Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Walking Dead 4.04: "Indifference"

Sorry, did I say The Walking Dead was too grim a couple of weeks ago? It’s gotten grimmer. Sigh. Welcome to week 4 of our Walking Dead posts. As usual I’m joined by Josh Winstead, and Josh? I promise I would never leave you behind in an abandoned suburb.

Nikki: The theme this week was obvious: Letting go. It’s first voiced out loud by Michonne, baffled by Tyreese holding on tight to a walker when he could have let go and she would have slashed the thing to bits. “Why didn’t you just let go?” she said to him. Bob can’t let go of his fear that he’ll be left alone once again, and instead of listening to Daryl’s reassurance that he’ll never be the last one again, he grabs a bottle of liquor, “for when things get quiet.” Rick has tried to let go of his past as an authority figure, making decisions for everyone else. The two kids in the suburb have let go of their group, moving on without them. When Daryl pushes his forehead against Bob Stookey’s to show how angry he is, the others tell them to just let go.

And yet… the one person who does let go, who pushes down her emotions about losing her daughter, who walks into difficult situations with an eerie calm, who doesn’t flinch in the face of anything that might face her… she’s tossed out of the camp for letting go. And while I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who agree with Rick’s decision this week, I DO NOT.

Did Carol perhaps act quickly? Yes, seeing as the flu virus seems to hit people differently. But with how sick those two people were, we all know the chances of them getting better and not ending up choking on their own blood the following morning and craving the brains of everyone else was very, very low. Is she going to kill or hurt Judith or Carl with no reason to? No. In fact, if anything, perhaps having killed these two people and knowing what that has done to her sense of morality will make her hesitate before doing it again. But even if she doesn’t, I don’t see Carol as a threat. She’s someone they NEED. When no one else can look at a deceased loved one and shove a knife in his/her head to prevent them from rising again, Carol can. When no one else can give the kids the tough love they need to live in this horrible new world, Carol can. When no one else can look at a watch and say, “Don’t care if they’re not back yet, we need to take care of ourselves and get out of here NOW,” Carol can. When no one else can rid themselves of past memories and instead steal liquor to drink themselves into oblivion, Carol can. My DVR caught the first two minutes of Talking Bad, and first, Chris Hardwicke said he had no sense that Rick was going to cut her loose and it was a complete surprise (REALLY?! I figured from the beginning she wasn’t going to come back alive; it’s the fact he let her live that surprised me) but also, guest panelist Gillian Jacobs said that she moved through the episode with an almost sociopathic calm.

As I said in last week’s post, I don’t think someone who has stopped caring and hurting and being overly emotional is doing the wrong thing or can be labeled sociopathic. In OUR world, yes, that’s a strange thing to see. But when’s the last time you decapitated someone? In the world of The Walking Dead, that’s a daily occurrence. When’s the last time you went out for groceries and thought you were probably kissing your family goodbye for the last time? That’s what it’s like in their world. When’s the last time a loved one died and you rushed over to knife them in the skull so they wouldn’t return? This isn’t our world anymore. We can’t apply our rules of behavior and what is normal and what isn’t to this world. Carol is the new normal. Leaving the thoughts of Sophie behind as “someone else’s slideshow,” she’s broken from her past, emerged a new woman that, as she says to Rick, she doesn’t necessarily like, but realizes is a necessity if she’s going to survive. “You don’t have to like what I did, Rick — I don’t — you just have to accept it.”

As he casts her off — because hey, in a zombie apocalypse there’s no end to the able-bodied people helping you out and being on your side, AM I RIGHT?! — she hands him her watch. She tells Rick that her abusive husband gave it to her on their first anniversary, and she chuckles, “I should have gotten rid of that long ago.” And with that one act, she sloughs off the last bit of Carol that existed before the apocalypse. She’s no longer someone that men can hit or boss around, cowering in fear and following someone else’s rules; she’s the one who will survive.

The episode is called “Indifference.” It’s an interesting title, because that’s what Rick perceives Carol has, but she’s not indifferent to anything. She’s taking it in, dealing with it, and not holding onto it. Those people go crazy (remember those days, Rick? Yeah, you were a bundle of trustworthiness then, weren’t you?). Carol is determined not to go crazy. She was there for him at his lowest point. Great to see he’s there for her, too.

Good for you, Carol. At least you finally got away from Moronsville, run by the head idiot himself. Christ, I hate you sometimes Rick, you self-righteous git. If the Governor shows up at the prison, I’ll be rooting for him this time.

Josh, what did you think?

Joshua: Well, I don't know that I'd go quite so far as to root for The Governor or anything, but I'm certainly of a similar mindset regarding the regrettable return of the Ricktatorship. As the episode's end was playing itself out, all I could think was, 'I can't believe this; I just can't believe it.' And even now, after a while to sit with it, re-read my notes, and mull everything over, I'm still having trouble accepting that this is the way things have panned out.

What it boils down to, at least for me, is this: both of them – first Carol, then Rick – went outside the parameters set forth for the governance of their enclave, good rules so established (and by Rick himself!) to prevent exactly this kind of error in judgment. Both self-righteously discarded the notion of the council and made crucial, life-or-death decisions about members of the group without consulting anyone else. And in both cases, I think that lack of checks and balances led to poor choices. The big difference is that Carol made the wrong choice for the right reasons; Rick made the wrong choice for mostly the wrong ones.

I feel like I ought to try and defend him a little, if for no more reason than to serve as counterpoint to your (perfectly understandable) tirade, and also because we almost always agree about this stuff, and I'd hate for people to get bored with us. And in truth, I really do see exactly where Rick is coming from. Whereas Carol, as you said, has made great strides in abandoning who she was before the world fell apart, Rick has tried desperately to cling to who he was, and to hold true to the concepts of justice and order that he had pledged to uphold as well. He still wants to think that some kind of normalcy can be restored, as evidenced by his recent stint as a farmer. He knows that if he loses sight of that hope, then he can't be a good father, a role model for his children, or a symbol to the others that safety and stability can still exist in this place. Rick has lost hope before, and it almost drove him mad.

Carol, on the other hand, has changed dramatically in some ways, but is still the same in others. Once upon a time, she had a sweet child with a horrid, abusive husband. She never did anything to rock the boat; she simply accepted things as they were. She withdrew; she raised her daughter and did her best to shield her from the ugliness; she learned how to fix her own dislocated shoulders; she did whatever she needed to do to survive. Now, the husband and child are both gone, along with most every semblance of the life she used to know. And once again, she simply accepts things as they are. It's the same brand of stoic determinism either way, only one comes from a perceived position of powerlessness, and the other comes from the perception of superiority. And in both cases, it's a woefully unbalanced mindset, however necessary it might seem.

Carol is nothing if not resigned. I wouldn't classify it as indifference, by any stretch, but there is a certain passivity there, I think. She wants to rationalize the murderous decision she made by acting as if there wasn't really a choice at all. And that just isn't true. Regardless of the state of things, regardless of how desperate the situation, there is always a choice.

Rick knows that Carol believes with all her heart that the choice she made was justified, that she may not have enjoyed it but still harbors no guilt whatsoever. He recognizes the danger in that kind of recklessness, and in such a bleak, autonomous perspective. He knows that a majority rule could easily mean her death, provided she isn't slaughtered by Tyreese on the spot. And he knows he can't trust her any more to do anything but be Carol, and be uncompromising, and fight to survive.

I earnestly believe that the sheriff thought he was saving Carol's life, and quite possibly others as well, by sending her away like he did. It's easy to believe because Rick always has the best intentions, even when those intentions prove to bear disastrous results. Nevertheless, it wasn't his decision to make. Neither was it Carol's (who only thought she was saving lives, too), but in this tragic landscape, excommunication is tantamount to murder, and that makes him just as culpable. If you make the decisions together, then you also collectively bear the guilt, the blame, the repercussions. Go rogue, and rogue is what you become.

