Sunday, March 9, 2014

TV Review: 'The Walking Dead'-4.13-"Alone"

Last week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Still,” was perhaps the most contained episode of the series. Aside from a few random walkers, there are only two people in the entire thing, and most of the time is taken up with Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Beth (Emily Kinney) opening up and sharing with each other. Tonight’s installment, “Alone,” offers a wider look at the still-splintered group of survivors, following the pair from last week, who are quickly forming a tight bond, but also checking in with Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Bob Stookey (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.).

The action bounces back and forth between the two camps, almost moment by moment. This approach is problematic because just when you start to settle into that particular piece, the narrative uproots you and shoots you back to the others. After a few times you start to get tired of this strategy, but it goes on throughout the whole 60 minutes. It doesn’t help matters that the Daryl/Beth story is infinitely more engaging than the Maggie/Sasha/Bob side, especially in the wake of “Still.”

We pick up with Daryl teaching Beth how to track. When she gets her ankle caught in a trap, they need someplace to lay low for a bit, and find sanctuary in the mortuary of a cemetery. When you’re surrounded by horrors, no matter how much you try to push them away, there will always be constant reminders, and this hits home for Beth when she sees a headstone memorializing a “beloved father,” and the memories of Hershel come rushing back.

This side of the story continues to strengthen the connection between these two unlikely travel companions. They’re essentially moving towards meeting each other in the middle, with Daryl toughening Beth up at the same time she gets him to soften up and let who he really is shine through his tough guy exterior. It’s nice to see actual quality character work going on in The Walking Dead after so many seasons of half-assed attempts to make you give a shit about people who have never actually been developed in any meaningful way. And I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that we haven’t seen Rick (Andrew Lincoln) for multiple weeks. I get that he’s the main focus in the comics, but the show really needs to take a step back and figure out what the hell they’re doing with him.

What the duo discovers inside the mortuary isn’t what they expect. The building is spotless and has been meticulously maintained. Better than that, the pantry is fully stocked with diet soda, peanut butter, and pig’s feet, or as Daryl calls it, redneck brunch. Tasty. So they hang out there for a while, Beth plays piano and sings because she always takes that opportunity to do that—Kinney is a singer in real life—and they just sort of chill. A mangy stray dog even stops by to say hello.

Because this The Walking Dead things never stay idyllic for long, and when they think the dog is back, the mortuary gets overrun by walkers. Daryl, because he’s a solid dude at heart, leads them after him so Beth can get away. After he gets out, comes the biggest shocker of the episode. Before they can reunite, Beth gets kidnapped. The suspects are driving what looks suspiciously like a hearse that comes with the funeral home, and are presumably the folks who were there before them.

For the meantime anyway, the tale of Beth and Daryl ends on a total bummer. Sprinting after her, in shoes that are definitely not designed for long distance running, Daryl collapses in the middle of the street. But that’s not all, as he’s sitting there, wallowing in his own misery and despair, who should show up but the bad news biker-looking guys who crashed Rick and Michonne’s party a couple weeks ago. You remember them, Rick strangled one on the crapper, and they’re obviously up to no good. In Daryl they see a kindred spirit, and, appealing to his baser instincts—why hurt yourself when you can hurt other people—he reluctantly joins their ranks.

You know that Daryl is not like these men. These guys are total pieces of shit, and though Daryl has a checkered past, you’re well aware that he is not a worthless pile of human garbage. But he can pass, and though he may not like it, it may be a matter of survival at this point. Hopefully he’ll be breaking away and going after Beth the first chance he gets.

While all of this is going on, we keep checking in with Maggie, Sasha, and Bob, and that’s what it feels like. The Daryl and Beth story feels like the primary part of the episode, while this is there because these guys have to be up to something, right? And it isn’t terrible, it just doesn’t hold up to the other story, and feels a little like filler.

This side actually starts out with a lot of promise. The episode begins with Bob before he joined the prison. He’s just out there, alone in the wake of his second group being eaten by zombies, shuffling around, barely alive, much like one of them. Most of his time is spent chugging cough syrup and sleeping on the top of a semi truck. He’s in dire straits when Daryl and Glenn find him on the side of the road. The next time we see Bob it’s back to the present, and he’s hanging out with Maggie and Sasha. Mired in fog in what is one of the eeriest images in all of the series, they’re surrounded by walkers that they can hear, but not see.

Their basic conflict is that Maggie still wants to search for Glenn, but Sasha, the eternal downer, assumes he’s dead. They go back and forth, especially after they come across a sign for the safe zone known as Terminus. Eventually Maggie sets off on her own, leaving at night so they won’t follow her. “Still” takes the already splintered group of survivors, and breaks them apart even more. So much for my worry that The Walking Dead was going to rush to reunite the gang.

The writers are trying to do the same thing with these characters that they’ve been doing with Daryl and Beth, but their attempts never reach the same levels. Bob, who is just happy not to be alone again, yammers on, sounding like a self-empowerment guru with his “you don’t need to be afraid” shtick. This thread is more mired in what happens than how the characters respond and react to what is happening. It’s all very one note. Bob wants to keep everyone together, Maggie wants to track down Glenn, and Sasha just wants to find a place to hold up. There’s not much more going on than this, and at the end they all come back together and everyone hugs. Literally everyone hugs.

Overall, “Alone” is an up and down episode. The end is half upper, half downer, and while some of what they try definitely delivers, some falls flat. If nothing else, you’re moving forward, with all of the separated pieces gradually beginning to head in the same direction, especially after Glenn see the messages Maggie has been leaving for him scrawled in walker blood.

No comments: