Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Walking Dead 4.03: Isolation

And it’s time for Week 3 of our Walking Dead posts (man, these weeks are flying by! I feel like we just wrote the last one).

Nikki: As if being stuck in a prison wasn’t bad enough, now many of the prison folk are actually trapped in Cell Block A, or Death Row. Where once it housed inmates who’d been charged with unspeakable crimes, now it simply houses people who have the flu, and will probably die from it.

“Isolation” wasn’t just about how certain people were trapped in a section of the prison, but also how each person seemed to be pushing their feelings down, denying what they were really going through in order to fit in in this new world. Beth holds Lil’ Ass Kicker and tells Maggie through the door that she can’t get upset about Glenn, because in this world, they simply don’t have the right to cry or get upset about things. Rick has been burying his sense of justice and righteousness and authority so deeply inside a pacifist shell that once that other side of him has been allowed to surface, he’s gone completely apeshit and beaten Tyreese to a pulp. Like Beth, Hershel tells everyone they have jobs to do, and his job is as a doctor, administering to the only other doctor they have, who is sick and dying.

And then there’s Carol. She quietly mourned the death of her daughter. She quietly flirted with Daryl. She quietly mourned the death of Dale. She quietly followed the others and made a place for herself. She quietly talked to Andrea. She quietly took care of Judith and quietly stood by Carl as he went through the death of his mother. She quietly stood back and watched Rick fall apart, and quietly continued to take care of everyone, stepping up to deal with food and be a part of the Council. She secretly took on the duty of teaching the children how to defend themselves, and agreed to become the adopted mother of the two little girls who lost their father last week. And then, when she saw two people being sick and not quarantining themselves, she quietly killed them, dragged their bodies outside, and burned them. And then quietly went about her business, collecting water, cleaning the pipes, taking care of the sick, helping quarantine them, agreeing to watch over Sasha, and giving her condolences to Tyreese. And then all of a sudden she wasn’t so quiet anymore, breaking down and kicking the water containers, wasting water, crying, and falling apart. Rick sees right through her calm façade, and realizes she’s the one who’s done this terrible thing. What will he do now, after vowing to take down the person who’d done this?

Josh, what did you think of the episode?

Joshua: Season four to date has spent most of its run time re-introducing us to the prison colony – as residence and residents alike – and setting up the contagion storyline that began to take shape when poor bespectacled Patrick took ill near the end of the premiere. Both of those first two episodes were great, by my estimation, but that is nonetheless one big chunk of construction without much in the way of significant return. This week's episode, scripted by creator Robert Kirkman, corrected that course in spades as “The Walking Dead” began to pay off all that setup with bloody interest, setting into motion a chain of events that will doubtless carry us through to mid-season, likely right up to the point when The Governor's ugly cyclopean mug pops back up again like we all know it must. As for what will be left of the place – or the people – by that time, it's anybody's guess. Because we're certainly off to a damned nasty start.

First and foremost, there is the superflu, which is swiftly spreading its way through the population and killing its victims with brutal efficiency. A medical epidemic of this kind was probably inevitable at some point, considering the state of the World At Large, the specific proximity of their living conditions within the prison, the persistent lack of proper nutrition, the scarcity of clean water and medicine, and this show's natural affinity for anguish and despair. But the severity of the problem doesn't fully snap into focus until it begins to affect members of the core group – first Sasha, then Glenn. They both quickly quarantine themselves, but even in a best-case scenario, that still means two members of the already small council out of commission for the foreseeable future.

When the decision is made to sequester the young and old, it is obvious that neither Carl nor Hershel like being lumped in with those considered to be the most vulnerable. They both go, albeit reluctantly, but Carl takes his pistol, and Hershel is plagued from the start by the idea that he could be doing more than merely sitting around, staring at the walls. Even the walls themselves seem to be arguing his case, as evidenced by the inspirational poster that reads: “SMOOTH SEAS DO NOT MAKE GOOD SAILORS.” And then, as he stares at the coffee mug in his hand, he remembers his herbalism, remembers the elderberry tea his wife used to make as flu remedy, and knows what he needs to do, heading out into the woods with Carl in tow.

Hershel's speech to Rick on their return, as he justifies going into the quarantined area to attend the sick, was one of the best in the series' history. The philosophy he outlines is not only noble and poignant, but also brilliantly practical in the sense that this harsh new world is one in which life itself is a danger, and the only way to make that kind of endless struggle worthwhile is for it to mean something, for the actions you take to be worthwhile. When even the act of breathing could be deadly, then suddenly no risk is too great to ensure the future.

On the other side of the coin, we are faced with Carol gone rogue, far beyond testing the boundaries of principled behavior and deep into self-righteous delusion. I told myself that the culprit in Karen and David's murder must be someone we know, and she should have been one of my first logical choices, but I still didn't see it coming. And despite the different light in which this revelation cast her earlier breakdown by the water barrel (the first time we've seen such an outburst from Carol in as long as I can remember), I have to wonder how conflicted she really is about her actions. She sees the murders as service to a greater ideal, just as Hershel views his trip down Death Row. The major difference is that Hershel made his sacrifice voluntarily, whereas Karen and David had no such option. Carol's intentions were pure, but that doesn't make the act itself any less appalling, or the situation any less complicated.

