Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Spartacus: War of the Damned "Decimation"

Non Spoiler Review:
Crassus implements an ancient military tradition to still cowardice in his ranks and bring his son into line. Food remains an issue in Sinuessa en Valle, upsetting the already tense situation between the rebels and their captive Romans. A surprise arrival in the city sees opportunity in festering the discord. 

A very dark episode, Decimation left me feeling unsettled. While it wasn't as strong as some of the others and suffered from some questionable actions that seemed out of character, the series continues a strong run as it reaches its midway point. The focus has been on the rebels now that they're sitting within the walls of their city, but are they quickly becoming decadent like their former masters?

Among the disturbing and violent acts we get better insight into Crassus and Caesar to further blend the greys of this already morally ambiguous situation between Romans and slaves. There continues to be a rising sense of dread that leaves me wondering if the writers might have Spartacus ultimately brought down from within.

Spoilers Now!
Heracleo has been unable to procure grain, which is frustrating Spartacus. The city is getting hungry and fights are breaking out over scraps. Crixus wants to strike against Crassus now while they have opportunity. Laeta continues to lend care for her own Roman citizens and Spartacus refuses to break his word to her. Outside the gates more slaves arrive and Agron tries to maintain order by securing weapons and ensuring no Roman spies are sneaking in with them.

One slave brings news that Crassus' army is a day's march away. That's immediately interrupted by an attack by several men that Spartacus and Crixus manage to dispatch with the help of an eager new arrival who violently kills the last of the attackers—Caesar. Spartacus is thankful, but asks to see the brand of his dominus. Caesar claims his master put it close to his crotch, and reveals the mark on his upper thigh. Spartacus seems satisfied, and orders the heads of the dead put on the wall as warning.

Crixus isn't alone in tiring of the Roman prisoners. Nemetes beats one who is trying to get information about his missing sister. Nemetes is equally angered that Spartacus will not let anyone keep coin once they arrive in the city. Caesar sees an opportunity to befriend him.

At Crassus' camp, Tiberius' wound is mended and he's finally visited by his father. Crassus advises him Caesar is off on mission among the rebels, the reason he remained unshorn so he would fit in. Tiberius is impressed with the plan. 

Spartacus remains suspicious of the attack, thinking Crassus is changing his strategies to combat them. He wants to expose any Romans in their midst and orders Crixus to observe them. Crixus maintains his desire to attack, but Spartacus will wait behind the safety of their walls instead. Gannicus muses it's too bad Attius is dead and can't make them more weapons, further aggravating the Gaul. That prompts a discussion on what plan would be followed should Spartacus be killed. After they leave, Agron assures Spartacus he will follow his course.

Gannicus tests the fighting skill of the immigrants and calls forth Caesar (naming himself Lisiscus), who puts up a fair fight, showing he's versed in using steal, despite claiming to be a herder of animals. But ultimately he is bested by Gannicus. 

Spartacus goes to consult with Laeta in the stables, telling her that Marcus Crassus is the man sent by Rome. She knows of him and explains he will never stop until he defeats him. Their previous business with him concerned only grain, though she conveys a story of how Crassus once falsified a message in order to achieve desired results. Spartacus realizes he received such a message himself, one that allowed Crassus to assume command of the army.

Crassus quizzes his son on what it means to be his word and will. The first battle of his campaign was won by Spartacus as a result of Tiberius' rash action. Tiberius defends his choice as an opportunity that needed to be seized but apologizes for disobeying. Crassus concludes Tiberius' men fled because they feared the enemy more than his commanders, something that must be corrected. He has chosen the punishment of decimation. Later on, Crassus enjoys Kore's company in the camp. She uses the chance to try to get Crassus to reconcile with his son.

Sabinus is horrified that Crassus is enacting an ancient punishment—one that leaves it to the men to draw one out of ten who will be put to death. Tiberius wants Sabinus spared, but his friend knows that would weaken Tiberius' position further, and insists on drawing his lot with the other soldiers.

Caesar chats with Nemetes at a brothel, getting the indication that he has no love for Spartacus. Nemetes resents that the Romans have been spared within the walls, and all their coin has been used to bargain with the Cilicians. Caesar offers him his coin towards their continued friendship and future opportunities.

Crixus finds Nemetes and tells him to reveal what he's discovered about Caesar. Nemetes believes he has no love for Rome but will engage a final test to ensure his loyalty. After Crixus leaves, Nemetes returns to Caesar's table and takes him to a cell where they've been holding the Roman man's sister, Fabia. She has been bound, raped and tortured, and Caesar asks how Spartacus has allowed such a thing. Nemetes laughs that they've kept her hidden from his knowledge. He orders Caesar to prove he is no friend to Rome, to use her, then mark her with his knife. 

Caesar is left with her. Horrified, he tells her he's a Roman like her, explains who he really is and that the legions are coming to see the rebels all suffer. She asks him to free her by killing her. Caesar vows her name will not be forgotten, kisses her and ends her suffering as she wishes. He returns to Nemetes with her body, explaining he set her free, as he would set free all the Romans held by Spartacus. Nemetes is pleased he truly stands with them. 

Spartacus and Agron meet with Heracleo, and the pirate echoes the suggestion they stop feeding the Romans in order to preserve their food stores. But Spartacus has a new idea to amend their agreement and fill his ships with more promising cargo. 

Crassus addresses Tiberius' troops who broke rank. Those who survive the decimation will be banished to the follower's camp until Crassus deems them worthy again. Tiberius steps forward to ask Crassus to spare Sabinus, only to be warned by his father that he's his commander, and instead orders him to join his men himself. Tiberius takes his place among the soldiers he led, and all of them draw their stones. Tiberius is relieved he picked well, but Sabinus is not so fortunate. The victims are dragged out.

Sabinus asks Tiberius to do as he's commanded, so the men are beaten to death by the other soldiers while Tiberius weeps and finally joins in, delivering the death blow to his friend. When they're dead, Tiberius tells his father his lesson is well-learned.

Laeta drops a bag of bread on the street and is seen by Sybil. Laeta recognizes her and begs her not to tell anyone of it. But Sybil goes immediately to Gannicus. Laeta brings the bread to her friends in the cellar, encouraging them that Crassus is growing closer. Gannicus, Saxa and Sybil arrive to catch her with her hidden charges. Laeta is furious with Sybil's betrayal. Gannicus lays eyes on Ulpianus in the cellar, the one Attius was said to have freed. Enraged at Naevia's lie, he orders the Romans to be taken to Spartacus at once.

Nemetes brings Fabia outside to her distraught brother and Crixus demands to know who it is. Nemetes claims she tried to kill him and Lisiscus saved his life. They raise the crowd into a frenzy against the Roman prisoners and Naevia declares they should all be killed.

Gannicus appears and challenges her, revealing the Romans are with Laeta, and are even now being carried to Spartacus. Naevia dismisses him that Attius deserved his fate because he was a Roman. Gannicus strikes at her and Crixus intervenes to battle him. Nemetes pulls Gannicus off Crixus before he can strangle him, but he's thrown back to the Roman slave who manages to throw his chains around his neck. Caesar hurls his knife and kills the prisoner to save Nemetes, while Naevia knocks out Gannicus with a rock. Naevia claims he left her no choice, and Nemetes agrees. Caesar declares to the crowd they shouldn't be risking their lives for Romans. Crixus tells his men to take Roman blood as payment for all their suffering and see the city truly theirs. The Roman prisoners are massacred in the streets as Caesar watches. 

