Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What's Going on with The Walking Dead

I like zombies as much as the next guy. I like apocryphal stories as much as him too. So when the two genres have a baby, it feels like it should be right up my wheelhouse.

Only it's not. The Walking Dead has been unbearably frustrating for me, and I'm trying to figure out why.

The first season, after the pilot, (that was shot as gorgeous as any "end-of-world-scenario" could be shot) I was hooked. Unfortunately, the pilot set up an unrealistic expectation of what was to come. The series and its narratives ground to a complete halt, as it introduced boring character after boring character, with little to none additional action (The whole go back to Atlanta plotline was pointless; and went nowhere to boot).

Once they got to the CDC however, it picked up somewhat. The external (zombies) and internal (Shane's a potential rapist!) conflicts developed some gravitas, and the finale gave viewers a goal (Fort Benning) that offered some hope. Hope is important both in a zombie world and a zombie television show; without it there's no reason to live, or watch.

So, once the second season started, I was guardedly optimistic. Sure, the show was doing gangbusters, but I felt that was simply because zombies are alluring right now, and I didn't want to get swept up in that onslaught (it's here where a better writer would weave in an allegory about how the rabid viewers of The Walking Dead are zombies themselves, mindlessly taking in the show without questioning it's writing or overall arc, because let's face it - the writing is inconsistent at best). And with the news in between seasons of the show runner being unceremoniously dumped (mixed feelings here - I loved the pilot, which Darabont, the showrunner, directed, but what happened to the rest of the series under his watch?) there was definitely a curiosity to see how the show changed.

Well, I'm not sure it changed. Or if it did, it just moved sideways...

After catching the first two episodes "live" (meaning when they first aired) I fell behind and started recording the show. That in itself, should say something. It no longer became the "must see" show it had once been for me. It was now a "if I have nothing else to do I'll watch it" show.

And now that I've finally caught up, I feel I can say that it still has problems, and they need to be fixed or viewers will stop tuning in, ravenous as they might be for zombie fare.

Let's ignore some of the smaller, immediate gripes for the moment - oh ok, I'll just list them in quick detail...

How come in the premiere for the second season, the survivors could hide under cars and not be smelled out, when in the first season we had an entire episode devoted to getting covered in zombie guts to walk amongst the dead? Inconsistencies like that suck.

You would think with kids being raised in this world, their parents would suggest to them if they ever found themselves in danger, they should run toward a human and not down an embankment off the highway into a forest of unknown and potential zombie repute. At least that's how I'd raise my children in a zombie apocalypse.

Rick stashed Sophia in a hollowed out trunk in order to get the zombies to chase him real far away so that he could...kill them fairly easily real far away? Why not just kill them right where he found her? You know, the sensible solution?

Why do some zombies seem smarter than others? I've seen high school students dumber than that zombie trying to get at Andrea in the bathroom.

Why do the survivors split up every chance they get?

Anyway, I could sit here for hours and nitpick, but I'd like to get hopefully go a little deeper and get at the root of the problem. And that's the idea that the characters on The Walking Dead are not likable. Save for a few (and we'll get into that), the characters have little redeeming qualities. I find myself after every episode thinking that I would split the first chance I got if I was ever stranded with these people.

The women characters are horrendous. Stereotypical caricatures of what women really are like. Honestly, it feels as though men are writing their characters. And the male characters aren't much better. Let's take a look...

Lori - She lives with the guilt that she cheated on Rick with Shane. I understand that this would weigh on her a lot, but then why did we have the flashback that suggested she didn't have a happy marriage to begin with? And then why does she have to be the one that contemplates letting her son die so as not to raise him in this world? Honestly, it's been like 2 months since the zombies started walking the streets! You'd think she'd give it a little more time (also since she has the Fort Benning knowledge) before the hopelessness settled in.

Andrea - Even living in a zombie world can't stop her from getting catty with the rest of the survivors and holding grudges. What Dale sees in her...I don't get it. That she show Darryl isn't helping her cause either.

