Airdate: November 2, 2014
Directed by: Michael E. Satrazemis
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Matthew Negrete, Channing Powell (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels)
After three stellar episodes following the larger part of the group of survivors, we get to turn our attention to Beth, whose mysterious disappearance in Episode 513 has left us hanging for about eight months (actually just one week shy, as the episode aired on March 9). So, who are these mysterious people with the white crosses in their cars that pick people up off the road? Click through after the break for my complete review.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S05E04, “Slabtown” – read more at your own risk.>>
To note: I won’t be doing a comprehensive synopsis of last night’s episode here, rather scrutinizing key scenes with thematic links, and sometimes looking at events out of order, if their thematic connections are more important in my opinion. The review will, however, be rife with spoilers, as most of the main plot points will be covered in some manner.
The episode opens with Beth waking up in a hospital bed. This is, of course, an homage to Episode 101, when Rick woke to find himself alone in his hospital bed after being shot. The main difference here, is that Beth knows exactly what the world is about, which is why she finds herself so very confused. Timelines are a bit tricky here – how long has Beth been in the hospital? While we are never told specifically, we can figure things out if we take a moment to go back.
Fortunately for us, the good folks at the fan-sourced “Walking Dead Wiki” have already done most of the legwork for us. According to them, Beth was taken by Officer Gorman on Day 507 and wakes in Grady Memorial on Day 509. Three days later, on Day 512, Daryl sees a car with a white cross in the back window race by, and he and Carol give chase. He returns with an unknown companion (very likely Noah, which I’ll get to below) one day later, on Day 513. It’s been just under a week since Beth and Daryl were separated. This can be a bit confusing, as the long hiatus between seasons does make the time seem to pass more quickly, and Beth’s wounds seem to heal inordinately fast; but otherwise, the timeline fits.
So at the beginning of the episode, we’re only two days removed from her abduction. Officer Dawn Lerner [Christine Woods] and Doctor Steven Edwards [Eric Jensen] enter her room, and tell her she was “saved” by officers who saw her fighting a walker. She admits to having been there, and to having fought a walker, but it’s apparent that something happened to knock her out – most likely something done by Officer Gorman, whose very first conversation with the awake Beth is to point out that she should be grateful, and whose second conversation tells her he wanted those thighs that the walker was eyeing. Very creepy indeed.
While the hospital, which is indeed called Grady Memorial, is clean and well-kept, there is a sinister tone to everything going on. Officer Lerner (or just Dawn, as most people refer to her as – a sign of the lack of respect she actually holds within the sanctuary), insists that Beth “owes us” for saving her, and Gorman reiterates this when he tells Beth that “Everything costs something.” The arrangement here is that the people with power, with weapons, make the rules and maintain order, while the others, those they’ve saved, do all the grunt work. And it’s pretty clear that one of the expectations, especially for the young women that are saved, is that this grunt work includes sexual favors. There is also a very pragmatic – even cruel – approach to everything. The first patient Edwards takes Beth to see has his life support summarily turned off by the doctor, and dies within moments. Beth is shocked, but Edwards explains to her that, “If patients don’t show any signs of improvement, well, Dawn calls it.”
Beth does what she has to in order to survive in this Bizarro-world hospital, befriending the one and only doctor, and apprenticing beside him. He shares food with her (guinea pig), and he talks about a piece of art he has in his room, something he found randomly on the street during the chaos of the early days of the apocalypse. It is The Denial of Saint Peter by Caravaggio. The theme of the piece – as stated in its title – is something that comes back to echo later in the episode. Curiously, the painting is currently housed at The Met in New York – I wonder how it got to Atlanta? In any case, having the art present is intended also to show us Dr. Edwards’ sophistication, as is the music playing in the background when Beth first enters his office (it’s titled “You Better Run” by Junior Kimbrough – it’s a song about a woman in an abusive relationship who needs to get away. Theming, anyone?). Here’s the only version of the song I could find online:
Beth finds another potential ally in Noah [Tyler James Williams], who is mostly in charge of laundry, and smuggles a green lollipop to Beth folded inside a clean set of orderly greens. She decides to save it for later, and has one of the ickiest scenes of the night when Gorman comes in to see her holding it, about to enjoy the flavor. He takes it from her, opens it up, and pops it in his mouth. He then gets right up in her face, and forces the lollipop into her mouth, making not-so-subtle insinuations about how young she is by pointing out that the candy originally came from the pediatric ward. This is clearly a sexual assault, and it would have gone further, except that Dawn and Dr. Edwards show up. Edwards even gets in Gorman’s face, telling him to leave Beth alone; his position as lone doctor in the hospital is his only card, but he plays it, tying Beth closer to him.
