Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Walking Dead: "Say the Word"

There are so many different kinds of love in this world. The love we have for our parents, for our siblings, for our friends, for our extended family, for our significant others, for our pets. I’ve felt all of them, and they’re all a different sensation. It’s a love that’s tested, that’s easy, that’s difficult, and sometimes, sadly, it’s a love that ends.

But to me, and to many others, the love that transcends them all is the love that we have for our children (I hope I don’t alienate any readers by saying this, because no offense is intended to those who don’t have children). There is nothing you wouldn’t do for them. It’s a love that sometimes is easy (from the moment you see that heartbeat on an ultrasound) and sometimes is difficult (when you don’t immediately feel anything for this new foreign being, and then they grow on you, and then you can’t imagine life without them). They will test that love beyond anything you can imagine. I have loved so many people, and have loved more people since having children, but nothing compares to those little people. Before I had kids, I could only imagine what it felt like. I loved my cats with all my heart and treated them like others treat their children. And then I actually had children. And all the imagining in the world couldn’t compare to the reality.  

Now, I referenced this a few weeks ago, but I’ll talk about it again (Warning: Spoilers for season 3 of Angel in this paragraph; skip to the next if you don’t want to see them). Before I had kids, I watched Buffy and Angel. To me, Angel became a masterpiece that rivaled its counterpart for the depths of emotions it could mine through the character of Holtz. Played by Keith Szarabajka (who, incidentally, not only appears in Argo but whose voice is in the Skylanders game; imagine my surprise when my son and I were playing the Dragon’s Peak level a couple of weeks ago and the bad dragon began speaking, and I thought, “Is that…?” And checked the credits and indeed it was), Holtz is a vampire hunter from the 18th century who found a way to follow Angel to the 20th century (long story, watch the show) to continue to hunt him. In a devastating backstory, we see that Angel and Darla had hunted and killed Holtz’s family, but turned his daughter into a vampire. There’s a scene that still hurts me, where he finds his daughter and knows she’s been turned, and he holds her and sings a lullaby to her before throwing her outside in direct sunlight, watching her burn to the ground. It’s horrible, and even before I had children it made my chest ache. So a couple of weeks ago when we first saw the Governor and I knew something terrible had happened to him, I said that maybe he’d had a Holtz situation on his hands.

And this week, we discover that’s exactly what happened to the Governor to make him like this. He also has a daughter who was turned, and presumably the rest of his family was killed (was his wife a walker? Did he have to kill her or was she destroyed in another way?), but he keeps his daughter close to him because she’s small and he can control her, so far. Mostly that means putting a bag over her head so she can’t bite him, or holding her body between his legs while he combs her hair, which is now coming off in clumps (taking her scalp with it). It shone a whole new light on the Governor, and as we suspected before, this is why he keeps a scientist close to him. Clearly he’s studying them for some sort of cure, or at least looking at ways in which he could neutralize her in a way. No wonder when he saw Michonne with her two pet zombies that he concluded they must be related to her. He knows what that feels like.

He has learned to deal with his pain, even if his way of dealing is deeply disturbing and involves zombie heads suspended in water-filled jars. Rick, on the other hand, deals with his new raw emotions this week, and the result is utter chaos.

What did you think of this week’s episode, Josh?

Josh: Due to inexplicable technical difficulties, I watched this week’s episode in fifteen-second chunks that gradually stuttered out onto my monitor’s screen over the course of about four and a half hours. This was a challenging method of viewing, to say the least – sort of like translating the broadcast from Morse code. As a result, it’s somewhat difficult for me to judge the overall pacing of ‘Say the Word,’ which came across as a bit uneven in light of the measured stride of recent weeks. Acknowledging the possibility that this perceived imbalance could have simply been the result of my jacked-up connectivity issues, however, I thought the episode was pretty great regardless, advancing the story in several significant ways despite perhaps being less propulsive than what we’ve come to expect thus far from season three.

Most important of these in terms of the breadth of its implications is the fact that Lori’s death has pushed Rick past the breaking point. The sheriff, it seems, has lost his everlovin’ mind. For how long, and to what degree, we don’t yet know. I loved the way Rick’s descent was portrayed, with its unrestrained violence and expressionistic sound design and utter lack of dialogue up to that final cracked “Hello” into the telephone at the end. It’s impossible to imagine the cumulative effect of being adrift in a world so nightmarish and untenable and utterly relentless, but madness seems one of the more likely cerebral responses.

