Monday, November 15, 2010

THE WALKING DEAD Episode 1.03 Review

The Walking Dead
1.03 "Tell It To The Frogs"
Director: Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Writers: Frank Darabont, Charles H. Eglee, & Jack LoGiudice

If it's going to take a committee of writers to keep the quality up, then by all means, bring on the committees.

After the ham-handed dialogue and broad-stroke characterization of "Guts" I was seriously worried about the quality control on this series.  I know they went into it with only a six-episode commitment, which couldn't have been good for their confidence.  I know that they probably wanted to get the show off and running and felt they could afford to take some short-cuts here and there in order to get into the meat of the show.

But I'll be damned if last week wasn't painful to watch at times.  It got better once they moved beyond the character "work" on the roof and concentrated on the logistics of getting out of Atlanta alive, but there were definite cracks in the foundation of The Walking Dead.

Cracks that never showed up in other AMC series.

Well, this week, those cracks are patched up, sealed over, repainted, and/or whatever other construction metaphor you want to throw at it.

And yes, here come the Spoilers!

I was glad to see they didn't just bring in Michael Rooker for one-off stunt casting, only to use him so poorly.  The opening pre-title sequence of Merle on the roof made up for every cringe-inducing moment I had last week.  He's clearly suffering and delirious, and while he's still a douchebag (Shane's call, not mine), he's allowed to show a little bit of depth here.

Most impressive was when the zombies are trying to bust through the door and he starts begging for God to save him, saying he knows he's being punished, but then turns on a dime and repents his weakness, denying ever begging to God, swearing he won't beg to God anymore.  It was a powerful moment and made me think better of Merle as a character.

Especially when he starts desperately trying to reach the hacksaw.

A large portion of the rest of the episode is entirely devoted to character work, and it's exactly what I was hoping for last week.  Slowed down, quiet moments that allow the actors to breathe and start inhabiting the roles.  The emotions on display as Rick and Carl run to each other was almost perfect.  As was the look of horror on Lori's face.

I know there's been some backlash amongst fans about Lori's and Shane's relationship here, but I have to say, I approve of the changes.  Making Lori a woman who's accepted the fact that her husband was dead, a husband from a marriage that was on the rocks, and has moved on provides more texture to her personality than the woman in the comic who just had a weak moment in her undying love for her dead husband.

This gets even more complicated by the fact that Shane told her Rick was dead.  It complicates Shane in nice ways, too.  From the moment or two we saw of him in the premiere, he seemed like a douchebag, too.  Maybe not the hate-spewing racist sort of douchebag, but he had some issues with women.  You could tell he was jealous of what Rick had, even though Rick and Lori were having trouble.

That he took the opportunity of Rick's apparent death to move on Lori, and Carl for that matter, to co-opt a family, if you will, makes him a much more interesting character.  Especially given how averse to real risk-taking he is as assumed leader of the camp.  You can see him trying to be the man Rick was, and falling just a little short.  This is really brought home when Rick decides he has to go back to Atlanta to at least try to save Merle.

It's not cowardice, but he's overly cautious, where Rick is almost reckless when it comes to doing what he thinks is right.  Shane is re-defining right in this case, and can only look poorly when compared to Rick's version of heroism.  And Lori's confrontation with him at the end of the episode, was harsh and raw.

I didn't know where the hostility was coming from at first, but then she comes out and says it.  She thinks Shane lied to her about Rick on purpose, in order to steal her and Carl away from him.  That's meaty stuff right there, and creates a dramatic situation that plays well on TV.  Especially in the limited confines of a six-episode run.

The final moments of the episode were really very strong, in my opinion.  I'm not thrilled that the drama in the camp hinged on another stereotype, this time the abusive husband, but while his character, Ed, was pretty one-dimensional, the emotions and action around him were much more fleshed out.  When Shane beats the hell out of him, nearly beating him to death, it's another powerful moment that helps to define his character.

Shane is losing it.  He thought he had it all, that the apocalypse had given him a family and a purpose.  And now, with Rick back, all of that is starting to slip away into chaos.  He needs to assert himself and he does.  At the cost of Ed's face.  The brutality of it becomes the problem, though, frightening the women of the camp as much as Ed did.  Moreso, I'd imagine.

Ed was just a dick.  Shane thinks he's doing the right thing.  Or at least is using the opportunity to appear to do the right thing, to let out a lot of rage.

The episode closes with a beautiful shot.  Back in Atlanta, Rick, Glenn, T-Dog, and Merle's brother Daryl (played with a little more subtlety, but not much, by my favorite Boondock Saint, Norman Reedus) make their way to the roof of the building where they left Merle, only to find the hacksaw, Merle's bloody severed hand, and the handcuffs still dangling from the bar.  That beautiful closing shot is of the bloody handcuff hanging with the sky in the background.  Nice.

In fact, there are a lot of nice shots in this episode.  Director Gwyneth Horder-Payton (The Shield, Sons of Anarchy) has a much firmer hand on the tiller this time out than Michelle Maxwell MacLaren (Breaking Bad) had last week.  I don't know if that's just because the written material was so much better this time out, or if Horder-Payton just has a better eye.  She's a lot more experienced, so that may have something to do with it.  Regardless, this episode was a huge step up from last week, even without a major set-piece gore moment.

I didn't really think the zombie eating the deer was all that bad.

So, when all's said and done, I'm back on board.  Most of my fears were assuaged and I'm back on the Excited Train looking forward to next week.


  1. I agree with pretty much everything except for your views on the Shane and Lori changes. The change to Lori makes her into a pretty horrible mother. She hid her relationship with Shane for a reason -- because it was going to mess with Carl's head, and he certainly did need anything more to screw with him. Given that it had only been a month since everything went to hell (if that), it makes her seem completely selfish.
    And I think the character in the comic had plenty of depth. I think this change was needless.

  2. I don't know about that. She was still hiding her relationship with Shane here, and Shane was playing Good Dad.

    I think she was in a bad marriage, her husband's best friend told her her husband was dead and stepped up to take care of her and her child. She was probably ready to find a new man before the coma and here was one who seemed okay.

    Unless he lied to her deliberately in order to move in on his best friend's family.

  3. Yeah, I have to agree with the changes made to Lori and Shane. In the comic, Lori comes off a little too perfect. As a result, her range as a character is limited. The show has made her seem more human. Same for Shane. We get the chance to really feel for both characters.

    I'm curious if we're going to see Allen and his family? I really liked those characters. Well, I didn't actually like them all that much, but I liked their story. Hopefully they haven't been cut.

  4. Yeah, I actually teared up when Rick and Carl saw each other for the first time. Which is understandable, I think.

    But then I also teared up when Shane was beating the hell out of Ed. He just seemed so hopeless and desperate.

    Yes. I am a girl. And I was drinking.