Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Walking Dead Catch-Up Post!!

So, the last time we posted on The Walking Dead it was rather, um, sweary on my part. And then there’s this book I’m writing on Sherlock (hitting fine bookstores near you in fall 2015) and my deadline was approaching, and between that and a pile of work that suddenly hit Josh’s desk, our back-and-forth chats turned into, “Sorry, I meant to send you something yesterday and I’ll get it to you later today...” “So... by “today” I meant “tomorrow” and now tomorrow has come and I’ll have it to you later, sorry...” and then it was sent, and days went by, and the other person was all, “Sorry, I guess we missed the cut-off because of last night’s episode, should we combine the two?” “Sure, let’s do that, but first... I have this pile of work and a deadline and I’ll do my best but...” “OK, two days later, here’s something...” “Great... I’ll get it to you by the weekend...” “Oh look, the next episode just aired again...”

No end of fun behind the scenes here. But his work let up a bit, and I officially handed in my manuscript last week (November 19 at 10:33pm) and so there’s been a flurry of catch-up this week.

So here’s what we’ve decided to do: Usually we do a 6-part back and forth (which, this season, has more often been a 4-part) and instead what we’ve done is two parts for each episode, covering
            5.05 Self Help (Glenn’s group at the bookstore and sidewalk zombie slurry)
            5.06 Consumed (Carol and Daryl and the Beechcraft van)
            5.07 Crossed (this past week’s first part of the season finale)

Thanks for bearing with us, and I really do appreciate all the emails and messages I’ve gotten over the past few weeks asking where our posts are. ;)

Nikki: So after last week’s curse-filled rant [just a note that I wrote this three weeks ago] about the hopelessness of this show, we had a great discussion about how bleak it’s become versus the episodes that shine like a beacon in the darkness. Rebecca T. had a lot of great points (go back and check the comments of the post to read her thoughts). Like I said last week, maybe it’s the Canadianness in me that can’t accept the whole “there will always be one megalomaniac to ruin it all” argument, mostly because the closest we’ve come to apocalypse in my neck of the woods has been getting dumped with five feet of snow overnight, and that results in every person in our neighbourhood out on the street helping shovel each other’s driveways out and even shovelling the street itself to help other cars come and go — and we also have universal socialized medicine and believe everyone deserves such a thing, and it’s never been much of an argument here, so maybe the idea of a hospital with free medical care being an evil nest of evil just rubbed me the wrong way — but this week’s episode was completely different, and pretty much summed up all the reasons why I love this show so much despite everything. So I can happily say this post will be free of swears. ;)

Before I move on, though, I do want to mention I was chatting about “Slabtown” with my friend Tania, and we were theorizing that perhaps Carol is faking being on that gurney to sneak her way into the hospital and break Beth out. Oooh...

But on to this week’s episode. The writing in this outing was pretty spectacular, and it actually had laughs. No, REALLY, it had laughs. From Abraham announcing he needs “some ass” before bed and Glenn stuttering about the TMI-ness of that comment to Eugene creepily watching from the self-help section of the bookstore — “I consider this a victimless crime that provides both comfort and distraction” — it was so nice to see some levity in the midst of the darkness.

And also . . . bookstore. I think I would have waved the rest of them on their way and just settled in there for the rest of my days. My heart broke harder seeing the books being ripped apart for kindling than it did when the zombies got turned into pink mushy stew on the sidewalk. Remember what the good doctor said about the place of art in this world last week.

And yet it is through the very medium of art — in this case, television — that the story is being told, and as the writers on Lost did, certain things are dropped into the framework as shorthand to tell a larger story. Eugene is reading H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come at one point, a book written in 1933 where Wells envisioned history for the next 170 years, imagining a second world war breaking out in 1940 (!!) and lasting 10 years, a dictatorship ultimately rising out of that with religion being suppressed everywhere, and ultimately that dictatorship dissolving through a coup and everyone living happily ever after in a utopia as a highly intelligent, evolved species.

Turns out Eugene’s story that he was going to save the world was about as realistic as Wells’ solution to humanity’s evils.

