Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review: The Walking Dead "Tell It To the Frogs"

Non Spoiler Review:
This was a very emotionally intense episode that finally brings all the characters together, including the anticipated Grime family reunion. The Dixon problem provides the focus of the main plot, as his brother, Daryl, is less than impressed he was left to die on a rooftop in Atlanta, prompting Rick to formulate a new plan that also serves to resolve some lingering plot points.

Coming off last week's lighter tone, this one delivered a lot of emotional punches. As expected, Lori, Carl and Rick's reunion was no surprise, and played out quite genuinely and set up a Shane/Rick dynamic that will be very interesting to watch. Coupled with a great background score by Bear McCreary, the ending provided a riveting, breathless intensity, as we realize the human problems in the survival camp will be more destructive than the undead.

Spoilers Now!
Merle remains on the rooftop, rambling like a mad man before the bolted door is strained by the weight of hungry zombies. This prompts Merle to panic and try to get to the assorted tools sprawled out just out of reach.

At the campsite, Lori is cutting Carl's hair and Shane is promising him a day of catching frogs to eat, as they're soon going to run out of canned goods. It's a very nice rapport and Shane is trying very hard to be a father to Carl. Glen returns to camp, preceding the van, and Amy and Andrea share a happy reunion. But it's Rick's appearance that steals the thunder and provides the shocks for Shane, Carl and Lori. 

Shane fades into the background while Rick and Lori reforge their troubled relationship. She explains she was told the patients would be airlifted to Atlanta but had given him up for dead. He's just happy to be back and is ready to move on.

The next day the camp is alarmed when a walker is caught nearby chowing down on a deer that  Daryl just shot. Daryl is a piece of work, like his brother, but he seems a bit more reasonable (just a bit), given he resolves to rescue his brother after a tantrum and some mild fisticuffs. Rick wants to go with him, which upsets Lori again. But Rick isn't being completely irrational here. Not only does he need to retrieve his guns (as the camp is very low on ammo), but he promised Morgan he would keep in touch with him and the walkie-talkies remain with the bag, as well. He can't bear to lead the father and son into the mess that is Atlanta.

Lori slightly comes around to this, but is still upset with him leaving. Rick asks Glen to accompany them, and T-Bone also wants to come as he feels guilt about losing the key. Rick then asks for Dale's wire cutters, but Dale is less than amenable to this, as they lost all his tools there the first time around, so Rick promises to get them, plus negotiates with Jim that he can strip the van of all the parts he needs when they get back for the RV.

The rescue party heads out and gets into Atlanta with no problem, sneaking into the department store with little resistance. They cut the bolted door and rush out on the vacant roof while Daryl rages at the sight of a hacksaw and severed hand. Merle's disappeared.

That is only a minor bit of drama compared to what happens at camp. It's obvious that chubby Ed is a lazy and abusive husband to timid Carol and daughter Sophia. So when the women wash clothes by the quarry and Shane teaches Carl how to catch frogs, Lori gets angry and sends Carl back to camp. She wants Shane to stay away—really away, as in don't even talk or look at us anymore (which could be difficult in their tiny community). Shane admits Rick is his best friend, too, but Lori is furious because apparently Shane told her Rick had died which is why she agreed to flee with him in the first place. She storms off, leaving Shane to deal with the fallout.

Andrea, Amy, Jacqui and Carol are washing clothes, commenting on the sexist division of labor in the camp. But they do share a few laughs about the good old days when they had washing machines, coffee makers and vibrators. Ed doesn't like laughter or any signs of fun and shambles up to tell them to just do their work, getting Andrea's ire up. Ed doesn't like these college educated women and threatens to drop her on her ass, which gets everyone upset except for timid Carol who just wants to diffuse the situation.

Shane watches from afar as Ed shoves Andrea, prompting a commotion in which Shane appears, drags Ed to the ground and proceeds to pummel him until his face is ground beef. Carol pulls him off and goes to her husband while the rest, stunned, watch Shane walk off.

What Worked:
This episode hit all the emotional markers just right—Daryl's rage, the family reunions and the slow buildup of tension with abusive Ed. The collapse of civilization has driven everyone to the breaking point, and it seems people are a hairsbreadth from losing it at the least provocation. The emotional reactions continue to ring true. The cast is really great at delivering their characters. Even Merle's egregious characterization redeemed itself somewhat, if only for some well done delirious ramblings. 

The survivor camp is a hodge-podge of classes, ages and education. It is held together only by necessity, not for any grander ideal other than surviving. This is shown throughout with the questioning of Shane's authority, and Rick having to negotiate with Dale and Jim to borrow their tools for the trip into the city. This can't last, and I'm curious how long before we get a much smaller group heading off on their own.

The introduction of Carol and Sophia (the actress playing the mother briefly appeared in Frank Darabont's The Mist) provides more background from the comic (though I don't believe her husband Ed was there, if I remember correctly). Ed's unflattering characterization, though, provides the impetus for the tense climax. 

The morale ambiguity of Shane and Lori's predicament made for a very interesting debate. Shane appears sympathetic throughout, especially given how earnest he is in bonding with Carl and providing a father figure to him. Lori becomes a complete bitch to him once Rick is back and we can see how horrified she is with the prospect of keeping the secret from her husband. But then we learn Shane told her Rick was dead, so we again have to rethink his motivations. Finally, his opportunity to unleash his frustrations on wife-beating Ed was a cathartic moment (for us and him), but left the audience cringing by the time it was through.  

The little details continue to keep The Walking Dead above average—the day to day activities of doing laundry, Daryl retrieving his arrows from his kills, keeping stock of guns and tools—all the mundane elements of survival that are usually glossed over. In addition, had Rick simply wanted to return to Atlanta for Merle, it wouldn't have played very true to life, but given he needs to retrieve the weapons and the walkie-talkies in order to warn Morgan about the city, it was a nice batch of reasons that validated such a risky mission.

Carl's chat with Lori about why his father would be okay—because nothing's killed him so far—was the start of hopefully lots more of Carl. The actor who plays him is doing a good job pulling it off. He is the second most important character in the series, after all, but it looks like he has the ability to handle the role.

We've officially left comics continuity—for a little while, at least—so it will be interesting to see if the characters' fates are also up in the air. Though I hope this is not the case, as every death is important to the series as a whole.

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