‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Bloodletting’: I’m just a country doctor…

A review of tonight’s “The Walking Dead” coming up just as soon as I take your idiocy under advisement for later…

“Completely in over your head, aren’t you?” -Lori
“Ma’am, aren’t we all?” -Hershel

For season 2, it appears that “The Walking Dead” has adopted a Keep It Simple, Stupid philosophy, one that’s very much on effective display in “Bloodletting.” (Directed, as part of the premiere was, by Ernest Dickerson, and written by new showrunner Glen Mazzara.) This is an episode in which very little happens in terms of major plot movement – though it does introduce a potentially significant new setting and group of characters – and yet it’s very gripping drama.

Essentially, the entire hour is devoted to saving Carl from the errant bullet he took in the chest at the end of the season premiere. Rick races him to the farm of kindly ol’ veterinarian Hershel, Hershel attempts some meatball surgery, his daughter goes to fetch Lori, and Shane and accidental shooter Otis try to outmaneuver a zombie horde to get some necessary medical supplies. Basic stuff, but the performances are strong – particularly Andrew Lincoln’s. We’ve seen parents fret over ill or dying children so many times before, but Lincoln’s grief and despair and plain fatigue are so vividly-etched that it doesn’t feel like a cliche, but like the latest waking nightmare poor Rick has suffered since he sat up in that hospital bed. Every time he allows himself a shred of hope that even if things aren’t going to get better, they can’t possibly get worse, something like his son being shot in front of his eyes happens. Rick endures, but at a cost, and Lincoln shows that cost so well each week of the show, and especially these first two weeks of the new season.

Hershel is played by veteran character actor Scott Wilson (to me, he’ll always be one of the killers from “In Cold Blood,” but is probably best known these days as Catherine’s father on “CSI”), who has kind of grown up to be the new Karl Malden, and who projects the requisite amount of decency and optimism the role requires. We don’t know what he’s been through compared to what Rick and his little band have seen, but somehow he’s able to believe in a future without seeming like a toothless idiot.

(The new group also features familiar character Pruitt Taylor Vince as Otis. I’ve been happy to see Vince in anything going back to his turn as Paul Newman’s simple sidekick in the great “Nobody’s Fool.”)

The scenes away from the farm keep some of this season’s conflicts simmering, as we see that Andrea’s not forgiving Dale anytime soon, while a feverish T-Dog beings to realize that being the only black guy in a group of white Southern zombie dodgers (much less the only black guy in a horror story) might be a disadvantage. (Those scenes also allow Daryl to continue to be humorously awesome, as when he tells the injured zombie to shut up right before matter-of-factly shooting it in the head.)

But the focus is on saving Carl, and what that means for Rick and Lori. We’ve been told before, and we see here in the opening flashback, that their marriage wasn’t on the firmest of ground even before Rick got shot and the zombies took over. There’s a sense that their horrible circumstances have finally given them the closeness they didn’t have in more peaceful times, but whether Carl lives or dies, you have to think there’s going to be a breaking point for these two, especially now that Shane is hanging around and has developed a serious attitude adjustment.

Of course, that would first require Shane and Otis to get away from the zombies at the high school, and all I could think watching that closing sequence is that I’m with Rick and not Hershel on the future: everyone still living is so, so screwed. You may eke out a desperate, meager existence for a while, but there’s always going to be another catastrophe coming, and the zombie totals are going to go up, not down.

Tough life. Tough show. Really good through two weeks.

Before we go to the comments, let me remind you once again about the no spoilers rules for this blog, and specifically how it relates to a show like this adapted from a popular source material:

1)No Spoilers.

2)This includes any discussion of the previews for the next episode.

3)This includes any discussion of storylines from the comic that haven’t happened yet in the timeline of the TV show. (And, yes, the show has and will continue to deviate from the comic in some ways, but for the sake of those instances where they’re going to be the same, I don’t want people talking about something from issue 50 when we’re watching episode 11.) 

4)This includes anything you’ve seen or read elsewhere about anything that has not happened within the context of the episodes that have already aired.

Got that? Good. So what did everybody else think?