Monday, 13 December 2010

Rest Stop

 Now that we've come to the end of the first fun-size series of The Walking Dead (which I'm insisting on calling "Days Gone Bye"), it's time to think about how the show measured up (spoilers for the last episode and the comic follow).

Generally speaking, I thought it was always at least good, and frequently excellent.  Now that all six episodes have passed, I'm leaning towards thinking that it's really only Darabont who gets how the series should work.  Not even Kirkman himself managed to quite pull it together - though some of that feeling is probably down to the redshirt massacre I lamented previously happening on his watch [1].  Regardless, I thought "Vatos" and "Wildfire" were both a shade disappointing, which left it up to "TS-19" to restore my faith in the show.

I’d say it was partially successful, and in some places did better than that.  The main reason to celebrate is the return to the Lori/Shane dynamic, which was building so nicely up until he was reduced to sulky contrarianism and dark glances.  It’s a glorious (though vicious) twist that we finally hear his side of the story and it be not entirely unreasonable, only for him to almost immediately stumble drunkenly forward and try to rape her.  The best villains are always those whose behaviour we can understand – which is not to say tolerate or excuse – and Shane is working very well in that regard.

Things get more interesting still when Shane blames Lori’s scratch-marks on his face as being self-inflicted, before saying “It’s not like me at all.”  Is he accusing Lori? “You made me do this?” Or is it an apology?  Possible Shane doesn’t even know.  Certainly, his complexity makes me glad the first season deviated from the graphic novel and allowed Shane to survive.

Glad though I was to see our resident antagonist survive (mainly) undamaged, though, the deviation from the source text is problematical here for other reasons.  It’s not that I’m unwilling to see changes made – at least, I don’t think it is – but this time around I’m not entirely convinced.  Obviously, the season finale had to be different in some ways.  The final issue of Kirkman’s Days Gone Bye gives over a healthy proportion of its twenty-two pages to a single argument between Rick and Shane which ends up with the latter dead.  That’s not something you can really build an entire episode around (though it would have made a cracking final scene). 

There were already clues the show wouldn’t take this route.  Shane training his gun on Rick in the woods last week was so reminiscent of the scene in the comic that it seemed a clear signpost: “We’re not doing it that way this time”.  Similarly you have the fact that the survivors haven’t been focusing on training to shoot as they did in the comic, something which was critical in the final moments of the novel.  It also hinged on the common theme of the early comics, which was that Rick was invariably right, with Shane and Lori constantly objecting only to be proved wrong (or, y’know, get shot), something the series (rightly) seems determined to avoid.

Clearly, then, changes needed to be made.  It’s just the nature of the changes that causes problems.  Putting Rick and company into a high-tech facility takes away from one of the main ideas of the show – modern-day people forced to deal without those things they’ve taken for granted.  It also detracts from the idea that the survivors are constantly at each other’s throats, too, which is why Shane and Lori’s fight is by far the best scene in the episode, hard though it is to watch.  You could argue, I suppose, that this makes for a welcome change more than anything else, but to me it feels a little too early for that.

I also didn’t like the facility itself.  AI computers and gigantic wall displays just don’t sit right, to me.  In a show about losing so much of what humanity has built, you probably shouldn’t be introducing stuff we don’t actually have yet.  Last week’s introduction to the CDC worked better in that regard; all smudged video recordings and exhausted desperation.  Here, the implication is that this place is perfect for the survivors, which then means there needs to be a ludicrous twist to force the survivors to leave.  There’s an automatic self-destruct that can’t be aborted?  Really? And it just so happens to be scheduled for the day after our heroes show up? Because of running low on power?  And their host knows all this and his solution is to tell them to go easy on the hot water?

Indeed, Doctor Jenner is the real problem here.  It’s just too convenient that he knows the end is coming but thinks it best that everyone dies anyway , and moreover won’t share that information until the instant he’s asked.  It feels too much like the story is driving his behaviour, rather than the other way around.

In summary, then, something of a return to form, but there’s some hefty qualifiers to that.  Mainly, it felt like a solid mid-season episode, rather than a closer to the whole series.  Perhaps I’ll feel different once I watch the whole season again on its own terms.

Besides, it did its job in at least one sense: I’m very much looking forward to the start of Season 2.

[1] The Other Half and I actually re-watched the whole of Kirkman's episode last week to count the redshirts (yes, I am ludicrously anal and yes, my girlfriend is exceptionally patient).  We counted four people in the background during the various confrontations with Jim - only one of whom was white, by the way, which proves ZOMBIES ARE RACIST - and a fifth character who magically appeared apparently so that she could run screaming into a horde of walkers because THAT IS THE SHIT THAT WOMEN DO.  I had wondered before whether these characters would be named or discussed, but in the end, they were just a half dozen bodies for those people with names to argue about disposal methods for.

[2] He could fuck off during that dinner, though.  "Oh my God we came here to get answers and all we have is food and drink and hot showers in this IMPENETRABLE UNDERGROUND BUNKER, and also THIS MEAL WASN'T COOKED FOR ME BY UNICORNS!!!

I seem to be shouting a lot today.

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