That being said, I would love to offer unreserved sympathy in the face of such horrific circumstances, such senseless traumatic events. But the timing of your breakdown? Could definitely be better, dude. I don’t mean to sound callous, but there’s kind of a zombie apocalypse going on right now, you know? You have a group of survivors that counts on you – a group comprised of one young man, two young women, a senior citizen with a recently amputated leg, and oh yeah, YOUR TWO CHILDREN, one of whom is a newborn infant and the other is a 13-year-old who just shot his own mother in the head to prevent her inevitable rebirth into the legion ranks of ravenous undead – and they are currently under the supervision of two prison inmates whose transgressions are completely unknowable and a former meth head who, however trusted and capable he may be, is still just one guy with a single-shot crossbow and a knife.

Speaking of whom: by my measure, Daryl earned the MVP award for the episode in a big way. Last week we touched on just how far his character has come since his introduction, and Daryl’s actions in response to the bloodbath of ‘Killer Within’ were conclusive testament to that metamorphosis. Before anyone else had even lost the stunned looks off their faces, he was seizing the reins, mounting a run for baby supplies, even delegating psychological outreach for Carl. I never would have expected it, but Daryl has become the backbone of the group and – in light of Rick’s descent into hysteria – its de facto leader.

Nikki: Absolutely. Rick tried to stay strong and suppress his emotions for the group, but now that he’s needed by two people as a father, not their leader, he can’t step up, and instead every emotion he’s kept down over the past several months comes pouring out and then some, like a tidal wave that threatens to take down not just him, but everyone else in its riptide.

Daryl was definitely the hero of this set piece, as you say. The scene where he and Maggie go to the daycare was terrifying, and I was so caught up in the sadness of the picture — the empty cribs, those little paper handprints on the wall, the heartbreaking silence — that I was missing the obvious. As they rounded the corner and you could see the pantry door shaking, my husband gasped and said, “Baby zombies!” I shrieked and covered my eyes. I can handle just about anything, but not baby zombies. Thank god it was just a damn possum.

Formula, bottles, diapers… what a goldmine these two landed on. While the world is imploding around them, it’s these little mercies that make Maggie smile, an hour after she’d witnessed something brutal and horrifying. That said, I had to giggle when my husband — now an expert of feeding small children — said, “That bottle contains four times the amount of formula a newborn baby would require!” Hahaha…

Poor Carl, as you say, is in shock, and standing there trying to comfort his little sibling while being the big man and trying to name her in the absence of any parents in that moment. He goes the memorial route, suggesting Sophia, Carol, Patricia, Amy… and Lori (and many more, reminding us of just how many people these characters have lost). In my heart I was hoping he could be steered away from this thinking. This baby is brand new, born into a world that’s utterly changed, where you don’t have time to properly mourn the dead and probably don’t want to be reminded on a daily basis of how they went. It’s why Daryl’s suggestion — Lil’ Asskicker — is not only humorous, but apt. It seems like the perfect new name in this new world.

Back over in Woodbury, the Governor takes Andrea out to a special event involving UFC-style fighting (that’s scripted like the WWE) in a zombie cage match. All he needed to do was throw in a line of cocaine and a monster truck rally and it could have qualified for most romantic date EVER. On a scale of one to totally fucked up, where would you rank that one?

Josh: You left out the Skynyrd. Seriously, though… I can maybe halfway understand (though still disagree strongly with) the Governor’s psychological viewpoint, that desire to put people at ease by defanging (sorry) their aggressors. That being said, could they have chosen a more repulsive way to realize the idea? And frankly, the fact that he seemed to think Andrea would be into the whole spectacle as entertainment in the first place was either incredibly shortsighted on his part or further indication of how far to the right of reality his mind has slipped. Never mind that fear of the walkers is not just natural but the only healthy response to a creature that once was human but died, then rose from the dead and now wants to eat you. Never mind that the crowd at their homespun arena battle is making enough racket to ring the dinner bell for a good half mile in every direction. It was the sight of Andrea looking over at the cheering kid on his father’s shoulders that really sold it for me: “This place is not what they say it is.” There is nothing normal about it, despite the convincing fa├žade, and Andrea should know that with all certainty now. Now that it’s too late, and Michonne has already left her behind.

