Monday, March 21, 2016

THE WALKING DEAD Takes Twice As Long To Get Half As Far 2.0

If one was writing a TV Guide blurb for "Twice As Far," tonight's installment of THE WALKING DEAD, it could read something like "Idiots randomly crashing into one another." For that matter, that description would be entirely adequate for more eps of TWD than not. I think I'm more forgiving of it at some times than at others. This evening, I didn't feel inclined to grant its perpetual shortcomings much mercy. The filler, the Idiot Plot Syndrome, the random characterizations--this one had it all in spades. Whatever else one may say about it, this was a damn sorry excuse for dramatic television. An aggressive insult to every viewer.

The one feature of TWD against which I've probably raged more than any other is the random characterizations. I'm a firm believer in strong characters who are conceptualized as real, three-dimensional human beings and plots that go where they go because of who those strong characters are. When, as with TWD, characterizations are dictated solely by the plot of the moment, have no internal consistency and are radically changed on a dime then changed again then changed again, one doesn't have characters, just a random mess--stand-ins for the real thing that have no continuity beyond having the same faces and the same names. There's no point in even trying to develop any affinity for such "characters"; if you find something you like, it will be gone when the next storyline comes around, whenever the plot dictates they become someone else entirely.

Daryl is a rare example of a character who was actually developed during the course of TWD, rather than just subjected to this process. In the series' first season, he was just a unidimensional hot-headed asshole caricature. In response to the godawful Sophia storyline, he actually grew and matured into the noble, uber-capable redneck with a heart of gold that quickly made him the most popular character on the show. Whereas there have been many entirely different versions of every other major character, he's pretty much stayed the same since. While every other character on the show has had entirely new personalities grafted on to them over and over again, he's been the rock, the one they haven't touched. When Rick 5.0 appeared and wanted to turn Michonne over to GINO, Daryl was the one who said this was wrong. When Rick 8.0 appeared and was casually plotting against the Alexandrians, Daryl was the one who recognized it was the wrong path to take. That's his role in the show; he's the hero. I like Norman Reedus and I like this aspect of Daryl a lot.

In the current storyline though, he's suddenly getting the same treatment as the rest. It started when Jesus first appeared; Rick had undergone the latest of his random transformations and had suddenly decided it was a good idea to recruit new people to the safe zone while out of the blue, Daryl was suddenly the fellow very skeptical of this, the one who, after Jesus was injured, just wanted to leave the guy laying. This has continued since. Near the beginning of tonight's ep, he's talking to Carol about the people who, earlier in the season, stole his motorcycle. Carol notes that he had saved them. "It's who you are. We're still stuck with that."

"No, we ain't." Daryl replies. "I shoulda' killed 'em."

But no viewer of that ep would have considered that an appropriate response. These were people who had just escaped a dangerous cult and, for understandable reasons, didn't trust anyone. One of them was afflicted with diabetes, a real curse in a post-apocalyptic world and a reason for the others to be particularly defensive. They caused Daryl some inconvenience and at the end, they stole his bike, which wasn't very neighborly, particularly after he'd saved them, but it's hardly a hanging offense. This callous, murderous Daryl who comes to the dumb and inappropriate conclusion that he should have simply killed them is Daryl 2.0--entirely at odds with the Daryl we've known since season 2. His new outlook isn't a consequence of anything he's experienced.

Carol is another who, when the storyline changed, became a different character. To date, I've sort of looked at the new characterization that has been imposed upon her as making her a bit of a throwback to some of the earlier, less appealing Carols but tonight made clear she's definitely Carol 4.0--an all-new version. I really liked Carol 3.0, the sly wisecracker who is always on top of the situation, always with a twinkle in her eye and always ready to do what needs to be done. I'll freely concede this version of Carol had practically no connection to any of her previous incarnations--this was another arbitrary characterization created in the shadow of Z NATION--but it worked. Even when she was wrong, such as when she was plotting with Rick against the Alexandrians, she was a delight to watch.

In the current storyline, that personality has been entirely abandoned.

