Sunday, November 29, 2015

From Start To Finish, THE WALKING DEAD Drags

Tonight's WALKING DEAD turned out to be another rather dull affair. The damaged tower outside the wall chose the final moments of the previous ep to fall and take out a portion of the safe zone wall, allowing in the dead. "From Start To Finish" consisted of everyone fleeing the wave of the dead, taking shelter in various houses then mostly just standing around engaged in some of TWD's patented stupidity and making some of TWD's patented speeches instead of doing anything about their predicament.[1] Near the end, Rick suddenly remembers the ol' cover-yourself-in-zombie-stink-camo trick and his group walk out the door between the zombies. The end.

That's the 10 minutes worth of plot that was used to fill tonight's ep. Some of the details:

Glenn arrived outside the safe zone in the last episode. He saw the tower fall and the zombies enter town. An obvious course of action would be to walk back to one of the many cars that, during the herding operation, the Alexandrians parked a short distance from the zone, drive it up, lay down on the horn for a bit and try to lure the zombies away. Instead, he just stands around throughout the entire ep, speechifying with Enid, watching the zombies to-ing and fro-ing, doing nothing.

Rick is the only one who even addresses a potential course of action, if one can apply that label to what he suggests. He wants to stand around and do nothing for a while until, hopefully, the dead bunch up somewhere convenient for him, he can slip out and get to the armory without being eaten and maybe use flares to draw them away. No hurry, though. Rick could, of course, do this right away using the zombie-stink camo trick he employs 20 minutes later--no need to lazily wait around while people elsewhere in the zone are probably fighting for their lives and dying--but TWD is still lost in self-parody mode, so as has been the case throughout this season, memory of that particular technique is turned on and off depending on whether its convenient to what the writers want to arbitrarily happen next. If Rick were to do this right away, it would preclude burning through yet another ep with idle chatter, therefore Rick only thinks of it near the end when his situation deteriorates.

His situation deteriorates because Ron, being an idiot, is all teen angsty over what he sees as Coral trying to steal his girl and with an army of the dead outside (and he's trapped inside with, among others, Rick and Michonne), he decides that's the perfect moment to try to kill his rival for Enid's hand. Only on TWD. He makes his move and in the utterly pointless struggle that ensues ends up smashing a door and letting the dead into the home in which he and most of our heroes are holed up.[2]

Morgan and Carol end up in the same place together. Carol gets it in her head to go downstairs and kill the Wolf whom Morgan has stashed there. Morgan decides he won't let that happen. There's a brief struggle, Morgan strikes down Carol, even though she'd earlier suffered a concussion,[3] the Wolf gets Morgan's stick and brains him with it then manages to escape with a gun and the town's doctor in tow.[4] The Wolf  had promised to kill everyone and having him simply leave without harming anyone after he'd gotten the drop on his captor and five others reeked of a major cop-out, an effort to keep Morgan around a little longer.

Whenever a TWD finale comes along, be it mid- or full-seasonal, the primary question on everyone's mind is "Who is going to die?" It would be nice to have a TWD that encouraged people to look forward to watching for some reason other than what "shocking" death will happen in the finale. This time around, Morgan was the only major player who had been overtly set up for death but I've thought it quite unlikely he'd have finally been brought on as a regular only to be destroyed so soon. My instincts proved correct; TWD opted for a redshirt. Earlier this evening, Arnold Blumberg, the "Doctor of the Dead,"[5] was on Twitter running a poll on "who's going down tonight." I chimed in with my guess:

...which turned out to be correct. Deanna has been doing little more than standing around making grotesque faces and, worse, plans for the future lately. If the axe was going to fall on one of the minors, she was the obvious pick. She was bitten by a zombie near the beginning, spent the ep dying and engaging in the usual Dying People cliche's (giving last speeches aimed at imparting hope to those who will go on, writing notes to those left behind, getting to see the baby "once last time," etc.)[6] and ultimately went out like an idiot, wasting the ammo she'd intended to use on herself on the zombies approaching her, thus ensuring she'd suffer a needlessly horrible death being eaten alive by rotting monsters. No loss there.

The paper-thin plot for this entire season has taken place over a period of only about 24 hours and for weeks, TWD has been merely waging a delaying action aimed at doing as little as possible in order to stretch that plot to the bigger-audience finale. It's a rut into which the series has always fallen. In the end, this midseason finale arrived and we were given what looks more like just another delaying action.



[1] I'm not sure what sort of mind one must have to sit through this ep without greeting the characters' actions with utter incredulity. Everyone runs into houses but no one looks for potential weaknesses that would allow the dead access. Because of this, no one bothers to attempt to barricade any potential weak spots until the dead are already breaking in. For all the talk, talk, talk that consumes much of this ep, no one in any of the various groups talks about what they can do to deal with the situation--the thing that should be foremost on their minds. Only Rick gets a few throwaway lines regarding a potential plan but he's in no hurry. In what should be a fairly extreme emergency, there's no sense of urgency at all. As usual.

[2] Among those holed up there is Jessie's son Sam, who gives an all new definition of "annoying" to the Annoying Kid trope. He spends most of the ep in his room listening to a record of Tiny Tim playing "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" played in an endless loop. The world has ended, Tiny Tim goes on. On the other hand, one could see "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" played in an endless loop as a perfect metaphor for TWD.

[3] Carol suffers a concussion because, when the monsters break into town, she runs and--yes--falls, one of the particularly worn horror movie cliche's; by my count, TWD has used it three times this season. At least she didn't twist her ankle.

[4] The way in which he gets the gun and escapes is bullshit. the Wolf is hemmed into a corner with both Tara and Rosita pointing guns at him while he holds up a knife and threatens to stab the town doctor. In such a situation, one could see Tara giving up her weapon; she's a civilian and one with a personal stake in the matter--but Rosita could have dropped the guy before he even flinched. She doesn't strictly through arbitrary plot contrivance.

[5] And btw, Blumberg's "Doctor of the Dead" podcast is great, even if he is more of a fan of TWD than he should be.

[6] Deanna, who is on her death bead, gets up to see baby Judith that one last time. Rick walks up to check on her, sees Deanna is no longer in her bed then goes into the baby's room to find Deanna hunched over the crib--figuring Deanna had already died and turned, he rushed to kill her, stopping at the last moment when he realizes she's still alive. It provides for a cheap jump-scare and the "see the baby one last time" melodrama but how stupid can Deanna possibly be? She's probably only minutes away from death which will turn her into a flesh-eating monster and she goes into the baby's room?

Monday, November 23, 2015

WALKING DEAD Heads Up, Thumbs Down

THE WALKING DEAD got around to addressing some of the dangling plot-threads it's been avoiding through its last three filler eps but the midseason finale isn't until next week, so even as the series finally starts to deal with these matters, some of which have been left dangling since the first and second eps of the season, the padding required to drag things out to that bigger-audience ep is profuse.

The opening moments of "Heads Up" reveal that--surprise, surprise--Glenn did indeed survive his predicament from "Thank You"; he climbed under a dumpster and hid there until the zombies left. When he crawls out, Enid, who left the safe zone after it was attached by the Wolves, is somehow instantly on the scene to helpfully throw him some drinking water. Absent the use of magic, of course, she had no way of knowing he was under there. Her being there, of all the places in the entire world she could have gone, and finding him just as he emerged is just another of those cosmic coincidences that have become increasingly common this season.

Back at the safe zone, Rick sees Maggie standing watch atop the wall, looking to the west, from whence, she hopes, Glenn will soon return. He mounts the wall and offers her a speech. "When we go out there, it's never easy. It's never simple. It's always a fight. But we've come back from harder things from further away. Glenn, Daryl, Abraham and Sasha, they will too." And so on. As if Maggie is entirely unaware of these things. A hefty helping of screentime-burning low-grade melodrama for the audience but, of course, completely ridiculous as any sort of verbal exchange between these characters.

The scene happens, as noted, while the two of them stand on the wall in plain sight of the gathered dead below. Two eps ago, Rick made a big speech in which his suggested course of action for dealing with the zombies surrounding the town was for everyone there to be quiet and remain out of sight and perhaps the zombies would simply move on. An uncharacteristically good idea from Rick. And, of course, everyone, including, most prominently, Rick himself, proceeded to entirely ignore it. Tonight, we get more of the same. Rick is instructing Ron in the use of firearms and Ron wants to get in some target practice at some of the zombies outside. Rick vetoes this, explaining that the dead outside are spread fairly thin (though only two eps ago, he described the town as completely surrounded by zombies twenty deep) and that he didn't want to risk their bunching up around the source of gunshots, which could result in their overly stressing the wall in that area. He even vetoes target practice in the center of town, which would presumably assuage this problem to an extent. And then shortly afterwards, Rick starts reinforcing the wall, spending an extended period loudly nailing up wood supports on the section of it damaged by the truck collision--the weakest point in the wall.

Viewers, you are being mocked.