The big question in my mind is what Andrea does from here. With her traveling partner gone, she has no options left other than to stay and try to make the best of it. I’m convinced the Governor plans to go after Michonne – she’s been much too blatant in her sneaking around, much too transparent about her suspicion and distrust, and he’s bound to see that as a threat, particularly with her out there running free. I think he makes a habit of tying up loose ends like her, and I think he has every intention of doing so.

But then again, I don’t really expect Michonne to just leave Andrea in the wind, either. As viewers, we may not have been privy to the 8 months these two shared in one another’s company, relying on each other and keeping each other alive, but Michonne doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would just disregard all that shared history based on the other’s susceptibility in the face of temptation. Her Lassie routine with Andrea at the gate may have fooled her, and it may have fooled Merle, but it didn’t fool me.

On the subject of off-screen events to which we weren’t privy: did Glenn’s speech about the Amazing T-Dog at the fence with Hershel ring hollow to anyone else? Not including his defense of the convicts in conversation with Rick during the last episode (which, being a direct textual prelude to his death, I don’t think should count), when was the last time we saw T-Dog do or say anything significant at all? When he sliced his arm open in the season 2 premiere? I suppose I can see, at least in theory, how the other members of the group might have considered him a valuable part thereof, but the audience was certainly never shown anything to indicate it. And simple inference just isn’t enough.

Nikki: I can’t remember exactly what he said to Hershel, and when I just went to check I realized my husband had erased it from the PVR [shakes fist at the sky] but he said something like, “He was such a good guy, and saved my ass a million times.” I added aloud, “Too bad he didn’t have a personality of any kind, or ever came off as a particularly useful part of the group.” The writers really failed with T-Dog.

But luckily, they’ve succeeded with so many others. I agree with your assessment of Michonne. Andrea had that look on her face like, “oh… oh sh–” throughout the zombie-laced Thunderdome spectacle, as if she’d missed her chance to get out of the madhouse by mere hours. I don’t see Michonne leaving her behind; she cares about Andrea. I disagree with the Governor’s actions on this one. Not just because of the noise (what about the humans outside of his wall, desperately hiding in trees and such because they can’t get into Woodbury, suddenly hearing fireworks and cannons being shot off, which would attract walkers for miles around?) but because by defanging the zombies, as you put it, he’s giving them a FALSE sense of security. Fear of those walkers is what has kept Rick and his crew alive. The moment you start to feel less afraid, you put your guard down. And when you put your guard down, you get killed.

Bringing it back around, as you say, I’m not sure if this will be Rick’s crew anymore. Can he come back from the nervous breakdown he’s had in this episode? When he walked into the boiler room I muttered, “Oh god… he’s going to… see her. WE are going to… see her.” And then we saw chunks on the ground and my husband said, “She’s been eaten!” Pull back camera to reveal a bloated walker who’s had his fill of Lori. And Rick went apeshit. And just as the zombie was sitting there, unable to move after madly gorging on mama meat, now Rick sits there, wild-eyed and unable to move after madly slicing up the contents of the walker’s stomach. And then… the phone rings. I half expected a voice on the other end to say, “Do you know where your children are?”

Gasp… the call is coming from inside the prison!!!!

Or, perhaps, the call is coming from that guy way back in season 1 who was talking to Rick on the walkie-talkie. Could it be? Could that man still be alive??

Any final thoughts, Josh?

Josh: I’m afraid I can’t comment on the telephone; as a reader of the comics, I know exactly who’s on the other end of that call, and offering any input at all would ruin a pretty delicious surprise. (And really, what I should say is that I think I know, barring one of those deliberate curve balls from the writer’s room designed specifically to confound we old-timers. Which they admittedly love to pitch at us.) But I will say that regardless of my foreknowledge, the moment still took me completely off guard, and after Rick’s demented exstabaganza, merely the sound of the ringing was so unexpected and incongruous that it made all the hair on my arms stand up. What a perfect cliffhanger to keep us talking and string us along until Sunday night.

Bits & Bobs:

-       When Merle and his crew went out to round up walkers for the arena to replace the ones Michonne dispatched, exactly what was that big crazy cylindrical metal thing with the anemometers at the top? I’m assuming that Milton the creepy scientist dude rigged it up to collect data, but it also seemed to be making some kind of sound, like a combination wind flute/music box, playing an eerie little tune presumably to attract walkers to the trap.  What. The. Hell.

-       Also: Milton the creepy scientist dude? Really gives me the heebie-jeebies. Like, worse than the Governor, who’s all huggy with his toothless, bag-headed zombie daughter and watches decapi-teevee. Wonder when the other shoe’s gonna drop with this guy.

-       You know Michael Rooker has SO much fun on this show. Sometimes Merle’s awfulness is lost in Rooker’s glee playing the part.

-       “Hello dinner.” “I’m not putting that in my bag.”

-       Special recognition goes to Andrew Lincoln this week, whose desperate, unhinged performance sold Rick’s divorce from reality brilliantly. Those empty eyes were chilling. And also to Bear McCreary, whose music is always terrific, but in my opinion tends to kind of dissolve into the background on this show more times than not. His work really stood out this week, I thought, and bettered the scene every time it appeared.

And that’s all for this time, gang. Be careful out there, and we’ll see you next week.


Joel said...

I don't have much to add - just a big thanks for your post. I just finished reading another review and was left with wondering why the reviewer even bothers with the show. Sure, there are things not perfect. But what I appreciate about your reviews is that you're primarily concerned about the characters - how Rick is dealing, what is going through Carl's mind, the implied back story of Michonne... It's refreshing to read. So... thanks! And the Buffy references are a nice bonus.

As for the show this week - I've started viewing it as a remix of the comic. Maybe a parallel universe. I think I know where the phone call is going; but I like that it could be something totally out of the blue. Butterfly wings, and all that.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I know you were being facetious about the timing of Rick's breakdown (at least I hope so) but I don't think it was something he could time, what with the exhaustion, the grief, the trying to be leader all the time, the sheer horror of it all.

If that's an internal line, maybe it's Carol on the phone.

Or Fido, King of the Zombies. Hopefully we'll find out soon.

Anonymous said...

Do they think Carol's dead? Seriously - maybe try & find her?

I don't like that Daryl's getting the Season 3 Sawyer treatment (He really has a heart of gold - aaawwwww) I didn't like it then or now.

He rocks the best serape since Clint Eastwood though!

Great write-up!

-Tim Alan

Efthymia said...

Michonne is awesome! I ♥ her.
As long as she and Glenn are alright, I'm happy with this show.

Last week I said that Andrea is stupid and that Michonne should leave her and go (which she did, because she's awesome), and I kept thinking, did I really expect better from Andrea? The one who last season was annoyed by Dale and BFF'd Shane?
I have been very disappointed by Andrea, and the fact that she realised that the Governor and that place aren't all that swell doesn't make things better, because it took the recreation of a Roman arena, with zombies instead of animals, for her to see things clearly. During Season 1, she was probably the one I identified with the most; I don't have any children, but I do have a sister, and for me sibling love is #1. I understood her devastation over her sister's death, and I understood even more her wish to die. And then they went and "broke" her.
I also believe that Michonne hasn't abandoned her, and I hope that after they're reunited, Andrea will come to her senses and stop being the one to befriend and stand-up for the evil character.

I really, really, seriously DREAD a Daryl/Mearle reunion.

P.S. I expected zombie babies, too.

yourblindspot said...

@Joel: Thanks for the kind words. I too get worn down with endlessly negative or nit-picky recaps, which always leave me to wonder why the reviewer continues watching if it's only to complain about everything they hate (aside from the obvious fact that it's their job). I've certainly had my issues with the show, and I still don't think it's perfect, as you say, but I also try to remember that if someone didn't like a show, they likely wouldn't seek out commentary. And discussion is always so much more interesting and illuminative than castigation, no matter how clever.

@Colleen: Yeah, I was being facetious. Mostly. ('Inappropriate' is my sense of humor's default setting.) But the kernel of truth in there is that I do sort of want to slap Rick in the face and tell him to pull himself together. That feeling is much less about his being a leader and much more about his being a father. Life goes from zero to hideous in about half a second in Zombieland, and that just doesn't allow for much time to grieve, especially when you have babies to mind. In terms of the show's chronology, I know it's only been, like, a day since Lori died, and part of my impatience is heavily skewed as an impassive viewer instead of an active participant. I'm just anxious to see him snap out of it, to reassess and realize what he still has instead of wallowing too long in what he's lost; that's all.

@Tim: "...maybe try & find her?" Right?!? Like, perhaps employ those former residents that just joined your group -- the ones with advanced knowledge of the compound and its layout -- and make the most cursory attempt to prove her demise more conclusively than a not-even-bloody scarf on the floor? As for Daryl, I think much like Lori's re-painting into a sympathetic character right before she was torn away from us, there is a certain amount of setup going on there. We know that Merle re-enters that picture at some point, and things promise to get much more complex when he does. True, it's a little disingenuous. But I bet it makes for some awesome television before season's end.

yourblindspot said...

