Thursday, March 29, 2012

Winter Is Coming... This Sunday!

I hope y'all are anticipating the new season of Game of Thrones as much as I am! I've seen the first few episodes already, and they are fantastic (and Tyrion is at an all-time awesome). This season I will be covering the episodes much the same way I did last season, with my co-host Christopher Lockett. He will be covering the eps from a bookish perspective (i.e. was the episode a successful adaptation of that episode in book 2?) and I will be looking at the episodes purely as stories unto themselves.

To prepare for the return on HBO and HBO Canada this Sunday, I am giving away one Game of Thrones T-shirt. All you have to do is leave a comment below, telling me what you're looking forward to most this season, and I will choose one winner on Monday. Please check back in, because I'll post the winner and you'll have to send me an email with your address. This is open to North American residents only (sorry everyone else; postage rates have just gone through the roof) and good luck to you all!

The shirt is to commemorate the recent Game of Thrones exhibit here in Toronto, and is size L, but it actually looks more like an XL:

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Walking Dead: "Beside the Dying Fire"

And it’s time for the final season 2 installment of The Walking Dead recap with my co-host, Joshua Winstead. This week’s episode is called “Beside the Dying Fire,” which I believe comes from an old Irish lullaby:

Sleep, O babe, for the red-bee hums
The silent twilight's fall:
Aibheall from the Grey Rock comes
To wrap the world in thrall.
A leanbhan O, my child, my joy,
My love and heart's-desire,
The crickets sing you lullaby
Beside the dying fire.

Only this twilight wasn’t so silent. Holy crazy awesome intros, Batman…

But first, this.

Nikki: OK, last week we had a lot of speculation between the two of us (and much more in the comments) about who was going to die. Everyone had their money on T-Dog… and he forgot to put on his red shirt this morning and LIVED. What is up with that? It seemed strange that he was away all season and reappeared suddenly near the end, so all of us said, “Of course he did. So he could be eaten by zombies.” But apparently it was just so he could be in the getaway scenes. Because, once again, he’s served absolutely no purpose beyond that.

Carl lived (despite this awesomely hilarious campaign to make it otherwise). Lori lived. Andrea (so far) lived. But as many of us thought, Patricia and Jimmy are now gone. Hershel and Maggie and Beth are the only survivors from the farm – they’ve now lost five people in their immediate family, which is devastating, but they’ll keep moving on.

Though Jimmy may have superseded Lori in my Dumbass book: He’s in an RV and instead of just mowing down the walkers, he practically throws out a welcome mat and invites them in. Sigh.

The big zombie fight scene was pretty awesome all around. (My husband on the couch muttered to himself, “Awesome! They finally get to shoot some zombies” and looked rather excited, as if he was thinking, “you know, a zombie apocalypse would totally be worth it if I could do THIS.”) Even Lori “a-woman’s-place-is-in-the-kitchen-and-not-protecting-anyone” Prissypants was wielding a gun and being a little useful. Hershel was the best part of the gun fight, though – I really did think his character was going to meet his end when it appeared as if he was going to go down with the rest of his farm, but thank goodness for Rick. The scene of him looking behind as his beloved farm fell apart, complete with Bear McCreary’s gorgeous score in that moment, was totally worth it. The barn, which originally looked like a face on fire with the two upper windows, one in the middle, and the huge gaping mouth of an entrance, had brought so much pain to all of them, and we watch it slowly fall. That scene was truly stunning.

And poor Hershel is left questioning everything he’s ever known. “Christ promised the resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind.”

What did you think of the first half of the episode, Josh?

Joshua: The long, wordless opening sequence where we see the formation of the huge herd of walkers was not only nice exposition but also very effective in setting the mood for this episode, so much of which was spent entirely overrun with the living dead. I love the payoff moment when the gunshot rings out somewhere out of sight and the whole herd slowly turns in tandem toward it – sooooo creepy! Uniformly excellent makeup on the walkers, as usual; I continue to be amazed at the myriad cool variations on Dead & Decomposing that this makeup department gives us each week, and it's one of the things I'll miss most during hiatus.

The siege of the farmhouse was tense and fairly effective, if not a little confusing, I thought. That confusion appeared to be deliberate in the staging, though, an attempt to illustrate how scattered everyone became and how easily they were separated from one another. The fact that the group opted not to try and make a stand in the house surprised me a little at first, but of course it makes the best sense to simply retreat against such crushing numbers. Unlike testing how well 100-year-old clapboard holds them off. (This is the kind of thought process that makes me think I probably wouldn't survive long in a situation like this.)

Hershel looked like a goner to me too, standing out there in front of the farmhouse firing shot after shot against what seemed more than once like an endless parade of moaners. Shamblers. Stumblers. (Does anyone else think they ought to fall down more often?) It looked like T-Dog was in serious trouble several times as well, maneuvering around hamfistedly in The Slowest Truck In Georgia, but what do you know, they both survived. In fact, I have to say that none of the deaths we did suffer this episode felt like all that much a loss, to be perfectly frank. After the last couple of episodes this season, I couldn't seem to muster up much horror for poor Patricia. I mean, don't get me wrong – I'm glad so many of the old gang are still around (I don't mean you, Lori), but seriously, I think I'll miss the Winnebago most of all.

Loved Daryl to the rescue, and just Daryl being much closer to his old self in general these past few episodes. His standing up for Rick when Carol started waxing treasonous was one of my favorite moments in the episode. For the most part, however, I thought things pretty much ground to a halt after the siege was over. Andrea being left behind did a mediocre job of creating additional tension for the back half of the episode, at best. The potential for drama was definitely there with everyone split up and no rendezvous plan in place, but I thought a lot of that stress was squandered when almost everyone immediately began to contemplate blowing off the group entirely and just striking out on their own. Huh?

But I can no longer avoid bringing up the biggest “huh” of the episode, that of course being Lori's sudden turnaround on the subject of Shane and his murder. Help me remember, please, exactly how many episodes ago she was leaning over his shoulder, whispering not-so-sweet somethings and all but placing a poisoned flagon of wine labeled 'SHANE' in his hand. Why do the writers seem so fixated on making sure we hate this woman?

Nikki: Agreed on the lack of meaningful deaths. Maybe they thought after losing Dale and Shane, we needed a bit of a break. Hershel’s death would have been powerful, but I think keeping alive was even more powerful. As for the group splitting, I started wondering if they really were going to split the group (and it could still go that way) for S3, with Carol/Daryl, Maggie/Glenn, Rick/Carl/Hershel (who I could see ditching Rick early on so it would be Rick and Carl in a Cormac McCarthyesque narrative), and Lori/Beth/T-Dog (ie the group we don’t care about). it would be like a reversal of The Stand, in a way, with the group finding each other and then splitting off, rather than being split and eventually finding each other. It still might be an interesting way to go on this.

But as for Lori being batshit insane? Oh. Yes. So much yes. As I tweeted when I saw the episode, I’m now pretty convinced that Lori’s carrying a zombie baby, because it’s apparently eaten her brain from the inside.

What. The hell.

That scene, where Rick confesses to Lori what happened with Shane, was all done in one very long take. I realized that a few seconds into it, and then began watching to gauge just how long they were going to slowly, slowly zoom in on Rick’s tortured face as Lori, behind him, goes from, “Hey, it’s OK, kiddo, come to mama” loving arms to, “what do you mean you…” to “oh my god you…” to “and CARL TOO?!” The shot finally ends as she bends right over, just before she swats at him when he leans over to her.

I freaked. I sat up on the couch, paused it, and sat there, thinking, Wait… am I MISSING SOMETHING?! Isn’t this the same woman who, three or four episodes ago, wrapped herself around Rick and said, “You have to do something about him. He’s a danger to me, a danger to Carl and the baby (which is 100% yours, by the way), a danger to you, a danger to the air … and don’t forget we totally did it when we thought you were dead” as she manipulated Rick into acting. Unfortunately, he didn’t act. So Lori ramped things up and went to Shane. “I just want you to know I’m so sorry about how things turned out because, you know, I don’t know 100% that this is actually Rick’s baby, and if he hadn’t suddenly returned from the dead we, you know, might still be together and all, because… don’t forget you and I totally did it when we thought Rick was dead.” Unlike Rick, Shane doesn’t think too much, and he acted. He walked Rick out into those woods, both of them with wild things in their heads by Lori Macbeth back there, and Shane might have acted, but he also hesitated. And when Rick sees an actual threat to his family standing before him, he doesn’t hesitate, and put Shane down like a dog.

And now he comes back to Lori, all, “Hey, baby, I did what you said and dealt with the situation, and now we can be together with no danger to us or the baby, which is 100% mine as you say, and Carl, and…” and Lori’s all, “[Gasp! Horrors! Hyperventilate!] What do you MEAN you killed him? I have a connection to Shane! Don’t you remember, we TOTALLY DID IT WHEN WE THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD. How could you kill him, he meant something to me you dangerous wild beast! And you let Carl shoot him, too? Good god, man.” And storms off.

Me: … ??? !!!

I’m starting to think we have this team of brilliant writers sitting there working together, bringing us this philosophical treatise on what the human psyche is pushed to under extreme and dire circumstances, and they write long monologues on the human condition and severe emotions… then get they grab the Jagermeister and have shot contests and then say, “Ok, let’s write the Lori parts now!” Why is it so hard for them to write this character properly?

Joshua: If we discount the (very real) possibility that it's all just a matter of inconsistent writing and focus our interpretation strictly on the basis of what we've been shown on the show, all I can figure is that Lori thought Shane would come out on top. She thought she was sending Rick to his death, and she misjudged in a huge way. But if that were the case, then why did she not try to hide her reaction from Rick? Why wouldn't she want to continue snowing him until some point in the near future when she could begin to manipulate him back into the jaws of death again? I cannot pretend to understand.

On the subject of things I don't understand, let's talk for a moment about the virus and Jenner's confession that everyone is infected. Yes, it is true that Rick withheld this detail from the group, presumably to preserve folks' hope somehow. This doesn't make a lot of sense, at least to me, because I can't figure out how the information changes anything. I don't know what difference the possession of that knowledge makes to anyone, and I don't understand how withholding it makes one dishonorable. The group has never been in a situation where the not-knowing put anyone in danger or otherwise affected the circumstances whatsoever. So the whole kerfuffle is merely based on matter of principle? Are you kidding me here?

Now Rick's been thrown under the bus by everyone at the end of the most emotionally spleen-punching day of his life, and he responds poorly, bristling up like a porcupine and barking his authority at the rest of the group. Well, of course he does. Rick makes a genuine effort to consider everyone's interests when he makes decisions, tries to consider consequences both immediate and long-term, and does anything in his power to do right by the group and his own moral code. And it just isn't worth much any more.

I thought it was extremely telling that when Rick thought he was left no choice but to execute a prisoner, the first thing he did was fashion a noose. It came across to me like he was reaching for some childhood notion of cowboys vs. bandits to use as a coping mechanism, as if the only way to justify the execution in his own mind as anything other than murder was to try to identify himself as the white hat in the scenario. He just can't seem to reconcile his own place in this radically redefined environment – as a husband, as a father, as an agent of peace. Rick doesn't want to be in charge, necessarily, but he also can't stand the idea of trusting someone else's decisions about their safety and well-being, and he's sick of being second-guessed, with all his best intentions either warped or blown up in his face. His speech at the end of the episode seemed to indicate that we've finally seen him come to terms with that struggle, at least in part. And just as he feared, doing so leaves everyone thinking he's more like Shane than ever. Which at this point may well be true.

How were you feeling about the state of the group in the final moments?

Nikki: You know, maybe Lori’s a better actress than I thought because she had me convinced she was completely in love with Rick over Shane. It never even occurred to me that she could have been walking Rick to his death and not Shane, especially since many of the conversations she’s had with Shane are just between the two of them, where she’s not acting for anyone else’s benefit, and she always looks rather shaken. Maybe I was mistaking attraction for fear. A really interesting point.

I do think Lori’s reason for bending in half and brushing Rick off had something to do with Shane, but more to do with Carl and the fact that he shot a zombie in the head. Knowing your child has just done something like that suddenly makes him a man, and no longer the little boy you’ve held in your arms for so long. But then again, Lori looks horrified long before Rick gets to the whole Carl thing.

OK, the virus thang. Here’s my take on Rick withholding the information and the group’s reaction to it: I’ve never realized just how much like Jack Shephard this guy truly is. Like Jack in the early seasons, Rick has had leadership thrust upon him because he’s dressed like a sheriff; Jack had it because he was the doctor. Both careers embody protection and life-saving. Jack didn’t want to be the leader; Rick took it reluctantly. Both Jack and Rick are questioned by those who follow them. Both have a nemesis: Rick’s was Shane, and Jack’s was Locke on some days, Sawyer on others.

But when everyone was falling apart and looking like they were splitting and refusing to listen to Jack, he stood up and gave the famous, “If we don’t live together, we’re going to die alone” speech. Jack’s own little world had been changed, but the world at large didn’t. At this point they were hoping for rescue, and still abiding by society’s rules.

Rick is Jack if he’d thought the rest of the world was gone, too, and the island was now plagued with zombies. Rick doesn’t argue with Locke for several seasons; he listens to him a while and then is pushed to plug one in the back of his head. And rather than give the Live Together, Die Alone speech, he says, “You know what? Why don’t you all just go off and die alone. I’m going to live… over here.”

And maybe it’s because I spent six years with Jack, understanding his pain and feeling his frustrations that everyone expected the world of him and then questioned him when he tried to give it, that I understood Rick’s frustration, too.

But he also has that other side of Jack, the one I used to love poking fun at. Just as Jack wore that little key around his neck as if to say to Kate, “Ha! I have your only way into that briefcase and you can just go away now” holier-than-thou attitude that became grating at times, now Rick has been carrying around a secret that he felt was his to decide when to reveal. While on the one hand I agree with you that it’s not something that they can change, if I were them, I would have wanted to know. Doesn’t this change Lori’s pregnancy? If I’d known I was tainted, infected with the zombie virus, there’s no way I’d go through with a pregnancy. What the hell DOES she have inside there? God only knows at this point.

And what about the knowledge that death will make you a walker? Now we know where the zombies have come from. We don’t know the origin of the virus, but we know that it began when people died and, like Shane, were already infected and began turning. It means that every single one of them will turn into a walker when they die (Dale didn’t because he was shot in the head). What a horrible bit of information they have in them now. Knowing that after you die, you will rise again to eat the living flesh of other human beings? It’s enough for a lot of people to end it now with a quick bullet to their heads to prevent resurrection. And maybe Rick thought he was doing a favour for all of them by not revealing it, but I see it as being akin to Dale telling Andrea if she blows up herself at the CDC, then he’ll blow himself up with her, knowing she wouldn’t go through with it. Rick’s taken away their ability to make a decision for themselves based on facts, because he’s decided not to reveal one of the facts.

Do I think this makes Rick the bad guy? No. I’m assuming he simply didn’t believe it, and it was only Shane rising that made him realize it was true. But it’s been in the back of his mind ever since the CDC, made evident by the fact that he sits over Shane’s corpse waiting, as if trying to determine whether or not it was true. I noticed that last week and wondered if Rick knew Shane might turn, and this explains it.

It also gives us the tiniest glimmer of hope that little Sophia wasn’t actually caught by walkers. Now I’m going to go to a fantasy place where she actually tripped off a cliff and died instantly, and then turned and resurrected. I’d like to know that happened instead of the thought that she’d been attacked by walkers.

And speaking of attacked by walkers, we can’t finish up without talking about Badass Andrea and her single-handed take-down of a forest of walkers. Last week we talked about how important it would be to keep her on because she’s the strongest female character left, and this week’s episode really proved that to be true. I found myself cheering out loud for her. She was unbelievable.

And, of course, her arc ended with some Grim Reaper guy in a black cloak attached via chain to two armless zombies. What. The hell.

So here’s your mission, Josh! You have to tell us why this should excite/not excite us without spoiling anything. (I’m assuming the readers of the comics know who that guy is.) And… go!

Joshua: Wow, tall order. Here goes nothin'.

The two big reveals of the episode – being the sword-wielding stranger and the structure in the distance in that final shot – were both instantly recognizable to anyone who has read the comics. Which means, of course, that I can say almost nothing more about them without running the risk of ruining somebody's good time come Halloween. Being a spoiler-er is about the last thing I want to do, but on the other hand, they were such righteous teasers for season three that it's torture not to say more. I would love to find some effective way of moving the uninitiated from their wow-that-was-kinda-awesome reaction to the sword-wielding stranger, to somewhere more in the vicinity of my jump-to-my-feet-and-pump-my-fists-at-the-night-sky-with-a-rousing-HELL-YES! reaction that almost woke my kids up last night when I saw it. The following statement is about as close as I can get.

