Nov 21 2011 5:00pm

The Walking Dead S2, E6: “Secrets”

Despite the disgraceful lack of adequate Daryl-age, “Secrets” kinda worked for me. Let’s be clear here, this was no miraculous turnaround where all the show’s problems were suddenly solved, but I also wasn’t boiling with irritation. There are some good character shifts in this ep. Things we really should’ve been privy to ages ago, but at least now we have some explanation for previously jarring behaviors.

Rick’s revelation that he suspected Lori and Shane got it on — and his calm acceptance of their affair — suggests he’s a better leader than we thought. He’s kept his concerns suppressed for the good of the group, and that takes an especially gifted diplomat. Andrea’s better used out in the field than doing laundry, and she proves her worth by taking down all those walkers instead of just sitting around bitching and giving everyone the dramatic chipmunk side eye. It’s little subtextual moments like that — and watching the storm cloud of emotions flicker across Otis’ widow’s face as she breaks the chicken’s legs — which prove the show is capable of so much more than it’s been offering.

Surprisingly enough, I actually sided with Lori on the Carl’s gun controversy. I probably would have had the exact same reaction — being upset at first but then reluctantly relenting. And I even agreed with her decision to have an abortion. I get why she recanted in the end, but her thought process and reasoning actually made sense. For the first time, she and Rick interacted with each other in a realistic manner that fit with their established natures rather than as ciphers. The bigger problem with the abortion debate (other than that we already got a lighter shade of this argument when Lori was deciding whether or not it was better to let Carl die) was that no one except Lori seemed to have a valid reason for their stance. She didn’t want the baby because she feared for its life and didn’t think it was fair to thrust an innocent child into such a hellish world. Everyone else? Shouting “ABORTION BAD!” isn’t helping the situation, nor is it an actual position.

More to the point, no one at all seemed concerned about Lori. She’s going to have to be preggo for several more months, a state that makes her slower, weaker, and more vulnerable. She has some very good reasons for not wanting to have a baby (the probability of squeezing it out sans anesthesia in a ditch in the woods doesn’t rank very high in my book), and the rest of the group have nothing but their high horse morals backing them up.

As many of you regular readers know, I have been less than enthusiastic about The Walking Dead season 2. None of the episodes have inspired the level of rageahol that The Killing, one of AMC’s other self-created shows, brought me, but TWD has been chockablock with crushing-turned-resigned disappointment. The show is fine enough as is, I guess, but it could easily be sooo much better. A tweak here, a restructure there, a little character sorting out, addressing the pacing issue, and bing bang boom you’ve got yourself one of the best dramas on television. But what to do about those six million viewers who apparently like the show for what it is — ZOMG ZOMBIES WHEE!!! — and vote gore over philosophical pining? If you look at the show’s regularly decreasing numbers (but, really, for ratings that high what’s the loss of a few fractional percentage points?) even some of the blood-and-guts lovers are getting a little bored.

At first I was acting reactionary, annoyed at the writers for coming up with such dross and frustrated with the actors for (mostly) putting out such lazy/stereotypical/unoriginal performances of said dross. Then, during a discussion in the comments last week, a thought popped into my head: “Maybe the issues are part of why Darabont quit/fired/forced out last summer? I know some of it had to do with the reduced budget, but the man was responsible for Shawshank Redemption for Zeus’ sake, so I can’t imagine he was too thrilled with the looming changes.” That notion has been mulling around in my brain bone the last few days and the more I think about it the more convinced I am of its veracity.

Whatever happened behind the scenes, Darabont’s departure had to come down to creative differences, most likely fueled by the drastically reduced budget. When you have twice the episodes on half the money, that gives you far less leeway in terms of location diversity and big-budget scenes/shots. Sticking close to the highway, Hershel’s farm, and the woods long after any sane person would’ve moved on is, in a way, a kind of bottle episode. They can keep reusing the same patch of trees, the same farm, the same tiny stretch of interstate while keeping their expenditures down. The writers are struggling with how to play up the drama of an inherently boring scenario and what we end up with are endlessly repetitive conversations in the woods, a mysterious barn, and Dale playing mechanic on a non-broken RV. Reminds me of Terra Nova actually. On a show full of dinosaurs, time travel, anarchist rebels, and Jason O’Mara, there is absolutely no excuse for that show being as boring as it is. On TWD we have frakking zombies, Daryl, and Glenn and yet it’s taken six episodes to build any traction. Keep your bottle set, but for crying out loud do something with it.

We’ve reached the turning point of TWD. The midseason finale marks the end of Darabont’s reign and the start of Mazzara’s. Plot-wise, the finale should knock down most of the current pins while setting up some important new locales and characters. I learned a long time ago not to hold out much hope for what this show should do, but if nothing else, I think we can count on a very tense last hour.