Enid and Glenn, meanwhile, basically waste the entire ep. Enid runs away, Glenn chases her down, they argue over whether Enid was going to return to the safe zone with Glenn (something she initially insists she won't do but then relents), then they just dick around, talking, squabbling, no sense of urgency. Glenn is initially terribly concerned about the fate of his wife--the last he heard, zombies were marching on the safe zone--but that seems to go right out the window to make room for this business. And everything that happens between he and Enid is pointless contrivance, there only to eat up screentime. Glenn has absolutely no reason to either pursue her or to insist she return with him; she clearly knows her way around and can take care of herself. Once he's brought her to heel, he's presumably set on immediately returning to town but instead, for no apparent reason, they go in the opposite direction, which appears to be just another geographical foul-up by the writers. A few weeks ago, in my piece about "Thank You," I dealt with the significant geographical problems introduced in that ep. I've prepared a somewhat crude map[1] to illustrate some of them:

Glenn's apparent death happened somewhere in area #6, yet he and Enid, in supposedly traveling back to the safe zone, end up at point #5, where Enid begins to play with the helium balloons our heroes stashed there as part of the zombie herding operation. The two banter. No hurry.

Rick and Morgan finally have a sit-down about Morgan's problematic "all life is precious" philosophy. It's handled much better than one would expect from TWD. Rick learns the Wolves that Morgan allowed to escape were the ones who attacked him and shot up the RV, which killed his plan to lead the zombies away and resulted in the town being surrounded. Morgan confesses he just doesn't know if he can follow his philosophy in this zombified world. Morgan doesn't tell anyone about the Wolf he captured though and in a bit of absolutely unconscionable behavior, he goes to the infirmary and procures precious antibiotics for the homicidal maniac he's keeping locked up. Carol catches on but the ep cuts away before she learns exactly what he's done.

More padding: Rosita teaches a "class" of Alexandrians about how to use a machete, Spencer tries to go off on his own in an effort to lead the zombies away, is nearly eaten and has to be rescued and so on--more events present solely to eat up screentime. After being so generally dreary, "Heads Up" ends on a pretty good last image (though the lead-up to it is marred by another cosmic-scale coincidence) but that can't make up for the fact that a viewer could skip from the third ep of this season to this one without having missed a thing (and most of what happens in this one could have been done in 20 minutes).



[1] As crude as it is, it does manage to incorporate every bit of information we've been given about the area. If I've missed anything, I'm sure eagle-eyed readers will spot it. There is a dried-up creek somewhere along the route taken by Rick and Morgan when they were disposing of Pete's body--a bridge passes over it. There isn't enough info to plot its course and it doesn't matter, so I've ignored it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Not Always Accountable For THE WALKING DEAD

A prologue...

It was dusky Sunday
I greeted with particular dread.
Soon, the autumn evening
Would again yield up THE WALKING DEAD.
It will be back to the safe zone
Where nothing's really very safe,
Where people aren't very bright,
Where they tend not to tend the gate.
Rick and his gang are the new power there;
They've taken over the entire town.
And when anyone questions their wisdom,
The show's writers strike that redshirt down!
Rick and Morgan found a quarry.
It was packed with zombies galore.
About this, something must be done;
"I don't take chances anymore."
But Rick pined to unleash that zombie herd
Within spitting distance of home!
We can lead them away from here, he said.
After that, who cares where they roam?
A really bad idea, it would seem,
But Rick was brave, Rick was strong!
With a guy like that seeing it through,
What could possibly go wrong?
Then everything did, of course,
And in very short order.
Soon, everyone was running.
Soon, all was in disorder.
"They walk, we run," shouted one girl who fled
To let her mates know they weren't beaten.
She fell in a cliche hacked in the ground,
Twisted her ankle and soon was eaten.
Michonne sensed doubts, so she stopped to make a speech
About how Rick's team are vets: "We know what we're doin'."
But the ol' zombie-guts trick plumb slipped her mind
So it was on her team's guts the dead were soon chewin'.
Toward the safe zone the herd was now bound.
Rick sought to head it off at the pass.
He sprinted a mile in 20 minutes--
These writers' version of hauling some ass.
His plan to lead it away didn't work
And he escaped without a second to lose;
Some Wolves that Morgan allowed to run off
Shot up the RV he was planning to use.
So he broke and ran with the dead in pursuit
Right to the gates of the town,
Trapping people there like sardines in a can,
The hungry dead all around.
But Rick is a pro and knew what to say:
"We'll be quiet, unseen, burn no lights at all
"They'll forget we're here and then go away,"
He said in a loud speech made right by the wall.
Then he climbed up that wall to stand a watch
In plain sight of the hungry dead below.
He posts a regular watch there as well,
Thus ensuring the dead will never go.
"I won't watch my family starve," said a fat guy
Who led a raid on the town's food
But Spencer diffused this with a speech of his own
"If you do this, we'll all be screwed."
That fat guy then saw Jessie kill a zombie
Then break into a speech, more corn and cliche.
Fat guy had heard three bad speeches in a row;
How motivated he must have felt that day!
There's a shortage of experienced hands
On hand to deal with the crisis at hand.
In such circumstances, the townsfolk place
Their lives in the hands of Rick's expert band.
Maggie and Coral show this trust their respect--
Two of the few pros still left in the zone--
They both plot to secret themselves out of town,
Each on self-concerned missions of their own.
In the end, neither ends up going;
The safe zone's pantry remains unraided;
The fate of Glenn remains unaddressed;
The problems with Morgan remain unstated;
The Wolf Morgan caught is still unmentioned;
And no word from Daryl, Sasha or Abraham;
No plot advancement in this ep at all,
Just as much filler as in it could be crammed.
The ads for the coming evening's tale
Promise only another bloated side show,
A thing that should just be a subplot
But instead is blown up to a full episode.
So as dusk gives way to dark,
THE WALKING DEAD will soon reappear.
Will they have their bearings back?
Or will they just talk about the deer?

And on to tonight...

There was some talk about the deer in tonight's installment and as the preview last week suggested, this did  indeed turn out to be a filler-packed side adventure, something that could have--and in competent hands, would have--been woven into last two week's non-stories instead of being padded out to fill an entire episode. This one follows Daryl, Sasha and Abraham as they finish the task of moving that zombie herd they've been wrangling since the season opener. The first scene is yet another spectacular shot of a seeming infinity of zombies marching up the road as far as the eye can see but though the title of the ep was "Always Accountable," that huge herd on which we open is something for which the writers entirely failed to account.

Sasha alerts Daryl they're a mile from their intended turnoff. They speed up to put some distance between the creatures and themselves, make a left and are immediately attacked by a gang of thugs with fully automatic weapons who just open fire without word or warning. By one of those cosmic coincidences that substitute for so much of the plotting on TWD, it turns out that in all the roads in all the places in this sparsely-populated apocalyptic world, these attackers were beside the one on to which our heroes turned waiting to ambush an entirely different group. A firefight ensues. Daryl guns his motorcycle and flees into the forest to escape his attackers. Sasha and Abraham defeat theirs but lose their car.

Our heroes now have a serious problem. Thanks to all that gunfire, that huge herd they'd just left a mile down the road is going to be heading their way. Immediate priority: get some new wheels, regroup and get the hell out of Dodge.

Except the writers then forget all about that herd. We don't see it again, don't hear from it, the characters don't mention it and act as if it doesn't exist. Rather than trying to find either Daryl or some transportation, Sasha and Abraham decide to wait for Daryl to find them--they break into a building and hole up! Then they talk about the deer: Sasha doling out one of TWD's patented soap speeches as they opt to settle in for the night![1]

Meanwhile, Daryl, who is just as entirely unconcerned about the zombie herd, encounters a trio of travelers who were the intended quarry of the gunmen. They've apparently left some survivor group that had morphed into a cult. Its nature is never really made clear, just that it was unpleasant and these folks had escaped it. The cult's intentions aren't clear either. It staged the initial ambush as just a kill-on-sight operation but in the rest of the ep, the cultists seem intent on making the escapees return alive. The cultists pursue the trio but after one is bitten by a stray zombie and his arm amputated, they simply leave and are then entirely forgotten. Daryl and the escapees walk around at a leisurely pace, spend the night somewhere in the forest (we aren't shown this), even stop to dig graves when one of their number is killed (in, honestly, a pretty idiotic way). It's TWD--one learns not to expect logic or consistency. The story of these three characters is, in any event, present merely to eat up screentime, just like everything else in this ep. Near the end, Daryl offers to take them to the safe zone; they opt, instead, to steal his motorcycle and ride off the show. Probably the smart move.

Along with the zombies up the road, the fate of the safe zone is pretty much forgotten. The last our heroes heard, half the zombies they were driving had broken off and were headed toward town but throughout all of this extended dicking around by all of them, no one is terribly concerned about it or in any hurry to get back. Daryl was so worried in "Thank You" that he was prepared to abandon the zombie herding operation; here, he just dawdles, seemingly entirely unconcerned even as he tries to recruit the folks he's met to come live at a home he doesn't even know is there anymore.[2] The only word on the subject offered by anyone is a stray line by Abraham on the second day--he says he's confident whatever happened back there is being handled.

