep closer and closer.

It's a pretty good set-up, a pretty good scene, and more in line with the spirit of TWD than anything that has happened this season. They're trying to get that guy off the fence as the walkers are closing in. They're blasting away, but there's too many, a whole army of the dead within a few feet of them. They're nearly out of ammo. It seems hopeless. In a desperation move, Rick forcibly rips the guy's leg free, and we cut to a commercial. A great cliffhanger.

Can't wait to see what happens next? Too bad, because--believe it or not--the situation is resolved off camera. The show never returns to it.

Instead, it just returns to form. And the farm. The writers throw out the drag-weights, kill the momentum, bring everything to a halt, and spend most of the rest of the episode wallowing in the pointless, overwrought soap melodrama that has become TWD's trademark this season. Baby-daddy melodrama, love triangle melodrama, Maggie relating what hack writers mistake for a fond remembrance of an incident involving her now-ill sister[2]

In order to clear the slate for all of this rubbish, Rick, Glenn, and Hershel don't even return to the farm until the next day! That brings me to "Triggerfinger's" epic continuity snarl, another element that has become a TWD trademark.

Two episodes ago, it was morning on TWD. Lori was chopping carrots for lunch, Andrea and Daryl were waiting to start the day's search for Sophia, Rick and Hershel were herding zombies, and Shane pitched his little fit and freed the walkers in the barn. Last episode, we pick up at that same moment. Hershel goes to town to drink away his troubles, Beth falls ill, Rick and Glenn go to retrieve Hershel, Lori tells Andrea to watch Carl, goes to retrieve everyone, and crashes her car. A pair of thugs show up at the bar, and, after a brief conversation, draw on Rick, and he blasts them.[3] That's the precise moment at which "Triggerfinger" picks up, except it's now suddenly night outside, total darkness that only falls over a Georgia summer well after 9 p.m.[4]

Where did all that time go? Did Lori crack up her car and lie in it for several hours? That's plausible, but did Rick really shoot that last thug, then just stand there, in a raised-gun pose over him, for a few hours? That's where we rejoined Rick in this week's episode. Maybe he just wanted to make really, really sure the guy was dead before lowering his weapon, but that doesn't explain why Glenn and Hershel would stand there beside him also looking at the dead guy for all that time.

What it really means, of course, is that those behind TWD are once again showing the same lack of concern with keeping straight their continuity as the soaps on which they've patterned their series. Amusingly, someone in the writers' room didn't get the memo, and was still working from what had been established--when, back at the farm, Lori's disappearance is finally noted at dinner, Carl says the last time he saw her was "this afternoon." That fits with everything up to this week's installment, but can't be squared with anything else in "Triggerfinger."

So hours of daylight have just been made to disappear. Assuming that darkness had only just fallen--and we must, because it was bright daylight outside right up to the beginning of this episode--that means we've still got plenty of night left. The shootout with the gunmen happens in real time, without ellipses. After Rick frees the skewered thug, there are several pressing matters. Hershel had made it very clear the fellow speared by the fence would need immediate medical care. Back at the farm, Beth, Hershel's daughter, was also urgently in need of the medical attention only Hershel could provide. The rest of the characters at the farm needed to be immediately told there was an unknown number of armed hostiles in the area. Night had fallen, a time when it's extremely dangerous to be out in the open. Our heroes should have been looking to return to the farm immediately.

Our writers, on the other hand, are looking to wallow in the usual melodrama, so these pressing matters are simply pressed aside to that end. The characters in town disappear from the timeline as if kidnapped by UFOs, returning to the farm some time the next morning. As they drive up, it's well into the morning, too. The sun is high. Everyone is preparing to go look for them. They've somehow managed to turn what should have been a flight back to the farm of only a few minutes[5] into one that took 12 hours or more.[6]

In other news, it's the same old story. TWD's misogyny holds firm--the "empowered" Andrea aligned herself even more strongly with Shane this week. Mind-numbing repetition being the soul of TWD, the awful writing from the past was revisited: Dale again talked to Andrea about Shane, listened to her tell him Shane had done more to ensure the survival of the group than anyone, including Rick, and, yet again, he failed to tell her about what kind of man Shane really is. Beth continues to be seriously ill, having collapsed, last episode, after tussling with a zombie, and, again, no one thinks to check her for zombie-inflicted injuries or even voices any concern that she could be infected by the zombie bug. Glenn continues to have cold feet about Maggie for completely ridiculous reasons.[7] The usual story.

This episode had a very strong opening, but in the end, it continued the series' habit of giving the viewers a finger. The one proffered is not the "Triggerfinger."


