Sunday, January 9, 2011

Review: The Walking Dead "TS-19"

Non Spoiler Review:
TS-19 delivered a nice balance of tension, plot and character development for a great finale to this initial six episode arc. My fears that the CDC diversion would amount to an infodump about the nature of the zombie plague proved unfounded, and what we learned was just enough to add to the survivor's sense of futility.

Rick and crew enjoy a brief respite from the outside world in the sanctuary offered by the Center for Disease Control and Dr. Jenner's hospitality. They are also brought up to speed on the gravity of their situation outside the secure doors of the facility. But the source of Jenner's weird behaviour soon reveals itself, and the group is faced with an unexpected threat.

While it would have been nice to explore some of the storylines waiting in the graphic novel, the six episode season required a more concise introduction of these characters to a mainstream television audience. The conclusion of the episode brings an end (perhaps) to this diversion from continuity, and sets things back on a fresh course.

Spoilers Now!
We begin with a flashback to the early days of the plague as Shane attempts to evacuate Rick from the hospital. There is complete mayhem, with soldiers pretty much shooting everyone that moves. Shane thinks Rick is dead, despite his attempts to move him. So he barricades the door and leaves.

Back to the present, the survivors are introduced to Dr. Jenner, soul survivor of the CDC. After a brief discussion, he agrees to let in the survivors as long as they submit to blood tests. He instructs them to bring what they need because once the main doors shut, they won't open (an important point, as we later learn Dr. Jenner, aside from being dead inside, is also to be taken literally).

With lots of food in stock, they are treated to a lavish feast, hot showers, and a night of festivities with copious amounts of wine, which makes everyone overindulge. So arises the opportunity for questions, and Jenner explains most people left or killed themselves. He elected to remain out of a sense of duty and purpose to discover anything that might help cure the plague.

With everyone a little tipsy and heading off to bed, Andrea reacts badly to this scientific confirmation that the world has ended. Rick confides in Jenner, who is sitting up late in the computer room going over blood tests, that it's real bad out there, and he didn't think they'd last much longer. Shane comes upon Lori in the library, and makes an attempt to clear the air about leaving Rick for dead. Given both are wasted, it doesn't go well at all, and turns more into an attempted rape, which leaves Shane with a nasty scratch on his face and Lori storming out. Shane says she never would have left had she thought Rick was still alive, and now she and Carl would be dead. Rick joins a weeping Lori in bed later, while Carl sleeps soundly.

Everyone's feeling pretty rough the next morning, but as they gather for breakfast they decide they want some answers to what's been going on, so Jenner takes them to the main lab with the talking computer and giant view screen. They view an MRI of Test Subject 19, an infected who volunteered to be studied as the disease progressed through her (this is, of course, Jenner's wife).

We learn that the virus (or whatever it is) acts like meningitis, causes death, then reanimates the host anywhere from minutes to hours. At that point, without any of the brain activity of the living, it becomes an automaton for the infection. The French had lasted the longest in nearly finding a cure, but all communication was eventually lost when power facilities shut down. Jenner is firmly in the camp that this is the end of the world, and his revelations spark various reactions among the survivors.

Stan pipes up and wonders what the clock on the wall is all about, as it's been counting down, and what happens when it hits zero? That's when Jenner calmly informs them the generator fuel runs out. When that happens, the CDC is programmed to sterilize the whole area given all the nasty disease samples stored there. It's out of his control. As the clock counts down, nonessential areas are powered down, leaving only the computer active until the very end.

With just a half hour left, Jenner says the complex will be sterilized by a fireball, and has decided that's the best, most humane end for them all. He even tells everyone that Rick thinks the same thing, which doesn't go over well with Shane. Jenner can't open the outer doors, so everyone goes into panic mode with Daryl and Shane trying to hack through the inner lab door with axes.

After angry (and threatening) debate, Rick convinces Jenner to give them a chance, but all he can do is open the inner door. They'll have to find a way out of the building itself. As the door opens, everyone charges out, except for Jacqui, who has been convinced by Jenner's rhetoric that this is perhaps the best way out of the situation. Then Andrea decides to stay too. Unable to leave her, Stan opts to remain with her.

Rick is grateful for the chance, but Jenner says ominously that someday he won't be, and whispers into Rick's ear before he leaves. Rick looks shocked. They have precious little time for goodbyes, so leave Stan, Andrea, Jacqui and Jenner.

Andrea is adamant that Stan flee, but stubborn Stan decides he'll die along with her since she's made him care for her. She's extremely angered with his reasoning, and taking things to the last possible second, they make their escape.

