Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Walking Dead 3.2: Sick

Josh: Welcome back to our weekly rundown of the morally ambiguous fray that is The Walking Dead. Last week's season premiere saw our survivors encamp in a new semi-safe harbor behind the fences of a prison. Hershel was bitten in the process of clearing out its dark corpse-strewn hallways, and Rick quickly hacked off the offending limb in front of some surprise onlookers: a quartet of prisoners that were holed up in the prison's cafeteria. But was the sheriff quick enough with his blade to beat the infection into Hershel's bloodstream, provided our bearded elder statesman even survives the impromptu amputation? Who are these convicts, and how will they take the encroachment of this ragtag family into their stronghold? Will they be friend or foe, fighter or fodder? Here we go again, folks. It's season three, episode two: "Sick."

Our story picks up right where we left off at last week's cliffhanger, with everyone in the cafeteria scrambling to get Hershel up and headed back toward the cell block and the rest of the group. Our people barely give the new prisoners a second look before commandeering a food cart to employ as a stretcher and beating a hasty retreat, leaving Hershel's foot lying useless in the middle of the floor as a gory point of focus for the convicts, all standing there slack-jawed and trying to process what's just occurred in front of them.

The gang gets Hershel into a bed and continues to try to stem the bleeding from his leg stump, with a relative minimum of panic from the others who had stayed behind, Beth included, at the news of this fresh horror. Meanwhile, Daryl – in one of my favorite moments from this week – calmly moves back to the corridor entrance, notches a bolt into his crossbow, places the stock to his shoulder, aims at the darkened doorway, and waits. Sure enough, it isn't long before the jumpsuited uninitiated show up and start demanding answers. And I can't say I blame them.

I also have to say, Nikki, that it hadn't occurred to me these new guys would have no idea what had happened outside. It seems perfectly obvious now, particularly when taking into consideration the fact that they would all be used to the confinement and isolation anyway, but for some reason I had been assuming they saw zombies, added the passing of almost a year's time without so much as a hint of communication from the outside world, and thereby jumped to all the natural apocalyptic conclusions. Was it as much a surprise to you?

Nikki: It was a huge surprise to me. I didn’t put that together at all. And how amazing was that, by the way, that these guys were completely oblivious to everything going on. At this point you figure there couldn’t be anyone who didn’t know… and then we find them. The only thing that makes that a tad implausible is that the hundreds of zombies in the prison have been moaning and groaning and banging on the doors for months now, and they never once thought, “Huh. A little unintelligible for human beings. I wonder why they’re making noises and not talking? Ah well… pass that tin of green beans.”

My husband and I wondered throughout the episode if these guys weren’t exactly the toughs we were expecting them to be. Dude in the ponytail — I didn’t catch his name — seemed like he was a little off (read: batshit insane) but he also seemed like he was trying to prove something to everyone else, as if he was a carjacker who wanted them to think he was a mass murderer. Of course, by the end of the episode we realize that he was, indeed, badass, but the other two guys were small-time criminals. Can they be trusted?


Back over to the Lori/Rick camp, last week a poster by the name of Joel wrote a comment saying he read an article where the actors who play Rick and Lori were explaining that Lori isn’t upset with Rick because he killed Shane and she was secretly in love with Shane; she’s upset because Rick admitted he WANTED Shane dead, and she feared that he was now as bad as Shane was. I think there may have been something missing in that scene, because that meaning was lost on pretty much everyone who comments on this blog, as well as us. I just took her as being inconsistent (still in love with Rick but suddenly taking a moral high ground) and everyone else thought she was in love with Shane still. Now we move to this week, where despite thinking that several months ago, she tells Rick that she truly believes there is no malice in his heart. In a scene where it looks like they may find a connection again, he hesitates, thanks her in the most indifferent and cold manner, and walks away. She knows he’s actually capable of planting a machete into a guy’s skull, but perhaps believes if she repeats it enough times he’ll remember the man he used to be and think before hurting anyone. She wants the old Rick back. Rick, however, is living in a new world and simply can’t afford to be that man any longer.

