Tuesday, 1 November 2011

THE WALKING DEAD, 2.3 - "Save the Last One"

Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Given the tighter serialization of The Walking Dead this year, I'm finding there's less to say that's specific to each episode. "Save The Last One" continued last week's excellent work, with the attempt to save young Carl's (Chandler Riggs) life that hinges on Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) retrieving a respirator from a zombie-infested hospital. Everything I said last week applies again here, but this episode was slightly better because the situation with Shane took some unexpected turns. There's always been something uncomfortable about Shane (a character I never liked because he made a premature move on his best-friend's wife, thinking that Rick had died), and this episode made it clearer than ever that Shane's morals are the shakiest of the group.

Having sustained a twisted ankle, with ammo running low and zombies snapping at their heels, Shane made the shocking decision to save his own skin by sacrificing Otis to a zombie horde—making good his escape as his overweight comrade was torn apart by the starving undead. A dreadfully callous act at the best of times, but especially cruel given how Otis had volunteered to help Shane to find redemption (being the man who accidentally shot Carl to begin with), and because Otis had recently proven himself willing to put his own life in danger for the good of their mission. Put simply: Otis was a good man trying to make amends for a tragic accident, whereas Shane is a selfish man who'd do anything to survive. The troubling thing is, can you honestly say you wouldn't do the same thing? Isn't it survival of the fittest? Would it have been better for them both to die, thus condemning Carl to die in the process? It's a dog eat dog world. A world that Rick (Lincoln) and Lori (Callies) were earlier debating might not be the best place to raise a child, and death could be a kinder fate.

It'll be interesting to see how this changes Shane's character. He's already decided to keep the circumstances of Otis's fate a secret, understandably, but this means he now has two massive secrets burdening him. How long before he cracks? Has he started to already, seeing as he returned to the farm and almost immediately "dehumanized" himself by shaving his hair off? An act likely intended as a way of "confessing", or signaling, that he's a bad person without actually having to say it aloud? (No, as it's been made clear in the comments below, he was trying to hide the patch of hair Otis yanked from his scalp. Sorry, I somehow missed that.)

This is exactly the kind of thing a zombie epic should be doing. It's not really about the twisted pleasures of seeing ambulant corpses get killed in creative ways, it's about the dilemma's that can arise in a lawless world where people don't have the comfort of society and civilization to keep them in check. Tough decisions have to be made, and they're often so appalling you probably won't be able to live with yourself. Saving the life of a young boy is cold comfort.

With such a memorable storyline at this episode's core, the rest of the story suffered in comparison, but it was still solid entertainment. I'm enjoying the camaraderie that Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) are beginning to share, and their encounter with a zombie hanging from a tree branch with its leg flesh gnawed off by other zombies (the result of a suicidal man who didn't know hanging wouldn't be enough to prevent him "turning") was a memorably ghoulish visual. I'm also glad the show has toned Daryl down from his brasher demeanour in season 1, although isn't it about time he started mentioning the fact his brother Merle's still out there somewhere with a missing hand?

Overall, "Save The Last One" marked another very confident and entertaining step forward for The Walking Dead. Considering I didn't like the majority of what the series did last season, this year's been a considerable improvement in every respect. Better action, stronger cohesion, slicker pace, more zombies, simple but effective plots, massive dilemmas, added realism, and some decent character moments for the actors to tackle.

An impressive start to the season.

written by Scott M. Gimple / directed by Phil Abraham / 30 October 2011 / AMC