Monday, October 28, 2013

WALKING DEAD: An Episode In "Isolation"?

I suppose what I have to say about tonight's episode of THE WALKING DEAD will please those who have suggested I've been going soft on the series this season. When it comes to television, I don't demand anything be perfect. The good stuff in a series should, however, significantly outweigh the bad. So far this season, we've had two solid episodes, and by that standard the second was among the best TWD has ever offered. I've praised them accordingly. But tonight saw the series fall back into some of the very bad habits of the Mazzara era. This made watching the episode a chore, and I found the development very disappointing.

The virtual trademark of TWD's writing during the Mazzara regime was laziness and stupidity. When the Mazzara writers' room was at "work," it would craft a single episode worth of plot then use it to fill 4 or 5 episodes of the series, stretching the material to the point that all but a few minutes of every episodes was simply made up of filler and virtually nothing was happening. This process helped cretinize the already-idiotic writing, as the characters had to be made to spend most of their time sitting around with thumbs lodged in orifices, ignoring the obvious or otherwise delaying the taking of whatever action was needed. After two episodes that, for the first time since season 1, had each featured a full episode worth of plot, the Gimple Gang, which had been doing so well until now, slammed on the brakes, and we got another underwritten thumbs-up-asses episode.

Last week, zombies very nearly toppled the fence around the prison, an as-yet-unidentified murderer went to work inside it, and a virus began to spread among the survivors housed there. In a competently written TWD, addressing these matters would be an immediate priority. The survivors need meds to treat the illness and Hershel knows of a facility that may well have them and may not have been looted, but it's 50 miles away. It's refreshing to see a trip of this distance once again discussed as a dangerous one (and a sharp reversal of Rick's season 3 trip across half the state of Georgia to loot guns he'd already looted). Danger or no, the meds are must-have , and with a large and growing number getting sick and dying, our heroes prep for the mission. Then they stand around and talk. Then they stand around and talk some more. Soon, the mission that should have been the central focus of this episode is shoved aside by a lot of dicking around, any sense of urgency about it having disappeared, and for no other reason than the writers' desire to end the episode on a particular cliffhanger they only get their show on the road in the last few minutes.

There is, in the meantime, a nice little minor episode with Hershel and Carl wandering in the wilderness outside the prison in search of herbs,[1] but most of the rest of what happens is just filler. The sick need water, the pump that brings it from the creek into the prison is clogged with mud, and Rick refuses to help Carol go out to the creek and unstop it. He says they can do it "tomorrow," as if the sick won't need water. Actually, he says that solely to provide a pretext for her going out and doing it herself, so she can nearly get eaten and have to be rescued. The failure to reinforce the outer fence or otherwise do something to strengthen the prison's defenses after last week's zombie attack would be excusable, as there really isn't the manpower for it at the moment, but when Carol gets in her jam and Rick comes to her rescue, he slips right through two holes cut in both fences! These would seem to be the holes our heroes cut in order to gain access to the prison last season. For the sake of that moment, they're still there, and have never been properly buttoned up. And when Rick and Carol duck back inside the fence with half-a-dozen or more zombies hot on their heels, they stand within it, exchange a few words, then walk off with the big, person-sized gap to the outside still visible!

The bad, anti-naturalistic melodrama of the Mazzara era reared its ugly head several times tonight. Characters behaving in totally irrational ways, actors going way-over-the-top in spouting awful dialogue. Tyreese and Rick getting in not one but two pointlessly ugly face-downs.[2] Hershel making a grand, extended speech before going in to treat the ill.[3] The sudden return of this sort of shit is most unwelcome.

The writer-of-record on this unfortunate episode is none other than TWD creator Robert Kirkman. As with most of the eps with which he's been so far credited, this one shows virtually no trace of his influence. Something else to ponder.

I certainly hope my enthusiasm for this season of TWD hasn't been misplaced. The title of tonight's episode is "Isolation," and I hope that's all this ep turns out to be--an isolated regression never to be repeated.



[1] The straightforward revelation at the end that it was Carol who killed and torched David and Karen was the ep's only other nice touch.

[2] Throughout the evening's proceedings, Tyreese was reduced to a particularly ugly Angry Black Man caricature, which is particularly shameful. The ep follows the caricature to such a slavish extent that Tyreese even identifies Rick as a cop before going off on him--the Man isn't addressing the needs of the ABM. Tyreese's rage is irrational; he physically attacks people for no real reason, then later jumps down Rick's throat again for inaction because, in the few minutes since the murders were discovered and with everything else going on, Rick hasn't yet solved the crime.

[3] And when it comes to stupid, the rescue team at the end run into the midst of the biggest herd of zombies we've ever seen because Daryl, who is driving and at a high speed, picks up a radio transmission and is playing with the radio instead of watching where he's going. His excitement over hearing a voice is understandable, but it's another example of Mazzara-era plotting--a significant event in the plot being premised on someone behaving like a complete idiot.