@Efthymia: Likewise with the Michonne love. And likewise with the Andrea frustration. I feel like there's nothing I've complained about more this year than Andrea's denseness. I agree 100% that it shouldn't have taken such a rub-your-nose-in-it moment to clue her in. All I can figure is that she was just overwhelmed by the relative charm and tranquility of the place in most every other aspect, sort of like the song of the sirens luring Odysseus toward the rocks. Certainly not smart -- or careful, considering the state of the world -- but not outside the realm of possibility. Just because the notion of someone waving a magic wand and suddenly putting everything back the way it was is both irrational and totally unrealistic doesn't mean the desire goes away.

That being said, I concur that the last time I deeply sympathized with her is when she wanted to stay behind at the CDC and just end it all. It hasn't seemed like they've known exactly what to do with her since then. Maybe whatever horrible inevitability that's waiting on the horizon will be the thing that turns her around. Or maybe she and Philip shack up & she goes full-on Cruella de Vil; I guess we'll see.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

When you're suffering from any type of mental illness, you can't just snap out of it. You can't be slapped out of it. Whether it's a good time for Rick to be going through this (it isn't) that's not the way to help him.

yourblindspot said...

@Colleen: You're absolutely right. It's a wholly unreasonable expectation on my part, and I freely admit it. But I'd be lying if I said my first thought, and my greatest concern, wasn't the children. As I said, I don't think of Rick's reaction as the least bit disproportionate -- just unfortunate. And for a show that seems designed to knead our hearts like a gleeful accordionist, that's right on par.

However, I certainly didn't intend to be glib or insensitive about mental illness, and if I offended anyone, I do apologize. Obviously my feelings and opinions are skewed because the subject is a television character, not a real person, and I'm sure they would differ radically if this were, say, a news item instead of a fantastical fiction about the living dead. But I didn't mean to imply that there was anything unrealistic about the portrayal or that slap therapy is any more than an ill-chosen idiom on my part. I'm very glad that there are others around who can care for the kids; I just can't help but wish that one of them was their father.

Nikki Stafford said...

@Josh: I don't think you've said anything offensive at all. I, too, am looking at a little boy who not only just watched his mother die and his little sister get ripped from her womb, but he shot her in the head. And he is holding it together. Where I think Rick is incapable of doing that is because he has held it together for so long and he has absolutely snapped. He is incapable of snapping out of it, sadly, because he's incapable of thought. Having seen a loved one go through a nervous breakdown before, I know it's about as primal as it gets. But don't worry about offending: I know where you're coming from, and my deep sympathy for Rick is somewhat tempered by my much deeper heartbreak for those 2 kids. Interesting: last week I said in our post that Rick was entering a nervous breakdown and that he was incapable of seeing Carl. Someone commented that I was wrong and that he walked up to Carl with open arms and Carl walked away from him. I don't remember it that way, and in the previously on portion, they show Rick stumble past Carl like he's not even there. So whatever you write, someone will call you on it at some point. But I don't think anyone took any offense to anything you said (at least I hope not because I know you we're speaking from the heart). ;) (I apologize for any typos in this; I'm on my phone at the moment and it won't let me correct anything!)

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I think it just struck a nerve because it's the sort of thing people say to people who can't snap out of it. It's a beyond crappy situation for all of them, and they can't exactly get into therapy. I think Rick is going through something like Post Traumatic Stress, and heck they all could be.

I can't blame Andrea for wanting clean sheets and steady meals at this point in her life. And David Morrissey is hot. :)

I was half expecting to see Michonne's head in a tank at the end, though I don't think getting it would be too easy.

lorogomo said...

I'm really curious to see how they'll handle the phone stuff... and surprised to see it happening so early, Rick hasn't even met the governor yet! In the comics the phone is really "post-prision-y"

Gretchen M said...

Yeah T-Dog was entertaining and all but some of the stuff they were saying didn't ring true to me. Like how he went door to door to give seniors rides...just months ago he wanted to leave everyone behind on the farm and drive off with Lori and Beth (is that her name? I always forget).

It didn't even occur to me that Lori had been eaten. I think I was so focused on the bulging stomach and the way Rick sort of hovered his hand over it, I thought he was thinking of Lori's pregnancy.

That being said now I'm having nightmares tonight!!! gggggaaaahhh!!!!