I’m going to present you with a scenario that I’m not sure happens in real life but that I know happens in movies. Three movies that I am thinking of off the top of my head are Can’t Buy Me Love, Lucas, and Grease, but I imagine there are more contemporary examples. I just looked up whether Can’t Buy Me Love ever got remade, basically in an attempt to try to effortlessly cite whatever that movie was so you guys would be impressed, and what I came up with was Love Don’t Cost a Thing, which I have never seen nor heard of [Ed note: Nick Cannon pre-Mariah!]. Still, I’m not going to let that stop me from throwing it atop my little bundle of examples here.
The scenario is this: There’s a nerd and a popular person who, for reasons like money or help with homework or summer loving, are forced to spend time together alone. When it’s just the two of them, the popular person admits to liking nerdy things like bugs and astronomy, but when they’re in public the popular person goes back to liking popular things again, like cheerleading and throwing dog poop at nerds. The nerd sees the popular person acting like this and thinks to him/herself, That’s not who they really are. Don’t they understand that the nerds are actually cool kids just waiting to graduate high school and head off to a liberal arts college where they will become butterflies?
That is how I felt watching the second half of Walking Dead last night, like I just couldn’t understand why it was acting so rudely when just half an hour before it had been my friend. In my heart, I knew it was better than that.
I think we can all agree that this episode started off strong. As an olive-branch gesture for those of you who think I’m too hard on this show, let’s begin with that first, pre-credit scene. That nice turn signal flicker and click. The zombie trying to chew its way through the windshield. Even the disappointment of realizing that it was Lori inside the car, which meant we weren’t going to just pretend the accident plotline from last week didn’t happen (which wouldn’t have been unheard of for this show to do considering it seems to be pretending like the whole first season didn’t), I was able to overlook in the service of some zombie action. And I would like to point out here that I am not in the camp of all zombies, all the time. I don’t think they alone are the answer to fixing this show and I don’t mind the idea of them being used sparingly in the name of suspense and drama. I just don’t like to see them wasted when they are used.
So, it was great to watch those initial, jumpy scenes. For the first time in the entire series, Lori felt like a real person to me (this feeling was fleeting) and I’m pretty sure that was because Sarah Wayne Callies didn’t have time to think about acting. The best horror movie thrills are all about reaction. The characters onscreen jump at the same time you do and that’s part of the fun. I loved how tightly shot the scenes were and how cramped the inside of the car was.
Lori’s zombie scenes were interspersed with scenes of the guys in the bar. Since this show is so OCD about picking up exactly where we left off, there is Grimes with his gun looking down at the men he killed. He, Glenn, and Hershel have gotten themselves into a tight spot, but don’t worry, they’ve talked it over and they’ve promised to make it much worse. The dead guys turn out to have friends outside who are wondering what happened to them. When they try to enter the bar, Glenn blocks the door, which naturally makes them shout out, asking who's in there. But, like, it’s not like they ask in a super-forceful way. In fact, one guy is even all, “Dude, you’re bugging, there’s no one in there.” They also say the place is crawling with walkers, and so wouldn’t that imply it’s only a matter of time before they’re going to have to give up and drive off. All Grimes and Glenn and Hershel have to do is stay quiet until they do. But then Grimes starts making the kind of faces he makes when he is fighting with Lori or Shane, except now it’s as though he is fighting with himself. Then he appears to lose the fight because suddenly he shouts out, “They drew on us!” referring to the two men he killed. If you happened to DVR this episode, I recommend that you go back and watch this scene just for the look Hershel gives after Grimes says that. I don’t know how it came to be that the character I most identify with on this show is the suspendered country doctor, but it’s what is happening (also, if you taped it, there’s a game you can play where you randomly rewind and fast-forward and try to stop on a clip of dialogue that doesn’t involve arguing. It’s exactly as impossible as it sounds.)
