Tuesday, February 26, 2013

WALKING DEAD: The Home of Visual Discontinuity, Version 2.0

Among the many errors one regularly finds on THE WALKING DEAD are those resulting from a lack of care taken with the visual continuity. The episode "Home" featured some noteworthy examples, and this little presentation on the subject was one I had in mind last week after it aired. I didn't take the time to put it together for inclusion in my regular review of that ep. I've only just gotten back to it today.

At one point in "Home," Daryl comes to the assistance of some folks being assailed by zombies on a bridge. He slams the head of one of the creatures in the rear hatch of a vehicle, pulping it and covering his own hands (particularly the right one) in gore:

A split second later, he snatches up his crossbow, and his hands are entirely clean:

A little later, he and Merle quarrel, and, as he walks away, Merle grabs his shirt, causing it to rip and reveal a network of scars on Daryl's back. Daryl also sports a pair of tattoos extending down from his right shoulder:

 Daryl stands, adjusts his shirt and walks away, and something magical happens!

Later in the episode, Hershel goes out to have a talk with Glenn, who is about to take a truck around the front of the prison to search for the long-neglected breach in its walls. It turns into a very disorienting talk for the viewer. Here's the basic geography of the scene, with the truck in the foreground:

The two walk to meet one another and that geography goes right out the window.

UPDATE (27 Feb., 2013): When I posted the original version of this article yesterday, I'd identified the vehicle in the background of the next few shots as the truck. One of my readers (in the comments section) correctly noted that it is, in fact, the SUV, not the truck. Though this reader missed the point, this makes the visual discontinuity in the scene even worse. I was going to address this in a footnote, as is my habit when someone finds an error, but the nature of the sequence, one building on another, requires a more thorough re-write. To wit:

As the two men talk, the camera cuts back and forth between them. The first time it cuts to Glenn, the truck, which would be visible behind Glenn by the established geography, has sudenly disappeared entirely. The vehicle in the background is the SUV:

Glenn starts to walk away, then turns back. His new orientation places his right shoulder and Hershel's left in rough alignment:

Then, when the camera cuts back to him, neither man has moved, but his left shoulder and Hershel's right are suddenly the ones in alignment. What appears to be the shadow of the truck, which is suddenly in front of them, can be seen on the ground in the lower left part of the frame:

Glenn turns his head to the right, the camera angle shifts the same direction, and something magical happens again. Merle's bike is suddenly parked in front of the SUV:

The alignment with Hershel shifts again:

When the camera returns to view the scene over Hershel's let shoulder, the SUV and the chopper have disappeared:

Glenn, having had enough talk, turns and walks away, and suddenly the original geography is restored, with the truck back where it started.

And here's the last shot over Hershel's left shoulder (Hershel having not moved at all):

And that's how the camera works on THE WALKING DEAD.


Monday, February 25, 2013

WALKING DEAD: "I Ain't A Judas." Or Anything Else

Nothing happened on THE WALKING DEAD tonight. It's true that those tuning in at TWD's regular time sat through through 60 minutes of something entitled "I Ain't A Judas," but 60-minutes of a test-pattern would have been just as substantial. And just as entertaining.

When, in season 2, TWD was reconstructed on a daytime soap model, one of the elements that was inexplicably carried over was said model's glacial pace. Very little happens on a given installment of a soap, and for good reason: the creators have to fill 260 episodes per year--five a week, every week. A prime-time cable series with only a little over a dozen episodes to fill in an entire year (and a substantial budget with which to fill it) doesn't have that excuse. When its creators choose to take 2 or 3 episodes worth of plot and stretch it over the entire season, devoting most of the available running time to filler scenes, it bespeaks, instead, some malignant confection of terminal laziness, lack of talent, and other unsavory ingredients.

In season 2, thirteen episodes were filled with about 3 episodes worth of plot. The plight of Sophia, a one-episode story, became a six-episode anti-epic. The widespread grumbling (and drop in ratings) it produced was interpreted, by TWD showrunner Glen Mazzara, as merely a call for more action. Rather than trying to craft a quality product for a change, he opted to throw zombies at TWD's many problems. The first half of season 3 continued and accelerated this trend. The series offered up a constant stream of gratuitous action scenes in an effort to battle bumpkin boredom and mask the fact that, once again, 2 or 3 episodes worth of plot was being used to fill half the year's output.

Now, it seems, something has happened behind the scenes. I won't speculate as to what or whether it has anything to do with the recently-announced firing of Mazzara. Whatever it is, the effect on TWD has been that the second half of the season has reverted to a Sophia-era slog--in three full episodes since the prison group blew out of Woodbury, there hasn't yet been a single full episode worth of plot. TWD has become, once again, an exercise in doing nothing. Filling time with fluff until, presumably, some big (and bad) season-ending blow-out.

In Woodbury's charismatic GINO the Liam Lesser, our heroes have a real problem, Because he's the designated villain, he only wants to destroy them. They know what kind of crazed enemy they have on their hands, know his resources are substantial. They talk about it quite a bit. And that's all they do. In two episodes, the threat he represented engendered no sense of urgency at all. Urgency finally got some lip-service this week--GINO's attack on the prison probably helped--but other than the idea of running away, they don't even discuss any possible course of action. Even something as simple as fixing the fence is vetoed because, in Hershel's words, "we can't access the field without burning through our bullets" (which is, of course, nonsense). When Merle tries to explain to them the sort of guy they're facing in GINO and what he can and will do to them, given the chance, Maggie suggests locking Merle in another cell-block.[*] Hershel insists "we can't just sit here!" Then, that's all they do for yet another episode.

The characters, written as intelligently as ever, take the idea of "loyal to a fault" to all new levels this week. Rick went foaming-at-the-mouth crazy earlier this season, has had conversations with dead people on a dead phone, saw his dead wife's ghost and started ranting at it while waving his gun around at everyone. He spent nearly the entirety of the last ep running around outside the prison gates chasing that same ghost, and babbling incoherently. This week, everyone is still deferring to him as the leader. Nary a word about his abject lack of fitness for the post. He doesn't like the idea of running away, and Glenn jumps in: "If Rick says we're not running, we're not running!" Hershel gives Rick an impassioned speech "...get your head clear and do something!" As if he was speaking to someone who was just a little sleepy, rather than a full-on nutcase. It falls to young Carl to point out the obvious; that Rick should take a break. He doesn't.

Andrea continues to bear the brunt of the writers' contempt for women. GINO is training an army and makes it very clear to her what he intends to do with it, but in what she characterizes as an effort to defuse the situation, which is entirely of GINO's making, she travels to the prison. She finds suspicion and hostility, which wouldn't surprise anyone, but, written as a clueless twit, Andrea just can't understand this, and cattily accuses Michonne of poisoning the group against her.[1] Rick asks her to get them into Woodbury and she refuses. She insists she can't help because the innocent people of Woodbury could get hurt, which is an absolutely hilarious concern, given that those same innocent people are the ones GINO is presently whipping into an aggressive army he intends to throw at the prison gang for no other reason than that he's completely insane. For anyone concerned about preventing bloodshed, that would present a very clear course of action, but in the hands of TWD's master screenwriters, no one can sit down and have an adult conversation about it, even when facing annihilation. It's left to Carol to privately--and rather offhandedly--suggests to Andrea that she screw GINO silly, then, when his guard is down, kill him. Now there's an idea!

GINO had told Andrea that if she went to the prison, she should stay there. Andrea defied him and covertly fled Woodbury, then, after her brief visit to the prison, opts to return. Our ever-bright heroes not only allow this, but provide her with a car and wish her well. Our ever-bright Andrea immediately goes to GINO and begins offering him useful intel.[2] Later in the evening, though, it does finally seem as if the lady may redeem herself after all. GINO, in the aftermath of their evening's carnal tryst,[3] is sound asleep (he sleeps wearing his eyepatch), and Andrea slips out of bed and gets a knife. She stands poised over him in the moonlight through the window-blinds, an exquisite beauty with the end of this miserable storyline in her hand. But, being a woman on TWD, she just can't bring herself to do it.

So the episode ends, with everything exactly where it was when it started, except with one less episode to fill.[4]



[*] UPDATE (27 Feb., 2013) - On TWD, the established reality itself is constantly subject to arbitrary revision by the writers. In an effort to make the prison groups' situation appear as desperate as possible, they simply ignore the things they've already shown us. Merle suggests that GINO "could just starve us out if he wanted to." The writers decide to run with this, and have Glenn report that "there's barely any food or ammo." The assertion is outrageous. Back in "Sick," the second ep of the season, they went into the prison cafeteria, on camera, and found enough non-perishable food to last for perhaps years:

Only a few days of story-time has passed since then, and they have 5 fewer mouths to feed than they did then.

[1] This is part of a telling exchange with Michonne. Back when the prison group had sneaked into Woodbury to rescue Glenn and Maggie, Michonne ditched them and went after GINO. In the comic, this happened because the Governor had repeatedly sexually tortured her. In the tv version, that was erased, and she had no real reason to do it, other than the fact that it had happened in the comic. The writers made an effort to address this tonight, displaying their standard regard for the female sex. "You chose a warm bed over a friend," Michonne chides Andrea. "That's why I went back to Woodbury. Exposed him for what he is. I knew that it would hurt you." Uh huh. Angry Black Woman caricature, anyone?