Nasir alerts Spartacus and Agron that Crixus is killing the prisoners. Meanwhile, Saxa has kept Laeta and her friends safe to get them to Spartacus, but they encounter a mob led by Nemetes. She fights them off but Ulpianus is killed. Crixus drags Laeta off and looks to Naevia as he prepares to kill her. Spartacus pulls him off her, draws his sword against him, and demands he regain his senses. Naevia declares Laeta hid the Romans, something Gannicus confirms as he arrives, but also informing them Attius held no part in the matter.

Spartacus turns to Laeta, questioning if this is how she repays his mercy. She saw no mercy, she replies. She had tried to save a handful from their cruelty. Crixus demands he take her life and see them become as one again. Spartacus will not see them become what they fight against. Crixus questions his state of mind, but Spartacus admits he does too, if only in placing his faith in Crixus. Spartacus warns the crowd that further attempt against his will means they join those who they struck down. 

Naevia tells Crixus they owe Spartacus much, but she now doubts his path. He agrees it might be time to forge their own path. Caesar is pleased.

The Verdict:
Decimation relied heaving on the familiar Spartacus trope—coincidence and opportunity that characters are in the right place at the right time to receive information. Coupled with a rather erratic pace, it was one of the weaker plotted episodes this season. It left me thinking that Sinuessa consists of a market square and a few city blocks, all within throwing distance of the main gates.

The episode still works, and serves up one of the most disturbing chapters I can remember. Not for its violence (which certainly had its moments), but the deaths of (presumable) innocents. Caesar and Crassus are both compassionate men as we can see here, but both allow an incredible amount of suffering to occur for their long term goals. It provides a troublesome contrast to Crixus and Naevia, who are simply lashing out for revenge, compared to the higher goals (at least for the Republic) of defeating the rebels and restoring their social order. It makes for an interesting debate.

As for other developments, the arrival of Caesar brought some explanations for his scruffy demeanor and the purpose of the slave and her knife a few episodes back. He was extremely successful in just the short time he was among the enemy. We're left wondering what daring scheme Spartacus has hatched with his Cilician allies.

However Crixus' character is not making sense to me. I can dismiss a lot given his love for Naevia, but he's clearly lost all perspective of the brotherhood he shared with Gannicus and Spartacus. He brushed off Gannicus' evidence that Naevia lied without any apparent conflict over it. I just can't see Crixus doing that, unless freedom has made him revert completely to his pre-gladiator self.

Sadly, I can no longer stomach Naevia. She's too much the mad dog to survive much longer, and perhaps that's the point of her character—the symbol of the one damaged too much by the Romans that she is beyond repair.

Perhaps the point is that the slaves aren't that different from their Roman masters at all. Given enough lust for money and power they will turn upon one another just as easy as the Roman upper classes scheme for position. It's certain that major characters will start dropping off as we reach the midpoint of the season. Of course the money is on which of the big four will go first. Storywise, it would seem most fitting for Gannicus and Crixus to have their long awaited rematch promised since Gods of the Arena.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead "I Ain't No Judas"

Non Spoiler Review:
Andrea takes matters in hand to resolve the conflict between Woodbury and the prison, leading to a long-awaited reunion. Merle attempts to integrate with the group as Rick struggles with the responsibilities of leadership. The Governor continues to plan his next move and finds some surprising new allies.

I Ain't No Judas was a heavily character-driven episode, delivering some necessary conversations and the big reunion with Andrea and her former group. Light on action, it still serves as a satisfying respite for what is sure to lead into a heavy dose of conflict as the season wraps up.

It wasn't a pleasant hour by any means, particularly Andrea's reception at the prison and the drastic change she observes in her former comrades. I'm left wondering how all this can be repaired or if they even can be united again at this point.

Spoilers Now!
Merle is locked up and the group debates their next course of action. Rick is adamant they stay but Merle warns him that the Governor is just starting his campaign against them. Hershel wants to leave and demands Rick come back and listen to them, calling him to task for losing his marbles. If he said it wasn't a democracy he has to own up to that and do something. Rick goes to survey the woods for activity. Carl joins him and asks him to stop being the leader, to let Hershel and Daryl handle things while he takes a rest. 

Milton is taking stock of able-bodied citizens who can hold a weapon and the Governor wants them trained to use them. Andrea walks in, having heard of the attack on the prison. The Governor claims they shot at him first. Andrea is sick of the lies and won't stand by as her friends and Woodbury gun one another down. She's going to see them and wants a car. The Governor advises her if she goes to the prison she can stay there. 

Merle's presence is causing friction. Daryl tells Glen to get used to Merle staying with them. Hershel admits he has military experience and is likely loyal to his brother over the Governor. Glen suggests to trade him back to Woodbury for a truce. So Hershel goes to talk to Merle. They swap Bible verses and Merle admits Woodbury had a fine library. But he warns that when the Governor returns he'll kill Merle, Michonne and Daryl first, then the rest, saving Rick for last. That's who he's dealing with. Merle later has a chat with Michonne to clear the air. He claims hunting her down was just him following orders and he's not proud of a lot of things. Carol drops in on Daryl, happy he's back. She warns him not to let Merle bring him down. 

The Governor surveys the new recruits who are more like an army than a defensive force. Andrea asks Milton to swear he knew nothing about the attack. He does, so she tells him to cover for her, as she's going to the prison and the Governor can't know. Milton is petrified and refuses. He later goes to the Governor and exposes what Andrea is planning. The Governor suggests he help her.

Milton and Andrea collar and unarm a walker in the same manner Michonne had done. As they finish up Tyreese and his friends emerge from the woods. They ask if they have a camp, and Andrea informs them of Woodbury. Milton says he'll take them back with him, and assures Andrea he'll cover for her. 

Andrea arrives at the prison and is spotted by Carl. Maggie takes aim but sees it's Andrea and has him get the others. Everyone comes running as Andrea approaches the gate. Rick calls out to her if she's alone. They let her in but roughly search her and take her bag.

Andrea embraces Carol who explains they thought she was dead. Andrea wants to know where Shane is, and Lori, and she is brought up to speed on their deaths. Andrea explains she only just found out they were in Woodbury and of the latest attack, and asks Michonne what she's told them. And why is Merle there if she's the one under suspicion?

Andrea wants them all to work it out, but Rick plans to kill the Governor and Woodbury is gearing up for war. He asks her to get them inside the town if she's serious about helping them. Andrea later speaks with Michonne, who confesses she saw Andrea was coming under the Governor's spell and she seems to have picked up his messiah complex. Michonne reveals he sent Merle to kill her, and Andrea chose a warm bed over a friend. That's why she went back to expose him—she knew it would hurt Andrea. 

The Governor greets Tyreese and his people, welcoming them to stay as long as they want. He explains they were attacked a few days before. Ben tells him about the whack job they encountered at a prison, which piques the Governor's interest. Tyreese recounts how everything seemed cool until their leader came back and kicked them out. They'll do whatever they need to earn their keep. Milton suggests they could try to map out the layout of the prison. 

