What an oddly tedious little episode. Granted, with a title like “Death March,” we had no reason to expect it would be a romp, and it’s difficult for writers to depict worn-out, shell-shocked people in a manner that’s going to be exciting or entertaining, but still. Something about this episode felt off to us and it’s the first time this season that we ended the hour feeling disappointed.
We respect the creators for going so far in depicting the exhaustion and hopelessness of the 2nd Mass. As post-apoc TV shows go, we think this is one of the better ones at depicting the psychological aspects of life in this world (as opposed to The Walking Dead, where laundry folding seems to cover half the cast’s activities). There was a lovely brief moment between Anne and Tom that illustrated just how exhausted they both are and just how much they rely on each other to keep them standing and pointed in the right direction. With the sudden talk of what to do with the harnessed children after the war is over (a topic that seems outrageously premature, given the current status quo), we briefly flashed on the idea of all these people surviving the war and realized that Tom and Anne would probably never remain together in peacetime. There’s no way they can sustain that relationship in a world where they don’t need to rely on each other so much; a classic wartime romance.
But we’re getting far ahead of ourselves, just as the characters are when they talk about the post-war world. Right now, they’re all in the thick of it and we have to credit the show for another smart and nuanced depiction: that of refugees on the run. It’s a dreary life and that ride through the night was tense and awful for everyone involved.
Maybe that’s why we were a bit underwhelmed. It felt like the writers needed to give the characters something to do or talk about because 42 minutes of night driving is inherently uninteresting. Fine. But they either rehashed existing points – Lourdes is grief-stricken and acting out, Tom is worried about Ben, Hal and whatsherface are flirting badly – or they injected plot points that came out of left field. Cute bearded guy is actually a highly trained soldier with PTSD, Whatserface has a darker past than Hal ever realized. Both of these plotlines inspired nothing more than “So what?” in us. There are plenty of former soldiers in the Second Mass. There are also plenty of ignored backstories in this new reality. We found Hal’s reaction to whatsherface’s story to be both irritating in the extreme and nonsensical, given everything else going on. Why is he so freaked out that she was in prison or had a child? He’s been riding around with all kind of criminals for months now, effectively ignoring their pasts. It would be like Tom getting jealous of Anne’s dead husband. The whole point to the story so far is that these people have said goodbye to their former lives and live as a unit of freedom fighters now. Hal’s reaction was a total dick move on his part and really doesn’t make sense in the context of the show.
And then there was the introduction of yet another lightly-harnessed kid and what to do with her. Haven’t we established by now that there’s practically nothing they can do for the harnessed and that picking her up and making her part of their entourage is still an incredibly bad idea, given the likelihood of her attempting to leave the group? Hasn’t every harnessed or formerly harnessed character made it perfectly clear that they can’t be trusted and won’t stay with the group? It felt like sloppy writing to us. Outside of sentimentalism, there was no need to pick her up and bring her with them and the show has made it clear over and over again that all the sentimentalism in these people has been slowly beaten out of them.
And then there was that weird last-minute twist. We admit, we felt pretty dejected when they got to Charleston and found out it was a smoking ruin. We were really looking forward to seeing a massive shift in the setting and goals for these characters. But that was one thing about the writing that worked. We felt the disappointment the characters were feeling; maybe not as strongly, but we were right there with them as they realized just how bad things were. Then Weaver gives a pretty good rousing-the-troops speech and we’re ready to see what the Second Mass is going to do now, when suddenly — just kidding! Charleston is real and let’s go see it! The end. Really, really strange pacing there.
We’re all in on seeing what happens next but for the most part, we could have skipped this hour, with its strange fits and starts, as well as the characters (quite uncharacteristically) acting a little stupid with each other. Oh well. The show’s been hitting on all cylinders up till now. We’ll chalk this up to a momentary lapse as the story shifts to a new setting.