Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Walking Dead 4.07: "Dead Weight"

Well, my big hopes for the Governor’s redemption have been flushed down the toilet, as we welcome to the show Charlie Francis from Fringe and Victor from Dollhouse. Welcome to another week of The Walking Dead, where I’m joined by my co-host, Joshua “The Survivor” Winstead! If you’re reading this on Facebook, please click on the link below to continue.

Nikki: Sigh. You know, I had real high hopes for Philip going good on this. I know you said last week that he had no hope, Josh, but I thought if the writers wanted a real challenge, they would actually put the Governor on the road to redemption. Is there a single character who would have been more difficult to redeem than this guy? Not one I can think of. And yet, knowing the love he had for his daughter and his wife, he’s one worth trying to redeem. Last week’s episode was so full of promise, and this week? All thrown into a zombie pit. 

“Dead Weight.” What an apt title.

In a way, I see Philip’s killing sprees and shift back over to the Dark Side as really lazy writing. Last week you could feel the tension and restraint in every frame of David Morrissey’s acting. This week it was just Woodbury set in the Dharma camp. So I can’t say I’m thrilled with the turn of events, and I have to confess, there was a part of me that thought, “Well, damn” when we ended up back at the prison. I was really enjoying the Governor’s story. I think he should get a spinoff of his own. I’d totally watch that. Josh, what did you think of part 2 of Brian’s Song?

Joshua:  Yes, it looks like the writer's room took the easy way out after all. I can't say I'm surprised, but I can't pretend the turn is any less disappointing, either. This season established itself with a voice so strong and confident that it gave rise to expectations that were clearly unrealistic in retrospect – for myself as well as you, I guess. And now here we are, right back where we started.

To be clear: there's no I-told-you-so pleasure in seeing this happen so predictably. Like you, I felt a strange allure in the possibility of broadening the narrow trajectory of The Governor's past through what could have proven to be genuine contrition and a heretofore unseen (and entirely unexpected) frailty. By the end of last season, he had become almost a cartoon villain, and my hope was that the minds behind the show recognized that and had plans to try for something more complex this year. Alas, it was not to be.

Though I didn't take the bait – and it's clear now that it was in fact bait, an elaborate setup to trick the audience into sympathy where none was truly deserved – you were right that the ambiguity of last week's episode showed genuine promise. Even this installment looked good at first blush. The opening sequence as Philip hung out their laundry, conversing with Meghan in an extension of their previous chess-as-war metaphor, was great stuff despite the situational retread, and the reveal of the tank at the end made me break out in gooseflesh. But from there, I found myself either questioning, or put off by, almost every narrative decision that followed. And that bums me out, man; I don't know how else to put it.

No matter how critical I was last week, and whether I agreed with the logic or not, I truly believed there were possibilities for this offbeat new direction, ways to keep things simple and grounded and play the idea out to a logical conclusion. For example, the show could have chosen to lean on the tension of whether or not Martinez would allow The Governor to maintain his cover, hinging the drama on the more reasonable possibility that his very efforts to shield Lily and Meghan from the truth about his past would prove to be what drove him back to the kind of murderous tactics that he seemed to want to leave behind him. Instead we got unexplained decapitations, unprovoked outbursts, and uninspired banter; the simple stereotypes of the Victor Charlie brothers and the hackneyed moral quandaries between them; an awkward stab at LGBT inclusion with a three-line courtship for Tara, so perfunctory it was embarrassing; et cetera, et cetera, culminating in a literal quagmire that blocked Philip's retreat from the coming storm and those old tendencies he knew he couldn't resist if he stayed. No kidding, I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt.

At the end of last week's write-up, I talked about how surprising it was to have found myself so engaged by the continuing story of The Governor. Now I find myself hoping that this midseason finale just puts a merciful end to it all. I'm so let down, I can scarcely muster the energy to write about it any more.

Nikki: I’m with you on this one. As I said in my email to you when I sent my first pass over, after this episode I’m ready to turn this into a Television Without Pity sort of recapping, each week talking about why the episode sucked and how much I hated it, more than actually analyzing it in any way.

Like you, I thought the opening scene held so much promise. The quiet banter between “Brian” and Meghan was so well done. “Were you bad?” “Sometimes.” But there’s this feeling that it’s in the past. Martinez notwithstanding, I felt like he just needed to move on, not stay with these people, and maybe that scene was far away, past all the others, where he and Meghan had made a new life for themselves with Lily and Tara. And then they pulled back to show the tank. And I thought, “Oh god. We know what he did to the LAST owners of a tank. This is bad. Bad bad bad.” And from that point on, it was just almost a formulaic return to the Governor of old. At first they try to play his anger and violence as him fighting against the very idea of becoming the Governor again, a trope that makes little sense. “I will strangle you to death with my bare hands rather than share a crown with you because I don’t want to become the sort of person who strangles another man with his bare hands!!!” O…kay. Got it. Shorthand from the writer’s room = this guy is a sociopath. Like we didn’t get that already.

