Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Walking Dead: 4.15 "Us"

Dear Josh–
Well, after last week's episode, which I would say is the best episode of The Walking Dead yet, and one that set the internet on fire when it happened, we were bound to get an episode that was slightly disappointing in comparison. And yet it gets us one step closer to the end, and everyone finally meeting up at Terminus… which is apparently a ghost town where Mary lives and keeps her potted flowers. But more on that later. 

I'm going to say something off the top that will probably make me very unpopular among fans (sorry, Efthymia), but it really bugged me in this episode: I think Glenn and Maggie have become an insufferable couple, willing to plough over everyone else just to get back together. A couple of weeks ago we saw Maggie abandon Bob and Sasha, knowing that she was their best hope of staying alive, because she just had to get to Glenny-Wenny that much faster. Bob followed Maggie like a lost puppy, and Sasha just wanted to give up on her and see if they could save themselves. But knowing that she couldn't live on her own, Sasha had to follow Bob, who was following Maggie, and Maggie just kept on truckin' like it didn't matter that they were desperately trying to keep up with her. Now this week, Glenn puts Tara's life in peril just so he can find his Maggity-Googity. He knows Tara's got a gimpy leg, and that she feels personally responsible for the death of his father-in-law, so she follows him into what appears to be certain death, rather than just giving it one more day and going around and finding them on the other side (awesome irony: those who choose to go around and take the longer route get to the other end of the tunnel before Glenn and Tara. Nice one, Glenn). And it looks like Tara IS going to die when she gets a boulder stuck on her foot and can't move. For a second, I really thought they were going to sacrifice her and rid us of the last vestiges of the Governor's group. I'm glad they didn't; even though I didn't like her at first, she brings a new life to the group. Especially now that Glenn has lied about who she was when introducing her to Maggie. But honestly, Glenn, you could have just stuck with the group and gone around, not put Tara's life in danger, and been one extra set of hands to help keep Emmett safe. But oh no, you had to rush on into that tunnel like you HAD to get to Maggie quickly, as if she needed you. Seriously, Glenn, Maggie has bigger balls than you and always has. She will be just fine

Now that they've been reunited and are burning Polaroids together in the corner of the tunnel, I hope the rest of them abandon them in the night and leave them to make lovey-dovey eyes at each other.

And I say this knowing that I would have driven a car over every single one of the survivors to get to my husband and kids faster, but hey. Let me be a hypocrite on this one. :) 

Back to Tara, I thought the other annoying thing about this episode was turning her into a total cliché. Who gets pushed and accidentally falls over and somehow sprains their leg? AND THEN gets it caught under a rock? Oh yes, writers. Please remind us that she is but a lowly girl and we must make her the damsel in distress so good ol' Glenn can come to her rescue. (How happy was I was it was actually Maggie packing heat and saving her life in the end?) I just HATE when there's a scene on any television show and they're running and oh! The GIRL trips and falls and the GUY has to help her back up. UGH. Actually, I'm usually annoyed when anyone trips. It's the oldest horror suspense trick in the book. I guess they couldn't have done it with Glenn because we've already seen him at death's door with Maggie nursing him back to health, but there were other ways to make Tara vulnerable other than having her trip… and then trip again. 

We hadn't seen Rick/Michonne/Carl in over a month, and we get to see them again along with Daryl and Jeff Kober's Claimers. What did you think of them in this episode, Josh? 

Hey, Nikki --
I've just been reading about a new beer to be released by a small Philadelphia brewer in tribute to 'The Walking Dead'. The Dock Street Brewing Co. will introduce a pale stout dubbed Dock Street Walker to coincide with the broadcast of season four's finale episode this weekend. And how else, you ask, might this tribute concoction distinguish itself, outside the simple honorific and the artifice of custom labeling? Glad you bring it up. Because Dock Street Walker will be brewed with the usual assortment of wheat and oats and hops and barley, but tempered with organic cranberries and – no kidding – smoked goat brains.

I believe I'll join you in the teetotaler's corner this time, ma'am.

Well, we're almost at the end of these again; somehow we only have one more episode left of the season. When I stop to consider it, the beginning of season four does seem like a long time ago (think: before this winter started). Still, the time's flown. Our schedules have proven so mutually chaotic of late that this back half of episode discussions was a bit of a mess, and I hate that I wasn't able to dedicate more time and attention to such a strong set of chapters in this long, gloomy tale we follow. The recent focus on character and relationships has given the narrative a balance it has always struggled to maintain with any consistency, and these efforts likewise encouraged me to reinvest in the show as something more than a morbid game of What Will They Do Next.

