Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Walking Dead 4.05: "Internment"

“I hereby declare we have spaghetti every Wednesday from two ’til six. First, we have to find some spaghetti.” Wait… in a zombie apocalypse there is no more spaghetti?! Shit just got real, yo.

And welcome to week 5 of Bleak & Bleaker, aka The Walking Dead, as my cohort Joshua Winstead and I break down this week’s episode, “Internment.”

Nikki: Well, I guess we have to wait one more week to see Daryl’s reaction to Rick’s announcement. It’s possible they won’t actually show us the conversation itself, just the fallout.

But after a week away where we saw the quiet character studies of Rick and Carol, and the unit of Tyreese, Michonne, Bob Stookey, and Daryl, we’re back at the hell that is the prison. And what a fresh hell it is. This episode focused on Hershel, who was desperate to keep things under control while under the delusion that if he just kept the worst of it out of people’s eyesight, they will be able to keep their spirits up, as if they don’t actually know what’s going on. He quotes John Steinbeck from Travels with Charley, who wrote, “A sad soul can kill quicker, far quicker, than a germ.” And what a gut-punch of a quotation that is. In the midst of trying to keep them alive physically, Hershel is well aware that a darker monster is looming in each of them, and I’m not talking about the zombie that each one will become upon death. He’s referring to depression, which all of them are suffering from in different stages and depths, because how can you not in this bleak and miserable world? And if you become consumed by depression, you’re unable to act. And in this world, if you’re unable to act, you die.

It’s a beautiful focus in the episode, even if Hershel’s determination to keep things away from the children is almost maddening by the end. Hershel’s always been one of my favourite characters, ever since he first showed up in the second season. He’s the philosopher, the religious man, the one who helped the pilgrims in the second season at his own house, but was also keeping walkers alive in the barn (including members of his own family) in the vain hope he could make them better. Just like the Governor was doing over in Woodbury. He was the man who fell apart at the beginning of season 3, drinking himself into a stupor and questioning the very religion that had given him hope until that moment. And he’s been the quiet voice of reason throughout the second half of that season and into this one, talking Rick through his own bouts of insanity and trying his very best to keep everyone filled with hope.

In the midst of watching Hershel’s calm reason, it’s easy to forget that he’s only barely holding on himself. He had a large family, which has now boiled down to two daughters, Beth and Maggie, and a son-in-law in Glenn. When he enters Cell Block A despite Maggie’s protestations, he did so not just to do his very best to keep everyone alive, but because he needed to keep busy. Because if he doesn’t keep busy, then he’d have to dwell on the reality around him, which would sadden his soul indeed. And he of all people knew he couldn’t let that happen. Hershel’s a hero in this episode, and I hope we hold onto this character for a very, very long time.

Joshua: Boy, do I agree. In fact, as the wild intensity of this week's events played out before my eyes, there may have been a point when I jotted a brief, profane note to the effect of, “If this episode kills Hershel, I'm gonna be so f-n' pissed.” Or something like that. (Ok – exactly like that.)

This new season has upped the stakes considerably on our favorite country veterinarian as Hershel continues to do the work of a whole congregation and keeps serving as minister to boot. And though it may seem like he expends an inordinate amount of energy on keeping the ugliest practicalities of the contagion out of the public eye, I think there's much more to it than simply shielding the children from the horrors of war. Morale is an issue for everyone, young and old. When folks lose their confidence, they lose their motivation, and in a world like this one, motivation is what keeps everyone alive, whether you're a sick man fighting to breathe, a daycare worker fighting to smile, or a gravedigger fighting your shovel through rock-hard Georgia clay. No task is simple, every one is invaluable, and the patience and commitment and drive required to accomplish them is hard-won, every time.

In this case, however, I think it's important to remember that Hershel isn't out among the general population; he's working exclusively within the quarantined cell block, where everyone is sick. And to me, that's where the Steinbeck quote takes on particular poignancy. 'The power of positive thinking' might sound like hackneyed Pollyanna nonsense, but time and again, research has proven that cerebral activity in areas of the brain associated with negative energy actually weakens the body's immune response to infection, secondary to the more prudent effects on a mind's focus and outlook. Hershel's roots bind him to homespun curative methods, but their simplicity doesn't mean they aren't effective. Sasha put it best when she said, “I don't believe in magic or luck. I do the math, and I don't gamble. But I don't know that I'd be here right now if you weren't so damn stupid.” However provincial Hershel's approach might seem, his elderberry tea and his steady affirmations are saving lives.

