A review of tonight’s “The Walking Dead” coming up just as soon as I go get some flowers and candy for my prisoner…
“I’m sure we’ve all lost enough people, done things we wish we didn’t have to, but it’s like that now. You know that!” -Rick
Often when I prepare to write a “Walking Dead” review, I begin to feel like a 14-year-old with ADD, barking, “I want more zombies! More action! Less time on boring things like dialogue and characterization!”
Of course, I’ve got no problem with shows that take things slowly. On AMC alone, you’ve got “Breaking Bad,” which can be edited into a kick-ass highlight reel, but which on an episode-by-episode basis tends to move at an incredibly measured pace; and you’ve got “Mad Men,” which has made slowness and silence into a virtue. And I still think the best episode of “The Walking Dead” was the pilot, which had a lot of zombies but also moved slowly and quietly throughout.
My issue is more that I think on a weekly basis, Team “Walking Dead” handles the action and suspense far more effectively than anything else, a trend emphasized by an episode like “Triggerfinger.” From the quick teaser with the walker forcing its way through the windshield of Lori’s wrecked car until the moment where a desperate Rick yanks the kid’s leg free from the wrought iron fence, it’s tense and exciting and pretty terrific all around. And then from the moment we get back to the farm and everyone starts talking about their situation, the air gradually flows out of the episode, up until a potentially interesting final scene.
I love dramas that take the time to focus on character at the expense of plot. I just don’t think “The Walking Dead” is all that good at it right now, and I’m not sure what can be done about it.
On the one hand, you have a number of characters we’re being asked to care about in some way that the show hasn’t really put in the time on. I still feel like I barely know who Carol is(*) and therefore have trouble engaging when she stands there and lets Daryl unload on her. And though the show’s done okay by Herschel and Maggie, the rest of the farm folk are such non-entities that I was startled when we started hearing names for some of them this week. (For all I know, names have come up in the past, but they’re such wallpaper that I sat there asking, “Wait, who’s Beth? What are we talking about?”)
(*) In hindsight, the decision to not only have her stay on the sidelines of the search for Sophia, but to have no one bring it up until Daryl does it here, was a large mistake. There was a good, revealing scene to be done during that arc where Carol explains her reasons for cowering in Dale’s camper – even if it was just a sense of uselessness she felt from years of being married to an abusive bully – but instead she suffered in silence, barely relevant to anything and seeming like an uninterested mom for long stretches.
On the other, you have the characters the show has devoted a lot of time to, particularly the Rick/Lori/Shane triangle, and I don’t know that I feel more invested in them than I do the background players. If anything, with someone like T-Dog I can at least hold out hope that he’ll turn out to be interesting whenever the writers decide to give him his own storyline, just as Daryl turned out well earlier this season. I think Rick works well as a reluctant hero – the guy who keeps trying to live by the rules of pre-apocalyptic society (hence his naive-bordering-on-idiotic decision to alert Dave and Tony’s buddies to their presence so he can attempt to reason with them) even though the world doesn’t work that way anymore – but Shane too often comes across like a swaggering cartoon character, even though he should in theory be the most complex character of them all.(**)
(**) I think, for instance, that Andrea has a point when she says they were safer under Shane’s leadership, as he kept a much larger group alive for a longer period of time. Her comment to him about his presentation almost applies to the show; this same character, taking these same actions, but toned down in screen persona, comes across as far more morally grey than Jon Bernthal and company have made him seem.
And I do not, to be frank, find Lori to be worth the fuss – and didn’t even before her dumb move last week to drive into town on her own without telling anyone. Daryl jokingly called her “Olive Oyl” last week, and she reminds me of an old Franklyn Ajaye stand-up routine I saw as a kid where Bluto wonders why he and Popeye spend so much time fighting over her, and Popeye notes, “She’s the only chick in the cartoon.” That theory doesn’t quite apply to “The Walking Dead” – Shane has, after all, slept with Andrea – but the show often acts like Lori is the only one who matters, the one who’s special in some way, and I’m not seeing it. The writing has acknowledged that Rick and Lori’s marriage wasn’t perfect pre-apocalypse, and there’s a sense that their bond right now is more out of survival and concern for Carl than True Love, but I really wish we could disconnect the philosophical rift between Rick and Shane from their fighting over the same dull, self-righteous, kinda stupid woman.
That said, I saw some potential in the final scene, with Lori going Lady Macbeth on Rick and whispering dark thoughts about Shane into his ear. If that’s where all this is heading – the realization that while Rick has made many mistakes, and while Shane has murdered and attempted rape and other crimes, they’ve been doing these things in the name of someone far colder and more ruthless than they could imagine – than that could be interesting.
But we’re 15 episodes into the series now. That’s more than a full cable season, the point at which we should know and care enough about the main characters that time spent on letting them talk and argue should be as compelling as the moments when the walkers are coming and the guns have come out. And the people are still lagging badly behind the brief bursts of plot.
What did everybody else think?