Category Archives: television

the-returned

Resurrection, and the Returned: “I’m not sure it would be a good thing.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched network television, I realized halfway through the premiere episode of Resurrection, which is the newest revived-from-the-dead offering on tv. (Though I’m not bothering to google this, there are several such shows in production at the moment, I am given to understand.) Though I kind of can’t imagine network tv taking on the latent and blatant nihilism and grimdark nature of the zombie show – despite Walking Dead‘s cable ascendancy – I could see the more domestic concern of people in a small town returned years after their deaths working as a sort of Lost-ish mystery show. Who returned Laura Palmer?

Network television can pull off the Gothic melodrama, with even creature-of-the-week procedurals like early seasons of the X-Files bending towards the childhood traumas and interpersonal machinations of the principles. Alas, what I got from Resurrection was a whole mess of anxiety about whether the viewer was even going to buy the premise. The cold open works as an image – this boy in the rice paddies and his collapse in a Chinese town – but once the cut-rate X-Files agents get involved, it all goes downhill. A seriously put upon agent of ICE, which might be the least sexy of all federal agencies, picks up a boy who has been repatriated to the US because obvs he’s an American? Why are we being showed this travel time? Start in China, switch to the small town. Also no, the agent doesn’t just haul off to magical New England town just on the say-so of some rando kid.

The thing that killed me about Resurrection was how arm-wheeling the emotional and social problems are, all of these painful conversations with ICE ICE agent, man of exposition and explication, reiterating over and over how obvious the stakes are. The childhood friend of the resurrected boy now a priest, stuttering through his homily as the boy’s mother ushers him into the pew. The fact that every single person in Stars Hollow appears to be related to the resurrected boy, down to his doc. Also, you are seriously not allowed to put a lynching joke in the mouth of Omar Epps in a show this white, no. After the joke, my husband yelled, “Omar Epps, everybody!” Sorry, that’s a fail.

There was altogether too much hugging, speechifying, and shaming going on in Resurrection for my taste. I do not even get why everyone ragged on resurrected boy’s dad for not believing this miraculous kid was his, even though the boy was unchanged after 20 years and reappeared on the other side of the planet. I get that Americans don’t like skepticism or science, but this is beyond the emotional pale for me. I’m going to need some time, DNA tests notwithstanding, to accept this manifest creature of a family’s grief as something other than its shocking reiteration. Quit mansplaining what I should think, ABC, sheesh. (Also, total waste of a few of my favorite character actors, especially the boy’s parents.)

Which was why the first episode of The Returned, “Camille”, was so damn good. The events occur in a small town in the French Alps, with four or five – its not entirely clear – people returning to their lives after years of the absence of death. Camille dies in a bus accident with 38 other people. Years later, we watch a group therapy group consider the monument to the loss that is to be installed in order to enact their dubious healing. Camille comes home and her mother follows her through the house, shaking, getting her a robe, pulling down the half-considered shrine on her dresser. “Why did you rearrange all my clothes?” the girl asks, and the mother doesn’t answer. A creepy boy keeps being framed through glass. A morpho eugenia butterfly, pinned to a display case, flutters, and then breaks free.

a blue butterfly

There is little dialogue in The Returned, more a series of reaction shots and tight Gothic interiors interspersed with tight Gothic landscapes: a reservoir, a row of suburban alpine houses, an underground walkway with flickering lights. None of the relationships are telegraphed in megaphone dialogue, but in subtle nods of the head. Camille’s parents are divorced now, but were not 4 years ago when she died. “Tu fumes?” she asks her dad, as he pinches a shuddering cigarette with his ex-wife beyond the glass of the sliding door, hissing at each other, what are we going to do? What do you even say, years past someone’s death? How awful would their return be, a tearing of all the scar tissue, both personal and societal?

I don’t mean to keep hat-tipping Twin Peaks, even though I do, but there’s something here that reminds me of that. Not in the pin-wheeling grotesquery of Lynch’s middle America,  but in the Gothic dread of the small town, the flickering iteration of civic grief, and the half-careful invocation of the supernatural, like a shrine swept suddenly into a drawer. (Also because the cinematography is gorgeous.) When the priest avows the durability of the human soul and then demurs about the resurrection of the body – “I’m not sure it would be a good thing” – I was all in. I suspect there will be fewer answers in The Returned than there will be in Resurrection, which I count as a good thing. There is no answer to grief.

 

carol and daryl

Review: Walking Dead: 30 Days Without an Accident

Walking Dead offers very few meta moments where the writers tip their hands and remind you this is a show. It’s far too earnest for that, blending tightly constructed spectacle against the almost drearily telegraphed lack-of-soap operatics of living post-apocalypse. So it was fun to a see a little fan moment, where Carol and Daryl are chatting about Daryl’s new standing as trusted badass with the new members of the prison group, and she tells him to accept the love. She also calls him pooky. This was a just adorable nod to Reedus’s fan-favorite status, and threw a bone to us Carol/Daryl shippers who want acknowledgement that Carol and Daryl are going to get married and have like a million babies.

As far as the rest of the episode went, it was a fairly perfect example of the things Walking Dead tends to get right with just enough stuff to worry me about what the writers think they are doing that I’m not too comfortable. Which in some ways is meta in it’s own way. This season looks to be about how the prison population has adjusted to the new normal with a modicum of safety and competence, and how that’s going to go to shit. Everything from the cold open, which was, per the best of them, wordless and packed with meaningful detail, to the almost casual beginning as the group goes to loot the Piggly Wiggly shows how our group has built strategies and coping mechanisms for their new world. They’re not running anymore; they’re not just sitting still; they’re building.