As they come up on the log cabin they find a family where someone has gone completely batshit and killed all of them (and then himself) pinning words on each one, words that could all apply to Philip: Liar. Rapist. Murderer. (While technically we didn’t see him rape anyone, he did strip Maggie and make her believe she was going to be raped, traumatizing her for a long time afterwards.)

I didn’t like Tara last week, as I admitted, because she was so abrasive and bitchy all the time I just thought she was really annoying. And then… they throw the lesbian curveball. I saw it coming a mile away and muttered to my husband, “They’re bringing on the lesbian action.” Because as we all know, every single lesbian is a bitchy butch and a butchy bitch, am I right? Sigh. And then there’s the “I’ve never been into big guns” line, which caused both of us to groan loudly, and my husband to repeat, “Lesbian action.” This is 2013. Introducing gay characters into a show shouldn’t be that clumsily handled anymore. UGH.

As if him walking around systematically killing anyone who threatens his new pacifist nature (snort), we have to get the physical transformation as well, with “Brian” throwing on the jacket to become Philip once more (the Guv’nah was rarely seen outside without his leather jacket on) and stride around like a commander.

I should say, before we get attacked by fans saying we simply didn’t get it, that I did get the episode itself. It was about doing what you can to survive, and about the past catching up with you and consuming you, trapping you like a wave of zombies trapped in mud, unable to move. I get it. The tank, the army, Martinez himself (who was Philip’s right-hand man), the necessity of saving Lily and Meghan after he’d failed so badly with his own wife and child, Victor still moving about in the water as an underwater zombie who will never go away, instead a constant reminder of what “Brian” did (that effect was very cool, I must admit). He can’t escape the past. Once you lie about who you are, you’re doomed to play out the consequences of that lie. I just think that’s a motif that’s been done to death, and it would have been nice for the Walking Dead writers to change the script.

I did want to mention one thing. Coming on the heels of the very, VERY excellent 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who, there was a line that struck me particularly: the Governor says that there is no right thing, and no wrong thing: just the only thing. Interesting, the plot of “The Day of the Doctor” came down to that very same trope, and then the Doctors rethought it and realized nope, there’s never just one solution, and you do have the opportunity to find the right solution. I’ve complained on here before that TWD is becoming too grim, and for me, the possible redemption of Philip stood to fix all of them, and redeem him for all of us and show that yes, people can fall off the rails in desperate situations, but they do have good in them, and do deserve to embrace that goodness. Unfortunately, that would have been far too complicated when they have to wrap up everything for the mid-season finale, so… yeah, let’s just make him evil again and stomp on some more zombie heads, woohoo!!

You know what would have been far more challenging? Having him come to the prison, be turned away, and live adjacent to it, living his life peacefully while Rick unravels, showing that we all have the potential to go both ways. There are no good guys or bad guys, it’s just what you do with what you have that counts. But that’s just not dreary enough.

But hey, I should really find one good thing in this episode. My husband, a golf writer, said that Martinez had a really strong swing. So… there’s that?

Josh and I have chatted and decided we’ll keep this week’s analysis short, because we’ve pretty much said all we have to say.

Next week’s episode promises to bring more deaths of primary characters, which once again is going for the giant showboating rather than the more subtle storytelling, but here’s hoping that their deaths are meaningful and not just something thrown in there to create a tear in us. Remember when zombie Sophia lumbered out of the barn? Still one of the most beautifully gut-wrenching and heartbreaking moments I’ve ever seen on television. Grim, yes, but handled so adeptly that it still hurts. Can the Walking Dead writers return to that kind of gorgeous storytelling? 


Anonymous said...

Deja Vu anyone? For someone who, in Season 3, rolled her eyes every time the superhuman Gov'nuh came on screen, I was genuinely pleased and intrigued by the direction his character seemed to be headed. Alas, this week plunged me into the doldrums of the most predictable and unimaginative path possible for him and the show. I couldn't agree more that it is indicative of lazy writing. However, there is still that part of me that is holding out hope that the next episode will be filled with unexpected twists. Okay, maybe filled is too much to expect. At this point I would settle for one big one.

Efthymia said...

Last week I said I could never trust the Governor, so for me it's not exactly this episode that was pointless but the previous one -or, more accurately, both.
Ever since the Season 3 finale I expected the Governor to return and wreak havoc, so I'd rather we went straight to that instead of spending 2 hours of him wandering about and meeting stereotypes and gathering a new group to attack the prison. He was a psychopath then and he's a psychopath now and it could have taken about half an episode to show him meet a new group, charm (and/or kill) them into making him their leader and get them to attack the prison.
Personnaly, unlike you, I would have been very disappointed and slightly pissed off if they had tried to turn the Governor into a good guy. I would have much prefered to watch Andrea redeem herself rather than him. What does suck with him being evil once more (or, actually, still) is (a) he killed Pete, who seemed a decent guy -and, more importantly, was portrayed by Enver Gjokaj- and (b) I'm pretty sure Glenn's going to die. :S

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Martinez was getting on my nerves. If Brillip didn't do it, I was going to.

