Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Walking Dead: Triggerfinger and 18 Miles Out

Why yes, I WAS trying to gross you out. I don't think my Walking Dead pics that accompany our reviews have been gory enough.

Welcome to two weeks of The Walking Dead. Why, it’s two weeks! Two weeks! Two weeks in one!

Okay, it’s not really that exciting, more like my co-host, Josh Winstead and I have both been so insanely busy lately that we just haven’t found time to do this. That and fatigue sets in for both of us around, oh, just after lunchtime, so doing these recaps back and forth in the evenings is a little…zzzzzzzzz….

Gah! Wha? Oh, sorry, I’m awake again. So the last two weeks’ episodes of The Walking Dead will be brought to you by… the walking dead.

Nikki: We complained a lot in the first half of the season that this show had become The Talking Dead, with very little action and too much yammering. I have no such complaints anymore. Yes, there’s still talk and philosophy, but it’s balanced with equal parts awesomeness.

First, “Triggerfinger.” It’s hard to look at these two episodes separately now, because “Triggerfinger” set up a few things that came to a head in “18 Miles Out,” but let’s do a quick recap. In this episode, Lori wakes up in her crashed car to find she’s almost zombie food, but she deals with the zombie, gets away, Shane picks her up and promises Rick and the others have returned (he’s lying) and finally he tells her that he believes the baby is his. Meanwhile Glen, Rick, and Hershel discover that the two guys they got rid of in the bar had friends, and there’s an old-fashioned shoot ‘em up at the OK Corral, with the guys making it out okay, bringing back one of the other guys who’d been left behind when his leg was impaled on an iron fence. (Gah.) Meanwhile, Daryl has moved out to a tent in the woods (because THAT’S safe) and Carol goes out to try to talk to him and he berates her, projecting his own guilt over Sophia’s death onto Carol. Andrea sticks up for Shane and the way he’s been doing things, and finally in a bit of a Lady Macbeth moment, Lori literally wraps herself around Rick’s body as she whispers into his ear that Shane believes the baby is his, and that he could take better care of her and Carl than Rick can. Zoom in on Rick’s threatened face.

While there’s a lot of stuff that we can definitely talk about in this week’s episode, I wanted to mention the scene between Daryl and Carol (did they rhyme them on purpose?) They don’t appear in this week’s episode at all, but in that scene in the woods last week, it was sizzling. Daryl is just plain cruel, but the meanness of his words belie the pain he’s feeling himself. What I loved is the performances between the two. The entire time he was standing there berating her, I kept thinking, “Dude, that woman has skin so thick you can’t get to her… don’t you remember what her husband did to her?” As long as Daryl isn’t pummeling her with his fists, he can’t hurt her.

And then… THEN… he tells her that Sophia is dead because she didn’t keep her safe, that she didn’t care enough about her, and Carol’s head reels back as if he’d physically punched her in the face. It was an extraordinary moment, but even though he’d just emotionally shot her in the gut, she brings her head back to centre and keeps staring right at him. You know, I didn’t think much of Carol in the first half of this season, but the performance between these two actors was electric. The writers have found the perfect pairing in these two.

Only downside of “Triggerfinger”? Lori’s still alive. Sigh. Your thoughts?

Josh: Ha! You know, this episode had several great exchanges in it, and all of them involved one character trying unsuccessfully to coerce another. In the first, we saw Daryl pushing Carol away (and failing spectacularly, for all the reasons you mentioned above, a wonderful moment that comes full circle when we see Daryl sort-of participating with the group in the dining room meeting at the end of the episode, albeit grudgingly so). Then we had Lori pushing Shane away (and failing every bit as spectacularly) in an incredible show of talent from Jon Bernthal, who was riveting here to me even in his reaction shots, playing a lot more depth than I've seen from him recently (though, to his credit, the dialogue here was better than usual too).

And finally, we got that creepy devil-on-your-shoulder heart-to-heart between Lori and Rick in the tent, with the strong suggestion that her husband resolve the escalating Shane problem with a bit of frontier justice. As little as I like her, I never would have expected Lori to go all Atia of the Julii on us, and I kind of loved it. I thought it was a great wrap for the episode and did a good job of transitioning into the beginning of the next, where the timeline jumps a week (unlike the direct chronological abutment to which we're accustomed with this show).

There were certainly parts of this episode that fell flat for me – the entirety of the Maggie/Glenn story, for example, which felt manufactured, particularly in the moment when she runs past Hershel to embrace Glenn once they finally get back to the farm – but in general, I thought it was a well-plotted and engrossing hour. It also featured some terrific camerawork as well, with the disorientation and horror of that great opening sequence and any number of other examples (the overhead shot wherein Rick is rounding the dumpster behind the bar, a gun in each hand, leaps to mind).