One of the things Walking Dead has always knocked out of the park are their gory action set-pieces, and “30 Days Without an Accident” delivers in spades. Because of the Big Bad last season, many of the set-pieces felt small or freighted with emotional weight that the characters cannot deliver (though the actors sometimes could, despite writing failures.) The zombies-as-threat had given way to humans-as-threat, which is a perfectly cromulent dramatic shift, but I don’t think Walking Dead has ever pulled off character work that convincingly. Too many torture sequences, too many growled conversations, too much posturing, not enough fucking zombies eating your face. There was too much set in the set pieces, like the zombie MMA sequences that felt like they were occurring on a sound-stage in Burbank.

But the Piggly Wiggly sequence: this was awesome. My husband and I screamed and sang “It’s raining zombies!” though the whole thing, shrieking when the bodies hit the ground, doing that thing where you shift out of the way like you can make the character see the zombie coming right for them! It was glorious and disgusting, and maybe more importantly, it established the themes for the season. So yeah, you’re clever with drawing out all the walkers with a boombox wired to some car batteries and you’re tight formation but you didn’t factor in the rotting infrastructure of a World Without Us. (One of Weisman’s observations about what happens to human-built structures with no maintenance: if you want to take down a house, cut an 18 inch square hole in the roof and stand back. About a year should do it.)  The crew have adjusted to zombies, but they haven’t adjusted in many ways to the changing parameters of the world. The rot isn’t just in the splashing bodies, but in everything, even the living. We’re all just meat sacks in the end. We kill or we die. Or we die and then we kill.

Which brings me to  the disease outbreak in the prison. This storyline has a lot of potential, and seems a logical extension of the whole zombie mechanism we have here. If anyone who dies turns, and anyone can die from even mundane illnesses, you have a situation were there needs to be a lot more security even within relative safety. But I’m a little perplexed by the conversations about naming things – the pig, then the walkers – and what this was supposed to be about. Here we are, three plus years from the zombie apocalypse, and people (though admittedly children) are having conversations about the relative humanity of walkers? Who even does that? If this is supposed to be some broad semaphore that the kids from Shelbyville are out of touch, then that’s pretty lame, given what they’ve undoubtedly been through since the shitshow at the end of last season.

Rick’s conversation with Crazy Irish was a similar mix of good stuff and perplexing. I liked her truncated and obviously obfuscating stories about what happened to her and her group after the world went to hell, but this sequence (fairly long sequence) didn’t do much other than set up an unsurprising reveal, and did almost nothing for Rick’s character that hasn’t been done before. (Also, thanks for the bullet point conversation with Hershel. “I could be her” indeed, Rick.) I did like the bit where Rick didn’t even go to look at the zombaby, because in a world of horrors, who needs another one? But like the conversations between Glenn and Maggie, this was mostly wheel-spinning retreading of “conflicts” that have never had much juice, and are getting thin with reiteration. If that isn’t a mixed metaphor. Moving on.

I think I’m in the stray observations part of the essay. I’m pleased to see Michonne both smiling and joking! – who even knew that was possible – and I liked seeing Beth doing something other than having huge liquid eyes. She’s given a boyfriend and a fairly interesting monologue after he’s dispatched, which makes me wonder if she isn’t bullseyed for death next episode. Walking Dead has a fairly annoying tendency to dispatch minor characters right after they are given absolutely anything to do – RIP T-Dog, and mustached pedobear, and every black character not still living, and Milton – so I don’t have much hope for her continued survival. I still hate gravitas-mouthpiece Hershel with a white hot intensity. The dude who got stuck under the wine bottles: this was a fairly hilarious sequence where he’s obviously telegraphing his temptation to the drop and then WHAM, a huge metaphor just fell on your legs. I almost took joy in it, because it was so ham-fisted.

This episode felt mostly like scene-setting, which I don’t count as a bad thing. Here is our new normal, and here are the threats to that normal. So far, I don’t see anything (or anyone) arising as the new Big Bad – Michonne’s obviously off on a hunt for the Governor, but that’s not given much time. I’m not sure that’s a problem, exactly, because Walking Dead seems to falter when drawing out conflicts based on personality or (God help us) philosophy. I would be incredibly happy to see a season based on more mundane, personal, physical survival mechanics, the heretofore interstitial pieces like Carol’s knife lessons given more prominence.  Much as I like watching them die, I want to see how they live, and not as some abstract conceptual piece, but on a nuts and bolts level. We’ll see how that goes for me.

Review: Walking Dead: Welcome to the Tombs

Man, I’ve really blown it posting the review for the third season Walking Dead finale, Welcome to the Tombs in a timely manner. Sorry. Here it is now!

I’ve never been much of a gamer, and I think some of this was the clumsiness of some of the earliest video games in their storytelling. I freely admit I haven’t engaged in the newer, more complex narratives – the barrier to entry in cost of platform and the games themselves is too high – so I’m going off of the oldschool stuff like LucasArts games from waaaay back in the day, Myst, and Mortal Kombat. I wanted to set my 386 on fire when, in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, I had to pilot a fucking balloon over some fucking thing, and my clumsy letter-punching resulted in that balloon being on fire. Which, good. You be on fire, asshole.

