Monday, February 9, 2015

Nothing & Nothing Much on THE WALKING DEAD

The question found in the title of tonight's midseason debut of THE WALKING DEAD is "What Happened And What's Going On"; my own title of this article is the answer. Tonight's ep reinforces both the extent to which TWD has become a caricature of itself and my own belief that the bad habits that have become ingrained in it are what will eventually do it in. I'm now wondering if the latter may happen much sooner than anyone expects.

It's a running joke on the internet that any time a new black guy shows up on TWD, an established black guy is killed. Over two years ago, I wrote that

"[The arrival of Tyreese] spells bad news for Oscar.. TWD has taken a lot of ribbing for treating T-Dog as the Token Black Guy, an obvious redshirt given virtually nothing to do except be black until such time as he could be bumped off. Earlier this season, the writers introduced Oscar, one of the inmates at the prison our heroes have made home. In the same episode in which Oscar was accepted into the group, T-Dog was finally allowed to be eaten by zombies. At the time, it led to a lot of Token Black Guy jokes on the various TWD message boards. At the time, some of these jokes were of questionable taste. Tonight, the writers lived down to all of them, though. The opening introduces Tyreese--by the end of the ep, Oscar is pushing up daisies."

This has become a good deal more than a just a joke--it has become a part of TWD's formula. The introduction of Father Gabriel, yet another black fellow, led almost immediately to the death of Bob. Back in November, I wrote that "the fresh arrival of Noah as a potential regular should have Tyreese and Gabriel feeling rather nervous just now." Tonight, our heroes accompanied Noah to his home, a gated community in Virginia[1] that had barricaded itself against the dead. They discover it has been overrun and everyone killed. Tyreese, trying to be reassuring, tells Noah he's one of them now. Minutes later, Tyreese is bitten by a zombie--as always happens on TWD, he suddenly gets really stupid in order to allow this to happen--and by episode's end he's dead. Nothing else of any real substance happens; it's yet another example of building the series around a "shocking" death that, because of rigid adherence to formula, is entirely predicatable and thus non-shocking.[2]

Tonight's ep was also yet another example of TWD's very bad habit of taking 10 minutes worth of plot material and stretching it to fill an hour. The characters discover Noah's neighborhood is dead within minutes then spend most of the rest of the ep standing around expressing their existential angst in the standard horrendously-written pseudo-profound speeches to one another. When Tyreese is attacked and bitten, Noah immediately runs to fetch the others, but this emergency situation doesn't add any sense of immediacy to the story. Instead, the ep just slows down even more, with large amounts of screen-time spent indulging the dying Tyreese's instantly-appearing delusional conversations with already-departed comrades and foes. Even the imagined ghost of GINO puts in an appearance. Noah finally finds the others, they remove Tyreese's arm, drag him from the neighborhood and head back to base with the intention of cauterizing the wound, but Tyreese dies along the way. For further filler, the writers go back to Glen Mazzara's technique of throwing in zombie action to give the impression of something happening: Tyreese, while waiting a seeming infinity for Noah to retrieve the others, is attacked by a second zombie, who bites him again on the same wound on the same arm--he has to overcome and kill it. Then later, as the group is trying to get Tyreese through the gate of the former community, they have to fight off a gaggle of zombies who have gathered outside. More zombie action and CGI gore, signifying, like the rest of the ep, nothing.[3]

This was TWD on autopilot, a series that isn't even trying anymore, and where there ain't nothin' goin' on. Collectively, it managed to eat up another hour, which, when it comes to TWD, is far too often the only point.



[1] This trek into Virginia occurs after the entire series has already established the entire series the danger of traveling any real distance. In season 1, our heroes didn't want to go to Ft. Benning because it was such a long trip (though it was only about a hundred miles). The beginning of season 3 established that in 8 months on the road they'd been fored to remain in a relatively small geographic area. In season 4, a trip to an animal med facility only 50 miles away turned into a disaster the charaters barely survived. This season, immediately prior to this episode, Abe's group couldn't even make it out of the state (just as they'd been unable to make it very far back in season 4). Then suddenly we get a 500+ mile trip into Virginia without any apparent difficulties, one that happens off-screen. The punchline is that Rick and Glenn, in discussing the matter, both essentially admit they didn't even believe the neighborhood would still be there and only brought Noah there because it's what Beth--dead Beth--wanted.

[2] As I've covered here into infinity, most of TWD's standard formula is rooted in the cowardice of its creators. They absolutely refuse to risk a loss of audience by offering viewers anything that challenges them, and stick with the safe formula. I fail to see, however, why this black-guy-in/black-guy-out rule should be a rule. It isn't rooted in cowardice or in any other obvious need yet it seems to be as carved-in-stone as the rest of the formula. From whence does it come?