Sadly, what's done is done. Carol is gone, banished, and Rick is left to tell the others... what, exactly? He must tell them the truth, else he not only yields the moral high ground but also runs the risk of losing a lot more should his deception ever come to light. But how can they ever forgive him? How can he even imagine they would understand, considering the circumstances? He'll be lucky if Daryl doesn't just straight-up beat him to death, and I actually wouldn't be surprised if he immediately hops on his bike and takes off after her. (Okay, maybe that's only my romantic notion of what he'll do; the ass whipping is more likely.)

I certainly don't think we've seen the last of Miss Pelletier; I just hope the next time we see her isn't at the point of The Governor's sword.

What this show will do without Carol?

Nikki: When I originally wrote my part, I ended it with, “I kind of hope you disagree with me Josh, so we can get a real argument going,” but then took it off, just so you wouldn’t feel obligated to do just that. So I’m so glad you just instinctually did it! But, of course, you had to do so with your usual brilliance and reason, so it’s not like I can come back with a finger snap and “Oh no you di’n’t!” because I agree with a lot of what you said.

What I don’t agree with, however, is the notion that Carol is passive. I think she’s anything but. I think that every scene she walks through with eerie calm and profound reason is killing her inside. She shows indifference on her face, and appears to remain passive as she makes her choices, but I don’t believe for a second that she’s actually that person. I think every night she lies in bed crying over Sophie. And if she doesn’t, she certainly wants to, but that new Carol voice, that determined, I must survive this Carol voice is telling her NO you DO NOT CRY. We see a moment of that when Rick first banishes her, and she for one moment drops her guard and the tears fall down her face. Watch how fast she brushes them away and they stop instantly, like the new Carol was once again shoving the old Carol down inside her, refusing to let her out. She will NOT play the victim. She will NOT be passive. She is actively not mourning, actively looking reasonable, actively pretending Sophie doesn’t exist for her own sanity, because she knows that the moment she gives in and realizes every single good thing in her life has been stripped away, she’ll be curled up in a fetal position on the floor and will be killed by the first walker who lumbers in. She actively killed those two people, and then pushed down the emotions that were overwhelming her in the moment.

We need to remember how many times we’ve seen Carol on her own: almost never. She’s in the background, or part of the group, or reassuring someone, or rocking Judith, or in the RV helping Andrea deal with losing her sister, or in the prison talking to a returned Andrea and trying to talk her out of returning to the Governor. She’s almost never alone. But the one time we see her on her own — last week after Tyreese walks away — she loses it for a moment, does something stupid by knocking over the water barrel in her anger and frustration, and cries and mourns the world she’s lost. And then she quickly composes herself, rights the water container, and once again actively goes back to being that calm, reasonable person.

Where I completely agree with you 100% is that Rick didn’t have the right to make this decision. And you bring up a good point that a lot of that has to do with him refusing to let go of the past. His adherence to what his world used to be — happy marriage, a son, a good job where he was in charge, a best friend — is what’s killing him inside. Because the marriage was no longer happy, his wife was sleeping with that best friend and now both of them are dead, the baby he’s now raising could very well be Shane’s, and his son isn’t playing baseball in the backyard; he’s wielding a gun and indifferently shooting the walkers with it. Carol’s past was an excruciatingly unhappy marriage, no job, a life where she was beholden to a man who would physically hurt her, a life of fear for herself and her daughter, and the apocalypse, in a way, was the best thing that ever happened to her. Until it took Sophie, of course. And then that temporary happiness was crushed, and that’s the moment where you start to see the new, more calculated Carol.

