Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Walking Dead Catch-Up Post!!

So, the last time we posted on The Walking Dead it was rather, um, sweary on my part. And then there’s this book I’m writing on Sherlock (hitting fine bookstores near you in fall 2015) and my deadline was approaching, and between that and a pile of work that suddenly hit Josh’s desk, our back-and-forth chats turned into, “Sorry, I meant to send you something yesterday and I’ll get it to you later today...” “So... by “today” I meant “tomorrow” and now tomorrow has come and I’ll have it to you later, sorry...” and then it was sent, and days went by, and the other person was all, “Sorry, I guess we missed the cut-off because of last night’s episode, should we combine the two?” “Sure, let’s do that, but first... I have this pile of work and a deadline and I’ll do my best but...” “OK, two days later, here’s something...” “Great... I’ll get it to you by the weekend...” “Oh look, the next episode just aired again...”

No end of fun behind the scenes here. But his work let up a bit, and I officially handed in my manuscript last week (November 19 at 10:33pm) and so there’s been a flurry of catch-up this week.

So here’s what we’ve decided to do: Usually we do a 6-part back and forth (which, this season, has more often been a 4-part) and instead what we’ve done is two parts for each episode, covering
            5.05 Self Help (Glenn’s group at the bookstore and sidewalk zombie slurry)
            5.06 Consumed (Carol and Daryl and the Beechcraft van)
            5.07 Crossed (this past week’s first part of the season finale)

Thanks for bearing with us, and I really do appreciate all the emails and messages I’ve gotten over the past few weeks asking where our posts are. ;)

Nikki: So after last week’s curse-filled rant [just a note that I wrote this three weeks ago] about the hopelessness of this show, we had a great discussion about how bleak it’s become versus the episodes that shine like a beacon in the darkness. Rebecca T. had a lot of great points (go back and check the comments of the post to read her thoughts). Like I said last week, maybe it’s the Canadianness in me that can’t accept the whole “there will always be one megalomaniac to ruin it all” argument, mostly because the closest we’ve come to apocalypse in my neck of the woods has been getting dumped with five feet of snow overnight, and that results in every person in our neighbourhood out on the street helping shovel each other’s driveways out and even shovelling the street itself to help other cars come and go — and we also have universal socialized medicine and believe everyone deserves such a thing, and it’s never been much of an argument here, so maybe the idea of a hospital with free medical care being an evil nest of evil just rubbed me the wrong way — but this week’s episode was completely different, and pretty much summed up all the reasons why I love this show so much despite everything. So I can happily say this post will be free of swears. ;)

Before I move on, though, I do want to mention I was chatting about “Slabtown” with my friend Tania, and we were theorizing that perhaps Carol is faking being on that gurney to sneak her way into the hospital and break Beth out. Oooh...

But on to this week’s episode. The writing in this outing was pretty spectacular, and it actually had laughs. No, REALLY, it had laughs. From Abraham announcing he needs “some ass” before bed and Glenn stuttering about the TMI-ness of that comment to Eugene creepily watching from the self-help section of the bookstore — “I consider this a victimless crime that provides both comfort and distraction” — it was so nice to see some levity in the midst of the darkness.

And also . . . bookstore. I think I would have waved the rest of them on their way and just settled in there for the rest of my days. My heart broke harder seeing the books being ripped apart for kindling than it did when the zombies got turned into pink mushy stew on the sidewalk. Remember what the good doctor said about the place of art in this world last week.

And yet it is through the very medium of art — in this case, television — that the story is being told, and as the writers on Lost did, certain things are dropped into the framework as shorthand to tell a larger story. Eugene is reading H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come at one point, a book written in 1933 where Wells envisioned history for the next 170 years, imagining a second world war breaking out in 1940 (!!) and lasting 10 years, a dictatorship ultimately rising out of that with religion being suppressed everywhere, and ultimately that dictatorship dissolving through a coup and everyone living happily ever after in a utopia as a highly intelligent, evolved species.

Turns out Eugene’s story that he was going to save the world was about as realistic as Wells’ solution to humanity’s evils.

The big revelation about Eugene was one that maybe everyone else saw coming but I certainly didn’t, and my jaw dropped to the ground when he said it, and then I thought, of course he doesn’t have the cure. It sounded ridiculous all along, he never gave any details when anyone would ask, which made no sense because if you have the cure, don’t you need to have a second copy of it just in case? My husband said he’d been suspecting this for a few weeks now but said nothing, so perhaps I was all alone, but Eugene’s big confession, coupled with what it means to Abraham and the meaning of his life — and everyone who died to keep Eugene and his Tennessee Top Hat alive — created a climax in an episode that served as that necessary pause moment we get at least once a season, where we reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Just a stunning episode through and through.