The big revelation about Eugene was one that maybe everyone else saw coming but I certainly didn’t, and my jaw dropped to the ground when he said it, and then I thought, of course he doesn’t have the cure. It sounded ridiculous all along, he never gave any details when anyone would ask, which made no sense because if you have the cure, don’t you need to have a second copy of it just in case? My husband said he’d been suspecting this for a few weeks now but said nothing, so perhaps I was all alone, but Eugene’s big confession, coupled with what it means to Abraham and the meaning of his life — and everyone who died to keep Eugene and his Tennessee Top Hat alive — created a climax in an episode that served as that necessary pause moment we get at least once a season, where we reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Just a stunning episode through and through.

What were your thoughts, Josh?

Josh: When Abraham, Eugene and Rosita first came on the scene, I had somewhat mixed feelings about them. Their corresponding characters in the comics were rather broadly sketched and kind of underwhelming, and I'll admit I wasn't crazy about incorporating them into the group. The decision seemed more a matter of sticking to the source and trying to beef up the ranks after the fall of the prison than it was a genuine effort to enrich the team. And from the comics, I knew that Eugene's story was a lie (provided they stayed true to that detail), so I figured at most their storyline would only serve as a distraction.

What I didn't count on is how much I would like Michael Cudlitz and Josh McDermitt in these roles. The stereotypical 'redneck' portrayal can easily come across as a caricature more than an actual human being, and I don't think that has proven to be the case with Abraham and Eugene at all. The two of them felt very much the opposing sides of a single coin at first, with that stark divide between meathead and egghead, but the less defined parts of their characters have been gradually taking shape, and the reveals of “Self Help” really snapped them into focus as individuals, finally bringing to light their histories and motivations in a way that painted them both as much more human and relatable than before.

For Abraham, the world really ended not when the dead began to rise. It ended when his willingness to do what he felt was necessary to protect his family instead drove them away from him. Perhaps the sight of him beating someone to death with a can of green beans was enough in and of itself to inspire their fear; it seems more likely that he was already prone to losing his temper, and the sight of him channeling that rage to murderous effect, regardless of the premise, only confirmed to his family what they always suspected him capable. Either way, they ran from his violent nature, right to their own ends, and Abraham was left to balance both the guilt he feels over their deaths and the knowledge that the same brutality has now become his most valuable asset.

It is immediately into the wake of this tragedy that Eugene stumbles, terrified and desperate, completely inadequate for the business of staying alive in the new world but savvy enough to know a good opportunity when he saw it, and more than willing to say and do whatever he needed to maintain it. He tells a story and renews Abraham's will to live; suddenly his doubt becomes the staunch mindset and uncompromising attitude we've seen since he first appeared. Meanwhile, Eugene has done everything in his power to stave the inevitable moment when the truth comes out – the moment when his usefulness burns itself out like a candle drowning in its own wax.

Which, of course, isn't true, as Eugene has proven himself useful in other ways besides hand to hand combat. Anyone who has the kind of knowledge that can see a fire started with a used battery and a piece of invisible tape is plenty useful in a post-apocalyptic environment, for any number of reasons. Survival isn't only about who can stab the most zombie brains. But Eugene has no self confidence. We're left to assume this is as much about his life up to the collapse as it is the new state of the world, and he is keenly aware of the cost, as is proven when he recites the names of all those friends who were lost to protect him and the fictional idea of a cure. The guilt has left him haunted, shamed and even more ineffectual than before. I'm anxious to see how his personality changes if he wakes up from the beating he received at the hands of Abraham, to see whether he can use this confession as a springboard to new courage or instead retreats even further into himself.

The Walking Dead has always been terrific at the action and tension but has sometimes struggled with the character work necessary to make us feel more than a gut reaction nervousness about the fates of these people. So far, this season has showed a whole new understanding of that dynamic, bringing us all the same action while tempering it with emotional moments that rival anything else on television right now. The writing has never been better, and I've never felt more engaged and excited as a viewer. “Self Help” was a perfect example of why the interpersonal relationships are every bit as important as the zombies.

And this next part was written several days later, after I managed to miss posting “Self Help” in the proper week and so we decided to combine the two into one.

