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Monday, December 6, 2010

The Walking Dead - Episode 6: TS-19 (Season Finale Review)

The Walking Dead Episode 6 = 4 out of 5 Busters
Jenner:  What do you want?
Rick:  A chance.
Jenner:  That’s asking an awful lot these days.
[Initial Note:  I am not one to write TV reviews often, but seeing as how I was anticipating this series for a long time and was able to write about the season premiere, I felt it was right to put up my thoughts on the finale of this first season.  That being said, this review will contain some spoilers for the season as a whole, so if you have been watching the series, but have not caught up with every episode, you have been warned.]

Something kind of great happened on Halloween this year.  The series premiere of The Walking Dead occurred that night and the show was met with a lot of critical praise and wound up scoring record ratings numbers for a cable television show.  The pilot episode was written and directed by Frank Darabont, who managed to provide a fantastic setup for a series that would be seemingly much different from many other shows currently on television.  The Walking Dead is based off of a very well regarded graphic novel series, so the task required by Darabont and the rest of his team was to both appease the legions of fans of that series (which I am among) as well as create something with a broader appeal.  Speaking from the perspective I have now, after viewing the whole six-episode first season, I can say that show certainly has the potential to deliver great things in its future.

(I do plan to mainly address the final episode, but bear with me, as I wrap up some of these thoughts first) 

While the pilot was a fantastic setup for the series, which managed to combine the idea of a zombie apocalypse with the character drama work that is both very fitting of the comic as well as of a show measuring up to the same caliber as other series on AMC’s network, I believe the second episode had the challenge of both keeping the audience that tuned in the week prior and appeasing the people within that audience who were more hopeful to see a lot of zombie action.  Essentially the first two episodes did what they could to draw in an audience seeking different things – drama and horror.  However, following these first two episodes, the middle part of the season represented what I would hope most would want to see out of a Walking Dead TV series.  The pilot episode aside (because an extended season opener, directed by its acclaimed showrunner, Darabont, is not something that can be expected to be measured up to week after week), I believe it was these middle episodes that truly showed what this series is capable of, and if the second season smoothes out some of the kinks (pacing, dialogue, acting), there are some fantastic episodes that lie ahead for the future of The Walking Dead.
  
Now, all of this leads to what I thought about the season finale, TS-19.  I liked this episode.  I did not love it as much as the stronger episodes that led to this point, but it had some good elements.  I thought, for a season finale, there could have been more done to deliver a stronger send off for the season, perhaps leaving me with more leads to what could occur at the beginning of the second season.  While I certainly intend to watch the next season, no question, I can imagine that some won’t quite feel that calling, based on how things are left.  That being said, I do feel that as a season that was filmed without knowing if it would return for another set of episodes, this episode did a good enough job at bringing a story to a close.  There were some good acting moments in this episode, especially from Jon Bernthal as Shane, Lori Holden as Andrea, and from guest star Noah Emmerich as Dr. Edwin Jenner, but some of that was countered with a lot of characters looking at each other and asking and answering some redundant questions.

 

This episode picks up where the last ended, with its interesting cliffhanger.  As fans of the comic know, none of the plot involving the characters finding shelter at the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) is from the comic, so I was intrigued to see where the story would go.  Once being let inside by Dr. Jenner, Rick and the crew finally have the night to relax a bit, get a little drunk, and have a comfortable night of rest.  Unfortunately, not everyone gets this chance.  Shane gets a little too drunk and confronts Lori about their affair, getting way to grabby in the process, before Lori scratches his face.  After having Shane literally take aim at Rick last week, this is the subplot that could turn out the ugliest, once the truth is revealed to all involved.  In addition to Shane, Andrea is also having a tough time coping with things.  Still mourning the death of her sister, Amy, Andrea is not about to feel better due to shelter.  Luckily she has Dale around to comfort her (Jeffrey DeMunn’s work in this role has been quite fantastic as well).


  Skipping ahead, the group eventually confronts Jenner about what is going on and why he is the only one still stationed at the CDC.  Jenner complies and shows them all a look at his research.  Jenner decided to stay and look into the rising corpse epidemic, which included research work on the recorded activity of the brain of a test subject who was bitten.  Viewed from an elaborate brain scan video image, this subject (test subject 19) would go on to die and then reanimate, only to be shot in the head almost immediately.  The group soon finds out that the subject was none other than Jenner’s own wife.  They also find out that the CDC is about to lose power completely, which leads to the facility shutting down and decontaminating itself.  Basically, CDC has a self destruct mechanism.