  1. Well Carol did throw a hissy fit and knock over the barrel of drinking water. So she had to go out and clean the pump.

    I'm surprised you didn't mention the return of the teleporting zombies. It was pretty fun when they showed no zombies behind the car right before the herd then two seconds later the car is surrounded.

  2. Im not sure its fair to say that this episode had worthless filler. Gimple has seemed to make a plan for all of or at least most of the season. He is setting up events and story for the season. The events of the episode took place over a couple hours. This episode wanted to show tyrese turning from a pacifist to a determined survivor. Yes it was a mistake wasting the opportunity to show 4 people fighting a horde of thousans hopefully they do that next episode. And whats with calling tyrese an angry blackman cliche. Rick went through the exact same thing when lori died. Why was it ok rick got angry but tyrese isnt allowed to. Its seems you only reply to comments that support you so I wont expect a response from you.

  3. And whats with calling tyrese an angry blackman cliche. Rick went through the exact same thing when lori died.

    Odd, I don't remember Rick violently attacking a law-enforcement official, or anyone at all (except some zombies). Rick is, in any case, a white boy, and isn't subject to being written as a racist caricature of black folks. The writers took that Angry Black Man caricature so far that they had Tyreese bring up that Rick "is" a cop before having Tyreese beat the crap out of him then later berate him--The Man--for failing to address the needs of the ABM.

    And it wasn't "ok" when Rick went insane last season; it was stupid.

    My point regarding the mission to find drugs wasn't that it was a wasted opportunity, it was that the creators were ignoring the dramatic imperative; establishing the urgency of the mission within minutes then just slamming on the brakes and having everyone dick around for most of the rest of the ep, minus any sense of urgency, for no other reason than to pad out an underplotted script. "Setting up events" is not a workable excuse for this; the season was set up in the first episode. Spending 17 episodes "setting up" something that then proceeds not to happen in the 18th is season 3 all over again, and is not a path TWD should follow.

    Hopefully, this week's ep will prove to be an aberration, and is never repeated.

  4. I think Gimple has said they're getting back to the comic book this season, using elements from the comics the show has skipped over. The fight between Tyreese and Rick was one such element (though with different circumstances). Another element was Rick losing control and hurting his hand while giving someone (not Tyreese) a beating. So it doesn't not surprise me that was a Kirkman episode and that was a weaker episode of trying string these comic elements together.

  5. I normally read and enjoy all your blog entries. I find that your opinions closely match mine on any given episode. However, I don't agree with the race card you played for Tyreese. MANY characters (most all of them white) have lost their composure and acted crazy on this show. It's a bit silly when people try to bring race or racism into such vague situations that can be justified by any number of reasons. It's kind of cheap and overused these days. I'm sorry if I sound harsh, but trust me, I love your weekly blogs, I'm just trying to be honest here. I don't think the writers were being racist. They were probably not thinking of race at all, and that's a good thing. They shouldn't have to tip-toe around black characters for fear of offending people. Political correctness has run amok and it's damaging race relations more than it's reforming them. I like seeing REAL characters, regardless of their race, and REAL people sometimes act like total loons. Rick, Shane, Lori, Beth, Glenn, Hershel, Andrea, Merle, Daryl, Jim, and more have all acted like crazed idiots at one point or another. No one cries racism when they do. I just don't think that everything needs to be viewed from the prism of race. Other than that, great review. I'll keep reading every week as long as you're writing. I just wanted to give my two cents on the whole race thing with Tyreese. Personally, I'm more upset with how they're writing Rick. The guy is just not consistent at all. I think Tyreese still has some potential as a character, whereas they ruined Rick a long time ago. Anywho, thanks again. I look forward to the next week's review.

  6. "Odd, I don't remember Rick violently attacking a law-enforcement official, or anyone at all (except some zombies). "

    Jim did. Merle did. Daryl did. All three of them tried to attack law enforcement officers, all three of them are white. I forgot to put that in my previous post. Sorry. I just am not seeing the racial element here. It's only racial because you're choosing to see it that way.

  7. All three of them are white, and thus not subject to a long-running racist caricature of black folks. Tyreese is, and that's how he's being written. I didn't play any "race card" there; I merely pointed out this fact. The caricature in play, here, isn't one I created; it has existed and persisted in media longer than I or most of those reading these words have even been alive. Fox News just spent the entire Zimmerman trial playing it up, seeking out and re-re-replaying, at every opportunity, stories of "savage" blacks. I'm no crusader on the point, but there's simply no other intellectually honest way to call that one (when he called Rick a cop, I couldn't believe my ears).

    It's nothing new for TWD--Michonne was written as the Angry Black Woman through last season by every writer except Gimple. The series is also outrageously misogynistic. I've covered all of this over time on this blog.

    As for Rick, no one after season 1 has even attempted to write him as a consistent character--he's been all over the board, one radical transformation after another arbitrarily imposed on him. I'd hoped Gimple would get a handle on him, but it looks like my misgivings over his treatment of the character may have been well-founded.