Some parts have been stronger than others, of course. I don't share the same degree of irritation as you and others regarding Maggie and Glenn (and I admit it's impossible for me to divorce myself from any preexisting sense of goodwill for the couple as a result of my time reading the comics), but I do agree that they have been largely underserved in this stretch, two charismatic individuals reduced to little but engines for finding each other, and that's a shame. Rick has seen similar circumstances of late, with his biggest post-prison showcase spent hiding silently under a bed. He only had a few lines in this episode as well, but they were wrapped in another charming Carl/Michonne scene, and anything that injects some levity and sweetness into the typically grim proceedings is significant in and of itself.

As the audience, however, we know that Rick and his traveling family is being hunted right now by a nasty group of scavengers, none of whom would hesitate to murder each and every one of them, Carl included, whether from pure spite or some misplaced sense of justice for their fallen comrade. The inevitable clash between them seems the most likely backbone of the coming finale, no doubt leaning on the fact that Daryl will be unwittingly pitted against his old friends. Daryl's story has been as rich as anyone's during these recent episodes, and watching his hard-fought capitulation to Beth's hope crusade all wash away in the wake of her disappearance, only to be replaced by this band of hooligans espousing the same old bitten cynicism and cutthroat greed as he'd known in his previous life, has been tragic but truly compelling. If the next step in that downward trajectory is the inadvertent killing of one of his friends, the fallout will be immense. Then again, things could easily tilt the other direction, too, leading instead to Rick, Carl or Michonne killing or injuring him before they realize who they're fighting.

Either way, the stage is set for a white knuckled ride Sunday night. The teaser for the group's arrival at Terminus was so uncharacteristically serene – no guards, no lookouts, not even a locked gate – that things are bound to go sideways there in some manner as well, but I get the feeling most of that conflict will be saved for season five. In the meantime, there are still six more survivors headed down the tracks, and surely blood will be spilled before they reach the end of the line. None of them is truly expendable, yet I get the sense that not everyone will make it.

What do you think, Nik? The death of another child seems unlikely with the grief of 'The Grove' still so fresh, so I presume Carl is safe for now. And the end of Daryl, Carol or Michonne would surely cause a fan revolt. Does this mean Tyreese is doomed? Or do they have the guts to kill off their leading man?
- j

Dear Josh,
You know, your comments about Rick barely being in the season echo something I’ve been thinking a lot lately: that we haven’t seen much of him, and I haven’t missed him. He’s essential to the core of the show… or, at least, he was, until he went through his major traumas (losing his wife, losing his mind, trying to claw his way back to sanity and not lose his children), and at the mid-season break he believed he lost Judith. I think next week we’re going to see him reunited with her, but will he last long beyond that? Carl has grown up to the point where he doesn’t feel like he needs Rick, and now he has Michonne by his side. Her evolution from unsmiling, cold warrior to the smiling woman who walks along railway ties in a bid to win a chocolate bar away from a teenager has been wonderful to watch, and Carl isn’t alone. When the entire gang gets to Terminus, they’re going to work as a unit. They’ve been separated, and they know how terrible it’s been being out there on their own, so it’ll be nice to see them all together.

Daryl, as you say, is with the ugly gang who believes you can just own something by pointing to it and saying, “Claim.” Kober, who looks like Kris Kristofferson in this episode, teaches Daryl that the gang strictly abides by cooperation, no stealing, and no lying, and they beat their colleague to death when he lies to prove a point. (Frankly, can I just say that while the other guy was a dick, it was hardly a contest there: Kristofferson looks at Daryl and says, “You told the truth.” What ELSE was Daryl going to do? Say, “Oh yeah, I took the rabbit”? Obviously he told the truth, because he was in the right. I thought it was a strange test. Watching them fight for the rabbit and then judging THAT would have been more fair, I think.)

As you say, Daryl was just about to come over to Beth’s side and become domesticated, so to speak, and now he’s back with the Wild Bunch. As Kristofferson says, “There’s nothing sadder than an outdoor cat who thinks he’s an indoor cat.” But… the indoor cats live longer, and are generally happier, and part of a unit, and don’t have to scavenge for every bit of food. It’s this revolt in Daryl’s mind between two ways of thinking that will always continue to tear him apart. 

