Monday, December 06, 2010

THE WALKING DEAD Episode 1.06 Review

The Walking Dead
Episode 1.06 "TS-19"
Written by Adam Fierro & Frank Darabont
Directed by Guy Ferland

And with that, we say goodbye to our cast of characters until sometime next year. 

And it's going to be a long year.  But not as long as it could have been, thanks to the convenient tying up of narrative lines that, if there had only been one season, would have been a nice, if bleak, open ending.  Instead, it serves as a way to start the Second Season with something of a clean slate. 

I'm a little surprised that the episode wrapped up as neatly as it did, to be honest.  And with nary a zombie in sight.

I was expecting some sort of crazy scientist twist, with Dr. Jenner (Noah Emmerich) deliberately infecting someone to continue his research into a cure, or something along those lines.  Instead we get something a little more believable, a little less melodramatic (in a pulpy way), and a little more disturbing.

Spoiler Shields On.

The episode opens with a missing scene from between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) getting shot and then waking up from his coma.  It's the moment that Shane (Jon Bernthal) had to choose whether or not to try to get his comatose best friend out of a hospital under siege by both zombies and the military. 

The intensity of the situation is driven home immediately and it's hard to fault Shane for making the choice he did.  He's just watched soldiers gun down civilians who didn't seem to be infected yet, put bullets in their brains, and then get overrun by zombies themselves.  He's panicking and desperate, and when the power goes out, he puts his ear to Rick's chest to listen for a heartbeat.  When he doesn't hear one, he runs, pausing just long enough to pull the door shut, secure it, and shove an empty hospital bed across the doorway.

It didn't really seem like a very good defense, seeing as how the thing was on wheels and all, but I suppose he may have locked the wheels and hoped that zombies weren't going to try to move it if it didn't move easily.

And that's what's been going through Shane's mind ever since Rick returned.  It's a wonder he hasn't already broken.  In this one scene, Shane's character is re-established, for me, as the most complex and interesting of the bunch.  And again, it's the variations from the source material that make it so.

The majority of the rest of the episode is spent inside the CDC, after Jenner lets them in.  He tells them right off the bat that when those doors close they aren't opening again.  It seems like the sort of thing anyone would say in that situation after risking everything just to let a group of strangers into one's sanctuary.  But it's not.

Before we get to that, though, it's a night of heavy drinking and hot showers.

The scene works well, and serves to establish Jenner as a bit on the depressive, creepy side.  Then again, he is the only surviving member of the CDC staff, so he gets some leeway there.  Emmerich does a lot with the character, playing the role subtly, with barely a hint of what's to come.  Barely a hint.  It's all there on his face, though.  Whenever he speaks, there seems to be something unsaid, just beyond the details and information he gives them.  It's a very good performance, that otherwise could have become a bit overdone.

Instead, you can really see his sadness.  It's nicely done.

Of course, the identity of Test Subject 19 (where we get this episode's title) is obvious from the moment he tells Andrea (Laurie Holden) that he's lost someone too.  But then, I don't think it's ever really intended to be much of a surprise.  It's just another detail Jenner leaves out until he feels it's necessary.

Like the fact that once the power runs down the whole place will blow up.  Oops.

The standoff isn't very tense, even though it should be.  Although Daryl (Norman Reedus), methodically pounding at the door with the axe, even when it's clearly not doing any damage, was a nice touch.

The back half of the show is built around two scenes, where two sets of actors really get to cut loose.  In the first, and most disturbing, an extremely drunk Shane confronts a fairly drunk Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) about his feelings for her.  He loves her.  And he's sure she loves him, too.  Bernthal gets a chance to let all that emotion and guilt out in this scene, and Shane's violent outbursts earlier in the series come flashing back as he gets physical with Lori in what is essentially an attempted rape.

She scratches him, bringing him back to his senses, and Bernthal gets to add another layer of guilt and self-loathing to Shane's character.  If it weren't for Bernthal, this series wouldn't be half as good as it is.  He's trying his damndest to be a good man, but I don't know how much longer that's going to last.  I'm extremely happy we get a second season to explore this character and his relationships.