When, last week, the Saviors captured the new 4.0 model, her apparent panic, which looked at first like a typical Carol 3.0 ruse, turned out to be real. She spent tonight's ep smoking and looking droopy-faced then at the end wrote Tobin a "Dear John" letter. Says she's sorry, she never meant to hurt him, didn't want it to have to end this way--every cliche to which TWD is heir.[1] The big reason she says she's leaving not only Tobin but the safe zone as well is that she just can't kill people on behalf of those she loves anymore. This is entirely inconsistent with every previous version of Carol. Carol 2.0 is the one who, in order to protect everyone else, mercilessly killed two people merely because they got sick. The one who taught children to kill and insisted even the weak ones learn it. Even the much wimpier 1.0 model told Andrea to screw GINO silly then pike him in his sleep. And of course, 3.0 took on the whole army of Wolves and even executed the one Morgan tried to capture. Immediately before the current storyline began, she was willing to try to take down Morgan in order to eliminate even the perceived threat of that last Wolf he'd imprisoned. That's Carol. She does what has to be done because she understand the consequences of not doing it. Now, the new 4.0 appears and writes Tobin to say that if she stays, she'll have to kill on behalf of the others and she just can't bring herself to do that anymore. Meaning she knows there will be trouble but she, one of the few capable ones, is going to leave the others to the mercy of whatever it may be.

Nothing--nothing--has happened to lead Carol to such a radical change of personality. Like Morgan earlier in the season, she's caught the "all life is precious" bug as if it was some airborne disease. As usual, the writers want the story to go a certain way and they just change their "characters" in whatever way is necessary to get it there. To put the matter bluntly, their character assassinations of both Carol and Daryl suck.

When it comes to redshirt characters who have been targeted for death, TWD's usual formula is to suddenly thrust the mark into the spotlight, giving them lots of time and trying, in their final hour, to make the audience care about them before they're put to rest. Tonight, Daryl, Rosita and Denise go off in search of a pharmacy. Denise has never been out in the zombified world and being the closest thing they have to a medical professional--should be a blue shirt instead of a red, btw-- never should be allowed out in it but while the other two don't want to bring her along, they do finally acquiesce, for no other reason than that the writers want them to do so.[2] In the field, Denise proves to be one stupid, potentially fatal screw-up after another. While in the pharmacy, our heroes hear a zombie but it's behind a closed door so no need to worry over it. Denise, who has never fought or killed a zombie in her life, opts to break away from the others without alerting them and go check out the noise. And she opens that door. That time around, she gets lucky enough not to get eaten or to unleash a zombie herd on the others but later, as they're walking home, she comes across a derelict vehicle with a zombie in it. There's a cooler on the car-seat and for no reason at all, she decides there could be something useful in it, a cooler that has obviously been sitting there for years. Daryl and Rosita tell her to forget it and walk on, the experienced hands paying no attention to their amateur charge solely because the writers want things to go that way. Heedless of her experienced comrades, Denise opens the car door, unleashing the zombie and nearly getting herself killed. When it's over, Rosita and Daryl are very disapproving of this course of action and Denise goes into one of TWD's trademark speeches to try to justify it but her random diatribe, which isn't going anywhere anyway, is interrupted with an arrow from the forest mercifully pierces her brain.

The arrow came from Daryl's old crossbow and the fellow wielding it turns out to be the guy who stole his motorcycle. He's now suddenly an utter villain and leading a group of armed, like-minded thugs. He demands Daryl take them back to the safe zone so they can loot it. Daryl 2.0 really, really wishes he'd killed that guy. The thugs have captured Eugene, who had earlier been in the field with Abraham looking for a machine-shop at which Eugene intends to manufacture bullets. Eugene manages to distract them then bites the dick of the bike-stealer, allowing the others to get to their weapons and put the thugs to flight.

Yes, that actually happened. And for a moment on which TWD's writers had imposed some gravity, it was actually pretty funny. Humor is nearly non-existent in the world of TWD but Eugene and Abraham are sometimes given amusing dialogue. This week, they were allowed to go at one another in some brief verbal jiu-jitsu. At one point, Eugene set out to prove his new manliness by piking a zombie and it turned out to be one on which molten metal had, at some point, been poured, encasing its head in an impenetrable coating! Though it looked as if this material was edited in from some entirely different program--*cough* Z NATION *cough*--it was genuinely amusing.

A lot more of this and a lot less of everything else that happened in this ep would have been most welcome. I've been analyzing recent TWD as having entered the "stuck around way too long" seasons. Its bad habits have gotten much worse, it openly mocks its viewers and it has now taken to eating itself, a process that is presently chewing up two of its only good characters, who happen to be two of the only good things left about it. Too bad.