Andrea gets to see Judith and Carol explains what happened to Lori, and how Shane died at Rick's hand after his lies at the farm were exposed. Andrea sees how cold and unsteady Rick has become in the months since. Carol tells Andrea she needs to end this—sleep with the Governor, and when his guard is down she can kill him.

Andrea is provided a vehicle and she says her good-byes. Rick gives her a gun and tells her to be careful. She drives away. She gets back to Woodbury and goes to see the Governor, explaining the poor situation at the prison. She came back on her own accord and tells him she belongs there.

At the prison, Rick admits Andrea is in a jam. He's decided to go on a supply run for weapons, but wants Daryl to remain to keep an eye on Merle. He's glad Daryl's back, but if his brother causes a problem it will be on him, he warns. He'll take Carl and Michonne with him.

That night, Andrea wakes up with the Governor sleeping next to her, and goes to get a knife. She looks down at him with the blade to his throat, but can't bring herself to kill him.

The Verdict:
Poor Andrea. I have a sense this character has a big target on her back. In fact I was surprised the Governor didn't wake up and shoot her at the end to give us a shocking moment to lead out with. I really hope she can return to her former friends, but it will be a tough situation, and one that will need to be driven by an untenable turn of events in Woodbury. I hope the series doesn't take the easy way out and kill her off, which would be a real waste of a popular character.

Merle appears to be making an effort to fit in the best way he knows how. Is he genuine, or is it just survival? He did rise to the occasion when everyone rushed out to greet Andrea but it will be a long time before his character can undergo a transformation similar to Daryl.

To add to the mess, Tyreese is now gung ho on the Governor's side thanks to Rick, with intel on the prison. He's further isolated Andrea. I'm hoping next week's day trip with Carl and Michonne will go some way to mend Rick's mental state. Both the survivors at the prison and the viewers are about ready to see him overthrown.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: Zero Hour "Face"

Non Spoiler Review:
Vincent confronts Riley and Hank in the Arctic, prompting another quest for a new apostle and a new clock. Arron and Rachel investigate some clues on their own.

After a very shaky start, Face manages to knock the legs out entirely from under the show. The dialogue remains cringe-worthy, and plot devices jump out on queue when required. This week we find out that pretty much everyone has an exotic language under their belt they can trot out when relevant translation is required.

It's difficult to criticize the cast because they have little to work with and have to trudge through this outrageous dialogue and exposition. At its best it's become formulaic and cliche—at worst pure cheese.

Spoilers Now!
Vincent reaches the sub and kills the pilot. Hank confronts him and asks if his wife is alive, only to get punched and dragged inside. Riley is searching through the sub's records, taking a journal as Vincent comes down with Hank. She remains hidden as Vincent takes a watch from Bartholomew's body. Riley steps forward with her gun, but he reminds her only he knows where Hank's wife is, which prompts Hank to start freaking out. Vincent promises to take him to his wife but refuses to tell them anything of what's on the sub. Hank wonders what the watch means to him and realizes it's some kind of map (because all clocks hide maps) and takes some iPhone snapshots of it. Oh, and why does the Nazi on the sub look exactly like him?

Once escorted back outside, Vincent blows up the vehicle he had previously wired, which also manages to crack open the Arctic ice. He gets in the plane and takes off, leaving Riley calling for help on her radio as the sub begins to sink.

But that works out very well for them, as in the next scene Hank and Riley are dropped back off in NYC by a helicopter. She's thoroughly pissed that she didn't kill Vincent when they had the chance and suggests his wife could already be dead. She'll kill Vincent next time, though, so Hank storms off in a huff.

Back at the magazine, Rachel and Arron are back from Bavaria too. Arron explains what happened with the old man, while Hank wants only to find his wife and doesn't care about any Nazi conspiracy (Modern Skeptic is doing so well that it can fly its staff around the world on a whim anyway, apparently. Why would it need to break a story about the end of the world?). Severely injured priest (whose name remains elusive) shows up to help too, having checked himself out of the hospital. He dismisses all this apocalypse nonsense, as everyone seems to think it's happening during their time. But he does provide some relevant exposition by mentioning certain signs of the end times, one of which is the waters turning to blood.

The watch has a symbol of the apostle Thomas, which is where Vincent will be heading. Hank realizes the gears were not meant to work. Arron suggests the glowing dots are a constellation. They have a time and a date from the watch to establish a location in India where it can be seen.

Vincent has also deciphered the clock at exactly the same time. He has Laila with him, and quizzes her about being able to help him, though she doesn't know what that means. Too bad for her, as Vincent bought a lot of lye and rented the place for six months, more than enough time to dissolve her body.

Hank admits the guy in the sub looked exactly like him. Rachel goes to see Riley to see about that journal she took. She lives an isolated life among her dead husband's paintings. Riley is quite forthcoming after Rachel explains Hank is a nice guy and actually found her in an orphanage (?) and gave her a good life. Riley explains the journal doesn't offer any clues to Hank's wife but admits she saw the lookalike in the ice too. She wants to know how Hank is planning on going after Vincent.

Rachel returns with the journal, and Arron reveals he knows German (!) so he's able to read a name—Corbin Stern. The page for March 1938 is missing, the same day as the launch. They learn he was a scientist conscripted into the Nazi party for something called Zero Hour. They find out a collector of Nazi memorabilia (i.e. a neo-Nazi) has some information on the project.

Rachel and Arron go to visit the man who has a film about the Zero Hour project. The film shows an expedition sent to India and Corbin Stern, the man who looks like Hank. They were searching for the secret of life and death and found a local girl who supposedly could talk to the dead. She disappeared after that. 

Hank has arrived in India at the appropriate city, and goes to a church where the priest recognizes a photo of Vincent, who was asking questions just a few moments before. Hank finds Vincent among the throng of people but is quickly accosted by some men, until he's rescued by Riley who arrives just in time. She can speak Hindi, too.

Riley wants to arrest and interrogate Vincent so they can get Laila. Hank gets a call from Rachel, suggesting they look for the same girl who will be in her eighties and has a birthmark. Hank deduces the men who attacked him were protecting her.

Arron finds a note hidden in the journal for Stern's wife. Corbin confesses how he had to leave her because of the things he saw that threaten humanity.  

The old woman has taken a vow of standing and recognizes Hank as the same Nazi who visited her as a child. He shows her Laila and Vincent's photos. She has a clock but was told to destroy it if she ever saw his face—told by him. His arrival would signal the return of the angel of death. 

Someone shoots at her and Riley goes after and kills him. It's the priest and he's a Rosicrucian. While they're gone, Vincent goes in to confront the holy woman. As she backs away it's apparent she's been standing over her clock's hiding place, which he quickly uncovers. Riley and Hank hear him shoot her and run off. Hank sees Laila in the car as they drive off. 

The dying holy woman says the apocalypse is now upon them. Hank alone holds the key. If he continues on his quest it will bring about the end of the world. Hank can't give up, as he wants his wife back. As they leave they see the river is the color of blood from the fishermen cutting up their fish.

"Vas ist das?"
No The Verdict this week...just seething rant:
Where to begin. This week was all about learning who knows what languages. Going to India? Great! Riley studied Hindi in the peace corps. You have a mysterious Nazi journal? Well, Arron happens to know German thanks to dating a girl back in college. Too bad he didn't mention that fact last week when they were actually in Bavaria talking to real Germans.