Daryl, having lost his ride, finds a gas truck (introduced earlier), finds Sasha and Abraham[3] and they head for home. The end. For the third week in a row, the creators have opted for another extended delaying action aimed solely at getting the series to the midseason break (and its intended "shocking" events) without having to actually write enough of a story to accomplish this.

The dead are walking through their sixth season
And their ratings are still quite strong
But their creators are completely shot
Their show has hung around too long.



[1] The self-parody continues in this ep as well. When Abraham wants to kill a zombie near the building in which they're planning to hole up, Sasha, concerned there may be more gunmen in the area, berates him. "Don't leave a trail of breadcrumbs!" As she carves Daryl's name into the door they're about to enter.

[2] This is particularly egregious in Daryl's case because the series has, at times, gone out of its way to establish his very strong connection to the others. In season 3, he refused to run off with Merle because of it. In season 4, it was established that as one of the uber-capable survivors, he felt personally responsible for protecting and defending the others and was wracked with guilt over having failed to track down GINO, who later returned and destroyed the prison. He's been established as an impulsive man of action, something reflected only an ep earlier in his aborted effort to abandon the herding operation in order to render assistance in dealing with the thread to the safe zone. Nothing is ever really "established" when it comes to TWD characterizations though; looking for any consistency is sheer folly.

[3] Abraham finds a collection of RPGs at one point but the launcher is on the shoulder of a zombie impaled on some collapsed fencing on an overpass. Abraham has set out to pike every zombie he's seen so far in this ep but instead of doing this, he crawls out on the fencing like an idiot to wrestle with the creature for a while, suddenly dealing with the hack writer's version of Inner Pain and nearly getting bitten. The way he gets the launcher is another of those cosmic coincidences but this one is sort of funny and so somewhat forgivable.

Monday, November 9, 2015

WALKING DEAD, Now Hear This!

Tonight, THE WALKING DEAD followed up last week's 90-minute filler ep with a 60-minute filler ep. Its official title was "Now" but a better one would have been "Now Hear This!" With the exclamation point. The characters on TWD never just talk to one another. They don't have ordinary human conversations. As I've long noted--since my very first article on this series, in fact--even banal interactions between them too often tend to be expressed via a form of brutally anti-naturalistic soap-opera speechifying and "Now" was one of the worst dialogue eps in this respect in a while, nearly every significant interaction being some preposterous speech that tries to grandiloquently express some ever-so-profound-and-important sentiment but just ends up leaving any viewer with any sensitivity to dialogue with an ear infection.[1] Now hear this!

It begins with Rick and Michonne's group hauling ass through a horde of zombies that are shambling toward the safe zone. The writers have arbitrarily afflicted Rick with a rather severe case of slug-footedness lately and some of the slow, shuffling creatures are actually outpacing him as he, at a full head of steam, heads for the gate. Two weeks ago, in "Thank You," it took him 20 minutes to run only a mile but by the time you're being outrun by critters that have been corpses for nearly two years, perhaps it's time to pray to the writers for speed that more obviously reflects your script immunity.

Next, it's the script's turn to get slug-footed--pretty much nothing of any substance happens beyond those opening moments. With the town surrounded by zombies, Rick immediately delivers the first speech of the evening, a rundown of the situation intended to boost morale which he packs with gravitas, gesticulation and dramatic pauses though he's only addressing about 10 people who are milling about in his immediate vicinity. Rick tells the assembled the best move is to try to make the dead forget they're there--to be very quiet at all times, pull the drapes at night or, better yet, don't turn on the lights at all. "We try to make this place as quiet as a graveyard to see if they move on." Not a bad idea but, consistent with TWD's descent into self-parody, one delivered as part of this unnecessarily loud speech. The community entirely ignores this advice throughout the ep--we see lights on at night, people talking, even people loudly arguing. Most hilariously, Rick himself is seen shortly after his speech standing on the wall in full view of the dead outside! Worse, he sets up a regular watch there, so there will always be live people in sight of the hungry dead (who, of course, won't be going anywhere as long as this is the case).

Some of the Alexandrians decide the end is nigh and get it in their heads to raid the community pantry, gruffly rejecting the notion that, with the town surrounded by zombies, they need to carefully ration the food. This leads to another big speech, this time by Deanna's son Spencer, who manages to shame the would-be pirates out of their raid with a dimestore angels-of-our-better-natures schtick. Rationing is a necessary measure but food shouldn't really be an immediate concern. One of the filler scenes in "JSS", set earlier that same day, established there was so much that some of it had been sitting there collecting dust for ages and as a consequence of the raid by the Wolves, there are now a lot fewer mouths to feed, both facts that seem to have slipped down a Memory Hole. The Alexandrian leading the pantry raid who was charged with complaining that he didn't want to watch his family starve was a rather fat fellow.

The unintentional self-parody creeps in at every turn. Throughout this season (and the end of last), TWD has constantly hammered the theme that our heroes have been out in the apocalypse and know what they're doing, even as their every action loudly screams otherwise. Tonight during Rick's opening speech, Aaron sounds off at one point with a mini-speech of his own in which he praises their experience and talks about how Daryl has proven wiser than he. "Now," with Daryl, Sasha, Abraham and Glenn--a big portion of their experienced hands--out in the field and away from town, this ep saw both Maggie and Carl independently plot to even further reduce the veteran manpower on hand during the crisis by secreting themselves out of the safe zone to search for, respectively, Glenn and Enid. Put your lives in the hands of these pros, Alexandrians.

Jessie comes across a zombie in a house. She opens the door and kills it but then she, too, must turn to the other ten townspeople who have randomly gathered to watch this and deliver another motivational speech about this being how life looks these days and how they all have to fight.[2] Maggie and Aaron try to slip out through a sewer that leads outside the walls--a rather huge potential security risk to suddenly pull out of a hat like a rabbit at this late date[2a]--but they find the pipe doesn't come out beyond the assembled dead. Aaron notes there are only a few zombies and that they could fight through them but Maggie, in an utterly random and inexplicable twist, suddenly decides not to go and puts a stop to the adventure. Then to "explain" this, she gives yet another speech,[3] this one about how both he and she will just have to live with whatever happens in life. A rambling, teary-eyed diatribe that doesn't explain a thing.[4]

In the end, Maggie and Aaron decide not to go look for Glenn, Carl doesn't go to look for Enid, the Alexandrians don't raid their own community pantry, the fate of Glenn isn't resolved or even touched upon, the Wolf whom Morgan is holding isn't mentioned and the disastrous effects of Morgan's recent behavior remain unaddressed.[5] In short, this was an ep in which there were lots of unintentionally funny moments, lots of dialogue that doesn't remotely approximate any form of actual human interaction but one in which, beyond the opening minutes, absolutely nothing of any consequence happened. Another ep full of foam to tick off the season order and nothing more.



[1] The awful dialogue made me think of last season's "Consumed," and I wasn't really surprised when, just prior to beginning this article, I looked it up and saw that Corey Reed, the writer-of-record on tonight's opus, was a co-writer-of-record on that previous mess.

[2] Alexandrians didn't seem to have much to do tonight but mope around listening to speeches. Fat Guy, who led the raid on the pantry, was, like several others, present for Rick's speech, Aaron's mini-speech in the middle of it, Spencer's speech and Jessie's speech. Imagine how motivated he must have felt that day!

[2a] 9 Nov., 2015 - It also could have been the means of the safe zone's salvation. One of my constant gripes about TWD is how the characters spend so much time on ridiculous soap nonsense at the expense of time devoted to how they can survive their situation--the thing that would, in such a scenario, be their primary focus. Here, someone or a team of someones could slip out through that drain, find some wheels, make a little noise and lure the herd away from town. Instead, it materializes just like that magician's rabbit solely for Maggie's attempted search-and-rescue mission-- or, more specifically, to work in all the melodrama surrounding that--then is forgotten as soon as she changes her mind.

[3] Lauren Cohan has always had trouble keeping Maggie's faux-Southern accent consistent but throughout this ep, it's hilariously awful, particularly when she's doing this big, impassioned speech.

[4] The ep runs a little over 40 minutes sans ads and the total speech-count was five or six, depending on whether one counts Aaron's early remarks as a new speech or as part of Rick's speech.

[5] The ripple-effect of disaster from Morgan's behavior continues; the group of Wolves whom Morgan allowed to escape at the end of "JSS" immediately encountered and tried to kill Rick in the RV at the end of "Thank You." Probably because of damage inflicted by the gun one of those Wolves took before fleeing, the RV wouldn't start and Rick couldn't lead the herd away as he'd planned. As a consequence, the safe zone is now surrounded by the dead. The closest tonight's ep came to addressing any of this was a line in Rick's speech about there being more than needs to be discussed, offered while he was looking right at Morgan.