[1] This choice is, in itself, an utterly bizarre and arbitrary plot imposition. Carol has no relationship with Tobin to end with a "Dear John" letter. The two have only ever shared maybe 3 or 4 scenes. There were two very awkward attempts at kisses, but no larger relationship has been shown or even hinted. They're essentially strangers but when Carol decides to leave, she writes him and not any of the people with whom she has lived for years.

[2] She argues she knows what meds to choose; when they get to the drug store, they simply opt to take everything, which is obviously what they would have done all along.


  1. Easily a contender for any 'top 10 worst - of' list.

    Just bizarre and incredibly dumb choices made by almost everyone on screen.

    In this new Alexandria, we have a and very real threat in the form of the saviours, yet our two scavenging teams are bickering, walking off and splitting up for no reason what so ever and are , rather damningly, undermanned to deal with this new world saviour disorder, seemingly oblivious to the fact that their new rivals could and should be hunting them down.

    I honestly cannot believe how awful the writing is for this show.

    1. In their defense, they think they've wiped out the Saviors. Still, their experiences with them and with the Wolves should stand as a reminder that they're in a dangerous world and it isn't a good idea to do this sort of thing. I was already put off by the ep and when it was revealed that Eugene had been captured, I was initially disgusted that Abraham had left him but it turned out Abraham had apparently been shadowing him--looking out for him, even if from behind trees.

  2. On one hand, yep this ep is typical Matt Negrete filler, but at least they got the dick munching part of the comics right. I'm just disappointed on how they pulled off the Denise death. In the comics, you did have a hunch (SPOILER for non-comics readers) Abraham was gonna die when he went off into monologue mode about his feelings about Rosita and Holly, but at least it felt more natural for his character and it was in a conversational (and human) context. Denise's was telegraphed especially when she became the focus of the ep, and TWD's typical speeches sealed the deal. You gotta hand it to them - this might have set some sort of record of how fast a person makes a speech and then dies (she didn't even finish it).

    It's sad too that Denise is gone since I really liked the Denise-Heath romance in the comics (Corey Hawkins had to do Straight Outta Compton and he's now part of a new 24 reboot, which I fear may be Heath's demise) but I don't really know what I feel about the Denise-Abe switcheroo. Maybe it's because Kirkman regretted offing Abe like that (he had gone on record saying he really regretted offing Abe that early)? (by the way, rumors circulate that Kirkman is writing the finale, which is not very good news)

    By the way, how's your thoughts on Daredevil s2? I heard Jon Bernthal is great as Punisher. Bernthal seems to be the only TWD star to find greater success outside the show.

  3. I had a big reply in agreement but lost it because of my shoddy connection. So I'll keep it shorter. I take back anything nice I said about the show. It seems any decent focused stretches are the result of some planetary alignment, not any actual thoughtfulness on the part of the writing.

    The etch-a-sketch characters are completely inexcusable. Carol 5.0 and Daryl 2.0 are an absolute shame. Disastrous character treatments are then riveted center-stage, meaning we're forcibly meant to care about these absurd shapeshifters. The filler and pointless plots are insulting. In-world logic is repeatedly flushed down the loo (at a time when medical training is pure uncut social capital, they sure make it a sport risking the lives of their doctors). And even the decent parts are apparently invisible to the writers, due to the cheap distractions, poor character motivations, and inane plotlines.

    For example: the episode starts with some totally unjustified attempts at artsy editing; Morgan is done building a jail cell, which they've completely fast-forwarded through, as they love to do with anything of the slightest substance; but then comes a surprising moment of decent (what I think is unintentional) symbolism. Rick is looking sorrily down at Morgan building a prison inside which he himself is sitting (also sets up for a nice reversal potentially, if Rick ever feels the need to come there to just think). But the scene is quickly over before we can even care. I don't mean to be smug or unfair by suggesting they didn't intend this, because if they did, kudos for that at least. But there doesn't seem to be any such intention behind the scene and given their record I seriously doubt it. So even when the writing might be good, they fail to make a hairline's leap towards meaningful quality.

    This show needs to go.

  4. I find it totally hilarious that of all the quality shows and movies out there that you could spend your time writting about you pick a show you hate and despise. Is it because walking dead is the only show that will bring views to your ironic the show you hate is the one you depend on for so much!