Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: The Walking Dead "Chupacabra"

Non Spoiler Review:
Tensions rise between Hershel and Rick over several miscommunications, while Lori struggles with the news of her pregnancy. As the search for Sophia continues, Daryl is injured alone on the trail, but gets some unexpected help. Shane and Rick's friendship begins to show strains over their conflicting outlooks on how to live in their post-apocalyptic world.

While the character stuff keeps coming in heaps, this was the first episode that really felt like it dragged, with very little to provide excitement. Sure, there was some moments of shock, but the long stretches of Daryl on the road (as likable as he's become) and the various players struggling over their personal issues had me looking at the clock.

Really, Chupacabra is a bridging episode between last week and setting up further action to come, positioning the coming conflict between the Hershel and Rick camps. There are also necessary character notes to hit along the way. Not that these all aren't interesting, but I'm starting to crave a sense direction for the season.

Spoilers Now!
Flashback to the early days of the apocalypse, and Shane, Carl and Lori are stuck in a traffic jam on the road to Atlanta with Carol, Sophia and her formerly alive abusive husband. With news and civil defense no longer broadcasting, and fights breaking out on the highway, Shane and Lori take off to see what kind of help they can find. In the woods overlooking Atlanta they and many others watch military helicopters dropping napalm in the city.

A troubled Lori wakes up and joins Carol to help with laundry. Carol wonders if they might all pitch in to cook dinner for Hershel and their family (plus to keep her mind occupied). She asks Lori to extend the invitation, given she's Rick's wife (and unofficial first lady). Rick arrives to plot out the day's search based on what Daryl found. Hershel's step-son Jimmy asks to help. Daryl plans to take a horse, and T-Dog teases that he'll find a chupacabra (Daryl had claimed he once saw one on the trail). It's unclear what all this has to do with The Walking Dead, except that someone was struggling to find an interesting title for the episode.

Glen is plucking away on his new guitar as Maggie joins him on the porch. He wants to have sex again, but she's still adamant it was a one time deal. 

Shane and Rick search the woods together, reminiscing of old times and his partner's various high school conquests, but Shane grows serious and says all of that is in the past. He wonders why they have everyone spread out looking for a girl that is likely dead. He confesses she only matters for as long as she doesn't hold them down. And, if it wasn't for her, Carl wouldn't have gotten shot. Rick is thoroughly pissed at that attitude and won't write her off. 

On his own, Daryl finds Sophia's doll along the river. A snake scares the horse and he's bucked off, falling down into the water and onto an arrow. The ravine is too high to climb, and there appears to be movement in the woods. He finally passes out and sees someone over him—Merle (!). But he's got both hands, so he's just imaginary. Phantasmal Merle chides him for his decisions to abandon the search for his brother in favor of the girl, and throwing in with Rick's group. They ain't his kin. And he should shoot Rick in the face for him.

Daryl wakes up to see a zombie trying to chew on his boot. He fights him and manages to kill it, but another one lumbers up. Daryl pulls the arrow out of himself and uses it to shoot the other one (because he's just so damned baddass). Then he tears off an ear each for a trophy and wears them around his neck. With his new attitude, he pulls himself together and climbs out of the ravine as Merle continues to taunt him. 

Glen confronts Lori about being pregnant and realizes she hasn't told Rick yet. But her husband and Shane show up, and Rick is all in a twist with him. Lori says if it was Carl, she'd want to keep looking, but he realizes he has to make decisions based on the good of the group. It's a numbers game with Shane. Lori assures him he's doing the right thing.

Rick is summoned by Hershel, who asks where one of his horses is. Daryl just took it. Apparently Jimmy also lied about his consent, too. Hershel says these things need to be cleared with him. He'll control his people and Rick will control his. Hershel then comes into his kitchen to find Carol and Lori cooking dinner, but Maggie explains it to him, and she didn't think it was a big deal. Hershel tells her they're all getting too comfortable with the current situation, and what's going on with the Asian boy, he asks her. He's counting on her to be the mature one, but Maggie tells him she's a little old to be having this conversation. He suggests they aren't going to be around forever.