Monday, November 2, 2015

WALKING DEAD: Here's Not Here. Or There. Or Anywhere [Update Below]

My analysis of THE WALKING DEAD, both here and in the other locales in which I discuss the show, has, of late, been trending toward the idea that TWD has entered the "stuck around way too long" seasons, those follies every long-running show seem to indulge when it's creatively spent but still popular enough to continue getting renewed. I've been surprised by this as it has unfolded. Creatively, the series has rarely been any great shakes--it peaked with the pilot and the fourth season was the only one where any case could be made that the good outweighed the bad. Before last year's midseason break, I predicted that the series' viewership had peaked, that the show had fallen into a painfully predictable formula while having attracted a far larger audience than its creative shortcomings could possibly sustain.[1] The Alexandria Safe Zone storyline offered the opportunity to give the series a shot in the arm. Instead, all of TWD's bad old habits followed it behind those walls too. Before the current season launched, I thought the show had at least one more season before it began to hit that "stuck around way too long" twilight. I was wrong. That twilight is upon us.

I've written a lot here about the series' creative decline. The entire season to date has been built around Rick's Pied Piper plan to lead the quarry zombies away from town, a plan that was not only completely unnecessary (because a plethora of other options were available, every one of them better, safer and far less labor-intensive) but completely insane--so dangerous and subject to armageddon-level disaster if any one of about 50 things go wrong that it wouldn't have been the last thing anyone would consider when contemplating how to deal with the quarry situation only because it never would have been suggested as an option at all. The execution of this plotline has been as bad as the idea. TWD is suffering severe creative rot and has become bogged down in a rigid formula from which its creators are simply unable or unwilling to extract themselves.

Arnold Blumberg and Scott Woodard, who do the "Doctor of the Dead" podcast (which is excellent, btw, and you should be listening), are overly fond of TWD but not uncritical of it. Their love for it often seems to me to be against their own better judgment. In their most recent installment, Scott said the most recent TWD ("Thank You") employed tactics that seemed "beneath THE WALKING DEAD." I'll confess to getting a good laugh from this--I doubt anything is beneath THE WALKING DEAD--but the legitimate point upon which Scott was touching is this creative rot. I wasn't bothered when, at the end of the ep and with the dead closing in on Rick, the RV suddenly wouldn't start but Scott was quite correct about this being a horror movie cliché we've endured for decades. For me, the real groan-inducing example of this same sort of thing was another Arnold and Scott discussed: everyone is running from the shuffling dead and the girl falls and sprains her ankle, a trope so shopworn that publicly donning it as a garment would get one arrested for indecency.

TWD compounds the offense be telegraphing it. Only seconds before it happened, the same girl had tried to bolster the courage of the others, telling them "they [the dead] walk, we run!" That ridiculous reversal really drives home the extent to which TWD has, this season, become like a parody of itself. Any time a redshirt questions Rick, he's immediately killed. With Carter, the season opener set a new record for how long between pronouncement and death these events occur but "Thank You" topped it; it was less than a minute between an Alexandrian ranting about how Rick had dragged them out there to die and one of TWD's patented teleporting zombies materializing in their midst and making hash of the heretic. Rick in the season opener says "I don't take chances anymore" just before electing to release thousands of zombies right on top of their home. Michonne, last week, gives an extended, self-righteous speech about how she, Rick and the others know what they're doing and the Alexiandrians don't while she, the allegedly wise and hardened vet, progressively loses one person after another because she can't remember to use the old "cover yourself with zombie stink" routine, which would have allowed them to walk safely home, zombies or not, at whatever pace they preferred. She knows what she's doing but she doesn't know to use the old "cut off a zombies arms and jaw" routine either, which would have allowed for the same thing.

While it's impossible to receive such things as anything other than self-parody, they're not meant to be taken as such and the conclusion this suggests is that the writers themselves, so unbearably pretentious about their own work in their every public pronouncement, don't really even care what they're writing anymore. This is definitely a "stuck around way too long" season.

That brings me to Glenn's apparent "death" last week and some subsequent events that have led me to question if my TWD writings have also entered a sort of twilight. I write a lot about how TWD is forever mired in a rigid, absolutely unyielding formula and one of the aspects of that formula is that major characters don't die until the writers have spent a great deal of time ham-handedly telegraphing the death. The marked character suddenly gets a series of scenes in which the spotlight is on him or his own subplot or even an entire ep in which he's featured.[2] But however it's done, it's always done. There are never any surprises when it comes to this. The formula is more rigid than that of a slasher movie. And I know this! In my article last week, I wrote that "when he [Glenn] died without prior ceremony, it was as if he hadn't died at all." But even though this was such a radical deviation from a formula from which the series never deviates, I never thought Glenn wasn't dead until I started reading the TWD message boards later that night. Apparently, showrunner Scott Gimple had suggested, on the Talking Dead, that Glenn may still be alive. It had everyone chattering, exactly as was the intention of the whole stunt--twilight seasons love these sorts of gimmicks. Physically, of course, there's no way Glenn comes out of that situation alive. One can forget the physical aspects of this though; they're never going to be explained in a way that's satisfying or, indeed, anything less than an insult. The reason Glenn isn't dead and that we'll eventually have the equivalent of a Bobby-in-the-shower moment when he's revealed to have survived is because he died without any ham-handed ceremony. Over the years, I've occasionally gotten wrong minor details about TWD. I go back into my articles when one turns up and write a footnote correcting the record. That I initially missed this makes me feel as if I've made a major error, my first really big one regarding TWD.

Over the years, I've often felt at various times as if I've said everything about TWD I had to say. I begin to feel as if my articles don't add anything to what's already here or are repetitive. Sometimes, I've made them repetitive on purpose as a sort of private joke on the series' own repetitiveness. Maybe my analysis really has run its course. When it comes to this business regarding Glenn, I should have caught it.

Whether my TWD writing has hung around too long, it's certainly the case that TWD has. "Here's Not Here," tonight's installment, followed the usual TWD pattern; the tense situation the prior ep tried to set up is immediately followed by throwing out the drag-weights, slamming on the brakes, bringing everything to a halt and aggressively eradicating any such tension.[3] So this week, we got a lifeless, soulless, retread flashback unconvincingly explaining how Morgan became a stick-wielding Kwai Chang Caine wannabe whose content-free "all life is precious" ideology makes him a liability and a danger to everyone around him.[4] Last week, in a development I didn't mention in my write-up, the Wolves whom Morgan allowed to escape the safe zone attacked and nearly killed Rick. If tonight's ep was meant to rationalize that sort of behavior, it failed miserably.[5]

AMC clearly realizes TWD has shot its wad. It's why FEAR THE WALKING DEAD ended up as merely a cheap copy-and-paste of the original, an effort to recreate it--and, hopefully, its success--on a much lower budget and to further milk the greying cow. "Here's Not Here" was yet another 90-minute episode, the third one in five eps. TWD typically has trouble even filling the 60 minutes allotted it and has to resort to all manner of padding. All of the recent 90-minute eps have packed in even more of this filler. Tonight's was all filler, an ep that exists for no other purpose than to fill out a slot in the annual order (rather than actually use the time for anything). But 90 minutes allow for more commercials. And AMC just announced TWD has been renewed for another season after the current one.

Milk that cow right to its grave.



[1] That's been born out by the ratings so far. All of TWD's season openers have, throughout its run, added large numbers of viewers over the previous season. This season, viewership for the debut tumbled to a lower level than has been seen since season 3. I'd predicted in various locales that the ratings would either stay flat or go down, particularly after FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, but I was stunned by how radically the ratings dropped.

[2] Sometimes, the character gets an extended storyline in which he's demonized to the point that viewers are glad to see him go.

[3] Yes, I've written that before. Yes, I did it again just then on purpose.

[4] In one of those trillion-to-one cosmic coincidences around which so much of TWD is built, this ep was built around Morgan, still in an insane state after the events of season 3's "Clear," running into and taken in by one of the two or three psychiatrists left in the world, who also happens to be a Zen master.

[5] In the course of it, a fellow Morgan senselessly murdered came back as a zombie and bit his Jedi sensei. One can see this as being Morgan's fault for killing the fellow but given Morgan's recent actions, the reading of it that screams to the viewer is that this was a situation with which Morgan failed to properly deal and that came back with disastrous consequences--if he'd have piked the fellow in the brain, his sensei would still be alive.

UPDATE (2 Nov., 2015) - Lebeau over at Le Blog has done a really good write-up on last night's ep. his thoughts on TWD usually align with mine and we have a sort of friendly competition when it comes to writing about it but I usually write mine first, so I don't get as much chance to plug his pieces. If you're looking for something that covers the episode, his piece this week is definitely better than mine. I thought his was better last week as well but looking at them now, our two articles seem to compliment one another. Read both!

