Monday, March 17, 2014

(Zombie) Apocalypse Now

Guys, I'm fired up.  I was going to go to bed early. I was going to write a review of the Veronica Mars movie, which I saw yesterday. I was going to read a chapter in that John Le Carre novel that I'm bound and determined to finish within the week.  And then, I watched The Walking Dead.  Now, I'm not certain if it was the extremely melodramatic fashion in which the story unfolded this evening (let's be honest, it's been more melo than dramatic for a while now) or whether it was the high sugar intake I had because I ate a small Reese's Peanut Butter Cup blizzard a little under two hours ago, but now, I had to write this post just to ask:

"Hey Walking Dead, what the heck is going on with you?"

Now part of that is as a result of the inevitable comparison I've rendered against you to True Detective.  Fairly or unfairly, last week, in your time slot, but on HBO, I was watching one of the most satisfying conclusions to a television series I've seen in a bit.  I feel like I used to feel that way about you.  You used to be like this great feisty, go-getter.  The fun one in the group that everyone wanted to hang out with.  You were the show that had the connection to get us the good wine coolers, or at least the bottle of Boone's Farm. You were the one who offered up your dad's beach house for the prom after party.  Now you're the whiny ex-girlfriend in the corner with the permanent scowl on her face who doesn't want anyone to be happy.  And you especially don't want us, the audience, to be happy.  I'd like to say, for me, what that means is that until things turn around, I'm grudge-watching you from now on.  You and me, well, we're not really in a fight, mostly because, as John Bender once so eloquently said "...it'd be a big mess and I don't care enough about you to bother" but you and I are definitely not on speaking terms at the moment.  Don't worry, though, you'll remain on my DVR mostly because I don't have the energy to go through all of the menus to cancel a series recording.

That being said, I read the hype over the last couple of days about how we'd all "HAVE TO WATCH THIS EPISODE".  Having done just that, I have to say "oh, really?  Why was this must-see television?"  Here's what happened, so SPOILERS AHEAD. STOP NOW IF YOU HAVEN'T YET AND ARE PLANNING ON WATCHING AND DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AND ESPECIALLY DON'T COMMENT THAT I SPOILED THE EPISODE FOR YOU WHEN I'VE GIVEN YOU A 3-LINE SPOILER ALERT.  (although you should still feel free to comment, if you want, I always love a good comment, just not about there being a spoiler).  Ok, so, again, here's what happened:

You remember that absolutely crazy-eyed Lizzie and her (borderline simpleton) sister Mika?  The two girls that Carol pseudo-adopted to replace Sophia?  Well it turns out, when you have really fucking crazy-eyes and talk like a serial killer, and you attempt to smother baby Judith in the woods and apparently no one around you is picking up on any of these "hey you're traveling with a crazy kid" neon signs, you end up killing your sister.  Yup, Lizzie killed Mika, because Lizzie believed that she was put on earth to turn people in to walkers.  She was beginning to sound a little like a cult leader there at the end, but the gist of it is that Lizzie was either born with a troubled mental state or she took that big bend at the end of the road when her parents died, but either way, the writing was on the wall with this one. And that's why I can't believe that there would be one single person who was watching this show who would be surprised that Carol, upon realizing the extreme danger that Lizzie now represents, literally took her out to pasture and put her down.

In the Talking Dead that followed this episode, they were acting as if Lizzie and Mika had been around forever, like we had formed some kind of bond with these characters, like I was supposed to be invested instead of thoroughly creeped out by Crazy Eyes.  Not since Andrea died have I been so relieved to have a story line end as I am to have this one done and over with.  Sure there will be ramifications for Carol (who was played superbly tonight by Melissa McBride, the one shining thing in the whole episode) and if that pays off, then this episode will have been worth it, but in yet, another lackluster season, despite the hype, this wasn't an episode I'd put at the top of my Walking Dead Must-Watch list.

In my opinion, here are the Top 5 things I'd like to see happen before another episode goes on that Must-See List, or even that needs to happen to make me feel like that Series Record on my DVR has been earned:

1. Re-Invest in the characters we actually care about.
I'm not sure how it happened, or even when it happened, but at some point, people stopped caring about the guy who was supposed to be your hero/anti-hero Rick.  I get it.  It's an ensemble show and everyone needs their story line, but at some point, please stop introducing new characters that do nothing, in order to just pad the season.  I'll speak for myself and say, at this point, I still only care about Michonne, Daryl, Rick, Carl, Maggie and Glen.  That's your core.  Oh and Baby Judith, too, I guess, but she won't get really interesting for another like 11 years, when she's finally able to follow in her big bro's shoes and NOT stay in the house.  The standout episode for this second half of the season has been Michonne's backstory.  FINALLY she was given a layer that allowed her to actually become a character and not just some samurai-sword-wielding scowler.  It was a nice change of pace.  It was an interesting idea, separating the group, but the way the factions fell out have done little for me.  Bringing Beth to the forefront...ughhh...why did this happen again?  Were you hoping the fans would start shipping her and Daryl?  Are you planning on releasing Beth's solo album "It Ain't Headless, It's My Father" after the season?  I realize that getting rid of Hershel & the other majors at the end of the first half of the season left a void, but the problem is, the characters who are now taking up screen time are people I'm not invested in, because they were never developed.  And they haven't been developed now, so much as they've been thrown to the wolves.  It's not fair to the actors to say I'm not caring about them, but seriously, I feel like I just found out last week that Bob's name was Bob.  Before, I was referring to him as D'Angelo, his character from The Wire.  Was his name even mentioned before?  You have some characters who I could be invested in: Bob, Sasha, Tyreese, and clearly Abraham is a walking neon sign who runs on charisma.  Give me more of those characters please. That way when you kill them off, you won't have to manipulate me into caring.

