The Walking Dead
AMC, Sundays, 9/10 PM
“Tell It to the Frogs”
Written by Frank Darabont & Charles H. Eglee & Jack LoGiudice
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Why would you risk your life for a douche bag like Merle Dixon? – Shane
Why, indeed? Why go back for anyone left chained and helpless, without shelter, food or water, at the mercy of a cannibal horde? Only a fool – or a hero – would do that. Which is one reason I am here for the third episode of this gruefest: to see how heroes like Rick Grimes react under the most intense pressure. The other is that this episode cut way back on the gore to focus on the human dramas. After all, what is there to say about zombies? They shuffle, they gorge on rotting flesh, they drool. They are boring. In a survival story, it really doesn’t matter whether the Bad Guys are zombies, aliens, or members of another ethnic group whose land you want. The real focus is always on the internal dynamics of the survivors, and that’s where the rubber meets the road for Rick Grimes. He’s ultimately not willing to become the kind of man who leaves another to die a horrible death, not when he could help it. Besides, he left some weapons back in Atlanta that he could use. So he, and Merle Dixon’s brother Daryl (Norman Reedus,Charmed) decide to go rescue him; they are joined by T-Dog and Glenn as backup.
The great moments in this show come when characters are alone, as if to point up our common metaphysical isolation. This episode opens with a thirst-maddened Merle talking to himself, struggling to free himself, panicking when zombies start to force open the chained door to his rooftop refuge. He calls on God, then defies him. He begs for help, and gets none. After hours, possibly days on that hot roof, he only now attempts to retrieve a fallen hacksaw. The only question in our minds now is what he will cut: the handcuffs, or his own wrist? Michael Rooker gave a first class performance as a man out of his mind with horror and fear, driven to a terrible and desperate decision. As much as we want to loathe a sexist bigot with violent tendencies, it is impossible not to feel pity and terror at his predicament.
We get more sexist bigotry back at the refugee camp (this show has only two locales: Abandoned Atlanta and Refugee Camp). The women are stuck doing the laundry, and when one of them makes a joke, her bestial husband, Ed (Adam Minarovich, Wiseguys vs. Zombies) moves in to set her straight. The women protest, but it is Shane who comes to the rescue, beating the snot out of the bigot and threatening him with worse if he raises a hand against the women. This entire scene rang false to me for several reasons: primarily that the rules have changed vis-à-vis man/woman relations since the last time we had to face a horde of cannibals. Not only do women have access to weapons that level the playing field – guns, bows and crossbows – but they have a different mindset. I cannot imagine that Andrea, for example, will tolerate Ed’s cruelty for long, or tolerate his attitude. More importantly in view of group survival, these women are intelligent and historically aware of the danger of allowing violence against the group. A man who will use violence against one woman will use it against others. This is an extraordinarily stupid attitude to take against a bunch of women who are cooking your food. Especially since they gather wild mushrooms and other plants. I do not predict a long lifespan for Ed. It would have been a nice surprise if the writers had decided to show a little creativity with the resolution of the Ed Problem; having Shane wade in as white knight merely reinforces a dusty stereotype.
Almost every time he wakes up in this series, Rick Grimes is alone. I’d like to think that has metaphorical meaning, rather than being bad writing. Or maybe it is indicative of how placid his exterior normally is. This time, he wakes up alone in his tent after he is reunited with his astonished wife. As a trained law officer and naturally laconic man, Rick is not prone to the Big Emotional Gesture, but he gives us a precious Little Moment when he sees his son alive. The reaction of young Carl (Chandler Riggs, The Wronged Man) is just as poignant, moving from shock to joy in a memorable moment. Wife Lori is a little more restrained, mixing as it does relief and guilt over her liaison with Shane.
Shane gets a lot of emotional moments in this episode, more than we’ve seen to date. I felt a lot of sympathy for Shane; he appears to really love Lori and to bond with Carl. The reappearance of his best friend plunges him into some impossible conflicts. It doesn’t help that Lori acts like a teenager; she feels guilty about her liaison with him so she turns on him in completely unjustifiable anger. When she orders him to stay away from her and the boy he had been teaching to catch frogs, he looks after her with grief and loss in his eyes. It’s a good moment from Jon Bernthal (Eastwick), who turns a character we should hold in contempt into a man we can pity, if not root for.
“You have to shoot them in the brain. Don’t you know anything?” — Daryl
I like the survival-mode brother of the bigoted Merle; he comes back from a hunting trip and puts a no-nonsense crossbow quarrel (arrow, to those of you unfamiliar with medieval weaponry) through a zombie’s head. He’s ticked off that the zombie ate the carcass of the deer he’d been hunting, and now the meat is contaminated. I always like stories where people whose skills are viewed askance by a peaceful civilization now find themselves valued for those skills. Daryl the Hunter will soon prove vital to the group—if he gets back from Atlanta.
Which brings the story full circle, back to the rooftop in Atlanta. When Daryl, Rick, T-Dog and Glenn get to the roof, they find the door still chained. But when they cut the chain and gain the roof, the only sign of Merle is a bloody hacksaw and a severed hand. Looks like our redneck bigot has nerves of steel and a will of iron; I’m not sure I could have made that cut.
The smartest thing Frank Darabont did with this episode was to cut down on the zombies. We got a few zombies at the door of the roof, one in a department store, and one in a forest. This is smart on several levels, the chief of which is believability. The adage that one should never allow the audience to see the monster in daylight goes double for zombies, who look plain silly in the noonday glare. Here, we see them in shadow or half-hidden, and they are twice as scary. Darabont is also wise to cut back on the gore; one shot of a zombie eating raw deer meat is all I need in one episode, thank you. It’s as much restraint as we can expect from any story about ghouls.
The Walking Dead continues to garner amazing ratings for a cable show. This episode came in at 5.1 million viewers, an increase of 400,000 viewers over last week. Most shows lose audience after the pilot, but Walking Deadkeeps raking them in. It has clearly hit a chord with the audience.