What I thought was beautiful about the ending of the episode comes back to your comment, however. Carol hands Rick the watch, jumps in the car, and drives around the roundabout at the end of the cul-de-sac (in a symbolic showing of her turning her life around) and then she drives right past him without slowing down. Rick, on the other hand, gets in the car and begins driving, and every three seconds he checks that rearview mirror, convinced he’s going to see Carol again and she’ll follow him back to the prison. He banished her, and now he can’t let go of her. 

I can’t stress enough, however, that in an apocalypse, sometimes your compatriots aren’t the people you’d choose to be on your team in better days when you had a much larger pool to choose from. And in the end, Carol did what she did to save all of them, not just herself. She was looking at the bigger picture. And you bring up an excellent point when you say they let MERLE back in the group. Merle, for god’s sakes. Merle but not Carol? You have GOT to be kidding me. Carol is 100 times more trustworthy than that guy, and unlike Merle, she has never acted for her own needs, only for the needs of the others. I truly believe the act she committed had no selfishness or passivity about it, and that she was thinking of the entire group. We saw Tyreese wave them all off when they saw Karen coughing and sneezing, and Carol knew deep down it was going to be a war to get Tyreese to put Karen in Cell Block A.

Even though the Carol/Rick pairing was obviously the most compelling story of the season so far, we should look at the others! This was an almost prison-less episode, where we saw Carol and Rick on the one hand, and Daryl/Tyreese/Bob/Michonne on the other. Can I just say how happy I was to realize that the cast is truly multiracial now? It used to be they’d have one African-American character at a time (and T-Dog wasn’t exactly a primary character), but now Daryl can go out on an expedition with a group and be the only white guy there. I only realized that this week.

What did you make of their ransacking of the veterinary college, Josh, and the fact that we now have proof this zombie disease is spreading?

Joshua: The 'B' story this week was packed with great stuff too: lots of zombie combat, solid angsty character work, and as you mentioned, an unmistakable sign that the flu contagion is widespread. In particular, I loved the Michonne material in this episode. It's been obvious this season that the writers are working hard to flesh out her personality beyond four-word sentences and that trademark scowl, and it's really paying off in that I find myself much more emotionally involved than the initial “whoa, what a badass” reaction to the character that began to wear so thin for me last year.

First, we got a nice callback to the mild antagonism between she and Daryl from episodes previous. It's evident that Daryl resents Michonne's impermanence within the group; he knows how valuable she could be, and yet she persists in running off to search for The Governor at every opportunity, despite the trail having gone hopelessly cold. When she makes the crack about the piece of jasper he's picked up bringing out the color in his eyes, she follows it up with a broad, beautiful smile – the first time in my memory that we've ever seen her do so. And boy, it's a knockout, too. But for Daryl, it doesn't so much as make a dent. He can't get past how she's been playing it halfway, and he refuses to let her off easy. It's a tough leadership tactic, but it works, as evidenced by her confirmation in the car near the end that she'd give up her aimless wandering and go all in with the team. And thank goodness; they'll really need her there when he shows back up. Because rest assured – there's no reason to go out looking for The Governor. He's coming to them.

On the “Wire” reunion front, we had Tyreese still coming to grips with the uncontrollable anger he's felt since Karen's murder and Bob Stookey still fighting the demons of his conscience. (And I apologize for continuing to use his full name; it's just such a great Stephen King name that I can't help myself.) Twice now, we've seen Tyreese almost meet his end because he can't seem to calm down and do what needs doing. I really don't think it's a deathwish, as it may appear to be. I think it's desperation. Karen's beyond help, but Sasha isn't; that's the reason he agreed to come on the raid in the first place. But every time something goes wrong – and something always goes wrong – the fear and grief he's feeling threatens to overwhelm him, and he freezes like a deer in headlights.