I am definitely a little concerned about Terminus. I don’t trust it. It’s too quiet, there doesn’t appear to be anyone there (are they all sleeping in the middle of the day? Maybe they stay awake at night instead?) and if it’s just Mary, that’s a hell of a big grill she’s got for one person. And who the hell needs four layers of sweaters?! As they walked in, I couldn’t take my eyes off the flowers in the pots along the walls. And then I thought, “Uh oh.” The flowers are exactly what Carol told Lizzie to focus on before she shot her in the back of the head.

If Rick is going to be the victim in next week’s episode, it would certainly refresh the show once again now that they’re all back together: they’d have to find a different way of leadership, different people will be involved in the decision-making, and the entire dynamic will change.

But if it does end up being the last episode for Sheriff Grimes, I just hope they let him see Judith one last time.  

Until next week, my friend. 

P.S. Incidentally, while searching for photos to go with this post, I came across this. Which... pretty much makes me think yeah, Terminus ain't gonna be a Holiday Inn. Remember that painting that Michonne found in the house with all the dead people? Oh shizz...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Walking Dead 4.14: "The Grove"

In recent weeks my partner in zombie shuffling Josh Winstead and I have been getting these posts out later and later. In fact, if you're still looking for a recap of 4.13 "Alone," no, you didn't miss something; we never got around to posting it (however, it's at the bottom of this recap). But every once in a while an episode comes along that is so affecting, so devastating, that you feel like you need to talk about it. I didn't get to watch the episode until lunch time on Monday, and by that time I'd already had three emails from friends not spoiling me (thank goodness) but just saying, "Have you watched it yet? We need to talk." Another friend phoned me that evening because he had to talk about it with someone.

Thank goodness this was the week we'd previously agreed we'd aim to get out a post earlier than usual. And now, we crawl back into our fetal positions and continue sobbing.

Dear Josh,
So remember when I was recently talking about how there's only been one episode of The Walking Dead that's made me cry, and that was when Sophia came walking out of the barn and was a walker? 

Yeah. Turns out dead little girls are something I can't handle on television. And this week's episode was beyond heartbreaking. 

For several episodes, spread out over a year, we've had little clues that something weird was happening in the prison. Who was hanging rats/mice through the fence slats? Was it Bob Stookey? He's a weird dude. Was it one of the people who hadn't been introduced yet? Had Daryl finally lost it? And then… whoa, there's a dissected animal in the basement. Who the hell did that? Bob Stookey's been hanging out down here a lot (poor Bob… we just kept suspecting him). But… Lizzie's been acting strangely, was it her? As the weeks went on, Lizzie became Suspect #1 in that case, and many viewers (including us) began speculating that perhaps she's the one who killed Karen and David, and that Carol had dragged the bodies upstairs to burn them. The set-up has been a long one (to the point where my cousin's wife said to me the other day, after marathoning the series within a few weeks, that she must have missed an episode because she didn't know who was feeding rats to the zombies at the prison) but it's paid off in this episode. A couple of weeks ago we saw a bunch of little dead bunnies in a row on a log, all left behind by Lizzie Borden Jr., and then there was that frightening scene where she covered Judith's mouth and nose to shut her up, and every viewer was on the edge of his/her seat thinking she was going to shut Judith up for good. 

So we knew something was coming. A confession, maybe? Lizzie going AWOL, something… but not this. Oh my god, not this. I didn't see this coming at all. And certainly not immediately following a testicle joke. 

It would be one thing to suggest Lizzie's a sociopath, or that after she lost her parents, something simply snapped in her head. But there's a scene earlier in the episode where Mika kills a zombie (Lizzie feels something for the zombies and believes they have souls and feelings, ruling out the sociopath idea), and afterwards Lizzie can't calm down. Mika begins reminding her to focus on something in front of her, and begins counting, telling her to breathe… something any parent with a child who suffers from an anxiety disorder has had to do. It was a terrifying scene for me to watch, because I'm uncomfortable with all-too-real depictions of anxiety disorders on television, having experienced it in real life. Whenever Nurse Jackie's daughter Grace has an episode, I feel like I'm going to throw up. 

So imagine realizing that all the calming methods and therapies aren't worth the paper they're printed on if something truly horrific like this happened. The mentally ill can't help that they're mentally ill. But if a group of people were on a deserted island and one of them got terribly sick and couldn't contribute, that person would be killed. Now we realize the mentally ill would suffer the same fate. There are no drugs they can find for her, no way to tell her that the monsters aren't real and everything is OK and she just needs to breathe her way through it and focus on something beautiful in front of her. No… because this sort of person "can't be around people" in an apocalypse. A child with a mental illness can't be helped. They believe the world is a terrifying place and monsters are real; how can you calm them down when… they're right? Clearly her parents always used these techniques on her before the apocalypse, opening closets to prove there were no monsters, that monsters weren't real. And if there's a chance Lizzie was actually getting better with cognitive therapy, and believing that there's no such thing as monsters, now her brain's going the other way and she's looking at the zombies like puppies, rather than realizing that the monsters she feared all along ARE VERY REAL. 