Nikki: I agree with you that this season has done such a great job with the character studies, and its episodes like last week’s “Consumed,” where we just followed Carol and Daryl, was one such character study. I LOVED this episode. Not only did it do what it does best, where two characters are isolated from the rest and we just follow their story to gain a deeper understanding of them, but it also brought us back around to where we’d left the story at the end of “Four Walls and a Roof” — where Daryl is calling into the bushes for someone to come on out now. We speculated last week that the person he’d be talking to is Noah, and by the end of this episode that’s exactly who it was. However, I was also thinking, as I said above, that I was hoping Carol had been faking her injuries to get into the hospital. Wrong.

And let’s just get it out of the way: we all saw that Lost reference, and it was one of those things where it couldn’t have been by accident. Carol and Daryl see a van teetering on the edge of a bridge, and what do you do when you see something like that? Why, good question, Boone, you CLIMB RIGHT IN THAT PUPPY. As soon as they both got in there I said to my husband, “Cripes, they should have written Beechcraft on the side of the thing... is this a Lost reference?” (Sadly, his memory is short, and he had no idea what I was talking about.) And then I said, “Oh my god is that a Virgin Mary statue on the dash??!!” He remembered that one. Then kablammo, the van goes down, and they somehow survive the fall (RIP Boone) and as they were leaving I’m yelling, “Daryl, grab the Virgin Mary statue, you might want to see what’s inside!!!” Also, when Daryl grabbed that pack of cigarettes — Morley’s — they were the same brand the Cigarette Smoking Man used in The X-Files.

My favourite part of this episode involved Carol and Daryl going to the women’s shelter where Carol spent a night long ago as an abused wife, running from the man who beat her with her daughter in tow. She revels at how much she’s changed since then, a woman who ran from danger, then, afraid of being on her own, she ran back and just took it from a man who betrayed her trust and love, pushing her daughter back into an environment of violence and fear. Now her husband is gone, and her daughter is gone, and for all intents and purposes, that Carol is gone. In her place is the woman who was always there, just below the surface, but who was never allowed to show her face. But what has she lost to get here? She addresses the fact that she comes off as emotionless, but we know that there’s a part of her that can still be hurt, as we see in the brief flashback to her breaking down when Rick exiled her. It seemed like she’d been gone for so long, but you realize in this flashback that he sent her away, and the Governor attacked very soon after, and then she ran into Tyreese. So she didn’t end up being on her own for very long, but it was long enough for her to probably think about where she’d ended up, and be on her own for the first time in a very, very long time. It was within that time she became the new, stronger version of herself.

What I loved most about this scene is that it was a man and a woman together, talking. There’s always been a hope that Carol and Daryl would get together in a romantic way, but their friendship is deeper and different than that. She falls backwards onto a bed and talks to him, and then he does exactly the same thing. There are no strings attached, and no inclination to do anything beyond that. For the first time we see a man and a woman who just truly care about each other, and there’s nothing more to it than that. They are both damaged by their pasts, and stronger in their present. However, where Carol has buried the past in order to move on, Daryl is ready to stop doing that, as we see when the book about how to treat childhood abuse falls out of his backpack. Last season he broke down when he was with Beth, and told her how badly he’d been treated as a child. Now, seeing how strong Carol has become, he seems ready to finally confront that.

Were you getting Pearl Station flashbacks on this one, too, Josh? ;)

Joshua: I've been feeling Lost vibes from this show a lot lately, it seems, from the opening on Beth's eye in “Slabtown” to the regular flashbacks we're starting to see. This episode's periodic scenes with Carol recalling moments of isolation and doubt were just perfect, each one brief and wordless but such deft touchstones for her state of mind in those situations. There was something keenly powerful about each one, and I have to give partial credit to the staging but all the rest to Melissa McBride, whose work has always been amazing on the show but has really turned it up to 11 this season. The depth of communication she conveys with just a simple narrowing of her eyes is phenomenal to me, and I don't think we would find Carol's journey half as compelling without such a remarkable actor shepherding the portrayal.

