There’s a phrase we use often in our TV reviewing. It’s intentionally vague regarding its definition, but like art or pornography, you know it when you see it. Or maybe you never quite knew what we meant, in which case, we urge you to watch this episode, because it was the very definition of a show getting too “up its own ass.”
Now, when the over-exposed film effects and lens flares and artfully still shots started scrolling past our eyes in the first few minutes, we were all, “Oh, hey. They’re getting all “indie film” on us. That’s cool.” But by the end of the episode, what looked like the promise of an artsy, sensitive new take on this story instead felt like someone fooling around with a bunch of Instagram filters in order to dress up a very basic, and occasionally silly script. Sure, there was some beautiful imagery, but it got too repetitive very quickly, and frankly, it was all a bit too fanciful for this show and what they keep trying to say. Because – oh, did you not know? There is NO HOPE IN THIS WORLD OF ENDLESS DEATH AND DEPRAVITY.
Just in case you’d forgotten. And to help you remember, here’s a totally contextless truck full of writhing torsos. Please allow us to almost literally dump it on your heads. But don’t worry, here’s a shot of, we don’t know, a puddle of water, the sun – whatever. That’s subtlety, bitches.
Yeah, we’re being cranky and snide. Guilty. But the first half of this season was surprisingly excellent and managed to make both hardcore fans of the show and cranky critics like us euphorically happy. We don’t know what’s more disappointing about this return; that they offered up a boring, basic episode or that it was clearly a failed attempt to do something a bit creative. Probably the basic part. We can respect a well-intentioned brief, but failed reach for artistry. We can’t, after all this time, praise yet another episode where:
1) A character who should know better, because the show constantly shows us now how well-trained these people are, lets a walker sneak right up on him and tear a chunk of flesh out of him before reacting. Then he dies.
2) A new black man becomes central to the cast, so they kill the old black man off.
3) A character who makes very little sense, and who’d been written into a corner where his mistakes and fucked-up way of thinking had cost lives, gets unceremoniously dumped from the story because they don’t know what to do with him. In other words, Tyreese was a big, black Andrea.
4) The Governor appears.
5) Beth sings some godawful Christian folk-rock song.
This was such a rundown of bad Walking Dead story tropes that we kind of figured Lori was going to show up and fold some laundry while saying something incredibly self-centered and stupid. Might as well at this point. Especially since they hauled out the unbelievably cliched and maudlin “hallucinating dead people before you die” bit.
Ultimately, despite the attempts at artistry, the whole thing was boring, since the tension of whether Tyreese was going to live or die seemed to drain away almost immediately, leaving us with a 40 minute death scene of a character who’d been more than a little problematic, which meant, for us at least, we didn’t really care if he lived or not. Tyreese’s wholly unrealistic and demonstrably dangerous pacifism (which almost never read as anything but cowardice, rather than a position born out of strength of character or principles) simply wasn’t defensible in this world. Like the deaths of Andrea and Lori and probably Dale and Shane as well, we were stuck watching a fool die. It’s not a position that tends to inspire a lot of tears in the audience. And besides, at this point in the story, after so many characters dying because they’re stupid or poorly written, you really need to give the audience a reason to want to spend an entire episode on one character’s death throes. We’d expect an episode like this if Rick, Carol, Daryl or Michonne died, but to be honest, Tyreese never earned this kind of sendoff.
But hey, at least they managed to get the point across that this is a hopeless situation for everyone and that death can be a blessed release from a living hell. That’s fresh and new.
Fine. We’ll go have another cup of coffee. But are we that wrong?
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[Photo Credit: Gene Page AMC]