So far, the events of the show that relate back to the original story all come from the first dozen issues, streeeeeeetched over what many believe was way too much time for so little content. By contrast, the next 'movement' of the story, if you will – the one relating to any recent casting announcements and both of these late-breaking cameos – stretches from #13 all the way through #48. And, in addition to simply being A LOT more story, it is also undoubtedly the main reason why the series became so popular in the first place.

Or, to put it plainly: things are about to get complicated. And really, really messed up.

And I think most of us would agree that the show could use it. There have been aspects of this second season that I have absolutely adored, but overall I think it has struggled more than it has succeeded. Having a consistent voice as showrunner from day one, as opposed to suffering through something like this year's contentious Darabont dust-up, should make a big difference in the way season three's arc is designed. Hopefully this will prove to even the keel and lend these characters more consistency, more gravity and more to do than spawn tail-chasing circular arguments, throw rocks and brood.

Because the conflicts that are coming next have much less to do with right vs. wrong and much more to do with sanity vs. madness. Our survivors are going to need whatever composure and rationality they can muster, and then some, to make it to the finale of season three.

Nikki, before I pass this back to you for your closing thoughts on Season Two, I want to take a moment to thank both you and your readers for humoring me through these recaps over the past few months. It has been both an honor and a pleasure to share these responsibilities with you, and I can only hope it's been half as much fun for you guys at home. All the bad puns and run-on sentences in the world can't show my gratitude.

Take care, folks. Keep your blades sharp and your eyes sharper.


Nikki: I had a feeling that when we saw the Dark One and his gruesome puppies out for a walk that the comic fans at home would be shrieking with joy, and at the very end, the structure – with the Very Forceful Music playing over it – was shot in such a way that I could tell it was meant to be one of those “FINALLY” moments for those in the know. My husband and I couldn’t exactly see what it was – a compound of some kind? There was a wall around it and a building in the middle and other smaller buildings around it, like a prison. But maybe that’s the irony – they’ll want to get IN rather than out and it could be their salvation.

Or it was just a castle with a moat and they’re about to go to Far, Far Away and join Shrek and his compadres.

As we leave season 2, Glenn has suggested the walkers are migrating (could they be going south for the winter?). Rick has declared this no longer a democracy, but a dictatorship, folks (was anyone else hoping he would say, “There’s a NEW sheriff in town, boys, y’all best get used to it,” while slinging a shotgun over his shoulder?) Andrea is in the woods with Dark McScary and his two faithful creepazoids. Glenn has declared his love for Maggie. Dale and Shane are gone. Hershel is away from his farm for the first time in his life and most of his family is dead. T-Dog’s got a couple of lines of dialogue (good on ya, T-Dog!) Daryl is awesome. Carol is looking to split from Rick and his bad choices when she’s never offered up any real direction of her own. And Lori’s split personality will keep the, “I’m sorry, WHAT?!” factor alive and well for the viewers in season 3.

It’s been a joy having you on board throughout season 2, Josh, and I hope you’re up for returning in season 3! We could all use an expert who takes care not to spoil us for anything. Your entries have been funny and insightful, and you keep me on my toes for sure.

Thanks to all of you for reading along. Could I just ask a quick favour that anyone out there who has read the comics, don't reveal anything about the guy in black or the compound scene in the back? We'll keep this spoiler-free for the neophytes like me. Thanks so much in advance.

Cue the violin-laden outro music!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Walking Dead: "Better Angels"

Welcome to another week of The Walking Dead with my co-host Joshua Winstead! But first, THIS:

Nikki: OK, enough of the chit-chat, I MUST talk about the ending of this episode (we’ll get to all that other stuff later). So. Let’s just get right to my initial reaction.



Now, I know I usually keep things clean on this blog, but I just can’t manage it this week. FIRST Shane kills Randall after giving up on the group discussions and the idea of keeping him alive for Dale’s sake. SECOND he holds a freakin’ gun to Rick’s head. And just as Rick was handing over the gun to Shane and I said to my husband, “Oh man, I bet Rick is going to flip the gun up at the last second and totally turn on him” and my husband said, “Nah, Rick’s not like tha—” Rick STABS him to death. A gunshot is impersonal; a knife stab is as personal as it gets. You have to get your hands dirty, you have to be holding onto the other person, and he was looking right into Shane’s eyes.

And then the screen went dark and I thought the episode was over. And just like with The Sopranos finale many years ago, the dark screen seemed to go on too long. I waited for it to cut to a commercial. And then there was a red flash and a screaming sound, and I thought it was a commercial for a horror film. And then Rick’s sitting there. “What?” I said. Another flash of zombie heads breaking through membranes, screaming, back to Rick sitting there with his head in his hands. “WHAT?” Another flash, and the camera focuses on Shane. “WHAT?!” (I really wasn’t trying to do a Tenth Doctor impression, but I was managing nicely.) The zombie virus was coming to life inside Shane. And he was about to turn into a walker.

Did Rick know he was going to turn and that’s why he was sitting there? Or did that come as a big surprise to him, too, and he’d just been sitting there out of grief? Did the knife he had in his pants have the zombie infection on it and he stabbed him knowingly, or did Shane already have it in him? After all, Randall’s now a zombie, probably because he’d tried to cut his ties with the knife that was used on the zombie (notice how the camera zoomed in on his bloody wrists). When Shane was cutting his hand with the same knife he’d just stuck into a zombie’s head back when he was trapped on that bus, did he infect himself? Some of us were talking that week about how zombie rules had been broken, but maybe they weren’t… maybe the writers had been planning this all along.

AND THEN Carl shows up, freaking out over seeing his father sitting over Shane’s dead body. AND THEN Carl holds up a gun and both my husband and I were freaking out that the little turd was going to shoot his own father because his loyalty was to Shane… WHAT?? But THEN he shoots Zombie Shane, who had just gotten up to lumber towards Rick. Was he originally aiming at his dad? He certainly appeared to be; after all, Shane hadn’t yet gotten up when Carl cocked the gun.

In. Sane. I can’t remember the last time the end of an episode caught me off-guard like that. Maybe it was “The Pointy End” in Game of Thrones (which, incidentally, was re-airing on HBO last night immediately following this episode of The Walking Dead).

I. Wow.

OK, Josh… I’ve got questions for ya again. How exactly did that play out in the books? I thought Shane would be here for a long time. With Dale gone as the moral centre, and now Shane gone as the opposite end of that spectrum, does that mean we just have a bunch of middlemen now? Those two were great antagonists, and now Shane is gone. I hope next season isn’t missing something. (And can I just mention that I think Jon Bernthal has put in an amazing performance as Shane? I was actually really sad to see him go. More than with Dale.)

Your turn, my friend. I have to go sit in shock a little while longer.

Joshua: Well, needless to say, things played out considerably different in the comics. Nikki, activate SpoilerVision!

Shane dies very early in the comics, as I'm sure most folks know by now – word really got around when he made it through the quarry section alive last year, as that was the show's first huge deviation from the comic canon. In the books, he has a harder time dealing with first losing Lori and then his leadership of the group, and when it is obvious that Lori is siding with her husband, Shane snaps without much fanfare. Rick follows him into the woods, a confrontation ensues, and while he is threatening Rick at gunpoint, Shane is shot to death by Carl. Similarities, then, but only that. Deactivate SpoilerVision!

So. Shane's dead. Dale's dead. Randall's dead. We still have the season finale yet to go, and there is no way everybody makes it out of that farmhouse Sunday night. You're right that this leaves a real imbalance in what remains of the group, but considering the size of that herd of walkers descending on them, it doesn't look like we'll have much time to be impacted by the inequity, what with all the running and screaming and bloodshed. If nothing else, this two-ep shakeup should serve to fix those pesky issues of gender equality for a while, since there must be twice as many women left than men now, Carl included.

Reaching the point at which 'the other most levelheaded guy in the group' is Daryl, however, is probably not a great signpost for a period of coming prosperity.

I loved both Jon Bernthal and Jeffrey de Munn in these roles, and though I wish Shane's descent had been written with a bit more depth and that de Munn in particular had been given more to do this year, they will nonetheless both be sorely missed next season, and whatever comes next, the ensemble will be the poorer without them as a part of it.

But let's jump from the eulogy at the end to the one at the beginning, back to Dale's funeral. Last week's episode was practically a morality play, and in our analysis we talked a lot about what place morals can hold in a world as upended as this one, and here Rick is talking about it again, talking about seeing Dale's face when he makes decisions, honoring him by doing things “his” way – thoughtful, honest, virtuous. I believe him when he says it, too, believe that he came away from the events of the last episode genuinely affected. I think he learned the lesson that when there is no easy answer, you have to settle for the hard answer you can live with. Even if that means killing your best friend.