The real problem was that, before the burning dirigible section of the game, Fate of Atlantis wasn’t really about flying a godamn balloon, but about poking around and having conversations and solving puzzles. Or take Mortal Kombat. I loved fighting my sister or my bff Suzy (who is a very serious gamer) through the game, trash-talking and trying to figure out the fatality sequence that would make that one dude suck your near defeated enemy’s bones out. That was fresh. I even went so far as to play against the computer, and made it all the way to the big boss.

The problem with the big boss (which may or may not be pictured above, as my googling skills are not great) was that he was so much unbelievably harder to beat than anyone ever. Johnny Cage? Girly-man. Sonja? Take that. Boss man? OMIGOD YOU HAVE SIX ARMS AND NOW I’M ON FIRE. There was no steady escalation of skills, no smooth leveling up, but fighting a bunch of people and then getting murdered. I never did beat that jerk, and I ended up resenting having to go back through a bunch of drudgery just to get to him and get murdered over and over again.
This season on Walking Dead has been a fair amount of drudgery and then getting murdered. On some level, I respect it. When the Governor turned his gun on his own people, absolutely destroying the possibility that the big conflict between Woodbury and the prison was ever going to take place, I did admire the balls it took to screw my expectations that hard. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor?) But I also felt like I was in that godamn balloon again, with it in on fire, wondering why a narrative that has been setting up this big boss conflict between two dudes would then make it about whatever that shit was about.
You could put it in the bank that Walking Dead would have an explosive finale, so I don’t even know what’s going on. Which is not to say I didn’t like aspects of the episode. Despite being frustrated by Andrea’s complete inability to multi-task – seriously, you can try to pick up that damn pliers while talking – the locked room conversation between Andrea and Milton redeemed her character some, and ended with a phyrrhic sadness that represents the best of the downbeat possibilities. They are all infected. We kill or we die. Or we die, then we kill.
I am still busy hating some characters though, like Hershel, who is, as my friend Rachel pointed out, the reincarnation of Dale. I get the distinct impression I’m supposed to view him as the moral center of the group, what with all the bible-readin’, but he’s a narc and dork. I didn’t read Carl shooting that kid in the face as a cut-and-dried murder at all. He told the guy to drop the gun. Reaching closer with the gun is not dropping the gun, and could switch to shooting you in the face in less than a moment. I also get the impression we’re supposed to see this as a counterpoint to the Governor’s zombie daughter – if I’d been like this, she’d still be alive, etc.
I also think the scene where Michonne openly forgives Rick for selling her to the Governor is serious white dude wish fulfillment bullshit.
However, the episode gave me some shocks, confounded a lot of my expectations, and sets up a much more interesting mix for next season. Now that all the fighter-types are dead, how are they going to manage the prison community? Much about the Walking Dead – end of the world and zombies aside – is really very conventional storytelling, with very conventional plots. Surprising me beyond the mechanical – omg, they’re killing Lori in episode four?? – takes something, and this episode was a surprise. Boo!
I am still mad about the flaming balloon though.
Sonja wins.

Walking Dead: This Sorrowful Life

This Sorrowful Life starts with a complete character disaster of epic proportions, and that it ended with something approaching an honestly emotional moment was really something. At first, literally all of the white men in the prison group sit around discussing the fate of the only black woman like she were property, and it is a violation on a number of levels that Rick was even considering turning her over to the Governor. Putting aside the repulsive sexual and racial politics of all these conversations – and I am right tired of Gandalf’s rheumy-eyed speeches – this is not a choice Rick would make. Sure, I get that they’ve been running all this grief insanity with him, but he has always and ever been a boy scout. Coming hard on the heels of their interactions in Clear (the last time they interacted on screen), it makes zero sense that Rick would pull such an about face.

Even while I loved the details of Glenn’s proposal to Maggie – “I hope he really washes that ring,” my husband said after Glenn cuts it off a walker – I kind of don’t understand what’s going on with the proposal at all. Glenn and Gandalf have been hugging and crying together a lot after Maggie was sexually assaulted by the Governor, which is sweet in some ways, but in others makes my right eye twitch. Why is it that every “choice” by a woman gets made beforehand by a couple of dudes? Why is it about how they’re so cut up by her assault? Why is the concept of marriage even a thing during the zombie apocalypse? But whatever, Americans are completely loony about marriage, in general, and my head has been exploding reading the Supreme Court’s oral arguments today. That Walking Dead, which has been completely crappy with gender largely and writing female characters specifically, has goofed an engagement plot is no great shocker. All that said, I will ship til the end of time for Maggie and Glenn. Hearts.

But even though the opening is seriously bad, once Merle and Michonne get on the road, things improve drastically. Some of the most successful post-apocalit is in the vein of the road trip novel – works like The Road or The Reapers are the Angels – with the enforced conversation of the travelers in their solipsistic bubble run against the pit-stop that draws dangerous (in)humanity around the principles. I’m still on the fence about how Gurira has been playing Michonne, though I admit most of it is how little actual character work she’s given, but I love her fierce physical competence in this episode. She, like Merle in some ways, is a pragmatist, though unlike Merle, she is unwilling to allow her pragmatism to be used by others.

While I don’t understand why Merle lets her go, his final blaze of glory is a sight to behold. I couldn’t figure whether this was a regular highway robbery location for Woodbury – is this just a place on the road where they waylay the living that Merle would know about? – or is it a pre-arranged place for Rick to drop Michonne? Either way, Merle’s assault was the kind of clever that only drew the lightbulb for me once he dropped out of the car and rolled. Before that, I was seriously wondering what was up with this cracker with his whiskey drinking and walker mob. Good tunes though, Merle. The musical cues have been great this season.