Final Thoughts

  • “But, hey, shoot me again, best pray I’m dead.”
  • “Rick is a man of conscience. But are you sure about everyone in your group?”
  • “I know what kind of man you are.”
  • “Shane and I...” “I know, of course I know.”
  • I really, really, really hate Andrea’s smug look of satisfaction she gets when she’s full of herself.
  • Don’t have much to say about Andrea and Shane getting busy. The writers have been projecting their hookup for a while now and it was as uninteresting as I imagined.
  • Speaking of which, can’t decide if Dale got pissed at Shane because he banged the chick he has the hots for or it was just bad script timing that pushed him to call Shane out when he did.

Alex Brown is an archivist by passion, reference librarian by profession, writer by moonlight, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare.

John Ginsberg-Stevens
1. eruditeogre
I agree that there were some better character moments, and even the short time Daryl was on-screen was a good one. It is still waaaaay too soap opera for my tastes, but if your theory is right (and I think it has merit), that's all they have to work with. But the episodes drag and languish, it feels, and moments of tension are too few and far between.

I really liked the final exchance between Shane and Dale, because it makes Shane a more complex character and inserts tension into the group. He is a jerk AND a caring person, and he seems as angry at the implication that he a villain than anything else. Some of that is rationalization, but some of it was heartfelt. One result of this episode is that the seeds of some interesting intra-group trouble have been planted.
Improbable Joe
2. Improbable Joe
Yeah, go Shane! Or Shane and Andrea... Shandrea? Andrane?

Anyways, I'm feeling more and more sure that this show is fundamentally broken. I'm not sure what they can do with it short of killing off 3/4 of the characters and moving to California to make a fresh start. It keeps seeming to me that they want us to be angry at the people who make the most sense, and they want us to like people who fundamentally suck, and sometimes those are the same characters one episode apart.

Like when Shane and Andrea hook up. Probably the smartest thing either of them has done on the show, and the writers seemed desperate to make it a bad thing. It is lazy writing in a sort of " Shane's our 'bad' character, so everything he does sucks and we don't actually have to show why or how it sucks." Having Dale come piss all over it seems like the way the writers signify that it was bad, except that Dale is I guess supposed to be a good guy but he's just a shifty little busybody. And then Lori does almost everything right this episode, and the show seemed intent for us to hate her... even though usually she does everything wrong and they want us to like her for it. We're supposed to love Glenn for being unable to lie, but he comes off as weak and spineless and a little pathetic. Glenn doesn't get to become a noble leader-in-waiting because his girlfriend announces it for the writers. And Herschel seems perfectly reasonable to want these complete strangers to get off his farm and stop screwing his daughter.

And I don't like Daryl anymore. I'm convinced the writers are setting him up to do something stupid that we're all going to hate and that isn't going to make sense at all.
Alex Brown
3. AlexBrown
@erudite: Yeah, the soap opera moments were laid on a bit thick in "Secrets," but the overall momemtum in terms of plot and character development balanced it out for me. And yes, in re: Shane. They've finally morphed him out of just being a tool and made him more complex. Let's see if Berenthal can keep that up.

@Improbable: I've been using Shandrea. And I didn't hate their hookup as much as I thought I would. It felt incredibly lazy to me, but I get where they're going with it so I'm not totally against it.

This show has been fundamentally broken since the pilot, but that doesn't mean it's dead on its feet (har har). Fingers crossed Mazzara will tighten up some of the dangling strings and make the show function more coherently. And I still pine for Daryl even though I know they're going to kill him off randomly or have him attempt to rape Carol or something awful like that (though I really think he's going to tie neatly into the return of Merle - who totally has to come back, I mean, you don't hire Michael Rooker for a one-off - and get K.O.'d during the ensuing kerfuffle). Daryl is made of unicorns and win.
David Thomson
4. ZetaStriker
I think this is the first episode this season I actually fully enjoyed, after the disappointing of the first couple. After spending three episodes of nothing in particular happening, we had a buch of intra-party conflicts finally bubble to the surface and push the show's development and the group's dynamic to change in dramatic ways.

First off, Andrea is finally allowed to do something after weeks of "but I want it nooooooow." And while I'm not terribly fond of who she's doing, or how she's doing him, I can at least say something for letting her take part in the plot. She's a great character in the comics, and while I know this is a different beast it's good to see a glimmer of that start to come to life in her eyes. I only hope that shooting Daryl and wasting so much time moping hasn't killed her appeal to the audience, and her association with Shane certainly wont do her any favors in the long run. Gods, there couldn't have at least made them hooking up more interesting, at least? Crotch grab in the middle of the road, while humorous, doesn't give me much faith.

