When The Walking Dead season one ended, I found myself a fan but fairly underwhelmed. With the return of the show last week, I thought last week’s episode was good, yet still found it a tad underwhelming. (My doctor has diagnosed me with a vicious case of Breaking Bad Withdrawal, which is most likely the cause of this.) However, David Harper reviewed both the season one finale and the season two premiere, and found both entertaining — and his excitement is contagious.
With all of that in mind, let’s talk about the second episode of season two after the jump! As a note, spoilers are very much discussed.
There was a considerable amount of drama surrounding the second season of the Walking Dead with Frank Darabont stepping down as showrunner and Glen Mazzara taking over. It was a confusing move to many, after the inherent popularity of the first season, and one that many people were quick to second guess, especially with the quality (or I suppose lack thereof) of the season premiere.
I would imagine, then, that this episode should largely put most of those fears either to rest or completely turn fans off to the show entirely, because that’s just what this kind of episode was.
Written by the new showrunner Glen Mazzara, the episode picks up where the last episode ended and finds Rick, Shane and a passed out Carl discovering the Greene farm, a familiar location to fans of the comic and one that quickly became a milestone of events for the assembled cast. In this particular episode we meet only Hershel and Maggie from the comics, along with a few new characters and Otis, the man who accidentally shot Carl. As our survivors are split up into several groups, the show splits itself between a race for survival for young Carl, a search for medical equipment with the (unfortunately still alive) Shane and Otis, the continued hunt for young Sophia, and the budding friendship between Dale and T-Dog before reminding viewers — Oh yeah. This show has zombies.
The comic is pretty much a champion amongst the genre because it is the ongoing tale of survival horror. While the book is certainly “about” zombies, that’s not really ever the point; instead, this is a book about what happens afterwards. In the book, we’ve followed the assembled characters for almost 100 issues now as they’ve gone through Hell and back in some of the most disturbing sequences (of the non-torture porn variety) in any comic on the market. That’s pretty much why the Walking Dead is actually worth reading on a monthly basis: these characters lives are so emotionally enveloping that you can’t help but immediately be drawn to their story of survival. To say that the show is slowly losing that quality is to put it lightly.
That is, perhaps, the main noticeable difference between the show and the comic: as a viewer, I don’t feel that emotionally invested in their survival beyond the fact that I’ve known these characters for years in another medium. The Walking Dead the comic has balls, it goes into every possible corner of darkness and roots out the horror created by this post-apocalyptic scenario. The show is playing it safe, and outside of some outstanding make-up and gore, the sense of danger and purpose isn’t there. The point where the show decided to split off the original story (outside of an original jaunt here or there) effectively lost me in my involvement, and at this point it is the show’s job to fight to bring me back as an avid viewer. Given the pacing of the show and it’s choice of characters, that interest is quickly waning.
However, my cynical nature is mostly brought on from last episode, which, despite a few choice moments, dragged for the most part. This episode picked up the pace and was probably twice as engrossing as the plot bounced between several story lines, giving just enough time with each not to drag things on for too long and long enough to make each scene count. There is still an issue with pacing as well as arrangement; the place where the episode choose to ends is not nearly as dramatic as the show producers probably assumed it was (if only for poor editing, really), because it pretty much just ends due to time — it’s not so much a cliff-hanger as it is a stop sign along the road. We’re still given a much better second episode for the season here, though, and one would certainly hope that this episode might set the bar for what is to come.Continued below
Glen Mazarra wrote this week’s episode, so I suppose it’s safe to say that this episode is the one in which all others have to generally follow now that we’re past the starting gate. If that’s true, then I choose to remain fairly optimistic. Mazarra has a strong handle on the characters throughout, and unlike the last episode (which was co-written by series creator Robert Kirkman), there isn’t any large moments of wasted time that could be given to interesting character stories. This episode mostly holds a singular pace throughout, and Mazarra shows that he wasn’t given show runner as some kind of fluke — he’s actually quite a solid writer. He does a good job with introducing the Greene family and setting things up for the rest of the season, and I actually have more faith in the season overall now than I did last week. It’s rough around the edges, but you can slowly see some elements starting to take shape (or at least you can cross your fingers and hope).
The biggest issue the show currently has, however, is its pacing and focus; that’s the main thing that needs to be fixed here. With season one, our assumed “point” was to find Rick’s family, then get out of Atlanta alive and on to a new place to live, but with the finale of last season it became clear that there was no real overall story being told, just one of survival in which people go from Point A to Point B, take a pause, and then move to Point C. That doesn’t make for very interesting television. Certainly there are shows that survive on a week to week “one and done” story basis, but the Walking Dead – an ongoing tale of survival horror – needs a focus. Our characters need to be going somewhere. Right now, that doesn’t really feel like the case — our characters are simply trying to survive their current shitty situation. It stands as noteworthy that if we really wanted to just watch a show where characters try and not get bumped off every week for no reason other than they want us to watch them, we can just watch reality TV.
If the Walking Dead hopes to regain the trust of it’s audience after a) not killing Shane, b) throwing out a dull season finale last year and c) not killing Shane, it needs to make a mission statement at some point during the next episode or so. Our characters need a direction to head in, and given the source material there are plenty of things to be done (like, oh, I don’t know… kill Shane?). Even if Rick at some point drops a line “we can make a new life here on this farm,” that would at least center the show to a point where drama could then happen surrounding the farm (and boy, did drama happen!), but we still need that point to occur. The show isn’t inherently bad, and is still quite good for a quiet Sunday evening sitting at home and mentally preparing for the coming work week. However, if you look at other shows on the same network – specifically, Breaking Bad – the bar has clearly been set: don’t pussyfoot around the dark subject material and/or actors contracts, just dive headfirst into the disaster and let the chips fall where they may.