What did you make of their relationship this week?

Josh: The impression I've been given from their discussions so far this season, particularly after this episode, is that Lori realizes she encouraged action on his part and then reacted badly when he took it. She wants to make amends, wants him to believe he has her support, but he can't get past that initial abandonment. I think Rick was counting on her to be there for him after what happened with Shane, to offer consolation and understanding and trust, and instead she just affirmed the isolation he already feared would be an inevitable part of embracing the leadership of the group. He needed someone to help him shoulder the weight of that responsibility, but she showed him that the consequences of his decisions are his burden alone to bear.

And that may not be a bad thing, in the long run; it's a hard truth, to be sure, but they are his burden alone to bear, just like the repercussions of anyone's choices. The more comfortable Rick becomes with that idea, the easier it will be to make the many awful new-world decisions that have become necessary parts of a life he'd like to keep ongoing. That first conversation between the two of them about the convicts was very telling in that regard:

Lori: “What are your options?”

Rick: “Kill 'em.”

Though it may be sweet of her to act as advocate now and tell him to do whatever is necessary to keep them safe, with a clear conscience, I think he realizes they're past the point that it matters. I believe she's earnest in her support – and I'm sure Rick does, too – but she's also fragile and heartbroken and desperate, and frankly, any such advocacy at this point is not only suspect but also too little, too late. Calling a truce and being at peace are not the same thing.

Speaking of shaky truces and tough decisions, let's talk about this episode's big moment. Yeah – that one. The 'Whoa, Holy CRAP' one. I didn't notice anyone call the ponytail guy by name, either (I referred to him as Rico Suave in my notes), but he doesn't really need a name any more, does he? That scene was crazy anyway, from the moment the doors were jerked open, unleashing the clutch of zombies on the other side. Everything about the ensuing fight was frantic and thrilling and wildly effective, but the tone shifted radically when Rico shoved the walker toward Rick. Daryl had his back, as always, and the melee was over pretty quickly after that, but the silence that followed as Rick and Rico stared each other down served to dramatically amplify that tonal shift.

And then, in a split second, the duel was over. Diplomacy, thy name is machete.

Nikki: No. Kidding. I couldn’t believe it. And that’s where (I hate to admit it) I actually have an enormous amount of sympathy for Lori and agree with your assessment of her. She reacted badly when she should have supported him – as I maintained last season, she was the Lady Macbeth who pushed him to that action – but couldn’t hide her disgust when she realized what he was capable of. Despite watching him take charge, I think she truly does believe he’s not a cold-blooded killer deep down, because she knows the man she married. And we know him, too. He’s the sort of guy who would be suspicious of someone who willingly threw the doors open knowing it would imperil everyone, and who threw a walker in Rick’s direction and then watched to see what would happen. Rick would now keep such a close eye on that guy, Ponytail wouldn’t be able to pee without Rick knowing. (In my notes, by the way, I called him Jesus. Pronounced Hey Zeus.) Rick wouldn’t actually take revenge on the spot, right? RIGHT?!

Wrong. And our surprise and shock in that moment puts us on exactly the same page as Lori – knowing what he’s done, yet still believing the best in him. The world has changed, and Rick did what he had to do. Wait’ll Lori hears about THIS one.

Now, where I disagreed with Lori’s reaction (while, admittedly, understanding it as any mom would) was when she was chewing out Carl for having gone to the infirmary on his own. While other people are changing drastically in this brave new world, becoming different people than they’ve been their entire lives; showing new loyalties; adhering to new sets of morals… Carl was a little boy when it all started, and he’s not only having to change to fit the new world, but he’s growing up and becoming a man, too. In this world, you have to show independence and initiative. There’s simply too much going on right now for Carl to wait around for someone else to risk their lives to go to the infirmary. He knew Hershel needed that stuff NOW or he would die, so he took the risk (and his gun) and headed out. And when he came back with a bag full of stuff, he should have been lauded as the white knight. Instead he was chastised by his mother for having been stupid, and he quite understandably stormed out of the room (I don’t think we see him again after that, so even after his actions DID save Hershel’s life, no one apologizes to him for it).