In her first (awake) night at the hospital, and in her new capacity as assistant to Dr. Edwards, Beth is involved in a couple of cases. The first is a man who has fallen from a first floor window, and has internal injuries. There is a subtext to the conversation going on between Dawn, who is insistent that the patient be saved, and Edwards, who insists with equal vehemence that he doesn’t have the tools to guarantee the man’s recovery. If she’s so willing to pull the plug on one man who may be slowly recovering, but is raging at the doctor for not doing everything to save this man who is obviously in far graver condition, then there is something going on here that we’re not being told about. In her frustration, Dawn lashes out – but not at the focus of her anger, Dr. Edwards. Instead, she slaps Beth hard across her already injured cheek. Edwards has been showing some affection for Beth, and this is a classic abuser behavior – attack the perceived object of care or affection to get the abuse victim to comply. Beth is just confused.
This confusion is largely maintained in order to keep us entirely within Beth’s viewpoint for the episode. There is no hidden knowledge that she does not have access to, only a bare handful of scenes shot that do not have her in them. The one exception to this is a scene that establishes Noah as being put-upon by Dawn, although not openly abused in the way that Beth is being. This does, however, give us his motivation for wanting to help Beth when he realizes she plans to escape the hospital later in the episode.
The second case is a woman, brought in against her will, screaming about wanting to leave. She has a bite on her arm, and Dawn gives her a choice – which is really not a choice at all. She tells the woman – Joan [Keisha Castle-Hughes] – that she either chooses to be treated, or lets them choose to treat her. Okay, so she’s going to get treated. As a leader, Dawn is not only ineffectual, but has no firm basis in logical reality. And she carries a gun. Kind of scary.
Joan yells at Dawn, telling her, “I’m not going back to him,” and “You can’t control them.” Dawn replies, “I will,” but this has no effect on Joan – we suspect she’s heard it all before, and before the night is through we get confirmation both through Dr. Edwards’ increasing candor with Beth, and from Dawn herself.
Later, Beth is cleaning the floor in Joan’s room, when Joan opens up to her. She says, “She can control them, but she doesn’t. Because she’s a coward.” By this point, it’s becoming clear that the “she” is Dawn, and the “them” refers to the other cops, those like Gorman who take advantage of their wards. She suggests that Dawn is able to justify making her choices only because it isn’t her paying the price for them – that seems to be the job of all those that have been “saved.”
Beth decides she needs to get out of the madhouse, and she approaches Noah for help. They hatch a plan that, frankly, has nothing of a plan about it. Seriously. The entire plan is Noah saying, “I can distract Dawn, while you go into her office and get her spare key to the elevator banks.” Yep. Unfortunately for Beth, there’s no Abraham here to critique it for her, a la his comment to Rick last week : “It has big brass ones, I have to admit.” Here, he’d probably say, “Yeah, but what’s the plan?”
Beth heads down to Dawn’s office, looking very very suspicious the whole way. You know, the kind of suspicious that would stop a police officer in their tracks so that they could ask you a few questions? That kind of suspicious. Oh, and she’s passing through a hallway filled with cops. Somehow, she gets into Dawn’s office, and starts her search. She immediately espies a jar of lollipops on the desk, which is both a connection with earlier events and a foreshadowing. As she’s searching, she sees a picture of Hansen, Dawn’s predecessor (and predeceasor, as well), handing what looks like a badge or somesuch to Dawn – so he was a mentor figure to her, and she had to put him down. Is this supposed to elicit a modicum of sympathy for her? As Beth approaches the back of the desk, she notices a pool of blood: it’s Joan, and she’s committed suicide, but not before scratching a big old “F You” in the floor with the scissors she used to cut open her wound.
She hasn’t turned yet, so Beth quickly opens a locked drawer near the body. The keys are there, and despite them not being obviously labeled, she confidently takes just one. As she goes to leave, the door to the office opens – it’s our favorite creep, Officer Gorman. Here he takes his assault to the next level, sticking his hand up Beth’s shirt as he presses into her against the desk. She glances behind her, notes Joan’s finger twitch, and in a moment of pure (if rather simplistic) poetic justice, grabs the lollipop jar from the desk and smashes him in the head with it. He stumbles, and she shifts her weight, turning him so he stumbles against the desk – giving the now turned zombie-Joan an opportunity to go for the throat. She tears it out with gnashing teeth, the most visceral scene of the episode, and a good strong moment of catharsis for the audience.
