Monday, February 29, 2016

WALKING DEAD Unties Some Knots, Ties Others

Sitting here immediately after finishing "Knots Untie," tonight's installment of THE WALKING DEAD, I'm not quite sure if it was good or if it only seems that way by being, in the context of this otherwise spectacularly poor season, something better than godawful. This was definitely an ep that worked better than anything we've seen so far. The rest of the season still haunts it though.

Last week, Rick and Daryl, in some of that standard arbitrary TWD plotting, were suddenly written as entirely different characters in order to allow them to take ninja Jesus back to the safe zone. This week, having again easily escaped their efforts to confine him, he tells our heroes of other human settlements. As he tells it, he's a recruiter sent out by one such group of survivors to find others with which to trade. He offers to take them to his group, show them around, set up diplomatic relations.

The shadow of the rest of the season begins to fall over the ep at this point. Rick and co. know there are at least two other groups of armed and murderous hostiles in the area, one led by someone named Negan. They never ask Jesus about this and when they prepare their diplomatic mission to accompany him home, not only does most of the major characters go along--a very bad idea--but they all pile into a single vehicle, a very bad idea that most recently caused problems only last week.

The writers may have been able to get away with this if they didn't immediately insist on calling attention to the unsoundness of it. Right away, our heroes come across a vehicle that appears to have just crashed. Jesus says it came from his group. Rick immediately suspects a possible ambush and puts Jesus in the same cuffs from which Jesus has already escaped while they check it out. There's no ambush, just some folks who need saving.

Our heroes make their way to Jesus's settlement,[1] which turns out to be fairly substantial but out of ammo. "This is Gregory," Jesus says as he introduces their leader. "He's the one who keeps the trains running on time around here." But as Mussolinis go, Gregory is strictly a dilettante. Bursting with base douchebaggery and sporting an elevator that can't quite make it to the penthouse, he starts by propositioning the married-and-pregnant Maggie. When that doesn't work out, he pretty much loses any further interest in diplomatic relations.

This deadlock is ended by the fortuitous return of a group of couriers. They'd been dispatched by Gregory to pay a mordida to--you guessed it--Negan. Negan had decided he was shorted and had nabbed the brother of one of the couriers, saying he would only release the hostage if the courier killed Gregory. The fellow does manage to stab Gregory in a non-vital area but Rick's group intervenes and after some ass-whuppin', restores order.

Negan, it seems, has been plaguing this community since shortly after it formed. Rick decides Negan is no big threat and, seeing an opportunity, offers to take out the pesky thug in exchange for food. Gregory is made amenable to this. Rick asks one of the couriers if he'll take them to Negan's compound. The guy seems quite reluctant but then agrees and if Rick suspects the fellow may be working for Negan on the side--something he really should suspect--he shows no sign of it.

Hubris is about to get the best of our heroes and this is the part of the story over which the rest of this season and, indeed, the entire series to date, hangs most heavily. The current storyline is adapted from the comic on which the series is based. By the time it rolled around in the book, our heroes were a smart, lean, mean battle-hardened group of professional survivors--real badasses who had good reason to believe they could handle whatever was thrown at them. Their television counterparts have, since they arrived at the safe zone, spent an inordinate amount of time talking about what badasses they are but whenever it comes time to put that to the test, they're written as complete idiots whose absurdly ill-conceived plans inevitably lead to death and disaster. Ten of the twelve eps of this season were consumed by dealing with the bloody consequences of Rick's insanely cretinous decision to release that quarry full of zombies in spitting distance of home instead of simply reinforcing the quarry--something that could have been done in literally minutes--and/or destroying the creatures on the site--something that could have been accomplished by merely setting a few fires. Tonight, Daryl made it sound as if reducing Negan's tough-talking bikers to a greasy spot on the highway had been child's play, whereas the way the scene had actually played out, Daryl, Sasha and Abraham had been caught because they'd stupidly stopped for a gang of armed thugs on motorcycles while, themselves, driving a truck that could have ground said gang to powder and they only made it out of that encounter alive because the leader of the bikers made a stupid mistake. Tonight, none of the characters express any real doubt about their ability to handle whatever Negan can throw at them. This uber-confidence is an  utterly arbitrary contrivance of the writers. It isn't derived from any of the characters' experience and, in fact, stands in bold contradiction to all of that experience. If they'd ever been shown as being remotely capable of handling much of anything, TWD may have been able to get away with grafting this attitude on to them. When the hubris leading to a fall is so entirely unearned, it doesn't allow for much of a story. It's just ends up being the 10,000th time a bunch of dumbasses yet again do something stupid that yet again leads to disaster.