Speaking of which, I wonder which writer has the "aggressive woman" fantasy, because that's all we've seen this season. Rick and Lori haven't been together except to argue, Otis was too busy widowing his wife to woo her, and all the new couples that have sprung up have come from the women making overt sexual gestures to entice the men they want. As Kaylie was quick to point out in Firefly, there's something to be said for not being so "proper", but a little variety in these would be nice. I still have no idea if Andrea actually feels something for Shane or if they just hooked up on a whim, for instance . . . and if the latter, what does that even add to the plot other than fifteen seconds and a raunchy chuckle at the horn honking?

Carl I have to applaud as well. For a character that's been window dressing and plot point for several episode now, we both get to see him in the hat he adopts in the comic and have him setting himself up for doing something in the plot. Those of us who read the books obviously know where this is going, but it's nice to see, and we can only hope we get the same lovable psychopath that Kirkman delivered in the original material.

Glenn continues to be one of the more entertaining aspects of the show, especially without the sexist comments he burned himself with last time. His new flame is getting closer to him now, and starting to trust him I think after he basically proved to her that - hey - yo' momma is dizz-ead. He also is about the only giving Lori an actual choice in this episode; everyone else is so anti-abortion as to make the argument one-sided, but Glenn was kind of a supporting eye in their emotional storm. I don't think he is every supposed to be a sort of "leader in waiting" - he doesn't have the personality for it - but he makes a good faux sergeant, I suppose.

As for Dale, honestly I don't know if I like him so much because of the comics, or what, but a lot of people seem to dislike or discount him it seems. I'm willing to bet his muddled feelings for Andrea (is she like a daughter? Or does he love her as a woman?) is a big divisive issue on this, but I find him endlessly entertaining. He's a busybody, but a well-meaning busybody. He knows a lot of secrets, and often plays devil's advocate, but he does it because he doesn't think anyone else will and respects everyone enough to keep their conversations in confidence. He's coming up against just about everyone this episode, and the sparks flying in his talks with Herschel and Shane were really eye opening. It's time to see how far he's willing to keep their trust, with what he knows and how it could endanger the group. I've got my eye on him for this mid-season climax.

Shane pretty much goes without saying - his blow-up on Dale was powerful and frightening, and we can see that beneath his exterior he's changed a lot from when we first met him. He still loves Rick - he really does - but I think that's why he's so mad at Dale's suggestion. I don't believe it's that he's indignant over it, but rather that Dale is basically the first person to take what he's capable of doing and thrown it directly in his face. Shane wants to go on being Carl's Uncle, Rick's friend and Lori's confidant, but he's not that person any more, and I think he's realizing that with greater clarity now more than ever. He almost did kill Rick, and I think he knows he might do it again, and that's why he's mad. Because despite all that he does still love the man like a brother.

Rick and Lori win the show with the episode's end though. That conversation has been a long time coming, and speaks volumes about why their relationship is the way it is. "We can make it work," Rick says. "We can figure it out. Shouldn't we try to figure it out?" Rick and Lori are a terrible couple. The fight, but not in ways that are fulfilling to either of them, and they can't seem to agree on anything, big or small. But I can't help but feel they must have had a lot of conversations over the years like that one, and that Rick has kept them together by drawing her back every time. Enough has been said of the revelations, which all hit hard in rapid succession, as well as Rick's reaction to them, but those few lines I quote above stood out to me as the most defining aspect of their relationship.

So although I gripe about some things even here, I have to say, this episode is a big move in the right diredction. It hasn't solved all the problems, but thinking about how the change in budget could affect sets and push back the revelations and climax we know is coming due to them not being able to afford more locales . . . it makes sense. And it also gives me hope that things will get better once money becomes less of an issue.
Bill Capossere
5. Billcap
As usual, I had mixed feelings about this episode, but this one at least the plusses noticeably outweighed the bad

I know this is often an inherent problems with zombie plots, but the sheer arbitrariness of when zombies appear and when they don’t is sometimes just a little too much for me. We need Shane to do something unspeakable—flood the school (only a few miles away) with zombies. We need Glenn and Maggie to hook up, send them to the pharmacy (only a few miles away) where there’s nary a zombie to be found. We need Maggie to get pissed at Glenn—send them to the same pharmacy where, natch, there’s a zombie. We need Andrea to get over her shooting woes—flood a place (only a few miles away) with zombies. We need to stay quiet to keep the only-a-few-miles-away zombies away. We need to blast away near the farmhouse on a shooting range so, what, we can keep away the zombies we’re attracting by blasting away (don’t get me started on the ammunition issue).

