Airdate: November 8, 2015
Directed by: Avi Youabian
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Corey Reed (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)
Same characters we know and love. Same location we’ve become familiar with. Same stakes as always. So why did tonight’s episode fall flat in so many ways? There were mishits tonight in scripting, acting, and directorial choices that created the perfect trifecta of bad. The result? For my money, the nadir of the entire show so far, in any season. I admit, this may be the rosy glasses talking a bit. Yes, I remember how much Season 2 dragged at times, how many side stories were explored and quickly abandoned with no apparent affect on the main narrative arc, how much bad acting was a part of almost every episode (and I’m not just talking Lori and Shane – Carl and Rick have improved a ton over the last couple of seasons). But when you’ve had a string of quality episodes going back the better part of two and a half seasons, where even the hiccups had at least some character development (“Slabtown”), a truly flat episode like tonight’s sticks out all the more. Click through for my complete review.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S06E05, “Now” – read more at your own risk.>>
The taller they are, the farther the something something something. Tonight’s episode was mostly about despair, but not the kind of “Crap’s hit the fan, I’d better get things done” despair that we’ve come to expect from Rick and the gang. No, this despair is the “Better steal some booze and get wasted” or “Can’t be bothered to read this thick book, so I’ll get all mopey” kind of end-of-the-world schtick. Granted, this malaise of spirit is likely where most of us would end up, given a true apocalyptic situation (we can’t all be the hero), but it makes for terribly boring and uninteresting television. We’ve had individual characters go through this before – Tyreese and then Sasha most recently – but when it’s one character, there are always foils to work things from different angles. Not so tonight. Despite some moments from Rick, and a pretty huge reveal from Maggie, there weren’t a whole helluva lot of alternate viewpoints at work tonight.
Let’s look at the issues, major and minor, that I had with the episode.
- Tonight was Carl’s worst outing since his voice broke. The ridiculous shoving match he gets into with Ron Anderson (Jesse’s angst-ridden elder son) was painful to watch, and goes against the way Carl has been played and developed over the last couple of seasons.
- Ron is less than convincing as well. He’s playing burgeoning psychopath, but he might as well be twirling his evil mustache for all of the subtlety he employs.
- Deanna was…stiff. Stiff and squinty. I don’t know what she was trying to portray, but it appeared that she had something in her eye, or that she was terribly, horribly, irredeemably constipated throughout most of the episode. She does, however, bring things back a bit at the end, when she stabs the hell out of the Wolf walker’s chest with a broken bottle (and a nice bit of synergy with yesterday’s episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead – read my review here).
- Dr. Denise did not convince. I liked her well enough in her debut a couple of weeks back, and I understand that Merritt Wever has done some good work, but here she just looked lost – and not in the “character in over her head” kind of way, but in a “I have no idea what my motivation here is” kind of way.
- Tara. Tara was Tara was Tara. She plays best as comic relief, but doesn’t do serious terribly well.
- Jessie has a key speech she makes after putting Betsy-walker down, but it comes across as overly earnest and unconvincing.
- There were also a few new nameless Alexandrians trying to raid Olvia’s pantry – their leader has a couple of lines, and sounds both flat and out of sorts. His southern accent also felt a little out of place, being that he’s supposed to be from the area around DC.
- Even Maggie didn’t quite pull it off for me tonight. Yes, I know that her sudden decision not to go after Glenn is motivated by her big reveal – that she’s pregnant – and her emotional outburst might be attributed to hormone changes as her body adapts to the little life inside her, but I just didn’t buy her performance tonight.
With this many issues, and actors that we’ve seen do plenty of good work in the past, it implies that something else is the root cause. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the episode’s
Tonight was Avi Youabian’s directorial debut on The Walking Dead, and I can’t help but feel that the lack of deft handling of regular characters falls on him. Carl was bad, Maggie was overwrought, Deanna was stiff, yes – but many of the problems felt like rushed takes. There were scenes where parts seemed to flow alright, but that would have a little tic, something a little bit wrong. These kinds of problems can be solved by shooting a scene again, giving the actors more time, things like this – but tonight’s directing just felt rushed and poorly handled. There are also continuity errors. Two that jarred me out of the suspension of disbelief, the first minor, the second less so:
- When Tara slides Gray’s Anatomy back to the sulking Dr. Denise, it is clearly going wide of the doctor – until we cut to Denise, who neatly stops the book against her side. Shoot another take to get the damned angle right, Avi!