My overriding thought about last night's ep was that it really wasn't worth any time, which is why I didn't give it much time in my piece. Lebeau pretty much agrees with me on its merits but gave it much more considerate treatment and came up with some good observations ("Eastman" being a terrible fake name for the Jedi Master character, for example). Some of the commentary I've seen this morning made me want to add a few more thoughts.

I wrote that Morgan's "all life is precious" ideology is "content-free," but while "Here's Not Here" was meant to establish where Morgan got it, the ep actually does nothing to establish why he picked it up from Eastman. Eastman is a nice guy and brings Morgan back to his senses after he'd practically lost his mind but that doesn't really constitute any reason to adopt Eastman's philosophy. Indeed, Eastman himself is given no clear reason for having adopted it. As the ep proceeded, we learn that Eastman slowly starved to death an evil psychopath who had murdered his family. Eastman says doing this didn't make him feel any better but he still did it. He seems to have adopted the "all life is precious" philosophy in the wake of this in order to find inner peace but he's a fellow who has spent nearly the entire zombie apocalypse in a remote cabin entirely isolated from what was happening in the rest of the world. Outside the confines of the little world he's built for himself, it's often kill or be killed and his view is delusional. Entirely incompatible with reality. Morgan, on the other hand, is, by this point, well aware of what happens outside that little fence that keeps in Eastman's goat. He knows the score. In a 90-minute filler episode, there's never any connection made between Morgan and what Eastman was preaching, no insight, no moment at which Morgan came to see it as a better way, no incident that provided Morgan with any reason to see wisdom in it or to want to make it his own. The two never even have a conversation wherein the state of the world is discussed in relationship to this philosophy. That would require a greater depth than is present in martial arts movie clichés, a depth TWD's overbearingly pretentious writers are entirely incapable of providing. Morgan's adopting Eastman's view is utterly arbitrary, the character suddenly turned into an entirely new character solely because of temporary plot needs. Which is, of course, TWD's usual m.o.

Worse, it can be read as a very serious reduction of the character. Morgan, when he was introduced, was a fellow who just couldn't bring himself to kill the zombie that had once been his wife. This made him very human. It's the reason the character became so beloved. Later, in "Clear," it was revealed that he'd continued to put off killing the creature until, one day, it killed his son. In last night's opus, he senselessly murdered a fellow but didn't pike the fellow's brain. As Lebeau notes, that was an entirely arbitrary decision, and as I wrote, the fellow Morgan murdered came back as a zombie and bit Morgan's Jedi sensei. "One can see this as being Morgan's fault for killing the fellow but given Morgan's recent actions, the reading of it that screams to the viewer is that this was a situation with which Morgan failed to properly deal and that came back with disastrous consequences--if he'd have piked the fellow in the brain, his sensei would still be alive." Toward the end of last season, one of the Wolves turned up at the now-"enlightened" Morgan's camp. He announced his intention was to take everything Morgan had, including his life. Morgan allowed the fellow to live; the same fellow later came back with his Wolf buddies and carried out horrendous atrocities against the Alexandrians. When Morgan faced those marauding Wolves, he stood around like a naive idiot who had never lived so much as a day in this zombified world and didn't know what to do, trying to reason with them while they were committing gruesome murders he could have prevented. When he faced down the final group of them, he told them to run away and allowed them to escape. Minutes later, storytime, they attacked and tried to kill Rick. In arbitrarily imposing this "all life is precious" business, the writers have not only reduced this once-very-human fellow to a one-note caricature--his one all-time-worst mistake repeated into infinity--they've now made him ideologically committed to being nothing more. Morgan, the dumbass who gets others killed because he can never learn his one lesson.

Two weeks ago, in the wake of Morgan's handling of the Wolves, I wrote there was "a time-limit counter practically flashing across the back of his head." As I discussed with Lebeau this morning, "it seems incredible to me that Morgan would be reintroduced into the series just to be killed but a character suddenly getting a featured ep usually means the end is near. I’ll note that the series introduced a new black guy a few weeks ago on camera [Heath] and without killing an established one, which has never happened in the entire run of TWD, and that the midseason finale is rapidly approaching." In the context of this update, I'd also note the longstanding practice by TWD's writers of assassinating the character of popular figures on the series they plan to eliminate. This is done so the audience won't be alienated by the death. I expected Morgan to stick around longer. Maybe TWD won't stick with its usual formula here. Wouldn't that be something?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I've long been a mouthy advocate for getting--finally getting--comic book heroines on the screen and Supergirl has always seemed to me a character with a lot of potential for adaptation. Her one feature appearance, 1984's SUPERGIRL, became a bit of a fiasco and, in turn, became something of a camp classic. She was later introduced into SMALLVILLE, which did hint at all that potential but she was still just a supporting character. I was pleased when Greg Berlanti, a creator of CW's ARROW and THE FLASH, announced he was working on a Supergirl series. Eventually, CBS picked it up and last night, it made its big debut. The pilot is slapdash at times, dramatically confused at others but it left me at least willing to see more.

The series eschews the original--and convoluted and bad--origin of the character in favor of a sort of mucked-up version of one introduced in the comics about a decade ago. In the tv telling, after baby Kal El--Superman--was launched to Earth from a dying Krypton, his cousin Kara Zor El, then 13 years old, was dispatched to look after him. The blast-wave from the explosion of Krypton knocked her ship off course and into the Phantom Zone. When it finally made its way out and to Earth, twenty-four years had passed, though she, preserved in suspended animation, hadn't aged.

Given Superman's own story, the nature of the Phantom Zone, etc., very little of this makes much sense but as quick and dirty as it seems to a comic vet, it effectively sets up everything.

When Kara arrives on Earth, Superman finds her and places her with an adoptive family. It's a long tradition in Superman adaptations to recruit for cameos actors and actresses from previous screen incarnations and here, Kara's adoptive mother is played by Helen Slater, the original screen Supergirl, and her adoptive father by Dean Cain, Superman from LOIS & CLARK. Kara grows up and goes to work as the assistant for media mogul Cat Grant but all the while, she keeps her powers and her real identity secret. When the plane in which her adoptive sister is flying nearly crashes, she's forced into action. She saves the plane but she's photographed, becomes a media sensation and gets hero fever--decides she'll just burst if she doesn't take up the cape and the family business. Supergirl is born.

Melissa Benoist plays Kara in an overly-bright-eyed and maybe way-too-enthusiastic manner that is, at first, rather endearing--the vibe is straight "it's cool that a girl can do this stuff"--but carried too far and too long, it could make her look flighty and stupid. Benoist is basically doing a 15-year-old Supergirl. That would be great if the show featured a teen Supergirl. The character in this series is supposed to be 24 years old.[1] How this will play out is something only time will.

A significant plot point--because it will provide the series' villains--is a Kryptonian prison ship that apparently followed Kara's ship out of the Phantom Zone and to Earth. It seems pretty unlikely a whole prison full of inmates--hardened criminals with the Earth-shattering powers of Kryptonians--have been hiding out on Earth for over a decade without drawing the attention of, say, Superman. There may be a larger plot at work here. Something else to watch. In the pilot's biggest error, the identity of "the General," the central villain revealed at the end, was quite confusing. It's Kara's Kryptonian mother, who, up to that point, hadn't be shown to have a villainous bone in her body, to say nothing of the fact that she's supposed to have been dead for years. In the brief preview for next week's ep, Kara calls her "aunt," so I'm assuming Kara's mother had a twin sister but there's no mention in the pilot of any twin sister.

When it was announced earlier this year, the casting of Mehcad Brooks as Superman's longtime pal Jimmy Olsen caused a bit of an internet stir. Jimmy Olsen is, of course, a very young, short, wimpy, freckle-faced redheaded white guy, whereas Brooks is a 35-year-old, 6'5', 230-or-so-pound muclebound bald black guy with a deep voice--a guy who could, himself, be playing a superhero. And, indeed, he is, in practice, as bizarre a Jimmy Olsen as he looked on paper, a guy who commands nearly every room he's in. While the comic vet in me just can't seem to accept him as a Jimmy Olsen, his Olsen is a very good character--my favorite, in fact, of the supporting roles so far. As it turns out, he knows all about Kara; her cousin filled him in.

Nearly everyone knows about Kara. Olsen knows. Her adoptive sister knows. Her adoptive sister's employer--a secret agency charged with monitoring and countering potential extraterrestrial threats--knows. She even tells a friend at work. The only regular among the  so-far-introduced supporting cast who doesn't know is Kara's boss Cat Grant. This exposure could come back to bite our heroine in the future.

The pilot's biggest shortcoming is that nearly all of the performances are carried out in an over-the-top, anti-naturalistic manner that perpetually borders on camp yet they're so contrary to one another they never cohere as a unified dramatic universe. One sees all of these sorts of performances pretty regularly with genre properties (though, mercifully, not as often as was once the case). With Kara, this sort of characterization can seem charming. With Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant, it's full-blown caricature. And at the other end, Kara's mother/the "General" is insanely over the top, spouting ridiculous, stilted, ever-so-serious dialogue as melodramatically as possible. One could break down each of these by their relative merits but whatever conclusion such an evaluation may yield, few of them seem as if they belong in the same show.