There’s a pretty wonderful eulogy for Merle over on Slate, and while I disagree with some particulars – mostly I think Merle was a shitty stereotype redeemed by the redneck grace of Michael Rooker’s performance – I am sad to see him go. Rick’s stupid choice to send Michonne to the Governor was meant to knock the white hat off of Rick’s head, and it was badly, baldly done. But the characters with no hats at all are always going to be more compelling. As a pragmatist, Merle has been speaking truth much more often than other characters, because the truth is the purview of the hatless.

You go on, give him that girl. He ain’t gonna kill her, you know. He’s just going to do things to her. Take out one of her eyes, both of them most likely. You’d let that happen for a shot? You’re as cold as ice, Officer Friendly. 

Amen, you asshole. Out of the mouths of the hatless, you have my problems with this show in a nutshell. You’re gonna write this character-voiding choice just for some frisson  just as a first act setup? In defiance of established character? That’s cold.

And poor fucking Daryl. When they bother to do character work, like they have intermittently with the brothers, that’s when this show works. So good on that. I don’t feel like I’m ready for whatever barn burning bs they’re going to pull for the finale next week, but it’s not like we’re ever prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

Walking Dead: Prey: or Syke! Let’s talk about In the Flesh instead!

Heya. Looks like I dropped the ball on writing about Prey in anything resembling a timely manner. So here’s the quick and dirty about that episode: it’s totally fine, and managed to get me to stop hating Andrea every minute of my life. Like Clear  two weeks before it, the focus of the episode is on a smaller group of people and actually has a coherent beginning, middle, and end. This focus had been lacking in episodes previous, and the wheeling around all over Georgia checking in with everyone dissipated the stakes. Good on them for tightening up.

Andrea also shows some competence, which we knew she must possess to survive as long as she did, but shore wasn’t in evidence recently. (Although, how come she doesn’t steal the Governor’s car when she pulls the trick with the stairway zombies? I don’t get it.) The small character work between Georgia Gandalf and Milton last week paid off in a better understood Milton – he’s the one who torched the pit zombies, yeah? And altogether people seemed to have coherent actions. Neat.

But the biggest shift may be the Governor, who is *finally* acting like a really big psycho. My husband observed that he’s been like this all along: telling people what they want to hear about what he’s planning, and then tossing people in the “screaming pits”. (Have we seen those again? Since they were first mentioned? Or is that the pit zombies?) Morrissey has a lot of presence when you get him moving – he’s so damn tall, and there’s this sense of inevitability when he strides around – and it was great to see that in action, especially coupled with the slightly corny but still creepy whistling.

But I come here not to talk about Walking Dead, which I apparently did anyway, but to freak out about BBC’s In the Flesh, which is so amazingly good and doing just the weirdest things with zombies.

Kieren is a Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferer – god, I love these mordant acronyms I find in zombie fiction, like Colson Whitehead’s PASD (Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder) – who has been rehabilitated from his flesh-eating state, and is preparing to be sent home to the community where he hunted and killed. His grim Northern English town is the center for the band of activist zombie hunters who helped stem the tides against the undead, and probably not that great of a place to return. Some of the townspeople came off as clumsy caricatures – and the sister rankled a bit – but lordy was that final scene with the old woman taking out her contacts and looking up at the mob come to kill her effective and brutal.

Obviously, the narrative goals of In the Flesh and Walking Dead are dissimilar, but I’m completely impressed with the way the zombie metaphor could stretch to be about rehabilitation and social conformity, disability and possibly even immigration politics. Many monster narratives end up boiling down to but the humans are the monsters OH DO YOU SEE. This is a perfectly fine stock message for justifying some bloodbath and great set-pieces, and one third season Walking Dead is relying on pretty heavily. But man is it cool when pretty much everyone is the monster, and the flinching, grainy remorse of In the Flesh really got me.

Review: Walking Dead: Arrow on the Doorpost

Well, it’s nice to see that Walking Dead, after the tense and almost claustrophobically personal episode last week, managed to get back to treading water until they waste a bunch of poorly drawn characters in a big barn burnin’ like the end of last season. Certainly, Arrow on the Doorpost was better structured than we’ve seen in the the latter half of the third season, where it seems like characters just bump around and have conversations until some walkers attack and then the whole business ends…for now. 

Despite a lot of growling and posturing, not much was accomplished by the meeting of the Governor and Rick. I actually started laughing when they framed Rick like a gunfighter on Main Street – subtly done, guys. Bravo. I haven’t brought up the comics in a while, because so much has diverged that it can be a bad comparison, but at this point we were getting a sense of an almost relaxed sense of home at the prison. They had planted crops, which were beginning to come to fruition, and were setting into a round robin of love triangles and stuff. They’d stopped clearing the yard because they were more inward focused, living their lives. They had driven in stakes, which was why there were stakes at all in their stand with the Governor. But this lot? I’m not seeing much invested there, short of constant gestures towards Judith.

While I still like Morrissey’s purring sociopath take on the Governor, I’m beginning to wonder if he isn’t, um, wrong for the part? The man’s got so much gravitas and there’s something mountainously immobile about him, which sits in strange contrast with the jumpy long-haired meth-freak of the comic. The townspeople of the comic were obviously afeared of the Governor, held in check by fears of expulsion or worse. The comic Governor was a warlord and a despot, and I get why people were afraid of him. Morrissey’s Woodbury though? Not so much. Dude’s obviously batshit, but no more batshit than Rick, and possibly less so. Comic Gov’s people never would have been honking at the barricades to let them out; they were in the care of a madman and they knew it. It’s possible the writers could do something interesting with Morrissey’s soft sold approach…lol, no, it really isn’t.