On her way back to find Noah, Beth notices that she has blood on the toe of her shoe. This is important, because Noah told us earlier that Dawn is all about cleanliness – she won’t abide by even the smallest thing being dirty or out of its ordained place. And of course, who does she have to pass right by? Dawn asks her if somethings going on – Beth doesn’t do subtle very well – and Beth freezes like a deer in the headlights, staring at Dawn with ever-widening eyes. After a pause that stretches uncomfortably, Beth tells Dawn that Gorman and Joan want to see Dawn in her office. Nice move! This is a good moment for Beth – she’s all-in in this moment, as there’ll be no turning back once Dawn realizes she’s been set-up, unless she’s killed, of course.
As Beth and Noah, makeshift towel rope in hand, go to the elevators, we hear screams and gunshots in the background. Time is short. Beth gets down to the level immediately above the broken roof of the elevator car stuck in the bottom of the shaft. She looks down, and sees a pile of decayed and decaying bodies (this is where dead patients are disposed of), and stays above, waiting for Noah – who is promptly attacked by a walker while coming down the shaft, falling about three stories onto the bodies below. Fortunately, they provide a soft (and somewhat squelchy) landing, and he seems to have nothing worse than a twisted ankle. The two fight their way outside – Beth grabbed Gorman’s gun – and it appears she uses most of a fifteen round clip. Her shooting is uncanny, hitting walkers in the head consistently despite poor-to-no lighting, and once outside, she takes out a couple more walkers that stand between Noah and the gate, letting him get ahead of her.
The show goes into this weird slo-mo sequence, the sound just a high-pitched whine (mimicking the temporary deafness Beth would experience from firing off so many shots in a close space). The yard they’ve exited into has several cars parked, each of them with a tell-tale white cross in the rear window. As Noah gets to the gate, Beth runs out of bullets and becomes surrounded – only to see a pair of walkers go down with bullet shots to the head.
My initial feeling was that Carol and Daryl had shown up, but then Beth is tackled, taken to the ground and cuffed, as we see a couple of forms in police uniforms taking out the walkers that have made their way into the hospital grounds. Noah looks back, and Beth smiles – she has always, after all, been something of a helper – apparently, Noah’s escape gives her some small satisfaction.
The denouement of the episode sees Beth confronting two people: Dawn, and Dr. Edwards. Dawn takes her to her office, where we see that Gorman and Joan got at least one more victim before being taken down. Dawn is very angry, and she doesn’t seem to understand Beth’s apparent ingratitude. Dawn finally explains what she’s all about: she actually believes, somewhere in her twisted little mind, that help is still coming. From where? From whom? She has no idea, but she knows that she just has to keep these people alive, because help is on its way. To her mind, this means that all of her compromises, her complicity in the continual rape and sexual abuse of those they have “saved” is justified – anything to stay alive.
This is an interesting contrast to the other large groups we’ve seen so far. Rick’s is the litmus test, a group that tries to stay as normal as possible, but has found itself having to resort to more and more barbaric means in order to survive. The most extreme on one end has been Gareth, both with Terminus and his short-lived Hunters group descending into cannibalism; contrasted with them was Hershel’s group at the farm, who believed the walkers were just people in need of care, who might get better one day (echoes of Lizzie here); between these two, the Governor’s Woodbury with the facade of culture and civilization, but run by a psychopath who killed anyone opposed to his rule; and somewhere a bit closer to Terminus again, the Claimers, and their dog-eat-dog approach to surviving. No two groups survive in exactly the same way, but that’s one of the things that makes this show continually fresh and interesting – there are as many ways of being in the world post-apocalypse as there were before.
Beth, who has experienced just about every extreme (save for the Claimers and Terminus), sees right through Dawn’s weakness. She looks her right in the eye, and says, “No one’s coming, Dawn. No one’s coming. We’re all going to die, and you let this happen for nothing.” Dawn just looks at Beth with shock writ large on her face – she hears Beth, and she believes. But the coward inside her cannot admit to weakness, and she remembers this when she looks down on her desk, seeing the picture of her with her former mentor Hansen. She grabs something from the desk – the picture frame or another object – and strikes Beth hard across the face, knocking her out.