I sure would hate to be Rick right now.

Nikki: Agreed on the Carol front; if they do manage to find a cure and heal those who are sick, then what she did is beyond appalling, and she’ll have to live with that forever. Now, interestingly, I did see something on another site where fans were speculating that perhaps Carol didn’t do it, and instead she’s covering up for the little girl who’s sick now. The suggestion is that Carol told her not to be weak, to stare danger in the face and take care of it, and Lizzie took care of it. But could Lizzie have taken down two adults, killed them, dragged their bodies outside, doused them in gasoline, and burned them without anyone noticing? Not bloody likely. I don’t buy this one at all, and think we have to see this as a shocking turn of events.

I also loved Hershel’s speech. “You step outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life… the only thing you can choose is what you’re risking it for.” I hope this character lasts forever, because he gets all the great lines these days. Over and over, the writers are reminding us that this is not our world anymore, and the rules we follow don’t work here. In which case… are we allowed to hold Carol up to the same scrutiny as we would someone in our world who did what she did? It’s a tough one.

I want to give a special shout-out here to Chad L. Coleman, who plays Tyreese, for putting in a tour de force performance this week. The pain and anguish on Tyreese’s face, the barely repressed fury, was so palpable I swear I could feel him shaking in rage through my television screen. That was the performance of the season so far. First he is shocked and furious over the death of Karen. Then the left side of his face is beaten by Rick (his good eye is the right one now, which is the opposite of the Governor’s good eye, a comment on his character if ever there was one) and we watch him angrily shoveling the grave for Karen, refusing to listen to Daryl’s reason. Then he accepts Rick’s apology, but charges him with finding — and punishing — the person who did this. Then he realizes Sasha is sick, and we watch him talk to her through the window, possibly for the last time, before deciding he’s not going to wallow, but do what he can to find a cure. And we see him talk to Carol, calm but in extreme pain, asking for her help with Sasha, complimenting her on being a good person, completely blind to the fact that she’s the one who did it. And finally, we see him sitting in the back seat of the car, surrounded by zombies, and looking like he’s about to give up. To just sit there and let them rip him to pieces actually seems like the much easier, much better way to go at this point. It’s living that’s so hard for him, especially on this horrific day. But he gets out of the car, chops his way through the walkers, and comes out on the other side. Cutty was amazing.

Back over to the quarantine, though, I couldn’t help but think that locking these people in isn’t just locking them away for everyone else’s good, but locking them to their doom. What about the woman insisting she just had allergies? I have terrible allergies in the summer, and imagined being in a situation where I’m actually perfectly healthy, but having allergic reactions to the weeds outside, and then I get locked into the Apocalyptic Chamber of Doom, and I’m pretty much sentenced to die. Maybe this was supposed to be metaphorical — showing that on many a Death Row, there are innocents sitting there who’ve been charged with crimes they didn’t commit — but I honestly thought that putting the sick ones into a room that’s guaranteed to make them sicker just seems counterproductive in a way. Yes, it’ll keep everyone else safe, but it’s killing the people you’re putting in there. My heart broke into a million pieces when Lizzie walked up to Carol and said she had a cough. I imagined being the mom and grabbing her and running out of the prison with her instead rather than locking in that horrible place. But as Beth says, in this world they no longer have the right to show emotions. You’re sick, you go in the Doom Chamber. End of story.

Joshua: It seems that quarantine was the least awful in a list of terrible choices, ranging anywhere from banishment to Dr. Carolvorkian. At least in this case, they're still together. And aside from the obvious buffer that their seclusion provides the uninfected, this system also protects the weakened ill from any danger beyond the flu, as the cells offer ready-made cages for those that pass away untended and would otherwise simply eat their way through the rest of the patients. Inelegant, perhaps, but effective.

In the meantime, we have the strike team of Michonne, Daryl, Tyreese and Bob Stookey out on a long excursion for medicine that looks like it just got considerably longer with the loss of their car. Daryl comes across as a knowledgeable mechanic, so it is possible they could find another vehicle along the way and get it working well enough for the return trip, but they certainly aren't going to make it back in a day any more. Fifty miles is a three-day hike, bare minimum, and that's just one way. But the whole trip is moot if they can't find a way around the massive horde of walkers they've discovered. This throng is the biggest we've seen, far larger than the one that overtook Hershel's farm, and if it's headed toward the prison... Well, let's just hope it isn't headed toward the prison.

[As an aside, however, I have to say that if someone twisted and enterprising enough – someone with a specific facial disfigurement, perhaps, and a tendency toward antisocial behavior – were to figure out a way to herd and propel such a group, like an undead drover, then I'd imagine presenting such a threat as the front line of an assault would prove insurmountable, regardless of how well-fortified the structure under attack. Nothing of that sort ever took place in the comics, so this is pure conjecture on my part and probably more a result of nostalgia for the good old days of crazy “Lost” theorizing than anything else. Still, TWD does love its foreshadowing, and I'd have a hard time believing this slow stampede won't come back to haunt us in some fashion before the season ends.]