[1] While, theoretically, it seems entirely appropriate to feature zombies in the midst of a zombie holocaust, the sudden appearance of the creatures, particularly in such large numbers, was a jarring change for TWD this season. We've seen parts of the town a few times, but we've only ever seen one zombie there (one that apparently magically teleported into the local drug-store). The town has been deserted. No damage. No trash in the street. No bodies. No indication that much of anything, like, say, the end of the world, has even happened.

[2] One that, in this case, goes absolutely nowhere, and seems inserted for no other purpose than establishing a Maggie/Andrea rapport as a way of setting up something later.

[3] During all of this, it was bright sunlight outside. They walked through it. You could see it through the windows. It was quite bright in the bar, with no electricity, lanterns, candles, or light of any kind. It was bright daylight when Lori wrecked her car.

[4] Later than that, in the early summer, but it's probably late summer on TWD now.

[5] UPDATE: In the episode in which Maggie and Glenn take the first of two very leisurely horseback rides into town and back, Maggie says it's about a mile up the road. Rick and co. are, of course, driving a truck.

[6] Upon arrival, they rush the injured boy, Randall, into surgery, though he should be dead or well beyond their ability to help, by that point (he's gone untreated for half a day).

[7] Glenn's behavior with regard to Maggie in the last two episodes is indicative of a few of the bad habits of the writers. Because they insist on rendering everything through the lens of overwrought soap melodrama, no relationship is allowed to just be a happy one; every one of them has to be made dysfunctional in some way. At the same time, the writers get so lost in their purloined soap opera "storylines" that they completely lose sight of the premise of the show and how it should affect the characters. Glenn has found a woman who, after he chased her for several episodes, loves him, and, instead of clinging to her, he's pushing her away because he's unsure about whether she could really be in love (his story in "Nebraska"), then because she gives him something for which to live (his story in "Triggerfinger"). Those may form some basis for friction in a relationship on some brainless daytime soap, but on TWD, the world has ended, and this behavior is absolutely ridiculous.

[Cross-posted to my comics blog]

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mr. WALKING DEAD & Ms. Ogyny

When my initial review of THE WALKING DEAD started running a bit long, I decided not to address some of the issues I had with the show. I reduced one--TWD's treatment of women--to a footnote, though I knew it merited much more prominent attention. After "Nebraska," this week's installment of the series, I'm compelled to finally pull it out of the basement, put it front and center and try to do it some little bit of justice.

I outlined the problem in my initial note:

"The writing of the women on the show this season has drawn charges of misogyny and, in fact, every female character has been presented as a Clueless Male caricature's negative caricature of women. They're selfish, cartoonishly over-emotional, bitchy, stupid, whiny, totally uninteresting and totally unlikeable. They're generally treated like children then written in such a way that justifies that treatment."

I left out several other traits TWD's writers impose upon the ladies--"completely irrational" immediately jumps to mind--but they all fall under that broad "negative caricature" heading. I outlined the case of Andrea. She tried to kill herself and the menfolk conspired to deny her a gun. Andrea bitched about this quite a bit. Finally, she gets her hands on a rifle, and

"draws down on what she takes to be a zombie approaching across a field. Her target is actually Daryl, one of the other survivors. She's facing into the sun at long range and can't even clearly see the target at which she's aiming. Another group of characters are between her and her target and could be hit if she fires blind. All the males tell her not to shoot but out to prove herself to the boys, she does it anyway and hits Daryl in the head, nearly killing him and confirming, in the most dramatic way possible the wisdom of the menfolk in having, earlier, parted her from firearms."

In line with the writers' habit of re-re-rehashing cliché storylines from other sources, Andrea is, this season, being put through a Woman Who Refuses To Be A Victim Anymore storyline, a tale that was already well-worn in movies and television before most people reading these words had even been born. This, of course, is a feminist empowerment narrative. Not the sort of thing one would normally expect from writers who seem to think so poorly of the fairer sex, and in fact their version of it looks exactly like one would expect a feminist empowerment narrative to look if written by people who are clueless about and contemptuous of women. It unintentionally plays like an ill-intentioned satire.

The shooting of Daryl was the most dramatic example of this. The writers seem to know they'd done something pretty ugly there. What I take to be their efforts to soften it only succeeded in making it worse. Dale was present for the incident and had told Andrea not to pull the trigger. In the aftermath, the writers have him tell her she shouldn't be too hard on herself and joked that everyone had thought about shooting Daryl at some point. Even Daryl himself, who had been through a grueling day before she shot him and whose most prominent characteristic is his hot-headedness, wasn't upset at all. When she apologized to him, he tells her not to fret over it. "You were defending the group." Viewers had been shown Andrea had been dangerously irresponsible in the worst possible way yet the writers have no one on the show itself offer her a harsh word. Can't have a feminist empowerment narrative if the boys make much of a fuss, so the boys just shrug it off and that's meant to give us permission to do the same, while still knowing the boys were right all along.