Going back to Rick's questions — "How many walkers have you killed? How many people have you killed? Why?" — the answer to that last one would be, "Because I wanted to prove that when she woke up, we'd be besties." Just as she'd been counselled all her young life, she was just trying to show Carol there was nothing in the closet.

As Carol said, just like Sophia, Mika didn't have a mean bone in her body, so we knew from the beginning of the episode that she was probably going to die. But at the hands of her own sister, who was just trying to prove a point? And then for Carol to have to execute Lizzie for her crime, all the while giving her Mika's calming techniques — "just focus on the flowers, Lizzie" — like George asking Lennie to tell him about the rabbits in Of Mice and Men… ugh, it's just too much sometimes. This episode hurt my heart so much. It was so beautifully done, but was just too real for me. I'll need some time to recover from this one. 

You're a parent, too, Josh; I'm assuming this one hit home in big ways for you? 

All the best,

Dear Nikki -
About a month ago, in our write-up for the 'Inmates' episode, I mentioned that I had a theory about what might happen with Lizzie and Mika based on a brief storyline from the comics. I didn't want to be too specific for fear I was right, but the stories differed enough in detail that I was far from certain. Moreover, the subject matter was so harsh that I suspected it might simply be too much to address on tv, even for a show this adult and intense. The similarities are circumstantial, I reassured myself. They wouldn't go that far. Surely they wouldn't.
Oh, how I wish I'd been right about that.
(Just the same - my apologies for the inadvertent spoiler, Rebecca T. and whomever else I might have tipped off.)
Because, of course, we've now seen that theoretical connection blossom and yield bitter fruit.
They did go there. All the way there. And then blew up the bridge behind them.
I suppose, however, that if you're planning to play out a scenario as profoundly awful as this, then it should at least make an impact. 'The Grove' did that very well, wrapping the tragic story of these sisters and also bringing in and tying up the loose threads of Karen's murder, giving Tyreese closure and bringing the magnitude of the New Morality home to both Carol and Tyreese - and likewise the audience themselves - in the most profound and unsettling way.
The show has been building toward this moment all season, from way back in the premiere episode, when we meet Lizzie and Mika as they are naming walkers at the fence, discussing their persistent humanity, remembering their mother's turning, setting us up for the conflict to come. So many aspects of the story this year -- the unknown individual feeding rats to walkers at the prison fenceline, their father's death on Cell Block D, Carol's clandestine story time training of the prison kids, the mystery of Karen and David's murders, the pain and anger of Tyreese's grief, Rick's excommunication of Carol, the dread possibilities of that vivisected rabbit -- have been diligently pushing us in the direction of the pecan grove. We just didn't know it yet.
That being the case, a lot was riding on this denouement, and its sequence of events served as a perfect peak for the emotional journeys of Tyreese and Carol. That last scene at the farmhouse, as Carol finally confesses to Tyreese and he chooses to forgive her, was breathtaking to watch, a masterful culmination of all these terrible things come down to one last poignant choice. None of it would have packed half the punch if the entire story arc had not been so carefully constructed throughout these past fourteen episodes, and kudos to Scott Gimple and the writing staff for a masterful execution. Coupled with absolutely searing performances from Melissa McBride and Chad Coleman, 'The Grove' proves that playing the long game can pay off in a huge way when it's handled this well.
However, as much as I loved the delivery, the reality of the point they're making is a difficult one to take. I believe there aren't many things in this world as terrifying as being a parent. The responsibility inherent in the care and rearing of a child is a staggering weight to bear, even in the best of circumstances. When you add in the many variables of humankind's genetic lottery, it multiplies that apprehension tenfold. And then, as if all that weren't enough, you also have to raise them in this world, with its myriad dangers and inequities pressing in on you from every direction, as constant and inescapable as gravity.
No matter how long you work at it, no matter how carefully you navigate the slings and arrows, you are always nagged by the feeling that you're doing it all wrong, that everything is about to fall apart, and that when it does, it will surely be your fault. But even the magnitude of that worry pales in comparison to the unquantifiables - the thought of those things over which you have no control whatsoever, that can completely negate every good intention, every thoughtful lesson, every ounce of love and support you pour into the relationship. The greatest strength required by parenthood comes from the certainty that at some point, regardless of what you do, you'll have to let them go. It's a cruel but undeniable truth, and this episode served as a striking reminder.
I need to go hug my kids now. And maybe climb up into their beds and just lie there for a while. Touch their hair. Watch them breathe. Be grateful.
You go do the same.
- j
Dear Josh,
Already did it, my friend. I find I'm doing that a lot these days. As the kids get older and the world gets more complicated (and… as they become more complicated) I find every night I just go in and stare at them, sound asleep, looking like angels, and wishing parenting was as easy as just leaning over a sleeping child and kissing them on the forehead. But it's not. I didn't know what anxiety and stress were until I had kids. I thought working a 60-hour week and having to face a looming book deadline on top of it was stressful. I thought having to work through weekends and still not catching up was stressful. But it's nothing compared to willing your body not to sleep at night because one of your kids has a fever and you have to remain somewhat alert in case she needs you. It's nothing compared to seeing your child become consumed by an anxiety attack. It's nothing compared to holding your child's head in your hands as you race to the hospital because he's split his forehead wide open against a door… or trying to calm the other child who's having another attack because of the dire fear created by seeing all that blood… or worrying that the bullies at school have already sensed your child's vulnerability and are preying on her… or listening to your child talk about how so-and-so is gossiping and trying to turn the rest of the class against her, and trying your damnedest not to go to school and hit the other child yourself… 