What were your thoughts, Josh?

Josh: When Abraham, Eugene and Rosita first came on the scene, I had somewhat mixed feelings about them. Their corresponding characters in the comics were rather broadly sketched and kind of underwhelming, and I'll admit I wasn't crazy about incorporating them into the group. The decision seemed more a matter of sticking to the source and trying to beef up the ranks after the fall of the prison than it was a genuine effort to enrich the team. And from the comics, I knew that Eugene's story was a lie (provided they stayed true to that detail), so I figured at most their storyline would only serve as a distraction.

What I didn't count on is how much I would like Michael Cudlitz and Josh McDermitt in these roles. The stereotypical 'redneck' portrayal can easily come across as a caricature more than an actual human being, and I don't think that has proven to be the case with Abraham and Eugene at all. The two of them felt very much the opposing sides of a single coin at first, with that stark divide between meathead and egghead, but the less defined parts of their characters have been gradually taking shape, and the reveals of “Self Help” really snapped them into focus as individuals, finally bringing to light their histories and motivations in a way that painted them both as much more human and relatable than before.

For Abraham, the world really ended not when the dead began to rise. It ended when his willingness to do what he felt was necessary to protect his family instead drove them away from him. Perhaps the sight of him beating someone to death with a can of green beans was enough in and of itself to inspire their fear; it seems more likely that he was already prone to losing his temper, and the sight of him channeling that rage to murderous effect, regardless of the premise, only confirmed to his family what they always suspected him capable. Either way, they ran from his violent nature, right to their own ends, and Abraham was left to balance both the guilt he feels over their deaths and the knowledge that the same brutality has now become his most valuable asset.

It is immediately into the wake of this tragedy that Eugene stumbles, terrified and desperate, completely inadequate for the business of staying alive in the new world but savvy enough to know a good opportunity when he saw it, and more than willing to say and do whatever he needed to maintain it. He tells a story and renews Abraham's will to live; suddenly his doubt becomes the staunch mindset and uncompromising attitude we've seen since he first appeared. Meanwhile, Eugene has done everything in his power to stave the inevitable moment when the truth comes out – the moment when his usefulness burns itself out like a candle drowning in its own wax.

Which, of course, isn't true, as Eugene has proven himself useful in other ways besides hand to hand combat. Anyone who has the kind of knowledge that can see a fire started with a used battery and a piece of invisible tape is plenty useful in a post-apocalyptic environment, for any number of reasons. Survival isn't only about who can stab the most zombie brains. But Eugene has no self confidence. We're left to assume this is as much about his life up to the collapse as it is the new state of the world, and he is keenly aware of the cost, as is proven when he recites the names of all those friends who were lost to protect him and the fictional idea of a cure. The guilt has left him haunted, shamed and even more ineffectual than before. I'm anxious to see how his personality changes if he wakes up from the beating he received at the hands of Abraham, to see whether he can use this confession as a springboard to new courage or instead retreats even further into himself.

The Walking Dead has always been terrific at the action and tension but has sometimes struggled with the character work necessary to make us feel more than a gut reaction nervousness about the fates of these people. So far, this season has showed a whole new understanding of that dynamic, bringing us all the same action while tempering it with emotional moments that rival anything else on television right now. The writing has never been better, and I've never felt more engaged and excited as a viewer. “Self Help” was a perfect example of why the interpersonal relationships are every bit as important as the zombies.

And this next part was written several days later, after I managed to miss posting “Self Help” in the proper week and so we decided to combine the two into one.

Nikki: I agree with you that this season has done such a great job with the character studies, and its episodes like last week’s “Consumed,” where we just followed Carol and Daryl, was one such character study. I LOVED this episode. Not only did it do what it does best, where two characters are isolated from the rest and we just follow their story to gain a deeper understanding of them, but it also brought us back around to where we’d left the story at the end of “Four Walls and a Roof” — where Daryl is calling into the bushes for someone to come on out now. We speculated last week that the person he’d be talking to is Noah, and by the end of this episode that’s exactly who it was. However, I was also thinking, as I said above, that I was hoping Carol had been faking her injuries to get into the hospital. Wrong.

And let’s just get it out of the way: we all saw that Lost reference, and it was one of those things where it couldn’t have been by accident. Carol and Daryl see a van teetering on the edge of a bridge, and what do you do when you see something like that? Why, good question, Boone, you CLIMB RIGHT IN THAT PUPPY. As soon as they both got in there I said to my husband, “Cripes, they should have written Beechcraft on the side of the thing... is this a Lost reference?” (Sadly, his memory is short, and he had no idea what I was talking about.) And then I said, “Oh my god is that a Virgin Mary statue on the dash??!!” He remembered that one. Then kablammo, the van goes down, and they somehow survive the fall (RIP Boone) and as they were leaving I’m yelling, “Daryl, grab the Virgin Mary statue, you might want to see what’s inside!!!” Also, when Daryl grabbed that pack of cigarettes — Morley’s — they were the same brand the Cigarette Smoking Man used in The X-Files.