 
With little time left, the group is ready to leave, but Jenner decides that it would be better if everyone just stayed inside and let themselves be killed, rather than risk the suffering of trying to survive out in the open.  With this decision, he seals the doors and everyone is trapped.  After many outbursts, Rick finally manages to convince Jenner to open the doors.  Most of the group makes a run for it, grabbing whatever supplies (mostly the weapons) they can and heading for the vehicles parked outside.  The entire group leaves, except for Jacqui (I had to look her name up, because that’s how much little investment I had in this character), who understands Jenner’s point of view, and Andrea, who thinks she is ready to die as well.  Fortunately, Dale is the man, and he manages to convince Andrea that life is worth living.  The two make it out in time and join Rick and the crew.  The CDC blows up (we see the limits of a cable budget) and everyone drives off with a Bob Dylan song playing in the background.  Oh, and Jenner managed to whisper something to Rick right before he left. Speculation time on that one!

 
I think the main problem I had with this episode came from it trying to convince me that it would kill off all of its characters at the end of the first season.  I can see how this would be a necessary way for this plot to function, but I just did not feel the tension as much as I would have liked to.  I can certainly say I was concerned with how Rick and the gang was going to get out of this sticky situation (hey, the grenade came back!), but I was not as caught up in this drama as I would have liked to have been.  It also did not help that a whole segment of this episode was devoted to characters reaffirming the fact the building did not have much power left, looking at each other confused, and then wondering what this would mean for them.  There were also a few moments that were a little too over-the-top (Shane drinking, while sad in the shower).  Little moments like these did not help much, but they are still small things, in comparison to this episode and season as a whole.

I did like the whole opening segment of the episode, which was a flashback involving Shane’s attempt at taking Rick out of the hospital, before realizing that this may be a hopeless cause.  The mayhem portrayed on screen, between the soldiers executing the infected and the walkers slowly infiltrating the hospital, was an exciting sequence, which also shed new light on Shane’s perception of a situation.  While I know that Shane is not the most likable character and very questionable in his actions, he seems to be having the most interesting character arc. 


I also mentioned that Noah Emmerich’s work as Jenner was solid.  This is another completely new character, with a limited amount of time to give us someone to understand, and Emmerich delivered in his performance.  This is clearly a man who has slowly unraveled and came to certain revelations in his own mind.  By the time he broke away from his kinder image, which included entertaining the children (“Except you”), and revealed his intentions, I bought into it.

Finally, I also liked what was revealed about the walkers, which is to say nothing.  Introducing a scientist working on a cure in the CDC was a risky idea, but the fact that we still have no clue as to why this event has occurred is an element that stays true to both the comic and zombie movies in general.  The Walking Dead has never been a series about answering some greater mystery about the zombie epidemic; it is about the characters dealing with a horrible change in the semblance of a normal life.  With a large segment devoted to not telling us an answer to a question we do not need to have out of the way, I can now hope for the best, with this show continuing to delve into its characters, with a few zombie kills and some gory deaths along the way.



So overall, I was only a bit underwhelmed at how this episode in particular left me, but I was very satisfied with the first season of The Walking Dead as a whole.  Due to its limited number of episodes and lack of complete knowledge that the show would even continue to exist, at the time it was made, I would like to think that this initial set of episodes works very well as a sampler for the series.  I fully expect the next season to refine some of its elements, clue into what really works well for the series, and deliver a great follow up to what is already a very good show.  Until that time, I can only hope that the Blu-Ray for the series resembles what was both done in the comic and in Darabont’s own film, The Mist; have a black and white version of the series.  While the cinematography has been pretty amazing throughout this season, I would love to see how it could look in this format, truly appeasing fans of the graphic novel series.

Looking forward to next October.
[Daryl attempts to open the door with an axe]
Jenner:  Those doors are designed to withstand a rocket launcher.
Daryl:  Your head aint!
[Daryl rushes to Jenner with the axe]

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