It's all there in the episode's title – “Better Angels” refers to Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address, specifically its last paragraph. Delivered on the eve of civil war, with seven states already seceded and more soon to follow, that speech was an entreaty, a call for unity, a last-ditch appeal for peace. But it was also a warning: remember yourselves. The “better angels of our nature” best win out, usher you to reason, or you will find yourselves at the wrong end of a bayonet.

“We must not be enemies,” Lincoln wrote. “Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Tempers are running high. But remember yourselves, friends. Or we will be forced to remind you. Harshly.

It is worth noting that, historically speaking, the pretty words didn't work then, either.

Nikki: Ha! Loved your last line. You beat me to the Lincoln material. I didn’t realize off the top that the title referred to his speech, and simply googled “Better Angels” right after the episode ended and found it right away. And yes, it definitely resonates with this episode:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Yes, next episode is going to be a MASSIVE hellfire of zombiedom, and the big question is, why? Where the hell did they come from? Was it from that place Rick and Shane went to? When they were there, they noticed the two cops lying on the ground didn’t have any bite marks on them. There was an insinuation in that one that they were simply infected another way. Could the zombie virus have mutated? I was discussing the episode with a friend of mine today and he suggested that maybe they all are infected, and it’ll only come out when they die, the same way it did with Shane and Randall. Both Shane and Randall turned after they died, which means they’d been infected for a few days at least. Did it happen when they were knifing zombies in the head? Maybe all of the characters are zombies-in-waiting at this point.

Could Shane have unleashed something when he smashed the window of that building and let the zombies loose? Maybe they were being quarantined for a reason. If Randall’s people were 30-strong, and those zombies were let out, they could have all gotten to Randall’s people, and now we’re seeing the army from town finally finding their way to Maggie’s farm. But then again, dumbass Lori probably laid a breadcrumb trail of smashed-up cars and hairbrushes right to them.

I had no idea that Shane died that early in the comics, by the way, that was really interesting. What I AM finding is among my friends who’ve read the graphic novels, they typically don’t like the show. Those who haven’t read them do. (And of course I’m not saying that’s the case with everyone, just the few people I know who’ve read them.) I’m also interested in the fact that Carl was the one who shot Shane in the comics. Do you think he was originally aiming at Rick in this episode?

Also, speaking of the eulogy for Dale at the beginning, I noticed three graves where Rick was speaking. Who’s the third? I was expecting two: Sophia and Dale. I don’t think the third would be Hershel’s wife (would they really have buried them next to each other?) and besides, if they buried the wife, wouldn’t they have also buried the son? Why three?

I’d like to talk about Shane and Randall for a bit. Despite saying last week that Randall was always a potential threat, and despite Shane holding a gun to Rick’s head this week, we actually see in the scene where Shane tells Randall that he wants to come with him that Shane’s instincts were bang-on. Randall is a total creep, and begins to tell Shane just how much fun he’ll have with the group, and you suddenly realize Randall wasn’t just a disinterested observer – he’s as much as problem as the others he was with. And now no one will know how right Shane was. What did you think of their conversation?

Joshua: You Googled it? What, they don't study American history in Canadian schools? We have to take Canadian history for, like, two full years of secondary school down here, learning all the finer points of colonization and culture, from trapping & fishing techniques and M├ętis curdcraft, to Robert Nelson and the invention of the hockey riot, to the Great Moose Migration of 1817, to memorizing the lyrics of every song by the Hudson Bay City Rollers. Hell, I was taking quizzes in seasonal tuque law before I could drive a car! Oh, well... I guess you guys just aren't as thorough up there.

I don't have much insight as to what's going on with the plague. In interviews from last year, creator/writer Robert Kirkman said that we would find out before the end of the season what Jenner whispered into Rick's ear at the CDC, so I'd imagine what we're seeing alludes to that pending revelation, whatever it might be. All we know for certain at this point is that everyone turns after death, which would lead me to believe that everyone is already infected, and that a bite or scratch causes a lethal infection but that apparently the virus-or-whatever is otherwise dormant while the host is alive.

Or is it? During the scene in which Shane first goes into the shed with the intention of killing Randall, we were given the first of several odd visual tics, the same sort of stuttering edits that were echoed in the resurrection sequence at the end of the episode (and I believe we saw it shortly before he breaks Randall's neck in the woods, as well). Of course, it is possible this trick was merely intended to reflect Shane's tortured state of mind, to link his rage to the mindlessness of the walkers, but I think it would be incredibly strange to employ two such similar visual gimmicks in the same episode with only the intent of a glancing symbolic connection between them. In my estimation, the cues were too direct and deliberate to be so inconsequential.

If this is true, then the implication seems to be that Shane was suffering some ill effects of the virus while he was alive. And that is bad, bad news, folks. That is seriously messed up. Is it completely random and uncontrollable? Is it based on some kind of emotional trigger? What if the trigger is genetic? Holy crap, what if the trigger is genetic and the baby Lori is carrying belongs to Shane?!? Third season awesomeness, that's what!

Or maybe I'm way off base with the crazy theorizing, and this is just another case of a sad former LOST junkie reading too much into innocuous editing tricks. But hey, maybe not. What do you think?

Speaking of visual cues, did anyone else think the scene between Randall and Shane in the woods was wonderfully evocative of the titular location in 'Miller's Crossing'? If only one of them had been wearing a fedora... Anyway, their conversation did appear to reveal Randall's true nature, but I still don't think he was smart enough to be much of a threat. My real concern is based on something I noticed about his behavior over the last several episodes, namely that Randall always seemed pretty coolheaded about whatever was happening to him, no matter how awful or life-threatening. Be it a knife digging into his terrible leg wound or someone actually holding a gun to his head in preparation to pull the trigger, he just never appeared as freaked out as I'd logically judge such baleful circumstances would render the average joe. At first I interpreted it as either mediocre acting or insufficient direction, but now I wonder if it isn't perhaps true to character. I wonder if this guy might simply be desensitized to that type of physical and mental abuse because where he came from, he was accustomed to much more delinquent behavior. And if that is the case, then woe be to anyone who survives that gajillion-walker herd. Because even awful can always be worse.

[The third grave, by the way, is Otis'.]

Nikki: Ah, see, I didn’t realize they’d erected a grave for Otis (presumably it was a memorial grave only). Or I forgot.

I want to discuss one last scene that I found particularly poignant and spooky in this episode. I’m sure you can watch it however you want, but when Lori goes out to talk to Shane by his truck and apologizes to him, she was more Lady Macbeth than ever before. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that creepy scene of her wrapping herself around Rick and telling him Shane was a threat was definitely her manipulating the situation, and this week she did it again. She realizes her plan didn’t work, and despite her best efforts Rick didn’t get rid of Shane, who she sees as a threat. After she tells Rick that the baby is 100% his, that Shane thinks it isn’t, and that Shane could get rid of Rick to take Carl and Lori for himself, Rick… doesn’t act. So she realizes she’s got to go about this another way: Rick isn’t easily manipulated, but Shane is putty in her hands. So she tells him the baby COULD be his, and he means a lot to her, and that he really saved her and Carl and they owe their lives to him, and she’s so sorry that things turned out this way. BAM. That was exactly what Shane needed to hold a gun to Rick’s face and for Rick to realize Lori was right and fight back. Of course, that could have gone horribly wrong. Thank goodness for Rick’s quick-thinking.

As for zombie baby, that’s exactly what a friend of mine and I have been joking about. And I added that I hope it eats Lori as soon as it’s born. Ha.

So, zombiepocalypse next week. Who are you putting odds on dying? I’m thinking Carl’s gone (would “hoping” be too mean to use here?). T-Dog, definitely (that poor guy… every time I think of him I picture him in a red shirt, and I’m not sure if that’s because he actually was wearing one at one time or if I just know deep down that the guy’s had about 8 lines this season and was just trotted back out just before the zombie horde showed up. Subtle, writers… REAL subtle). Hershel? Hershel’s family? What if the entire family gets wiped out except for Maggie, which gives her the impetus to join Rick’s gang and continue on? I like her character (and the actress) a lot, so I think it’s possible she could stay.