My favourite part of this episode involved Carol and Daryl going to the women’s shelter where Carol spent a night long ago as an abused wife, running from the man who beat her with her daughter in tow. She revels at how much she’s changed since then, a woman who ran from danger, then, afraid of being on her own, she ran back and just took it from a man who betrayed her trust and love, pushing her daughter back into an environment of violence and fear. Now her husband is gone, and her daughter is gone, and for all intents and purposes, that Carol is gone. In her place is the woman who was always there, just below the surface, but who was never allowed to show her face. But what has she lost to get here? She addresses the fact that she comes off as emotionless, but we know that there’s a part of her that can still be hurt, as we see in the brief flashback to her breaking down when Rick exiled her. It seemed like she’d been gone for so long, but you realize in this flashback that he sent her away, and the Governor attacked very soon after, and then she ran into Tyreese. So she didn’t end up being on her own for very long, but it was long enough for her to probably think about where she’d ended up, and be on her own for the first time in a very, very long time. It was within that time she became the new, stronger version of herself.

What I loved most about this scene is that it was a man and a woman together, talking. There’s always been a hope that Carol and Daryl would get together in a romantic way, but their friendship is deeper and different than that. She falls backwards onto a bed and talks to him, and then he does exactly the same thing. There are no strings attached, and no inclination to do anything beyond that. For the first time we see a man and a woman who just truly care about each other, and there’s nothing more to it than that. They are both damaged by their pasts, and stronger in their present. However, where Carol has buried the past in order to move on, Daryl is ready to stop doing that, as we see when the book about how to treat childhood abuse falls out of his backpack. Last season he broke down when he was with Beth, and told her how badly he’d been treated as a child. Now, seeing how strong Carol has become, he seems ready to finally confront that.

Were you getting Pearl Station flashbacks on this one, too, Josh? ;)

Joshua: I've been feeling Lost vibes from this show a lot lately, it seems, from the opening on Beth's eye in “Slabtown” to the regular flashbacks we're starting to see. This episode's periodic scenes with Carol recalling moments of isolation and doubt were just perfect, each one brief and wordless but such deft touchstones for her state of mind in those situations. There was something keenly powerful about each one, and I have to give partial credit to the staging but all the rest to Melissa McBride, whose work has always been amazing on the show but has really turned it up to 11 this season. The depth of communication she conveys with just a simple narrowing of her eyes is phenomenal to me, and I don't think we would find Carol's journey half as compelling without such a remarkable actor shepherding the portrayal.

Good writing sure doesn't hurt, though, and this season's been firing bullets throughout. The part that torpedoed me this week was their run-in with the walker mother and child at the shelter. The whole shelter-as-backdrop situation was a masterful choice anyway, considering both Carol and Daryl's respective histories, but that moment in particular really made it sing for me. Everything about the way it came together was simply tremendous – with the distant sound first bringing them up from their rest and on the offensive, then the tension of their search through the darkened hallways, and then everything shifting when they come upon these two strangers, faceless through the frosted glass but instantly relatable nonetheless. And despite Carol's willingness, Daryl then gently holds her back from going in to 'do what had to be done,' only to go back later while she slept and take care of the job himself. When Carol comes around the corner and finds him gingerly carrying the bodies to where he's burning them on the roof, the look on her face held so much warmth and sympathy and affection for this man – someone who used to be one big raw nerve in a leather vest but is now as important to her as was once her own daughter, and she more important to him than any family member he ever had. What an amazing scene.

It's exactly the kind of rich, nuanced material that, more than flashbacks or anything else, has made me most think of Lost when watching recent episodes of TWD. The portrayals of these characters has grown so well-defined that I find myself caring even for cast members as peripheral as Rosita Espinoza, and our connection to longtime survivors like Carol and Daryl just continues to deepen. It's why Bob's death was so impactful a few weeks back, and it will be why the next deaths will hit so much harder than we're used to feeling here. I have doubts this encounter at the hospital will go very smoothly, and I think major deaths are inevitable in the coming finale. And man, it is stressing me out.

Are you getting that same feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach, Nik?