What is the point of the twelve new apostles if only to be cannon fodder for whoever wants to bring about the end of the world. It's not like they're gathering to do anything, but sitting around providing clues to the next victim.

It's looking like each episode is going to be a quest for a new clock and a new apostle, which is going to get old really fast. Did no one learn anything from Alcatraz? While there's some potential in the end of the world stuff I don't hold much hope with that angle either—it's amounting to an incredibly mundane, localized apocalypse, if a few fishermen can bloody up a river with their catch and fulfill Bible prophecy.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead "Home"

Non Spoiler Review: 
Home continues to process the fallout of the Woodbury attack with friction between Glen and Maggie, Rick's steady descent into madness, and Hershel's attempting to keep it all together. There's debate whether to abandon the prison in the face of a potential attack. While in Woodbury, Andrea seeks answers from an ever secretive Governor, and Merle and Daryl encounter other survivors on the road.

Like last week's character driven episode, Home starts out much the same, continuing to deliver some interesting scenes within the prison while Rick goes on extended walkabout. That's enough to lure the audience into complacency, because the final minutes deliver some classic shocks and excitement, making for a tense and ominous conclusion. 

Spoilers Now! 
Rick surveys the woods for signs of activity, spying Michonne sitting outside the gates. He finds Lori's spectre again and goes out to her grave, then sees her move beyond the outer wall. He runs after, getting Michonne's attention, who cautiously observes him as he reaches the dock by the creek and meets up with his spectral wife.

In Woodbury, Andrea gets a visit from the Governor with compliments for her speech. As for the prison, as long as they're left alone, he has no problem with them, he claims. She wants to go see them. He understands she might choose her friends over them, but suggests Woodbury (and him) need her.

The Governor goes on to visit Milton, asking if he intends to stay in Woodbury. Leaving has never crossed his mind, he says. The Governor counts on him, and also considers him a friend. Though he counted on Merle, as well, he adds. Would Milton take a bullet for him? Milton believes he would. But he's not sure where Andrea's loyalties lie, so he asks Milton to keep tabs on her.

Later on Andrea notices Martinez and the Governor are absent, so she confronts Milton to get some answers. Milton thinks they're out looking for supplies, but he's being obviously vague,  leaving Andrea frustrated.

Daryl and Merle are finding little to sustain them in the woods but already they're in disagreement about where to find food. Merle prefers hunting over scavenging houses and continues to egg on his little brother. He suggests the Governor will be planning to bury what's left of Daryl's friends.

The prison group gathers for a meeting and Glen warns the facility remains insecure if Tyreese could get in, and given the Governor may attack at any time he wants to hit them again. Michonne explains the Governor is a mad man with his aquarium full of heads, and Glen wants her to come with him to assassinate the man while they have the chance. Hershel attempts to reason with him—he was almost killed the first time and he didn't know they were coming. He suggests they should leave the prison—Lori and T-Dog have already lost their life there. But Glen won't run, and reminds them they have a baby now to take with them. Maggie walks off. Glen takes Carl to figure out where the breach is. He orders Michonne to stay on watch, given no one appears to be on guard duty at the moment. 

Glen and Carl return with news the whole section they earlier cleared has been overrun again. Hershel, Carol, and Beth all suggest they abandon the prison. Glen goes off to see Maggie, who is hold up in her cell. She doesn't want to talk about their experience at Woodbury, but she tells him what the Governor did, though he never raped her. She took off her shirt or he would take off Glen's hand. Glen doesn't know how to deal with it and only angers her further, so she sends him away. 

Carol and Axel fortify the fence the best they can. Axel admits he's scared to death of guns and actually robbed a gas station with a toy gun. The cops found him the next day but discovered weapons in his brother's house, resulting in his conviction for armed robbery. He doesn't know how to use a gun, so Carol teaches him. That leads to some flirtation and Axel thinks she's quite a lady.

Daryl gets impatient with Merle's insessant teasing. He thinks he hears a baby and they come upon a group of people on a bridge trying to keep away from a swarm of walkers. Daryl immediately goes to their aid. Two men are stuck on a flat bed shooting at the roamers while a woman and her baby are stranded in their vehicle. Daryl starts taking them out with his crossbow, and Merle slowly makes his way there. Merle goes to the stranded woman but pulls a gun on the man who only speaks Spanish. Daryl orders him to let him go, then tells Merle to get out of the car, as he's going through their supplies. He advises the others to get in their car and leave. They drive off, while Daryl keeps his crossbow trained on his brother.

Merle is unimpressed and that leads to an argument as they head back into the woods. Daryl vents he went back for him and it was Merle who cut off his own hand. Merle thinks it's amusing he and Rick are buddy-buddy now given the Dixons originally intended to rob their camp blind. Merle throws him down on the ground, but exposes Daryl's back which is covered in scars from their father's abuse. Merle never knew. Daryl walks off in a huff, intent on returning to the prison. Merle shouts after him that he can't go given he tried to kill Michonne. Daryl keeps walking.

Hershel has a man-to-man with Glen asking him if he's going back to Woodbury. Glen says no, just on a supply run. He can't sit on his hands and claims he did what he could to save Maggie. Hershel trusts him with her life but that rage will get them all killed, he warns. Glen declares he's the next in charge after Rick and drives off. 

Rick continues to wander about outside, then hears his name being called. It's Hershel, who hobbles down to the fence with some effort, warning him Glen is on the warpath and getting reckless. Rick suggests Hershel should go after him then. After a moment Rick finally admits he saw Lori. He knows it's not really her but there has to be a reason why she's appearing. Hershel asks if it was her on the phone. Rick confirms that, as well as seeing Shane in town. He's hoping to find an answer and can't come in yet, so walks off. 

Axel and Carol watch the two of them from inside. Axel comments he saw plenty of men crack in his day. Life on the inside was more simple. Then he's shot in the head (!).

It's the Governor, and he and his men open fire on everyone at the prison. One of his people has even taken position in a guard tower, sending Rick and Hershel diving for cover. Carol is stranded next to Axel's body. Michonne grabs her gun and fires back, as does Carl. Maggie comes out with weapons, and Carol manages to get back to their group with everyone pinned down in the firefight.

Then a van rams the gate, drives inside the outer courtyard and drops open its back door, releasing a crowd of walkers. A man in armor comes out firing. Maggie finally kills the man in the tower. Rick makes a run for the wall as roamers are drawn to the battle. The Governor watches the chaos, pleased with himself, then drives off with his men just as Glen returns to the mayhem. As Michonne slices up walkers, Daryl and Merle arrive just in time to rescue Rick from the zombies swarming his position. Glen picks up Hershel and drives on to the inner gate, as Rick stares through the fence at the new walkers roaming around the prison.

The Verdict: 
A very exciting ending to an otherwise decent hour that continued to build on the personal relationships. I wouldn't have complained too much if that's all it amounted to, but because it started out so quiet the last ten minutes were just that much more nail-biting.

There was some great misdirection as far as Axel, as the moment Carol taught him how to use the gun I was sure he would turn out to be some sinister killer that would take out one of the survivors very soon (considering he was the last of the prisoners and the graphic novel had one kill two of Hershel's daughters).

Another welcome development is Glen's new backbone. In the vacuum left by Rick, Glen steps up to the plate and takes charge. Coupled with Hershel, and even the likes of Carol and Maggie and Beth having months to gain their own sense of confidence, the Rictatorship could very well be at its end.