However, I have neglected to mention one of the most significant aspects of this particular episode: namely, that it might be the single goriest one of the series thus far. As that first zombie at the crash site pushed its head through the windshield, peeling its face off in the process, I said out loud, “Wow, that's the most awful thing I've ever seen on this show.” And then the miserable gunshot guy behind the bar had his face discounted by 50%, and I said, “Wait, no...” But before five more minutes had passed, young Randall was stuck on the fence, and suddenly Rick turned into the Batman of leg yankers, and I elected to stop making grand statements.

Nikki: Atia of the Julii, NICE!! And a perfect analogy.

And SO agreed on the gore. You forgot the pickax through the back of the head and out the forehead. Geeeeaaaaahhhhh….. This week’s episode, “18 Miles Out,” certainly ramped up the gore as well, as Shane and Rick got caught up in a total zompocalypse and had to stab, shoot, and brain explode their way out of it. The ick factor is certainly strong with this one.

So with that, let’s move to this week. Last week a lot of tension was built up, and in this week it all came to a head. What an emotionally gutting week this was. The episode opened with Shane and Rick, literally at a crossroads (the symbolism was a little obvious there, but I’ll give it to them), discussing everything that’s happened between them that’s gone unspoken – Shane moving in on Lori when Rick was presumed dead; Shane’s possible murder of Otis; who’s the alpha male who’s better equipped to take care of everyone. I thought Shane was humanized a bit in this scene: he has the chance to be perfectly honest, and he is, saying that if he could take things back, he would have. That he never looked at Lori before he thought Rick was dead, and he’s sorry. Of course, talk is cheap, and this open dialogue eventually becomes something else completely when Rick and Shane are down to brass tacks, “discussing” whether or not they should leave the kid behind for zombie food or just put him out of his misery to ensure he doesn’t come to Maggie’s farm (I’m only now realizing the Dylan reference) and put all their lives in jeopardy.

For me, the best part of the Rick/Shane showdown was, again, the symbolism, but done a little more subtly this time around. As they fight, it gets sloppy and tired, and notice how they’re growling like zombies, they’re flopping around like zombies, they’re bleeding from several orifices like zombies… As Shane throws something at Rick and it goes through the window, you see Shane reflected in the glass, just as a walker is shuffling up to the window, as if there’s very little difference between Shane and the creature on the other side of the glass. But at this point, there really isn’t. They’re all just fighting for survival, following their animal instincts. Just like the walker they show stumbling through the field at the beginning and end of the episode, these survivors are all just stumbling along, completely lost.

Josh: Maggie's Farm! How have I never made that connection either? Must be slipping in my old age.

But on to “18 Miles Out,” or as I've been calling it, “Knife To The Head(s).”

This show features a good deal of recycling what are essentially the same conversations over and over – understandably, as the issues and concerns that provoke them are ever present. And this All-The-Rules-Have-Changed-Now debate is one we've seen several times already, but for me, I don't think it has ever been as effective or concise as it is in this instance, as Shane and Rick finally, FINALLY battle it out.

The heart of the argument lies in two statements: first, at the crossroads, Shane says of Otis, “Reality is, he had no business being here. There. Wherever.” Telling Rick beyond a shadow of a doubt that he thinks he gets to make those decisions, that he believes he has the right to determine who lives and dies, who is fit and who is fodder. Confirming that he is every bit as dangerous as Lori said he is.

And later, right before the fists start to fly, Rick answers him, finally says what he's been thinking ever since: “Stop acting like you know the way ahead! Like you know the rules!” Because, of course, there aren't any, not any more. There are the rules by which they choose to govern themselves, their own behavior, but even that is purely by choice and only works if no one else is around (as Tony and Dave's pals proved out). Rick may say he's “not the good guy any more,” but he's honorable, and he's steadfast, and in the narrow strip of shoulder they occupy on the side of the road to hell, that's as good as it gets.

I loved that shot of Shane too, looking just like a walker in the broken glass after trying to kill Rick with the giant wrench, but my favorite symbolism of the episode came as the two of them drove down the road on the way to the town. Rick is talking about plans for winter – precautions that need to be taken, ways the walkers' behavior might change in the cold – while Shane stares at that wandering zombie out in the field. What a great encapsulation of the difference between them, with Rick looking toward the future and Shane able to think of nothing but the immediacy of what's right in front of him. And that undoubtedly means this fight between them isn't over yet.

As incendiary as was this ongoing battle between our two male leads this week, however, the part of this episode that really did me in was that crushing speech Beth made to Maggie explaining why she wants to take her own life. Everything about their arguments (and the actors' performances) was perfect to me, and by the time Beth says, “I don't want to be gutted. I want to go,” I was sort of a basket case.

What about you?