This leads to the second confrontation. She asks Dr. Edwards why he told her to give the dead patient the incorrect medicine. He denies it at first, but she tells him she knows the dead man was a doctor – she found his wallet and ID in Dawn’s office – and Edwards breaks down, admitting that he was afraid of being replaced, of having another doctor make his own position more precarious. He’s not sorry, and in fact compares himself to Saint Peter in the Caravaggio he has in his office. No vanity in this doctor, nosirree. Beth – like I said earlier, she’s made her choice – decides to throw all caution to the wind. She takes a sharp pair of scissors, and follows the doctor out of his office. She’s going to take him out, make another escape attempt, only she’s preempted. The doors at the end of the hallway fly open, Dawn and a couple of other officers wheeling a patient in on a gurney. The gurney gets closer, and Beth looks down at it: it’s Carol, unconscious. Beth hides the scissors – plans have just had to change on the fly.
So now we know at last what has happened to poor Beth. Carol’s arrival also places us firmly in the post-Terminus time-period. Carol and Daryl have arrived in Atlanta, and somehow Carol has found herself brought into Grady Memorial as a patient. This leaves us with a few questions: how is that Carol finds herself in this position? Where is Daryl? What has happened to Noah? And who was it that Daryl was bringing out of the bushes with him at the end of last week’s episode?
I have a theory that connects all four of these questions together into one single answer. Let me lay it out for you:
- Noah gets out (we see this happen), and is taken by Daryl and Carol, who arrived the night before while following the car they saw in Episode 502.
- Noah fills Daryl and Carol in on the realities of Grady Memorial. They saw him with Beth, but were unable to do anything to help her while facing several armed police officers. However, seeing her helping Noah escape predisposes them to believe him, despite not knowing him at all. One of the things he tells them is how he ended up in the hospital, the same story that he told Beth shortly after meeting her. This tells Daryl and Carol that the officers kill the strong (perceived) and save the weak (again, perceived).
- Between Daryl and Carol, who is more likely to be seen as strong, and thus a danger? Weak? Over Daryl’s protests, Carol decides to get herself into the hospital to help Beth from the inside. This could be done in a number of ways, but the most likely would to appear to be overcome by walkers as she approaches the hospital, where observers can see her and send help. Daryl would be hiding nearby, just in case she needs him – but maybe not; after all, he does get back to the church before the night is through.
- Daryl, bringing Noah with him to tell his story to the others, returns to the church to gather everyone else so that they can support Carol and Beth with an external assault/distraction. He’s hesitant to bring Noah out right away, because things are going to move fast once Rick and co. knows what’s happening.
Of course, I could be wrong in some of the details, but this is the situation that makes the most sense to me, given the evidence to hand.
This episode continued the themes of consequences, of the price that has to be paid to survive in this world. It seems that Rick consistently has a different answer than the protagonists he meets, and Beth her seems to be falling into Rick’s mold in a way. She’s tougher-minded than anyone else in the hospital, and while she is physically weaker than most, she would still end up owning this place if she was forced to live there for very long. Fortunately, it appears that she won’t be, as with Carol’s appearance, we all know that Daryl and the cavalry can’t be far behind. The best case scenario would see Carol wake up, take out Dawn and her partners with Beth’s help, and have the two of them waiting, sitting on the rubble of Grady Memorial with cigarettes (unlit, of course – they’re nasty-bad for you) dangling from their mouths as Daryl and co. meander up. But this likely won’t happen – and who knows? Maybe Carol actually is hurt. But isn’t she indestructible?
Cool Facts and Moments:
- The music and painting chosen for this episode connect the themes of betrayal, denial, and abuse – basically, the tenets that have replaced Officer Dawn’s old “To Serve and Protect.”
- Joan sums up Dawn’s entire modus operandi: “I guess it’s easier to do a deal with the Devil when you’re not the one paying the price.”
- Beth’s quick thinking, getting Dawn to go back to her office where two walkers are waiting.
- Carol getting wheeled in, forestalling Beth’s bloody rampage.
- Joan – a minor character with a lot to say. Her choice of death – suicide in Dawn’s office – shows a well-developed sense of justice
- Gorman – has his throat torn out by zombie-Joan. Predictable, but poetic nonetheless
Steve’s Grade: B
While the least of the four episodes so far this season, the least of a great bunch is still above average. It’s good to be back with Beth again, and to see that she has taken Daryl’s lessons to heart. The lack of any kind of climax or denouement means that her story doesn’t leave the viewer feel satisfied in the manner the previous four episodes have.