Still, while this wasn't a great pilot--it certainly wasn't up to that of either ARROW or THE FLASH--it was, rough edges aside, a pretty good one. I'm pleased to have Supergirl back on the screen and interested to see where this incarnation goes.



[1] When Kara's boss Cat Grant dubs the mysterious new hero "Supergirl," Kara objects, arguing for "Super Woman," but not only is it a ridiculous objection given how Benoist is playing the character, Benoist is also playing the very scene in which she's making this objection as if she was 15.

Monday, October 26, 2015

WALKING DEAD, No Thank You [Updated Below]

"Thank You," tonight's installment of THE WALKING DEAD, may have set a record. We see, near the beginning, an Alexandrian redshirt, fleeing from the zombie horde that has turned toward the safe zone. He's whining that Rick has dragged them out there to die. Seasoned viewers will know what that means. But they may be surprised by how long it takes: it's less than a minute after said whine when one of TWD's patented teleporting zombies materializes and makes hash of this heretic.

There were multiple incidents of zombie teleportation this evening, along with some action and suspense, some massive plot-holes and a genuine shock along the way.

The big holes in "Thank You" begin with some basic geography. No one has ever said exactly how far the zombie-snagging quarry lies from the safe zone but it has been made clear it's a very short distance. In the season opener, Deanna told Rick to drive Pete's body "a few miles" west for disposal; when Rick and Morgan did that very thing, Ron successfully followed them on foot. That's when the quarry was found. Once the zombies escaped the quarry, they walked even closer to town--the fact that the road would bring them right to the safe zone was a plot-point for why Rick wanted to act right away and his proposed plan, which involved bringing them even closer to town before turning them, was a source of argument. Our heroes turned the herd in a different direction at an intersection by constructing temporary walls across the road and leading the creatures around the "corner." Just as the herd cleared the turn, there was a blaring noise from the direction of town and a large number of the creatures broke away and began following that sound.

At this point, the creatures should be very close to town and our heroes, who were between them and the town, even closer. Morgan ran back to the safe zone in last week's ep and stopped the noise, which was a truck horn. The clarity with which it was heard at the herding operation also means the distance couldn't be great.[1]

But in this ep, our heroes run and run and run toward the safe zone but never even seem to get close to it. Then, they walk and walk and walk, dicking around and talk, talk, talking, as characters on TWD will do when they should be far more concerned with other matters. Michonne assures them they've put at least half an hour between themselves and the zombies! Almost certainly a reference to shuffling zombie speed, to be sure, but even half an hour worth of lead figured in that way really should have put them back home. Instead, they end up in a deserted town where, it seems, some of the herd have teleported ahead of their undead brethren and are there to cut off our heroes. So instead of getting the hell out of dodge while the numbers are still on their side,[2] they dick, dick, dick around some more, eventually coming up with the brilliant plan of finding a large building they can set ablaze so as to draw away the zombies (which, with all the dicking around, arrive soon).[3]

This presents a potentially big problem for Rick's plan. Rick broke with the larger group early in the ep, returning to retrieve a big RV they left at the intersection where they turned the zombies. The distance in this case is flat-out said to be one mile yet it takes Rick 20 minutes while running to get to the RV. His plan is to get on a road between the safe zone and the herd and get it to follow him, leading it, once again, away from town. Glenn setting a big fire to draw in the creatures--thousands and thousands of them--would, if successful, pretty much kill off this idea and leave all those creatures in the immediate area but neither Glenn nor anyone else seem terribly concerned about the implications of the action.

As it turns out, it didn't matter anyway. The building Glenn intended to burn had already burned down (my kind of luck). He and the ever-worthless Nicholas are then hemmed up by the zombie army, Nicholas shoots himself and his lifeless corpse drags Glenn over into the midst of the flesh-eating ghouls!

AMC management likes to pinch a penny and as one of the surviving season 1 castmembers, Steven Yeun--Glenn--was always likely to be high on the potential death-list for this season. Everyone who, in the first year of the series, signed a five-season contract renegotiated before the current season began and is likely making a great deal more money now. As Noble Willingham put it in THE LAST BOYSCOUT, "I believe it's just gonna' be cheaper ta' kill that son of a bitch." Still, Glenn's death was a legitimate surprise, something TWD hasn't managed in a very long time. TWD always telegraphs the death of a significant character. That didn't happen here. The closest thing one can say is that Glenn has been relegated to a bit of a background character lately and has shown remarkably poor judgment re: Nicholas. Poor judgment that ultimately led to his end. One could see this as progress--when he died without prior ceremony, it was as if he hadn't died at all. It's a significant break from the usual and possibly some recognition by the creators of the tiredness of their own formula. Last-ditch efforts to mix things up a bit can lead in some positive directions but, it must be confessed, the late-series openness to undertaking such stunts can ultimately make an even bigger mess of things. Something to watch as the series continues.

There were some WTF moments. A character volunteers to be left behind for the zombies, not because she has any sort of mortal wound that would prevent her from surviving but because she has a sprained ankle that slows her down a bit. Not exactly death wish material. Later, she's overrun by the creatures and the others just watch her eaten alive, no one putting a mercy bullet in her. Still later, another of the Alexandrians goes down and Michonne and co. do the same--just look on horrified, separated from the mayhem by a fence, while the guy is torn to pieces. They watch for a long time. Daryl, who is helping manage the front of the quarry herd--the ones who didn't follow the sound of the truck horn--breaks off at one point, leaving Sasha and Abraham to continue Pied Pipering the critters. His intent is to help the others but all he does is run up the road on his bike in a long series of scenes before returning to where he started, having done nothing. Material present just to eat up screentime with some Daryl.

It's tempting to see this ep's geographical problems as a metatextual commentary on the series itself. Taking a long time to do things that shouldn't take long at all. Is it a show that knows where it's at anymore? And so on. The ep ends on a cliffhanger, Rick in a tight spot. On the occasions when TWD manages to build any tension, it's the series' usual practice to immediately dispel it by going amateur-hour-at-film-school on viewers--throwing out the drag-weights, slamming on the brakes and bringing everything to a halt. The preview for the next ep looks as if it's going to follow in this dismal tradition, ignoring this week's events entirely and focusing, instead, on a tale of how Morgan became a Jedi master. A tale to be told in--no kidding--another 90-minute ep. AMC, it seems, is going to milk this cow right to the grave.



[1] While they heard the truck horn loud and clear in the season opener, they didn't hear the much louder burst of full-auto fire that preceded it. Throughout this ep, they don't hear any of the gunshots from the battle with the Wolves at the safe zone until nearly the end, a time when that battle should have already been over.

[2] Rick gave them very clear instructions to go, go, go, kill anything in their path, don't stop, don't hide, get home. They ignore every part of it.

[3] No one, however, thinks of either the old "cover yourself in zombie stink" trick, which would allow them to travel among the herd without molestation or the "cut the arms and jaw off a zombie" trick, which has the same effect. Michonne has used both. Here, she thinks of neither (particularly amusing, given that she's made to offer a longwinded, self-righteous speech about how she and the others know what it's like to be out in the zombified world and how the Alexandrians don't).

UPDATE (27 Oct., 2015) - I've been discussing the question of geography in various venues where I post my work and the exchanges led me to go back and look up some things, reconstructing the characters' movements as closely as it possible.

The quarry was located a very short distance to the West of the safe zone. The business with Ron in the season opener absolutely precludes it being any more than a mile or two. That makes sense, given that Rick and Morgan were simply disposing of a body--they wouldn't bother hauling it out very far.

When the zombies were freed, Daryl initially led them East. The road on which the herd were traveling was established in the season opener as leading directly to the safe zone. That's why our heroes built a wall at an intersection in it and turned the herd on to a different road, so it could be directed away from the safe zone. So from the original short distance--a mile or two--one must deduct this, whatever it was. And it was, it seems, quite a bit; at one point before the turn, we see a shot featuring what's probably more than a mile of zombie-filled road behind Daryl before the turn.

That doesn't yield any precise mileage but it's clear there's very little distance left when the truck horn began to blare (and, as previously noted, the horn itself couldn't be heard at any real distance). Our heroes should have been practically in sight of home. Absent geographical teleportation, there's certainly not enough space to put half-an-hour's distance between Michonne's group and the zombies. Half an hour's distance should have placed Michonne and co. beyond the safe zone.