As parents, we have one job: to protect those children. And so much of that is teaching those children to protect themselves. We're in an age of helicopter parenting, where every parenting book says you need to rock your baby to sleep and carry him in a sling on your hip… no, you need to let that baby cry himself to sleep and learn independence… no, you need to get a nanny who will give that child lots of one on one time… no, you need to put them in a daycare where they can socialize… no, why the hell are you looking into caregivers when you should be staying at home with them yourself!!… no, you should be going back to work to show the kids what a strong independent woman you are. 

Parenting, as you say, is trying to be a superhero and a nanny and a counsellor and a best friend and a protector and a provider… and feeling every day like you're failing miserably at every one of them. I always wanted to be a different parent than my parents were. And when my kids were very young, I hoped that everything I did for them would make them strong and capable and one day, when they were grown, we would be incredibly close. And now… sometimes after a particularly rough day where I'm utterly defeated, I just hope that when they're adults they don't hate me. 

I couldn't possibly imagine parenting in a more labyrinthine world than the one we're in now. 

You are so correct in that the build-up of the past year was worth it. I've seen many a series draw out something for several episodes, but it's rare to have done it for so long, and so meticulously… and to do it so well that many viewers probably figured, like my cousin's wife, that they'd missed something and just moved on. And then to have the shock of this episode bring it all back was extraordinary and devastating all at once. I couldn't help but think of the episode where Rick exiled Carol, where he basically said to her, "You can't just go off making big decisions like this like you're somehow, oh, I don't know, ME." What would he have thought of her executing Lizzie? Perhaps, in Rick's mind back then, Lizzie could have rehabilitated. "Here, Lizzie, let's grow some strawberries together and everything will be just fine." 

But that's one of the beautiful aspects of separating the groups like this: Carol is able to make this decision, which was probably the right one. And the writing is so carefully crafted this season that the foreshadowing of this episode didn't just come from the Lizzie and Mika story, but from others folding in. A couple of weeks ago, Carl and Michonne were checking out a house and Michonne opened a bedroom door to find an entire family who had committed group suicide together rather than being ripped apart by this horrible apocalypse. If Lizzie's family had done that, a husband wouldn't have had to see his wife die… two girls wouldn't have to watch another woman stick a knife through their dead father's forehead… they wouldn’t have suffered through the gunfire at the prison… Lizzie wouldn't have become a murderer… Mika wouldn't have died at the hands of her older sister… and Carol wouldn't have had to execute Lizzie. Carol shooting Lizzie through the back of the head just made everything STOP. And at this point, that's the best one can do, really. The family that Michonne stumbled upon did the same thing: a mother, by the looks of it, realized that her family was better off dead than roaming the world as walkers, or being chased mercilessly by them. The mother probably sedated them, one by one, and shot them, one by one, and then turned the gun on herself (if that was, in fact, a mother; it could have been a father, too, but the rotting bodies made it tough to tell). And now Carol has to shoot Lizzie, telling her to focus on the flowers in front of her to try to calm her down — still doing the job of a parent right to the end. 