I liked the sequence of their lieutenants chest-beating and then falling into soldiery camaraderie, as well as Gandalf talking stumps with Milton. But godamn it, Andrea! Here’s the problem: she’s totally right, as is Merle when he’s all like, I’ve got a gun in my room, let’s go cap him right now, but the writers are so damn invested in this big mano-a-mano dick-measuring situation between Rick and the Governor to the detriment of character. They have undercut the secondary characters, so hard, so far, that when Rick tells Andrea to get out because the men are having important men-talk, I just laughed instead of getting pissed off like I should. Such unbelievable gender bullshit.

Anyway, I don’t feel like I have a ton to say, partially because next to nothing happens in this episode. Oh, but I did make this lolGovernor that I’m pleased with. You’re welcome.

P.S. I’m glad Glenn and Maggie finally got laid again. Big hearts for those two.

Review: Walking Dead: Clear

Well, whoo boy, that is why I watch this show. Spoilers, as usual.

I’ve been slipping into bitching in the last couple episodes of the third season of Walking Dead. There’s been too much – what? – high level bullshit about society and human power structures and blah blah blah. Zombie stories can be attuned to this sort of thing. They are lifeboat situations with a leaking raft of incompatible people struggling for the oars, and while I think this sort of thing can be fun, I have been unimpressed so far with how that high level stuff has been dealt with this season. Or, really, ever on this show. It’s not even so much that I disagree, which I think I do, it’s that I think the whole question has been framed wrong.

But, Clear manages to hit all the interpersonal harsh realities that I love so very much about the end of the world. In fiction anyway; the world hasn’t ended yet for me. Rick, Michonne and Carl are in their lifeboat car when they drive past a hitchhiker on the road. They don’t even rubberneck, like we do at a car accident, and just the passengers even register what is going on on the edge of the road. They get hug up on a snarl, a single walker crushed under the edge of a vehicle, until the walkers all come, banging their hands on the glass. It’s iconic, in a way, inside and outside, same same. Rick rolls down the window, tells everyone to cover their ears, and it’s almost comic that we don’t see the zombie clearing sequence, just an aftermath of bodies in the grass.

Rick and Carl have a conversation about Michonne well within her earshot – it’s almost like the end of the world makes people stupid to the life happening just right there, and Clear is absolutely the first episode of Walking Dead to give Michonne something like a character and humor. You can see her thinking, I have to win this this kid, and when she does it is a revelation. Carl’s been doing the pre-teen of death thing for a while now, stalking off, being smarter than his elders, and when he does it here, it’s funny to see someone calmly play equal or confident. Of course it’s for Judith you’re doing this, Carl. Of course. And here is your rainbow consolation prize!

I am jazzed to see Morgan, whom we haven’t seen since the pilot, Days Gone Bye, when Rick stupidly called out to a walker in front of his house and Morgan’s kid hit him with a shovel. Morgan has obviously had a hard time of it, losing his son to his zombie wife, like there “wouldn’t be a reckoning,” as he says. Maybe this is a larger metaphor for Rick and the crazytown he’s been building, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like two fucked up, traumatized people fighting hand to hand with grief, with each other and their simple likenesses and differences. It felt like what should be happening with the Governor but isn’t.

But here’s the thing that moved me about this episode. The opening shot is a sign, strung with ribbons, that reads, “Erin, we tried for Stone Mountain.” It’s facing the wrong way, so probably our protagonists never see it, and moments later, a walker with a bracelet that reads “Erin” bangs on the window of their car. Not so long ago I read Dead Inside: Do Not Enter: Notes from the Zombie Apocalypse, which was put together by the fine folks at Lost Zombies. The end of the world by needs is epistolary, the electricity gone, the computers bricks. We need to write our damage on the walls and signs, the last articulations that only humans can understand. Literacy is what separates us from the walkers; grief is something that can be written, and, pray hope, can be read.

So again, whoo boy, that was nice. Keep it up, Walking Dead.

Review: Walking Dead: I Ain’t a Judas

Spoilers, etc.

Post-apocalyptic stories often deal with wonkish logistical realities: where to get water and food, how to protect your body, how to skin a rabbit. This can be done well, like in Mike Mullin’s Ashfall, which tackles the physical realities of volcanic annihilation with tense, realistic detail. Or it can be done badly, like in the Autumn series by David Moody, which has a very serious “going to the bathroom” problem. Seriously, stop talking about searching the desks! Stop doing all that Mordorian walking! Gah. Now, I think one of the stupidest criticisms of any television program is “when do the characters go to the bathroom??” but I think post-apocalyptic settings almost beg the question. Hell, this is played for gags in Zombieland, what with Mark Zuckerberg’s whole quest to see a man about a horse without getting et.

It’s a Maslow’s triangle of needs brought down to the most bodily immediacy, and Walking Dead so far has made what I felt was reasonable gestures to the scrabbling hardship of securing basic needs, from making runs for formula to huntin’ and fishin’. More enterprising folk than I have put together google maps of the locations on Walking Dead, you know, with the usual caveats that many of these places are fictional to start. Sure, there’s been the usual “in all the crappy zombie-infested strip malls in Georgia, Merle finds Glenn and Maggie in this one??” but I respect that stuff has to happen, and too much logistical blather can get to the bathroom problem. But good golly, I Ain’t a Judas pretty much poops on logistics. And it does it with fucking Andrea, which, barf.