Anyway, Grimes goes on to shout a whole bunch more things to the bad guys outside, about how he killed their friends and how there are things a man does that he wishes he didn’t have to do, but it’s like that now and they must know that, wincing and gulping the whole time as though the very words were cutting his tongue to ribbons. It reminds me of that movie Liar Liar (which I’ve also never seen, but the commercial was very thorough), where Jim Carrey is cursed with having to tell the truth for a day and every time he shouts something inappropriate out, he claps his hands over his mouth. The bad guys outside finally get so bored that they fire a bullet through the window, and then Grimes fires backs and Glenn and Hershel get into position and IT’S ON.
Oh, wait, sorry. No, first we go back to the farm and Daryl turns back into a hick stereotype and Carol implies he’s as important to her as her daughter who she just found out was dead that morning and Shane drives a Hyundai off in search of Lori. But now IT really is ON.
And then there is a nice little bit of tension where Glenn tries to go out back to get the car. Grimes tells Hershel to cover Glenn, even though he “missed all that gun training which could’ve come in handy now” (will this show ever stop trying to convince us that its weak spots happened for a reason?). My soul brother Hershel rolls his eyes at Grimes’s nonsense and says that he knows how to shoot, just doesn’t like it. He goes out back to cover Glenn. A bad guy pops out quick, which made me jump when I saw it the first time and then again when I rewatched. Hershel takes him out (Glenn’s fine, by the way). The bad guy lies on the ground moaning until a bunch of zombies come and eat his face off. Hershel looks devastated about this and there is something so viscerally disturbing about watching this man, even one who we do not and will never know, scream in agony as he’s devoured.
I enjoyed the casting of Michael Raymond-James last week, but landing him must have eaten up the entire season’s budget, because at least one of his friends is being played by a tape recorder propped up against the driver’s seat of a truck. Another bad guy friend is stationed on the roof of Ye Olde Steve’s Pharmacy, presumably as a lookout. When the walkers show up, the tape recorder yells that they have to get out of there and orders the lookout guy to jump, which he does, just like in that video of the grasshopper who's been infected by a parasite that renders him suicidal. He impales his leg on a spike, the tape recorder says “Sorry!” and speeds off, and what follows is the episode’s both most nerve-wracking and unintentionally comical moment. Grimes doesn’t want to leave the kid, Glenn does, and Hershel is somewhere in between. As he and Grimes debate whether to cut the kid’s leg off with a knife or a hacksaw, he screams his head off and begs for them to not do it. Conveniently summoned walkers gradually surround them on all sides. I was squirming like mad throughout, but still it was hard not to wonder if Hershel’s veterinarian training taught him something I didn’t know, because it seemed pretty clear to me that all they had to do was pull that kid’s leg up off that spike and … oops, yeah, that’s what I thought.
And then the four of them yawned, stretched, and fell asleep on the street. The walkers did, too, just curled up into little balls and agreed to not try to eat any of the humans, not even the one with the bleeding open wound who couldn’t run away from them if they tried. I mean, that’s what I’m assuming happened since Grimes and his crew didn’t return to the farm until the next morning, even though we have all been watching this show all season, and while they might be able to erase from our memories that Hershel drank wine with his dinner, there is no way we have forgotten that that town is, like, a half-hour away by horse.
But what does a little thing like egregious abuse of continuity matter once you realize that the rest of the episode is going to be spent back on that farm, where the exact same fights are going happen until the clock runs down. And this is where I was going with that whole popular/nerdy kid analogy up at the top. You see, the zombies are the bugs and love of astronomy. The farm is the bag of dog poop. Or horse manure, if you want to be more site specific.
I’m running out of new ways to even make fun of the farm scenes, that’s how repetitive they’ve gotten. In case you were worried, everyone is still pissed at everyone else. Lori is furious at Shane for lying to her about Grimes being back at the house. Setting aside my confusion over why Lori can’t drop anything ever, I don’t even understand the logistics of her plan. Was she just going to walk to town if Shane hadn’t told her Grimes was safe? That would’ve been tough considering that we’ve established there are walkers on that road, Lori already got lost driving on it in a straight line, and that the town is now in another state. But whatever. Is there a way to petition to have the show officially changed to that title, by the way? Because if it’s just a matter of collecting enough signatures, I think I could do it.
