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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Walking Dead 3x12: Clear



The idea of a side quest on this show, when its narrative momentum already usually exists somewhere between "stalled" and "nonexistent", wasn't the most exciting idea ever. Yet Rick, Carl and Michonne's otherwise innocuous supply run turned out to be one of the series' better episodes, thanks in large part to the fact that the character central to this side quest was someone we already knew, and because the episode used its narrow focus to its advantage.

Had this episode centered around a newly-created character, it would have likely been interminable, but by bringing back Morgan, not only did the show return to a seemingly-forgotten plot point from its very first episode, but it managed to tie Morgan's appearance into Rick's ongoing character arc, and the overall theme of the show. In Morgan, we have a reflection of Rick, the man he will become if he continues down his current path: friendless, his loved ones gone, barely able to differentiate the living from the dead. That this comparison went largely unstated showed a remarkable amount of restraint on the part of the creators, while the direction of the episode, particularly in the main scene between Morgan and Rick, entirely self-contained and filled with mid and close shots on the pair, was particularly well done. Here the focus of the episode paid off as well: the episode never strayed from the events surrounding Morgan's stronghold, no cuts back to the prison, no shots of Andrea being stupidly conflicted in Woodbury.

If the events in town been less engaging, this would have led to a nearly interminable episode, but thanks to the central confrontation between Rick and Morgan, as well as an entertaining adventure with Carl and Michonne, it wasn't. Going into this episode, I was dreading it, expecting a time-killing, water-treading affair. Instead, in turned out to be one the of season's, and possibly the show's, best.

Other Thoughts
I still can't decide how I feel about the "Carl wants a picture of his mom for his sister" subplot. On the one hand, it was kind of touching (and a nice nod to both the way life has changed in the zombie-poc and the fact that Carl isn't yet an entirely emotionless zombie killing machine) and once he stopped foolishly rebuffing Michonne, he was relatively smart in going about it. On the other hand, sentimentality seems like a dumb thing to risk your life for in this world. At the very least, I appreciated that Carl was doing this at a time when he could at least take care of himself; had this been the useless Carl of last season wading into a room full of zombies to get a picture of his mother, it would have been another infuriating example of the "Carl, get in damn the house!" meme.

I also appreciated the opportunity this subplot afforded for fleshing out Michonne's character. The conversation between Rick and Carl about her (while she could obviously overhear them) did a lot to engender sympathy towards her, as did her efforts to prove herself to Carl. Plus, it's not much, but at least now there's a reason for at least one person in the group to stick up for Michonne beyond "she's good with a sword". For the first time, Michonne feels like a character, and not just a badass with a sword.

The scene towards the end between her and Rick as they packed up the car was also really good, and surprisingly funny. 

Morgan's zombie traps, complete with bait, were clever. I'd like to see more of that from the characters on this: ways to adapt to the world in which they're living.

I'm not sure if it's been established before and I just missed it, but I never realized the prison was so close (a few hours car ride, at least) to Rick's hometown. 

The shot of Carl, casually leaning against the cafe doors as zombies go nuts against it, was pretty awesome.

This was a particularly strong episode for set design, between Morgan's zombie gauntlet, the writing on the walls of his stronghold, and the graffiti throughout the town. 

For what it's worth, the writer of this episode, Scott Gimple, has been named the showrunner for next season, following Glen Mazzarra's departure after this season.

Apparently this episode ran longer than usual, as my DVR cut off the ending (despite being programmed to record an extra three minutes on the end). I made it as far as Rick, Carl and Michonne back in the car, having just driven around the crash where they got stuck on the way into town and seeing the red smear on the side of the road that was presumably the guy in the backpack that tried to chase them down at the beginning. If anything important happened after that, or I just missed another few seconds of silent contemplation before the screen went dark, let me know.

Speaking of that guy in the backpack, while it was sad the way he was so desperate for help only to be ignored, I wonder how someone like that, who clearly doesn't know that making a lot of noise is a bad thing, has survived this long. It kinda feels like natural selection, by way of the zombies, would have killed most of the stupid people/people unable to adapt to the situation by now, at least the ones wandering around in the open.

Though Morgan survived (thanks to body armor), Carl didn't know he was wearing it when he shot him, which, as far as Carl was concerned, made it his first non-zombie kill. If Rick is drifting dangerously close to Morgan territory, perhaps Carl is drifting dangerous close to his dad's. Perhaps that's the fate of everyone in this world, though Carl apologizing for shooting Morgan suggests there's a little hope for humanity yet.

Rick: We’re eating his food now?
Michonne: The mat sad ‘Welcome.’

Rick: You wanna drive?
Michonne: Yeah.
Rick: Good. ‘Cause I see things.