Andrea has been bugging the shit out me since her sojourn in Mayberry, although if I’m being fair, my irritation with her wide-eyed blonde routine is in some ways an outgrowth of my irritation with Mayberry. Because Mayberry has the opposite of a “going to the bathroom” problem; that place and its people make zero logistical sense. What are you eating?? Why doesn’t everyone get there are zombies everywhere?? Why does Milton (and, sidebar, is this an awful literary reference or not?) goggle when the Governor growls that “adolescence is a 20th century concept”? I mean, sure, I get that I’m supposed to think, OMG THE GUV IS EVIL TEH ASTHMATIC CHILDREN, and then have the revelation that Carl’s been gun-having for nearly two seasons ZOMG, etc. Which I’m going to resent, thank you.

Anyway, back to Andrea, and how much I hate her character. I guess since the writers offed Lori in a big gender specific gross out, they needed another girl to be ridiculously inconsistent and horrible. They’ve done such a crap job of differentiating the townspeople that I can’t even credit Andrea’s shouting about how there are “innocent people(!)” in Mayberry. Come on. (Also, what is up with Carol’s “bang and kill him” advice? Bad, bad writing.) In all the dumb shit she says, she does hit the occasional truth on the nose, like why are they trusting Merle with a gun? Seriously, good question.

But really, my biggest problem with this episode was the blithe treatment of the landscape here, certainly done so Andrea could play ambassador to the two groups, there and back again, jiggidy jig, but it’s sloppy and poor, and makes me nit-pick. Why aren’t the Rickocrats just clearing the walkers crashed into the yard? They took down the lot of them in an afternoon when they took the prison in the first place. I see that Tyreese is now hanging with the Governor, but, um, did we see them leave the prison? How far away are these places? Are there still herds? How many walkers are there? WHAT IS GOING ON?

The whole thing just frustrates me, and it frustrates me more because the writers have been setting up the parallels between Mayberry and the Prison (OH DO YOU SEE?) with such a sledge-hammer that they are smashing both logistical sense and the character kind. I’m half of a mind to be Team Governor at this point, because Rick is an autocratic jerk (and also bananas with grief) who is only the hero because we know he’s the lead and unlikely to die. Frankly, I think it only makes sense for Mayberry to take the Rickocrats out at this point, regardless of who started what with whom. Even though Andrea’s naivete is hard to stomach – seriously, women, you were abandoned by your friends and on the run for months – I almost appreciate her eye bugging about how hard the Rickocrats have become.

If this show isn’t going to become an endless horrible slog – and likely for many folk, it already hit that second season – there’s going to have to be more beautiful life gestures, which I Ain’t a Judas managed to hit with the absolutely sublime Tom Waits fade-out started by that blonde girl who is totally going to die soon with her high clear voice, and then fading into Waits’s gin-soaked rumble. More of that, writers, and less of the wandering in the woods, transported by the magical tesseract of plot expedience. I get there is ground to cover here, but put your damn feet on it.

Review: Walking Dead: Suicide King and Home

Wooooooooooooo! Freaking finally.

I’m reading a book series at the moment – one of those open-ended deals that isn’t pretending that it’s going to tie-up in a satisfying way anytime soon – and I’m on book four. Books one through three constituted what I felt like was an emotional arc, running a coherent story through more episodic, um, episodes. (Gah. Bad word choice, I has it.) Halfway through four, I’m still trying to figure what the new arc is going to be and who these people are. I know I’ve been introduced to him? And her? But I can’t recall? At this point in the game, it is pieces moving on the board – this person here, this other person there, a conversation, a reminder. Even though I did not start out talking about A Song of Ice and Fire, that’s a pretty good encapsulation of my feelings about that series too. Books four, man.

Anyway. Point being, here we are after all the dun-dun reveals of the mid-season finale, and I’m feeling very much like I’m reading book four of the series. I’m squealing a little about my favorites, and trying to remember minor characters – who is Oscar? Oh right, the black guy they killed off for being not Tyresse; there can be only one – and wondering why no one is bothering to write a straight up episode arc anymore. Shit happening in sequencial order is not a dramatic arc, friends. I’m not saying The Suicide King was bad, or that there weren’t smart or even heart-melting developments, just that there’s a lot of ground covering and not a lot of what you might strictly call sense.

The opening verged on terrible. I have remained unconvinced by any of the zombie MMA scenes, which I thought initially was a problem of staging, although staging continues to be a problem. The arena feels small, with too few people in it, and I kept watching the shouting audience members one by one and thinking far too much about how the actors had been coached to shout and shake their fists. Too many long shots, too much light, not enough physical danger. Merle and Daryl start swinging at each other, and when they brought in the collared walkers, I thought, how long until this goes completely pear shaped, and Merle and Daryl slip out? Which might ultimately be a conscious choice, because Mayberry is such a total joke.

The scene tightened considerably when the smoke bombs were thrown and everyone ran screaming through the mist, walkers unleashed, the fragile sense of control broken. The Governor walking slow out of the smoke was an image, I’ll grant you, a very good one. But it’s also an image of what the heck is the problem with the Mayberry sequences: who the hell are these people? We’ve got 75 or so folk living here in Mayberry, and all we know about them is that they can shake their fists unconvincingly when brothers are to fight to the death. Sure, okay, maybe the Gov has gotten them through some hard times, but don’t they have, like, actual personalities somewhere behind the mob? Seriously, they’re going to try to storm the front gates to get out into the zombie apocalypse? 75 isn’t a lot of people. That’s half of your Dunbar’s number, and after what, a year? living together, there are no strangers anymore. There’s no anonymous arm shaking. There’s no packing the car and honking at the sentinels to let you out. That makes as little sense as how little Andrea and Michonne seem to know about each other after seven months – seven months! – on the run together. Seriously, why does Michonne scowl when Rick asks if she knows Andrea? Other than that’s the only thing the writers let her do? Bah.

