Monday, March 4, 2013

THE WALKING DEAD Seeing Things Clearly

In the midst of a season that has ranged from worst to you-ain't-seen-nothin'-worst, THE WALKING DEAD pulled off something extraordinary tonight: an episode that was good and almost great. "Clear" doesn't have to clear any real hurdles to rightfully claim the crown of best TWD ep of this season to date ("Seed" was the only other installment that wasn't outright awful). Even burdened by many of TWD's chronic problems, it was clearly light-years ahead of anything we've gotten since the series' earliest days.

In the larger context of the series, it's essentially a filler ep, a side-story that once again comes up with a way to burn through another hour of the season without doing anything to advance the season's central plot. As the season's central plot really sucks, that's also the good news.

When Rick and co. took the prison earlier in the season, it was established that there was an armory somewhere near its grounds. The raid on it apparently happened off camera--the characters suddenly began carrying fully automatic weapons, set to full auto. That they've been using the weapons in this way implies a large stockpile of ammo and if such a stockpile exists, they've barely touched it. It could, of course, also just imply that they're idiots and one could cite this entire season and last to make that case. The stockpile is the charitable choice. I'm feeling charitable tonight. That's what a pretty good TWD ep can do.[*] Last week, in an effort to amp up the desperation of the situation at the prison, the writers began playing up the idea that our heroes were nearly out of ammo. That led, this week, to a mission to get more of it.[1]

Rick, Michonne, and Carl, in this search for guns and ammo, return to the town where Rick had worked and lived before the zombie outbreak. Entering the town police station, Rick is terribly upset to see that someone has gotten there ahead of them and has cleaned out the armory cage. His memory is apparently as short as that of the writers--Rick himself cleaned out that armory back in the pilot episode of the series.[2] So the entire story that follows is, as usual with TWD, built on an idiotic contrivance to get the characters to this particular town but given the ep's merits, this is, in the balance, a relatively minor gripe. The reason it's that town is because the centerpiece of the story is the return of Morgan, the fellow who, way back in the TWD pilot, found Rick when he was fresh out of his coma and wandering through a world gone dead.

Morgan has, unfortunately, gone a little squirrely since Rick saw him last. He fires on our heroes and has to be shot. Carl does the honors with his trusty Beretta but though Morgan is wearing heavy body-armor, which, in the real world, renders a Beretta's wimpy 9mm. little more than an annoyance, TWD's writers ludicrously render Morgan completely unconscious for an extended period, artificially dragging out their underplotted tale, as is their custom.

There's filler here. All tolled, "Clear" only features about half an episode worth of plot (and none of that is relevant to the season's overall story). This compares quite favorably to recent eps though--the previous three didn't, cumulatively, contain even that much--and the half-ep-buried-in-the-ep this week is pretty good, a tragic and atmospheric spotlight on this unforgiving world of the dead and on what the living have lost.[3] Other than the flaws already outlined, it's fairly well-told. There's some surprisingly good dialogue and character interaction. Michonne is finally made to look relatively human rather than the empty Angry Black Woman caricature she's been since she was first introduced. Our heroes blow past a traveler on the highway as the ep opens, never slowing down as he runs behind them and begs them to stop. His ultimate fate and their reaction to it displays a level of quality storytelling almost entirely absent from TWD. Warts and all, a lot of "Clear" provides some little hint of the caliber of tale it could offer every week in competent hands and reminds the viewer of the series' tragically squandered potential. Unfortunately, it's just a detour, and next week, things will probably just go back to being TWD.



[*] UPDATE (5 March, 2013) - "MaxJets," a reader on the IMDb message board, has pointed out that, in "The Killer Within," the 4th episode of this season, a line of dialogue establishes that Rick and co. had found the prison armory cleaned out. Thanks for the correction, Max, and fill in this blank __________ with all jokes about my self-satisfied charitability.

[1] Last week, as an excuse to have the characters stand around the prison and yet again do nothing, the writers included a lot of paranoia about GINO posting snipers outside or blocking the roads from the prison; this week, no such concern.

[2] Two eps later, he explained "I cleaned out the cage back at the station before I left."

[3] That it's about anything at all would, alone, probably make it a cut above TWD's usual soap opera tripe.


  1. Of course, the IMDB fanboy trolls will be here shortly to scream at you and say you're a hypocrite, because somehow one episode being good means they all are.

  2. By the way, the expression is 'all told,' not 'all tolled.'

  3. "All tolled" is a proper use. "All told" is a popular expression; it just wasn't one I was using, there.