As if Daryl couldn't become more of a knight in shining armor, he rushes to the rescue not once but twice. His appearance to save the day at the prison was a great ending. It will be interesting if Merle has any hope whatsoever at integrating himself with their group. The initial suspicion that his betrayal of the Governor was all a set up seemed to go out the window last week. It would be quite a contrived plot to swallow if that were actually the case now and he's the Governor's plant in the prison. Regardless, I'm doubting Merle can survive the season.

One element that doesn't get a lot of attention—the background music for Rick's vision of Lori was a callback to the bicycle zombie in episode one. It's a very poignant and memorable piece. 

It looks like Andrea may now reunite with the prison group sooner rather than later, and I'm thinking permanently, given this week's events. The Governor has exposed some serious flaws in their defences, but why not finish them off? Does he want something from them, or is he simply torturing them?

Review: The Walking Dead 107

Non Spoiler Review:
Rick confronts Negan about Carl, and the result is unexpected. Meanwhile, Eugene continues his work on finding a viable bullet-making factory, while Michonne makes the moves on someone.

Issue 107 turned expectations on their head. It's clearer now why Kirkman sent Carl to Negan's outpost, but it does lead to a very anti-climactic resolution to last month's cliffhanger.

Spoilers Now!
Rick rashly head-butts Negan, prompting a fight in front of his men. Negan orders his men to get the boy as Rick bites his arm. Carl calls out, saying he's sorry. Negan admits to his poor choice of words, and should have clarified he's done nothing to Carl yet.

Rick and Carl share an embrace. Negan points out how calm he's been about the whole situation, especially given Carl killed several of his men and Rick attacked him. He's in the business of being a savior to those who are loyal to him, and has proven as much by not killing his son. Rick gets the point, but won't lie and say they're friends.

Confident that he's conveyed the message that he can be reasonable, Negan takes his leave with the promise of another supply run soon. After, Jesus admits Negan does operate under his own code. Andrea suggests they search for supplies on the drive back.

Meanwhile, Eugene has found an amazing factory to make bullets. Rick returns with new supplies and addresses the community about Carl's return, as well as the prospect he's confident they can be optimistic given Negan's reasonable nature. Later, Andrea warns him that he may be pushing the townsfolk too far with his lies. They may not be so forgiving when it all comes out.

Michonne joins Heath on watch, asking him if something happened between him and Denise. Heath rebuffs an obvious advance by saying Maggie told him what happened between her and Tyreese, and it seems Michonne has a need to show up other women by taking someone that's unavailable. She doesn't need to be so guarded all the time. Michonne doesn't take it well, declaring the conversation never happened, but apologizes and leaves.

Rick puts Carl to bed, then consults with Jesus and Andrea, asking about Negan's wives. Jesus never knew a lot, much less where they were located, but Carl has provided valuable intel about the lack of soldiers at the factory. Jesus is impressed with the news, and decides it's time to tell Rick about Ezekiel.

The Verdict:
It would seem Carl's capture was simply a detour rather than an extended storyline unto itself, necessary in hindsight to give Rick and Jesus the intelligence they need to form an offensive against Negan. What it did do is paint Negan with a little more reason over crazy (though it's very evident he's balancing the psychopathic side of his nature). I'm still somewhat miffed at how hyped Carl's fate was leading up to this, only to have him go home with Rick and to bed after spilling his guts about the military strength of Negan's forces. It made for a contrived series of events more than we're used to.

Michonne's attraction to Heath also came out of left field. I imagine having to bow down to Negan has resurrected some harsh memories about her treatment by the Governor, but it just didn't feel very natural. And conveniently enough Eugene has the perfect bullet factory just ready to be fired up. Add to that the mysterious Ezekiel, which I'm guessing is a thing (as in weapon) rather than a person, and Rick will soon be ready to launch his strike against Negan. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Zero Hour "Strike"

Non Spoiler Review:
Zero Hour is a new series from ABC that promised plenty of Da Vinci Code-type conspiracy with an exciting promo trailer. I had high hopes that it would prove a pleasant surprise given so many other hyped series have failed so miserably to deliver on the goods—The Event, Terra Nova, Revolution, etc. Despite being biased against network shows in favor of cable, I wanted to really like this. But now I realize that isn't a bias, but a justifiable opinion—The EventTerra NovaRevolution, etc.

The series begins with a flashback to pre-War Germany and a conspiracy to hide some important artifacts from the Nazis. Flash forward to the present and we meet Hank (Anthony Edwards) and Laila Gallistan on a shopping trip that will change their life. She's immediately kidnapped for something she purchased and husband Hank, along with the intrepid reporters that work for him at his Modern Skeptic magazine, embark on a journey to find the truth, stumbling upon a secret of apocalyptic proportions.

Zero Hour is thoroughly crazy—perhaps not yet at bat-shit levels, but that's definitely within the realm of possibility. What could be a very interesting storyline is immediately hindered by a cast of caricatures—not characters—devoid of development except what is told to us through exposition-heavy dialogue. This is the kind of writing where characters ominously report that "the end times are upon us", or the rationale skeptic is instructed "now is the time for faith." It's the kind of world where you can spontaneously decide to fly up to the Arctic Circle and luck out that the flight leaves in a few hours.

I can overlook the outrageously contrived events and perhaps come to enjoy Zero Hour on a mindless popcorn entertainment level, but we're not even there yet, so I'll wait until I get a few more episodes under my belt. I remain hopeful. The mystery will keep me coming back next week. Zero Hour, for now, is a very rough start that could easily be dragged down from it's potential. It's definitely something aimed for network television, and not the HBO crowd.

Spoilers Now!
1938, Germany. A man interrupts a priest overseeing the assembly of twelve clocks, warning him the Nazis have made a breakthrough and the end times are upon them. He takes him to a hospital the Nazis appropriated, showing him an ominous Antichrist-like baby with white eyes. They’re quickly discovered and flee into the streets. The men are Rosicrucians and declare they must protect what lies in the tunnels beneath their church. They haul up a large sarcophagus-looking thing and load it into a truck to hide it from the Nazis, even as the Germans break into the church and gun everyone down. The truck gets away, and the dying priest declares only the twelve can help now.

In present-day Brooklyn, Hank Gallistan and his wife Laila are perusing items at booths along the waterfront. He heads off to work, leaving her to finish her shopping, where she finds an interesting clock that she purchases for her own shop.

Hank works at the Modern Skeptic magazine, with reporters Rachel and Arron. He gets a frantic call from Laila saying someone is breaking into her store. He rushes out, instructing Arron to call the police. He gets to their shop to find it ransacked.

With his wife missing, the police advise Hank they’ll be assigning a detective and will be in touch. Hank thinks it doesn’t add up, given nothing is missing. They appear to have wanted his wife. Rachel and Arron are waiting for him when he gets home and together they attempt to get some answers. Hank spies a bag with a clock in it that means Laila stopped at home first with her purchase. The FBI abruptly show up to interview him.

Agent Riley explains they’ve been working on this case a long time and may have an idea who has her. They show him a traffic camera across the street from the shop that caught the perpetrator taking off with Laila. His name is White Vincent, an infamous mercenary. She needs to know why he would be taking his wife. Hank gets defensive and snarky and suggests she talk to the police.