Unfortunately, positivity can't save everyone, and as you said, some of Doc Greene's practices have proven more harmful than others. Failing to lock each patient into their cell might help in fostering a sunnier outlook among the patients, but with too many sick and too few tending them, you end up endangering more people than you help. Hershel has a hard time finding a balance between his desire to heal and his obligation to protect – understandable, but unfortunate nonetheless. Caleb's admonition that he accept the fact that “not everyone gets to live” is a hard pill for him to swallow, but it will be a necessary reality if he's to get through this crisis without falling apart.

Speaking of falling apart, this episode bore some of the most intense action we've seen so far this season, and the way they portrayed things spiraling out of control both in the sick ward and at the fences had me practically vibrating in my seat. What about you, Nik?

Nikki: Intense doesn’t even begin to cover it. Like you, I was sitting on the couch with my hands over my mouth for most of it. Maggie asking Rick where Carol was… Hershel intubating a man choking on his own blood… the walkers coming through the fence… Hershel having to stab Mr. Jacobsen in the head… the other man comes out of his cell, followed by a walker… the man shooting the gun all over the place as his neck is being devoured by his friend… Sasha seemingly dead… the female walker opening her eyes… Lizzie luring the walker… Hershel luring all the walkers away from the cells… Glenn dying and choking on the floor… Hershel wrestling with the walker to get the air bag away from him… Maggie aiming her gun and me thinking OMG SHE’S GOING TO HIT HERSHEL… Rick and Carl taking on all the walkers themselves…

… the episode ending with Loony Left-Eye waiting in the bushes. Egad. I’m a teetotaler, but even I felt like I needed a drink after that one.

Let’s move over to Rick for a moment, the yin to Hershel’s yang. Hershel lives a peaceful live, where he does what’s necessary to keep everyone safe while maintaining a certain zen about him — as you say, using homespun common sense rather than violence to make it through a situation. Rick tries to be a farmer, but as Carol told him last week, you can be a farmer, but you can’t just be a farmer. Hershel was also a farmer, and a veterinarian, and a father, and he does so with a quiet reason that Rick just can’t seem to muster. When he tries to be a farmer he decides I WILL ONLY BE A FARMER and that’s it. But then the violence begins broiling up inside him, and when it decides to come out, he goes apeshit and starts killing everything. And it’s that inner violent streak that he doesn’t want to emerge in Carl. Knowing that Carl just shot someone in the woods point blank has haunted Rick ever since. He thinks the only way to teach Carl moderation is through total abstinence. But that’s not what this world requires. Carol, going against Rick’s doctrines, was secretly teaching the children how to use weaponry, and with that training, Lizzie is learning how to take care of herself and others. But when the chips are down, and the walkers are breaking into the prison in a massive horde, you need machine guns. Rick quickly shows Carl how to load the magazine and use the gun, and Carl’s standing there shooting like he’s had years of sharp-shooter training (I found that to be a little unbelievable … most people would have been knocked over by the kick-back and would have missed the first 42 times they tried shooting it. But let’s not dwell on that...). At the end of the episode, just in case we missed it, the writers show us how similar Carl and Rick are by having them both eat — wait for it — two peas in a pod. (Notice there was a third pea in there? Will Judith live up to her Lil’ Asskicker name?)

This scene... a lifetime away from this one.

I think having Rick and Carl stand side by side and take out the walkers was a revelatory moment, and a huge step forward for Rick’s character. He’s tried to resist acknowledging that Carl’s not a little boy anymore who needs to stay in the house (even if he won’t stay in the FUCKING house) but a young man who is as capable of protecting the group as any other able-bodied man. Watching the two of them stand together in the garden at the end — showing you can be both a farmer and a hunter — was a beautiful image, and I was really glad they ended the episode that way. For the first time all season, I’m intrigued to see what’s next for Rick’s character.

Joshua: One of the things we discussed at length last week was Rick's struggle to reconcile his old self, and the way the world used to be, with the myriad ethical and idealistic changes necessary to survive and thrive in the new world. I think this shift in convention continues to be the true heart of his problem, but it's finally starting to clarify. As he approaches the gate at the beginning of the episode, we see him looking again at his bandaged hand, then down at Carol's watch, then back to his hand, and we know that despite how radical was his decision to banish her, and whether it was right or wrong in our own personal estimation, it was not done lightly. The circumstances haunt him, and will continue to do so, but not due to any uncertainty or regret. This is proven out during his conversation with Maggie, who of course backs his play (as I think most will, despite the lack of consensus) but still can't help lamenting the awfulness of it. Neither can Rick, but he quickly tells her, “Don't doubt yourself. We don't get to any more.” He's accepted it as an ugly necessity, and that alone is a sign of his evolving mindset.

