Monday, April 16, 2018

On THE WALKING DEAD, No Wrath Need Apply

This evening, THE WALKING DEAD capped yet another lackluster season with yet another breathtakingly unsatisfying finale. TWD's writers evince a strong preference for "Tell, Don't Show" over "Show, Don't Tell." They substitute ridiculous, melodramatic speechifying in place of naturalistic dialogue. As this writer has long noted, this is a show about survival in a zombie apocalypse that rigorously adheres to an anti-survivalist ideology. It's a stupid show. These and many other long-running TWD problems appeared with a vengeance in "Wrath," which was supposed to wrap up the war with the Saviors.

That storyline should have been essentially finished a few eps ago when our heroes liquidated most of the remaining Savior fighters but as has happened repeatedly this season, many, many more magically appeared to take the place of the fallen. In the previous ep, Negan decided to bait our heroes into a trap. Equipped with that Respawning Saviors cheat, he sacrifices even more of his men so that Rick can capture a map misdirecting the forces of the rebel communities to... well, you get the picture. Ultimately, Rick and the gang end up in a field surrounded by a large number of enemy fighters. When the Saviors reveal themselves, they just stand in the open, arranged like a firing-squad rather than firing from cover or a prone position. While this allows for a dramatic (if now well-worn) Kurosawa shot of the shoulder-to-shoulder enemy army cresting a hill, it guarantees that, in a fight, many of them will immediately be needlessly killed as well. Eugene suggested this arrangement and Negan went along with it.

In a turn like something from Monty Python, the Saviors open fire simultaneously only to have their own weapons explode in their faces, courtesy of Eugene sabotaging the ammo he's been manufacturing. There follows what's supposed to be a very dramatic final battle[1] in which our heroes defeat the Saviors, leading many enemy fighters--too many--to surrender.

Rick chases down Negan--hey, it wouldn't be a season finale without a one-on-one between these two, right?--but just as always happens, the two find a way, in the middle of a fight to the death, to talk, talk, talk. Rick points out that Negan's forces are defeated. Negan is unconcerned. "I'll get out of it," he says, "I always do." And damned if, by the end, he does. Rick, after seriously wounding the villain, decides to spare his life. Maggie is quite upset by this,[2] as everyone else should be, but the writers try to paper over it by having Rick give one of TWD's patented speeches about how they all have to work together to build a new world. "We are life!", he declares. "The new world begins." And a lot of other things just as cringe-inducing. He tells the Saviors to go home! And other than Maggie, no one, among an entire army of people who have suffered under these marauders, seen their hard work stolen by them, their lives ruined, their friends and family-members murdered, offers any objection at all.

Besides being handled exceptionally badly, the series has entirely failed to do any of the work that would have been required to make such a turn succeed, dramatically speaking. The Saviors have been portrayed as sadistic bullies, fanatical ("I am Negan!") thugs who get a kick out of terrorism and murder, who enslave entire communities and live large off those they keep beneath their boot. Only a few eps ago, they enthusiastically massacred an entire population of unarmed people who had already submitted to them. There's been no indication that they have any misgivings about the horrors they've perpetuated. Negan himself is a vicious terrorist who bashes heads with a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat, who tortures and murders helpless people through a smile, taunting his victims even while he's snuffing them out. Rick decides to keep Negan alive as a prisoner, telling him he's going to spend the rest of his life in a cell watching this better world grow up around him so he can see how wrong he was, but the writers removed nearly every trace of the character's humanity when adapting the comic-book version to the screen, rendering him a one-dimensional cartoon (a frequent complaint here). Not someone who is going to be tormented by this very limp effort at poetic justice, just someone who has a large following of like-minded fanatics and will represent a danger for as long as he lives.[3] The Saviors are a mortal enemy to be defeated, not people with whom one can ever link arms and sing Kumbaya, and there's no way to see Rick's play as anything other than suicidally stupid. There's absolutely no reason to believe the Saviors would do anything but return to base, regroup under a new sadistic leader or break out their old one and start all of this over again. Born of TWD's aversion to raw survivalist sentiment--killing them would be a nasty business--Rick's decision is shown as being driven by Rick's memories of Coral and while the writers want viewers to think it's a noble and moral decision and a tender tribute to his departed son, this just makes it seem worse, like Rick has his head utterly up his own ass and isn't considering what is, from a practical standpoint, in the best interest of those he leads.