The boys will just have to set her straight.

In the next episode, that's exactly what they set out to do, putting Andrea on a shooting range under the harsh instruction of Shane. She doesn't do well at all with a moving target or under pressure but, hey, she's just getting started. Unfortunately, her big Empowerment Moment comes only minutes later and involves those very things. While exploring an abandoned neighborhood, she and Shane are swarmed by zombies. In an effort to get her to rise to the occasion, Shane refuses to shoot several of the creatures and to keep herself out of danger Andrea becomes an instant crack-shot. In the world of TWD, this apparently isn't an actual skill but merely something that comes naturally when one finds one's inner Powerful Woman.

I suspect few viewers who had managed to withhold a groan or roll of the eyes at this absurd scene bothered to show such restraint with what came next. On the car-ride back to the farm, Andrea, all hot and bothered in her newly empowered state, grabs Shane's crotch and the two pull over, jump one another and get jiggy wit' it fo' a while.

That's the capper to Andrea's big Empowerment Moment--getting screwed by a homicidal sociopath and would-be rapist.

And it only gets worse.

Andrea aligns herself with Shane from that point forward. She even admits she idolizes him. Dale, who is rather sweet on her, is, of course, horrified by this development. Dale knows what kind of "man" Shane is, and while some would no doubt argue that Andrea's lack of knowledge of Shane's true character could preclude any harsh judgment of Andrea's actions, that misses the point when it comes to TWD's treatment of women. Whether the character knows what Shane is about, the writers know. They've shown it to their audience and they've chosen to have Andrea's "empowerment" consist of getting in bed--both figuratively and literally--with this loathsome creature, who, of course, cares about no one but himself. At the same time, Dale, who genuinely cares for Andrea, expresses his concerns about this[1] and the writers have her treat him as someone she finds frustrating and barely tolerable. Totally dismissive of what he says. She tells him he has to stop looking out for her. She's a big girl and can look after herself now.

Just look at the great job she's done of it so far.

None of this was developed at any sort of reasonable pace--on TWD, it never is. Andrea goes from being suicidally depressed and terrified to proficient, fearless zombie-killing Shane sidekick (and side-fuck) in less than four days story time. The only consistent element is that she is always made, by the writers, to come off looking badly.

The same is true of all the other female characters. The creators of TWD have made a big show of publicly acknowledging the criticism they've gotten for the very unfortunate first 7 episodes of this season. They promised they were trying to reform the series. Unfortunately, if this week's episode is any indication, they must have missed the criticism about their treating the women like this.

In "Nebraska," Lori bore the brunt of their assault, as is often the case. In my initial critque of TWD, I spent a lot of time on Lori. She's the most prominent female character and the one that, arguably, has been treated the worst. As I wrote then,

" every scene the writers have ever given [Lori], they've gone out of their way to make her stupid, selfish, bitchy, totally unlikeable and totally unsympathetic... [S]he's never gotten a single scene or line of dialogue that gives us any reason at all to be on her side.."

This week, the writers were at it again.

In the aftermath of the barn massacre, Hershel hightails it to a tavern in town to reacquaint himself with the bottle after decades on the wagon. After he's gone, Beth, who may have been injured by a zombie, collapses and falls into some sort of shock-like state. As Hershel is the only one with any medical training (and Beth's father), Rick and Glenn set out to retrieve him.

Lori, incredibly, objects to this. Carl, it seems, had just told her Rick was right to shoot the zombified Sophia, and though anyone of any conscience would have reached the same conclusion as the boy, the writers have Lori decide this means Carl is becoming too "cold" and needs his father around to combat this. Apparently can't even spare him for the few minutes it would take to drive into town and retrieve Hershel, the only one who may know how to treat Beth.[2]

Rick and Glenn go anyway.

Within minutes of their having left, Lori decides she simply must go into town herself to retrieve them! There's no reason for this, it makes absolutely no sense, it won't get anyone back to the farm any faster and could, in fact, delay their return. She abandons her son to make the trip, the very thing about which she's just heaped guilt on Rick for allegedly doing, and she goes alone, which the series had already established is a big no-no but it seems the writers of the series had some more negative caricatures of women they wanted to indulge and it seems that, when it comes to making women look bad, damn the torpedoes, this is THE WALKING DEAD!