After they leave, Hank examines the clock Laila bought (as marriage to a clock expert means he's absorbed a lot of that knowledge) and assumes that’s what the man was looking for. He proceeds to take it apart and finds a diamond inside, one that is flawed as it casts an odd shadow on the wall—a map.

Hank is skeptical that it’s a treasure map, but they go to a priest friend who might be able to read the language. The father is shocked to find the language is a dead one from the Second Century. Odd given the map is of the Western Hemisphere, which means someone in the church is still using the language. He explains they are Rosicrucians, who were a society of mystics readying themselves for the Apocalypse. There is also the name of a city named New Bartholomew in the Arctic Circle.

Hank then gets a rambling phone call from Laila’s captor, who explains if he knew the real truth he would lose his mind. Vincent tells him he gets the clock or she dies, so Hank agrees to a meeting. The priest pleads with him not to give over such a historical artifact to a mad man, and suggests he won’t let Laila go. He wants to bait him with the clock but hold on to the diamond.

Hank goes to the FBI with the situation. It's Riley's turn to give him attitude and wants to monitor the rendezvous. She promises him this will be his best chance at getting his wife back alive. Hank gives the priest the diamond to keep safe, given it’s their only leverage. Hank is directed to the meeting place as the FBI monitors the call. Hank gets a second call pointing him to a coffee shop. As he stops to tie his shoe, Hank realizes that Vincent isn’t actually watching him, and figures something is up. The FBI, meanwhile, raids a building, finding it empty with a camera pointed to where Hank was. Hank runs in, concluding this was all misdirection.

The priest is Vincent’s target, and as Hank and the FBI get to the church they find him nearly dead and the diamond gone. He’s taken off to the hospital and Hank is enraged that the FBI let Vincent get what he wanted.

Despondent, Hank knows Vincent doesn’t need Laila anymore. Rachel and Arron encourage him to have faith. They return to work to start analyzing their information, starting with New Bartholomew. Hank decides to arrange travel to the Arctic (!) and needs Rachel and Arron to remain behind to keep searching.

Hank bids them good-bye and begins his odyssey to the Arctic Circle where he’s quickly intercepted by the FBI at the airport. Riley wants him to come clean as she can be a resource, virtually begging to follow along. She admits her husband was killed in a Russian plane crash that was bombed. So see, they have a lot in common. She knows he’s going after Vincent, and she’s trained and licensed to use her weapon. She already has her ticket.

Arron has found a name on the clock—a German clockmaker who is currently 93 in Bavaria. They head off to Germany. 

In Nunavut, Vincent is holed up in a motel, and as he takes out his contact lens he reveals he has white eyes, and sadly, very likely not the Antichrist (but probably immortal). Hank and Riley hire a plane to the Arctic Circle and learn a man with an accent was asking the very same thing the day before and ended up driving all the way up the ice instead.

The pilot takes the two of them to the location on the map where they see a metal structure in the distance. They clear the snow away to find a Nazi insignia. As they climb inside they find frozen bodies that appear to be executed, as well as a map.

In Bavaria, Rachel and Arron show up at their clockmaker's house. Luckily he speaks English and after a moment of telling them to go away, opts to welcome the two frantic strangers inside. She shows him a photo of his clock which prompts him to make the sign of the cross. He had thought the clocks were lost and asks if blood has been spilled. He declares they are looking for the clocks again. Queue the infodump...

New Bartholomew isn’t a place, it was a man. Twelve numbers on the clock equal twelve apostles. In 1938 twelve men were entrusted with the salvation of mankind as the church appointed twelve new apostles that were given a secret not even the Pope new, one that could bring about the end of the world. They were scattered to keep the secret from the Nazis, one clock for each. He made the clock for New Bartholomew, a noble man who was also a Nazi officer (seen in the first flashback). Only the twelve knew the secret of what was hidden beneath the cathedral. The Nazis had figured out the first steps towards eternal life and a way to render God irrelevant. Those experiments never ended, nor the search for the clocks. He explains they must find the clocks before the enemy, as a storm is coming, a storm called zero hour (oh my, that's the name of the show!).

The Arctic base is actually a U-boat. And Vincent is fast approaching.

The Verdict:
The plot seems quite compelling and the premiere moved at a frenetic pace, so I can't fault it for dragging its heels, but it was tough to get passed the really bad dialogue—I mean really bad. If you can get passed that, then there's the whole-hearted level of contrivance of getting every character where they need to be within the first hour. I guess the writers want to keep the momentum so the episode feels like an international thriller, but it's come at the expense of any connection to the characters thus far. The villain spews over the top speeches, while Hank finds it wise to mouth off to cops and the FBI right from the start.

It's impossible to overlook some of the plot holes—Why was Laila targeted for the clock when it's obviously been sitting untouched for decades? Was something activated that alerted Vincent?

So you're an old German in fear of your life and two crazy American kids show up asking you about a clock you made. Why not explain everything you know about the end of the world? This man is so dead next week.

Apparently the magazine business is booming, given Hank, Arron and Rachel have no problem purchasing last minute flights to Bavaria and the Arctic Circle. As a Canadian, I can attest that getting to Iqaluit isn't going to be on any seat sales. 

Honestly, I had high hopes for the Antichrist when I saw the white-eyed baby. I'm guessing that's not in the cards. It's unclear if this storyline is going to bring in supernatural, Book of Revelation aspects, or it will remain a secular Nazi plot. The question remains of where and what is inside the object taken from the cathedral.

Nearly every pilot comes off somewhat awkward, so I won't paint the whole series with this brush yet. Episode two might show some improvement.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: Spartacus: War of the Damned "Men of Honor"

Non Spoiler Review:
The moral ambiguity facing Spartacus' handling of Roman prisoners grows murkier as old wounds among the slaves spill out now that they have the upper hand over their former captors. Sinuessa en Valle is visited by pirates who reveal an earlier arrangement with Ennius that might prove useful. Meanwhile, Tiberius and Caesar rendezvous with the army, but Tiberius makes a rash decision.

The unpleasant feeling left from watching the good citizens of Sinuessa get massacred by our heroes grows through Men of Honor as clear factions begin to form. And it's Naevia that makes her mark as a potentially divisive force. It's clear the internal politics of the rebel camp are proving just as critical to their survival as victory against the Republic's legions.

Men of Honor has a lot for everyone—action, character growth, troublesome moral questions, and old-fashioned Roman debauchery. And Spartacus now has, hands down, the coolest breast plate in the ancient world (see above).

Spoilers Now!
Weapons are being forged again in Sinuessa en Valle, courtesy of Attius. Spartacus is pleased with his work, and promises him reward if he remains in the city. Agron doesn't trust him, nor does Crixus. Spartacus orders their prisoners fed and kept well as they are currently chained in the streets. Agron finds their presence insulting, given they're taxing their own food stores keeping them alive. 

Crixus confronts Attius at why he remains given he was compensated for his work. Attius explains he's been promised more coin. So Crixus gives him a coin for his journey to encourage him on his way. Saxa comes by looking for Gannicus, though Laurus' former slave girl watches from a distance.