I can’t believe I’m sticking up for Carl, but I actually quite like him this season. Yes, he was an annoying kid who never stayed in the house last season, and that became the biggest joke among TWD fans, but he’s past that now. He’s been forced to grow up much more quickly than any child should be, and rather than rebelling against it, he’s embracing it and trying to become a man. I’m really intrigued by what the rest of this season holds for him.

Speaking of the resurrection of Hershel (my husband will hate me for saying this), when Lori was giving him mouth-to-mouth and he jerked up and grabbed her, it’s the only time I’ve ever seen my husband not only leap up into the air, but scream like a girl. And he has a very deep voice, so I thought screaming like that would be near impossible.

Highlight of the evening for me. J

Josh: That scene was so well-constructed that you know she's about to start CPR even before she makes a move. I was up off the couch by the time she did, too, sort of hopping from one foot to the other, chanting, “Your lips! Your lips! Protect your liiiiiiips!” And when he actually wraps his arms around her? Well, I didn't scream or anything, but I wasn't far from it. Fantastic stuff.

Remarkably, I think a big part of why that sequence was so effective can be credited to the amazing turnaround of Lori's character so far this year and the way that the writers, combined with a first-rate performance from Sarah Wayne Callies, have taken a role that was previously the least sympathetic in the show, at least by my estimation, and completely turned her around in only two episodes. Again this week, I was surprised by how very sympathetic I was toward her, both in her dealings with Rick and in the scene with Carl as well. I agree that finding the infirmary was great work on his part – astute, enterprising and self-possessed, certainly mature beyond his years and well worthy of commendation – but also undeniably reckless and dangerous. I don't think Lori's response was out of proportion for a mother in that situation, and a hormone-drenched pregnant one at that. It's hard to imagine how it would feel to watch your only child, your baby, transform before your eyes like that, regardless of the necessity thereof. Circumstances only offer so much comfort.

Like, for instance, the need for an untrained hand to practice abdominal surgery before it becomes essential. Even on a moldering corpse. Erk. Carol's come a long way in the intervening months as well, and her plan to, um, sharpen her skills ahead of time is a sensible one, since it seems obvious that she's in no way comfortable with the idea, much less the procedure. I wonder what the watcher in the woods must be thinking. And also, you know, who the hell is watching from the woods.

I'm looking forward to your final thoughts, Nikki, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Maggie's tearful goodbye to Hershel before he made his unexpected revival. “I just want to thank you” tore me up, man. Again this week, the balance between the action and the character work struck me as right on the money. There wasn't any kind of big cliffhanger to end this episode – which nicely sets up the transition to Andrea & Michonne's story for next week, I would imagine – but I couldn't be any happier with the way things have played out thus far. If this level of quality continues, I'll be very satisfied (and possibly a bit incontinent) by season's end.

Nikki: Haha! I’m right there with you. And I’ll also mention that, as I was telling a friend of mine yesterday, I was unable to watch the scene of Carol cutting into the zombie. It was weird; on the one hand it was the sort of thing where I thought, “Oh god is it possible that thing isn’t dead and it’ll grab her wrist,” and then also thought, “Is it REALLY going to be a proper depiction of what a uterus would look like? That has got to be one of the most shriveled zombies I’ve seen on the show.” And finally thought that it seemed like a terrible indignity to the body. Isn’t that a weird thing to have thought? This is a walker, a zombie, a monster, a shell of the person that used to house it. I’ve watched the survivors stick pick-axes in foreheads and impale their heads with knives and even rip them in half (Well-Zombie… you will forever haunt me…). But somehow this shriveled-up zombie, with flowers in her hair and her little yellow dress still on, was so… vulnerable. And Carol pulled her dress up so tenderly and the little white panties just suddenly made it human. And that’s when I dropped my head and couldn’t watch her cut into it. I still can’t quite grasp my reaction, but I love when they take those little moments to humanize the zombies.

