Monday, November 29, 2010
THE WALKING DEAD Episode 1.05 Review
Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by Glen Mazzara
I'm writing this just minutes after watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead, so I'm not sure how coherent it's going to be. Up to this point, it's been kind of easy to discuss the show, since I've been intimately familiar with the comic and love the entire genre of zombie narratives. Sure, a lot of the field is awful. But there are gems in there, to be sure.
The best works tend to deal with the people realistically. Which means with all the tragedy, anxiety, hope, fear, humor, successes, and failures. That's one of the things that The Walking Dead does best in its comic format, and it's one of the things that the TV series is shaping up to do best, too.
Most of this episode is straight out of the comic, but we're getting a huge plot shift here, and I'm not sure how to react to it just yet.
Get your Spoiler Shields up, and let's see if I can figure out what it is I want to say.
Like I said, we open this episode just where you'd think we would, in the aftermath of the zombie attack on the camp. If the group seemed a bit large in the previous episodes, don't worry. After that night, we're down to just about the numbers that we saw in the opening chapters of the comic.
Shane blames Rick for the severity of the camp's losses, since he took valuable manpower away from the camp. Rick says that if it weren't for the guns they brought back, the losses would have been worse. Lori's stuck between the two of them. It looks like we're gearing up for the confrontation we all know is coming, between Rick and Shane, for the direction of the camp.
This is the sort of thing I was hoping for when I first heard about this series getting made. It helps that writer, Glen Mazzara is a seasoned pro at television writing, and that director Ernest R. Dickerson has over twenty years of experience, having directed films like Juice and one of my personal favorites, Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight, before moving almost entirely into TV direction, with credits directing episodes of everything from Heroes to The Wire to Burn Notice to Treme, and Dexter.
The moment this week drawn directly from the comic, Jim choosing to be abandoned to die on his own, was played almost exactly like the source and it fit perfectly with the characterizations and plot developments brought to the narrative by the other writers and directors so far. That blending of the source with original material without losing the feel or the voice of the comic is impressive.
Which brings us to the biggest narrative change to the series yet.
In the comic, when the group decides to leave, it's because it's no longer safe there. Rick pushes for it, Shane resists. In fact, Shane goes crazy and threatens to kill Rick. Carl, who's been given a gun and trained with it over the previous issue or two, shoots Shane dead to protect his father. It's a powerful and gut-wrenching scene that wraps up the first six-issue sequence of comics and serves as a pivot point as the story moves away from the camp.
There's a little bit of astonishment, and a little bit of fear. It's a very effective way of introducing the possibility that somewhere down the line, that confrontation from the comic may occur, but when Shane decides to back Rick's suggestion of heading for the CDC Headquarters, it appears that we may put that moment off for a while.
From this point on, we're in virgin territory. There was never any clear destination in the comic when they packed up and left the camp, they were just looking for somewhere safe. So it came as a bit of a shock when as we move into the final act this week, we cut to an entirely new character. A scientist experimenting in isolation, trying to find a cure for, or at least an understanding of, the zombie plague.
We get to see his experiment go south, and in a very dangerous moment, he is nearly killed by toxic fumes from the chemicals he's working with. He barely gets out of the room and into detox before security protocols destroy the last of the tissue samples he had to work with. From there, it's a short hop to considering suicide after a good all-night drinking binge.
Until the survivors show up at his doorstep. In a harrowing scene, Rick and the others make their way through the hundreds of corpses, actual ones, not the walking around kind, that are scattered all around the CDC Headquarters. The buzzing of flies is ever-present, making the scene even more unnerving.
After pounding on the doors, the rest of the group is ready to leave, desperate to find shelter before nightfall, but Rick is sure someone's inside and screams, pleading with them. And then the doors open, revealing a blinding white light and the episode ends.
And given how well the writers and directors have done so far when they've introduced original elements, I think enough trust has been built up to accept this shift and see where they plan on taking us. With one more episode to go, we should find out fairly quickly whether or not this works or was a bad idea. I have a feeling this is going to work out nicely for the story, if not for the characters.