Time loops have been pretty hot lately. In the past few years alone, we’ve had a whole slew of movies, TV shows, and video games based on the premise that it’s interesting to watch someone relive the same cycle over and over again, making minute adjustments until they finally get it right.
So it was probably inevitable that The Walking Dead would do its own version of a time loop story eventually, and Tales of the Walking Dead is probably the right place to do it. “Blair / Gina” even borrows a trick from Groundhog Day, the unquestioned elder statesman of modern time loop stories, by reorienting the audience at the beginning of each loop with a song. (This time it’s Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” a thematically appropriate substitute for “I’ve Got You Babe.”)
But just one episode after I posited that Tales of the Walking Dead wasn’t likely to do anything that would break the established rules of the larger franchise, I have to ask: What are we supposed to make of the fact that at least two people spent the early days of the zombie apocalypse in a time loop? It’s by far the most supernatural flourish in a franchise that — other than the zombies — has been pretty stubborn about realism.
In the end, I don’t really know how to process the implications of a time loop in the Walking Dead universe (if this is even canon?), and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. “Blair / Gina” is less concerned with any of that than its study of two characters — one horrible boss, one long-suffering receptionist — who are forced to settle their differences and work together to break the loop and escape Atlanta at the dawn of the apocalypse.
Blair (the boss) is played by Parker Posey, and Gina (the receptionist) is played by Jillian Bell. But while the concept of those actresses in the Walking Dead universe is enormously appealing, the execution doesn’t give them much to chew on. Blair’s obnoxious self-absorption is justified, a little clumsily, by the revelation that her dad recently died of lung cancer. Gina is sketched even more thinly, as the sometimes-caretaker to a couple of nieces we keep hearing about but never actually meet.
Instead, we follow Blair and her fiancé Brian to a gas station, where a fuel shortage and a massive line of cars is yet another harbinger of how bad things are about to get. As Blair waits, she sees Gina, who she ordered to stay in the office and lock up at the end of the day. She confronts Gina and fires her, which seems to be the last straw, because Gina draws a shotgun and attempts to steal a fuel truck. A Homeland Security officer intervenes, a guy turns into a zombie and attacks his wife, the gun goes off, and everybody dies in a fiery explosion… only for Blair and Gina to find themselves back in the office, where the episode began.
“Blair / Gina” doesn’t make any effort to explain why the time loop began, or why Blair and Gina and the only ones experiencing it; like our heroines, we’re expected to adjust to this strange turn of events, not understand it (though Blair drops a passing reference to “morphic resonance,” so make of that what you will).
From there, it’s a series of loops in which both Blair and Gina try a bunch of alternate routes that might help them avoid dying in a fiery explosion. None of them work (though there’s a particularly cathartic one when Gina turns into a zombie and takes a big bite out of Blair’s neck). Blair even attempts a suicide-by-zombie, only to be returned to the office again. In the end, it’s clear that the women will need to work together to get out of the cycle.
And so it’s time for the inevitable heart-to-heart where boss and underling become peers. Gina dishes about her thwarted attempt to start a career in marketing. Blair realizes she doesn’t want to be with Brian, who barely attempts to save her no matter what she does in the cycle. And in a face turn that feels a little too quick and heroic — I guess that’s what happens when we only get ~45 minutes with these characters — Blair agrees to head downtown with Gina and try to save those nieces.
They steal the gas truck yet again, and get far enough to see the endless line of cars trying to leave Atlanta — a fun riff on a very familiar image from this series. But as a horde of zombies stalks toward the stopped drivers, Blair and Gina decide to go full hero mode, blowing up the gas truck.
This time, they survive. As far as we can tell, the time loop is broken. Maybe this has all been a “shared delusion,” as Gina hazards, though that doesn’t really explain much of anything we’ve seen.
Don’t get me wrong — there’s some fun to be had here. But in the end, this episode feels like a missed opportunity, because it would have been fascinating without a time loop. I wish “Blair / Gina” had spent a little more time exploring what it would actually be like to live through the moment when the world began to fall apart. We begin in that horrible insurance office with the phones ringing off the hook, as people who are facing the apocalypse retreat to the useless comfort of a risk-mitigation industry that can’t possibly protect them from what’s coming.
There are plenty of people in that office who know, deep down, that the world is ending. But no one leaves — listening instead as Blair babbles about her upcoming wedding, afraid to break the social contract by running or screaming or doing anything besides sitting at your desk, letting precious minutes slip by.
After all: Acknowledging the end of the world means facing the end, and who wants to do that? How would you know if the apocalypse was really happening? And if you did, what would you do about? What could you do about it?
• I do like the beat where Blair and Gina swap all the heartbreaking little details they’ve noticed after enduring the loop so many times — like the way a woman always screams in exactly the same tone, or the fact that Wendell’s toy truck has a little Band-Aid on it.
• Michael E. Satrazemis, the episode’s director, is a longtime franchise veteran with nearly 40 episodes of The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead under his belt.
• The song at the episode’s end is — appropriately enough, in relation to both the episode’s themes and that recurring Patsy Cline needle drop — “Drive Me Crazy” by Funkdoobiest.
• A comprehensive list of personality disorders ascribed to Blair by Gina: narcissism, schizophrenia, sociopathy, and bipolars 1, 2, and 3.
• The Wimbish House, the planned site of Blair and Brian’s wedding, is a real (and very bougie) venue in Atlanta. I’m not sure it qualifies as industrial chic, though.
• Also real is Jekyll Island, a posh vacation spot about a five hours’ drive from Atlanta. There are probably worse places to ride out a zombie apocalypse, although Dead Island offers a cautionary tale.
• I wonder what Joel and his wife did at that office Christmas party.