I watched Dexter. I think Enver is being typecast as victim of the week. Pretty creepy shot of him in the water, though.

Joel said...

I agree with Efthymia. The Governor was beyond redemption. I'm curious as to why there was any doubt about this. There was a story in the news about a Canadian who murdered his girlfriend by throwing her off a balcony in Australia. He was an obsessive control-freak and even had CCTV cameras installed to keep an eye on her when he was away. Was this guy "loving" at some point? Probably. But I assume he would do it again someday if given the opportunity.

Look, the Governor killed his girlfriend. And just about everyone else close to him. He is bad, psycho bad. Not cartoony. That would seem to imply that people like this don't exist. If only.

So I don't really think it was lazy writing. It was a look at how people get caught up with the wrong guy. Making the Governor "good" would have been the cop out. It really would take a whole new show to make it somewhat believable for the Gov to go (breaking) good.

I'm more curious as to how Rick handles "being in charge" again. He has also brushed up against the crazy line, but he also walked away willingly. And Carl - it's fascinating watching him grow in real time. Can there be any goodness in him? Right or wrong, or the only way?

But you're right in that Doctor Who was amazing! How could they pack so much goodness into one show?

Rebecca T. said...

I agree with some of the other commenters here that I too would have been more disappointed if they had worked to redeem the Governor - I understand the point you are making about showing that someone can come back, but, like Joel said, it would take its own show to develop the change necessary to turn him around. I do think that his focus is on protecting his own - his new "family" - and because of who he has become, this is the only way he knows how. He watches the leadership in the new camp and he knows that they are not doing enough to protect his daughter in this world. Though it is ironic that they are not attacked by zombies until he takes charge.
Which is, of course, the thing that drives him to the prison. Whether he was planning on going back there all along or not I'm not sure, but it is the only place he knows offers the kind of safety he needs. He obviously doesn't know all of the problems they have had with the illness, the collapsing fences, etc. To him, it's the only option not only because it is the safest place left in the area but also because it gives him a chance to go after the people who destroyed his first family.
One note about Pete floating in the lake - did anyone else think, well here's his new zombie aquarium set up?
I do think and hope that there are some twists in the mid-season finale, and one possibility I see was set up this week in the massacre of the family in the woods. That means that there is a 3rd group in play - a vicious group who is desperate for supplies. Could this 3rd group become a great enough threat that the Governor and the prison group end up having to form some sort of very uneasy truce between themselves in order to face a new outside threat? I would find that very intriguing.

Nikki Stafford said...

Perhaps in my mind I'm comparing it to another AMC show, Breaking Bad, where Walter got worse and worse, but had these moments of humanity and pain and anguish throughout, so you couldn't help but continue to root for this guy who'd broken bad and was getting worse. With Phillip, it's just over the top. Why waste your time working through complicated plots of the Governor actually struggling with his behaviour when it's SO much easier to have him roll a tank up to the prison? That's what I mean about lazy writing. Was anything on this week's episode unique and original? Nope. The season 3 finale was a shoot-out at the prison with the Governor and a giant vehicle with a gun mounted on top. The midseason finale for 4 will be... um... exactly the same thing.

I don't think he could have ever been a truly good guy. But in the previous episode, we saw him truly struggle to at least try to be. And it's a struggle that would have been a long, difficult one. Let's not debate whether he's cartoony or real; he's not real, he's a fictional character in a fictional universe with ZOMBIES, so how about the writers try something new and show how a fictional character might attempt to be redeemed. I'm not saying, "Hey, any psycho serial killer can be redeemed; first the Governor and next... Paul Bernardo!" No, I'm saying let's explore one man's difficult journey, where he perhaps kills once and then falls back into the darkness of trying to redeem himself once more. With Philip, it was kill once, and... we're back to the Governor full-on. They missed a real opportunity to work with this character and make him something more than he was last season.

Efthymia said...

I understand why you (and anyone) would be interested in seeing how the Governor might be redeemed. The reason why I am not is that it would require a lot of focus and time spent on the Governor, focus and time away from characters I already love, who haven't been so horrible and whose future I'm invested in.
The Governor is a great bad-guy, one who showed that humans can be worse than zombies (which is usually the zombie genre's conclusion and why it's so great a genre), but I feel that he's served his purpose and I want the show to be over with him and move on.

I think fascination with anti-heroes has gotten a bit extreme lately. The fictional characters I love occasionaly make stupid mistakes and horrible decisions, but they're essentially good -even great- people.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I don't think it's really about the Governor's redemption, but about his point of view. He thinks he's a good guy. He thinks he's in the right and Rick is in the wrong. I don't think anything he said about what he'd done was a lie, per se. He probably even blames Rick for burning Woodbury, although physically he did it himself.

Everyone's the hero of his own story.