Way back yonder, I compared the pilot for this series to a Frankenstein monster, and that analogy has held true for the entire first season. Each individual scene usually varies in consistency, tone, and strength from the one preceding it and the one to follow (Walking Dead Shuffle, indeed). Sometimes it works, but all too often even those successes have felt more fortuitous than intentional. Episode Five was the first time an episode didn’t feel like it was 44 minutes of scenes shot by three different directors from three different scripts. On the plus side, the final episode of season one felt like it had a singular creative vision, both in the writing and the direction. Unfortunately, it was a vision by way of Mr. MaGoo. There wasn’t a single memorable shot or sequence in the whole damn thing. The lighting was flat, and the staging was so perfunctory it felt like any directions the actors got came straight out of an IKEA box. And the writing? I was able to overlook the hoary zombie film clichés last week because they were deftly executed, but last night’s episode felt like one of those bad parties where you arrive only to discover the only folks there are the insufferable bores you try to avoid running into at other parties.
- We get off on the right foot, but it’s wearing the wrong shoe. The opening almost serves as a satisfying way to explain Rick’s predicament when he woke. It certainly puts Shane in a more positive light. The biggest problem is the situation never feels as tense or chaotic as it should. It almost gets there but never really makes us break a sweat.
- BTW, let’s all welcome our old friend, The Military Are Ruthless Bastards, to the party. He might have made a better entrance if not for the lackluster way he was introduced. Goes to show that sometimes it’s all about the delivery.
- OK, given Amy and Jim’s deaths less than 16 hrs earlier, I didn’t buy the celebratory mood at all. Not. At. All. I was expecting them to cut to Andrea just staring at them in slackjawed horror and disbelief, but instead she just looked like she had acid indigestion.
- You know what was missing from the shower montage when we cut to Shane? This.
- Shane is going to confront Lori. He is going to try and force himself on her, because he is the Drunk Friend Who Is Also A Jilted Lover and they do that sort of thing. At least they do in the every movie since Thomas Edison made his seminal short “The Drunk Jilted Lover” in 1913. Only good thing in that scene was Sarah Wayne Callies’s performance. In fact, she’s really shaped up nicely since the first episode.
- Thank god they didn’t provide the origin story. I don’t even mind the fact that Omnipresent Super Computer, Soothing Female Voice Model was hanging around for the whole episode. But, really, why are they wasting screen time explaining this? I mean, does any of this have any relevancy beyond making Andrea feel better about killing Amy?
- Oh great, The Ticking Clock showed up. God, nobody get him started on immigration.
- Man, Sean T Collins points out here what shoddy storytelling it is to have the fate of these people rest on a conversation with this Jenner guy, who has no connection to our cast beyond his physical presence, and I couldn’t agree more. Look, I get it. This whole CDC thing is our characters’ struggle in microcosm – them versus seemingly hopeless odds and inevitable cataclysm. “It sets the air on fire.“ Like the Apocalypse get it? Because the whole show is about our characters kicking against the pricks, aka the End Of All Things? Regardless, while I see how this is supposed to work, it divorces our cast from the threat they’ve been facing for the first five episodes and introduces a new threat that has no emotional resonance for us. Where the hell did they misplace Morgan and his son? Instead of spending time introducing the Jenner character, a figure who may not have any relevancy to the show moving forward, wouldn’t it have been stronger to book end the season with some update on characters already established in the series? We don’t care about Jenner, nor do we really give a damn how the zombie infection works. It’s like our leads got dropped into an entirely different series, really. Although, the whole scenario did give Jenner an excuse to utter “This is our extinction event, ” which was the best line in the episode.
- The opening scene seemed to indicate they wanted us to re-evaluate Shane, but watching him go from the Drunk Friend Who Is Also A Jilted Lover to the Guy Who’s Had Enough Of This Shit And Shoves a Gun in Someone’s Face isn’t an evolution in characterization, not even on a channel that reruns The Three Stooges for two hours every morning.
- Great, so now they’re ripping off Lost in Translation. Oh, I kid. This bit of tomfoolery with the whisper didn’t do much for me, but the look on Rick’s face almost sells it.
- Hey, who invited Shockwave From Explosion Sends Hero Flying? Always the life of the party.
- Am I supposed to be…feeling…something when Jenner and Jacqui look at each other and hold hands? To put it bluntly, this show hasn’t done anything to earn the emotional impact this moment was trying to engender. If you want to see “let’s hold hands and face our deaths together” done right, watch Toy Story 3. That’s how you choke up a grown man in his late thirties. This? Not even close.
- “Tonight… in an EXPLOSIVE episode of The Walking Dead…everything…will end…with a BANG.”
