Monday, December 6, 2010

"The Walking Dead" Episode 6

Posted By on Mon, Dec 6, 2010 at 5:24 PM

He hates these computers! Stay away from the computers!
  • AMC
  • He hates these computers! Stay away from the computers!
The Walking Dead’s first season, short as it was, still had time to build to an explosive finale, what with a number of simmering conflicts and nagging mysteries to pull out into the open—the Shane-Rick-Lori love triangle, the missing elder Dixon, the nature of the zombie apocalypse, and the best plan for survival—alongside the possibility of a monumental showdown with the geek horde. Instead, the episode found our heroes holed up in the safety of a well-supplied underground science station to mull over the question of hope, with little in the way of forward momentum, revelation, or zombie action. It wasn’t a bad episode at all—just not a great finale.

It seemed like everywhere the show tried to top itself, its efforts were undermined by poor execution, especially in the show’s final minutes: the threat of mass immolation certainly raised the stakes, but the method—self-destructing government facility—is an eye-roller. Similarly, the massive explosion that destroys the Cobb Energy Center—I mean, the CDC—was one of the least convincing effects I’ve seen on TV. Maybe it looked better in HD (damn you, AT&T) but I seriously doubt it. I was so underwhelmed, I actually thought to myself, “Well it must go on an extra 15 minutes, right? Right?” Then the credits came up. Then I cried myself to sleep.

But up until about minute 40, the episode moves well. The cold open, a flashback to the hospital in which Shane debates what to do with his friend Rick’s comatose body, while soldiers execute civilians in the hallway outside, isn’t just a kick-ass action sequence, it gives weight to Shane’s present dilemma and growing despair, which deepens dramatically over the course of the episode. Apparently, Southern Comfort in the shower does not help much—when Shane’s plea for Lori’s attention and acceptance turns ugly, she’s forced to push back hard. With her scratch-marks on his face and neck, there’s no telling where Shane’s regret and wounded pride will lead him. After that opening, I expected Shane would wind up zombie-chow before the episode’s end. I’m glad I was wrong—that dopey hothead is really growing on me, and every group needs a wildcard (shooting up that bank of computers like Sawyer, by way of Chief Wiggum, was the high point of the final CDC showdown).

The show also does a neat job of mixing up the survivors’ joy and desperation, especially in the dinner-party scene that Shane brings to a halt by asking why the CDC is basically a mausoleum. Later, we learn from Drunk Officer Rick that he had lost hope for surviving on the outside, and we learn from Dr. Jenner that his hope ran out when he had to shoot his brilliant scientist wife in the head (a Kodak moment preserved in a brain scan demonstrating the course of zombificaiton). Of course, when the hopeless doctor calls the Rick out on his secret sense of doom, Rick improvs a counterpoint about hope that somehow gets the survivor club released from lockdown—still, it’s nice to see Rick admit to someone that he has no idea what he’s doing (as we in the audience know fully well), and expects his family to die because of it.

On the other hand, Andrea’s decision to kill herself in the explosion just seemed contrived, and her reversal even more so—I just don’t buy her connection with bearded windbag Dale, but I guess you can chalk up her decision to leave as plain human decency. But wait: why didn’t Dale try to save Jacqui too?

In the end, the episode just didn’t have enough to carry off the season: not enough action, not enough answers, and most crucially, not enough questions. Seriously, the only new bit of business to keep fans buzzing—besides the news that France was the last holdout—is a secret message from the doctor to Rick. Are we really expected to spend months debating that phrase? And how long before the comic book readers spoil that for us? (In my case, it took about two hours.)

This is the kind of episode, I’m sad to say, that diminishes (however slightly) the episodes that came before it, which all had the advantage of an unseen endgame to presumably elevate all the loose ends. It does, however, make a bit more sense of creator Darabont’s decision to fire his writing team—details are of course lacking, but it seems he felt too many cooks were making for an inconsistent product (though it hasn’t felt quite so apparent to me as it did in this final episode). Here’s hoping a more singular vision, ala Lost, will give this series the focus and structure it needs to knock it out of the park.

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