That aside--and that's really the concern of future eps[2]--"Knots Untie" moves well, it has an amusing, if somewhat heavy-handed, subplot about Abraham's romantic confusion (keep Rosita or go for Sasha?), and Maggie finally gets something to do besides cry over Glenn. Overall, its easily the best ep of this season. It doesn't have to do very much to earn that distinction though, and it certainly can't stand up to any of this series' best.



[1] Upon arriving, Rick drives their RV into a rather nasty mud-bog and gets stuck. There's no way he could miss it and it's easily avoidable but he drives right into it.

[2] TWD tends to slam on the brakes and throw out the drag-weights in the second half of the season. This wasn't at all a slow ep but given the record, I'm wondering if we'll even see Negan before the season ender.


  1. I have read in several articles claiming that the character of Negan will not show up until the season final. I believe I also heard Chris Hardwick say it. What else would you expect? The next several weeks will be the proverbial drag-weights, slowing the story down to the pace of a cross-eyed sloth.

    I also caught the writer's cop-out for Negan's first victim (Spoiler ahead). It was Glenn in the comic, but everyone was sure it couldn't be Glenn because of the 2 recent fake-deaths, including the dumpster-dive, without a scratch; followed weeks later by the barrage of fully auto rounds from assault rifles into hundreds of zombies crowd-surfing Glenn on top. Every zombie explodes like a blood-sausage while Glenn emerged without as much as a hang-nail.

    Then came the wild speculations that Daryl would be on the receiving end of Negan's Lucille. I saw at least 10 different videos on YouTube titled with this headline (didn't waste any time watching them.).

    It couldn't be Glenn (after 2 fake-out deaths?) and AMC would hasn't the balls to kill off a cash cow, like Daryl (Norman's face accounts for more than half their merchandising), so I assumed we'd get a red-shirt who would suddenly get a little chatty that week -- or maybe deliver one those TWD patented monologues about losing their humanity or more baby lectures copied and pasted from season two (swapping Lori's name for Maggie).

    No matter how low I set my expectations, TWD writers can always take it a notch lower. Having Jesus tell it as a story which had previously happened weeks prior sucked every bit of impact that story could have ever had. After the disappointment which was GINO, I cannot imagine why I am surprised that they have already taken all the power and sting out of Negan before he even reaches our screen. Hearing a story (spoken in a monotoned whisper yet) is not even in the same neighborhood as seeing an innocent man bludgeoned to death for no other reason than to say "I'm a badass!".

    Since Jesus told the story from the comic in perfect detail, I can't see why they would do the same scene, so I guess that was it -- no one gets pounded to ground round by Negan upon first meeting. My guess is he will smash some walkers head in with the bat to illustrate his badassery. I imagine the writers thought the impact would be the same. That would be equivalent to Rick and Daryl brought back to the box-car at Terminus and explaining the troughs and the cold manner of execution by way of bat-to-the-skull before slitting their throats and watching the blood circle the drain while you await your turn. Sure, that would have had the same bone-chilling feelings; especially narrated in the same whisper voice Jesus delivered it in. Maybe some spooky music to darken the mood?

    So, it seems as if no main cast member dies at the hands of Negan upon first meeting, even though this cast has grown obscenely large (I guess every fanboy has their favorite, even Eugene must have fans somewhere; imagine that?). It appears that we won't even be losing a red shirt, like one of the few surviving Alexandrians, you know, one or two Rick's hair-brained plan didn't exterminate. I guess I should watch criticizing Rick; a teleporting zombie will beam in and bite me when I least.. ahhh!...echhh!....gurgle!!!!

    1. After I wrote this, two people told me it was actually confirmed that Negan wouldn't appear until the season finale. Go figure.

      Negan will be killing a major character though. Given the gimmicky nature of this season, I suspect more than one will be going down. You won't need to guess at who. There have already been some hints and TWD will follow its usual pattern of telegraphing the event--you'll see it coming a mile away before it happens.

  2. This and the previous episode, for me, were only praiseworthy in the sense that they didn't show outright contempt for the viewer.
    Still lots of questions unasked by Rick's group though.

    1. Yeah, the major problem with this ep is, as I said, the context in which it happens. Namely, the rest of the series.

    2. I'm thinking sasha or Abraham ?