(Unfortunately, Cinemablend’s super fabulous powers-that-be do not deem a bagful of yawns and nods suitable as a recap for The Walking Dead this week. And so I type.)
No one is sorrier than I am (in many ways) that I abhor this season’s pacing and story beats. I’m sure many prefer clinging to the patchy character development and can bypass this. I admit the overall arcs can be exciting, and most episodes warrant further thought after the simultaneous credits/TWD teaser/other promos. Also, characters are doing and feelings things, rather than just saying they are. Some, anyway. I’ve considered my penchant for the comic book as a bias, but having previous knowledge shouldn’t affect the success of how this information is re-presented to me. Without relevant flashbacks or foreshadowing, present-day events are under a microscope, and most are uneventful.
I invoke the “Total Recall Rule of 3” using this episode to exemplify the major inter-connected problems I have with the show. Don’t try this at home, guys. Compiling short, highly-opinionated lists is best left to professionals.
Slowness Isn’t Exclusive To Zombies, But Danger Is
I’m accustomed to the limited use of zombies by now, where occurrences are usually metaphorical or thematic in nature. As a gore-hound, I’d love more horror elements, but I understand the “Less is More” philosophy that may pay off later. Essentially, however, their absence largely extracts the visible threat our characters are up against. The big reveal inside Hershel’s barn of zombies was sort of surprising, but lacked any layered information that could provoke an emotion. Like a whoopie cushion, it’s a big noise posing no real risk. These zombies are no more dangerous after Glenn discovered them than they were the day before. Maybe Maggie’s awareness should have been shocking enough, but the tiniest bit of exposition to gnaw on could have organically grown into Hershel’s explanations next week. As it goes, I’m guessing a clunky “Bond Villain” pile of information awaits us. This ending is only a cliffhanger if the ground is a few feet beneath the cliff.
Beyond the brain-eaters, Walking Dead’s threatening elements affect only specific characters, and not the group at large. Shane’s ongoing moral degradation is interesting and unpredictable, but only he and viewers understand the depths of his survival instinct, though his willingness to abandon the Search for Sophia certainly gave Rick a hint. Lori’s pregnancy, more catalyst than threat, is purposefully shared between only Lori and trustworthy Glenn, so it will probably go unnoticed until her belly expands. Daryl’s questionable sanity will no doubt be explored through further inner dialogues with brother Merle before anyone gets wind of it. But what about the rest of the group, much less the people on the farm? I can understand, without being forced to watch, people’s propensity to cope with inconceivable things by reverting to normal, everyday rituals. This complacency does not make for intriguing television. If the climaxes are going to be few and far between, I need the rationing of anti-climactic scenes to grow at an alarming rate. The barn zombies could propel things, and in doing so, may solve my second point.
Protagonists Need Antagonists
The lack of zombies strikes again. This show desperately needs a human villain. Shane’s dark side isn’t developed enough, and current Merle-visions notwithstanding, Daryl has transitioned into something sincere. It has to be an outsider. Obvious candidate: Hershel, whose attitude has never been overly welcome to begin with, despite his many acts of kindness. He is displeased that Daryl lost a horse he didn’t have permission to ride, as well as Rick allowing 17-year-old farmboy Jimmy to join in the Search for Sophia. When Daryl is mistaken for a Walker, everyone ignores Rick’s reminder of Hershel’s preference for personally handling zombies. This leads to Andrea moronically shooting Daryl, which uses up more of Hershel’s dwindling medical supplies. (Why would she needlessly shoot a zombie that was already being handled, especially when gun-noise could draw other Walkers? Her lame weapon obsession is not an acceptable answer.) Lastly, Hershel’s parental advice that Maggie not mess around with Glenn goes unheeded, leading to the barn discovery.