Nikki: I pretty much always have that dread in my stomach when I watch my favourite shows. Thank YOU, Joss Whedon, for demonstrating to showrunners the sheer power of killing off major characters. Sigh. I agree with you about the zombie mom and child — heartbreaking. We haven’t seen many zombie children, and Carol hasn’t encountered too many since her own daughter became one, and she acted quickly to avert the zombifications of Lizzie and Mika. Considering children would be among the weakest members of society, you’d think they’d be everywhere . . . and in a real zombie apocalypse, I suspect they would. They just know that we viewers simply couldn’t handle seeing that every week. Thank goodness.

And that brings us to “Crossed,” the first part of the mid-season finale. (I’ll just go on record one more time to say how much I hate that invented TV term, but anyway...) After paring it down to small character studies over the past few weeks — Beth in “Slabtown,” then Glenn and Co. in “Self Help,” then Carol and Daryl in “Consumed” — we start leaping back and forth between the group of them, showing how they’re all moving in on one another. Abraham is paralyzed with rage as he sits rigidly on his knees, unmoving (and dude, when he stands up, his legs will be JELLY), while Eugene lies unconscious on the ground and Maggie guards both of them, and Glenn, Rosita, and Tara go fishin’. 

As you said above, Eugene may have been lying, but he knows a LOT of survival techniques that will get them through this, and this week we learn a new one, where Rosita constructs a water filter with stones and a piece of her shirt. (I still remember doing this experiment way back in high school science, and my water was totally muddy at the end of it and I’d clearly done something wrong. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m going down early in a zombie apocalypse.) Meanwhile Glenn and Tara discover fish and seem completely shocked by it. Why? I realize they haven’t exactly been catching many fish throughout the show, but why would a zombie apocalypse mean the fish would all die? Or is his surprise a result of this being a murky swampy river in the middle of nowhere, basically a place one wouldn’t expect to find fish? I will admit, I’d be wary about eating them. How many zombies are lying along the bottom of that river (still moving, since zombies don’t have to breathe but they’re probably stuck in the muck) rotting away while the fish eat pieces of their flesh? Could the fish be zombified? Ew.

I loved when Maggie came up with the makeshift sunshade for Eugene, mostly because I had no idea what she was doing at first. Ladder? Blanket? Is she climbing up onto the roof to sunbathe? That is one smart gal. I feel for Abraham — we saw the flashbacks to his desperate need for a mission and how he believed he was actually going to save the world in all of this — but here’s hoping that his long afternoon of silence might actually make him think everything through for once and realize that Eugene could still be useful for him.

Meanwhile, over in Slabtown, Rick & Daryl and Company are having a hell of a time dealing with the cops. My husband called right away that the dude Noah referred to as “one of the good ones” was actually going to turn on them, but I’m keen to find out how that’s going to play out. What did you think about what was going on there?

Joshua: From the very start, everything about this rescue mission tastes sour to me. As he's making his initial plan, Rick seems far overconfident about the ease with which they can liberate their friends and minimize bloodshed. Daryl and Tyrese both call him out on it, and the plot complicates further with their revised plan to trade hostages. The shot-in-the-air ploy they use to attract attention works well, but they underestimate Dawn's cops, who have a backup man watching from nearby.

It's a mistake that almost costs them both their leverage and Daryl, who narrowly escapes a violent death at the hands of meat slab Licari (and Licari who in turn narrowly escapes a gunshot head at the hands of Rick, thanks to Daryl's quick reasoning). And then, after their initial underestimation, THEY DO IT AGAIN by trusting their three prisoners' integrity, including full faith in their information about Dawn and the situation at Grady. To boot, Sasha's own struggles with the weight of the murder she committed inspire her to isolate herself with one of them in an attempt to 'help' him and instead winds up bleeding on the floor. Now Lamson is on the run, headed back toward the hospital to fill Dawn in on their plans, ensuring they've lost their best bargaining chip and the element of surprise, not to mention possibly losing Sasha from active duty (which will surely mean losing Tyrese, too). The odds are narrowing, and not in their favor.

But maybe things aren't quite as they seem, after all. Maybe Lamson was actually on the level, and he's now headed back to marshal his own troops, planning to use RickCo's posse as the distraction he needs to mount the takeover he's been planning all along. Anything could happen at this point, and that's the beauty of this setup. Next week's half-finale begins with a lot of pieces in motion, and right now we have no idea what to expect. Will these plots converge again, with perhaps others like Michonne (or maybe even Morgan) showing up at the hospital just in time to turn the tide? Or will this prove to be another tragedy from which they might emerge, but only smaller in number and permanently scarred?

In the immortal words of Han Solo, I've got a bad feeling about this.

We've blown through three episodes of recap in very short order, Nikki. I know that's somewhat out of necessity because we've managed to fall so far behind in recent weeks (and apologies to the steady readership for what I promise couldn't be avoided), but I don't want to be overly hasty, either, particularly considering the high quality of this run of episodes. Was there anything else we've missed that you wanted to discuss before we wrap it up?

