At one point during the episode last night, T turned to Lo and said, in regards to the current setting and storylines, “This has been the best development in the entire show’s run.” It’s amazing how a semi-radical change of setting not only forces you as the viewer to question the entire world these characters live in but also to question just who the hell these people are that we’ve been rooting for for so long. To be fair, it’s not just the change of venue that makes this all work so well. It’s the fact that the writing has taken a big leap forward in complexity, even if it sometimes fails tremendously at nuance.
The episode started off as an effectively made argument on both sides of the question facing our … um, “heroes.” Namely, whether to trust the Alexandrians and learn to surrender a bit to the idea of rebuilding a civilization and reclaiming some semblance of a life. Both sides were represented equally and there was a wonderful sense of subtlety to the way it was being handled. On the one hand, the Alexandrians really are as soft as Carol said they were and it seems pretty obvious that if a Governor type showed up on their doorstep, none of them would be able to mount any sort of opposition. Their energy is spent on cocktail parties and artisanal prosciutto instead, and it’s not hard to understand why Sasha or Carol or Rick might find their denial revolting or why.
On the other hand, Rick, knowing that the world outside those gates causes sons to mercy-kill their mothers and causes fathers to rip men’s throats out with their teeth in order to save their son from gang rape, is planning on essentially blowing this community up if he doesn’t get his way. That is to say, given his history and what’s at stake for him (what with two children to raise), his plans to overthrow Alexandria instead of submitting to it don’t necessarily make the most sense.
On the other, other hand (shut up), it was hard not to see the Alexandrians as creepy pushers who have a knack for granting wishes in order to get what they want. Daryl gets an entire motorcycle workshop, some buddies who understand being outsiders and don’t ask anything of him he’s not willing to give, and a new job that allows him to ride the open road, outside the gates. Rick gets a pretty, maternal woman to all but throw herself at him (seemingly with the begrudging blessing of her husband) and hold his baby for him while he struts around town in a uniform. Carl gets a more or less “normal” teenage life. Michonne gets to literally (and this would be where subtlety and nuance started taking flight) hang up her sword. There’s something extremely disconcerting about a community that not only grants you wishes you didn’t know you had, but shoves them at you, all while eagerly telling you how welcome you are.
But even if you buy Deanna’s (disconcertingly well-made) argument about building civilization, it’s pretty clear that people of Alexandria are not doing anything at all to make that happen. They’re merely desperately holding on to a dream version of the previous civilization; one that clearly isn’t going to be able to sustain itself in the current manner. It’s one huge town of denial. On that level, we’re in agreement with Rick. Once the fuel for the generators runs out and all the manufactured food products and medicines go bad, how are these people going to adapt to subsistence living? There’s no farming or training of people for new jobs. Everyone’s carrying on as if nothing has happened and nothing is going to happen.
There’s just enough doubt inserted into the characters and the scenario to make us unsure as to who’s got the right idea here and whether or not people have their hearts in the right place. That first half hour was electrifying.
But by the midpoint, the episode took a very heavy-handed left turn, to mix our metaphors, which is a great way for us to segue into this next part, because the show suddenly became all about extremely obvious metaphors or anvil-heavy points being made that wiped out any previous sense of subtlety. The second Rick opened his dumb mouth and said (to Daryl’s seeming consternation), “They’re lucky they have us,” in the middle of a conversation about violently overthrowing their community, it became obvious that at least some of our “heroes” have gone a bit around the bend and can’t quite be trusted to do the right (as in morally right) thing. Then came Carol’s scene, which cleverly played on her history and made us question who we were looking at. Sure, there was a part of us that cheered her on for being so damn badass, but we quickly realized we were watching someone who shot living children in the head seriously threaten to kill a child. Then we realized that there’s no reasonable way of expecting anyone to have moved on from that. She’s permanently damaged and probably shouldn’t be around other people. Sure, the Happy Homemaker schtick is fun to watch, but by the end of that scene, we realized we were cheering on a pure sociopath.
“The longer they’re out here, the more they become who they really are.” Daryl says this to Aaron about “Buttons,” the semi-wild horse. It was so heavy-handed a statement that we found ourselves wishing one of the characters would laugh and make a comment about how on-the-nose it is. And if that wasn’t obvious enough, the writers helpfully added a nonsensical death for the horse because, dammit, it just wanted to run and they tried to domesticate it. It was far too wild and free to submit to Aaron’s rope of civilization. JUST LIKE DARYL, YOU GUYS.
Also, slow-moving, half-rotted walkers can simply pull a horse to the ground and rip him open. Despite this, they explode like ripe melons when you hit them. Also-also: mere minutes after a conversation pointing out how well-developed Daryl’s hearing is when it comes to walkers, Daryl and Aaron get surprised by one of those walkers who don’t make any sounds until they grab you. We shouldn’t let this kind of stuff bother us after all this time, but sometimes, you just gotta throw your hands up.
But for ridiculous heavy-handedness, you just can’t beat a guy kissing another man’s wife and then literally getting branded with a Scarlet “A.” It was at this point that Lo turned to T and said, “They’re just fucking with us, right?” But no, Rick and Blonde Lori (or whatever the hell her name was) had to go and flash their matching Scarlet Letters at each other the next morning. There simply are not enough eyerolls in the world for that kind of thing. Come on now. This isn’t Mad Men or Breaking Bad. This need to inject metaphor and symbolism in a show which has ended every storyline with as much bloodshed and mutilation as possible (and which is surely coming down the road for this one) is overblown. And we’re prepared to stand grumpily alone on this one but the final scene with Rick pressed up against the wall while the Bee Gees song played reeked of the show trying to emulate those more critically acclaimed AMC dramas.
We still think this is one of the best developments in the show’s history and we appreciate the leaps forward made in the writing, but this was a deeply uneven episode that seemed to not trust the viewer enough to make their own connections and come to their own conclusions.
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[Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC]
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