Nikki: Nice interpretation of the walker in the field! I’ll admit, the nitpicker was awake in me, as I thought to myself, “We’re supposed to see the same zombie wandering the same field, but technically, if Shane and Rick were driving west on the way in, they would have been driving east on the way out and the zombie would have been seen out of the other side of the car.” But it’s less poetic that way. So let’s just assume the zombie crossed the road. Cue “Why did the zombie cross the road” jokes. (To eat the chicken’s brains?)

As you say, while the Shane/Rick smackdown was clearly the central scene of the episode, what was happening with the womenfolk over at the homestead was clearly just as important. The scenes with Beth/Maggie, Lori/Andrea, and Andrea/Beth (culminating in Lori-Maggie/Andrea) were not clear-cut, and definitely had my emotions flip-flopping all over the place. So we have, on the one hand, Beth becoming suicidal and Maggie and Lori hovering over her, with Andrea saying she needs space. But both the way Beth obviously took the knife and handed it back over, then made a few shallow cuts on her arm, it was clear she was doing these things as a cry for help and didn’t actually want to die, deep down. So Andrea’s idea that maybe she needs to work through her shit on her own were rather apt.

But, by that same token, any one of us who has ever known someone who’s just lost someone very close to them – or who have actually lost someone close to us ourselves – knows the overwhelming depression that follows, the idea that absolutely nothing will ever be right again, that the sun is shining just to mock you and the world has effectively ended and nothing – NOTHING – is worth living for. The days and weeks following the loss of a loved one are crucial, where the grief-stricken person needs all the emotional support he or she can get. Without it, we’d have far more suicides than anyone would like to imagine. So Lori and Maggie absolutely have a point, too, saying that Beth needs to be watched.

In the first half of the season, when Andrea told Dale what she thought of him taking away her decision to end her life, I thought that scene was emotionally devastating, true, and amazing. But the point was made. Now I feel like Andrea’s projecting her own emotions onto everyone else and acting like she’s the only person who’s ever lost anyone. Look around, Andrea. Maggie’s just lost her mom and you’re trying to tell her what it’s like to lose someone. Lori thought Rick was dead, but she held on to Carl and Shane as her buoys during that period to keep herself going. This is a freakin’ apocalypse… stop thinking you’re the only person in pain.

Of course, as I mentioned, in the end Andrea’s way was right. Stay close, but let Beth make her own choice. You can’t convince someone else to live; only they can make that choice. Andrea didn’t choose to live, she was forced into it.

And, despite being a little annoyed with Andrea, I did love the verbal smackdown between her and Lori. She tries to move Lori’s thinking into the 21st century and reminds her that women don’t necessarily have to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, and just because Andrea’s acting sentry and doing what Lori thinks a man should do doesn’t mean she’s not pulling her weight. She basically tells Lori that she thinks she’s all that because both alpha males are hers. Again, it’s interesting how, in the same way Rick and Shane are reduced to their base animal instincts, Lori seems to have regressed to a caveman mentality where she’s automatically in charge because she’s with the strong men of the tribe. In many ways, Andrea’s words were unfair for the reasons I outlined above, but I still enjoyed this scene muchly.

OK, final thoughts over to you, Josh!

Josh: Final summation: two thumbs up from me. I loved how tense and action-packed these episodes were, and the writing was more consistent than usual. I am thoroughly enjoying the way our core characters are finding themselves increasingly pitted against one another in matters as plain as how best to love one another. The sky is growing ever darker for these folks, and something tells me that by the time we reach the finale, that storm will be all-encompassing.

Bits & Bobs:

• This speech: “Let me make this perfectly clear once and for all: this is MY farm. I wanted you gone. Rick talked me out of it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. So do us both a favor. Keep your mouth shut.” This may come to a head even before Rick and Shane duel again. And I cannot wait.

• The knife-through-the-fence tactic is a detail lifted out of the comics (and about the only such thing in either of these two episodes). And speaking of which, there was a big casting announcement made this week for a character that will be all too familiar to those of you who have also read the comics. I have purposefully avoided talking about it here so as to sidestep any possible spoilers, and I would recommend anyone wishing to remain unspoiled to stay away from any articles discussing it. However, for the folks already in the know, I offer my unvarnished opinion: waiting until Halloween to see this stuff is going to be almost as torturous as watching it.

• When Randall (who we didn't discuss at all somehow but about whose motivations I am still very much on the fence, can I get a rimshot) stabbed his zombie crawler in the head about thirty times with that filthy knife, I couldn't (and still can't) make up my mind whether they were implying he's just venting or actually psychotic. But I'm leaning toward psychotic. But at least he's capable, I guess.

• My nitpick of the episode: again with the blood all over Shane & Rick's faces, which also have open wounds from their throwdown. Did we not already establish this can infect you? Rules check.

• Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, grew up primarily in England and so shares Andrew Lincoln's British accent. He's improved over the course of the show, but as a general rule, I think she kind of kicks his ass at the Southern one.

And that's it, folks. Be safe out there, and we'll see you next week.

Nikki: Always looking for the last word, but I just wanted to say, wow, I didn’t know Lauren Cohan was British, that’s amazing. And secondly, I TOTALLY agree about the open wounds and why aren’t they infected? The reason I didn’t say anything is I’m wondering if they’re going with the “zombies can only infect through saliva” thing… but then again, if a scratch can do it, then… can’t getting zombie goobers in the giant slice in your hand give it to you?

We’ll see you all next week!


Christina B said...

And not just the cuts from their fight, but Shane cut his hand open with the exact same knife he'd just thrust into a zombie-brain through the fence!

The little things bug me. ;)

Page48 said...

Crimeny, I didn't even notice that Lauren Cohan was Vivian Volkoff in "Chuck" until recently. Nor did I know that she and Lincoln were Brits.

I whiffed on the "Maggie's Farm" thing, too, but clearly (witness the closing scene from Season One) there is a heavy Dylan influence hanging over the series. Okay, so that's a stretch and I take it all back.

Although I did miss the MF thing, I did not fail to notice that, if Hershel was bitten by a zombie, he would rise again as Hershel Walker.

Randall had Sniff 'n' The Tears "Driver's Seat" on the iPod. Randall, himself, only spent a few minutes in the driver's seat. If Randall doesn't play his cards right, he ain't gonna live on Maggie's Farm no more.

Shallow cuts?

I think everyone who watched Rick and Shane scuffle with walkers had the same thought regarding the potential for being infected through their cuts and scrapes, especially when they made such a deal out of the security guards not having bite marks on them, just scratches.

I liked the way Rick shot walker #2 through the mouth of walker #1. That's how we do it.

yourblindspot said...

Here's a bit of Lauren's real accent:

Anonymous said...

I think Lori and Andrea's conversation/argument was a little more balanced than you. I like the way someone else put it, Lori's coming from a place where she has a kid and a family, and Andrea's coming from tomboyish childhood having single woman lifestyle. Neither are completely wrong or right.

Also, I can't remember the first zombie Shane saw in the field, but I think it might have been walking in one direction and crossed the highway before Shane rode back. Thematically, it's like Shane was looking at a zombie coming toward him representing the zombie-like mentality he was taking to deal with things. Then after his cathartic brouhaha with Rick, he sees the zombie walking away from him, maybe a little bit of humanity returning.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

My review in a nutshell - love Andrea, hate Lori.

This is not our world. If people have the right to choose now, they definitely would in a zombie apocalypse.

When Lori said that about letting the men protect them she's lucky I didn't put a fist through my TV. Well, I guess I'm lucky cause she wouldn't care. :)

Vivian Volkoff? How did I not notice that? Probably the same way I didn't notice that Andrew Lincoln was Mike Collins to James Marsters' Buzz Aldren in Moonshot.

Cut your hand open then use the same hand to stab walkers in the head? Such a brilliant plan. I hope Shane is infected. Then again, the essence of drama is conflict so you need characters you can't stand, I suppose.

Nikki Stafford said...

Anonymous: I actually did make an argument for the discussion being balanced. I showed one side, then the other, then talked about what an emotional rollercoaster it was listening to it because neither one was right or wrong.

Page48: If Randall doesn't play his cards right, he ain't gonna live on Maggie's Farm no more.

LOL!!!! That just made me laugh out loud. :)

And by the way, when Beth opened the door with the blood on her arms, I said to my husband in my best Joel Grey voice, "Shallow cuts... shallow cuts..." ;)

Mr. Mopar said...

I just had to comment.

From Page48:

"Although I did miss the MF thing, I did not fail to notice that, if Hershel was bitten by a zombie, he would rise again as Hershel Walker."

Now that's just plain funny!!!!

"I liked the way Rick shot walker #2 through the mouth of walker #1. That's how we do it."


SenexMacDonald (Cindy) said...

I loved how these two episodes bookend each other.

Lori has always struck me as someone who displays strength but gives me, at times, a feeling that there is a lost girl inside who is terrified. Her response in the dining room to Andrea is in complete contrast to the woman we see most of the time. She always has an air of confidence and has never, up to this point, struck me as a woman who would take a back seat to a man.

So I have to wonder why she responded this way? Is it pregnancy brain? Hormones? Conflict over bringing another child into this damaged world? Concern over what Shane is doing and what might happen if Rick is genuinely killed? Especially if it is Shane who does it?

I feel that Lori is in great conflict about the situation with Rick and Shane, the baby, Sophia and everything else. She could be closer to a breakdown than we may know.

Agree about the knife, the cut and the blood. Not good, writers!