Earlier this season, the writers had some of the Saviors switch sides, and one assumes this was done with an eye toward the ultimate resolution of the storyline, an effort to establish at least some basis for Rick's actions, but these turncoats have, with only one exception, been nameless non-entities (and even with the one, I can't remember his name). They've done nothing to counter the overwhelming impression of the Saviors that viewers have been given over the last couple of seasons but because they exist and because the one fellow has been nothing but cooperative, the writers apparently consider this sufficient. They've gone Tell, Don't Show again. During tonight's ep, the Saviors invaded Hilltop. Tara stayed behind to fight them and a contingent of these ex-Saviors stood with her--the same sort of nonsense.

It was made even worse in this instance because just as things were about to get rolling, the approaching Saviors suddenly burst into flames from what turn out to be super-powered Molotov cocktails[4] lobbed by the just-arrived women of the Oceanside community. They've decided to join the other communities in fighting the Saviors but when they arrive, they have no way of knowing what's even going on. Their surprise appearance is completely random. They just walk up and start burning people. This is a community whose entire male population--these ladies' husbands, fathers, sons--were murdered by the Saviors. One suspects they'd probably have a very strong opinion of Rick's decision to let Negan live and the Savior community continue.

One suspects just about everyone Negan and the Saviors have terrorized, whose friends and family the Saviors have murdered, would have a very strong opinion on these matters but in real time, no one but Maggie offers any dissent. And, this being soap melodrama, she just collapses, screaming and crying about how it's not right to let Negan live, instead of taking charge of the situation like a leader (as in, "anyone who helps save that fucker dies").

Toward the end, there's a truly bizarre aftermath scene wherein Maggie, at her desk, lit like a supervillain and with ominous music playing under her words, says Rick was right to let the Saviors live (shiver) but very wrong to leave Negan alive. She throws in Michonne as well. She says we'll put Hilltop back in order, build up its defenses, get strong. "We're gonna' bide our time, wait for our moment and then we're gonna' show him," clearly implying some sort of violent retribution one could read as extending to the entire Safe Zone community. The camera reveals she's talking to Jesus and Daryl. The former offers an agreeable smile and a nod while Daryl verbally agrees, neither being reactions that make any sense. Jesus has been the pacifist all season, throughout, even, this very episode, when he convinces Morgan to stop killing Saviors. Daryl's bond with Rick has been nearly unshakeable throughout the run of TWD. Even earlier this season, when he broke with Rick over the idea of releasing the dead into the Sanctuary, he apologized to Rick--the guy he calls "brother"--after. It's reasonable to think he would strongly disagree with Rick's decision re:Negan[5] but it's impossible to imagine him even considering some sort of violent action against his own "family." For that matter, it's impossible to imagine Maggie herself contemplating such a thing. To deal with a problem that could be easily solved by a quick visit to Negan's cell (and, if one wants to be unreasonably vengeful, to Rick and Michonne)?

Thrown in to provide what's meant to be a shocking twist, this is just stupid. Sort of like the rest of TWD this season.



[1] The staging and editing of the big battle are absolutely atrocious. Negan speaks to our heroes through electronic devices which, along with the geography, make it seem as if it's coming from all around them. The whole time, they're looking around and fruitlessly trying to pinpoint it and no Saviors are visible in any direction. When the Savior firing-line appears, it seems to be behind them but when the bad ammo takes out that line, Rick orders a forward charge, in a direction where no Saviors are visible. That direction is where Negan and his lieutenants are standing. A hill between the rebels and Negan's contingent allow them no view of one another. During the initial Savior volley, Negan and co. fire their guns, which makes no sense--they don't have any targets in sight, just a hill of dirt. The rebels, unmindful of the Saviors behind them, rush over the hill and defeat those in front of them.