To this point, the writers had already heaped idiocy upon idiocy but the real jaw-dropper came almost immediately upon Lori taking to the road. Instead of actually watching where she's going, Lori, like all women drivers in the minds of those who don't like women, is reading while driving. She isn't also applying lipstick but that's the only part the writers left out. Lori, of course, runs off the road at high speed, smashing the car, inflicting as-yet-unknown damage on herself and setting up whatever melodrama the writers wanted to set up by manufacturing this stupid, stupid situation.

TWD would rarely be mistaken for a smart show and never by anyone who was actually qualified to render the judgment. Its treatment of women seems to me something uglier than its other many shortcomings though. Much uglier.[3] Its turning TWD from something that could be regarded as a brainless pasttime into something toxic, something far less pardonable. TWD just doesn't like women. Not at all. I do like women. I don't like that this series is treating them in this way.



[1] Though, in typical TWD fashion, the writers don't have Dale tell Andrea any of the things he suspects about Shane. He just expresses his dismay that she would want to be like Shane, and lets her think it's just because he doesn't like Shane.

[2] A few episodes earlier, Lori had berated Shane for tinkering with the idea of abandoning the search for Sophia, angrily dismissing as an "excuse" his rationalization that his primary concern was for her and not for the others. The parallel scene in the current episode, wherein she's adopting the very view she had earlier denounced and holding to it to the extent that, just like Shane, she's entirely willing to allow harm to come to an innocent for her own selfish reasons, just underscores the idea that the point is, in both cases, merely to show her being bitchy.

[3] Perhaps the best defense against the charge that TWD treats women badly is that it treats everyone badly. It's true there are no well-written characters on the show--the overwrought soap melodrama approach its creators have adopted this season precludes it. The difference is that the fellows, who are sometimes made to look bad, are also shown to be lots of other things. Brave, loyal, perceptive, amusing, thoughtful, badass, sympathetic, lovable, even wise. The women are always made to look bad.

[Cross-posted over at my comic blog]

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Talkin' The Talking In WALKING DEAD Blues

My semi-long critique of THE WALKING DEAD from last month seems to have found quite an audience. In only a few weeks, it has become the second-most hit-upon article on this site. Sunday, the series itself returned from its mid-season hiatus with "Nebraska," an episode that, though mostly unfortunate and plagued by all of the problems I had earlier identified, still managed to set a cable ratings record, drawing 8.1 million viewers.[see Update below] As I explained in my earlier piece, I have a friend who, deprived of AMC, visits and watches the show with me each week. He's a good fellow and I'm happy for the company but it means I end up watching the series every week, which I wouldn't do under my own steam. Since I am watching it, along with so many others, and since my critique of it is something that seems to interest people, I thought I'd continue. I don't know how often or how long I'll do so. I'll just play it by ear.

A note: My earlier article was heavy on exposition in an effort to make it accessible to those with minimal knowledge of the show. I don't know if that approach was effective or misguided but I think I'm going to dial back on it, go with a bit less structure and speak more to those who know the series. There seem to be enough of them.

The horrendous writing that has become TWD's trademark was on full display this week when Dale, the wise old man of the group, expressed his growing suspicions about Shane to Lori. The scene became something like a workshop on bad writing and authorial contempt for the audience.

Earlier in the season, Shane and Otis trekked to a zombie-infested school to retrieve medical supplies needed to save Carl, then dying from a gunshot wound to the midsection. In the course of the adventure, Shane panicked and, in an act of cowardice, shot Otis, crippling him so the pursuing zombie horde would stop to snack on him while Shane escaped. Shane, of course, lied about what happened. As he told the story, he and Otis were cut off at every turn and almost out of ammo. They were, in his words, "down to pistols" when it came to fighting the dead and Otis heroically volunteered to stay behind and cover Shane's escape. The hole: the only pistol Otis had was Rick's and Shane returned with both it (which he wrestled from Otis's hands after shooting him) and his own. This being TWD, no one in the group noticed this huge, gaping hole in Shane's story.[1]

No one, that is, except Dale. Dale is, as I wrote in my earlier piece, "a careful observer of people who often gets in everyone else's business because he's trying to head off potential conflicts before they balloon into problems that could endanger the groups' survival." A Wise Old Man character. He immediately recognized Shane's story as ridiculous and already had good reason to suspect Shane, as he once saw Shane poised to shoot Rick in the back and only his own fortunate appearance on the scene at that moment saved Rick's life. He knew why Shane would do such a thing as well, because he knew of Shane's affair with Rick's wife Lori.

Later, Dale would confront Shane with his suspicions about Otis. Rather than being upset or hurt or trying to set Dale straight, as one would expect from someone wrongly accused, Shane went into psycho mode, all but confirming he'd done something terrible and even threatening Dale's life.