Nikki: I was glad to see the hospital again; even though that, technically, was our last post on The Walking Dead, it was also four weeks ago now, and it was nice to see the doctor again. I don’t know what Dawn is playing at by giving Beth the key to the drug cabinet. The doctor insinuated that Beth is being played, but Beth goes along with it anyway. But then again, Noah had said that Lamson was on the level and he appears to have betrayed Sasha. I think it’ll be fascinating if, in the final episode, we find out the bad guys might actually be the good guys, and vice versa, and everyone has to question which side they’ve aligned themselves with. That’s the sort of thing The Walking Dead is really good at exploring.

But then again, as you say, it’s a mid-season finale. And bad things always happen in those episodes. Let’s brace ourselves... something tells me our people are not going to come out intact.

Thanks for bearing with us everyone, and again, sorry for the wait.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Walking Dead 5.4: Slabtown

(My apologies in advance for the at-times angry nature of this post; I really do love this show... I probably don't have to say that, but after writing this post I feel like I have to reiterate it...)

Last week ended with Daryl looking into the bushes and telling someone to come out. Was it Carol? Beth? Someone else? We had several ideas in the comments of that recap, and this episode ain’t about to reveal the truth any time soon. (Nor will next week’s.) Looks like The Walking Dead is back to its old tricks, splitting up the group and pushing different stories that will make us wait for closure. Let the games begin!

Nikki: This week’s episode was surprising for one main reason: ELECTRICITY. When’s the last time we saw THAT on this show?! Clearly it’s meant to make us think we’re flashing back to The Time Before, but as soon as Beth looks out the window and realizes she’s in a ruined, post-apocalyptic Atlanta, we know that nope, this is the present day.

There’s a lot to say about this episode, and I’ll actually let you get started with the actual analysis this week, Josh, because I’d like to say something else. I love The Walking Dead, y’all know I do, but sometimes this show is just SO BLEAK it’s bordering on being too much. There are weeks where I think if I didn’t write this column each week with Joshua, I’d just let it pile up on the DVR like so many other shows and marathon it when the season is over. In this week’s episode we see a place that has actually figured out how to maintain electricity, heating, cooking (even if the food isn’t exactly five-star quality), and what should be an element of safety, but hold on there, you optimistic freaks, there’s NO SUCH THING as contentment in the world of Robert Kirkman. I truly believe this guy has one of the most pessimistic views of human nature ever. I honestly don’t see where he’s coming from sometimes. Maybe it’s because I’m a Canadian, maybe it’s because I’m just naive, but I simply don’t believe that in a world that’s this dark, there isn’t SOME sort of refuge somewhere that isn’t run by one megalomaniac dominating a bunch of hapless idiots.

Oh look, a sweet little town called Woodbury with food, water, individual houses, guards keeping you safe, and OH MY GOD ARE THEY DOING ZOMBIE COCK-FIGHTS?! And is their “Governor” a crazy one-eyed Pete who has aquariums filled with zombie heads? Good god no.

Oh but hey, after our long journey there is an end point, a sanctuary called Terminus. Wonderful. Rally on, friends and let us all head to this OH MY GOD unsanctimonious hellhole of revolting cannibalism where we are not only NOT safe, but kept in train cars TO BE EATEN. Fuck. ME.

And now we’ve blown up that Not-Sanctuary and... hey? Where’s Beth? Why, she’s gone back to Atlanta where she’s found a hospital with actual doctors and comfortable beds (well, as comfortable as hospital beds could possibly be but at least they’re a leg up on prison beds AMIRIGHT?!) and indoor heating and a rooftop mushroom-growing sunbathing free-from-zombies area that’s all kept sanitized and there’s food (even if you don’t want to know what the food is) and Blind Willie Johnson playing on the turntable and Caravaggio paintings and lots of books and if you look down the darkened hallway there’s even what appears to be the janitor from the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video but... oh right. There are rapists and murderers and dead bodies in the elevator shaft and “giving back” in unseemly ways, where even the good doctor is killing the competition and that little girl from Whale Rider would rather become a goddamn walker than spend one more minute in this place. Quick, grab the kid from Everybody Hates Chris and get out of there.

Butbutbut... what about Blind Willie Johnson?!

NO. You may not have artistic extravagances because art doesn’t belong in this world of evil and damnation and neither does goodness, honesty, or, you know, human frickin’ beings working together to bring peace and harmony. Because apparently all of the good people turned into walkers pretty damn fast and all that was left were the horrible dregs of society that want to rape their way through the rest of their lives.