At the front doors, the glass is impenetrable, and as the clock counts down things look very grim until Carol remembers she has a little something from when she was washing Rick's clothes and has been carrying this around the whole time (!)—the grenade from the tank. Rick lets it fly and they blow a hole in the window, charge out through the zombie mayhem, and into their vehicles. With seconds remaining, the survivors finally see Andrea and Stan crawl out and barely make it behind a sandbag barrier. Jenner and Jacqui watch the escape on the monitors, and Jacqui smiles. She and Jenner hold hands as the CDC blows up spectacularly.

As the smoke clears they pile into their vehicles and head off into the unknown with both a sense of shocked relief and an overlying feeling of hopelessness, with Bob Dylan's Tomorrow is a Long Time playing them out. End season one.

"There is another Skywalker..."
What Worked:
My initial concern about the CDC storyline has been alleviated. We didn't receive too much information about the virus, save its effects, while its origin and cure remain a mystery. It also served to hammer into the survivors the reality of the life they're facing—that help is never going to come and the government is not going to get things back in order eventually—an idea that incubated among the survivors in the early issues of the graphic novel.

The flashback to Shane's desperate attempt to save comatose Rick served to end some lingering questions and elevate his character a few notches. He sincerely thought Rick was dead, and if not, tried to give him a fighting chance at survival (and Rick is alive because of him). We can empathize with the harsh treatment he's received courtesy of Lori, but Shane manages to use that up pretty quick with his bad decisions and short temper. It's even more tragic his close friendship with Rick has been destroyed in the midst of this ordeal (Bros before hos, Rick and Shane!).

Dr. Jenner's behaviour was a little too weird to go unnoticed for so long, but his speech about suicide being preferable was quite effective, especially his matter-of-fact statement that the outbreak was their extinction event. His casual reveal that Rick thinks they're all going to die is also going to be a cross for Rick to bear next season. So Jenner has stirred up some serious problems for them.

Some fans seem to hate Andrea, but I love her and the actress, and I'm excited to see her take on all the facets of her character in the books. Most of the others have all done well in getting a sense of their roles in just the six episodes. Even Daryl has grown on me, and I think he may become more of a hero character as next season progresses (assuming the writers aren't tempted to winnow down the cast even more).

It's always difficult to convey a believable reaction to the breakdown of society since, well, none of us have lived through it. But this series has done a decent job in showing a variety of reactions, and Jacqui, Jenner and Andrea gave a believable perspective when faced with the convincing science of their imminent extinction and collapse of civilization—and the threat of becoming a walking corpse. That's really what The Walking Dead is all about.

The whisper at the end between Jenner and Rick is most likely that Lori is pregnant. I can't wait to see Lori's crazy saucer eyes when she finds that out. Hopefully Rick is lousy at math.

"You can't die here. You're in the book!"
What Didn't Work:
Jacqui being offered up as the sacrificial character was unfortunate, as she was one of the more interesting new ones. In hindsight, it did make sense given she sat with Jim as he succumbed to the virus. But as readers know, Andrea wasn't going to die right off the bat in the series, though credit Frank Darabont for creating a very intense scene and giving me doubts for a second.

The reveal of the brain dead nature of the victims is a bit of a spoiler, given that in future storylines there is always the question if the undead can be cured and the ethical debate of killing them. Now we know that's pretty much unlikely, so there is little moral ambiguity. On the other hand, we've had indications that the infected retain some level of memory of their lives (whether clutching a teddy bear or hanging around their old home).

The return of the deux ex machina grenade was welcome, but really, is Carol that loopy that she held on to it and really forgot about it all this time?

"To the last happy moment we'll have. Ever!"
Über spoilery thoughts about next season (I ain't kidding. Don't read if you haven't read the books):
Given the introduction of Merle and the loss of his hand and subsequent escape, I would not be surprised if he turns up next season with a big old grudge against Rick after having hooked up with the Governor's community. That plays in well with Rick losing his hand (if Frank Darabont dares to go in that direction of the graphic novel). An alternative would be Merle actually becoming the Governor, but that would be a bit of a stretch.

In addition, I think the Atlanta helicopter we saw in the pilot is the crashed news helicopter that the survivors find later on—the man and woman who are subsequently killed by the Governor.

When will Shane's storyline come to fruition? Is that going to be a season two cliffhanger? I hope not, as that pushes all the good storylines back quite a bit. Unless Darabont is going to mix things up a bit and play out storylines in a different order. There are so many good moments that would work nicely as single episodes (the night in the gated community, for example), so it's not entirely necessary to keep things in sequence.

Seeing The Walking Dead brought to the screen has been a wish fulfilled. Now the long wait for season two begins...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...