Lori will stick around, and Rick, obvs. Andrea was someone I originally thought might go, but I like her as a foil for Lori. And that she’s the only woman who doesn’t think her place is in the kitchen or folding laundry. I thought Carol was annoying in the first half of this season, but I’m intrigued by her now, especially with Daryl. But maybe they’ll kill her off, too. Daryl will survive; he’s a fan favourite and writers know better than to mess with those. Glenn should survive, I hope. (Unless they kill him and Maggie is grief-stricken for the first part of S3? But it would be nice if both of them survived and had each other… they could derive strength from that.) What are your thoughts on that?

Oh, and may I remind you that in the only war against my country and yours, we kicked your sorry asses. We Canadians seem very polite and sweet on the surface, but don’t effin’ mess with... Nah, I just can't do it... my ingrained politeness will make me feel bad for reminding you of your great loss, and yes, we realize how insignificant we are to you. But seriously, yes, I had to google the actual speech. We actually do take years of American history up here, and I know your presidents and their speeches, but I haven’t read them since I was in university… you know, like three years ago or something. (cough) But yes, I totally believe you absolutely took Canadian history in school. I think it was called “The Evolution of the Timbit.” Heehee… (I still remember one time I was in Georgia and went out to dinner with several university grad students, and they actually thought Canada all looked like the setting in Northern Exposure. GRAD students, they were. I reminded them that that series was set in Alaska, which, last I checked, was a state.) ;)

But enough about polar bears and igloos, let’s get back to our zombies!! Take us home, Joshua “Rick” Winstead!

Joshua: You Northern North Americans... so testy. :)

That's a great observation about Lori's talk with Shane at the beginning of the episode. I didn't read it as conniving like that, but it could very easily be the case. Diabolical! To be honest, I hope you're right, because if she's truly that manipulative, then I suddenly find her character much more interesting.

Who will survive season two? I have learned that my endurance barometer is faulty when it comes to this show, so I've no ideas, really. T-Dog had several spoken lines in tonight's episode, and I sincerely can't remember the last time that happened, so I figure he's likely cannon fodder. Same goes for Patricia, Billy and Beth, none of whom have done much of anything this year. As for the core group, I think Lori is as good a guess as any, since it will be infinitely more difficult to kill her off once the pregnancy starts to show (that's damned unpalatable, even for cable), but I can also see Carol being lost, if for no more reason than to shake Daryl out of his pout somewhat. Factor in at least one heroic sacrificial death – which has got to be Hershel, considering his peace ceremony with Glenn and the pocket watch last week – and we're looking at a very small number of continuing cast members flying back to Georgia in a few weeks.

However, as the writers have already proven at several points this season, when it comes to The Walking Dead, you never can tell what's coming. You just board up the windows and try to prepare.

Have a great weekend, everyone. See you after the finale!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Once Upon a Time: Red-Handed

“… So your granny’s kind of intense.”

Best line of the night!

This week’s episode was the long-awaited backstory of Red Riding Hood, who is also our favourite waitress in Storybrooke, Ruby. We all know the traditional story: Little Red Riding Hood went out into the woods to take some baked goods to Grandmother’s house. Along the way she meets the Big Bad Wolf, and he finds out where she’s going. He overtakes her, gets to the grandmother’s house and eats Granny, then dresses like her. RRH comes into the house, eventually surmises that that’s not Granny (mostly because of her overly large facial features, which she slowly details one… by… one…) and the wolf leaps out of the bed and eats her, too. Just then a woodsman comes along and slices the wolf open, and Granny and Red emerge unscathed (as you do).

Or there’s the version where Red runs around the room as the wolf chases her and the woodsman gets the wolf and cuts him open and Granny comes out. Or there’s the version where Red discovers the wolf, the woodsman arrives, and they find Granny tied up in the closet (later generations of children have the cleaned-up versions of fairytales). Or there’s the version in Hoodwinked where a bunch of cops catch everyone in the act and take each of the four people in for questioning to get to the bottom of what the bloody hell was happening at Granny’s house, considering there’s a tarted-up little girl, a caustic Granny, an “evil” wolf and a crazed woodsman.

And then… there’s this version, the most sinister of them all, and one that FINALLY made the Little Red Riding Hood story interesting again. For… what if the wolf – who always seemed man-like, walking on two legs with his little smoking jacket and hat – wasn’t really a wolf? (I recommended the book The Book of Lost Things a few weeks ago, and in it the wolves of the fairytales are becoming human and beginning to walk on their back legs like men and talking.) In the original version the wolf seems almost sexualized, as if he’s after Red not just to eat her, but because he’s attracted to her, and Red talks to him in a way she shouldn’t and tells him too much.

Kind of like if a boy came up to Red’s window and began smooth-talking her through the shutters. Setting up Peter (get it? Peter and the Wolf?) to be the Big Bad was brilliant, but there was something about him that I thought was innocent the whole time. I had my money on Granny, but I didn’t see the Red thing coming. What a great twist.

This episode was written by the luminous Jane Espenson (another one of that small group of TV writers whose name appearing at the beginning of an episode generally makes me squeal with delight) and while some of the overall plot was a little predictable, the unpredictable twists were wonderful.

I couldn’t help but think of my other favourite werewolves – and no, Jake isn’t one of them… thank god THIS werewolf doesn’t run around topless – namely Oz from Buffy and George from Being Human. As soon as Red was chaining Peter to the tree I thought, OMG, she’s not protecting others from him; she’s leashing him to one place where he can’t move (and yes, I realize she did this entirely not knowing what she was getting into). And I remembered how both Oz and George put themselves into cages for a couple of days every month. And, like Red, how Oz has absolutely no memory of anything he’s done while he’s wolfy.

What was interesting, too, about this take on the Red story is that in the original, a male wolf overpowers the wolf and a male lumberjack saves their lives. In this one, Granny is anything but a delicate sort, and Red is quite sure of herself and is absolutely fearless.

Over in Storybrooke, Henry has figured out exactly who Ruby is (of course), even goading her into asking if she might want to work as a courier taking things in baskets to people on foot, and Emma invites her to come work as an assistant at the station. While the fairytale world flashback is showing Snow and Red tracking the Big Bad, in Storybrooke Emma, Mary Margaret, and Ruby are all tracking a different kind of Big Bad: they all think Katharine disappeared under suspicious circumstances and are combing the woods for any clues. Meanwhile, David loses his mind for about 24 hours and can’t remember where he was or what he was doing during that time, and suspicion has firmly been planted on him.

While Ruby’s not a wolf in Storybrooke, notice how she’s still always on the hunt, flirting with every person who comes through the diner and always knowing where everyone is – whenever Emma says someone’s gone missing, Ruby’s always known exactly where that person is. Now, she uses those superior tracking skills to hunt for anything remiss in the woods, and immediately finds a box that contains a human heart. (I called it the moment she uncovered it.)

Now. Who keeps boxes of human hearts? We’ve all seen Regina’s crypt full of ’em. And how is it possible Mary Margaret’s fingerprints are on it? My theory at this point is that it’s not actually Katharine’s heart (Emma said they’ve sent it out for tests) but someone from the fairytale world, and the box was handled by Snow White somehow – maybe she found it in Regina’s care and took it and buried it somewhere. Maybe it’s her father’s heart. Maybe it’s the heart of someone else – remember how the Evil Queen keeps saying Snow took someone who mattered more than anything to her? And that’s how Mary Margaret’s fingerprints are on it.

But time will tell. I just hope that look on David’s face was disbelief that someone would set up Mary Margaret, and not a look that he actually thinks she did it. I would stop liking him immediately if that were the case.

I thought this was a really good episode. Meghan Ory, who plays Red, put in a great performance (like Lee Arenberg’s Grumpy last week, I’m thrilled by the side players stepping up and giving fantastic performances) and the scene where she discovers that she is the wolf actually had my 7-year-old daughter moaning with sadness, she was so taken by Ory’s devastated performance.

Speaking of which, I was thinking I should probably include my daughter’s review of the episode, since her take on it is very different from mine. (I forget that she doesn’t have the TV viewing experience I do, and the twists each week BLOW HER LITTLE MIND because she’s never seen anything like it.) She summed up this week’s episode with “scary,” and her favourite line was Snow’s understatement that I quoted at the top (probably because I laughed out loud when Snow said it... it was such an Espenson line). But don’t worry, dear readers: as a seasoned TV viewer I could tell when the big scary moments were going to come, and covered her eyes (and she let me, thank goodness).