Sigh. Sorry. That was a rant I didn’t see coming. Didn’t see that weird stream-of-consciousness coming, either. But as much as I enjoyed this episode, it just seemed like ONE MORE PLACE that could have worked, but simply can’t in Kirkman’s screwed-up view of the world.

Will Eugene make it to Washington alive and save the world? Of course not. Will the good survive? Nah. Will they ever find a nice library in the middle of nowhere with endless books and a farm out back they can work on to grow food and a place where they won’t be raped daily or fear for their lives? What?! That’s boring television.

When I see Carol blow up Terminus I’m fist-pumping the air and bouncing with delight, and I love the ways they show the humanity that’s in that core group of people. But according to Kirkman’s worldview, they are the only sane people in the world right now, and everyone outside of them — be it immoral preachers, roaming bandits, cannibals, rapists, or just plain goons — seems to be what the rest of the world looks like. I have said that in this new world we need a new definition of humanity, but unless they find a way to travel to the Arctic and isolate themselves from the rest of the universe, there’s no way there will be a definition of anything. There is no hope. At this point I’d be like, knife me in the head, I’m done.

OK, I’ll let you actually talk about the episode, because you’re probably more clear-headed than I am right now, Josh.

Joshua: Don't mince words, Nik. We're all friends here. You shouldn't feel like you have to hold back.

You know, when I first started reading the comics, I remember seeing an interview with Robert Kirkman in which he discussed the conception of the series. He'd always loved zombie stories, he said, but couldn't help noticing how the vast majority of them seemed preoccupied with the genesis of such situations. It was a genre that focused more on reaction than perseverance, telling the beginning of the story and then hewing to a narrow timeline thereafter, and likewise wrapping up well before they got into the real meat of what it might be like to exist in such an environment over the long term.

The idea that intrigued him was attempting to lengthen that timeline to explore what kinds of things would happen after months or years had passed. The concept was novel enough to intrigue me, too, and there were times when I thought he absolutely nailed it and others when the tale felt much less genuine, when it veered dangerously close to gratuitous exploitation for me. And sure, I know it's fiction, and you gotta sell books to make more. But in my opinion, questionable content without any narrative justification –  for no reason other than simple shock value – is feckless and lazy, however effective it might prove down the road.

I think for the most part AMC has avoided these kinds of pitfalls, keeping the show more grounded and excising parts of the original story that would likely overwhelm the sensibilities of a broad tv audience. However, the atmosphere certainly isn't one of hopefulness. It isn't designed to encourage or inspire, and even the fist-pumping moments are tempered by design, peppered with scenes that are carefully tailored to give us pause.

And the truth is that I have a lot of respect for that, for all the same reasons I detailed above. A show that includes as much graphic violence as this one should feel a certain responsibility to make it impactful as well, and I believe they hold that balance carefully as a general rule. But as far as the writers' misanthropic worldview is concerned, I tend to think it's just a pitfall of the genre. In fact, it's probably the single greatest challenge in maintaining a long form post-apocalyptic narrative. How do you infuse a world so devoid of hope with enough optimism to keep your readers or viewers engaged?

Then again, how much do we really want that, after all? We come from a culture that has long rewarded artists who gift us with tragedy, from Shakespeare to Dickens to Faulkner to Cormac McCarthy. The idea has become so prevalent that sometimes it can seem like happy endings are disingenuous. And it's hard to forget that we're the same species who used to delight in the viewing of public executions.

While I may be one of the folks who still believe humanity is inherently good, I can easily understand those whose perspective makes them feel otherwise. The world is a dark place that frequently rewards ruthlessness and brute strength with power and privilege, and circumstances as radical and nightmarish as a zombie plague could only serve to shift that dynamic in the worst direction. Moreover, I think that feeling of futility is a vital link to the characters whose stories we're watching play out on our screens every Sunday night. The uncompromising nature of the drama helps me understand the mindset of the players and the gravity of their decisions, puts me in their shoes and helps me relate with an objectivity that might not be possible otherwise.

Understand that this is coming from someone who stopped reading the comics after over a hundred issues of investment because the story became too bleak for me. I'm not immune to the same fatigue you're describing, and I'm not sure why it doesn't get to me the same way. The reality is that the folks behind the show will likely do whatever is necessary to create conflict and continue producing episodes ad infinitum – after all, it is the most successful property on television, and The Powers That Be wouldn't jeopardize that for simple positivity.

Nonetheless, I'm inclined to keep rooting for them, for the promise of something better. The law of averages dictates that our heroes are bound to cross paths with more people like themselves eventually, and all these trials will have strengthened them, refined them, helped prepare them to soldier on and war against both the evil that men do and the evil they become. Ad astra per aspera, you know? For all its gloom and horror, perhaps this story will prove to be about shifting the equation back toward the light.