9 comments:

  1. after they drove by the dead hitchhiker a ways, they stopped, backed up, and picked up his backpack.
    i also loved the part when Michonne said she went back for the gorgeous cat statue

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  2. Rick: We’re eating his food now?
    Michonne: The mat said ‘Welcome.’


    I think that's quite possibly my Dialogue of the Year, which is saying something with Parks and Rec in the mix.

    the episode used its narrow focus to its advantage

    Yes it did; well put. I liked the side trip both for the continuity points and the character interplay. Going back to a town that Rick knows intimately makes perfect sense in terms of stocking up on guns and really anything else. When it became clear where they were and that we would learn what happened to Morgan, however, I was suddenly gripped by disappointment that this was the season finale and I hadn't realized it, because that's a big loose end to revisit.

    Morgan was great — nicely if sadly realized by the writers and acted the hell out of by the guy. For those of us holding out hope of seeing him again, especially in this world where so little familiar survives and even that can be ripped away at any time (per Morgan's point), it was a very bittersweet reunion. As you said the situation had some unstated or at least understated parallels to Rick's, but as much as it might have been a positive in terms of being a cautionary tale to Rick it also had to be a crushing blow for Rick not to have been able to rescue and truly reunite with his first friend the new world.

    sentimentality seems like a dumb thing to risk your life for in this world

    I guess. But maybe it's just one of those things that keeps people human. We can't survive if we can't compartmentalize; as long as it doesn't occur to such a degree that it makes us stupid and/or sociopathic, it's necessary and helpful. Keeping up certain appearances or niceties would surely be turning a blind eye (no Governor pun intended) to the harsh realities of the new world order, of which I think Woodbury is a case in point — although one of my big frustrations with the show is that we haven't really seen what life is like there for people who aren't running the place. Anyway, I wouldn't expect folks to set up a golf course like on Lost, not with zombies everywhere, but the occasional song or wanting to hold onto a picture of your mom, especially for your little sister who'll never have known her, yeah, that's about right.

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  3. The conversation between Rick and Carl about [Michonne] (while she could obviously overhear them) did a lot to engender sympathy towards her, as did her efforts to prove herself to Carl.

    Once it was obvious to us that Michonne could hear them, I suspected that not only was Rick to an extent telling Carl what he needed to hear at that moment but that Rick was aware Michonne was in earshot and probably even hoped that she'd realize he knew. I think that's one reason why Rick and Michonne slide into their own rapprochement at the end of the episode so easily, after Michonne helped Carl and Carl told Rick that maybe she wasn't so bad (was in fact maybe "one of us") after all.

    I was also glad to see that Michonne can still be a no-nonsense badass even while being kind (she got that photo out impossibly fast) or funny (the lines you quoted above).

    I'm not sure if it's been established before and I just missed it, but I never realized the prison was so close (a few hours car ride, at least) to Rick's hometown.

    And that was my issue with the episode. Granted we don't know exactly in what direction the group headed after the farm last winter, but it seems like there has to be a bit of a circle made from Rick's hometown to the group Shane, Lori, and Carl fell in with on the way to Atlanta to the CDC to Hershel's farm to the prison if, indeed, a jaunt to Rick's hometown from the prison was deemed both safe enough for him to make with Carl and Michonne and safe enough to leave the others behind for the time they'd be gone. In which case it feels a little dirty-pool not to have Rick made some mention of familiarity when they got to the prison even if he'd never actually been there — unless he did, and I don't remember it — and for us never to have heard Carl ask during the season to date when they might take a trip back.

    I made it as far as Rick, Carl and Michonne back in the car, having just driven around the crash where they got stuck on the way into town and seeing the red smear on the side of the road that was presumably the guy in the backpack that tried to chase them down at the beginning. If anything important happened after that, or I just missed another few seconds of silent contemplation before the screen went dark, let me know.

    What you missed is the car backing up to the backpack, the sound of the door opening and closing on the passenger side (to my recollection, we didn't even see anyone get out), and then when the car pulled forward again the backpack being gone from the side of the road.

    The scene has stuck with me in part because of its poignancy but also because I had to rewind a couple of times, sure that the red smear meant something but not sure that it represented the guy in the backpack we'd seen earlier until I played it a few times.

    How tough was it to see them leave that guy on the road — not in terms of what we felt for him, but for what we felt for the established characters? I can't blame him for yelling out of desperation, since he'd surely have done that even if he knew it attracted walkers in the name of actually getting a ride with people to some shelter, but neither can I blame Rick, Carl, and Michonne for passing him up because he could easily have turned out to be a threat or just a drag on their mission. There's such an exquisite tension between the group being wary of outsiders and the group really needing to grow its ranks with the right people (so again with Carl's assessment of Michonne) in terms of all aspects of safety. You can't judge anyone in this world.