The Maggie scene was the highlight of the episode, and some beautiful acting by Lauren Cohan. I’m actually watching The Vampire Diaries for the first time right now, and I’m in S2, and was shocked to see Lauren Cohan playing a 500-year-old vampire named Rose. (She’s using her real British accent on that show.) She’s great over there, and amazing over here. Again, it’s these moments — a mother chastising her son out of fear for his life; a boy trying to be a man; a husband needing to rise to the situation regardless of what it’ll do to his marriage; a daughter kneeling before her father and saying goodbye — that make this show SO good, and prove that it’s so much more than just a zombie show. This was a truly wonderful episode.

Next week, as you say, we’ll be back with Andrea and Michonne, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s happening over there. Is it possible they’re the ones who were peering through the trees at the prison as Carol was cutting the zombie, or was that a new threat altogether? I’ve heard about a certain character coming back this season… I wonder if it could be that person. Hmm….

See you next week!


Anonymous said...

Did you notice Lori commented on Carl being off somewhere alot? it was in the caged walkway with Rick. He's talking about cleaning tomorrow. her responce? "yeah. it';l give Carl a safe place to- do whatever he does these days"
I laughed! at least the show runners are aware.

JeffCarter said...

Totally agree re Maggie's scene. Awesome acting. With respect to your reaction to Carol's "practice," have you read "I, Zombie" by Hugh Howie yet? Awesome stuff–but certainly no "Finding LOST" *shameless suck up to blogger*

Jeff Carter said...

Ugh...I mean Howey. Sorry Hugh!

Nikki Stafford said...

I have not read it but I must, thanks for the reminder! I'm actually just finishing reading World War Z right now, and I LOVE it. And I have another zombie novel I'm going to write up on here (make sure you check in for it; I think you'd like it).
Signed, Blogger who loves suck-ups

kluu said...

The con leader that got killed by Rick was named Tomas (toe maas). Someone said it near the beginning of the episode.

Joel said...

Thanks for the mention!

I always thought Lori was honestly conflicted between Shane and Rick and cared for both. Both were decent guys before the whole walking dead thing. But with Shane's slide away from Sanityville, Lori is left wondering if there's a monster inside Rick, too. The gang was pretty explicit this week - "it's gonna happen to all of us". The question being - how long will it take to turn?

I had a different take on Rick touching Lori's shoulder. After a painful few months, he's dipping his toe back in. It's a tentative first step towards reconciliation. The blood is still literally on his hands so he can't let himself feel too much ("I just want to feel"). Maybe they'll find showers next episode and we'll have the whole ritualistic cleansing trope!

Colleen/redeem147 said...

There's something (one) for Doctor Who fans in next week's trailer.

Nick Gomez (Tomas Machete Head) was in Looper. I didn't recognize him until seeing him on Talking Dead (great show)

Austin Gorton said...

I really appreciated that this episode maintained the momentum of the premiere even though they didn't go anywhere. Bodes well for the future.

Though once again, I'm curious why Glenn led the Walkers away from Carol and her intended cadaver instead of just, you know, killing them...

Unknown said...

popcornflix movies - Something is wrong with season 8. The walking dead is my favourite TV show but first 4 episodes could be just 1episode or half! Even images/photography and atmosphere look different...its like there is another director or something cheap .Writing is silly and boring...Negan,one of the most interest vilain, they manage to make him seem boring. I don't know maybe they decide to take it really slow but is not good idea. And doesn't look nice also..
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