So the Governor walks out of the mist and I think, yeah, I see what you’re doing. Mayberry isn’t a real town, it’s propaganda. This is an inflammatory analogy, but it made me think of Leni Reifenstahl talking about making Triumph of the Will: there was just Hitler, and the people. One man and the state. A less inflammatory analogy would be Lord of the Flies, with the great mass of undifferentiated boys who acquiesce to the will of the only people who matter, the ones in charge. That is totally fine as a metaphor for societal ethics and leadership, which is pretty much the decomposing heart of most zombie fictions, but often reads poorly as a narrative about real characters. Mobs ain’t people.

You’ve got this ongoing civic crisis going on, a boots-on-the-ground version of whatever civic crisis we’ve got going on today. And, given that one of our current civic crises is people (mostly white men between the ages of 20 and 50) shooting their fellow citizens en masse, the whole exploration of white men between the ages of 20 and 50 having their leadership styles completely fall apart feels pretty topical. The world of The Walking Deadhas put guns in the hands of every citizen, including tiny badass Carl, and what they are getting for their gunnish preparedness is most of the living being killed by other living. Seriously, when was the last time someone died from a zombie? T-Dog?

I did enjoy a lot of the everyday stuff back at the prison, like Carol’s discussion of her late abusive husband, and how Daryl’s relationship with his brother is similar. And her little reaction shot when she learns that Daryl has run off with Merle just gutted me – man, that actress is good. I loved the mail holder with Asskicker emblazoned on the side. I keep worrying every time I see that blonde girl and Judith, because I feel like they are swanning around being adorable, and adorable is a huge freaking bullseye. And because I wrote most of this and then got way to busy to finish it before Homeran, I’m just going to start into that.

So, we’ve got two leaders losing their shit, Rick and the Governor, and it is making me really bored with Rick’s problems, and question his leadership. Daryl stepped in in the last power void, and he was smart and competent, and now Glenn has done the same. Wait, why is this a Ricktatorship again? Why does Santa/Gandalf keep delivering these homilies about how Rick has gotten through the hard times with his wistful, rheumy eyes? And Lincoln, man, he seems to think that sweating profusely is a good telegraph for trauma. The dude who plays the Governor is doing a better job with his insanity, especially considering the dialogue he has to do it with, and Mayberry continues to bug. Omigod, he shot a dude in the street! Where have you people been for the last year? At a point it just gets to be bad writing. And Andrea, ugh.

Given how loony Rick has become, I have a very hard time tracking his motivations. Seriously, it is self-evident that your group needs more people, especially because you know the Governor is going to come at you. I guess I’m cheered a little that the writers are treating Maggie’s sexual assault by the Governor as exactly that, but I would like to know what the hell is going on with Glenn and what his motivation is supposed to be. Seriously, this show cannot handle sexual politics at the best of times; they should step away from that plotline as quickly as possible. I was really loving the pedo-Romanov-mustache dude in the last two episodes – they gave him some really great work – which should have been a sign that OMIGOD YOU KILLED KENNY. Maybe there can only be so many racist rednecks on the show, just like there can only be one black dude. With Merle on his way back, you can do the math.

But, whooooo, that ending was a treat. The Suicide King had the problem of its action sequences being mostly crap – and action sequences are where this show really kicks ass – so it was pretty great to see the Governor’s assault on the prison in Home. And I got to be smug about how the zombies are being used in this show, as a sort of violent rhetorical device about how fear is used by the powers that be against the body politic. They’re a tool, like calling the Rickocrats terrorists at every opportunity, like running bullshit about how the Governor is “out on a run”. (Andrea, seriously, stop being so dumb.)

I know this is not going to happen, because the Governor and Rick have been pegged together too hard – it’s too much about their whole doppelganger deal – but I would completely love it if Rick took one in the eye, and then the Rickocrats formed an actual democracy and defeated the fuck out of the Governor and all his dictatorial bullshit. Zombie stories have this tendency to run to justified dictatorship, because obvs a society can’t deal with a threat to it without some self-important lunatic telling everyone what to do. Even though the storyline is making feints in the direction that this might be bad – the whole incompetence of the Mayberrians being the evidence – with how devoted they are to Rick being the main character, and therefore inviolate despite being full of crap, it’s probably just not going to happen.

Review: Walking Dead: Made to Suffer

Every night I lock up my house. This isn’t particularly interesting. Despite certain fictional assurances that the Midwest is a place where you can leave your doors unlocked at night, I know for a fact that if your diligence wanes, someone might just walk into your house. In my case, it was many moons ago when my husband and I inadvertently left the door to our apartment unlocked ere we went to bed. We’d gotten sloppy; we lived in a relatively small apartment building with what looked like a good security system, and I’ve never been good at paranoia. So I woke up that night in a near panic because I knew I had not dreamed the sound of someone in our living room. I called the cops, and considered the angles out of the sliding window unit while my husband ventured into the dark unknown of our living room.

