The Walking Dead: “Save the Last One”

Posted on October 31, 2011

Hey, remember last week when we said something about the rehabilitation of Shane’s character? Turns out you can forget that one.

Actually, the argument could be made for a more nuanced view; that what Shane did wasn’t as monstrous as it appears to us sitting in the comfy real world. In a world where vets operate on kids in farmhouses, one could take the point of view that Shane only did what he had to to survive and to make sure Carl survived. That would be food for thought and would hammer home the point of this season so far – of this series so far – that these characters are living in a world without hope and that living long-term in such a world causes mothers to debate the finer points of letting their child bleed out and causes cops with hair-triggers to indulge in open murder to save lives. We suppose that’s what the writers were going for – and it’s a good direction to go in, dramatically speaking, but that Taxi Driver staging at the end, with Shane revealing his sculpted, gym-provided torso while he looks menacingly in the mirror (and wastes a TON of hot water) kind of defeated the purpose and presented him only as dangerous and villainous, possibly crazy.

This is of a piece with our complaints about the season so far; that the writing seems to come right up to the edge of an idea or point, before backing off or presenting it in a self-defeating way. Where exactly was Lori’s sudden defeatism coming from? We don’t mean “What’s HER problem?” because her problems are self-evident, but the last several episodes, going back to last season’s finale, centered around characters openly expressing an idea that suicide is the preferable option in this world and, well, Lori wasn’t one of those characters. Sure, the script referenced this turnaround, but it did little to explain it. There was no explanation because her collapse was merely a tool to give Rick yet another moment to give a speech and once again explain the Value of Hope. We don’t mind if Rick is going to be the avatar of hope in this world, but they’re going to have to find ways of expressing that idea without giving him another stump speech.

What bothered us most about Lori’s defeatism – aside from it coming from left field just to make Rick look better – is that it’s solidifying in our minds the idea that the writing here is doing a disservice to the female characters. Lori is somewhat likably inconsistent, flawed, and frustrating, but when you stand her next to Carol, who is weepy and useless, and Andrea, who’s irrationally angry and mostly useless, and when you bookend that with endless scenes of good-looking male characters doing routinely heroic things, the gender politics tend to leap out at you. There is no reason in this story for the women characters to be saddled with such stereotypically weak and submissive roles. The books aren’t like that. Quite the opposite, in fact.

And while we held our breath through all the scenes where you were supposed to hold your breath, we still found the pacing here problematic in the extreme. As of next episode, we will have spent 4 episodes in that freaking traffic jam. Yes, things have happened and the group got split up, but that’s a lot of time to ask the viewer to invest in a story that’s not paying anything off for them.

We mentioned this in last week’s review but it’s becoming more of a need with each passing week: they need to spend some time doing world-building here. Why does Herschel’s farm have electricity and hot running water? Sure, we could answer that question ourselves, but it really stands out when no characters are asking these basic questions. How is his farm safe? Why is Rick’s group so damn careless about, well, everything? “I’m just gonna wander off down this dark road for a bit. I’ll be fine.” “We’ll just take a leisurely stroll in these dark woods, chatting the whole time. We’ll be fine.” Everything we’ve seen these characters go through would indicate rather strongly that they wouldn’t act this way. No one would. We’re past the point where the dumb babysitter goes into the dark basement. We have to follow these people every week so it would be nice if they didn’t take us out of the story by constantly doing really stupid things.

We’re complaining more than we mean to. Like we said, there were plenty of tense and frightening moments this episode. The show still does that part very well. And we’re fine with the general direction things are going story-wise, with the group splintering, both figuratively and literally, and the question hanging over everything of whether or not there’s a point to continuing; all of that’s fine and keeps us engaged. But the viewer needs a little assurance that we’re not watching a bunch of losers wander around Georgia until they die. There was an overarching goal of reaching Ft. Benning, and while we knew the likelihood of them achieving that goal was slim, it was at least a goal. Now, they can’t even handle a traffic jam without two people getting seriously wounded and one child going missing. This serves to illustrate how screwed they really are, but we hope 4 episodes on this scenario are enough to spur the characters toward a new goal. Right now, there’s just a lot of standing around and talking about whether their current goal is working for them, long after the point when it became obvious it wasn’t.

We guess what we’re saying is, we love this show, we think it’s a lot of fun, but it’s frustrating week in and week out dealing with such reactive characters all the time. Part of the appeal of a show like Lost, which threw its characters into a similarly wild and hopeless situation, is that it established, over and over again, that we were dealing with smart, capable people. We get that this world is a hopeless one, and we’re not asking for square-jawed heroism here, but these people have been wandering around clueless for too long now. The characters need to show a little growth and the story needs to show a little movement.



[Photo Credit: AMC]

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