The second scene is between Andrea and Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) as the clock is ticking down to imminent, instantaneous, flaming death.  Andrea has given up.  She wants to stay and die.  Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott) does too, but nobody tries to stick around and convince her to continue living, which is a bit awkward and tends to undercut the emotional impact of Dale's pleading.  Unlike the Shane and Lori scene above, where we really aren't sure just where or how far it's going to go, here, there's only the slightest hint that maybe they'll both stay and die together. 

That would have been a bold choice and the most dramatic break from the comic's continuity yet (aside from Shane not dying already, that is), so odds are it wasn't going to happen.  It also provides an opportunity for a cliche "running from a fireball" scene.  It was an organic choice, given what's happened to Andrea so far, and Holden does a good job with the part, but for some reason, beyond knowing how important both characters are in the comic, I just never bought that she would go through with it.

DeMunn's impassioned begging and ultimate acceptance and willingness to die with her sold the scene for me.  The man can act when given a chance.  The way the scene played out made me wonder if they would actually go through with the Andrea/Dale relationship from the comic eventually.  That would be interesting.

The conclusion is pretty straight-forward with the return of the hand grenade Rick snagged from the tank back in Episode Two.  I was wondering where that ended up.  Sure, it was convenient, and it really made me wonder just what Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride) had been doing carrying the thing around in her purse all this time, but it was nice to see it wasn't forgotten.

I had to wonder, as the closing scene rolled, if it was the original final shot or if they'd played around with it once they knew they were renewed for a second season.  I tend to think it was the original, because if the story were ending there, even though the caravan drives off up the deserted highway, by lingering on the fire and then panning upward, following the thick black cloud of smoke as it fills the sky, it would be an ominous and downright oppressively depressing way to leave things.

With a second season on the calendar, though, it's ominous and depressing, but at least we know there's a new day coming.  When the screen fades to black, we know that we'll be back.  That somehow allows me to find a little hope in there somehow.  And what it takes to keep finding and maintaining hope in an utterly hopeless situation is becoming the theme of the show (as stated pretty explicitly during the course of the episode - I'm not projecting here, at all).

So all in all, it was a good conclusion.  It wasn't perfect, but then what is?  Terriers was.  Okay, I'll move on from that if it gets a second season.  Until then, it's going to keep bugging me.  But for Walking Dead, this was about as good as I could have hoped.  I like it better than the comics for the most part, and I really like the comic.  Next year can't come soon enough.

I almost forgot!  What do you think Jenner whispered to Rick before he sent them on their way?  Intriguing.


  1. I almost forgot! What do you think Jenner whispered to Rick before he sent them on their way? Intriguing.

    Annoying, more like. One of the things I've liked about TWD is that they've not tried to turn it into another post-Lost mystery-laden bit of nonsense, but then we get Jenner's mysterious whispering. Stupid.

    I'm going to hope -- probably in vain -- that the writers are decent sorts, and that they know where they're going with it, but I would not be surprised if they had no idea themselves what Jenner said to Rick. That's how these things usually pan out.

    I also wasn't enthused by the explanation of the zombies. They've left just enough space to later follow the comic's line that the infection doesn't cause the dead to rise, but the suggestion was still there, which was a shame.

    All in all, I didn't think it was a great episode as it was a bit choppy throughout, and it would have been an awful finale, but I'll accept it as a sixth episode of an ongoing show.

    Good point on Jacqui too. It does come across as a bit callous! I have to disagree about Andrea though; I thought Holden did a very good job of selling it, and I did wonder if they were going to kill her character off then and there. Perhaps that would have been too close to The Mist though. ;)

  2. I'm guessing that since Jenner did blood tests, he probably told Rick that Lori's pregnant. Either that or that everybody's already infected.

  3. Good thinking. Both would tally with the comics, and the former would be a nice twist on how they did it in the original.