Andrea takes over lookout on the RV roof. Inside, Glen asks Dale if all the women are acting really weird and seems to think that all their periods are synchronizing. Dale suggests he keep that theory to himself. Glen mentions Maggie's mood swings, and tells him what happened in town. Dale's more concerned what her father might do if he finds out.

Andrea spots a walker but Rick tries to stop her from shooting, as Hershel wants to deal with walkers himself. Rick, Shane and T-dog run out there, but Andrea is gung ho to try out her rifle, so opts to take a shot. Dale tries to stop her but she tells him to back off. 

It's Daryl who's shuffling out of the woods, and Rick nearly mistakes him for a zombie and shoots him, until Daryl angrily tells him to stop pointing guns at him. Unfortunately, Andrea does mistake him for a zombie and shoots him from the RV, and is quite pleased with her marksmanship.

Daryl's been grazed in the head and Rick and Shane carry him back. Andrea is horrified. Rick tears off the ears and hides them so Hershel won't freak. T-Dog sees the doll that Daryl's brought back.

Hershel tends to his latest patient, but isn't impressed his horse is gone and berates Rick. Shane agrees with Hershel to stop the search. Rick storms away, and Shane lectures Lori that her husband needs to start making the tough calls. Shane suggests he only cares about her and Carl, but Lori says they're not his problem anymore, just an excuse for him to run.

Dale comforts Andrea and lets her know Daryl will be fine. He tells her not to be too hard on herself, and the two seem to be repairing their relationship.

The dinner is awkward and quiet. Maggie slips Glen a note to hook up later, so he replies and passes it back. Hershel (and Dale) seems to notice their looks. Carol brings Daryl dinner in bed. She tells him he did more for her little girl than her own dad did his whole life and gives him a little kiss. After dinner, when Maggie reads the note, she sees Glen wrote "Ever done it in a hayloft"? That seems to panic her and she runs out.

Glen is searching for a way into the barn, and manages to climb up into the loft. He rummages around with his flashlight and notices the stench, then peers down into the barn to see it full of walkers. Maggie appears behind him and tells him he wasn't supposed to see this.

The Verdict:
I'll admit that this week was not as gripping as the past few episodes and nothing really enlivened the story until Andrea took out Daryl. I guess in this new world shuffling out of the woods isn't the best idea. Daryl survived and we get the beginnings of the Andrea we know and love from the books.

The whole chupacabra thing didn't exactly make any sense in the grand scheme of things, just tacked on to make sense of the episode title. Merle's appearance really didn't do it for me either. I know they want to remind us about him for some potential return, but I'm not a fan of the I'm-injured-so-I'm-hallucinating-my-neuroses.

The opener was also pretty chilling, though I'm not sure what purpose it will serve, unless we pick up with Shane and Lori as they hook up on the road and cement that this is indeed his baby. Shane's craziness continues, and he's drawing a clear line in the sand about what he's prepared to accept for the group. When it comes down to it, Lori and Carl are the only thing he's willing to fight for, which will be bad news for everyone else.

Shane does have a point about delaying their journey to Fort Benning if they were still on the road. But since they are in a relatively serene place at the moment, his argument about wasting resources looking for Sophia doesn't really hold water. Of course one can argue that her disappearance set in motion the entire series of events of Carl getting shot and Daryl injured. But as far as the survivors go, they seem to be enjoying a much needed respite, all things considered.

Alarm bells should be ringing with Rick by now given Hershel's authoritarian behaviour, but no one seems to be catching on. I'm happy that we'll at least get some movement on what's really going on with that family now that Glen has stumbled upon the secrets in the barn, though it really shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone, given the clues were all there in the previous weeks. How Hershel will act when he realizes how much control he's lost among his own family as well as his visitors will be an interesting confrontation to see. What happens when he tells Rick's crew to leave and they push back?

At this point, Sophia's return (and I don't believe she's dead) has to be big big big, with something really cool (Michonne) to pay for all this waiting. I realize Kirkman wants to move at his own pace and enjoy this alternate Walking Dead he's created from his graphic novels, but I really wish there was a push towards some direction to where the season is heading.

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