Last week, it was the sight of that unconscionable herd of walkers. One look, and he could feel Sasha's life slipping through his fingers. This week, it was his frenzied, indignant hacking away at the kudzu that covered Big Tony's garage that revealed the multifold threat (just as Daryl warned against) that almost killed them all. It truly comes clear for him in the conversation that followed with Michonne. “I know you're pissed,” she says. “And you have every reason to be. But anger makes you stupid. Stupid gets you killed.” He finally comes to realize that the only way he can be worthwhile to their efforts is by taking a deep breath and trying not to take it all so personally.

It's a crucial lesson – that this catastrophic horror that's become of the world isn't personal; it simply is. Undoubtedly it feels personal to the individual, in that it affects individuals directly, over and over again, but it also affects everyone universally. It has no psyche, no conscience, no ego, any more than the walkers themselves. Once you come to terms with the idea that this plague – the virus, the zombies, the superflu, all of it – is completely indifferent to you, then things become clearer, if not all that much easier. And that's the real meaning of this week's title to me.

Nikki: Indifference, and the almost mandatory requirement to “let go.” These are the two themes they bring home this week in so many ways by focusing on just two stories instead of the whole lot of them. And as I’ve said so many times before, I much prefer these sorts of character pieces that The Walking Dead is SO freakin’ good at. When they focus on just one story, maybe two, and simply look at that particular line, they can slow down the narrative and really bring the reality of this world home to the viewers. When we’re surrounded by death and walkers and lack of water at the prison and a million conversations, it’s hard to actually pull back and remember that these people aren’t living in our world, playing by our rules. It’s by isolating four people and putting them in a veterinary hospital full of medicine and liquor — and then forcing them to deal with their shit. It’s by isolating two characters who’ve been on the show from the beginning, watching them reminisce and hang out for an afternoon without the interruptions of everything else going on at the prison, and then watch one betray the other in such a terrible way, after he felt like she’d already betrayed him. It’s in these small moments that the true horrors of the zombie apocalypse come to life, and when the show makes its strongest impact.

Next week we return to the prison. And I cannot wait to see Daryl’s reaction to Rick returning Carol-less. 


Colleen/redeem147 said...

I think the more pressing question is - what kind of anti-virals can you get from an animal hospital? (and is it too late for them to help anyway) Because antibiotics will do diddly squat.

Also, will Tyrese go out hunting Carol the way Michonne goes after The Governor? Will Carol make it to the prison first and tattle on Rick? Will Daryl notice she's gone, or will he be too busy getting it on with Michonne?

For these and other questions, turn in next week to As The Zombie Turns.

Efthymia said...

Rick ANNOYS me.
It's sad, because during the first two seasons I liked him a lot and could feel for him, and now it's just ugh!

Many have tried to excuse his decision by saying "He's actually protecting Carol because Tyrese would have killed her or the people might have decided that her punishment would be death, like with Randall at the farm.", but I find this argument very weak.
First of all, yes, Tyrese does feel a lot of pain and anger, but we're talking about a man who couldn't even kill walkers, how are we so sure that he'd be OK with killing a human being? Also, Randall was a complete stranger, in a different time, and still about half of the people didn't want him dead. But most importantly, IT WAS NOT RICK'S DECISION TO MAKE!!! (sorry: frustration). He has every right not to trust Carol, but what he could have oh so easily done was to tell her "I'm going to tell them it was you, and then maybe Tyrese or some of them or all of them will want you dead, and then I won't be able to protect you -and I'm not even sure I want to-, so it's up to you if you want to return to the prison or try your chances elsewhere.", and if she did go back with him, he could tell everyone and let everyone decide. Simple.

I disagree that Carol is how everyone should be in this new world. I do find her kind of a sociopath, and it really saddens me because I used to like her a lot. Once again I'm going to say how much I miss Dale, because I still think he had the right idea. People should strive to maintain their humanity in this new world, they should strive for solidarity and affection and communication, for caring and helping. Between a world full of Shanes and Carols and a world where human kind has gone extinct, I see the second one as the happy ending.