And then… she tells Tyreese. Of course she tells Tyreese. It was the perfect episode in which to do that. Rick and Tyreese and everyone else on their high horses could argue that in this world, you still have to live by the moral codes of the previous one, but Carol sees what the world is really like. Tyreese tells Carol out in the woods that she doesn't have to be ashamed of anything she's done in this world, and he watches a girl kid herself into thinking that the zombies are friendly, that they're worth taking care of, and he saw Carol do the necessary thing. And then, when she tells him what she did, he realizes that even then, Carol had done the necessary thing. From Carol's point of view, much like the mother of that family that Michonne found, it's easy to hand the gun across the table when you're at a low point. If he'd shot her, it might have come as a relief. 

But to the viewers, the relief comes in hearing him forgive her. In a world of pain and suffering, of constant defeat and hopelessness, forgiveness is more precious than gold. He says he won't forget, but he forgives her. What a wonderful, perfect scene. And maybe it's a reminder to all of us parents out here watching that it's OK to forgive ourselves every once in a while, too. Yes, we make mistakes, and no, not everything we do is perfect and something the kids are going to appreciate, but we do what we do because of how much we love them. 

Early in the episode, Carol is discussing Huckleberry Finn with the girls, specifically the character of the Widow Douglas, who takes in Huck and adopts him along with her more rigid sister, Miss Watson. Like Carol, the Widow Douglas takes in a difficult child and treats him with patience and kindness. Huck's story has a happier ending, but it's not because of Carol that things go wrong. When Carol walks Mika out to the woods to talk to her, Mika says she doesn't feel angry about anyone who kills another person. Carol asks why, and Mika says she feels sorry for that person, "because they probably weren't that way before." This apocalypse has changed people. As Tyreese so eloquently put it, "People who are living are haunted by the dead . . . the whole world is haunted now." 

Carol has been haunted by Sophia, who didn't have a mean bone in her body. Now she's haunted by Mika, who was similarly a kind and gentle soul. Lizzie wasn't a monster, but a little girl with a mental illness, one that simply can't survive in this new, uncaring and unforgiving world. As Tyreese and Carol vow to head off to Terminus, they do so with a little baby girl, one that Carol will no doubt protect with her life. If only to prevent having one more dead little girl haunting her every minute of every day. 

We didn't get a chance to talk about last week's episode. As the various groups move towards Terminus, shall we catch everyone up on the others? 


Dear Nikki -
Last week's episode was a step down from the intimacy and focus the previous week's exceptional outing, but the pace was similar, as was the sense that the minds behind the show are trying to give the story some room to breathe, letting character dictate more of its content than plot machinations. It sounds strange to say that, considering how obviously our survivors appear to be headed toward reunion at Terminus. And I do still think it odd that the prison council never thought to organize an outside rendezvous point in case of attack, particularly after The Governor's failed first incursion back at the end of season three. However, it does make sense to think that whomever saw these ubiquitous signs pointing toward a nearby 'sanctuary' would collectively consider it as good a place as any to seek one another out. It ain't perfect, I know, but it works well enough for me.
What's more important is the way this setup serves to draw out their separation, re-setting the pace to allow for a more casual examination of the survivors and their relationships with one another. In 'Alone,' the primary focus was on Bob Stookey, who we already knew to be a recovering alcoholic with hard losses in his past, losses for which he blamed himself. Despite the opening flashback to his time in the wilderness (where he apparently survived on pink frosting and sizzurp), most of his scenes this week related to his present state of mind, which is considerably more solid. Through a series of conversations with Sasha, we learn that he's happy and at peace despite their misfortune, simply because he wasn't the only survivor this time. He feels like his losing streak has been broken now, and it's given him a new lease on life and a new outlook on companionship.
Sasha, of course, wants to be purely pragmatic, find a place to hole up and hunker down, push away any hope in favor of security. She's afraid, and she knows that giving up will be easy to justify under the circumstances. But Bob Stookey surprises her by sticking to his guns, refusing to give up the pursuit of their friends.
It's a nice bookend to the earlier material, which ended with Old B.O.B. telling Glenn and Daryl that it didn't matter who they were, the unspoken implication being that at least he wouldn't be alone. Now Bob is dead set on chasing Maggie until he catches up, even if that means leaving Sasha behind. His drive has developed into more than just looking for company on the road. They've both had a taste of family again, and that might frighten Sasha, but it emboldens Bob. Despite his feelings for her, he knows he can't let Sasha hold him back from hoping, lest he revert to the sad, stumbling shell he left behind when he first climbed into Glenn's truck all those months ago.
Lawrence Gilliard Jr. is a terrific actor, and his work this week elevated a fairly thin story line into something greater than the sum of its parts. Bob Stookey is no D'Angelo Barksdale, but I'm glad he's still around. Maybe he'll last long enough to see whatever is waiting at the end of the tracks.
- j
Dear Josh—