The cops frisked my husband as he shot out of the apartment, spelling his name and telling them his wife was still inside. I was back against the door, low to the ground, like someone might shoot through the shitboard that made up the material of the doors. I know I watch too much tv. They coaxed me out eventually; I can admit I’m a coward. We stood with some cops in our incredibly messy living room for a while – we were in the process of boxing our possessions so we could move into our house – and the cops kept shining their flashlights onto disheveled piles of our stuff and asking if the mess was normal. It was embarrassing. At some point we all realized there was someone else in the room, someone asleep under the laundry I’d washed and folded and left on the back of the couch. The cops shone a flashlight on an exposed arm and asked us several times, “Is this yours?” I still remember the odd phrasing.

I ended up back in the bathroom, I think all the way into the shower, while the cops woke and then sat on and cuffed an extravagantly drunk young man. He was naked but for a pair of socks and a baseball cap. After the cops fetched a truly scratchy looking baby blue cop blanket and swaddled him in it, they coaxed me back out of the bathroom to see if I knew him. I didn’t. He was just some kid who had three too many Long Island Teas at Liquor Lyle’s, pissed himself, doffed his clothes, and then went looking for the first open door. Ours was the first open door. We were diligent for a long while, but I know since then I’ve gotten lax again a few several times. We have a biggish dog, and I figure if someone really wants in, they’ll probably get in.

I’m really glad we don’t have walking cannibal corpses in the neighborhood though, boy howdy, because I figure most burglars are going to go for the tv and not try to eat my face off. Which is what brings this long winded anecdote to the the mid season finale of Walking Dead, Made to Suffer. This season the writers have been working the whole security state post-9/11 panic angle really hard, made obnoxiously manifest in The Governor’s use of the term “terrorist” in his final speech. I had a strangely fruitful conversation with a stranger on the Internet last week, where we talked about subtext of this season, how it seems on the face of it the writers are bagging democracy, from the “this is not a democracy” speech, down to the dark Mayberry of Woodbury with its soft spoken despot with democratical-sounding titles. Our hero is a grief-broken lunatic whose leadership style seems more chain of command than consensus. When he’s around to lead, anyway, and not howling through the prison making unilateral decisions about who lives and dies – though poorly – and talking to ghosts on the phone.

What are we to make of this? Of course, the Governor is eeevil, or at the very least, batshit insane, what with his heads in a tank and zombie daughter in the closet. The part when Michonne came to exact her vengeance was a strange sequence, because I found myself totally crushed by The Gov’s reaction to her killing his child. Yes, yes, she’s a zombie and all that, but Morissey was so stricken, so visibly destroyed by the loss that I really questioned Michonne’s motivations there. That was a bitch move. Andrea’s convenient arrival really showed the lack of backstory between the two women – I don’t think the writers can even imagine what those two might have talked about, they being women and all – and what should have come off as a tense interpersonal moment ended up being scene mechanics.

But back to the security state thing. Woodbury’s leadership seems hell-bent on insulating their town from what has happened, what having happened being the zombie apocalypse. They’re locking their doors against the naked drunks, but they are wide open for the canny burglar who wants to eat their faces off. Every single time we took off our damn shoes while going through the airport security this Thanksgiving, my kids asked me, why are we doing this? And my answer was that one time, there was this damned idiot who thought he could blow up a plane with a shoe. (Jesus Christ, Austen Powers called.) My country is busy rending people and throwing them into the screaming pits – which, good call with the name there, gov; shoulda gone with something like “School of the Americas” – and what we’re getting for our trouble is a bunch of Michonnes. Not to draw too hard of an analogy or anything.

Anyway, teetering metaphors aside, Made to Suffer was very much in the mode of this season so far, which is go go go go. Tyreese was introduced – who was Rick’s lieutenant in the comics - necessitating the death of the other black male character, T-Dog…I mean, whatever his name was who replaced T-Dog. I swear to God, I joked to my husband that that would happen the second Tyreese was on screen, and good golly, am I tired of how lame the writers are. Romanov-mustache dude turns out to be a pedobear and short hair doesn’t mean you’re a lesbian. But man, am I Team Tyreese at the moment. He’s, like, the only person who has ever behaved in a rational manner – letting the bitten woman come along so her living partner can work through what happened, not throwing a fit and glowering when tiny badass, Carl, locks them up until they can be vetted.

Michonne had an actual moment of emotion there when Rick almost tosses her out of the group, I think the first time I’ve seen that woman do anything but scowl. Glenn and Maggie, I heart the hell out of those two and their towering badassery. and I also appreciate that Glenn drops the knowledge immediately that Merle is with the Gov, given how much hiding the football they’ve been doing with him. Internet speculation has it that Merle is being planted as a mole in the Rickocrats when Merle and Daryl eventually escape from their predicament, but I’m not discounting how pissed the Gov is about Merle lying about Michonne being dead.

Well, anyway, I think a lot of this episode was rushed, and I’m somewhat unimpressed with the big battle stuff in Woodbury – why is that people can head-shoot zombies right and left, and can’t hit the side of a barn when living folk turn up – and I sprained my eyeballs eye-rolling at all the terrorist talk in the final Governor speech. Speaking of the side of the metaphorical barn, good god. Individual performances continue to impress, like Morrissey and Maggie and Glenn, even though sometimes I think the caliber of the performance might even undercut whatever bullshit point the writers were going for. Often my favorite moment in series are the ones where nothing happens and people just talk about stuff, which has been thin on the ground this season. We need more people being people before we can cower about how they have become monsters.