Nemetes offers Ulpianus' pregnant wife bread in exchange for further treasure that lies hidden in their house. The baker agrees and tells him where to look. Nemetes instead lets the Romans fight for the scrap of bread until Crixus intervenes and asks the crowd if they desire blood. They do, so he brings swords to have the two citizens fight for their amusement. Gannicus is not amused, but Naevia reminds him the Romans forced him and Crixus to fight for their pleasure. 

Ulpianus is quickly disarmed by his foe and wrestled to the ground, but manages to grab his sword and kill his opponent when faced with losing his life. Crixus tosses him the bread and walks away, and Ulpianus, enraged, reaches for the bread which lies next to his sword, prompting Naevia to cut off his fingers. Attius is furious she struck him down for taking his food, leading Crixus to step in to Naevia's defense. Gannicus intervenes on Attius' side. Crixus walks off with Naevia asking her if he was truly reaching for the bread, but she doesn't care. She explains to him she has no use for men like Ulpianus. When she was sold off from the house of Batiatus she was ravaged by a family man just like him. Crixus had not known and promises to always stand at her side.

Ships arrive down the coast and four men appear at the gates. They're not Romans, but brigands of Cilicia, and they call Spartacus a brother for his deeds against the Republic. Their leader, Heracleo, regards Rome as their common enemy.

Heracleo explains that Ennius had an arrangement with him. He gave Heracleo use of his official seal for his manifest so that he would avoid problems at other ports. In exchange the pirates dispatched with Ennius' enemies on the seas. Spartacus thinks he might be of use and can keep the city supplied despite the Romans.

Gannicus consults with Attius about the Cilicians. Attius still resents their abuse of Ulpianus. Gannicus wonders why he stands only for himself, just as Gannicus once did. He suggests he leave and take the opportunity to become a new man elsewhere. 

Caesar and Tiberius arrive at the camp of Mummius where Tiberius assumes command. Mummius prefers to catch up with Caesar and leaves Tiberius to plan with Sabinus. A wounded soldier is brought to the camp to reveal Spartacus has taken Sinuessa en Valle. He escaped to the bay before they took the docks. Caesar calls him a coward for fleeing and kills him. Tiberius is furious. He orders Caesar to break camp and return to Crassus with news of Spartacus. He and Mummius will move for Sinuessa en Valle. 

Laeta is brought to her former villa to see Spartacus. She's furious with him for all he's done, and the latest news of Ulpianus, something Spartacus wasn't aware of. He informs her of Heracleo, whom Laeta thinks her husband devoted much money to hunt down. Spartacus reveals her husband destroyed his rivals via Heracleo, in favor of his seal. He needs it to continue the agreements, so Laeta acquiesces to find it for him in exchange for freedom. 

Once in hand, Spartacus promises Heracleo the seal when they abandon the city. Until then he will get coin for food. Heracleo wants Laeta included in the bargain but Spartacus doesn't trade in slaves. Heracleo agrees to land beyond the city walls an hour before sunrise so that they might fulfill their agreement. That raises suspicion among the rebels that it could all be a trap.

Heracleo supplies wine for a celebration. Nasir gets hit on by one of the brigands, prompting Agron to beat him up until Spartacus sends him away. Back in their quarters Agron and Nasir make up. Saxa comes upon the slave girl Sybil spying on Gannicus again. She confesses she just wants to thank him for saving her life. A drunk Gannicus stumbles home to find Saxa dressed in Roman gowns as well as offering Sybil for his pleasure. He looks into her eyes and orders her away, dismissing her as a child. He prefers Saxa tend to his needs. Afterwards, Sybil is waiting outside when Gannicus leaves. She offers him gratitude for freeing her, but he advises her she can repay her debt by staying far from his presence and men of his kind.

Laeta warns Spartacus he's a fool to trust in Heracleo. She realizes she was blind to her husband's schemes and wishes he would have just handed her over to the pirates. Spartacus reveals he has given command that she's free to move about the city in return that she sees her people receive their proper share of food. He offers to let her stay in the villa but she prefers to take shelter in the stables so the people don't think she's sleeping under his roof. She begins to realize he's not the man she expected.

The men gather before dawn, very hungover, and leave, ordering Naevia and Nasir to keep the gate closed until they hear from Spartacus. If Heracleo proves deceptive he wants them all killed. Tiberius and Mummius are watching from the high ground, realizing the rebels are making a deal with the pirates. He orders Mummius to prepare his men to advance. Sabinus warns him he's going against his father's orders by engaging Spartacus, but Tiberius feels he will honor him with blood and death.

Saxa alerts Naevia that Ulpianus and his wife are missing, so she goes to search for them. Naevia finds Attius packing up to leave and accuses him of trying to escape with his friends. He dismisses her accusation so she attacks him. The two battle with Attius disarming her, but she strikes him down with a hammer and violently proceeds to bash in his head.

On the beach Spartacus and his group arrive to meet Heracleo and his men. Spartacus has brought the coin and fulfils the bargain, but Heracleo only supplies a sample of the food, the remainder of which is on the ships. He promises to sail into port and unload, but Crixus warns that's not the arrangement, prompting swords to be drawn. Heracleo suggest the time might have come for them to part ways.

Spears suddenly fly into their midst as they come under attack by the Romans. A party of soldiers led by Tiberius engage them on the beach. As the battle turns against the Romans, Mummius arrives with reinforcements. Heracleo throws up a torch, signalling his ships to launch fireballs that drive back the soldiers. Mummius is killed and the army flees. Tiberius is stabbed by Totus, though manages to kill him as Sabinus comes to his aid to carry him off the battlefield. Spartacus orders a retreat back to the city, but tells Heracleo to take coin and see his ships to port, thanking him for his loyalty. Crixus takes the sword from Totus' body and sees the name on it. Back inside the gates Gannicus wonders why the Romans would attack in such small number with a boy as their leader. 

Naevia arrives, announcing Attius came at her when questioned about freeing the Romans. Gannicus is skeptical that he would betray them given he planned to start his life fresh. Spartacus wants the missing citizens found to avoid Romans plotting in their midst. Meanwhile, in the stables it's Laeta who is hiding Ulpianus' family and the others in a hidden cellar.

The Verdict:
Another enjoyable episode furthering the difficult questions of how the Romans are treated under their new masters. Naevia may have just cause to have a vendetta against the Republic, but it's apparent here she's become a loose cannon, something Gannicus readily sees and Crixus should be suspicious of. Crixus must feel some guilt given he's turned her into a killing machine and is only now learning how damaged she is.

My criticism of Naevia actress Cynthia Addai Robinson is no reflection on her skills. The problem arises of the timing of the recast, as we got meek and mild Naevia in the ludus who was sent away at the end of season one, and then a new actress playing her after her brutalization, so there's no continuity at all to make this the same character for me as I watch her now. It's unfortunate, as I think the original Naevia's transition into this current savagery would be extremely powerful, or at least if Robinson had a chance to play her before she was sent away.

Tiberius' rash military decision lends further credence to my suspicion he will be dispatched in the near future. I wonder, though, if the writers are going to work in Marcus' historical son into the narrative in some way or will just leave him out of the story entirely.

I'm pleased to see Laeta isn't all dow-eyed for Spartacus and is instead pulling an Anne Frank with her fellow Romans. And it's equally refreshing to see Heracleo turn out to be a man of his word and remain to save Spartacus. It's unfortunate Attius was killed off so quickly as he promised to be an interesting addition.