[2] Something she didn't offer her "friends" while at the prison. Tyreese and his group, exiled from the prison by crazy Rick, end up in Woodbury this week, taken in by GINO's slick talk. GINO was, of course, very interested in the fact that they'd been at the prison, and gleans everything about it he can. Tyreese, in fact, knows how to get into it through the damaged section, the section our heroes, displaying their typical survival instincts, still haven't done anything to repair.

[3] GINO is suspicious of her and even asks if Rick sent her, then, being a TWD character, has sex with her and compliantly goes to sleep right next to her.

[4] Back at the prison, Beth spontaneously breaks into a rendition of "Hold On," by the great Tom Waits. It's totally out of place, but at least they chose a good song.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Another week brings yet another weak installment of AMC's dreary melodrama of the deadly dull dead and of the zombies who crave them.

"Home" opens in the aftermath of last week's protracted, episode-long retreat from Woodbury, and, until the last few moments, most of it is merely filler, just like last week. Just like every week.

While Rick, completely out of his mind, is beating the bushes around the prison for the ghost of his awful wife, Glenn is, with very limited success, trying to step up and take a leadership role. The group recognizes a strike-force from Woodbury will almost certainly be descending on them at any moment, but no one besides Glenn seems very interested in doing anything about it. Hershel suggests packing up and running, a very bad idea that is immediately vetoed. Glenn suggests a better one--returning, with Michonne, to Woodbury to assassinate GINO. Hershel objects and the notion is abandoned almost immediately. Neither the very real threat they face nor Glenn's harping on it ever manage to inspire any real sense of urgency. Glenn rhetorically bellows "Who's on watch?" As he'd realized, no one is, and, as the episode continues, no one bothers to take the watch, either. While Glenn and Carl inspect the prison interior in an effort to find the source of a breach, everyone just sort of stands around, metaphorical thumbs buried in metaphorical orifices. When he returns, he assigns Carol and Axel to setting up some barricades, which they do in a leisurely manner that suggests they couldn't possibly care less. Still trying to nail down that breach in the prison, Glenn picks Maggie to ride shotgun on his recon of the perimeter. She can't be bothered, though, because she's busy pretending as if his being furious over what happened to her is some sort of thing at which she should take offense.

In the comic, the Governor had sexually tortured Michonne in a very brutal and sadistic manner, and when, a few episodes ago, his television counterpart had Maggie peel off her shirt and bend over a table, it looked as if this scenario was about to be played out with Maggie as substitute. But this is the kinder, gentler Governor In Name Only of television, and when he saw he probably wouldn't get what he wanted that way, he backed off. Maggie wasn't raped, tortured, or harmed in any way. At the time, this drew a lot of raspberries from some viewers, fruit that was countered by others who said those throwing it seemed to want a rape to happen. It was good, said the latter, that we didn't have to endure such a horror which would be too awful for a television audience. As the last two eps have demonstrated, the gang behind TWD has decided they want it both ways--to not have Maggie raped (a move dictated by the series' viewer demographics), and, at the same time, to have her act as if she suffers the psychological scars of a rape victim. In practice, this played out, this week, as Glenn needing Maggie's help on a matter crucial to their survival, and her angrily slapping him away and refusing to lend a hand because GINO saw her breasts.


GINO's attack finally comes, right at the end, and no one is prepared for anything. The first shot takes out Axel, a designated red-shirt. As usual on TWD, his death was noisily telegraphed; after being essentially a background character since his introduction, he suddenly had a lot of dialogue aimed at endearing him to the audience. What follows is the most ludicrous gunfight since THE A-TEAM was cancelled--a dozen people firing fully automatic weapons at one another for an extended period and no one hitting anyone. GINO and his thugs don't even bother to take cover. With no one on watch, one of them manages to waltz right into the prison and take one of the towers (he becomes the only other casualty of the affair). Conscientious viewers may wonder why our heroes, who can, at any other time, so unerringly score one head-shot after another, suddenly can't hit anything, but they will no doubt be dismissed by the harder-core fans of TWD as nitpickers. GINO has the prison gates crashed by a truck full of zombies, and, as the rotting critters pile out, he leaves, seeming pleased with his little show of force. If he was confused by the fact that his men, who had so efficiently liquidated a National Guard unit earlier in the season with barely a missed shot, had proven themselves such incompetent marksmen, it didn't show through his smile.

And that was "Home." I may make it sound tedious, but I can't make it sound tedious enough.



[1] While Maggie was busy not being bothered to help with this crucial matter, she did take the time to have a second Lifetime movie moment in feeding the baby.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Look Behind the Scenes of THE WALKING DEAD's Suicide King

The scene: The Walking Dead writer's room. A new young writer is being initiated into the process. He's introduced to everyone, handed a synopsis of season 3, episode 9, then steps up to make a few remarks to the veterans:

"Well, the mid-season finale has passed. Let me see what you got for the post-break debut." He ruffles through his papers. "Here it is. 'Rick and co. return to the prison and talk about whether they're going to allow Tyreese and his group to stay.' You're serious? For a midseason debut, that's all you've got?"