I thought “Alone” was superb, as recent weeks have been. Daryl and Beth's story continues from the week before, and now we have a strong, established bond between these two. Perhaps with some romantic inclinations, but I think what makes it far more interesting is that they simply care about each other. She's watched so many people in her family die and feels all alone in the world; Daryl felt alone in the world even before the apocalypse. As he lay in the coffin (which I was really hoping wasn't some sort of foreshadowing) and asked her to keep playing the piano, there was a strange look on his face: he cared about someone and felt like she really got him. Just as the episode title suggests, these two have felt "Alone" for so long they're now trying to find their way, step by step, back to the feeling of togetherness.

The fight scenes with the walkers were particularly intense in this episode, especially as Daryl led them to the basement away from Beth, trapping himself in a tiny room in the base of a funeral home with nothing to fight with except… oh wait, these steel gurneys and scalpels will work just fine. How much did I love that even with a dozen walkers chasing him, he still stopped to yank one of his precious arrows out of the chest of the dead zombie on the stairs. 

But when he finally gets out and past everyone, Beth is gone. He runs… and runs and runs, as if he's somehow going to catch that car. In this world, that might not actually be a crazy thought; there could be three drops of gasoline in that tank for all he knows. But he runs out of steam, right next to the train tracks, and just sits down. Like Bob Stookey was in the flashback at the beginning of the episode, he's all alone. Daryl’s lost his tribe, and where he used to be the guy who preferred it that way, now he longs to be with other people. Because he's next to the train tracks, will the next person to pass by him be… Carol? Maggie?

Unfortunately, the other people happen to be the crazy guys who were occupying the house Rick and Michonne were in. D'oh. So who took Beth? We last left Michonne/Carl/Rick running away from Jeff Kober's people, so maybe they got a car? But wouldn't they have stuck around for Daryl? Could it have been Glenn?

One thing I think we need to keep in mind is the timing is all wonky this season, which I like a lot. They established that in the second episode back, when we jumped from one story to the next, but the second story actually took place before the first chronologically. Which means, this Carol/Tyreese story could have taken place before the Daryl/Beth material. We saw the burning pit of zombies in “The Grove,” but I don’t remember seeing anything about that (if I’m missing something obvious, I know all y’all will correct me). Which means that story might still be coming. The question was, when Jeff Kober and his guys were in the house with Rick… was Daryl already with them? Is it possible that happened after the scene with Daryl joining them at the train tracks? We saw one guy take the bed, another guy knock him unconscious to get the bed, and a guy that Rick killed in the bathroom, and Kober’s character on the porch, eating. But there were other voices in the house… was Daryl one of them, or are they coming from the house when they meet up with Daryl?

Only two episodes left after this week’s devastatingly beautiful outing. One where we probably need to get Glenn back in the vicinity and perhaps get some clues about the whereabouts of Rick/Michonne/Carl (who we haven’t seen in three consecutive episodes now) and Beth/Daryl, and the last one, where presumably they’ll meet up again at Terminus. I know we’ve grumbled a lot in previous seasons about the show not having any shape, but if there’s one thing the second half of season four has shown us, it’s that the writers are bringing their A game now. I haven’t been this affected by an episode of television since the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones.

Rest in peace, Lizzie, Mika, and whatever little person once filled those tiny baby shoes.


Monday, March 17, 2014

The Veronica Mars Movie: Why You Need to See It

Almost 10 years ago, the very same day Flight Oceanic 815 crashed onto a not-so-deserted island, a young female Nancy Drew for the 21st century was introduced to audiences looking for a sharply written, well acted show. And Veronica Mars was it. The first season is one of the most perfect seasons of television ever: a "who killed Laura Palmer" type of mystery led to twists and turns and a satisfying conclusion at the end of season 1. Veronica was hilarious, quick-witted, beautiful, and an outcast at school, much like Buffy but without the supernaturalness. Her friends were multi-layered, her love life was complicated, and it became THE must-see show that season. (Along with Lost, of course.)