Good writing sure doesn't hurt, though, and this season's been firing bullets throughout. The part that torpedoed me this week was their run-in with the walker mother and child at the shelter. The whole shelter-as-backdrop situation was a masterful choice anyway, considering both Carol and Daryl's respective histories, but that moment in particular really made it sing for me. Everything about the way it came together was simply tremendous – with the distant sound first bringing them up from their rest and on the offensive, then the tension of their search through the darkened hallways, and then everything shifting when they come upon these two strangers, faceless through the frosted glass but instantly relatable nonetheless. And despite Carol's willingness, Daryl then gently holds her back from going in to 'do what had to be done,' only to go back later while she slept and take care of the job himself. When Carol comes around the corner and finds him gingerly carrying the bodies to where he's burning them on the roof, the look on her face held so much warmth and sympathy and affection for this man – someone who used to be one big raw nerve in a leather vest but is now as important to her as was once her own daughter, and she more important to him than any family member he ever had. What an amazing scene.

It's exactly the kind of rich, nuanced material that, more than flashbacks or anything else, has made me most think of Lost when watching recent episodes of TWD. The portrayals of these characters has grown so well-defined that I find myself caring even for cast members as peripheral as Rosita Espinoza, and our connection to longtime survivors like Carol and Daryl just continues to deepen. It's why Bob's death was so impactful a few weeks back, and it will be why the next deaths will hit so much harder than we're used to feeling here. I have doubts this encounter at the hospital will go very smoothly, and I think major deaths are inevitable in the coming finale. And man, it is stressing me out.

Are you getting that same feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach, Nik?

Nikki: I pretty much always have that dread in my stomach when I watch my favourite shows. Thank YOU, Joss Whedon, for demonstrating to showrunners the sheer power of killing off major characters. Sigh. I agree with you about the zombie mom and child — heartbreaking. We haven’t seen many zombie children, and Carol hasn’t encountered too many since her own daughter became one, and she acted quickly to avert the zombifications of Lizzie and Mika. Considering children would be among the weakest members of society, you’d think they’d be everywhere . . . and in a real zombie apocalypse, I suspect they would. They just know that we viewers simply couldn’t handle seeing that every week. Thank goodness.

And that brings us to “Crossed,” the first part of the mid-season finale. (I’ll just go on record one more time to say how much I hate that invented TV term, but anyway...) After paring it down to small character studies over the past few weeks — Beth in “Slabtown,” then Glenn and Co. in “Self Help,” then Carol and Daryl in “Consumed” — we start leaping back and forth between the group of them, showing how they’re all moving in on one another. Abraham is paralyzed with rage as he sits rigidly on his knees, unmoving (and dude, when he stands up, his legs will be JELLY), while Eugene lies unconscious on the ground and Maggie guards both of them, and Glenn, Rosita, and Tara go fishin’. 

As you said above, Eugene may have been lying, but he knows a LOT of survival techniques that will get them through this, and this week we learn a new one, where Rosita constructs a water filter with stones and a piece of her shirt. (I still remember doing this experiment way back in high school science, and my water was totally muddy at the end of it and I’d clearly done something wrong. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m going down early in a zombie apocalypse.) Meanwhile Glenn and Tara discover fish and seem completely shocked by it. Why? I realize they haven’t exactly been catching many fish throughout the show, but why would a zombie apocalypse mean the fish would all die? Or is his surprise a result of this being a murky swampy river in the middle of nowhere, basically a place one wouldn’t expect to find fish? I will admit, I’d be wary about eating them. How many zombies are lying along the bottom of that river (still moving, since zombies don’t have to breathe but they’re probably stuck in the muck) rotting away while the fish eat pieces of their flesh? Could the fish be zombified? Ew.

I loved when Maggie came up with the makeshift sunshade for Eugene, mostly because I had no idea what she was doing at first. Ladder? Blanket? Is she climbing up onto the roof to sunbathe? That is one smart gal. I feel for Abraham — we saw the flashbacks to his desperate need for a mission and how he believed he was actually going to save the world in all of this — but here’s hoping that his long afternoon of silence might actually make him think everything through for once and realize that Eugene could still be useful for him.