"Hey, we've worked with less."

"We're writers--I thought we were supposed to come up with more."

"You're in the wrong place, then. This is the Walking Dead writer's room. You want real writing, the Breaking Bad office is just a few blocks over. They're a lot tougher racket, though."

"Yeah, take it easy, kid. This is the easiest paycheck you'll ever get in this business. It's practically no work at all."

"And we like it that way, so don't get any ideas about rocking the boat."

"Isn't there more than just this, though?"

"Sure. The details are in that paper."

"Tell me," as he scans the paper.

"There's also the Woodbury story this week."


"Everyone in Woodbury is so freaked out by a few gunmen turning up that they want to leave town."

"Why in hell would they want to do that?"


"Seriously. They have a gated community with armed guards and all the comforts of home and suddenly they want to leave it for the zombie apocalypse outside? Where the gunmen came from? It doesn't make any sense."

A throat clearing. "It doesn't have to make any sense, kid. It just has to look dramatic. The big-time fans of our show don't care, and they wouldn't know the difference if they did."

"This scenario allows a mob of people to gather at the gate and create a tense situation. That's all we need."

"All we need for what?"

"For Andrea to do her thing this week. She's a bit freaked out by everything that's happened, and that Liam Neeson knock-off who's been boning her is sort of retreating from the world. She's not too happy with that."

"Is she unhappy about him torturing her friends? Or not telling her about them? Or being a nutbar, in general?"

"She's a little huffy about some of that, but she's more angry that he's pushing her aside."

"Does that make sense?"

"Shut up."


"So anyway, if I can continue... the Woodbury crowd is very upset, so Andrea sort of takes it on herself to go out and talk to them. She's gives them this little speech about perseverance, and suddenly everyone is all smiles and slapping each other on the back and ready to go back to their lives in town."

"Must be a hell of a speech."

"Nah, just a few lines; a bunch of corny, way overused platitudes. Maybe a minute and a half worth."

"And that works, eh?"

"Don't get cheeky."

"It says, here," reading from a page, "that Daryl tells everyone the Governor may have a strike-force bearing down on the prison as they speak, and they take it seriously, but then they stand around talking and emoting instead of trying to get back to the prison as soon as possible."

"It fills air-time."

"And then they stop to move a truck out of the road later and take a break for even more of the same."

"It fills air-time!"

"They acknowledge they may have a whole town to fight, lose Daryl, then Rick is telling Michonne he's going to kick her out of the prison as soon as possible, and doesn't want any of Tyreese's group to stay, either?"

"It makes it more dramatic."

"Yeah, but does Rick actually want to win, when it comes to this fight?"

"Knock it off."

"Yeah, you're nitpicking."

"Instead of doing anything to prepare the prison for a fight that could break out at any moment, they all stand around having Lifetieme movie moments among themselves."

"Knock it OFF!"

"And Maggie didn't get raped, but all through the story everyone is acting like she did."


A pause, then a sudden burst of laughter. "This!," he says, pointing to a line on the page before him. "This is great!"

"Hey, he actually likes something! How about that? What is it?"

"This line from Hershel about Michonne; he's just let her go to sleep then says she's had a concussion?"

Laughter all around. "I'm tellin' you, kid, NO ONE will notice!" Laughter continues.

Finally, "Well, whaddya' think, kid? We need a few more minutes to make it whole. You've seen how we operate. Think you can make a valuable contribution? There's a big paycheck in it."

A contemplative pause, and a smile crosses the young writer's lips. "Yeah. YEAH! I think I can!"

"Well, don't leave us in suspense--we may start thinking we're working on a different show!" Laughter.

"Well... when Rick is thinking over whether he should allow Tyreese to stay, why don't we flip his crazy switch and have him see the ghost of Lori floating over him?!"

"Yeah? Keep going."

"He's about to pronounce sentence, and we just have him go apeshit crazy, babbling, talking to the ghost, waving his pistol around!"

"Wow! That's... totally stupid."

"Yeah, it's great!"


"Damn right it's great! We'll go with that!"

"Yeah!" High-fives around the room. "Hey, can I name the episode, too?"

"You got a good title for it?"

"Well, I saw this kick-ass Christopher Walken flick last night called THE SUICIDE KINGS. Why don't we call the ep 'The Suicide King.'"

A moment's pause. "I like it!"

"I know it doesn't make a damn bit of sense, but..." and everyone in the room joined in for the end of the sentence: "...it doesn't have to make any sense!" Followed by raucous applause.

Everyone lines up to slap the young writer on the back. "I think you're gonna' fit in real well, here, kid."