Tuesday, November 29, 2011

You have The Walking Dead to thank for this

Yes, the Walking Dead mid-season finale (Seasonette?) has driven to blog again. To be honest, there's a pantload of good TV happening right now, I'm just lazy and have been putting most of my TV thoughts on Facebook. However, since "spoiling plots" is the new "punching babies", I figured I'd toss some thoughts in here. In fact, I'm rambling this long just to keep any spoilers from showing up in the little preview that pops up when I link this to my Facebook. This should be long enough...

Okay, so WTF SOPHIA!!!

Ahh, out of my system. Okay, so Season 2.1 of The Walking Dead is in the books, and oh how the opinions are flowing. First off, this season was so slow, the title should be changed to the Strolling Dead (zing!). Look, I like character development as much as the next guy, but that can be done through actions, not just through casual conversation in the middle of the apocolypse. it started with the 90 minute premiere, which could have been a nice tight hour long story, but instead got padded out with nowhere to go because it still had to have Carl getting shot as the cliifhanger. In fact, every episode has been starting to feel like a lot of padding, and then a big reveal at the end to make us forget about how often we checked our Twitter feeds during an extended monologue (well, with this cast, monodrawl). Someone tell Shane that he's not Gambit, please?

TWD has been doing some good things this season, I'm not here to crap all over what is a really good show...at times. Season one was an amazing piece of storytelling, and Season two has had plenty of moments. More importantly, it's success will let other comic stories have a chance to break into TV and get recognition for the merits of the stories being told by their creators. However, just because it's the trailblazer, doesn't mean it gets a free pass. If the audience goes away, then the genre is in trouble. I want this show to succeed very badly. I criticize because I love.

The real problem I've had with this season has been the pacing. The last seven episodes could have been done as a tight, riveting four episodes (five max) and really kept people on the edge of their seats. Now, I don't know if this is a casualty of the split season, although I can see it being a factor. I can see where filming half a season all in one location could be cost-effective. Just like the premiere looked to be "Let's start with the CDC blowing up, end with Carl getting shot, and then we have 80 more minutes to kill", this season looked like "Okay, we're going to have Sophia get lost, have her turn up as a zombie at the end, and now we've got 6.8 episodes worth of stuff to have happen". Now, I've read the comics, but it was a marathon weekend of reading while stuck in bed sick, so I'm not going to be able to quote chapter and verse. However, Sophia doesn't die/become a zombie in the comics. Which is awesome that they've decided to split the story off from the comics. They are two different mediums with different demands on a creative staff, so being able to follow the comics as a framework, but deviate when necessary, will work out great. Except for nerds. You know who you are...and Ogre is coming for you. That was a great "gotcha" moment in a show that lives and dies by them. It also set up a great character moment (but I'll get to that later). However, that mile marker was set waaaaaaay too far ahead in the episode list. There just wasn't enough meat in this story. It wasn't all bad though, and I'll go ahead and split those up now.

The good: Shane's slow burn into Dark Shane. I'm trying to think of a good parallel for Shane by this point in the story. Season one, he was this sad sack, pining for Lori (WHY DUDE? SERIOUSLY?) and trying to make things up to a gloriously unaware Rick. Season two, we get the slow descent into...well, not madness. Not evil. This is a new world (like Dale said...ugh, later for you Dale), and one of the themes in TWD is how do we maintain what makes us civilized in a world past civilization. Rule of law is pretty much over, except the bubble of it that exists in a radius from Rick's sheriff hat. Survival is a primal instinct, and although modern Man is able to hold that back in favor of manners and genteel behavior, that survival instinct is still bubbling away in the lizard portion of our brains, and Shane's is closer to the surface than anyone else (except Daryl...more on him soon). Shane is the one with the clearest picture of what Zombie Earth is all about, and that's staying alive. As long as Walkers are still around, normal rules don't apply. We see that when Shane and Otis make a medical supply run to help save Carl. In a buddy cop movie, Shane and Otis cover each other, lay their lives on the line for each other, and both manage to make it back to the farm. In Shane's world, Otis is a means to an end, the end of Shane's (and Carl's) survival. Granted, there's also a little Biblical vengeance, as Shane balances the books for Otis' shooting of Carl. But I believe that even had Otis not shot Carl, Shane would still have sacrificed Otis in a heartbeat in order to save his own life. It's no accident that Rick and Shane are cops; the police maintain order in society, and now society has become chaos. Rick is holding onto his old life, and Shane is embracing the chaos (which would be a badass name for a band).