Meanwhile, over in Slabtown, Rick & Daryl and Company are having a hell of a time dealing with the cops. My husband called right away that the dude Noah referred to as “one of the good ones” was actually going to turn on them, but I’m keen to find out how that’s going to play out. What did you think about what was going on there?

Joshua: From the very start, everything about this rescue mission tastes sour to me. As he's making his initial plan, Rick seems far overconfident about the ease with which they can liberate their friends and minimize bloodshed. Daryl and Tyrese both call him out on it, and the plot complicates further with their revised plan to trade hostages. The shot-in-the-air ploy they use to attract attention works well, but they underestimate Dawn's cops, who have a backup man watching from nearby.

It's a mistake that almost costs them both their leverage and Daryl, who narrowly escapes a violent death at the hands of meat slab Licari (and Licari who in turn narrowly escapes a gunshot head at the hands of Rick, thanks to Daryl's quick reasoning). And then, after their initial underestimation, THEY DO IT AGAIN by trusting their three prisoners' integrity, including full faith in their information about Dawn and the situation at Grady. To boot, Sasha's own struggles with the weight of the murder she committed inspire her to isolate herself with one of them in an attempt to 'help' him and instead winds up bleeding on the floor. Now Lamson is on the run, headed back toward the hospital to fill Dawn in on their plans, ensuring they've lost their best bargaining chip and the element of surprise, not to mention possibly losing Sasha from active duty (which will surely mean losing Tyrese, too). The odds are narrowing, and not in their favor.

But maybe things aren't quite as they seem, after all. Maybe Lamson was actually on the level, and he's now headed back to marshal his own troops, planning to use RickCo's posse as the distraction he needs to mount the takeover he's been planning all along. Anything could happen at this point, and that's the beauty of this setup. Next week's half-finale begins with a lot of pieces in motion, and right now we have no idea what to expect. Will these plots converge again, with perhaps others like Michonne (or maybe even Morgan) showing up at the hospital just in time to turn the tide? Or will this prove to be another tragedy from which they might emerge, but only smaller in number and permanently scarred?

In the immortal words of Han Solo, I've got a bad feeling about this.

We've blown through three episodes of recap in very short order, Nikki. I know that's somewhat out of necessity because we've managed to fall so far behind in recent weeks (and apologies to the steady readership for what I promise couldn't be avoided), but I don't want to be overly hasty, either, particularly considering the high quality of this run of episodes. Was there anything else we've missed that you wanted to discuss before we wrap it up?

Nikki: I was glad to see the hospital again; even though that, technically, was our last post on The Walking Dead, it was also four weeks ago now, and it was nice to see the doctor again. I don’t know what Dawn is playing at by giving Beth the key to the drug cabinet. The doctor insinuated that Beth is being played, but Beth goes along with it anyway. But then again, Noah had said that Lamson was on the level and he appears to have betrayed Sasha. I think it’ll be fascinating if, in the final episode, we find out the bad guys might actually be the good guys, and vice versa, and everyone has to question which side they’ve aligned themselves with. That’s the sort of thing The Walking Dead is really good at exploring.

But then again, as you say, it’s a mid-season finale. And bad things always happen in those episodes. Let’s brace ourselves... something tells me our people are not going to come out intact.

Thanks for bearing with us everyone, and again, sorry for the wait.


Efthymia said...

I'm with Abraham in the wanting-to-smash-Eugene's-face department.
I get that Eugene is way more brains than brawn, and that in this world this isn't really an asset. Intelligent characters tend to be my favourites, and I would have enormous respect for Eugene if only he had said "I want to get to Washington because I have an idea on how to cure this. I'm not sure it will work, but I want to at least try." -it would have given people hope and therefore gotten him allies who would protect him on the road to Washington, but there's a huge difference between "I will try it" and "I definitely know how to do it", and the consequences of him not being able to cure this would have been very different.
I'm sorry, but Eugene is a bad guy. He sacrificed others for his own survival, which doesn't make him all that different from Shane or the Termites. And once again (FANGIRL ALERT!) Glenn said it perfectly when he said that "damn right" we should be mad at him.