Nikki: I hope so. I was reminded of Lost when watching it, actually, and how on a mysterious island fraught with uncertainty, there was the constant battle of man in a state of nature. Do we go with John Locke, who stated that man is born a blank slate and becomes whatever he learns and is written upon him? Or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed man was essentially good and would find positive ways through the situation? Or do we agree with Thomas Hobbes, who said that in a state of nature, man was essentially evil and would fall to the basest of natures? I would like to think that on Lost, the Locke/Rousseau argument won out. Yes, there were many Hobbesian moments on the show, but ultimately, people wanted to be good. The smoke monster lost, and Jack restored light to the world. If Robert Kirkman had written Lost, he would have had the smoke monster devour all of the children and elderly in the first episode, and Charles Widmore would have been the hero of the story. Kirkman has subscribed to the Hobbesian theory and has a members' card in his wallet, and this show demonstrates it in every episode.

My friend Troy posted a status update today that made me laugh: “Just a thought: If Rick and his crew had died in the first season Hershel and his daughters would be living happily on his farm, the good citizens of Woodbury would be safe under the watchful eye(s) of the Governor, the people of Terminus would be sitting down to a lovely home cooked meal, and somewhere in Atlanta there would be a hospital offering free medical care.”


So, um, we should probably talk about the episode? (Behind the scenes I’m emailing my first pass to Josh saying, “Does this sound like a crazy person ranting?” and he’s emailing me back saying, “So I still didn’t mention the episode...”) I inadvertently covered a bunch of the material in my rant, I think, and so I’d like to talk about what was my favourite scene in the episode, which is Dr. Edwards talking about art and its place in this world. I thought that whole speech was fascinating. “Art isn’t about survival, it’s about transcendence. Being more than animals, rising above.” “We can’t do that anymore?” Beth asks. “I don’t know,” he replies.

Maybe, again, the optimist in me is just looking for that one shard of hope in this crystal ball of hopelessness, but I think if Kirkman has infused any of it into this episode, it hangs on that statement. “I don’t know,” he says, not “No.” Yes, there is hope. Edwards is a good person who did a bad thing for his survival. Dawn looks like she’s trying to keep it together under difficult circumstances, but she’s willing to turn a blind eye to what Gorman is doing. He finally gets his at the end, and Dawn isn’t relieved, but angry. Cops don’t have to be the bad guys (look at Rick) and maybe they can be brought around? What will happen when Rick and Co. show up? Or, even better, when Carol wakes up, since we see her being brought in at the end and a collective WHOOP goes up from the audience at the possibilities of this one? Carol will deal with everything in her cold, calculated way if given the chance, but will that make things any better? Or will this be like Hershel’s farm, Woodbury, the prison, and Terminus, and end up a big pile of burning rubble when they’re done with it?

As Blind Willie Johnson sings that if he doesn’t read the bible his soul will be lost, and that’s nobody’s fault but his, we can’t help but wonder if there are any souls left in this world. One would think in an age when all hope seems lost, people would hang onto some hope, whether or not it contains any truth, and be reading their bibles like mad. But maybe, in this new reality, the bible is better used as kindling.

And as for my vote for who is with Daryl and emerges from the bushes, I think it’s going to be Noah, the guy who was trying to escape with Beth and got away.

Any final thoughts, Josh?

Josh: Good thought about Noah! I hope you're right. Bum leg or no, I always like seeing new faces added to the crew. And speaking of which, I'm also hoping the hospital doesn't wind up another bloodbath, because I don't think it has to be like that. Dawn is a twisted Ayn Rand nightmare, to be sure, but we're talking about one person. Other than the late Officer Gorman (may he rest most uncomfortably), none of the other uniforms came across as particularly sadistic, and perhaps some more peaceable solution can be reached than the stock stabby, shooty variety. We might even gain more able bodies for Rick's Ragtags in the process.

Barring that, there is still plenty of potential for escape. Grady is an enormous hospital, at least in reality – the largest in the state, and fifth largest in the country. There's no way that Dawn and her Regulators have more than a fraction of it functional (I'm thinking a couple of floors, at most). With Carol as mastermind, they're bound to be capable of a better getaway scheme than Noah's tie-sheets-together-and-shinny-down-the-body-chute plan. Which, much as I like Noah, was super dumb, and they were lucky to survive it. I mean, come on. This isn't Meatballs, pal.

We'd love to see what you all thought, dear readers, so let us hear your voices in the comments! We'll both try to chime in when we can. Until next week, campers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

This Morning, While Making Breakfast...: Doctor Who's "Dark Water," Recounted by Children

[Spoilers for this past Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who, which revealed the identity of Missy.]