- Following the joint Deanna/Rick dispatch of the last Wolf walker, we see them again, totally clean. Yes, Deanna has changed, and apparently had a shower, and apparently isn’t stunned anymore. But Rick is still wearing the same clothes, and has the same not-been-washed-this-week greasy hair, and yet when he reaches up to caress Jessie’s face, there’s nary a drop of blood on his hands. There is, however, one small stain on the back of his shirt that wasn’t there before, showing that he hasn’t changed.
There were other problems that could be a combination of poor direction, and poor
Tonight’s episode was penned by Corey Reed (with, I’m certain, the whole team of TWD writers helping out), and it isn’t Reed’s first time getting lead credit. But some of the choices tonight felt amateurish. Among several, three that really stood out for me were:
- Rick’s opening speech to the Alexandrians, during which he yells at them to tell them to be quiet, lest they cause the walkers to try to break through the walls. That’s right. He doesn’t motion them in close and speak to them in hushed tones. No, he allows them to stand all pell-mell, spread across two or so blocks in the approximate area of the main gate, speaking loudly enough so that they can all hear him. Guess what, Rick? So can the walkers.
- When Jessie discovers walker-Betsy and dispatches her, she gives a rousing speech to a few nearby Alexandrians, telling them that she gets it now, that she knows Rick and his group have the right of it. Thing is, Jessie – unlike Rick – doesn’t yell her speech. She also doesn’t make any noise putting Betsy down. And yet, the group of listening Alexandrians grows, including two familiar faces: Dr. Denise, and Olivia. Problem is, Olivia’s on duty at the pantry, and Dr. Denise has just prior to this been established as resenting having to watch over a patient rather than being at home reading War and Peace. Betsy’s home isn’t on the main drag – there’s no way they could hear Jessie speaking. The only reason for them to be here is because both of their characters are having crises of faith (Olivia in Deanna’s leadership, as she failed to stop a bunch of Alexandrians from trying to raid the pantry, and Dr. Denise in her own abilities as a doctor), and Jessie provides them with just the pep talk they need (and which immediately results in Dr. Denise becoming 42% more effective as a doctor). Their presence, then, is completely manufactured for a narrative point, and is an example of poor writing, poor directing, or both. Someone should have caught this inconsistency.
- At the very end of the episode, as Maggie and Aaron are erasing Glenn and Nicholas’s names off the memorial wall, Aaron jokes about how his name can be both a girl’s name and a boy’s name. Really? Talk about missing the beat. Maggie has just revealed her pregnancy, and is deathly afraid that she’s lost Glenn, and Aaron is trying to crack wise? Even if he had a close, established friendship with Maggie – which he does not – it would still be misplaced.
Poor acting, poor directing, poor writing. A fairly disappointing combination.
There were a few highlights tonight – it’s never all bad in the land of TWD. Finding out that Maggie is pregnant was, of course, the big reveal, and increases the already high stakes regarding Glenn’s ultimate fate. Ron asking Rick to teach him how to shoot – and Rick basically agreeing to do so – is foreshadowing of something bad to come that’s so obvious, it might not be foreshadowing at all. Deanna, despite the stiffness, does have some character growth tonight, and it was enjoyable to watch her going to town with that broken bottle. Her bit of frantic planning on the map of Alexandria seemed a little contrived, but her use of Latin was nice (the Latin phrase she uses, dolor hic tibi proberti ocim, is from Ovid and means, approximately, “Someday this pain will be useful to you,” an apropos quote for what she’s going through). And the decaying walkers in the sewers that nearly take out Maggie and Aaron are particularly well done. Watching Maggie struggling to hold the walker off as her hand sinks through its rib cage and back out under its clavicle was very nicely done – kudos to Greg Nicotero for more of his always excellent walker effects.
Tonight was, more than anything else, a pause, a bump in the road, a bridge between more interesting narrative moments. But what I think it really boils down to is that the writers are trying to put off the big Glenn reveal – alive, dead, or undead? – and are trying to hold off until the Mid-Season Finale to do so. We’re getting Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha in the next episode (and, I suspect, the one after that as well), so now that they’ve brought us to a standstill in Alexandria, we’re going to have to wait at least three episodes to find out what’s happened. To be honest, although I wasn’t expecting to find out about Glenn tonight, I feel that Gimple and co. are toying with viewers a bit too blatantly, and the contrived nature of this sudden and jarring slowdown doesn’t sit well. Episodes like last week’s excellent backstory for Morgan do the same job, without insulting viewers with narrative water-treading. Let’s hope that the Daryl/Abraham/Sasha storylines aren’t just more time killers looking forward to the break in three weeks.
Steve’s Grade: D
For my money, the worst episode of TWD, full stop. The good – and sometimes excellent – episodes that have preceded it bode well for future episodes, but I hope we don’t see more of these narrative stalling tactics moving forward.