When it came time, in this week's episode, for Dale to outline for Lori his case against Shane, the writers decided to leave out every substantive element of that case. Dale offered his suspicion that Shane may have killed Otis and Lori, shocked by this, wanted concrete evidence ("You need to be really clear with me right now!"). Dale didn't bother to mention the pistol thing, though that's physical evidence of Shane's lie. He didn't mention seeing Shane draw down on Rick, who, again, is Lori's husband. He tells Lori that, when he confronted Shane about these things, Shane all but confirmed his suspicions but he leaves out the fact that Shane's response also included threatening to kill him if he didn't leave the matter be. Lori's experience of nearly being raped by Shane is also very germane to this matter but it was left out, as well--Lori, in fact, defends Shane. Also forgotten was the fact that, only minutes earlier, they'd all seen Shane go on a total out-of-control rampage and release a barn full of zombies on them, recklessly endangering everyone. Dale is the observer who tries to head off trouble and though this is what led to his conversation with Lori in the first place, the writers, in that scene, have him leave the matter of Shane at little more than the fact that he has a bad feeling about the fellow and has known no-account people like that in the past, giving Lori no real reason to buy into it.[2]

As writing goes, a total fail.

Absolutely typical of TWD this season though.

Hershel Greene's family, to cite another example, has spent the entire zombie apocalypse believing the zombies are merely sick people rather than dead ones. Only on TWD could Hershel, a trained medical professional with, presumably, decades of experience, be said to be incapable of distinguishing a living creature from a dead one without anyone batting an eye. Still, Hershel is set up as delusional and delusion can be a powerful thing. Is it powerful enough that Hershel and his family can observe the creatures literally rotting away right before their eyes without ever questioning their deluded premise? They feed the zombies raw chickens--live ones. A most curious diet on which to put sick people (or people). Otis, who lived with Hershel, was, himself, an Emergency Medical Technician who apparently realized the creatures were dead (he showed no compunction against killing them) but humored Hershel. If he was a second opinion on the medical question--while Hershel repeatedly dispatched him to wrangle dangerous zombies into the barn--he clearly didn't make a dent in the Greene families' analysis.[3] Once our heroes arrive at the farm, they're similarly unable to convince any of Hershel's clan that they are dealing with the dead. We've followed this group as they've seen zombies take damage no living person could survive. They've even lopped the heads off zombies and the heads keep trying to bite them. Three days before arriving on Hershel's farm, they trekked to the CDC in Atlanta, where a scientist explained what was happening and even showed them video of a woman dying and of portions of her brain reactivating. Yet in multiple conversations on this subject with Hershel and his family--Dale with Hershel, Rick with Hershel, Glenn with Hershel's daughter Maggie--the writers fail to have any of them ever mention any of these things. Our heroes just say the dead are dead, the Greenes disagree and that's the end of the matter. That's what the mess that passes for a "plot" demanded. Hershel and co. only come to their senses when they see zombies horrendously wounded without dying. If you question why this would convince them, when seeing creatures bereft of any vital signs (many of them already horrendously wounded) rot away and "live" off live chickens didn't, you're probably too sharp for the writing staff of TWD.

Probably too sharp to be watching it, too.


[Cross-posted to my comic book blog]


[1] Unless one is to think the portly Otis opted to give up his gun and go hand-to-hand with the pursuing zombie horde.

[2] The writers did the same thing an episode earlier, when Dale was discussing Shane with Andrea.

[3] This is another example of the series' writers making a mess of a storyline from the comics by unnecessarily changing things. In the book, Hershel is no physician; he's just a regular farmer who has done amateur vet work on some of his animals in the past. Otis was just a dumb hick without any medical training. It wasn't clear that Hershel's children shared in his delusion, and that delusion didn't include the notion that the dead were merely sick--he acknowledged they were dead but wanted to believe there was some way to reverse the process, because his son had zombified. The impression offered is that, in his heart, he knows the truth, but refuses to admit it. In short, a much more credible scenario on every front.

UPDATE (20 Feb., 2012) -- This claim, that "Nebraska" drew record ratings, seems to have originated with AMC and been circulated far and wide. The original claim was that the episode had set a record for a scripted basic cable drama. Note the multiple caveats, there.  In reality, MTV's wretched JERSEY SHORE had, only last year, drawn, with various episodes, 8.45 million, 8.6 million, and 8.9 million viewers. AMC's claim was based on the idea that JERSEYS SHORE, as a "reality show," isn't a scripted drama but, of course, the series is actually just as scripted as TWD.