- It’s the final episode, and some people we didn’t really know or care about all that much just got their schnitzels blown up, so what better way to close out the episode, and the season, than with Bob Dylan? He’s got that whole melancholy gravitas, right? I guess it’s better than Wang Chung. Although if I were in charge, I would’ve had this track playing from the moment Jenner opened the doors to let our refuges out and on through the final credits – no dialogue, just throw in some slow mo of the gang all running and lots of sweaty close ups? Tell me that wouldn’t have been freakin’ awesome.
Season Wrap Up:
The biggest challenge for me has been taking the show on its own terms. I don’t mean separating what Darabont and Co. are up to with what Kirkman/Moore/Adlard do in the comic. It’s easy enough for any post-adolescent to make peace with the fact that changes can and will be made as the demands of the medium (and studio, and advertisers, and audience) vary greatly between the graphic arts and moving pictures. While I may not always agree with the changes, I try to consider them for the impact they have on the show itself, rather than view them as some sort of crass commercial hackery that “ruins the comic.”
No, I’ve had difficulty trying to settle into just what kind of show The Walking Dead wants to be. Sean T Collins seems to have found the perfect solution by taking what comes and not setting his expectations too high. This is usually how I go into 90% of horror television or films. If you’re going to be a fan of horror, you better learn to like the taste of baloney, as Stephen King once said. This is certainly how I approach HBO’s True Blood, which I often enjoy precisely because it’s so ribald and histrionic. Every now and then, that series manages to punch me in the face or make me cover my mouth in shock. Rest of the time, I just soak in the corn.*
I’ve been unable to do this with The Walking Dead. I’m not overly attached to the source material and, as I said, even if I were, expecting high fidelity to the source would make me the chump, not Darabont and crew. Having said that, I’ve found myself being particularly…aware of how the show is executed. More than any other program I watch, The Walking Dead has become more a critical exercise for me than anything else. The issue isn’t how receptive I am to junk, it’s how the series ultimately fails in the most elementary tenants of decent long-form storytelling.
Bottom line? I can’t accept this show on its own terms because it hasn’t established any terms; it’s still pussy footing around trying to figure out what the hell it wants to do. If I were judging Frank Darabont solely based on the ‘creative vision’ on display in this series, I’d suggest the name is really a pseudonym for a committee of producers with no background in breaking a story or constructing a narrative.
Take Boardwalk Empire, for example. Not HBO’s greatest drama (yet), but it’s a fine one. It’s also a pleasure to watch. Its narrative is engaging. Its characters are meaty and rich. Its dialogue is rarely off, and sometimes even manages to have some real crackle and poetry to it. It’s a show I look forward to falling into for an hour when I watch it. Contrast that with the first season of The Walking Dead and the differences become apparent, I think. So far, the best episode of the season has been Episode Five and it worked best because, for once, the parts fit together to create a uniform whole.
I can understand why some folks are polarized over the series so far, with some claiming it’s the best thing since cheese whiz and some proclaiming “it sucks.” Looking around, though, most folks seem to be in my shoes and feel the series could best be categorized as ‘alright’. True Blood, the closest thing to a ‘true’ horror television show currently on the air besides this one, gleefully Jumps The Shark at least once every fifteen minutes or so, but there it feels completely natural – that’s the kind of show it’s been since its first episode. In contrast, The Walking Dead takes itself far more seriously but somehow manages to come across more trivial than True Blood by virtue of how tentative and distracted it seems. Both shows veer wildly in tone from scene to scene, but the key difference is one does so by design and the other through clumsiness. To make matters worse, for fans of horror films, trudging through the swamp of clichés can be frustrating, particularly when they’re mixed in with derisory writing and nondescript direction.
There have been a few, I think, genuinely great moments this season though. Were they strong enough to make The Walking Dead a ‘must watch’ show? Not for me. These moments are like the tasty brownies in one of those lamentable Swanson Salisbury steak dinners – they’re chocolatey and delicious, but they’re the only thing remotely edible in a meal I wouldn’t feed to my garbage disposal. Thanks, but I can get my brownies elsewhere. There’s no shortage of quality, entertaining television I have yet to watch (wait, they cancelled Terriers already?), and even 44 minutes a week is time I’m not spending enjoying one of those programs. I mean, I haven’t even finished Deadwood yet, for the love of god.
Bottom line, as far as dropping in on a second season with The Walking Dead, I think my time would be better spent in (hopefully) more compelling company, but we’ll see. Maybe if some trusted voices give it more love, I’ll catch up with it down the road. If not, I’ll be none the poorer.
- Sometimes True Blood manages to be both horrifying and absurd at the same time, which is extremely difficult to pull off well. Case in point, the end of “It Hurts Me Too” in Season Three may be one of the most ridiculous, and nonetheless disturbing, moments ever broadcast on television.
- Oh, and Curt liked the season finale about as much as I did. Curt’s one of those “trusted voices” I mention above and if he gives Season Two a clean bill of health, I’ll have to rethink my stance.