There’s a scene involving Lori and Carl, where he finds out she’s pregnant and asks her if she can name it Searching for Sophia so that we never forget. And then Shane makes everyone leave the room so he can again tell Lori that everything he does is because he loves her and Carl and also now her baby which he thinks is his. I think Carol maybe staggers in at some point here to tell everyone that the second season version of Daryl is dead now but his first season version is alive, but no one pays attention.
Meanwhile, in the bedroom that the rightful owners of this house have been relegated to, the Daughter Hershel is still in a catatonic state and at the sight of her, I went from being a sane person to a crazy one because I could not stop laughing. What they won’t do to silence this girl. It’s like she witnessed a murder and has to be stopped. The Widow Otis says she is going to administer an I.V.; it’s the best she can do with Hershel there. I guess she’ll have to wait for him before they start sawing the Daughter Hershel’s leg off with a kitchen knife. Maggie tells Andrea some story about birth control that would normally seem harmless, but considering this show’s relationship to contraception pills it made me think they should’ve just come up with something else, considering they had a completely blank slate to work with.
Then Grimes and crew pull up outside. Maggie runs past her father without so much as a hello and into Glenn’s arms. That’ll teach Hershel to ever let the stress of a zombie apocalypse get to him again. In the back, the kid with the messed-up leg sits, blindfolded. He might as well be wrapped in satin foil and wearing a bow because it’s like the gang’s been given a great big present: a new thing to fight over. Everyone is furious that they brought the kid back with them. Hershel says he’s going to fix the kid’s leg up “as best he can” and then send him on his way in a week with a canteen. Normally I would question this timeline, but Carl’s stomach absorbed a fistful of bullet fragments overnight, so it seems about right.
The new plotline involving these hostile other men has such potential to be an interesting one. The idea of other human beings being as great a threat as the monsters is an important one and had to be addressed eventually. However, since most of us have read at least the Wikipedia entry for Lord of the Flies and are already acquainted with the concept of man turning on man once chaos descends, it would’ve been nice if the show could learn to exercise a bit more of a delicate touch. There is also the question of what is the ultimate goal. The world of The Walking Dead, while bleak, is not the direst postapocalyptic one I’ve ever come across. In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, for example, the earth itself has died so food cannot grow. People are eating each other because there is nothing else to eat. In The Walking Dead, it still seems relatively recent that the world ended. There is still food to be found, animals to be hunted, empty places to hole up. I’m having a hard time understanding why this group seems so dismayed at the realization that there are other humans still alive. I understand that the guys at the bar were a threat, but there’s never even a discussion about it. Considering the number of speeches we’ve had to sit through where one character tries to convince another character to hang in there, you would think they might be heartened by knowledge that there are still so many uninfected human beings out there.
No one is angrier than Shane about the new visitor. After Hershel once again tells him what I’ve been thinking all episode (that it’s not his house so he can just shut up, although I would’ve added that the kid is no different from any of them, who overthrew Hershel’s authority and took over his house, and is in fact more innocent, considering Shane killed Otis), Shane storms out of the house — Stomp! Stomp! Stomp! — followed by Andrea. He tells her that he’s always going to be seen as the odd man out, just like her. I’m sorry, but I have to interject here on behalf of someone who cannot do it on his own and that would be one T-Dog. If we are going to insist that there is such thing as an odd man out, that it’s a designated thing, the title must go to him. And if, like Shane says, there must be an odd man out runner-up, that’s going to have to go to Sean, not Andrea. I don’t make the rules, but I’m sure as hell going to enforce them.
Now, about that final scene, I’m not sure that’s allowed. I don’t think you can imply that the dumbest character on the show is actually a modern-day incarnation of one of the most cunning female roles in history. Especially since we know you didn’t come up with that idea for her until the morning that scene was filmed.