And finally, I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the colour red is really prominent in Storybrooke and in the fairytale world. I wonder if the red is some subconscious way that these characters help prevent their monster side from coming out? Could that be the reason Ruby is such a sweet character? Have we ever seen her NOT wearing red?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Walking Dead: Judge, Jury, Executioner

And it’s another week of The Walking Dead with my co-host Josh Winstead, here at Nik at Nite. Sorry it took us so long to get it up this week; first I didn't know how to even start it because I was so shocked at that ending, and then poor Josh first dealt with a sick child, and then got it himself. :( But does this guy love ya, or does he love ya? ;) Here we go! (We have a lot to say this week.)

Nikki: While we usually begin passing this note back and forth pretty soon after the episode has ended, this week it’s taken me a couple of days to absorb what the eff just happened. It rendered me speechless (a rare feat indeed) and unsure of where to begin. Or what to say once I got there.

Dale’s dead. I did not see that coming at all. And from talking to a couple of friends who are fans of the graphic novels, they didn’t see it coming, either. According to one friend of mine, Dale was in there a lot longer, and when he died, “it was an EPIC death,” she told me.

Some people are angry. Dale’s death seemed like a plot device to further the story of Rick’s complex growth as a character, or to show us how Carl will be growing up in a world of evil. It didn’t seem to tie into the overall story. Personally, I was shocked by it and wasn’t as critical of it as many of my friends were, but I do think it would have been more poetic if Dale had died by his own hand. Everyone in the house was waiting to hear the gunshot, and they would have heard one, but it wouldn’t have been Rick’s gun. And imagine Andrea’s reaction – Dale made his choice and followed through; a choice she believes he took from her.

This way he goes out a much more sympathetic character, and maybe a suicide wouldn’t have been in keeping with who he was. But considering he walked out of the room absolutely destroyed over the stark new world he now lived in, saying he simply didn’t want to live in this world, it would have been fitting.

So before we talk about the main parts of the episode, what were your thoughts about the ending, Josh?

Josh: I think it changes everything. Like you, I've had a difficult time organizing my thoughts on this because my gut reaction (sorry) was WHATWHATWHAT?!? like most everyone else. Obviously it's horrible and tragic and needless, but I don't believe it was just calculated shock-for-the-sake-of-shock on the part of the writers, either.

We're only two episodes from the end of the season now, and other than poor Sophia (the death of whom took place mercifully offscreen), no one from the main group has been lost since the CDC explosion, and no one has been violently killed by zombies since Andrea's sister Amy, which was all the way back in the fourth or fifth episode. And as awful as it is when it happens, I think this kind of graphic death is also important in the context of keeping this world in proper perspective.

The title of the episode said it all: “Judge, Jury, Executioner” was not only a reference to Rick or the group as a whole or even simple commentary on the Randall situation that served as its centerpiece. Above all else, I think it was referring to that mudstuck zombie that tore into Dale with no consideration whatsoever for the fact that he spent the last nine hours of his life trying to save another, to be a voice of reason, to buoy the presence of Old World humanity in a place where there isn't much use for it any more. All his proselytizing wasn't directly responsible for his death, per se, but it certainly didn't save him, either. In the end, nothing mattered but that he smelled tasty and was within reach. And these people, with whom he shared his final heroic intentions as well as his last terrible moments, now have to figure out what to do with that.

Mindful of these circumstances, I think the biggest outward ripples we'll see in the narrative as a result of Dale's death will be character-based. And I think that's absolutely necessary. With the possible exception of Glenn (and maybe T-Dog, who at this point might as well be wearing a hot dog costume whenever he shows up), every character on the show has been thinking not of the group or its safety but of themselves, and it's been like this ever since poor Sophia came stumbling out of the barn. Until that moment, they had the search to bond them. When she turned up dead, their collective purpose was instantly extinguished. Now Carol is an empty husk. Daryl's given up. Lori is grating and alienating and obtuse. Shane and Andrea were already talking about forsaking the farm and the group and setting off on their own even before Sophia's fate was revealed (and we see Shane stashing ammo in his trunk this week for what may well be renewed preparations toward that very purpose). Carl, guilty of nothing more than acting like a young boy, likely blames himself for everything that happened with the mudwalker. Even Rick – ostensibly our hero – is willing to kill anyone, no matter how flimsy or morally ambiguous the reasoning, as long as he believes it to be in the best interest of his family.

In short, Dale has been the northernmost point of the show's moral compass since the beginning of the show, and suddenly there is none. The closest thing we have to a group conscience now is wash-my-hands-of-it Hershel. And that can't bode well for whatever is to come.

Nikki: Great points, all. But during the riverbank-zombie scene my husband and I were yelling at Carl to get the f&$k out of there for god’s sakes; it’s not like the kid’s grown up in a bubble and doesn’t know what zombies are, what they’re capable of, what they just did to Sophia, how dangerous they are, and that they’re basically just brute force and if you poke one long enough it will PULL ITS BLOODY LEG OUT OF THE MUCK AND COME AFTER YOU. (And I will admit, I said, “Well NOW I can see that he’s Lori’s son” as he was throwing rocks at the thing.) That said, we’re supposed to say he’s just being a kid, and it’s what boys do. That’s the argument everyone keeps making to me, and I just think what he did was stupid. Yes, it’s what boys in our world do. This isn’t our world anymore; that was the point of the episode. Typical boys don’t know any better; Carl does. I was a little upset with the writers that they made me dislike a child so much; the actor was great when he was near death’s door in the first half of this season, but since then I’m finding him pretty grating. Maybe it’s just seeing him in that damn hat. But when Dale got it, I was really upset with Carl. And I try to tell myself he’s just a boy, but I can’t help it. You shouldn’t have thrown rocks, kid. YOU KNEW BETTER.

But I’d rather focus on what I thought was an absolutely extraordinary section of writing – the “courtroom” scene in the parlour. Just stunning. The writers pulled off the remarkable feat of creating a discussion that showed every facet of a massive question – what exactly is this new world and how are we supposed to act within it? – and turned it into something truthful, compelling, heartbreaking, infuriating, and real. It was impossible to choose sides in this scene: they were all right; they were all wrong. This scene, of course, came after Dale approaching everyone – even Shane, for god’s sakes – pleading with them to spare the life of this young man.

• Does he pose a threat? Maybe.
• Could he hurt them? Yes.
• Could he bring back other people? Yes.
• Is it possible he won’t? Yes.
• Do they have the right to self-preservation? Yes.
• But can they play God?

That’s the unanswerable question. You look at it from the point of view of a group of people who’ve all been through too much, and taking out Randall seems to be little more than getting rid of an annoying walker: he’s in their way, get rid of him. But the one message that’s been hammered home to us time and again is that there’s a big difference between walkers – who are dead creatures that have nothing of the original human being left in them – and human beings. What they’re suggesting is murder.

There’s a child murder trial happening in Ontario right now, a short distance from where I grew up. Those who know the case know how horrific it is, and while I’ve tried to stay away from the details, other parents are telling their kids the details as cautionary tales and then they’re taking them to school and telling my daughter, who’s telling me. Those who don’t know about the case – I’m not going to say anything more. There are certain things in this world you can’t unhear, and I’m not going to inflict the horrific nature of this case on anyone. Suffice to say, whenever I hear what was done to this gorgeous (and I mean gorgeous) eight-year-old girl, I wish the same pain inflicted on the two perpetrators. But does that make me as bad as they are?

Dale would say yes. In a civilized society, you put these people on trial, and if you find them guilty, they go away for life, in solitary confinement so they’re not killed. Interesting how well they’ll be treated in relation to how well they treated her.

But in the case of Randall, he hasn’t actually done anything yet. If he had killed someone or raped one of them, the decision would be much easier, and even Dale would have a tougher time arguing his side. But Randall simply represents the potential for danger. When Shane argued that he could go back to his friends and bring them all back to the farm and kill all of them (or worse), he’s arguing from an actual fear of what he thinks could happen. He’s trying to protect himself, his friends, his loved ones… everyone. But Dale sees it differently – Randall had a mother and a father. He was loved. He’s lost people. He was once a baby, a small child. He was once no different than Carl. And for all they know, he’s still no different than Carl. He’s just running with the wrong crowd, perhaps.

And then he’s got to go and tell the story about how the other guys raped two girls and forced their father to watch (upon which my husband said, “That’s it. Just shoot him in the nuts right now”). Why would he tell them such a thing? Why admit to that? He said he had nothing to do with it. Rick and company say that by simply standing nearby and doing nothing, he’s as bad as the people who did the raping.

