Emily Kinney in AMC’s “The Walking Dead“
We suppose we can chalk it up as one of those “Be careful what you wish for” things, because this was an episode that gave us what we most wanted out of the show, but centered it around a chronically uninteresting character, with the result being a flat episode that repeated the tropes from better ones. Let’s face it; Beth was on no one’s fan favorite list, which means any episode that tries to get you up to speed on her is going to wind up seeming a little boring or underwhelming. In fact, she almost feels like a holdover from the days when the show was stocked to the rafters with mostly useless and uninteresting characters. With the killing off of a lot of the dead weight, and the remaining characters getting all kinds of streamlined and strengthened, Beth now stands out all the more in her lameness.
To be fair, this was clearly Beth’s character rehabilitation episode. It’s just that it’s kind of boring what they rehabbed her into. There was a time when the show paid lip service to the idea that it was going to take all different types to make a workable community. There was a place for people like Beth or Dale or Herschel; the dreamy, moralistic types who remember the importance of singing songs or growing crops but aren’t much good in a fight with zombies. Now, in order for everyone to prove their worth, they all have to be stone-cold zombie-slayers and murderers. Did it make Beth more interesting to have her revealed as a heretofore-unknown crack shot, taking out walker after walker with an endless supply of bullets, each of which hit their mark square in the forehead? Not really; not to us. It just feels like warmed-up leftovers from the Carol arc. We already got the weak, weepy lady turned into Rambo-level badass. We’d have rather seen a Beth willing and able to use her wiles to work her way out of that situation, rather than planning on shivving people in the hallway or shooting her way out. Give us a Beth who knows she’s pretty; knows she comes off wide-eyed and sweetly naive, and knows how to use those qualities to set people against each other or do things for her. Beth as badass is boring, you’ll pardon the alliteration.
But like we said, this episode did give us that which we’ve always wanted most from The Walking Dead: world-building. Now, it wasn’t great world-building, that’s true. It strains credulity that there is yet another fucked-up community of morally compromised people in and around the Atlanta area, but then again, we suppose the show is working to make the point that more people survived the apocalypse than originally thought. It certainly came off that way with this crowd, since they appeared to have a community that functioned better than any we’ve seen so far. And we appreciated seeing a group of people who managed more than scrounging a subsistence existence out of dirt. We always had a problem with the way people in this world never seemed to be trying to do anything but wander around and not get killed, so this all felt like a direct answer to some of our oldest complaints.
And to be fair, before we get to even more complaining, this was a good attempt to show a different take on the zombie apocalypse and a different way of doing things. That it was yet another screwed-up collection of morally questionable types doesn’t bother us because this time around, instead of an examination of the darkness in men’s souls and the horrible things they’ll do out of fear and desperation (Woodbury/Terminus) it was a look at the banality of immorality; the ways in which people do bad things by convincing themselves they’re doing good things. There were no heads in fish tanks or bodies being flayed for meat. Just a handful of authoritarian types trying desperately to hold their patch of the world together long enough for someone else in authority to come and save them. That’s a more interesting take, to us.
It was not, however, a take that made much sense if you tried to think about it too much. Just how many resources are being wasted to keep so many lights on in that hospital? Near-empty hallways are lit and doctors with nothing to do get to sit in their lit offices listening to records. Everyone wears not only clean clothes, but cleaned and pressed clothes. There would have to be a fairly enormous community of people working to keep that kind of setup going. And since this is a community based on a form of indentured servitude, there would have to be a fairly enormous security apparatus to keep them all from escaping or getting out of line. We didn’t see any of this. In fact, we’re not sure we ever saw more than a half dozen people inside that hospital. Plus the whole “You have to pay off your debts and we’re going to count everything you eat” bit struck us as a goofy way to distinguish this community somehow. It reminded us of that odd group of losers Daryl ran into last season, who went around yelling “Claim!” all the time. We suppose there’s something being said about the ways in which people create their own moral codes and justifications in this world, but it just came across as a weak and underdeveloped idea.
But like we said, this was Beth’s rehab episode, which was needed if they weren’t going to kill her off. If we had to guess about the short term future of the show, we’d say they were laying the groundwork to show how hardcore and well trained all these characters are now so they can throw something really major at them in the near future. Once Carol can take out an entire community of well-armed and fortified cannibals singlehandedly and Beth is picking off walkers with an endless supply of bullets as if she was swatting flies, where the hell do you go with these characters?
Just what the hell is coming for them?
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Selena Gomez in Gucci at the 2014 LACMA Art + Film Gala