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  4. I liked the episode a lot. I wished more of them were good like this. Though, like Blam, i did have problems with the prison's close location to Rick's home.
    He tells Morgan "we found a prison"
    But Rick was the Sheriff. If they were really that close to his home, he would know what prison it was and he would have known all along that it was there.
    Huge continuity hole, in my opinon

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  5. @Anne: Thanks for the info. Sounds like I didn't miss too much.

    @Blam: Morgan was great — nicely if sadly realized by the writers and acted the hell out of by the guy.

    I've seen Lennie James in a few other things, and he's always phenomenal.

    it also had to be a crushing blow for Rick not to have been able to rescue and truly reunite with his first friend the new world.

    One of the understated things I really loved was just how devastated Rick was when he realized that Morgan had been tuning in as Rick instructed, but that Rick had given up broadcasting. It went by more or less unremarked upon via dialogue, but Andrew Lincoln sold the hell out of it, and I'm really glad it was left subtle.

    but the occasional song or wanting to hold onto a picture of your mom, especially for your little sister who'll never have known her, yeah, that's about right.

    Yeah, I do think that's about the right level of sentimentality. And like I said, while Carl was still a dumb kid about it at times, at least he went on this quest at a time when he was more or less capable of taking care of himself.

    How tough was it to see them leave that guy on the road — not in terms of what we felt for him, but for what we felt for the established characters?

    It was really tough. On the one hand, you're thinking, absolutely, leave that guy be, he's not your problem, you don't know what kind of trouble he could bring. On the other hand, you're thinking jeez, that guy could have been no different than Rick at the beginning of season two, desperately needing help for Carl.

    You can't blame them for not stopping, but you still feel bad they didn't.

    @Sarah: I wished more of them were good like this.

    Ditto. Per our conversation last week, there have only been a handful of episodes of this show that I've ever felt like I might want to watch again. The pilot is one of them, this would probably be another.

    But Rick was the Sheriff. If they were really that close to his home, he would know what prison it was and he would have known all along that it was there.

    Right - at least as presented, the prison they found was unknown to Rick. But even if he himself had never gone there, if the prison was that close to his hometown, where he worked, he would have known it existed, would have said something like "oh, this must the Blah Blah prison. We're closer to home than I thought" or something.

    It also almost seemed like they changed up the familiarity of the town mid-episode. When they first went into the sheriff's station looking for the guns, Rick made a comment that suggested this was an auxiliary station or something (it certainly wasn't the same station he and Morgan went to in the pilot, which was his "office", so to speak).

    So I figured this was a town that had been somewhere in Rick's jurisdiction - he was a sheriff, so presumably he worked countywide - with a sheriff's station he'd work out of when he was in town but wasn't his main office. That would have made more sense in the context of what's come before, but then he and Carl started talking like they knew this town pretty well, and before long, it became clear this was their town.

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  6. Yeah, like the rest of you I was surprised by how close the prison was to Rick's town. Rick should've known about it. But maybe this was a top secret prison designed to house political prisoners and aliens? Maybe there was more to Axel than we thought?
    But the whole backpacker bookend of this episode bothered me. What I was really was hoping would happen is that, after Rick saw what happened to Morgan after Morgan completely isolated himself, Rick would pick the backpacker up on the way back.
    I get that anybody COULD be a threat. But at the same time you still need people. I feel like the group needs a way to accept new people into the fold but still be cautious about it and do proper vetting.
    I feel like everyone has turned to Shane’s way of thinking. I know some fans think this is the proper mindset for a zombie apocalypse and maybe they’re right. But the fact remains it’s becoming difficult to watch a show where every character displays an appalling apathy towards the suffering of fellow humans.
    I’m just hoping that the show has some characters change soon and realize that they do need to start trusting outsiders on some level at some point and maybe even decide it’s not always a bad thing to help a person out every once in a while.

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  7. Dr. Bitz -- "But the fact remains it’s becoming difficult to watch a show where every character displays an appalling apathy towards the suffering of fellow humans."

    I fully endorse this statement. I still like the show, but it's almost in spite of most of the characters rather than because of them.

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  8. @Dr.Bitz: But the fact remains it’s becoming difficult to watch a show where every character displays an appalling apathy towards the suffering of fellow humans."

    @Matt: I fully endorse this statement. I still like the show, but it's almost in spite of most of the characters rather than because of them.

    Same here.

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  9. @Dr. Bitz: But the fact remains it’s becoming difficult to watch a show where every character displays an appalling apathy towards the suffering of fellow humans.

    I echo the agreement of everyone else as well. Like I said, it wasn't that long ago that Rick and company were all that different from the backpacker. While I understand WHY they didn't stop to help, that doesn't mean I liked it.

    In fact, the only reluctance I have to the group changing its stance and deciding to at least try and vet new characters they encounter is having to watch what happens when they decide someone fails the vetting process, which I foresee as being either interminably boring (like with Randall) or even more apathetic/disturbing than just refusing to help anyone new.

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