So I finally got around to watching “Dark Water” with my kids last night — my 10-year-old daughter and my 7-year-old son — and they were scared at times, and elated at others, and quite upset at others (especially what happened in the beginning, which I figured out the instant it happened and they had to have it explained to them over and over) but one of the biggest gasps that came out of both of them happened when Missy was revealed to be the regenerated Time Lord, (sorry, Lady), The Master. So this morning as I was making their lunches for school, my daughter was finishing her breakfast and I decided to talk to her about that.

So, what do you think about the Master being a woman?

I LOVED it. I really like Missy, and I was so excited when they said she was the Master.

What do you think about the possibility of a Time Lord being able to regenerate into a Time Lady? Do you think that means there’s still a chance the Doctor might one day be a woman, or do you think the writers are saying, “OK, you wanted a Time Lord to be a Lady, here you go” and now they won’t do it with the Doctor?

I don’t know, I guess it could be either way. It must be a little weird to suddenly regenerate into a completely different kind of body, I think. But I do hope they decide to make the Doctor a woman some day. I think that would be amazing.


Because I’d love to see what the Doctor is thinking from a woman’s perspective. Would she see the world differently? And she’d probably have a male companion. I think having two females wouldn’t be as fun, so I’d like to see them switch around.

You know, when Tom Baker was the Doctor — he’s the one with the big scarf...

Yep, I knew that...

... one of his companions was a Time Lady, Romana.

Well, if she can last forever and regenerate, and so can he, I don’t know why they just didn’t stay companions forever. That didn’t make any sense.

Well, you’re right, maybe not from a story point of view, although I think the Doctor likes his adventures with different people. But in real life they actually got married and probably didn’t want to spend all day together working.

Ah. Well, yeah. Are they still married?


Hm. Well, that was just silly then.

What I think would be great is if we see John Simm’s Master regenerate into Missy on next week’s episode in a flashback.

Oh my god, that would be awesome! He was already wearing dresses and acting like a woman in that one episode when all of the people turned into him, remember? So that would be really funny. I hope they show that, too! But I really do like seeing them together, Missy and the Doctor. I think it’s interesting seeing their battle played out now with two different sexes rather than both of them being men. Sometimes I think there are too many men on the show and it’s nice to see one of the powerful ones being a woman.

Not all of the fans are happy; there are some saying they’ll never watch again because the Master is a woman and it just changed everything for them.

Whatever. That’s their problem. Every single time the Doctor regenerates he’s a different person, so how is this any different? Peter Capaldi is the “go to hell” Doctor, but Matt Smith was the, “Oh I love everyone and this is so much fun!” Doctor, and your Doctor [Tennant] was all moody, loving things one minute and hating them the next, and my Doctor [Eccleston] was very sad and cried a lot, I think. So they’re all different. What I think would be really cool is for this Doctor we have right now, Peter Capaldi, for him to regenerate into a woman, and then have that woman regenerate into ANOTHER woman. Then people will see that just because it’s a woman doesn’t mean that THAT is what makes the Time Lord different, that it’s how they react to situations. One woman might act like the 11th Doctor, and another one like my Doctor. I don’t understand why people are so weird like that. I want the Doctor to be a woman, and I want a male companion with her.

[And just as I was coasting on these words thinking I must be the best mother ever...]

[ENTER 7-year-old son]

So we were just talking about how the Master has become a woman. Are you happy about that?

Oh yeah!!


Because women are weaker than men, so the Doctor will be able to beat her WAY more easily.


Women are not weaker than men!! What about Wonder Woman?

Pfft. Batman would totally get her.

I don’t think so, he just has a bunch of toys hanging off his belt, whereas Wonder Woman is an Amazon.

[Daughter] That is SO stupid what you just said. Missy is pretty powerful, look at all the Cybermen she rounded up!

[Son] Pfft. The other Master did stuff like that, too, and the Doctor is going to stop Missy, he always does.

[Daughter] The Doctor stopped the Master, too!! UUUGGGHH it doesn’t have anything to do with her being weaker, women are not weaker than men.

[Son] Oh yes they are.

[Daughter] Oh yeah? I could come over there and beat you up right now and you wouldn’t stand a chance.

Okay, let’s not...

[Son] Nah, I know taekwondo.

[Daughter] I know taekwondo, too, buddy, I have a higher belt than you!! I’ll show YOU that women aren’t weaker than men!!

You know, women give birth. I don’t know anything that takes more strength than that.

[Daughter] Ha!! That’s true!

[Son] Nah, that’s easy. Baby just comes right out.

[Daughter] No, that’s not what happens, it’s—

Okay, I think that’s enough on this topic. Geez, guys, you are already prepared to be on fan forums when you grow up. Now what fruit do you want in your lunches?

[Daughter] You’d better watch it, buddy.