Season 2 was good, too; the case wasn't quite as strong, and it suffered from a few week-to-week mysteries that slowed down the overall narrative, but after a season of absolute perfection, it was bound to be not quite as perfect. It was still better than 95% of other television on at the time. The third season, on the other hand, was a disappointment. It felt like it had ended in the middle of a scene; the storyline was left unresolved, and the whole "Will she go with Logan or Piz?" question remained unanswered after it had been teased for so long. I still remember finishing the finale, thinking it was the penultimate episode, and telling my husband, "OK, let's watch the next one," only to realize THERE WAS NO NEXT ONE. We just sat there, jaws slightly open, in shock. It was like a punch in the gut.

"A long time ago, we used to be friends but I haven't thought of you lately at all."

The Dandy Warhols opening theme song might have been what made us fall in love with the show instantly in the beginning (my husband and I are huge fans of the Dandys), but its pop culture references and quick dialogue are what kept us there. And of course, there was a lot of Lost love on the show as well. Remember that time when Veronica opened the fortune cookie and her lucky numbers were 4 8 15 16 23 42? Or the time when the sheriff (V's dad) had to go out on a call and yelled out for two of his officers? "Kitsis! Horowitz! Come with me!" HA.

But where the theme song now seems apt in so many ways (a long time ago, we were all besties with Veronica and her crew), it's wrong to suggest that we haven't thought of her lately at all. In fact, when series creator Rob Thomas announced last year that they were thinking of doing a follow-up movie to finally tie up loose ends, but would need $2M to start, fans raced to Kickstarter to donate funds to get this baby moving. Within hours they'd achieved the goal, and ultimately ended up with a $6M budget. Depending on the levels, you could get a t-shirt, or a free digital download of the film the day it came out, or a signed script, and even a walk-on part at the really high levels.

The movie was released officially this past Friday (previews were the night before) and will be in theatres only until this Thursday. It's available for download on iTunes, and backers who donated $35 or more (including myself) got a free digital download.

I REALLY wanted to go see it in the theatre with other Marshmallows (what we call fans of VM) but a difficult babysitting situation arose and absolutely no one is available for the next week. So, I had to stick with the digital download. As many of you have probably read, the download was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, being offered only through Flixster, a terrible site, but you know what? If you just linked to the page, and set the thing up, and left the room, it would download 90% of it, give up, start again, get to 75%, give up, start again, and on and on and on and on until when you walked in a couple of days later, you had the movie. Ideal? In 2014, you shouldn't have to download it that many times. And despite the "download" nature of it, you don't actually have a copy on your computer and have to go to Flixster to watch it. And I'm really hoping my Internet provider doesn't say I used up all of my gigs in downloading just because it downloaded most of a 1.6G movie 50 times. Lousy? Yes.

But once it was on my computer, we hooked my computer up to the 60" television and watched it on the big screen.

And it was FANTASTIC. The writing was as sharp as it's ever been. Seeing old friends again was like going to a high school reunion. "Hey, look at her hair! Wow, he looks better than he did in high school! Whoa, what happened to THAT guy? Oh check her out. STILL a bitch."

And by the way, if you've never watched Veronica Mars and have felt left out all these years, the opening rehashes the first three seasons super-fast, so you'll be caught up. You won't get all the inside jokes, but they do re-introduce every character as they show up so you're not lost. (Only once, when Veronica went to see a former love interest, did it feel forced.)

Dick Casablancas STILL has all the best lines, and every time he's on screen my husband and I were in stitches (including a quick take he has at the actual high school reunion that is the single funniest moment in the movie). Veronica has gone away from Neptune and attended law school, and on the eve of interviewing for a job at a prestigious law firm, something terrible happens and she's called back home... to try to get Logan Echolls out of trouble. Again.

What's happened to Mac in the meantime? Weevil? Wallace? Keith Mars? Gina? And the ever-hilarious Dick? (To that last one: HE IS EXACTLY THE SAME.) You have to watch the movie to find out. I love that Kristen Bell has gone on to a successful career in movies, television, and even singing (at the end of March Break, I am SO HAPPY I don't have to listen to the Frozen soundtrack 15 times a day anymore), and yet she returned to Neptune and embraced her character like she's actually been living as Veronica all these years.

So I know the download has been unpleasant, and I know it's not in a lot of theatres. It's made $2M this past weekend on a limited release, which is a pretty stunning number. But go grab it on iTunes, hook it up to your TV (the cable isn't expensive if you don't already have one) and enjoy. So many TV shows were cancelled long before their time. But if other shows could actually find the support to bring us a movie like this one, just reuniting us with our favourite people for a mere two hours, I think the television universe would be a much, much happier one. Remember how happy Serenity made us?

I mean, hey, I know he somehow looks a bit older, but I'd still love to know what Spike's up to these days...