Daryl: Congratulations TWD, you found yourself a Sawyer. Man, remember when Daryl was a racist, and his brother was also a racist, and Rick left his brother to die? Remember that? Cause apparently Daryl doesn't. Don't get me wrong, current Daryl is just an absolute joy to have on my tv screen. But Season 1 Daryl is an intriguing character who has so many conflicts and can't be trusted. Season 1 Daryl is holding on to old prejudices for no good reason other than cause he was raised that way (and because Merle haaaaaaaaaates the blacks). Season 2 Daryl saved T-Dogg without even thinking about how racist he used to be in Season 1. Season 2 Daryl gives T-Dogg his brother's (you know, the racist) stash of antibiotics without even a token mention of "Boy, my brother, you know, the racist, sure would be upset at me giving his drugs to a black guy, because of how racist he was". I'm not saying that I miss how many racists used to be on tv, but there are some good stories you can tell about how old prejudices (like old morals, etc) just kind of disappear in the new Zombie world. Daryl is still a great character, and I'm digging the hell out of just about any scene he's in (maybe the exception of some of the bits where he hallucinates Merle), I just wish they'd stuck to their guns a little in keeping his character consistent and letting him naturally evolve as a person, rather than just hope that a year long hiatus would make us all forget a few of his less marketable character traits.

Glenn and Maggie: Loves me some Glenn. Loves me some Maggie. Their scenes together have been great, and didn't feel forced at all. The two trips to the pharmacy (first to schtupp, second to almost have Maggie killed by a Walker) were fun scenes on their own that also advanced a lot of story. Maggie giving Glenn some backbone (Walker-bait is such a great nickname), and Glenn inadvertently showing Maggie that Walkers are dangerous. Glenn finding the barn. The look that Maggie gives Glenn during the final scene at the barn. Great moments, and I look forward to many more seasons of Glenn and Maggie.

The bad: Dale. Sigh. I love Dale and I want to continue loving Dale. And honestly, Dale's been great most of the season. But the last two episodes...man, what happened? There's something called "the dumb ball", where a tv character will have to do or say something incredibly dumb and/or out of character simply to advance that week's plot. It's not great writing, and I'm sure it may be unavoidable in some cases. But man, Dale goes from a fairly even keeled guy, to making two incredibly bonehead moves. I'll forgive his first confrontation with Shane. He did witness Shane pointing a gun at Rick's head all the way back in Season 1. And then there was Otis, although I'm hard pressed to find anything Shane said or did to make anyone actually suspicious of him and his version of how events transpired that night. Now, Dale could be jealous of the attention Andrea has been giving to Shane, but that's not really been established (and if it has, I missed it), that's a dead end. Finally, there seems to be no rational reason for why Dale would take the guns and hide them in the swamp. That was just ridiculous without a rationale from the character. It just looked like an excuse to get Shane and Dale far enough away from everyone else and show that...what, that Dale won't kill Shane? That Shane is crazy? That Dale now knows Shane is crazy? Will Dale tell Rick? Sighhhhh. Dale, you used to be cool. Sadly, if we ever do get an explanation, it'll probably be in the longest, most expositionallyist way possible.

Lori: Man, I am just getting tired of Lori. Just in general, really. Here's Lori this season: "I am sad that Carl is spending four episodes deciding whether to die or not. Now I am sad because I have baby up in me". And there you go. Give her something to do, and to do without the histronics. The show grinds to a halt when Lori gives an impassioned speech or a tearful speech, or a bitchy speech. Do better.

Sophia: Specifically, the MacGuffin that weighed down this season and kept it from really feeling like Season 1 did. There's no urgency. There's no emotional attachment for the audience. This isn't someone we like, this is just an artificial reason to stop down the travel so we can spend all Seasonette in one location. We got terrible scenes with Carol, we got several variations on a very tired "she's probably dead, we should move on/no she's alive, we have to find her" argument over and over again, and we got anchored to Herschel's farm for a BAD REASON. Would it have been so hard for them to build a season on "This farm sure looks like a great place to stay and be safe"? Shane can still want to move on by himself, Daryl can still find a reason to go all Bear Grylls in the woods, and Rick can still have long fruitless conversations with Herschel about sticking around and surviving. Seven episodes of "Hey, you find Sophia yet?" just exhausted the audience's store of caring for a minor character who many couldn't even pick out of a lineup. It was a tortured setup that existed only for one (admittedly kickass) scene at the end, which then became somewhat anticlimactic because it had been so long since we'd seen her. Hell, not like I could remember what she was wearing or anything, and all people look alike once they're undead. If it wasn't for the terrible haircut (must be genetic), I wouldn't have known it was her...well, except for how obvious it was that they'd have to address Sophia before the end of the finale. It was a shaggy dog joke, not gripping suspense.

I will say, though, that the final scene was kickass, mostly in the sense of "finally, shit's going to happen". Shane finally goes all Wolverine, Herschel all sad, Rick unable to do anything because he's holding a Walker, Andrea stepping right next to Shane to start shooting, Carl's reaction, all of it really worked out as a finale. And Rick stepping up to do the dirty work with Sophia was a great moment; the reinforcement that no matter how primal Shane has become, Rick is still the Man In Charge. Although, nitpicking, I would have had Carl make the kill shot. But there's still time for Carl...oh yes.

So now we've got our winter break, and some questions to answer when next we meet in February. What will Herschel's reaction be? Will Dale spill the beans about Shane? Does T-Dogg get paid the same as the rest of the cast? And where the hell is Michonne already?