Saturday, 11 December 2010

'THE WALKING DEAD' 1.6 – "TS-19"

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Considering Frank Darabont knew AMC only commissioned six episodes of The Walking Dead (as a litmus test), there's really no excuse for the problems with structure and pace it's had. Having delivered a pilot that setup the idea of Sheriff's Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) searching a zombie-infested dystopia for his missing family, they were reunited the following week; having spent half the season teasing the repercussions of leaving racist Merle handcuffed to a rooftop, that storyline had zero impact on proceedings since episode 4. Undoubtedly these things will be returned to next year, but why was it so hard to tell a relatively self-contained story in six installments?

This finale was good fun and reasonably dramatic, buoyed by a great performance from Noah Emmerich as the haunted Dr Jenner, but the constraints of the season's length didn't do it any favours. If this had been a regular cable season, we'd probably have arrived at the CDC facility in episode 7 and stayed there for 3 episodes (at the very least), but instead everything was truncated to an hour. And that just isn't long enough to feel true elation that the survivors found an underground paradise of hot showers, heated rooms, books, booze and food; or depressed when everyone realized Dr Jenner's plotting to incinerate them all in an explosion because he believes their predicament is so bleak. Considering the mid-season slack, I'm fairly sure expanding the CDC section of the storyline was achievable. After all, did we need that episode with the pointless return to Atlanta City to search for Merle, which led to the storyline with the street gang protecting an old folk's home?

It speaks to the problems of this series that the teaser was an isolated flashback, explaining why and how Rick was abandoned in hospital to begin with -- although the reveal wasn't anything too surprising. Best friend Shane had simply believed Rick was dead and left him behind as the hospital was overrun by zombies and soldiers shooting people arbitrarily. Then again, if Shane truly believed his friend was dead, why bother blocking his room door to prevent zombies getting in?

The characters are beginning to leave a better impression now, although I still don't really care about the supposed leads (Rick, Shane, Lori). For me, those actors have been eclipsed by Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn, who are much more compelling on-screen. The scene when Andrea decided to stay behind and die in Jenner's "painless" high-temperature explosion (as she doesn't think she has anything worth living for now her sister Amy's dead), was particularly good – leading to Dale's high-risk tactic to keep Laurie alive (staying with her, making her realize her life still matters and means something to other people). That was all far more compelling than the dull love-triangle between Rick, Shane and Lori, which the show seems to think is a brilliantly compelling storyline we're all on tenterhooks about. But with no real insight into the strength of the Grimes marriage pre-zombies, the depth of Rick and Shane's friendship, or exactly why Lori started sleeping with Shane so soon after her husband's "death" (the hussy), it feels like an ill-conceived cliché the show's more captivated by than anyone else.

Overall, "TS-19" kept me entertained and, while it offered nothing very new or interesting, there was enough good moments and exciting scenes to make you forget its deficiencies. Basically, there was nothing particularly bad about this finale itself, the problem was more to do with season 1's length and structure as a whole. Too much about the preceding five episodes feels badly handled, knowing how much played no part in the finale itself. The show wasn't planned very well, and I personally don't think it delivered on the promise of a serialized zombie series. The characters weren't all that special, the storyline was either predictable or clichéd, and there just wasn't enough time to make various developments and deaths feel earned or shocking. A great example here is the moment when a woman from the survivor's group decided to stay with Jenner and accept his offer of a painless death; it could have been a big emotional send-off, but what was that woman's name? Who was she? What was her back-story?

The Walking Dead will return next October, by all accounts, with a standard 13 episode run. I'm hoping lessons will be learned from this six-episode miniseries, which has felt very much like a test-run. Then again, considering the record-breaking ratings for AMC, there's a chance Frank Darabont won't want to risk upsetting the apple cart and instead just deliver more of the same. And while the show's proven there's a huge audience who want to see zombies on TV, I hope Darabont's not naïve enough to believe The Walking Dead's ratings validate the show's current quality. It could really be so much more.

  • Any thoughts on what Jenner whispered to Rick at the end of the episode? Apparently, it's very predictable if you've read the comic-books, so don't spoil things if you know.
  • Jenner revealed that French scientists were closest to creating a cure for whatever virus has caused the dead to rise up, so getting to France may be a long-term goal for the series. I guess they just need to find an airplane pilot or the captain of a ship with good navigation skills.
  • It's been brought to my attention how close to Lost this show is, with a few obvious parallels and similarities. The survivors base-camp could be considered beach-camp, the CDC was essentially The Walking Dead's version of The Hatch (containing its own version of a lonely, half-crazy Desmond), and the season climaxed with a clock countdown and gargantuan explosion. Of course, Walking Dead was published before Lost aired, and both shows deal with broad elements common to many survival-based ensemble shows, so I'm not suggesting there's anything intentional going on here. But it's fun to note what the two shows have in common.
WRITERS: Adam Fierro & Frank Darabont
DIRECTOR: Guy Ferland
TRANSMISSION: 10 December 2010, FX/HD, 10PM