In the course of my exchanges on this subject, it was also suggested that I could be wrong in writing that the horn blew "just as the herd cleared the turn," and that the editing of the season opener could mean the herd could have actually been traveling for many miles after the turn, taking our heroes further from home. This doesn't hold any water either though. The distance traveled past the turn isn't precise but one can get it pretty close. The job of the foot-soldiers in the herding operation was to cover the herd and make sure it stays together until it reaches point "green," at which time the foot-soldiers will go home and Daryl, Sasha and Abraham will take the herd 20 miles out. During the turn, Team Rick manned the walls while Team Glenn took care of the store zombies up ahead. After the zombies made the turn, these two teams rendezvoused and Rick told them to spread out and cover the parade as planned--clearly a meeting that's taking place right after the creatures cleared the turn. Carter volunteered to take the front, ran a short distance then was attacked and killed, all on camera and within less than a minute. Rick sent Morgan back to update those at the safe zone at this point--again, a time when we can say with near certainty that the safe zone is probably less than a mile away. Before Morgan departs, Rick tells him they're about an hour from point "green." An hour at zombie speed would probably cover less than two miles. The horn begins to blare very shortly after this but edits make it unclear how much time has past. We don't know exactly how long they traveled after Morgan's departure but they never made it to point "green," meaning it was less than 2 miles. Probably significantly less.[1]

When the horn begins to blare, everyone on foot runs away from the herd and toward home. After a time, Rick decides to break away from the other fleeing footsoldiers and return to the walled intersection to retrieve the RV with the intent of using it to lure the breakaway herd back on course. The RV gives us a hard distance reference--it's flat-out said to be a mile back. This means the herd hadn't moved very far and that this is all taking place within what should be spitting distance of the safe zone. It also immediately raises the question of why everyone else didn't just go with Rick. The intersection where the RV is parked leads directly to the safe zone. In fact, when the zombies begin to follow the horn toward the safe zone, they pass a cheap roadside stick-up sign that says the next right will take one to the Alexandria community--the right, that is, at that intersection. Had they gone with Rick, they could have probably walked a couple hundred yards past the RV and they'd be home.



[1] At one point in this ep, Sasha and Abraham assert they've moved the herd "five miles out," and the plan is to move them 15 more but that's an error. The 20-mile distance they were supposed to lead the herd began after the "green" point, which they wouldn't yet have reached. They couldn't yet have taken the herd five miles beyond that either. That's hours of work and there's no way to squeeze that in.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Z NATION Goes Down the Mississippi

There's nothing on television like Z NATION. There's never been anything on television like Z NATION. A lot of the bits and pieces that are put into this Crazy Blender have been flung over the airwaves over the decades. Tonight's installment "Down the Mississippi," for example, took pieces of, among other things, Mark Twain, DELIVERANCE, Southern Lost Cause culture, Huey Long-style down home demagoguery, bluegrass and BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID but what comes out when it's all blended together is, as usual, like nothing television has ever seen. And it can be truly glorious.

In my articles on THE WALKING DEAD, I spend a lot of time engaged with the mechanics of that series' formula, cataloging it, outlining its narrow and rigid contours, dwelling on the tired, shopworn nature of it and noting the series' utter predictability as a consequence of it. In this respect, Z NATION is like the anti-TWD. When you sit down to watch it, you never know what the hell is going to happen next. It's a free-for-all. One week, it's a Mad Max-style adventure up a road in the middle of nowhere, the next, it's a sci-fi tale of gruesome experiments resulting in a greenhouse full of zombie/plant hybrids, the next, it's delivering a human/zombie hybrid baby in a Mennonite community and everyone trying not to die from anthrax. This diversity is the sort of thing some would see as a potential liability. And, indeed, if handled poorly, it could make a series seem scattershot, unfocused, without a center or soul. ZN's ability to tell great, entertaining stories within it week after week and not suffer these potential pitfalls has made it one of the series' greatest assets. You never know what's going to happen next but after a while, you do start to realize it's probably going to be something great. And you can't wait.

"Down the Mississippi" featured the return of Doc's relentlessly entertaining pals Sketchy and Skeezy, allegedly fresh from looting Graceland, full of magnificent bullshit and plotting their next move. While trekking down the river, our heroes' boat gets caught in a "zombie jam"--exactly how is sounds--and the characters are separated. 10k ends up with S&S and the trio go off on a series of hilarious (and Huckleberry Finn-ish) adventures[1] while the others search for their young sniper and debate how much effort they should put toward this at the expense of their primary mission. The ep puts a lot of focus on the relationships between the characters, particularly Doc's strong connection to 10k. This last has sort of receded into the background lately; tonight marked a welcome return (and a great performance by Russell Hodgkinson). I still don't like Murphy's hacking away at 10k over Cassandra while no one objects, a dramatic problem with last week's ep. Vasquez is a needlessly disagreeable prick throughout the proceedings and this with his early insistence on simply abandoning 10k did little to endear to me a character for whom I haven't developed any affinity anyway. To put the matter of Vasquez bluntly, the sooner he's gone, the better.

"Well, the Mississippi sure ain't as mighty as it used to be," notes Doc, and indeed, the mighty Mississippi seems to be reduced to a much more modest and budget-conscious river but the cinematography eschews the usual washed-out color palette (of which I'm not a fan) for a more natural look with some most agreeable results in those moments along the river. Best of all, the ep is, like last season's excellent "Welcome To The Fu-Bar," shot in full scope. A way to my heart, I'll confess.

Tonight's excursion was written and directed by frequent ZN hand John Hyams, who was last seen pulling those same duties on the awesome "White Light." This was another feather in his cap and a pleasing return to form after last week's creative misfire.

More generally, ZN continues to mix wild-and-crazy ideas and familiar influences in new and entertaining ways. There's nothing on television like it. There's never been anything on television like it. ZN's detractors would probably say that's a good thing. Having seen a lot of the petty and absurdly superficial reasons so many of them insist they dislike it, I pity them. They're missing out on something very special.

I, on the other hand, have no intention of missing out on it. Keep up the good work, ZN; I'm with you for as long as you do.



[1] Tour-de-force performances by Mark Carr and Doug Dawson as S&S--this ep gave them what would be a great end if they never appeared again but I'd definitely prefer to see more of them.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

WALKING DEAD, Just Stop the Stupid

"JSS," tonight's episode of THE WALKING DEAD, focused on what was happening back at the safe zone while so many of its inhabitants were away on Rick's insane zombie-herding scheme. In the course of it, we get the source of the mysterious horn that, at the conclusion of the previous ep, began to attract the zombies toward the town.

It proves to be quite an "in the course of it" though.

Most of the first 15 of the eps 40-something minutes are merely soap and filler. Scene after molasses-in-winter scene of absolutely no consequence that could have and should have been left on the cutting-room floor. At about the 15 minute-mark, Carol puts a dish in the oven and sets a timer. It's tick-ticking away and she strolls over to the window and sees her neighbor, with whom she'd been talking earlier, having a smoke. Suddenly, a big machete-wielding pirate comes out of nowhere and attacks and kills the woman! It's a big shock and the filmmaker in me immediately recognized it as the scene that should have concluded the cold opening of the episode--cut right from it to the opening title sequence. TWD instead made viewers wade through a lot of pointless mush.

The safe zone apparently has no one on look-out,[*] even after such a big deal was made out of this last season and even after they know there's a hostile element in the area, and it's caught with britches down by an attack by the "Wolves" group, piratical raiders who cut the letter w into the foreheads of their prey. They don't have guns, only blades, but most of the safe zone's more competent combatants are out herding zombies and a lot of carnage follows. Carol, in order to maintain her secret identity as a mild-mannered housewife, dons a mask, hood and a long-coat that could certainly double for a cape and, no doubt in the name of truth, justice and the American way, takes to kicking serious ass. The mysterious horn is revealed to come from a truck the Wolves were driving. The Alexandrian who apparently wasn't on look-out suddenly is on duty and he shoots the driver as the truck barrels up. It crashed into the wall and its horn momentarily locked down.

After tonight, I suspect a significant portion of the TWD fan community that so long clamored for the return of Morgan may be feeling as if they've been sold a lemon. Consistent with TWD's soap melodrama model, Morgan, like all the other characters, has actually been several characters over time, his characterization changed radically, repeatedly and arbitrarily to suit the needs of the plot of the moment. At first, he was a very take-no-nonsense regular guy; basically a good fellow but if Rick was bitten or meant any harm, Morgan would have put him in the ground without a second thought. When he appeared again (in season 3's "Clear"), he was completely out of his mind and actually did try to kill Rick, Carl and Michonne. His third and most bizarre incarnation is that of a peaceful, staff-wielding Jedi master, suddenly proficient in martial arts.

It's becoming hard to see this as anything other than a big step down.

Last week, when Rick tried to let the incompetent Alexandrians handle some zombies, Morgan 3.0 looked upon this with disapproval. Then when Rick had to kill Carter to avoid derailing the herd and getting everyone killed, one would have thought from Morgan's droopy visage that Rick had just committed some sort of war crime. Tonight, Morgan returned to the safe zone and took up the fight against the marauders but he's clearly starring in the wrong comic. Battling subhuman Wily Wolves out to do nothing but commit rape, murder, arson and rape, he's Merciful Morgan who doesn't want to hurt anybody, suddenly doesn't seem to know what kind of world in which he's living (though he's been living in it for, at this point, years) and while the Wolves are tearing the town apart and carrying out their carnage, he constantly stops for long intervals and tries to reason with them. After taking down one of them, he even ties up the fellow! When Carol sees it, she has the right reply--she just walks up and shoots the guy. She hands Morgan a gun, which he looks upon as if she'd just handed him a day-old turd before passing it off to the equally worthless Father Gabriel.

Morgan squares off with the last several attackers. He gives them a pretty good beating but he tells them to leave and never come back if they want to live, in a scene that looks uncomfortably like he's siding with them over his fellow Alexandrians. They finally get the hint and flee. Everyone knows what happens on TWD when the characters don't properly deal with situations like this. Not Merciful Morgan. He gets a lesson in it moments later but all it does is make him look sullen and walk away, a time-limit counter practically flashing across the back of his head. The stupid is strong with this one.

An amusing running sequence has to do with Coral holing up in order to protect Judith. He manages, at one point, to save Pete's worthless son Ron from a Wolf but nearly gets himself killed because of his moronic failure to put the guy away. Then he immediately turns to Ron and, with deadly earnest, says "Come inside--I can keep you safe." Yeah, I laughed. Ron, having just witnessed Carl's proficiency in dealing with trouble, wisely passes.

But for the incredible amount of padding and the offensively stupid take on Morgan, this could have been a good ep. All the actual notes being hit here, though, are quite stale indeed. TWD isn't doing anything new.[**] It isn't doing anything interesting either.



[*] 19 Oct., 2015 - Some readers have objected that there is an alleged lookout on the wall, a fellow who gets torched at one point, but like the fellow who is later shown in the tower, he somehow missed the entire invasion. He's killed by molotov cocktails chucked from inside the town, where people are already being audibly killed while he remains oblivious. A TWD "lookout" who never sees anything is the same as no lookout.

[**] 19 Oct., 2015 - Further underlining this point, reader "Wolverine Smith" notes that "This episode seemed like a recycling of last season's premiere, 'No Sanctuary', except with Morgan standing in for the role of Tyreese and Carol playing the role of, well, Carol (or at least Carol 2.0 with the Rambo twist. Once again, the real badass fighter has lost the stomach for killing and Carol 2.0 must show them the way." The Morgan/Tyreese parallel is obvious but the "No Sanctuary" parallel hadn't occurred to me.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Z NATION's Absentee Zombie Baby Daddy

Can't win 'em all, they say. Z NATION has been on such a winning streak lately it was starting to look like it could win 'em all but the streak came to an end last night. "Zombie Baby Daddy," written by Z NATION's own zombie baby-daddy, co-creator Craig Engler, just didn't work. At all.

About last week's awesome "Zombaby," I wrote that I had two reservations:
"The major one is that five eps into this season, Cassandra still seems to be lost in the transformation she's undergone. She snarls and moves around like an animal but we're still getting very little indication of how much of Cassandra is left in her. Tonight, 10k, with whom she'd grown quite close last season, was infected by anthrax and became quite ill. This would have been the ideal time for her to show some concern or at least some sort of reaction but none was forthcoming and its absence was palpable. My second is one I almost hate to mention. Pie Girl has been a joy in her every appearance and while I forthrightly acknowledge the impressive guts it took to wrap up her story as this did--that's why I'm loathe to complain--I can't help but imagine the stories that could have been told if she'd been kept on for a while. It feels as if she's gone too soon and the series has lost a significant asset. A ballsy move but part of me wishes there had been a different outcome."
"Zombie Baby Daddy" left me revisiting these but with Cassandra as the focus of both. And I'm not feeling at all charitable about the second one this time around.

Lucy the "zombaby" has her father's ability to interact with zombies. She draws them to her wherever the team goes and even as an infant, her powers are apparently greater than those of her father; he can't control the zombies she's attracting. As "Zombie Baby Daddy" begins, our heroes have to fight their way through a gaggle of the creatures. After, Warren observes that Lucy could be humanity's savior or a significant menace and that they must discover which. To that end, she tasks her companions with getting the baby away from Murphy for a moment. Herein is the conflict around which the ep is built but it's a phony conflict, because whether Lucy is a savior or a menace isn't something they're going to be able to settle right away or probably for years to come and certainly not by temporarily separating Murphy from the tyke. Worse, Murphy senses ill intentions from them and leaves, ordering Cassandra to prevent anyone from following him.

The others, following that we-gotta-get-Murphy-away-from-the-baby premise, plan to confound Cassandra by running in different directions. After all, she can't stop all of them. Addie is sure Cassandra won't really hurt them but when they run for it, she ends up being the one Cassandra tackles and chicken-wings. The others return to her aid and Cassandra resumes guard-dogging them. So much for that plan. 10k says he'll talk to Cassandra, and we finally have the set-up for the conversation viewers have been waiting six episodes to see. These two had become very close in the first season. How much of Cassandra is left in the animal-like creature we've been watching? Can 10k reach her?

And ZN blew it. Big time. The big conversation never emerged, nor did any part of Cassandra. Instead, the others just ran away again, which led to another fight and this time, 10k was forced to kill Cassandra.

No way to sugar-coat it, it's impossible to see this as anything other than a spectacularly stupid waste of a character with all sorts of potential, a character whose humanity had been taken and whose struggles to regain it could make for fascinating drama. Cassandra had been particularly well-chosen for this role. Before encountering our heroes, she'd been enslaved by a brainwashing cult who had forced her to eat human flesh. She fought back and managed to overcome them. Her situation under Murphy's thumb was a direct parallel, which would seem to make it a particularly personal form of Hell on Earth for her. Could she fight back again and reassert her individuality? Leaving her a growling monster then killing her in this way not only wasted a rich potential subplot full of great material, it rendered her entire season 2 storyline pointless. She, in effect, ceased to exist as a character and became merely an element of Murphy's story. Cassandra deserved better. So do viewers.

When Murphy learned she'd been killed, he says he "gave her life" and angrily moved on 10k, mocking the kid's running count of zombie kills and squaring off to fight. Warren put herself in Murphy's path and diffused the situation but essentially took his side in the matter while 10k just stood there, never really reacting at all. Nothing about this made any sense. It's 10k who should be furious with Murphy for essentially stealing Cassandra's soul. Murphy turned her into a marionette who, when he pulled her strings, rubbed his feet and vanquished his enemies and was otherwise barely even there. Murphy gave her the order to keep the others from leaving, which is what ultimately forced 10k to kill her, and it's entirely likely Murphy could have, at any time, allowed her free will as well. Murphy may be pissed his pet was piked but if there's going to be a fight, 10k needed to be the one seriously ready to throw down and it's hard to imagine the others wouldn't be in his corner.

Also in the wasted potential category but far more excusable is the resolution of Lucy's story. It isn't really over, of course--it's just a plot thread this conclusion left hanging for a later installment to pick up--but happening so soon, it can't help but feel somewhat wrongheaded. What was the point in introducing this entire storyline if ZN's creators are just going to kill the mother then immediately write the baby out of the show? Admittedly, the proximity of this to the Cassandra debacle probably influences my feeling here. It's logical for Murphy to want to stash the baby away somewhere, given that every nutcase in the world is after him and after the horror-show in Colorado, he has to be suspicious of what awaits him--and would probably await Lucy--at that lab in California.

On the bright side, the ep featured a very funny bit wherein Doc encounters the zombified remnant of an Abraham Lincoln lookalike contest and a great scene wherein Warren has been shot and Vasquez is sewing her up that shows, once again, why Warren is the most badass goddess of a woman on television.[1] When she, in turn, was sewing Vasquez, he filled in some of his background, including his connection to the Zero Cartel. I haven't developed much of a feel for Vasquez yet. He's a fairly bland outsider who doesn't seem to add much to the group's dynamic, mostly because he's an unknown who hasn't been given much to do. Hopefully, this is the start of making him more interesting.

Overall, though, this one was a loser, like a course correction for a course that didn't need correction. It didn't add anything to the series and took a great deal away from it. Oddly enough, it felt, in many respects, like an episode of THE WALKING DEAD. The underwritten conflict, the wasted potential, the poorly-motivated characterization, the death of a major character used solely for shock-value[2]--all of these are TWD trademarks. ZN has carved out its own niche and it's a great show. TWD isn't, and the last thing in the world ZN needs to do is emulate it.

You are better, ZN.

Do better.



[1] Not long ago, a question was asked on the Internet Movie Database ZN board about who would win in a power-struggle between Warren and THE WALKING DEAD's Rick Grimes. My response: "Rick would be his usual emotive, irrational, idiot self and Warren would kick the sh!t out of him, take over and deal with whatever problem has emerged while he was still crying over it and soliloquizing about what Coral will think."

[2] And ZN has been on a bit of a killing spree lately--Mack, Serena and Cassandra in a span of only 5 eps. Cumulatively, that feels uncomfortably like Glen Mazzara-era TWD.