Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Walking Dead - What Lies Ahead (S02EO1) Recap & Review

The Walking Dead S02E01 – What Lies Ahead

“Last season on AMC’s The Walking Dead...” is how the show comes back, and my first thought was just ‘Really?’ Not ‘Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead’ or even ‘Frank Darabont’s...’, but oh yeah, AMC sort of lost its famous show runner between the seasons. I’m not yet sure how losing Darabont is going to play out. A lot has been made in the TV-watching media about how he’s been replaced with someone much worse, but frankly I wasn’t all that impressed with what they did with season one.

So how does season two kick off?

With a bad, bad monologue; Rick on his radio again trying to contact Morgan. Or just getting his troubles off his chest, if you think it might be an impossible task. The monologue is obviously meant to serve in part as a recap of season one’s peculiar finale. In case you forgot, the series took a serious detour from anything the comics have ever depicted, and the gang found a CDC facility with one lone, suicidal scientist. It wasn’t an interesting story, and it wasn’t handled well, so I’m glad they seem to have moved on from it pretty quick. Still, the monologue is clunky, and seems extra clunky after following that ‘previously’ recap.

In S2, the gang has finally departed from Atlanta, and we catch up with them rolling down the highway, apparently on their way to Fort Benning. Dale in his RV pulls up short with an “Aw jeez” as he apparently fails to notice an enormous, lane-spanning roadblock of wrecked cars until he’s right on top of it in broad daylight. They decide to try to worm their way through the blockade – how exactly did it end up like that, anyway? Did people just floor it into the back of standing cars, flipping over? Are zombies meant to have done it? – whilst scavenging supplies.

First, though, Lori has to utter the dreadful line “It’s a graveyard”, presumably referring to the bodies no doubt contained in the cars. So... this is a graveyard, but all your looting of Atlanta was just fine? Lori is a terrible, terrible character in the series, lurching between strange proclamations like that to a bizarre gotta-have-it-both-ways love triangle with Rick and Shane. Her berating Shane for not acting like Carl’s dad was just bizarre.

That roll of Gerber tools that Carl found though? Nice.

Dale, Master Lookout.
Before long, however, Dale on lookout duty spots a walker (did they call them walkers in the comics? I can’t remember). Like the roadblock, he’s a little slow on the uptake – when Rick sights in on the first zombie, considering taking a shot (I was ready to go ballistic if he took it, even with just one zombie, considering what they’d learned in season one about gunfire attracting hordes), it quickly becomes clear there are dozens of zombies coming.

A herd.

Now that's a herd
Herds become a bigger part of the comics later in the run, so its interesting that we’re seeing them in season two of the series, well before a lot of other interesting things have happened. I’d say it was a nice reference to the mythos of the comic, but it’s not really handled too threateningly. A herd in the comic is something terrifying, unstoppable, a seemingly endless wave of zombies rolling over everything in their meandering path. This herd wanders by, mostly fooled by our intrepid heroes... hiding beneath their cars.

What? Did the zombies lose their sense of smell, or something? I know we’re not dealing with walking geniuses, here, but the zombies have proved adept at hunting in pitch darkness and have previously been fooled by the living draping themselves in the stinking entrails of the dead – so why exactly does hiding under a car stop them noticing where folks are?

It’s almost a perfect plan, anyway, except no one remembered to shut Andrea in the RV, and... er... T-Dog (I had to go look his name up on Wikipedia. I only know him as ‘stereotype they included so someone would have an antagonistic relationship with the white supremacist’) manages to go fumbling around the car wrecks, slices his arm up real good, and nearly gets himself killed. Fortunately, Daryl, the resident redneck extraordinaire, turns out to be some kind of zombie hunting Sam Fisher, sneaking up behind the walker after T-Dog and taking him down, hand-to-hand, with one of his crossbow bolts.

Did I mention Daryl is the only character I like from the series? That they added, I mean. Glenn and Dale are also kind of okay, and not too far from their comic counterparts, but Daryl is the only ‘invented’ character I’m at all fond of.

As for Andrea... In the comic, Andrea is a bad-ass. I’m assuming there was a time when she wasn’t a bad ass, but she very quickly manned up (so to speak) and dealt with the zombie apocalypse by becoming a scarred, sharpshooting ass kicker. In the series, she’s a gloomy, ranting, possibly suicidal, easily scared wet sock. She manages to dispatch the zombie hunting her after being handed a screwdriver, but then spends the rest of the episode badgering Dale for her gun – something Dale is understandably a little reluctant to hand over, considering he had to drag her out of the exploding CDC building against her will. I suppose they might be taking the long run with Andrea, building her up into something more impressive, but they’re really taking their time about it.

A disaster is nearly averted, but thankfully, the little girl Sofia manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In a series of pitch perfect how-to-fuck-everyone-over moves, she crawls out from under her wreck too early, runs screaming off into the woods when pursued by two slow-moving walkers, nearly pulls Rick’s gun on them when he catches up to her, fails to heed Rick’s instructions to stay put whilst he takes care of aforementioned walkers, and proceeds to lose herself in the woods. What follows is a long, long search – the bulk of the episode, really – with perhaps the only highlight being Rick and Daryl’s hilarious gutting of a dead walker to check its diet didn’t include small children.

“How many things you gutted, anyway?” Daryl smirks, before proceeding to bludgeon his prey to re-death with a knife. Well Daryl, I’ve gutted none, and I know how to open up a zombie better than that.

They have a brief detour to a church with an automated bell ringing out over loudspeaker, during which a few unsatisfying conversations are hashed out – Lori vs. Shane, Shane vs. Andrea, Lori vs. everyone in the group (did I mention I hate Lori? I did? Oh good). There’s no sign of Sofia, though, leaving Shane, Rick and Carl to continue the search.

Deep in the woods, they come across a deer, and the way the scene is set up had me anticipating quite a different denouement – one I wasn’t expecting at that point, as it hadn’t really been set up at all, but that does feature in the comics. Instead, Shane is about to take down the deer, but Carl has a manic grin on his face and starts walking towards it so Rick waves his buddy/cuckold down. Then there’s a gunshot, and both deer and Carl are dropped. Kind of shocking, but then, it’s not like Carl isn’t put through the ringer in the comic – I just didn’t expect it so soon. Or, wait, did this actually happen? I’m getting all mixed up now.

As the credits prep to roll, there’s a “This season on...” flashforward, which does some nice spoilering. It looks like we’ll be seeing the farm from early arcs of the comic, or something approximating it, so perhaps the survivors will be picking up a few new... er... survivors. It looks like Andrea is going to continue flip-flopping on the whole life or death business instead of learning to be awesome. It looks like there are going to be military helicopters, further pushing the series far, far away from the comic that spawned it.

It’s hard to gauge exactly how this does as a second season. I’m going to keep watching it, but it irks me that there’s a lot of potential here – not just potential from the comics, which aren’t always perfect either, but just the sheer potential of a long-running zombie TV show which has never been done before. It’s such a shame to waste that potential on hammy acting, bad monologues, and melodrama. I think it is a bit of an improvement on season one, though, so let’s see what happens. There’s plenty of room for it to improve, as well as plenty of room to spiral down even further.

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