The camel’s back now broken, Hershel will understandably blow a gasket, drawing clear and necessary borders between him and Rick. Rick is the hero who doesn’t want to be a hero and accomplishes that by not having to do anything heroic. Nothing opposes him, so we have to watch him plan group activities and wear fatherly emotions on his sleeve. His arguments with Shane are meatless beyond obvious intentions to display tension. Rick needs to make some unpredictable decisions of his own, and he needs tangible opposition to draw these actions out. Granted, Rick Vs. Hershel only has a limited number of inevitabilities, but I have to assume it will be more interesting than the build-up. Hershel will kick everyone out, and Rick will either leave or fight back. Blood will spill, someone incidental will die, the farm will be left behind, and this process can begin anew, probably while the gang is looking for new shelter. This leads me to my third point.
Seek And You Shall Find More Seeking,
The characters in The Walking Dead do an awful lot of looking for things. The most blatant example being the Search for Sophia. No show should contain multiple instances of a character unfolding a large map before designating search quadrants. The plotline has given Daryl much-needed development, but otherwise only serves to remind people Carol is “that woman with the missing daughter she never actually searches for.” Sophia could be replaced with a pet lizard and the story’s emotional impact would play out in much the same way, so long as Daryl finds a clue and looks sympathetic doing it. She needs to be found. Unwanted (unwaaaaanted), dead or alive.
This plot’s glaring errors are only heightened by other aspects of the show that involve searching for something. In a zombie-infested world, no place is a safe haven forever, so characters have to travel from spot to spot. Most of last season was one big hunt for the CDC. When settlements are made, members of the group then search for food and supplies in surrounding area. These are realistic facts of life for these people, and I won’t question them. But no similar plotlines should ever rear their boring heads. A Walking Dead search is the one thing better suited to telling over showing. At least one episode, even one just as slow-burning as the rest, needs to take place within a single location. And Shane doesn’t need to talk about nailing any more of his teachers while doing it.
This concludes my list.
With far less single-character finesse than even the shittier Lost episodes, the attention given to Daryl’s character (as explained further here) the last few weeks is encouraging, as his formerly lone trait of “smartassy” could be spread only so thin. I’m not sure if the care he shows Carol, combined with Carol’s opinion that he’s every bit as good as Shane and Rick, means they’re going to hook-up like rabbits in the future, or if this is setting her up as bait if Daryl falls prey to Merle’s vengeful influence. Or at least the influence of his guilt-ridden subconscious, as played by Michael Rooker’s crazy ass. I don’t foresee this, unless Daryl’s transformation exists only for the shock value of a reversion, which is a definite possibility with this show.
All in all, “Chupacabra” wasn’t a terrible episode and has hopefully bridged some of the show’s internal gaps. But why the episode title, aside from Dale’s casual reference? Is it because the group misinterprets the farm as safe before closer inspection proves something much different? Are these zombies actually feral Mexican dog/coyote hybrids? Curiosity conquers criticism here. Until next week, readers, remember that having a shaved head like Shane automatically lets other people know that you once sacrificed someone’s life for your own.
Double take: Andrea goes against everyone’s wishes, as well as the sun’s glare, when she shoots at Daryl, causing the second accidental shooting before this season’s mid-point. I realize episodes like “Boss Comes Over For Dinner” or “Family Christmas” are impossible, but variation is still necessary. And it happens after Daryl’s unrealistically-depicted arrow impaling, again proving this show’s clumsy characters are a larger danger to themselves than anything else is.
Really, I’d like it if Merle could just get a KKK tattoo, or maybe say “them black people” in an extremely snotty way, rather than predictably using the ugliest epithet to remind us how racist he is. In a world whose minority population consists of T-Dog.
Though watching helicopters dropping bombs in the opening was cool, I’m not sure why we had to watch Shane, Lori, Carol, and Ed questioning the traffic jam they’re in. No new information was given. Someone needs to refresh the writers on the laziness of flashbacks.
Shamefully, I actively enjoy the awkwardness of Maggie and Glenn’s coupling. Maggie flattening Glenn by admitting she isn’t sure she likes him. Sharing notes at a dinner table. Glenn thinking a hayloft, to a girl who’s lived on a farm her whole life, is a great place to have sex.
Though their romantic angle is muted, I hope Rick and Lori are having plenty of sex, so there’s plausible deniability when news of her pregnancy goes viral. Or that Shane is dead long before it would even come into question. I’d prefer the second option.