Carol has just lost her daughter. In the pre-zombie world, a mother is given space and love and time to grieve the loss of a child. But Carol hasn’t been given that. She’s been given no time to mourn, people are looking at her strangely, she’s been offered no hugs or condolences or anything. Have we seen a single scene of anyone approaching her and offering her their deepest sympathies? No. Daryl has yelled at her and blamed her for Sophia’s death; Carl told her that any solace she was finding in her faith was ridiculous; Rick, Lori, and Shane were too busy rushing off to accuse Hershel or fight off zombies in town; and the others just avoid her completely. She’s done; she’s just a shell of who she once was, and she says no, she can’t be a party to this. She’ll stand in the parlour and watch them make a decision, but she won’t be a part of it.

And according to Dale, that’s no different from actually shooting Randall in the head. The others look at him like he’s a big meanie. But isn’t that exactly what they’re accusing Randall of being guilty of? Watching and doing nothing?

I thought that scene was some of the best writing I’ve seen on TV all year. It was complex and forced the viewers to put themselves into the situation and imagine what they would do. As I said to a friend the other day: so many people think this is just a mindless zombie show. I think it’s one of the most philosophically compelling shows I’ve ever seen.

Joshua: I've been doing something the last couple of days that I don't usually do before we write these up, and that's reading other people's reviews and comments from various sources around the internet. The reason is that I too thought this final deliberation scene was terrific, but like you, I also came down very firmly in Dale's camp when all was said and done. And I'm not sure that was what the writers intended. I got the impression that as viewers we were supposed to be left torn like the others – reluctant but resigned. But I wasn't.

So I went out to see what the rest of the internet thought. Just as I suspected, the overwhelming majority opinion seemed to be that Dale was playing Pollyanna Blue Eyes and that this kid absolutely had to go. But why? Guilt by association? The only truly suspicious thing we've seen him do was to stab that crawler repeatedly with the knife last week, and we were only privy to that as viewers; none of the group saw it. So what is so threatening about this guy whose group valued him so much that they took off and left him for dead? This is not a Benjamin Linus we're talking about, not remotely. No, he probably shouldn't have told that story about the rape. But I think he's terrified and just trying to ingratiate himself to the guys doing all the terrorizing. Who knows how the kid would have been acting around them if they hadn't been universally beating the crap out of him since day one, Rick included.

Logically, I'd imagine that this other group have been combing the countryside looking for them ever since the shootout in the bar, purely on the basis of the previous shootings, and it sounds like they have plenty of manpower to do it effectively. Now all our people have done is take their only source of inside information against what is sure to be an overwhelming enemy and squander it with general mistrust and idle beatings, with a side of bladed torture, all on a fresh bed of the constant threat of death. So yeah, I don't see how our guys are much better than their guys.

I'm sick as a dog right now with the flu and have spent the day in bed, so unfortunately I have to wrap up my part of these proceedings more quickly than I'd like before the glare from the monitor makes me hurl. And maybe it's the fever talking, and maybe it's the codeine cough syrup, and maybe it's just aching all over and generally feeling like a deadly apocalyptic virus is devouring my brain cells, but I am beginning to wonder how much of a hindrance my previous experience with the comics has been when it comes to making an honest assessment of the show. I think it may have instilled a false sense of/unwarranted affection for these variable versions of characters I love and for whom I came to the show bearing an affection that had nothing to do with anything I'd ever seen on the screen. These characters, in these skins, don't make much sense to me sometimes.

I said before that I thought the death of Dale changes everything, but what I really meant is that I HOPE it changes everything. I really hope we see some kind of profound emotional consequence in the lives of these characters as fallout from Dale's death. We need to see it. These events need to resonate through the entirety of the rest of the series. Having this happen – now, and in this way – needs to change people. For better or worse, it needs impact. They need to remember the faces of the dead. It may be their only way to stay in touch with what the world once was, to maintain some semblance of civility, to keep sight of the hope that more than mere survival is still possible for them someday. It shouldn't make them more desperate; it should make them hungrier. It should make them want more than just stumbling into the arms of death as randomly and suddenly as walking into a spiderweb. I hope it does, anyway. Because I think they'll need that to keep them going. I know I would.

Nikki: Poor you! I hope you’re soon feeling much better, Joshua! There’s nothing like writing about The Walking Dead while being one of them. (And if it’s any consolation, you’re still as articulate as ever!)

I was saying to someone the other day that I wonder if the writers on the show are not very good at adaptation, and are better at doing original stuff. That’s why Daryl is such a compelling character, and why these characters always seem more realistic when they’re diverging from the comics. When they’re the same as the comic book characters, they feel stiff and unreal. When they’re doing their own thing – like with Carol and Daryl having their conversations – the scenes are electric.

The last key scene to mention, of course, is Rick holding the gun to Randall’s head. In this scene he realizes talk is one thing; action is quite another. And when Carl steps in the room and says, “Do it, Dad,” it’s all over. Why? Let’s take a look at how much this new world has changed everything.

Think about what you have done with your life. Did you go to university? Do you have children? Do you have a job? Why do we do all these things? Well, we went to university to have a better future. We had children because we’re investing in a future and want to leave a legacy behind and have the experience of raising the next generation of people that we love with every fibre of our beings. We go to work so we can make money to feed and clothe ourselves and our children, and we try to save money for the future so we can get bigger and better things, and give our children bigger and better things.

What’s the key word I keep using? Future. The characters on this show used to do exactly what we do every day. But there’s no future anymore. They live in the present. They go to bed knowing tomorrow they’ll be worrying about walkers, that they’ll be living only for the moment. They don’t think about where they’ll be next week or even the next day; they only think about now. Rick needs to shoot that guy now so he doesn’t come back and hurt any of them. This is something he feels like he needs to do right now for the good of the group. It’s something he’s thought a lot about, and he feels that it needs to be done with, and then he can move on. Dale’s the one thinking about how he’ll have to get up every single morning after that knowing that he was complicit in the execution of what might have been an innocent man. The rest of them aren’t thinking of how this might impact them in the future, because as far as they’re concerned, they don’t really have one. They don’t picture a time where the walkers will no longer exist, where they’ll be able to work and live and grow and go on vacations and lie on beaches and enjoy their lives again. They’re living in the moment, for the moment.

And then Carl walks into the barn. And with his arrival comes the sudden realization that there IS a future. It might be a bleak, dark future, but there may be a day when Carl is 25, and he’s got his own guns and is heading up his own group of people. And what will he be like? Will he be a strong, heroic leader? Or will he be no different than the goons in the bar that Rick quickly disposed of the day before? Will he have no conscience? Will he kill without thinking? Will he find love or will he even be able to? Will he be capable of making connections with another person?

All of these things rest on what Rick does in this moment. What he does to Randall could determine exactly what Carl turns out to be. And so… he lowers the gun. Like Fagan in Oliver! The Musical, he thinks he’d better think it out again. So Randall goes back into the barn, and Rick tries to think of another way.

And then… Dale. And now we’re back to where we started.

Only two more episodes left, and I’m hoping they head off the farm to set up the third season, far away and back on the move. I don’t want to be on Maggie’s farm no more.

Thanks for reading, everyone, and get better soon, Joshua!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Once Upon a Time: Dreamy

What an episode! I’d heard that Amy Acker was going to be on Once Upon a Time this week and I was definitely looking forward to it, and while she was great, Lee Arenberg as Dreamy/Grumpy was truly extraordinary. We’ve seen him throughout the season, grumbling about one thing or another, but nothing could have prepared us for the backstory and performance we saw this week. I’m going to focus on the Dreamy/Grumpy story and leave the Katharine/Emma/David story behind this week. We’ll be able to pick it up next week when it becomes more focal again.

This episode was wonderfully written by Kitsis & Horowitz, and it showed (it’s like when you used to see the “written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse” tag at the beginning of Lost, or saw Joss Whedon’s name at the beginning of Buffy). Not only did it create a great standalone story about Grumpy, but it tied in other stories (Belle and Rumpelstiltskin, Snow and Charming, the Blue Fairy who we’d previously seen talking to Jiminy Cricket) and pulled in the key symbols of the series.

As I mentioned several weeks back, one of those symbols is stars. Emma has a star on her keychain, you can always see stars on buildings or painted onto walls or made of construction paper. Until now the episode that had the most prominent display was the Jiminy Cricket one, which is still one of my faves, but this week outdid that one. For this episode was about dreams. And if a dream is a wish, you make it upon a star.

In the fairytale world, we meet Nova (Amy Acker, who has not aged a day since Angel), who is a fairy godmother wannabe who is currently schlepping around fairy dust for the other fairy godmothers, but she’s a klutz who tends to make a mess of things. And what is fairy dust? It’s ground-up diamonds. And where do the diamonds come from? The diamond mines where the dwarfs work, happily because they believe they have no other purpose in life. And where do dwarfs come from? Eggs.

