Monday, February 18, 2013

The Walking Dead Indulges Its Worst (And a Few of Its Best) Instincts

Season 3 Episode 10 - "Home"

The Walking Dead might be the most maddeningly inconsistent show in television history.

I've gone over the bizarre up-and-down relationship I've had with this show in the past, but just to recap: The pilot was really quite excellent, arguably the best TV pilot of 2010 (give or take a Boardwalk Empire). The rest of the first season ranged from ok to good until an unimpressive and anticlimactic season finale. The second season was, outside of its premiere and final two episodes, largely a dreadful bore that made me feel like a sucker for having ever said or thought anything good about the show. The episode where they pull the fat zombie from the well is a very real contender for a list of the worst hours of television I sat through in 2011. Like, after it was over, I was holding my head, going "This is flat-out fucking terrible. How could I have ever deemed this show good?"

Then season three somewhat shockingly reclaimed a level of no-qualifications-needed watchability, most notably in its exciting premiere and especially its blood-pumping, blood-gushing, tragic and awesome fourth hour, "Killer Within," an episode I went so far as designating one of my favorite of 2012.

And now, just six episodes later, I'm once again finding the bulk of the hour occupied by rolling my eyes, sighing, and checking my phone... until those final ten minutes, that is.

Spoilers haunt this post from beyond the grave.

First things first: This Ghost Lori arc is horrible. Straight-up, no debate, no salvation, objectively, how-the-fuck-could-this-have-escaped-the-writers-room horrible. Godawful. Pacing-shattering. Reality-shattering. Mood-shattering. Tone-shattering. An embarrassment unworthy of even Andrew Lincoln's modest talents. Incompetence writ television. A storytelling miscalculation of epic proportions. A viable competitor of Hershel's farm for title of the worst thing this show has ever done (and trust me, that's saying something).

The Walking Dead is a show thats entire aesthetic – pretty much everything that ever made it good – is rooted in its grim, grounded, realistic feel. It's what lets you put yourself in the shoes of its cast. It gives a vibe that this is how a zombie apocalypse might really be. (I'm not saying that's accurate, mind you, just that that's the vibe it gives, which, in fiction, is even more important.) A returning character coming back as a ghost, even if only in our protagonist's mind, just fucking brutally junks all of that, leaving behind bullshit.

And Michonne – what are they even trying to do with this character? I understand she's a favorite from the comics (which I've never read one panel of), with her dreads and her sword, but what could have led the show's writers/producers to believe that what is now ten episodes of almost nothing but silent scowling would make for an engaging character? For real. Michonne is furniture. And I have no doubt that actress Danai Gurira is capable of more, but they aren't giving her any more! Scowl scowl scowl, swing sword, chop zombie, now, two more episodes of scowling! Christ.

To give a little credit where it's due, I will grant that Glenn's current arc of masculine frustration at his inability to take vengeance against the Governor is substantially more compelling than what's up with Rick and Michonne. I'm not claiming Glenn is a rich and three-dimensional character worthy of great TV or anything, but unlike ghosts and hours spent scowling, his conflict actually does get to that grounded real-world relatability that characterizes The Walking Dead at its strongest.

However, in the final act of "Home," when the Governor shot up the prison and threw a truckload of zombies up in there, I'll admit that these characterization issues blinked out of existence for ten blissful minutes. (And, to a lesser extent, the same applies to Daryl and Merle's zombie kill spree, which had much of the same laughably broad characterization as the rest of the show in Merle's evil racist looting, but at least kept the plot chugging along.) I have no idea what the rest of the season may hold, but if it turns into a saga of zombie-centric guerilla warfare between the prison and Woodbury, I could live with that.

Yet, this being The Walking Dead, it's just as likely we're in for three episodes of Rick crying to Lori's ghost, coupled with Michonne scowling and Hershel being old. There's just never any way of knowing with this damn show.

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