Sunday, May 24, 2015

Thoughts I Should Probably Keep to Myself Regarding the Season 5 Mid-Season Premiere of THE WALKING DEAD

Season 5, Episode 9, “What Happened and What’s Going On.” Original airdate 8 February 2015.

Second of a series in which I review episodes of The Walking Dead in no particular order. WARNING: SPOILERS because, seriously, I’m among the last people in the solar system who has just started watching this latest season on a bootleg channel online. If you’re weird like me, give this post a pass.

First, before I tear this episode a new one—starting with its weak title, which vaguely betrays the shallow purpose of the episode—I want to make clear that I understand. I’m a Star Trek fan. I know full well what it’s like to love something so grossly flawed. I’m not judging you, the fan.

This show, on the other hand....
“What did I just watch?”

No kidding, I felt for you poor people, having endured a long trek across the TV desert of November into February, only to get this. With the predominant image of the November finale being Daryl carrying Beth’s lifeless body out of the hospital—leaving the Grady Memorial Slave Labor and Rape Camp to carry on (recall that Rick told Cannibal King Gareth he couldn’t let him go because he knew he’d victimize others)—we were set for a new storyline. What fresh hells await?

So, here we are at last. The February mid-season premiere. Our first image is of a shovel blade slowly chewing into the earth. Are we burying Beth?

We catch a view of Gabriel leading a prayer at a funeral service in a field off the road somewhere. The images take on a yellowy tone, and the screen flares yellow between images. Whoa, what’s happening? Are we tripping?

Random shots of stuff, thangs, flash before our eyes. A photograph of two boys sitting together. A framed picture of a house, with chocolate syrup—no, wait, that’s blood—eeek!—dripping and pooling on the glass. The camera not only lingers on this shot more than most, the director makes sure we see it several times throughout the piece, excuse me, episode. Drip, drip, dribble. Pool. Flash yellow, and repeat.

As teasers go I was relieved when the theme music started up. I’m not crazy about amateur art film episodes on anyone’s TV series. All the artsy-fartsiness did was cover for the fact that only two things happened in this episode: first, the whole gang packed up and made a 10 to 12-hour drive from north Georgia to northeast Virginia, because that’s what Beth would have done for Noah if she hadn’t gotten her brains blown out. Makes sense. Assuming we’re all shell-shocked and game for rash changes in venue.

How’s this for some clever mise en scene?

After the opening titles and rousing theme music, we finally get to some straightforward narrative. Gabriel’s church is compromised and there’s not much else to do, but Noah, the young man from the Grady Memorial Slave Labor and Rape Camp, has family in a community “outside of Richmond,” Virginia, and he’s pretty sure it would be as safe as anything in this zombie apocalypse. Dear departed Beth was going to help him get there, and the normally hard-headed and pragmatic Rick says, well, if that’s what Beth would have done, we’ll do it, by way of honoring her memory.

The second thing we’re doing in this episode is getting rid of the excess black guy by way of setting ourselves up for this half-season’s story arc. It’s been a running joke since the death of T-Dog that there can only be one black adult male at one time in our plucky group of survivors. You’d think the show’s writers might be a little more circumspect about this, but once Noah came on board with the group, Tyreese’s days were numbered. Indeed, he had only one episode left to live.

(For those about to chime in with “What about Father Gabriel?” I say, what about him? He’s not a man. He’s a coward and a weasel. He doesn’t count.)

As it happens, Tyreese had to be killed. He was that kind of annoying character good for awkward moments of “You sure you don’t want to talk about it?” with characters who would clearly prefer to grieve in peace. As someone who has buried a few people in his life (live long enough, and it will happen), I can testify, these people are among the world’s worst.

Tyreese was already number one on my must-die list for his weak (but oh-so virtuous) capture-and-exchange plan that ended with the Queen Psychobitch of the Grady Memorial Slave Labor and Rape Camp changing the deal’s terms in the middle of the prisoner exchange and getting Beth killed. The scene at the hospital was an abomination, full stop. If Rick’s plan of slitting throats and absconding into the night with Beth was followed, Beth would be alive, and good riddance to the bad rubbish at Grady Memorial. 

But, no. Moving on....

Through the magic of television, our plucky heroes defy time and space by making a 10-12 hour drive in one 30-second montage of blurry state highway signs, and five more endless minutes of heart-to-heart, how-do-you-endure-all-this? between Tyreese and Noah. They come upon Noah’s community at what looks like early afternoon, among woods that look and sound still very much like north Georgia.