Didn’t see that one coming. Brilliant.

But one egg is different; one egg accidentally had fairy dust spilled on it (by Nova) and therefore the dwarf inside it isn’t like the other kids. One of these kids is doin’ his own thing. And that thing is dreaming; dreaming of a life outside the mines, desiring more than what is his purpose in life.

And so, when he picks up his axe and watches the handle for his name, it comes as no surprise that he’s Dreamy. The axe, we’re told, never lies, making it a dwarf version of a Sorting Hat. (But seriously… poor Dopey! Then again, he doesn’t seem to mind… because, you know, the dopiness and all…) And with that he begins longing for something more.

When he crosses paths with Nova he recognizes her instantly as the one he’d seen before his hatching, and she tells him to come up on the hill to watch fireflies. That scene was written and shot just for the dreamers in the audience. Who among us wouldn’t want to sit on a hill at midnight, with the moon lighting our way as the lights of the kingdom twinkle below us as fireflies light up the skies around us? That image was glorious. I’m sure other people will call it cheesy; I loved it.

On that hill, he and Nova declare their love for one another, and both decide to follow their dreams: they’ll find a boat and sail around the world together, finding it and being together.

And just as that happened in the fairy tale world, over in Storybrooke we find Leroy, the town drunk who long ago gave up on his dreams and found solace at the bottom of a glass of scotch. He has no time for anyone… until he meets Astrid, a nun prone to mistakes that have cost the convent dearly, and who, for some reason even he can’t explain, brings out the best in him. (Notice that both “Nova” and “Astrid” are named related to stars; they make one think of supernova or astral.) He falls for her, and tells her about his pipe dream of sailing around the world in a boat. Astrid giddily replies, “You can do anything as long as you can dream it,” the very same thing Dreamy had said to Nova in the fairytale world (FTW) when she said she wanted to be a fairy godmother. So, in order to find a way to be close to her, he agrees to sell candles… which happen to be sources of light, little twinkling stars/fireflies/diamonds of light. He does this with Mary Margaret, the other town pariah. And, of course, they don’t sell a single thing. (Interestingly, the candle stand is part of a fair to support local miners, and not only was Leroy a diamond miner in the FTW, but Mary Margaret lived with… seven of them.)

Storybrooke is a very, VERY judgmental place. They have no time for Leroy, but that’s because he’s been biting their heads off for the past who-knows-how-many years. But now they have no time for Mary Margaret, despite the fact she was the town sweetheart for so many years. It seems a little cruel, but then again, we can’t forget these are fairytale creatures, and in the FTW, there are good guys and bad guys, and very few in between. In the Grimm fairytales, there were no uncertain characters with complex backstories that made you think. They were either evil or pure. So, these people have no middle ground. Mary Margaret was pure a few days ago. Now she’s not, and since they don’t understand anything that’s not black and white, she is evil. But looking at the actual FTW, we’re starting to see there was a lot more grey there than in the storybooks we read as kids.

For just as Dreamy is sneaking off, the other dwarfs catch him, and remind him that he has a responsibility. Then the Blue Fairy tells him that if Nova leaves with him, she’ll lose her wings. Together, they’ll be happy, but separately, they’ll do a lot of good for the world. And so, he tells Nova he can’t be with her, sending her off to a life of sadness, as he returns to the mines. Where, when he’s handed a new axe, it reads Grumpy. And with that, his fate is sealed.

As I mentioned, this episode brought in other stories that didn’t at first seem connected to Grumpy’s backstory, but actually fit in perfectly. We get a surprise reappearance of Belle, still wearing the same dress she’d been in when she said goodbye to Rumpelstiltskin. She’s either stopped at a tavern on her way home (probably just before the queen kidnapped her), or she’s working as a bar wench. She acts as the catalyst for Dreamy, urging him to go find Nova, and it’s because of her that he had his moment on the hill. She’s loved (Rumpel) and lost, and doesn’t want him to make the same mistake. Over in Storybrooke, it’s Gold — the other half of that couple — who refuses to buy Leroy’s boat and help him make the money for the nuns. Of course, if Gold hadn’t done that, Leroy wouldn’t have been forced to take matters into his own hands.

This episode was about dreams, and showed the two sides of a dream: the good kind – the kind where you wish upon a star and set a goal and go for it, living out your dream and becoming a happier person for it; and the negative kind, the “pipe dream” that it outside your reach, a goal that’s created a false hope you can never quite reach. Dreamy has wonderful dreams, as does Nova, but the reality of the world won’t allow them to live them out. Dreams are things that you can wish upon a star for; it’s other people who usually tell you what you’re following is nothing better than a useless pipe dream. People try to hold them down, but in Storybrooke they fight back.

When Leroy can’t sell his candles, he takes matters into his own hands, finding a way to make candles a necessity. And just as he fulfills his promise to Astrid, once again becoming her hero as he’d been in the FTW, the camera pulls back to reveal the town walking around with their candles, lights twinkling against the sky the same way they had one magical night in the fairytale world.

Dreams can come true, after all. You can do whatever you want, if you can just dream it.

Thursday, March 01, 2012


Tonight was the premiere of the new midseason show, Awake. I was a little worried – it was the show with all the buzz, the one the critics were saying was THE must-see, and it was written by Kyle Killen, the guy who created the similarly buzzed, must-see show Lone Star… which was cancelled after its second episode.

But this show really delivered. And even if you didn’t enjoy the premise, you could simply play the “Name the show where you saw that actor last” game, since it seemed every person in the show was from something else.

The basic premise is this: Detective Michael (Lucius Malfoy Jason Isaacs) has been in a terrible car accident, where his son has died. His wife, Lily from The 4400 ... Katie from Terriers Hannah is repainting the house and looking for a fresh start, and he’s seeing a shrink, Father Ray from Oz Dr. Lee. His partner is Fez ... Handy Manny Detective Vega, only recently called up after Michael’s previous partner was moved away. While mourning his son, he’s investigating the murder of a cab driver…

Except… that’s a dream. His wife is dead. His son, David Shephard on Lost Rex, is still very much alive. His shrink is President Taylor from 24 Dr. Evans, who is trying to convince him that the other world is a dream. His partner, Jess’s dad on Friday Night Lights ... Eugene on The Practice Isaiah, is still with him, and Vega is just a cop. They’re investigating a child abduction where the parents were murdered in cold blood. His son is grieving, sullen, and won’t talk to his dad. If only his wife were here…

But she is. Because his son is dead. That’s just a dream. His wife is alive. Dr. Lee tries to explain that the other world is a dream, and the sooner he comes to terms with that, the easier it will be for him to move on.

It’s a fantastic premise. And the art direction is rather marvelous, too, shooting the scenes in the wife’s world in warm yellows, and the boy’s world in cold blues, as quick shorthand to remind us which world we’re in. The big catch that shows this is more than just a dreamscape where we have to figure out which is real is that the killer in one world helps them catch the killer in the other. Clues that lead him to the discovery in one – 611 Waverly – are key to catching the baddie in the other. How could either world be fake if he is doing this? How could either world be real if he is doing this?

The idea is great, and I loved the dialogue. In fact, my husband and I both laughed out loud when Isaiah commented on the coffeemaker in the deceased’s house: “I told my ex-wife if she wanted a $600 coffeemaker, she shouldn’t have married a police. Eventually, she agreed with me.” That sounded like something right out of The Wire.

Jason Isaacs is wonderful, and only occasionally belies that British accent. He plays a man caught between two worlds, not sure which one is real, and reluctant to come to terms with which one may be real. For, if he finally chooses one, the other person must die. And he simply can’t do that. In fact, when Dr. Evans tries to “prove” that her world (where Rex is alive) is the real one, Michael almost has a nervous breakdown when he returns to his wife’s world and can’t immediately find her in it. As he says at the end of the episode, if making progress means permanently leaving one of these worlds behind and believing that one of them is absolutely dead, then he has no desire to move forward.

Of course (and you know all of us Lost fans were thinking it!) it’s quite possible that neither world is real, that they all actually died in the car accident and because there was alcohol found in his system – a detail he’s vehemently denying in therapy – he’s now trapped in a purgatory where he has to live with the memories and losses of both these people forever, never able to come to terms with the accident, and never able to move forward.

But for now, I’m interested to see how they keep things moving, and what the coming weeks will bring. If you haven’t watched the pilot episode, find a way to do so before next week. This is a brilliant new show.