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Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: Walking Dead: Suicide King and Home

Wooooooooooooo! Freaking finally.

I'm reading a book series at the moment - one of those open-ended deals that isn't pretending that it's going to tie-up in a satisfying way anytime soon - and I'm on book four. Books one through three constituted what I felt like was an emotional arc, running a coherent story through more episodic, um, episodes. (Gah. Bad word choice, I has it.) Halfway through four, I'm still trying to figure what the new arc is going to be and who these people are. I know I've been introduced to him? And her? But I can't recall? At this point in the game, it is pieces moving on the board - this person here, this other person there, a conversation, a reminder. Even though I did not start out talking about A Song of Ice and Fire, that's a pretty good encapsulation of my feelings about that series too. Books four, man.

Anyway. Point being, here we are after all the dun-dun reveals of the mid-season finale, and I'm feeling very much like I'm reading book four of the series. I'm squealing a little about my favorites, and trying to remember minor characters - who is Oscar? Oh right, the black guy they killed off for being not Tyresse; there can be only one - and wondering why no one is bothering to write a straight up episode arc anymore. Shit happening in sequencial order is not a dramatic arc, friends. I'm not saying The Suicide King was bad, or that there weren't smart or even heart-melting developments, just that there's a lot of ground covering and not a lot of what you might strictly call sense.

The opening verged on terrible. I have remained unconvinced by any of the zombie MMA scenes, which I thought initially was a problem of staging, although staging continues to be a problem. The arena feels small, with too few people in it, and I kept watching the shouting audience members one by one and thinking far too much about how the actors had been coached to shout and shake their fists. Too many long shots, too much light, not enough physical danger. Merle and Daryl start swinging at each other, and when they brought in the collared walkers, I thought, how long until this goes completely pear shaped, and Merle and Daryl slip out? Which might ultimately be a conscious choice, because Mayberry is such a total joke.

The scene tightened considerably when the smoke bombs were thrown and everyone ran screaming through the mist, walkers unleashed, the fragile sense of control broken. The Governor walking slow out of the smoke was an image, I'll grant you, a very good one. But it's also an image of what the heck is the problem with the Mayberry sequences: who the hell are these people? We've got 75 or so folk living here in Mayberry, and all we know about them is that they can shake their fists unconvincingly when brothers are to fight to the death. Sure, okay, maybe the Gov has gotten them through some hard times, but don't they have, like, actual personalities somewhere behind the mob? Seriously, they're going to try to storm the front gates to get out into the zombie apocalypse? 75 isn't a lot of people. That's half of your Dunbar's number, and after what, a year? living together, there are no strangers anymore. There's no anonymous arm shaking. There's no packing the car and honking at the sentinels to let you out. That makes as little sense as how little Andrea and Michonne seem to know about each other after seven months - seven months! - on the run together. Seriously, why does Michonne scowl when Rick asks if she knows Andrea? Other than that's the only thing the writers let her do? Bah.

So the Governor walks out of the mist and I think, yeah, I see what you're doing. Mayberry isn't a real town, it's propaganda. This is an inflammatory analogy, but it made me think of Leni Reifenstahl talking about making Triumph of the Will: there was just Hitler, and the people. One man and the state. A less inflammatory analogy would be Lord of the Flies, with the great mass of undifferentiated boys who acquiesce to the will of the only people who matter, the ones in charge. That is totally fine as a metaphor for societal ethics and leadership, which is pretty much the decomposing heart of most zombie fictions, but often reads poorly as a narrative about real characters. Mobs ain't people.

You've got this ongoing civic crisis going on, a boots-on-the-ground version of whatever civic crisis we've got going on today. And, given that one of our current civic crises is people (mostly white men between the ages of 20 and 50) shooting their fellow citizens en masse, the whole exploration of white men between the ages of 20 and 50 having their leadership styles completely fall apart feels pretty topical. The world of The Walking Dead has put guns in the hands of every citizen, including tiny badass Carl, and what they are getting for their gunnish preparedness is most of the living being killed by other living. Seriously, when was the last time someone died from a zombie? T-Dog?

I did enjoy a lot of the everyday stuff back at the prison, like Carol's discussion of her late abusive husband, and how Daryl's relationship with his brother is similar. And her little reaction shot when she learns that Daryl has run off with Merle just gutted me - man, that actress is good. I loved the mail holder with Asskicker emblazoned on the side. I keep worrying every time I see that blonde girl and Judith, because I feel like they are swanning around being adorable, and adorable is a huge freaking bullseye. And because I wrote most of this and then got way to busy to finish it before Home ran, I'm just going to start into that.

So, we've got two leaders losing their shit, Rick and the Governor, and it is making me really bored with Rick's problems, and question his leadership. Daryl stepped in in the last power void, and he was smart and competent, and now Glenn has done the same. Wait, why is this a Ricktatorship again? Why does Santa/Gandalf keep delivering these homilies about how Rick has gotten through the hard times with his wistful, rheumy eyes? And Lincoln, man, he seems to think that sweating profusely is a good telegraph for trauma. The dude who plays the Governor is doing a better job with his insanity, especially considering the dialogue he has to do it with, and Mayberry continues to bug. Omigod, he shot a dude in the street! Where have you people been for the last year? At a point it just gets to be bad writing. And Andrea, ugh.

Given how loony Rick has become, I have a very hard time tracking his motivations. Seriously, it is self-evident that your group needs more people, especially because you know the Governor is going to come at you. I guess I'm cheered a little that the writers are treating Maggie's sexual assault by the Governor as exactly that, but I would like to know what the hell is going on with Glenn and what his motivation is supposed to be. Seriously, this show cannot handle sexual politics at the best of times; they should step away from that plotline as quickly as possible. I was really loving the pedo-Romanov-mustache dude in the last two episodes - they gave him some really great work - which should have been a sign that OMIGOD YOU KILLED KENNY. Maybe there can only be so many racist rednecks on the show, just like there can only be one black dude. With Merle on his way back, you can do the math.

But, whooooo, that ending was a treat. The Suicide King had the problem of its action sequences being mostly crap - and action sequences are where this show really kicks ass - so it was pretty great to see the Governor's assault on the prison in Home. And I got to be smug about how the zombies are being used in this show, as a sort of violent rhetorical device about how fear is used by the powers that be against the body politic. They're a tool, like calling the Rickocrats terrorists at every opportunity, like running bullshit about how the Governor is "out on a run". (Andrea, seriously, stop being so dumb.)

I know this is not going to happen, because the Governor and Rick have been pegged together too hard - it's too much about their whole doppelganger deal - but I would completely love it if Rick took one in the eye, and then the Rickocrats formed an actual democracy and defeated the fuck out of the Governor and all his dictatorial bullshit. Zombie stories have this tendency to run to justified dictatorship, because obvs a society can't deal with a threat to it without some self-important lunatic telling everyone what to do. Even though the storyline is making feints in the direction that this might be bad - the whole incompetence of the Mayberrians being the evidence - with how devoted they are to Rick being the main character, and therefore inviolate despite being full of crap, it's probably just not going to happen.






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