Carol - She has the thankless task of grieving for her daughter. And that's it. She doesn't get to do much else.

Dale - probably my favorite character, because he's playing the greek chorus of the show, acting and saying how the audience feels a lot of times, though on occasion he's used to advance the plot (not sure I needed him hammering home how bad of an idea it was for Glen to sleep with Maggie. We get it. Daddy's not going to be happy.)

T-Dog - It's hard to say much about him since the show gives him so little to do.

Glen - Used to be a great character, that was underused, but now has stepped up in the past few episodes and has shown that he can be as unlikable as all the other characters. Look, I didn't have a problem with the sex in the pharmacy. Guys are horny and when they can get some, they're going to act on it, regardless of the zombie threat. It was the way he acted immediately following the sex that soured me on him. The period stuff? Really?

Darryl - Probably the audience's favorite character, and with good reason. He takes action when it needs to be taken, but he also has a sensitive side. In fact, he's the most sympathetic character on the show right now. It remains to be seen how he takes the hallucinatory thoughts of his brother back with the group, but I hope he doesn't attempt to usurp Rick. Darryl seems the type that would just go off on his own and leave the others behind.

But these characters don't drive the show. It's Rick, and to a lesser extent Shane. The constant power struggle between the two former cops is obviously building to some sort of confrontation. I do think the shades of grey they're giving Shane to play with are interesting; sure he shot Otis in order to save himself...but his intentions, if slightly misguided, were in the right place. Otis shot Carl. Carl needed the supplies the two were getting. It wasn't a plan Shane concocted beforehand - he seized the opportunity the situation gave him and made a horrible choice. But looking back, was it a choice that had to be made? Maybe. And that's why his slow conversion to evil is being handled well so far. His confrontations with Rick (about Sophia, about the guns, etc.) are not wrong. If there's one thing that is intriguing about this show to me, it's that the sense of right and wrong have been flipped on its ear. Zombie world means right and wrong aren't so far away from each other now. Shane is representing this shift very well.

Unfortunately, the character of Rick is not. Obviously his intentions are good, and the decisions he's made have been the decisions the majority of the audience will agree on (continuing the search for Sophia), but it's very difficult to write a sympathetic character that is always facing doubt. Every decision he makes seemingly is questioned by everyone in the group, which causes the audience to start questioning the decisions too, and then ultimately begins to question the character.

It's very similar to what happened with Jack on Lost. But the Lost writers occasionally gave Jack some moments of pure heroism that helped sell Jack as a leader. We've yet to see that with Rick on The Walking Dead. Each decision Rock has made has not only been questioned, but the outcomes have not necessarily been good either. To be a leader, there has to be some sort of track record; Jack was a doctor who went around saving a lot of lives after a plane crash. Rick used to be a cop and...that's it for his leadership position.

Season 2 has been better than season 1, mostly because of Darryl. While the pacing still has some issues, the new characters have helped, and the school scenes with Shane and Otis delivered great tension. The Sophia storyline however is really being dragged out for no real reason than to give Shane and Rick something to argue about, and really they could argue about something else just as much (say, staying vs. leaving the farm). The barn zombies are obviously going to create a new tension between the characters, I just hope it gets resolved somewhat quickly (seriously, wouldn't they just pack up and leave, and let Dr. Crazypants hang out?)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It seems that the budget for this show was strictly front end (1st two or three episodes of season one). Something tells me it’s much cheaper to shoot season two on a deserted highway and farmhouse than it was to shoot season one mostly on city streets.

I’m OK with the character development so far. The real problem is the plot. I agree that without hope or any clear goals, the show is simply spinning its wheels until the writers figure where to go next.

One thing that confuses me is the flashbacks. The plot sometimes needs this in terms of setting up context but the latest flashback scene lacked authenticity. I wished the napalm scene had been shown earlier . . . and from several vantage points.

I will continue to watch despite my skepticism.

Even though it may shed more light on the plot, I refuse to watch the "Talking Dead" post show wrap-up.