The Walking Dead: Self Help

Posted on November 10, 2014

Steven Yeun in AMC’s “The Walking Dead”

 

It’s possible that after all this time complaining about the overwhelming bleakness of this show, we’ve finally succumbed to it. Because when the bus crashed? Just as Tom tried to finish the sentence “Geez, he’s driving awfully fa–?” We burst out laughing. We might have felt bad about that but when it later burst into flames, the script was pretty clearly playing it as black comedy, so we felt like we had permission to laugh.

There’s a lightness to this season that can’t be denied; just as we can’t deny that we’re very pleased to see it, since it was exactly what we’ve always felt the show needed. What makes this new perspective work is the way in which it doesn’t deny the darkness and hopelessness of the world these characters live in, but it acknowledges that people are complicated and can laugh or bond or fuck or shrug the worst sorts of things off, even as the world has collapsed all around them. In other words, friends and lovers, rapists and murderers can co-exist in this world, just as they co-exist in the real world. It even managed an in-script explanation as to why things aren’t so wrist-slitting depressing as they once were. As Abraham put it, the only ones left now are the strong ones. That’s probably the most meta the show’s ever gotten, because the same could be said for the cast of characters. Gone are the stupid, crazy and weak ones, leaving behind people we can actually care about; who have survived long enough as a group that they start looking more and more like a family.

Maybe this is why it doesn’t seem to bother us that the group has been fractured and the storylines shoot off in a bunch of direct directions. After last season’s Quest for Terminus, we didn’t think we’d want to see something like this happen to the group again so soon. But it makes a lot of narrative sense. It’s as large a group of main characters as the show’s ever had and it’s easier to give them all storylines if you break them up so they’re not all fighting for screen time in the same episode. Sure, it means we get an entire hour devoted to Beth, which was easily the low point of the season so far, and we have to wait a maddeningly long time to find out certain things, such as who’s coming out of the woods with Daryl, but it’s fun to see new character dynamics form and play out, which is something this show has been lacking since the very beginning.

It’s also encouraging to us that the show is taking a different approach to dealing with the darkness and horror of the world. We get just enough information about Abraham’s back story to tell us most of what we need to know about him, and about his relationship with Eugene, but it’s rendered in the broadest of strokes; a minimalist autobiography. It’s as if the show is saying, “Yeah, it all sucks, and everyone you see has been through some major shit. Here’s this guy’s story, FYI.” In other words, it’s acknowledging the darkness without wallowing in it. That makes for a much, much more watchable show.

As for what went down this episode… well, not much did, except for a bus crash and the fun use of a firehose. It was a character study told in as breezy a manner as possible, moving things along at a brisk clip and keeping the interest high throughout. Abraham is maniacally focused on his mission because he failed the last group of people (wife and kids?) he was protecting and he’s a man who needs to feel like he’s doing something. To slow down or reflect for too long drives him crazy. Eugene is a too-smart-for-his-own-good (but not smart enough) weakling who used the only tool at his disposal in order to survive. Rosita is … fucking Abraham. Well, okay. There’s still a problem with defining the women characters on the show, but still. The point is, the episode was an in-depth bunch of portraits for characters who had barely been defined up until now. Maggie even managed to mention Beth out loud, which was something of a wonder. And it allowed the creation of a group dynamic where one hadn’t existed before. It seems that Glenn is destined to be the reasonable Number Two to a rage-blinded dictatorial jackass no matter what group he’s in. But it was nice to see the bonding, and the ways in which various people reached out to Eugene, despite his, shall we say, challenging nature. It served the dual purpose of providing some nice character moments while at the same time setting up the one major plot development to come out of the episode.

It was a huge shock that Eugene came out of the closet (so to speak) on his lie so early on. In fact, the lie itself wasn’t a shock at all, and we would bet that the creators knew this and moved the reveal to a totally unexpected time in the story to compensate for it. Another testament to the risk-taking, rug-pulling nature of the scripts this season and how well they’re working. With the show playing against the audiences expectations time and again, it leaves us with a hugely welcome feeling of never really knowing which way the story’s going. It’s kind of amazing they’ve pulled of such a turnaround in style and point of view this far into the show’s run. All we know is, we’re in it for the rest of the season, and we had assumed before it started that we’d barely be watching it at all this year.

 

[Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC]

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