Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Walking Dead: Review Episode 3, Tell it to the Frogs

By Dread Sockett

Let's make a deal. We all like bargains, right? And this is an apocalypse so we should all be in wheeler-dealer mode. If I (with fingers crossed behind my back) promise to (try to) be (sorta) nice(ish) this episode, will you let me talk shit....offer constructive criticism? Would it sweeten the deal if I said this was probably (rough edges and all) my favorite (all points considered) episode (despite feeling like an apocalyptic GENERAL HOSPITAL) so far? FAIR? Good, let's get bizzay:

So the bad: Why, oh why, didn't they just combine the first three episodes? Or even broadcast "TELL IT TO THE FROGS" with "GUTS" ("Tell It To The Frog Guts?") as one segment? It would have made the changes feel less arbitrary and maybe even more agreeable. I sure would've had some different opinions. The closing shot in Episode 3 clearly shows they could've done this and left us with a real cliffhanger. Instead, by appearances, they just took a hatchet to the middle of Episode 2, irrespective of original story integrity, and then tacked on yet another product endorsement....err, cheesy ending. I mean damn, this is poised to become the feel-good apocalypse if they don't watch that shit.

Let's just look at it from a story presentation and this viewer's perspective:

In "GUTS," we had virtually no reason to assume any of the characters had any redeeming qualities or a reason to care about them other than the fact that they were in a zombie apocalypse. Well, except Rick, who's looking for his family, but we know more about Morgan and son than him at this point, so he's still getting sympathy on credit cuz he sure ain't sayin' much. And how much quiet brooding and inner turmoil do we allow before we just admit Rick is kinda dense? Well intentioned, but not the brightest bulb. I mean, we're already suspending disbelief that he basically walked away from a coma, without dying from dehydration, residual effects, or zombies. I'm runnin' outta suspenders for my pair of disbeliefs, mmmkay. 

And let's be clear – when I say we had no reason to believe squat, this translates to we had no reason to bother watching further episodes that involved this mostly thick-headed, bitchy, entitled sounding group of people – at least as the mostly smart entertainment that readers came to expect from the books. As cheap, zombie junk food it's stellar-seriously, but is that what they're gonna settle for? It's like that BF/GF you dated who's really long as you looked at them in profile. Unlike the books, we have before us a group that acts like all their socialization skills came exclusively from their Facebook and Twitter accounts. And with no internet you know that shit was doomed from the get-go so why bother? Leaving us hanging with a group of irritating people is not a cliffhanger, it's just irritating. But thank gawd for redemption in Episode 3. Merle's rooftop cliffhanger was a genuinely intriguing close that made you wanna know WTF happened next??? The two episodes should never have been split. That's my nerd-rage this post and I'm sticking to it. Now the good.

THE WEIRD EPIPHANY: You gotta admit, Merle's opening scene was some powerful shiznit. However, isn't there something a little off when we finally get some new character development that makes us pay attention, and dare I say maybe even care, and it's in the form of the villainous, racist dude we're supposed to hate? Like we go from cardboard bad guy to the deepest guy in the show. So now he’s like cardboard with glitter on top. Merle's meltdown was, as far as this show is concerned, amazing. He went from completely losing his shit with the zombies about to snack on him to flip-mode and deciding to go out swingin'.

I felt like I got to know Merle more than anyone else in this show and all before the opening credits even hit. That was some pretty deep stuff. The only other characters that displayed this believable, nuanced and tragic quality were Morgan & Duane. I really kind of felt bad for Merle up there, in that okay, the dude's a scumbag, but he doesn't deserve to go out like that. At least let his ass go down fighting. I'll give this one to the creators (Michael Rooker’s performance goes without saying) for mind effin' me this way, makin' me feel kinda guilty for givin' a damn about Merle. Ya bastards. Now where was this quality of storytelling before? The later camp scenes are certainly revealing and a most welcome progression but Rooker stole the show.

DEVELOPMENTS I LOVE LONG TIME: I was really enjoying the chance to finally get some insight into these people. Thankfully they redeemed Lori a bit with her quarry-side revelation with Shane. THAT was interesting. I’m also gonna wait for more info as to why she knocked boots so quick with her husband’s best friend – dead or not (sorry folks, say whatcha want, but that’s just creepy even after the reveal). I'm also on the fence about her character in general after being a snit to Rick when the group is arguing about fetching Merle and she basically volunteers him; then has the nerve to bitch about it when he jumps on the chance to go back.

Ed gettin' his butt tossed like yesterday's newspaper was immensely gratifying. Seeing Carol run back to him after was also interesting since it showed the creators were gonna tackle some interesting, possibly complex, abuse issues. If it's handled carefully, all of that could provide some compelling viewing that goes beyond these already tired cat-fights. Shane also proved to be a little more layered than I previously thought. Not that this says much, but he has a bit more depth this go around and seeing how this whole triad works out is gonna be some serious talk show shiz for sure.

The one “reveal”I found most interesting was the most subtle – Lori and Carl's conversation after Rick left for Merle. It was just a few words from Carl reassuring Lori that spoke volumes about where his character was headed so it was cool to see the writers jump on shaping him into the little man he becomes. Dale was also handled well, and is obviously set to be at least one of, if not the voice of reason in their crackass camp.

And am I the only one who thinks Merle and his brother are hardwired to survive this zombie crisis better than anyone else here? I mean damn, the bro took down a deer and came back to camp with a string of squirrels and Shane's best idea was rounding up frog legs with the son of your best friend, whose wife you were previously banging until he recovered and showed up out the blue from that coma you lied yer ass off about to get some tang. I'll place my bets with the roadkill and backstraps guy until further notice. Now, I said I was gonna be nice so you can decide what the Hell women doing all the laundry is all about. Though if they start handing out hot coffee to the menziz during a zombie bum rush, I'm outta here. All we'll need next is for a gay survivor to show up and get assigned to sprucing up the camp. Just sayin' ya'll, not hatin'.

So now, we're at least getting somewhere. Characters still remind me of doorknobs at times, but this episode gives me hope that we've got some workable, even complex story developments stepping off. Hopefully, all this drama we're seeing is explored intelligently and not for sake of cheap thrills. Onto episode 4….

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