[2] Though this being soap melodrama, Maggie, the leader of Hilltop, just screams and cries about how what Rick's doing isn't right, instead of taking charge of the situation (as in, "anyone who helps save that fucker dies").

[3] The writers' decision to gut the relationship that developed between comic Negan and Carl is particularly fatal here.

[4] They explode in bursts of flame that shoot 30 or 40 feet into the air, incinerating wide areas.

[5] Daryl has just spent more than 2 seasons lamenting the fact that he didn't kill Dwight upon their first encounter, which is rubbish from the writers, and vowing to kill Dwight once the Savior war is over. Tonight, prior to this scene where he's plotting with Maggie, he decided, instead, to let Dwight live--gives the guy a truck and lets him leave.

Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Worthless WALKING DEAD

In "Worth," tonight's WALKING DEAD, Negan makes his presence known at Sanctuary and deals with his disloyal lieutenants Simon and Dwight.

That's it. That's the plot. In a better-written series, this would have been a subplot in an ep about something else. Here, it's the featured--and nearly sole--attraction, with only a rotating handful of scenes with other characters to pad out the rest. There's only one more ep left in the season; this was just a standard TWD delaying action to get things there.

There are a few scenes with Aaron, camped out beyond the Oceanside community, that exist primarily to get in a zombie-fighting sequence. He hasn't been there long but seems to be nearly dead from exhaustion, hunger or something. His community terrorized the ladies of Oceanside and stole their guns. Now they have none but he's trying to recruit them to fight the Saviors, presumably with the sticks and stones Rick left them.

Last week, Rosita and Daryl were scoping out Eugene's ammo plant and there seemed to be a lot of Saviors around. On tonight's ep, set the next day, the operation appeared to consist of seven or eight people and only two armed guards. Our heroes swoop in, take out the two heavies carrying guns and hijack Eugene as he steps outside but there's no reason they couldn't have just stepped inside and taken out the entire operation, taken away as much ammo as they could carry, probably even recruited the workers. Instead, they just take their prize and leave. Minutes later, Eugene escapes them using a ruse that wouldn't have fooled a 7-year-old.[*] By the time he makes it back to his shop, a lot more armed guards have turned up and he's assured the security situation has been addressed.

Where in hell did the Saviors find any more gunmen? I spent a lot of time in my previous review pointing out that no matter how many Saviors Rick and co. have killed in an entire season devoted to systematically killing them, an endless number of replacements are being continuously written into the story. Savior manpower should be down to practically nothing by now but instead, it's as if Eugene had invented a respawning cheat. It's been a recurring absurdity throughout the back end of this season. When Negan drops the hammer on Simon, he kills Simon's loyalists too--7 or 8 more guys. The two then move inside for a final hand-to-hand battle to the death and that respawning cheat has been working overtime again--there may be a hundred other people present to watch the festivities:

And even that doesn't include those who are elsewhere (like at Eugene's ammo factory). So after a whole season of all-out war, taking out Saviors left and right, the Savior force looks about the same now as it did at the end of last season before a shot had been fired:

They aren't even trying.

Not much else to add; it just wasn't much of an ep.



[*] UPDATE (11 April, 2018) - About this, regular reader Jim the Hammer writes, "I like how Daryl, the hillbilly who in season 2 was able to track Shane and that kid through a forest, in the dark, to the extent where he points out who walked where and when, etc.... is unable to discern Eugene's cartoon escape method in a pile of ashes. In broad daylight. Once again, established character traits/abilities get thrown out the window to advance a plot point for the simple reason that the writers couldn't think up a reasonable and more believable method to do so."

Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, April 2, 2018

THE WALKING DEAD Still Don't Mean Nothin' v.1.5

In a completely ridiculous episode of THE WALKING DEAD last week, our heroes destroyed what should have been most of the remaining Saviors, effectively ending the tyranny that has dominated their world for two seasons. There was no celebration. No one seemed particularly happy about it. In a show on which everyone talks, talks, talks all the time, no one even mentioned it. The tone of the show continued to be as downbeat, humorless and joyless as usual. Tonight's offering, "Still Gotta Mean Something," should have been a wrap-up ep in which our heroes mop up the last of the Saviors and begin to look to the future they're going to have to build but it seems the writers aren't quite willing to give up their played-out storyline just yet.

Just how many Saviors are there? It's a question of absolutely central importance to this season and to any plan to defeat them but though Savior turncoat Dwight would have provided this information to the rebel communities, it has never been shared with viewers. We've had, over time, some indications. A few seasons ago when Negan first appeared, his men staged some elaborate roadblocks and he confessed that doing so had seriously taxed his manpower; there were, at the time, maybe 30 or 40 Saviors on-hand. At the end of the previous season, Negan assembles his Saviors to declare war; he's shown addressing perhaps a hundred people, which felt like an escalation but go with it.

This season, Rick and co. engineered a zombie siege of the Sanctuary then proceeded to wipe out every other Savior outpost. The carnage was extraordinary and the kills and captures should have reduced the Saviors to a very manageable number. This impression was reinforced by all of the scenes set inside the Sanctuary during the siege, which made it clear the Saviors were dangerously short of manpower and increasingly desperate. At one point, there was a near-rebellion by the Saviors' slave labor force, one the Saviors certainly feared. It was stopped only by the timely reappearance of Negan--in a rather silly moment, the fear he instills in those lessers was enough to cow them into backing off. The Saviors even considered a plan to arm their laborers with melee weapons and send them out to fight the zombies. Whatever force was holed up at the Sanctuary, it shouldn't have been an enormous one, but viewers were denied even an estimate and had to depend on those past clues, so when the Saviors escaped the siege and suddenly had sufficient numbers to launch simultaneous punitive expeditions against all three rebel communities as if nothing at all had changed, viewers were left wondering if Eugene had invented a respawning device. Was he holed up in a hidden laboratory off-screen spontaneously generating new Saviors by the dozen? It felt like something that shouldn't have been remotely possible.

The Saviors' numbers have been further reduced since then. The night the Safe Zone was attacked, the Alexandrians--with an assist from Dwight--liquidated Dwight's crew. Only one escaped and she's still missing in action.[1] Morgan and Carol wiped out Gavin's force at the Kingdom down to the last man.

A few eps ago, the Saviors loaded up what should have been nearly all of their remaining fighters and set out to attack Hilltop. All the Savior leaders who hadn't yet been killed, including Negan himself, went along; all of the remaining background-noise Saviors we'd seen seemed to be among the fighters as well. As before, it felt like a force that just shouldn't have been possible. Last week, that force was completely annihilated, only about half a dozen of them escaping an insanely ill-considered attack. Later in the evening, some of Hilltop's Savior prisoners escaped and fled. Not enough to be much of a problem--many of their comrades opted to stay behind and switch sides, others became zombies or were eaten by the critters.

Then, tonight, it was yet again as if nothing had changed. Early in the proceedings, Maggie gets a briefing on where things stand at Hilltop and we learn that they've redeployed their scouts to watch the approaches for another Savior attack. When Maggie asks how much ammo they have, she's told, "not enough to fend off another attack of that size." Another attack of anything like that size should not be possible. There shouldn't be more than a few of them left but at various points in the ep, we're shown Daryl and Rosita surveilling Eugene's recently-established reloading shop and the place is crawling with Saviors, then later, we're shown that Sanctuary is still manned.