It isn't the only indication we get this week, as you said, but just the establishing shot of a nice movement woven throughout the episode wherein Rick comes to terms not only with Carl's all but vanished childhood (and, by extension, the generally impractical nature thereof, baby Judith included) but also his place within the group as a whole and the inescapable permanence of a leadership position within it. One of my favorite scenes in the episode, and the only time these two main storylines intersect, is when Rick comes upon Hershel as he is hesitantly stabbing poor Mr. Jacobsen through the head. Conversations between Rick and Hershel always tend toward greatness, but for a long time now, Hershel has almost exclusively been the one advising Rick, trying to guide him to reason and peace. This is the first in quite some time that transposes their positions, leaving Rick the arbiter between Hershel and his doubt.

The scene immediately follows Hershel's talk with Doc Caleb, on his deathbed and imploring Hershel to “focus on the ones who can make it,” and even before the shit truly hits the fan back in Cellblock A, he's already low, likely as low as he's been since he first lost the leg. The constant struggle and relentless despair of tending the ward has taken a grievous toll on him, and he's soldiering on, but his seemingly boundless will is starting to waver. Rick can tell right away – recognizes it from when he's seen it in others, when he's seen it in himself – and clarifies his position with a perfect, brilliantly astute assessment of Hershel's actions.

“I know they know,” Hershel says, justifying his movement of the body away from the ward for the coup de grâce. “But I didn't want 'em to see it right now.” When things are so desperate, when spirits are so downcast.

“They're seeing you, Hershel,” Rick says. “They see you. Keep going. Even after all the choices keep getting taken away.”

By refocusing Hershel's perspective on the incalculable significance of his constancy and strength, Rick brings him back up from the brink of despondence and sets his resolve upright again, preparing him for all the horror of what is about to happen. I can't help but wonder how things would have gone differently in the ensuing madness if that conversation hadn't taken place. Rick is a deeply flawed man, and his own personal struggles are far from over, but in moments like this, it's easy to see why he continues to be at the center of this story.

Next week: 


Efthymia said...

To be honest, I was never that attached to Hershel. I liked him OK, but I considered him more expendable than others (mostly because of his age -how ageist of me!). But he was indeed brilliant in this episode -both Hershel as a character and Scott Wilson portraying him.
While this show seems determined to make everyone super-likeable in order to make ther death more painful (I mean, look at what they did with Merle last year), I still would rather lose Hershel than Glenn. Sorry.

I understand Rick's worries about putting a gun into Carl's hands -he seems to enjoy it more than he should-, but depriving him of it was unrealistic and dangerous. And to be honest (again), the scene where they were mowing down walkers with the machine guns was pretty cool.

Rebecca T. said...

I thought that the scenes with Carl and Rick showed the way that both of them have matured. This episode's Carl, to me, seemed as far away from the Carl in the woods shooting the teenager as he is from the little boy in the cowboy hat on the steps. In the earlier scene where he tells Rick that he wants to help and Rick says he needs him to stay there and Carl says he can't hide from everything that has gone on. Rick says it's his job to try to protect him and Carl just nods and stays. In fact, he's stayed in the quarantine ward this whole time with only a minimal fight to come back out. That shows quite a bit of maturing in his life.
There were 2 images from this episode that really stood out to me. There was this brief moment during the horde attack right around the time that Carl throws Rick the new cartridge and Rick just kind of stops and looks at his son and the look of pride and respect in his eyes actually made me catch my breath. I see the two of them being a powerful team going forward.
The second scene was right at the end when Hershel leaves Glenn and Maggie and has his first moment of down time in a long time. Seeing him hold onto his Bible but then close it again and begin to cry was one of the most heartwrenching things on this show in a while for me - and that's saying something. It was a beautiful and horrible picture of how strong he keeps himself in front of other people and the toll that takes on him. It also shows why he has the adage of "everyone has a job" - he has a job and he has to keep doing it, because otherwise, like you noted Nikki, he would have to think about everything that's going on and has gone on around him.
One other thing - in the midst of all of the emotional upheaval of this episode, I would just like to say how much I am coming to love Michonne. Her smile is a lovely thing to see and the easiness with which she is beginning to connect to the other characters. I absolutely adored her brief moment with Hershel and I really hope that we get to see more of her in upcoming episodes.

Rebecca T. said...

I would also like to say how glad I am I saw this blog post because I miss talking about tv here!

Page48 said...

Hershel is going make an awesome Prison Santa.