I'm impressed with the direction events are going with this dissension within the rebels. Ultimately it might prove Spartacus' downfall instead of superior Roman numbers if the sense of honor that has held together the gladiator brotherhood gets thrown down by the greater desire for revenge among the freed slaves.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead "The Suicide King"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Walking Dead returns from its mid-season hiatus with The Suicide King, an episode that quickly resolves the cliffhanger of the Dixon brothers' death match. The remainder of the hour decompresses much of the events, examining the fallout in Woodbury and at the prison. Many decisions (mostly by Rick) come under scrutiny.

While there may be criticism that The Suicide King was less than action-packed, I found there were a few much-needed (and perhaps critical) character moments. The rest of the season requires some set up after the change in status quo, so this one accomplished that, allowing Hershel and Carol some more time in the spotlight, as well as a closer look at Tyreese and his compatriots.

There's a level of tension and foreboding that really permeates the series now. Everyone seems to be at each others' throats as Rick comes to terms with seriously angering their new neighbours and what it might mean for their refuge. The Ricktatorship is certainly in jeopardy.

Spoilers Now!
The crowd calls for Daryl and Merle's blood as Andrea asks the Governor to let him go. But it's not up to him anymore. Merle needs to prove his loyalties. Fight to do the death and the winner goes free. 

Merle begins to battle his brother, and declares to the crowd he'll do what he has to to prove his loyalty. Merle quietly instructs his brother to follow his lead. Walkers are brought in to make things more interesting, so the two begin to fight them off. Then gunshots erupt, killing walkers as well as Haley, with Maggie and Rick leading an attack on the arena. There's mayhem as the crowd disperses amid tear gas. Andrea takes the gun off Haley. The Governor watches Rick and his crew leave under cover of the smoke with Daryl and Merle.

Rick, Merle, Daryl and Maggie get outside the gates and fight their way through roamers. Some zombies get into town through the breach. In the morning the rescue party meets up with Michonne and Glen in the woods who are both outraged that Merle is with them, prompting a stand off. It's the first time the brothers get a chance to talk, and they learn Andrea is in Woodbury. Rick finds out Michonne knows her, as well. Merle explains how they found the two of them in the woods and mouths off pretty much everyone. Daryl warns his brother to shut up, but Rick ultimately knocks Merle out.

Rick and Daryl debate Merle staying in the prison with them, but Michonne's fate is up in the air, too. Glen refuses to accept Merle as part of their family. Daryl is their family, but his brother isn't. Daryl suggests the two of them can fend for themselves. Rick tries to convince him otherwise, but Daryl is determined to leave the group, leaving him with advice to take care of Carl, and explain things to Carol. He and his brother leave. As the rest pack up their cars, an angry Rick informs Michonne he'll patch her up and then she's on her own, too. 

At the prison, Carl and Hershel are seeing to their new visitors' medical needs. Tyreese tells Hershel they're the only decent people they've run into. He and Sasha encountered Allan and Ben and later joined a larger camp, but that was overrun six weeks before. Hershel seems to like him, but warns him not to get too comfortable there, as it's not up to him.

Tyreese and his group prepare Donna for burial. Allan suggests they try to take the prison given it's only Carol and Carl on guard. Tyreese won't hear of it, but their debate is interrupted by Axel and Beth bringing them some tools.

Rick, Maggie and Glen are forced to clear the road of vehicles on the way home. Glen let's loose his rage against Rick for not killing the Governor and bringing Merle instead. And after all the risk they took, Daryl just takes off with him. Rick dismissively tells him it's the hand they've been dealt.

Andrea and Milton touch base about the situation in Woodbury. The Governor has retreated to his home while some of the townsfolk are packed up and wanting to leave, but the men on the wall won't let them. Andrea attempts to calm the situation, explaining to the sheltered people that it's too dangerous outside. As a man honks his car horn, drawing walkers, the guards drag him out. Andrea tries to diffuse the altercation, but screams interrupt the exchange from down the street as walkers are already in the community. Andrea takes them out and as people gather around one of the bitten townsfolk it's the Governor who comes out and shoots him, then walks away.

Andrea follows him back, warning him people are panicking and need his leadership. The Governor doesn't care. He's through holding their hands and it ends now. She demands to know why Daryl was there, and he reveals Merle picked up her friends, Maggie and Glen, and they came with the other people she knows. If her friends are alive she wants to know why they're both shooting at each other and why he kept that information from her. They killed six of his people, he replies. Milton interrupts them, warning things could get ugly outside again.

Andrea and Milton return to address to the gathering crowd. The biters have been killed on the perimeter, he tells them, and the Governor is recovering. Andrea does a good job calming them down with a pep talk about perseverance. The Governor listens from his window.

Carl and Carol open the gates for Rick's vehicle. Rick has to tell Carol that Daryl's gone away with his brother. She doesn't take it well. As everyone is reunited, Rick confers with Hershel. The Governor is a sick mind, pitting Daryl and Merle together, he warns. Hershel lets him in on their new visitors.

As Beth looks after the baby, she and Carol discuss Daryl. Beth never met Merle, but Carol explains he was an abusive man. They'll get through Daryl's loss, too. Tyreese and his friends seem capable.

Hershel tends to Glen's wounds, but he notices something is different between him and Maggie. He tells him Glen is like his own son now, then goes on to talk to his daughter but doesn't get an explanation of what happened to her in Woodbury.

Michonne is sleeping and has a concussion, but Rick wants to know when she can travel. Axel is dealing with the loss of Oscar, who had been his close friend. They all gather to debate if the Governor is going to retaliate and Hershel suggests they can use some reinforcements, so Rick goes to meet their visitors.

Tyreese offers to lend a hand with any problems and otherwise keep out of their way if they wish. Rick refuses, prompting Hershel to speak up for them. Rick doesn't want to be responsible for more people, but Tyreese tells him if he turns them out, he will be responsible. Hershel takes Rick aside to speak in their defence. They've done everything Rick has asked, but he's wrong on this point. He's got to start giving people a chance.

Rick pauses and looks up to the second floor where he sees a ghostly Lori in a white dress. He loses it, demanding to know what she wants from him. His behaviour is definitely unnerving to everyone, and when he draws his gun and starts shouting at her to get out, Tyreese takes the initiative to leave with his people. Glen sees them out while the others regard Rick's outburst with fear.

The Verdict:
The Suicide King didn't waste any time moving some elements along—Andrea is aware that her friends are at the prison, and vice versa. Merle and Daryl left very quickly (though they won't be gone for long, I imagine). And both the Governor and Rick seem to be sharing a descent into their own personal madness.

I enjoyed the little scenes—Carol and Beth, Carol and Carl, and Hershel and Glen. Some would complain that uses up valuable screen time, but it's rare when we get one-on-ones like this without all the group present. Glen's explosive rage against Rick's decision was a great bit, as well. If anything, we see that after all these months the rest of the crew is gaining enough confidence to speak up against Rick's fading leadership skills. 

Rick's mental state appears to be coming to a head sooner rather than later. I'm surprised how he can treat Michonne so shabby either, given she didn't really do anything all that bad. And she was woefully in the background this episode, too, which really made no sense. And what was all that with the baby? Does he see Shane in the child, or was the weight of having to care for the infant finally sinking in?
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