10/27/13, 9:00PM, SHO
Pragmatism and the necessity of hope perpetually clash on The Walking Dead. It’s part of the post-apocalyptic world’s identity crisis. What are people to live for? What sort of values are they supposed to hang on to or develop? Over the course of its run, survival in the arms of stoic pragmatism has often appeared to be the dominant morality. Shane often seemed more right than Dale, the series’s patent optimist, and it frustrated Dale to no end (until, well). And though no good deed can go unpunished here, the vessel’s which have advocated for survival, survival, survival also happen to be the characters who harbor the most psychological instability or are deemed disposable.
Hope, or the vague idea of living for something more than the next day, takes its punches but still persists on. Trimming the decaying edges, making the tough, arguably inhumane calls—that may buy you more time, but time runs out in all worlds, let alone ones overrun by zombies. Those who strive to establish auras of hope at least try to enrich their time with something a bit more elevated—meaningful, perhaps—even if it’s a minor distraction of energy that could be invested in outliving the poor coughing bastard a cell down from you.
The reveal that Carol murder Karen and Doug droops in terms of climax and character. After finally blossoming into a full-on character in season three, Carol became a sort of beacon of promise for the series. There may’ve been a bit of the meta influencing that—how long did we wait for her to be useful or compelling?—but genuinely her situation began unpleasantly. Through all her hardships and pitifulness, she emerged the stronger, though. We could rally around her narrative success and the sort of craft success she represented for the writers. Well, that’s been done away with.
We could say that the writers were heading in this direction with Carol, but knife-wielding and cringe-worthy life lesson timing do not a killer make. Her newly proactive approach to survival at all costs is a leap for reasons both narrative and structural. Carol’s never been anything but empathetic. As she grew into her own, she showed the thickness of skin to make or at least agree with tough decisions.
Though the offscreen execution saves Carol a little dignity, it also frames Karen and David’s murders as a mystery. The writers did well to expose the killer so quickly, but, as the episode opens with reestablishing exactly what’s going on elsewhere in the prison as the charred corpses are discovered, why not backpedal a little further a show Carol doing the deed? The cliffhanger twist ending of “Isolation” feels unearned because there’s no shaping to the mystery. Rick finds a bloodied hand print and intuits the rest. Carol flips out after Tyreese asks her to check in on Sasha. Those, along with Carol’s awfully timed life lessons, are our only clues to what is a major leap of character. The need for a puzzle vanishes if we know before the characters that Carol killed the pair. Instead, the episode becomes about establishing Carol as someone so desperately compassionate toward the potential of life longly lived that she has the faculty to act radically for the sake of that potential. As it is, we have radical action and little earning it.
Which is a shame, become someone is going to die because of it. Because Tyreese is pissed. So pissed that Rick had to beat the piss out of him until he calmed down (it’s clear from Chad L. Coleman’s performance throughout the rest of the episode that, really, Rick’s fists simply packed Tyreese’s rage into a disguisable, more compact fury). It’s hard to imagine this situation working out for both Carol and Tyreese. He’ll want her dead, so he’ll either get his way or die trying. The writers squandered their get out of jail free card by letting him escape a barnburner of a hoard. Having managed that impossible situation, Tyreese dying because of some incident not concerning his self-proclaimed life purpose will feel cheap. It’s either him or Carol. Given the setup, I anticipate neither outcome. But as long as Tyreese is alit with this unholy anger, it’ll be entertaining to see what he pulls off.
Oh, and that hoard. With the flu crippling half the camp, Hershel suggests scavenging medicine from a veterinarian hospital fifty miles away. Michonne volunteers to join Daryl (and exercises some more humor whuuu?); he corrals Tyreese and Bob. It’s a roadtrip! The party also stumbles across a voice broadcasting over the radio. No sooner do they hear some fuzzy call for survivors than they run into a student body-sized hoard. If Tyreese and his hammer don’t prove to be of a demigod echelon (actually, Bob is the only one in the search party who isn’t a total badass, and it doesn’t appear that’ll be changing soon), Hershel would have blood on his hands.
Which would be unfortunate, because he already has the sick doctor’s contaminated blood coughed onto his face. Hershel, per usual, sheds some humanity on these woebegone survivors. He provides a couple of monologues, one of particular effectiveness concerning the nature of obligation and duty to collective human spirit. There’s also some palpable tension between him and Carl, especially now that Carl has his piece and big boy hat back. There’s a lot of talk about Hershel’s days being numbered, but I’d take his sometimes contrived wisdom for Glenn’s general insufferableness. With presumably the camp’s population about to be halved, hopefully the show will keep in mind its most charming or worthwhile onscreen presences. Glenn no longer fits that bill, and tattering love never bodes well on The Walking Dead. On second thought, nothing bodes well, for anyone, ever, on The Walking Dead. Maybe Andrea was…no, god no. Episode four, help!
- I’d have had my money on Beth. I’d have lost that money. Whatever. She’s still shady. I’m starting to glance sideways at Lawrence Gilliard Jr.’s Bob, so far the season’s most significant cast addition, as a frontrunner for zombiekeeper.
- Digging this Rick. Last week’s arc was nothing new, and neither is this Rick. But something feels a little more certain. He doesn’t seem as horrified with himself. I also don’t think he’s numbing. I think there may be a flesh ‘n bones antihero brewing in him. That is, if the writers keep the characters focused and provide some tangible conflict for him.
- While shoveling Karen’s grave, Tyreese tells Rick, “You worry about [caring for the sick]. I’ll worry about what’s right.” ‘Right’ of course referred to finding the murderer. I wonder, though, if the writers purposefully call attention to the inherent challenge of The Walking Dead’s conceit. I’d like to think so. Rick gives Tyreese a spiel about securing the longevity of the camp, making sure the sick survive. Tyreese wants none of it. He wants direction. He wants a goal toward which to work. Hm. Something’s going to give.
[notification type=star]62/100 ~ OKAY. “Isolation” feels unearned because there’s no shaping to the mystery.[/notification]