I miss the days of crazy Lost theorizing...

Speaking of Bob Stookey... boy, does that guy have the worst luck or what? His first run after being taken into the group is the supermarket excursion where zombies literally rain down from the frickin' sky, and now he gets taken along simply because of his medical background and winds up in the midst of a Bonnaroo crowd of undead. It's almost like he's cursed. Fortunately, he couldn't be traveling with a band of bigger badasses than these three. But if the biblical plagues continue to follow him like this, I bet the invitations stop, whether he's a walking Merck manual or not.

Perhaps most significant in this sequence, however, was the cause of the accident in the first place: the sound of a human voice on the radio. The mind reels at the possibilities. Could you make out any of the broadcast, Nik?

Nikki: In the summer, at ComicCon, they aired a trailer for this season of The Walking Dead, and the trailer was subsequently posted to YouTube. In that trailer, they showed this very scene, and the voice on the radio was crystal clear: “Sanctuary,” it said, “Those who arrive, survive.” However, on the show’s broadcast on Sunday, the voice had definitely been distorted, like they didn’t want us to hear it that clearly. But here’s the trailer (the radio bit comes at the very end):

Is this the first they’ve heard a radio in the series? I don’t know why I feel like we heard another voice on a ham radio back in the first season, but perhaps that was in another apocalyptic TV show I watch (there are just so many!) I never even thought of The Guv’nah, but that would be amazing if he’s behind the massive zombie horde coming their way. That was terrifying to see them all coming up over the ridge. You’re right; they have to find another car to get back to the prison… if they’re on the run for drugs to save the lives of everyone in the prison, they don’t have three days to wait. Remember how fast this flu ran through Patrick?

Any final thoughts on the episode, Josh?

Joshua: Just one quick thing before we wrap. Excepting the possibility that Carol is protecting little Lizzie by confessing to the murders in her place (a scenario which I also find unlikely but dare not dismiss outright), I continue to be mystified by who was feeding the walkers through the fence. My initial thoughts linked the two actions together as those of a single saboteur, but now I wonder who else could be responsible, and why. Is this deliberate subversion or something else entirely? It is the show's first real mystery, and one that has my imagination tying itself in knots.

Whatever the case, I can't wait for whatever Sunday night brings.

Bits & Bobs:

•  Effects empresario and sometime-director Greg Nicotero and his KNB team really outdid themselves this week. Both the mossy and bear trapped walkers that Carl and Hershel encounter at the campsite were absolute classics, but in particular, the long looks at Karen and David's burnt corpses that we got this week revealed a level of detail I missed in their initial reveal, right down to the charred underwire of Karen's bra. These kinds of things really lend so much more narrative heft to these moments, and my hat's off to them.

•  Michonne: “He's already given me fleas.” A joke! Just for you, Nikki.

•  It's been a long time since we saw Beth and Maggie have a heart-to-heart. I sure do hope that doesn't bode ill for either.

•  Really surprised that Carl didn't press Hershel to shoot the walkers in the woods, considering what happened last time he left one moving. RIP, Dale.

•  “We decided to do that tomorrow.” “We don't know if we get a tomorrow.”

•  I may like Glenn and Hershel's relationship more than any other on the show these days. The two of them have come so far together, and I love how the writers have handled it. And that shot of the two of them silhouetted against the cell doors at the beginning of their conversation was just gorgeous. This show could use more beauty.

Happy Halloween, gang. Don't forget your flashlight.


Efthymia said...

OK, how many times have I said NOT GLENN?!!!! Ahhh, this week is pure torture, please don't let him die, please, please, pleeeeease! I'm going crazy!

Speaking of going crazy: a couple of days ago I started coughing, and for a few seconds I seriously freaked out, until I realised that the killer flu is not going around in real life. I really need to stop immersing myself so deeply in TV shows.

Oh, Carol... I, too, would hate to be Rick now (always, really), but I believe that even if Rick doesn't say anything, it's a matter of time for it to come out, and the least of the consequences will be for everyone's relationship with Carol to change -definitely and especially with Daryl- and that's pretty bad anyway.

Chad L. Coleman was indeed amazing throughout this episode. I like Tyrese a lot in general, and I hope he's here for the long run.

I still adore/worship Michonne.

Anonymous said...

To be fair to some of the theorists who believe Lizzie did the killin', I've heard the more realistic suggestion that Carol discovered what Lizzie had done and then she removed & burned the bodies.

Personally, I think more interesting drama would come from the consequences of Carol having done it. But the writers have definitely seeded it to go either way.

Nikki Stafford said...

Anonymous: Now THAT'S an interesting theory, that Lizzie would kill them and come running to Carol, who hid the evidence. You're right, dramatically to see Carol killing someone just to save the majority would be a big deal. But Carol taking care of Lizzie and quietly doing what's necessary to cover up something would definitely be within her character as well, as you say. :)