Was I the only person who noticed the absurdity of the community’s location, well away from any gas stations or 7-Elevens or supermarkets, or even other housing developments? If this was a compound belonging to a wealthy family, that would make sense, but these are low to mid-grade homes surrounded by a fence in the middle of the woods

Even so, it was compromised. No one shoots at Rick’s crew as they approach because there’s no one left. Some of the houses show signs of being torched. There was a struggle here. Fort Suburbia went down.

Noah has to run to see what’s left of his family, and Tyreese gives chase. At this point the student art film finds its title: Tyreese, You Dumbass.

For, naturally, we know that Noah’s family is dead. Mom’s rotting away on the floor. There’s a walker in one of the bedrooms, making the usual wheeze-snarl noises, presumably one of Noah’s siblings. We see the shadow of his feet beneath the door.

Tyreese, quite smartly, sweeps the house with his pistol while keeping Noah back. Okay, so everyone is dead or the next best thing. He sees the feet beneath the door. Hold that thought.

So what else is there to do now but do a little moaning over dead mama, while Tyreese looks wistfully at the photos of young boys sitting together in the back bedroom? While the thing behind the door somehow manages to slip quietly out of its prison, sneak up behind Tyreese, and bite a chunk out from his arm.

Oh, but we knew what was going down the second we saw those shadows beneath the door, didn’t we? We knew we wouldn’t hear the doorknob turn, the feet shuffling across the floor, or the usual wheeze-snarl characteristic of the reanimated dead in this series.

Noah comes in, and without so much as an, “Oh dear, my brother is a flesh-eating monster,” manages to put the creature who looks like his brother down with a plastic model jet plane through the eye. He then helps Tyreese settle against the wall before running out to fetch a more responsible adult.

It’s a wound on the arm, and certainly shouldn’t keep Tyreese off his feet, but we have an art movie to finish here. Enter tonight’s musical entertainment, Beth and the Hallucinations:

The ancient trope of Arguing With Hallucinated Dead People as I Lay Dying was nicely arranged, though. I enjoyed hearing Emily Kinney as Hallucinated Dead Beth singing, as the two dead girls smiled creepily into the camera. “It’s better this way,” says one of the girls. She means “dead.” Of course.

Hallucinated Dead Governor does some neener-neener on Tyreese about some stuff I didn’t follow, causing me to wonder what idiocies Tyreese let happen in the name of We’re Better Than These People, Let’s Do the Dumb Thing Instead during Season 3. I was more familiar with Hallucinated Dead Martin, and I had to agree, a world of misery could have been averted if Tyreese had snuffed his wannabe baby-killing ass when he had the chance. Oh, Tyreese. You dumbass. 

Because we’re really desperate to fill time in this episode, another deader wanders in undetected during the hallucination, causing Tyreese to break from his pity party long enough to use his already damaged arm as a distraction while he grabs something with his free hand to dispatch the ghoul. 

This was the most badass thing I’ve seen Tyreese do, so he gets points for that. 

Rick finally shows up, but it’s too late to amputate Tyreese’s arm. It’s just a matter of time waiting for him to die. Which he does. 

In a moment of crazy candor, Rick admits he knew there would be nothing up here. Why should there be? But they’re closer to Washington, DC, now, where they were heading anyway when people still believed Eugene’s line about a cure for the zombie sickness. Surely, among the millions of dead in that metropolitan area, there are people who know what’s what. 

So off we go to the next story arc, but not before we take out a few more walkers who have gathered at the front gate. They are dispatched with slow-motion, cinematic aplomb.

Which, I’ll note, is one of the strengths of The Walking Dead TV show. The cinematography and sound are high-end, feature-film grade. The writers may be pulling it out their asses, but these crews know their stuff.

Before I shut this big mess of tl;dr down, I have to note the most exasperating aspect of this episode for me, namely, what happened to Noah’s old neighborhood. Based on what I saw, it was quite clearly attacked by living people with live ordnance, who blew a large hole in the back fence and set random houses on fire as they went through looting the place. Yet no one addresses this; it’s as if everyone assumes the community was simply overrun by walkers. 

Was it hit by Negan and the Saviors? Most likely, it’ll be swept under the rug. We’ve got another story arc to get into. We’ll come to that merry band soon enough. Next season, anyway. We’ve got the rest of this half of Season 5 to get through first.