Last week, the only thing some of you fear more than a new episode of THE WALKING DEAD came to pass: an episode of THE WALKING DEAD without an accompanying article by me! My email and private messages veritably overfloweth with concern. I appreciate the response, and the many kind words do wonders for my ego--I thank you all. I'm sort of a captive audience for TWD, and the weekly articles when it's in season have, at various times, become very much a discipline for me, something I do to prove I can do it, but test of iron will or no, I don't write about something when I don't feel I have anything interesting to say about it.
That's what happened last week. I watched the episode
("Claimed"). It featured a very good suspense sequence wherein a
battered, unarmed Rick was trying to escape detection by a gang of
faceless marauders who decided to hole up in the same house in which he
was resting. There were a few other noteworthy moments, mostly small. By
TWD standards, it was, if for the suspense sequence alone, a pretty
good ep. I just found, at the end of it, that I didn't have anything to
say about it. Response to my last three TWD articles has been way down,
I've been working toward a much more interesting series of articles on
the recent BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series, and I just took a break. And
yes, it was with an eye toward maybe leaving the TWD subject for good.
Just when I thought I was out...
the amount of grief I've given TWD over the years, there's simply no
way I can forgo some remarks on tonight's offering. The writer of record
for "Still" is Angela Kang. Prior to this season, she'd been one of the
weakest links in a whole string of weak links that made up the TWD
writing staff--some of the worst of the worst of the inanity that was
TWD season 2 and 3 went out under her name. Seeing it affixed to an
upcoming ep, one expected less than nothing from it, and no matter how
low one set one's expectations, the ep still managed to be utterly
underwhelming. From her output this season, one can only conclude she
was either being totally smothered by then-showrunner Glen Mazzara, is
presently under the heavy influence of current showrunner Scott Gimple,
has seriously come into her own as a writer, and/or just started winning
a string of bets she's previously lost. Whatever the case may be, she
authored, earlier this season, "Infected," easily one of the best episodes of TWD since the 1st season, and tonight, she's done it again. "Still" is an excellent ep, perhaps the single best ep of this uneven season, which makes it one of the best TWD has ever done.
brought her A-game again, all the strengths of Gimple's "reform" TWD,
very few of its weaknesses, and even less of the Mazzara-era detritus
that has so frustratingly clung to the series this season. Daryl and
Beth are still on the run in the aftermath of the fall of the prison.
The ep begins with an excellent suspense piece in which, pursued by the
dead through the night, they have to hide in the trunk of the remains of
a car until the herd passes. The next day, Beth decides she needs a
drink. Not just any drink. Her father, the ex-drunk, disapproved of
liquor and she's never touched the stuff. Now he's dead, the world looks
bleak, and she's after her first taste.
And that's the story, Beth and Daryl crossing the zombie-infested
countryside in search of some booze. It's a character-piece, something
TWD, lost in soap melodrama-ism, virtually never attempts and at which
it even more rarely succeeds. Beth has been a virtual non-entity for
most of TWD's run, the girl in the background who watches the baby and
sometimes sings a song. Her only real moment in the sun came in a season
2 ep in which she attempted suicide--a tale, like most of season 2,
that is best forgotten. Tonight put a little flesh on her bones, both
good and bad, and finally gave Daryl something to do--for perhaps the
single most popular character on the show, he's surprisingly been quite
sparsely featured this season. The ending of the evening's proceedings
was nothing short of epic--for the first time since TWD began, it made
me want to stand and applaud. This is what TWD should be.[*]
My one serious reservation about the ep may not turn out to be a
reservation at all. While she chattered away at a frequently
unresponsive Daryl, Beth seemed
to be speaking in metatextual fashion to the viewing audience,
repeatedly trying to justify her presence in the series. As I've so
often complained here, TWD, under Mazzara, made a terrible cliché of
telegraphing character deaths. It seems like the only time a TWD
redshirt can get any camera-time is on the verge of their death. If this
showcase on Beth turns out to be merely a set-up for her death, it will
cheapen and ruin the impression left by "Still." Like the other good
eps of this season, it should chart the future of TWD, not be reduced to a cheap stunt reflective only of previous bad habits.
Time will tell which it will be.
[*] I've repeatedly argued TWD's creative team should learn to go with what works and not worry about servicing the big, pretentious Theme around which they've crafted much of their season. Tonight's ep was a good example both of doing so and of the benefits of the approach.