Noah and Gabriel, be fearful--Morgan is on our heroes' trail and he's bound to catch up eventually.

[3] The much bigger news from AMC tonight was the series premiere of BETTER CALL SAUL, the much-anticipated prequel to BREAKING BAD. As it turned out, it was a great premiere. AMC's custom is to repeat an original program during the late-night hours, but in what I suspect is an indication of how much respect AMC is going to give this new series, BETTER CALL SAUL won't be so repeated. Instead, AMC is going to repeat tonight's godawful TWD (and its companion TALKING DEAD) no less than three times in a row.


  1. TWD has become cringeworthy enough that tonight I was blocking the faces of the actors and just reading the closed captions. Even more than TWD being cancelled, I've wondered when cast defections will start. Andrew Lincoln and Co can't want to continue to do this drivel forever, can they?

    As to your question about the black man in, black man out phenom, The Matrix Reloaded and the comments about how the Real World in the movie was loaded with black people and if it meant something springs to mind. Maybe the honchos are afraid the folks at home are keeping tabs on the balance among ethnicities?

    1. Most of the casts are close enough to "nothings" that they won't likely defect, right? And I can't think of very many who have done well enough that they may be getting more attractive offers else where. Mellisa McBride maybe?

    2. I'd think reading the horrible dialogue would be worse than merely listening to it. TWD has been at the height of its popularity this season, but I really do see it as being on its way out already. I thought it would be able to hang on for a while, probably for a few more seasons, even. Now I'm not as sure about that. Formulas develop because people respond to them; they wear out because they're overused. TWD's has been worn to frazzled thread fragments, and unlike last season, its creators seem to have no interest in even trying anything else anymore.

      As for cast defections, I don't know if they're really in the offing. The actors on such series sign five-year contracts and there's been reporting that a lot of the TWD gang are very unhappy they're being paid so little while the series makes a fortune--many of them were probably among those who signed up with Darabont, agreeing to take less than they would normally make just to get to work with him. There are five remaining cast-members from the original season whose contracts will have to be renegotiated after the end of this one; that probably means more deaths among them before this season ends. That bit of ham-handed foreshadowing with the bat last night probably means Glenn is on his way out before the next finale.

    3. It's not so much the lines themselves, so hearing or reading them isn't the issue. My problem is that I hate looking at actors' faces and wondering what they really think about the lines they're saying. Last night, I was embarrassed for Andy, Steve, and Danai as they had to do that episode-long heart-to-heart about wanting to kill Dawn.

    4. I can certainly understand feeling embarrassed for the actors. I've had that reaction to the second Tim Burton Batman flick, the 1990 remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and several other productions over the years. That's more like wholesale embarrassment. As in, the entire project is that bad. I mostly get it in much smaller doses. I felt a twinge of it for Michonne last night too during her bizarrely out-of-character "this is what makin' it out here is" speech. I reacted that way fairly often to what Andrea was made to do, particularly her "rousing" speech to the Woodburians. I felt quite embarrassed for Ralph Fiennes in RED DRAGON, to cite a non-TWD one I recently ran across again after several years. The old FRIDAY THE 13th tv show, which I really liked and which could be very good, sometimes inspired that feeling. I was always more lenient with it because they were always so pressed when it came to time and budget (and so often cooked up really good stories). I once--and this is quite some time ago--had the idea to write something here about that kind of sickly feeling when it came to NOTLD '90 but I never did. Not sure if there's a more particular name for it than just embarrassment. There probably is.

      Anyway, didn't mean to start ranting about it. The short version: I know the feeling.

  2. I'm a little conflicted about tonight's episode. I'll compose my thoughts some other time.

    By the way, it would be cool if you could make a weekly blog review about Better Call Saul and what it gets right.

    1. Yeah, I really should write something about BCS, particularly given my disgraceful failure, to date, to write anything about BREAKING BAD. I don't really care for writing about a series every week though; I'm more about writing on issues, and when it's a tv show I'm covering, writing about chunks of it at a time instead of week-after-week. Last night really reinfoced for me how much I profoundly dislike having to watch TWD every week, and I found myself entertaining strategies by which I could extricate myself from it.

      What did you think of BCS's opener?

    2. Episode 2 of BCS was some of the best (subjectively speaking) TV I've seen in quite some time. I'm hooked.

  3. Anyone that wears a single layer of clothes in a zombie apocalypse and rolls up the sleeve deserves to die.
    Really humans even dead ones without a pain threshold to restrain them cant bite through multiple layers of clothes or even a thick wool coat.
    I know its a tv show. But there are many ways to protect yourself from a zombie bite.