  4. Actually 'all told' is proper use. Do a basic google search and you can confirm this yourself.

  5. Another surprising good bit of storytelling they had was the sign that instructed somebody named Erin that they were heading to a mountain. Later when the car gets stuck in the mud, we see one of the zombies wearing a bracelet with the name Erin on it.

  6. Also Morgan's smart enough to build walker traps and routinely kills and burn them. Our "heroes" on the other hand are too stupid to kill walkers of opportunity, allowing them to surround them later. They seem to do this constantly.

  7. The group had assault rifles since the first episode of the season when the stormed the prison. And they clearly showed them finding ammo and smoke/flash granades.
    You dont know what condition morgsn was in if someone is extremely tired, malnourished
    Injuries have more of an effect. Its not impossible to believe he passed out. Also he was pretending to be out for a while they showed him waiting for an opportunity to get a knife and break loose.

  8. A yawnfest. It still screams stupid. Loud and clear.

  9. Filler or not I don't give a damn. All I could say is Finally a good walking dead episode that didn't drop all over the place.

    This episode reminds me of season 1 quality. If the show has episodes as good as this then it would really be one of the best shows on tv.

    I didn't had any expectations that this episode was gonna be really good. Hopefully later in season 4 the group won't stay at some place for the rest of the season.

    Because the writers of this show can't really make things interesting enough. unless the episode takes place somewhere else other than the farm, prison, and woodbury.

  10. You were too easy on this episode. If it had appeared after a series of good episodes, I would've given it a pass. I would've considered it an inoffensive, if not somewhat interesting, departure from the main plot. As it stands, it's a decent filler episode after a string of shitty filler episodes.

    Rick is still an idiot. A leader with any sense would've suggested that the three of them (Rick, Carl, and Michonne) look for a crib together before they leave. Instead, he allows the group to split up (always a genius idea), and he allows his 12 year old son to go off into the wild with some weirdo that neither of them trust. Of course, the writers needed an excuse to leave Rick alone with Morgan, so Carl and Michonne are off on a suicide mission for a photograph. Yeah, really, a photograph. Every scene involving this particular sub-plot could be described as pure filler. And, isn't it just so sweet that Carl would go to such lengths for the sake of his baby sister and their mother's memory? I'm sure that the Lifetime movie watchers were tickled.

    I think it was more the lack of certain things that made this episode somewhat tolerable. There was no Woodbury, no Andrea, no revisiting of the stupid drama between the characters at the prison. I could go on and on...

  11. VL, I think the idea of having Carl and Michonne go off together was because Carl was still being very skeptical about Michonne, while Rick had decided she was all right. Rick also made sure Michonne knew all of this, discussing it with Carl while she was in easy earshot.

    I didn't feel compelled to blow raspberries at Carl's efforts to recover the photo. That sort of thing can easily lurch into saccharine sentimentality, and on TWD almost always does. In this case, I thought it was a nice touch, and seemed like the kind of thing a kid would do.

    There's no doubt the lack of all that rubbish you describe makes the ep more tolerable. I don't think I went too easy on it (though I didn't mention things like the teleporting zombies and people).

    @Anon, "all told" is a common phrse, but, once again, it isn't the one I used.

    @other Anon, yes, that "Erin" bit was a nice touch, and exactly the sort of thing one never sees on TWD.

    @Unknown, I'm with you; there's no reason why every ep of TWD shouldn't be this good or better. It requires competent, talented people, and TWD just doesn't have those.

  12. I want to let you know how much I've been enjoying your blog!

    I agree that this episode shows what TWD has the potential to be. I get so angry with the show, because I feel like a great concept is being wasted. It really infuriates me.

    But this episode was better. There was some nice storytelling, interesting dialogue, and the hitchhiker scene (which made me feel sick). Overall, I was satisfied with this episode.

    Except that... the "12-year-old running off alone" bit drives me crazy. I feel like I could have forgiven so many things with this show, if only Michonne had slapped Carl across the face.

  13. Morgan is going to appear again in this season. He's listed as being in the episode that'll air on March 31st, which I believe is the finale.

    Perhaps he'll join the group and be in season 4?

  14. Although you liked the episode, you spent the majority of the review ripping on the series as a whole. You only had one partial paragraph where you discussed the good parts of the episode. I would love to hear what you liked in more detail. Lord knows you have been very detailed in your dislike of the show every week.

    I think a lot of readers and I would like you to go into more depth when you actually like an episode. It might be enlightening to a lot of your detractors.