It’s becoming apparent they have too many characters that they know what to do with, so we get these relatively meaningless scenes just to remind the viewer that the writers haven’t forgotten about them (plus they lead to pacing issues). But those scenes don’t need to be meaningless—the one with the widow breaking the chicken’s legs was a great moment. Grab whichever writer on the committee came up with that and give them the other hangers-on. Here’s your creative writing exercise: give us 30 seconds, meaningful ones, with each of these characters that advance plot, character, or set a mood, Go.

Props to them though for the reveal that Rick has known about Shane and Lori (see what I mean about scenes that advance character? And this one even does it retroactively!). I still don’t buy the two of them together, and dread a long drawn out process of either coming together or falling apart, but this was one of their better scenes by far I’d say.

And maybe my favorite show with regard to Lori, who acted in reasonable (even her lack of “reason” was reasonable) fashion

I like the pregnancy dilemma, but I find myself wishing more is or will be done with it. And I agree; I wish it weren’t so diluted by following so quickly on the heels of the “it’s no world for a child” plotline with Carl—pace ourselves folks, pace ourselves with these storylines! It’s a nice parallel with the kept zombies. And meshes nicely with the loss of Sophia. I do hope these issues come up a bit and that the group as a whole gets some discussion in on the topic and not just Lori and Rick. And that they come to it with some varied and nuanced responses (a guy can dream).

I’m not quite sure why finding one house with a lot of zombies means Sophia never got to the housing development—seemed like a pretty quick leap for spending a few minutes in a single home of a development. And they'll cut open a zombie to see if she's eaten but not look more carefully through piles of bodies? If there's one thing I hate in TV/film plots, it's these sort of arbitrary having characters do one thing one week/minute and something completely different in the same situation the next cuz we "need" to do somethign with plot (why I gave up watching Lost)

Maggie’s line about what she calls the Walker’s in the barn was great I thought. Short and powerful. Her changing to calling them walkers after one attack and proclaiming Glenn king of the group just wrecked it though.

Shane showed the potential of his character in this episode, but we've been teased with this before. Maybe this time it'll be a keeper.

the dramatic line that these people will be devastated about being asked to leave cuz they're settling in etc. would be a lot more dramatic if we had any true sense of that. At this point, I'm not buying it just cuz she says it's so. I mean, if you're going to cheap out and keep us on this location set, then show us these people on this location set, really digging into it, making it home or getting along with these people, etc. So far all's we've really seen is tension, one dinner, and a swimmer in the well--outside of Glenn missing potential sex, why would I think they'd be crushed to leave?
Alex Brown
6. AlexBrown
@Zeta: I thought I enjoyed "Cherokee Rose," but the more I thought about it the less I liked it. That hasn't happened (yet?) with "Secrets." I still pretty much like it. I agree with you on the Dale thing. Same problem I have with Andrea. I don't like them on the show, but my love for them from the comics whitewashes a lot of my irritation.

@Bill: Good point about Shandrea's search for Sophia. I think the difference between how the searches were conducted is important and not arbitrary. Rick led the search that involved them gutting a zombie. Rick feels guilty about losing the kid and will do anything to find her. Shane (and Andrea by extension) couldn't give a flying frak about that kid and is more concerned with saving his own skin then risking his neck. He'd rather poke around in a cul-de-sac for 20 minutes and get some smex on the ride home and call it a day then do even half of what Daryl did last week. And that's why Shane sucks as a leader and Rick wins by default.
Bill Capossere
7. Billcap
@Bill: Good point about Shandrea's search for Sophia. I think the difference between how the searches were conducted is important and not arbitrary. Rick led the search that involved them gutting a zombie.

That's what I get for being in curmudgeon mode--completely missed that. I hang my head in critical shame . . . Makes perfect sense. And nicely described as well.
Alex Brown
8. AlexBrown
@Bill: I could also be giving the writers waaaaay too much credit. They haven't exactly been good at not writing idiotically inconsistent characters...
John Ginsberg-Stevens
9. eruditeogre
Folks coming here late might be interested in this piece over at Black Gate:

WARNING: he characterizes all critics as whining horror junkies who do not appreciate character development.
Alex Brown
10. AlexBrown
@erudite: He made some interesting points (though I do agree with your characterization of him building straw men), but I - and many other tv critics - aren't usually annoyed because of an absense of blood and guts. The lack of gore is more of a signifyer of an unwillingness of the show to kill anyone off rather than me wanting a head count. I don't necessarily need more action-y bits, but if the show intends to rely heavily on glacial pacing and dialogue, they need to be a helluva lot better at crafting dialogue and plot structuring. I like slow plotting if it's done well - hell, I'd watch the characters in Treme do laundry for an entire season and still rate it as one of the best things on TV - but TWD isn't subtle enough or skilled enough (in terms of writers, actors, or AMC exec manhandling) to pull it off.

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