I need more backstory on Abraham and his family to not consider his wife a complete idiot who thought it was safer outside in zombie-infested land, and even dragged her kids with her, than inside with the guy who would go to extremes to protect them.

So, they plan to attack the hospital to get Beth and Carol out, and they leave 'Baddest Badass That Has Ever Badassed' Michonne behind and take 'I Really Really Don't Like Killing People' Tyrese with them? In the immortal words of Spike, "Is everyone here very stoned?"

And of course they shouldn't have trusted New Bob! He's Hydra!

Anyway, some general thoughts:
- My favourite characters are Glenn and Michonne, and I'm pretty bummed about how underused they have been this season. The greatest thing Glenn has done was to say they can decide for themselves, and I can't remember I single thing about Michonne other than "lost sword-got sword back". I want eternal awesome badassery from the both of them, is that too much to ask?
- I'm so tired of the Daryl shipping. There are all kinds of things going on, and there's a not-small number of people whose main concern is whether Daryl will make out with Carol or Beth. Ugh.
- Can a zombie please eat Gabriel in the next episode? I can't stand him.

Page48 said...

As if there's any freaking way that van lands right side up.

You don't need to beat someone to death with a can of green beans, just spoon feed them the contents (YUK!).

Sasha a) fell for Constable Bob's nice-guy bullshit, b) cut him loose and then c) turned her back on him. That is an unassisted triple play. Let's take a look at that again in slo-mo.

"Mid-season finale". I'm almost as tired of hearing that phrase as I am hearing "raising awareness".

I wish we'd seen Beth's reaction when they wheeled Carol in. That had to be worth a few seconds of screen time. Although, as missed opportunities go, it still ranks well back of shape shifters killing Charlie Francis off-screen.

Morgan, we know you're out there somewhere.

yourblindspot said...

A 'Bits & Bobs' appendix:

• I know I say so often, but Bear McCreary's work adds so much to this show. The music this season seems to have received a shift in tone, too, away from what has always been very restrained and instead toward a bolder, more salient intent. I am loving the bigger themes, and it makes me continue to question how such a successful show can have two soundtrack albums available to the public, and neither of them contain any of the score. (And no, the twinkly trip-hoppy remix version of the theme on vol. 1 doesn't count. At all.)

• Abraham, on the fire hose shooting gallery: "I been to eight county fairs and one goat rodeo. I never seen anything like that."

• Maggie's open-ended Samson story/sermon to Eugene.

• Abraham's mantra: "I will not knock down. I will not abase. I will not give up the ship." Like Drill Sergeant Stuart Smalley.

• The zombies in sleeping bags; the one in the tent. "Some days I don't know what the hell to think."

• The darkness in the nighttime city scenes from "Consumed" was incredible, everything shapes and sounds, shadow puppets, black against black.

• The art appraisal scene between Carol and Daryl: "Looks like a dog sat in paint, wiped its ass all over the place."

• When the walkers started raining down onto the van after its fall from the overpass, I jumped about three feet, hard enough to knock my headphones off my head.

• So hilariously awesome to me that you noticed the Cigarette Smoking Man's brand: Morley. Just like I did. Supergeeks, UNITE!

• Maggie: "Sit down or I'll put you down." Then, later: "Did you want me to shoot you?" Abraham is not the kind to commit suicide; he'd see it as a cop-out. But he believed her. Because she meant it. And he sat down.

"Carol - it's Beth. I just wanted you to know I was here."

Rebecca T. said...

Yay! Count me among the people who almost e-mailed you to make sure you were still alive especially after Eugene's revelation, Nikki :)

This is one of the things about reading the GN - I knew that revelation would be coming. I just wasn't expecting it to come so quickly.

I thought these three episodes were well put together and I am super nervous about the last episode before the break.

I too think Michonne has been underused this season so far. I was also really really really really annoyed that Sasha actually untied that guy and then turned her back on him. So frustrating. I don't care if one person you just met said he was reliable. You wait and see how things play out. Have they learned nothing? And I thought his story was moving, but also obviously manipulative *sigh*

I am sure I had more thoughts, but I am drawing a blank, so I'll end here :)

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