From whence comes all these Saviors? The villains' ability to return again and again as if unaffected by the losses they've incurred makes the war campaign--and thus the entire season--feel meaningless. Making this worse is the fact that our heroes should know roughly how many Saviors are left at any given time. They would have gotten troop-strength numbers from Dwight--no attack would have been launched without that--and they know roughly how many they've killed or captured. The only reason this isn't written into the story is the same reason the other specifics of the war-plan weren't written into it earlier in the season: so the writers can just make it up as they go.

That's a problem. The way our heroes got in trouble with the Saviors from the beginning was to stupidly launch an attack without a plan--without, in fact, doing even minimal recon of the enemy. The consequences were disastrous, something they can't afford to repeat. The only vague excuse for a "plan" that ever emerged this season was that, after taking out the Savior satellite outposts, Rick and the leaders of the other communities were going to travel to the Sanctuary and demand the Saviors surrender. Now, obviously, the Saviors weren't meant to break the siege of the Sanctuary and that they did and how they did it--the snipers who are supposed to be shooting anyone who sticks his head up just stand around and watch as the Saviors enact a cartoon escape-plan--is completely ridiculous, but setting that aside, the implications of what we've seen is that there were somehow enough fighters holed up there to defeat the combined forces of all of these communities. What were our heroes going to do with them? Any effort at creating a peace that wasn't preceded by significantly reducing their numbers would have been suicidal but there doesn't appear to have been anything in this vein even on the drawing-board. Daryl's idea, to let the zombies into the Sanctuary, seems like a good one here but Rick rejected it. If that Savior force was big enough to do everything it has since, this fact should have been a part of the narrative long before what's been happening in the last several eps.

Tonight, Rick and Morgan tracked down the Savior prisoners who escaped Hilltop. Like a pair of amateurs, they're quickly and stupidly captured, the Savior leader Jared dreaming of marching Rick back to Negan, but a zombie herd is conveniently approaching the old building where the escapees have holed up. When the herd begins to swarm into the place, some of the Saviors free Rick and Morgan on Rick's promise that they can return to Hilltop. Instead, our heroes just kill them. Morgan finally gives Jared a long-overdue gruesome death. The herd takes out the rest and then disappears. It's steaming in one moment, gone as soon as the Saviors are beaten. Rick even shoots the last villain. No zombies appear in response.

A few weeks ago, Jadis, Queen of the Garbage People, had captured Negan. She's rather upset about the Saviors liquidating her entire community but instead of just killing Negan outright, she takes him back to her junkyard, ineffectually ties him up so that he's able to move around, then conveniently leaves a gun, a flare and some photos she treasures laying around so that he can get his hands on them. He does then threatens to burn her pictures but she gets the flare away from him; he then uses the fact that he didn't burn them to help talk her into releasing him. The whole thing is completely ridiculous and it's impossible to believe she would cut him loose.

Something I did appreciate is that in the midst of all of this, that mysterious helicopter from a few eps ago turned up at the landfill. It hovers overhead for a while then, not seeing a flare (because Jadis extinguished the one Negan had), it flies off while she runs after it yelling. It was meant to pick her up. Before he leaves, Negan asks her about it. She says nothing. Another bizarre element of the nutty Garbage People saga.[2] Even with all but one of them dead, they still manage to be the only bright spot in an otherwise dire ep.[3]



[1] Negan picks up some unidentified someone near the end of this ep--probably the missing woman with her tale of Dwight's betrayal.

[2] On more than one occasion, Jadis consults a watch she's wearing!

[3] Another Garbage plus is that Pollyanna McIntosh, who has been decked out in cruddy Mad Max gear and made up to look rather rough throughout her time on the show, was finally allowed to clean up a bit. McIntosh is a statuesque goddess of a woman but viewers of TWD have gotten little indication of this before tonight.

Twitter: @jriddlecult