2. Pick a showrunner and stick with him/her
To be honest, I'm shocked that this show has continued to be so good when it's gone in a different direction every single year, because there's been a different showrunner every year.  Many shows could not have survived the whiplash inducing changes in focus.  However, the material is strong (who doesn't love playing the "what decision would you have made in the zombie apocalypse?" game the next day around the Monday morning breakroom) and a majority of the cast is very capable.  However, I think that a little stability wouldn't hurt anything.  I think a little steady guidance could help the storyline.  After all, this is a tv show, not the actual apocalypse, and if your network sister "The Killing" should have taught you anything, it's that, having an end point and a general layout of how to get there, could be a good thing.  Making it up as you go, is not such a good thing.



3. Day Trips Are Fun; Year Long Detours Aren't:
I don't know what anyone else thinks, but was there even a REASON they stayed at the Prison past season 3?  You want a new location for each season, that's one thing.  But it feels like the most interesting settings are bypassed in a day, and we linger at the dead ends.  To me, there was absolutely no reason to continue Season 4 at the Prison.  None.  The mid-season finale of this year should have been the season 3 finale.  I would probably be much more forgiving if things had fallen out like that, but they didn't.  I'm sure many would agree a standout from last season was the "Clear" episode, where Rick, Michonne and Carl go back to town and find Morgan.  Now, part of the reason that was great is because Lennie James is absolutely fantastic.  The other part is because in smaller groups, when the chemistry is right, the road trip is the perfect way to develop characters.  However, they joined with the group the very next week.  It's a question of pacing.  What should have been an opportunity for great character development (and it did start out very promising with several strong episodes) has now caused this season to feel stagnant.  We're all just waiting for the gang to get back together.  The anticipation of that is over-riding every scene of this current season.  I realize that a tv show is a marathon, but sometimes you have to think about when you want to sprint, and it can't always be at the very end.  Sometimes you have to pass that 75-year-old guy who you can't even believe is still even running this race, but who's lapped you like 3 times, even if you just pass him once.

4. Enough with the Pretending
At this point we're four tv seasons (which roughly translates to like, what 2 real-world years) into the Zombie Apocalypse.  Things are crappy, they're horrible, and after everything we've witnessed, can we please make the characters less stupid about they're surroundings?!?!  Perhaps I'm a cold-hearted snake, as Paula Abdul would say, but I don't care.  At the end of the mid-season, Rick proclaimed "don't look back". And yet, in pretty much every episode since the return, every character has yearned for the good old days, thinking they could find a home, clear the walkers out and that everything would be ok.  DUH IT'S NOT OK.  As soon as Mika turned to Tyreese and said "we should live here" I rolled my eyes and knew she was a goner.  Sorry everyone, but long-term hope is dead.  The only hope that should be had now is the one of daily survival.  I'm getting really tired of people pretending that if they just work hard enough, the world will go back to what it was, or people will change, or whatever.  It's time to stop allowing the characters to make dumb decisions in the name of hope.  It's also time to stop forcing the audience to confront their own morality when faced with a fictional situation.  I won't apologize for saying that Carol absolutely did the right thing by taking Lizzie out.  And she did the right thing at the prison by killing the infected too.  If Walkers were real, I'd make that same choice.  To make other characters confront her like she just mutilated puppies in the real world is ridiculous.  Stop making excuses for wanting to take things dark.  The threat zombies eating my brains and feasting on my still living flesh, much like another great Love Story, means Never Having To Say You're Sorry.

5. Make Rick a Goddamn Hero again
I'm tired of mopey Rick.  I'm tired of beaten Rick.  I'm tired of give-up Rick.  If Rick is going to take on that super weird Bale Batman voice (seriously what's with Brits feeling like they can overcompensate for an American accent by making it growly) at least make him an honest-to-goodness hero again.  I forgave the "I'm going to talk on the phone to by dead wife because I can call the afterlife collect" phase, because it made sense.  He was grieving.  But after he finally realizes Judith is alive, there better be a distinct change in Rick's demeanor.  He better take up with his VP Daryl and at least give Abraham a run for his charisma cash.
Honestly, a highlight of this season for me was when Rick finally got a new shirt.  A NEW SHIRT was the highlight of Rick's arc so far.  Not good enough.  I want him to take charge when it's appropriate. I understood when he hid under the bed, I did.  But it was the look on his face as he was doing it that bothered me.  It wasn't a look of "Ok, I got this, even if he sees me, I'll work this out somehow". It was a look of "oops I crapped my pants".  I'd like to see some sort of spark in him again.


Well, I guess that's it.  It's now officially past my bedtime and I've written an awful lot about a show that I'm supposedly in a fight with, so essentially, that means the zombies have won...again.  Feel free to go back to your regularly-scheduled programming.

No comments: