Mar 24 2014 10:30am

The Walking Dead, S4 E15 “Us”

Most of the back half of season 4 has been given over to character development. It’s a much needed conceit, although not everyone the writers are workshopping is worth the time or energy. “Us” is yet another foray down this path, and once again I find myself ambivalent about whether or not it succeeded in its mission. Part of that comes from the necessary yet uninspired place setting and piece moving. The entire episode was centered around moving the disparate groups (save Tyrese, Carol, Judith, and Beth) closer to Terminus. The episode was functional and only mildly infuriating. In other words, it was on par with the average episode. At least they’re consistent.

The penultimate episode of season 4 brought back Carl, Michonne, and Rick for the first time in several episodes as they slowly make their way toward Terminus. Rick is being a stick in the mud and insisting they hurry it up and stop screwing around, but Michonne and Carl are too busy seeing who can walk on the rails the longest. Carl wins and he though he claims her favorite candy bar as his prize, he shares half with her. Michonne and Carl have the kind of happy, playful relationship Rick wants so desperately to have with his son. And although there’s a tinge of jealousy in watching them interact while excluding him, he recognizes that his son needs a mother (and, to a lesser extent, that Michonne needs a son). It’s a charming scene, sweet but not sugary or over the top, someone undercut by the later scenes of Daryl and Joe’s Creeper Gang chopping a dead rabbit in half because grown men refuse to share, and the guys walking over the abandoned candy wrapper on the train tracks.

As for Joe, he’s taken an interest in Daryl. Not sure why, as of yet. Perhaps he sees Daryl as a useful tool for pursuing his goal of being the biggest asshole in all of apocalyptic Georgia. More likely he senses in Daryl an innate need to take orders, to have others make the big decisions so he doesn’t have to take responsibility for their consequences. Daryl never takes decisive action. He followed Merle until he was forced to abandon him, then followed Rick until they were scattered to the winds by the Governor. Then he followed Beth, because why the hell not. And then he sat down in the road like a child and waited for someone to come along and tell him what to do. Unfortunately for him, that someone happened to be Joe.

Daryl is right to not mourn the death of the ex-cop who set him up for a frame job, but he is wrong to think he doesn’t need to. Beth’s influence is waning. Joe’s viewpoint has a certain appeal for men like him, men who chafed under society’s rules. I’d like to think Daryl is using Joe and will skip out when the opportunity presents itself—he says just as much when Joe asks him what his plans are—but given Daryl’s personality and past, it seems like he’s going to stick around for a while. Of course, he’ll side with Rick when they eventually reach Terminus, that’s a given. Until then, however, old habits are hard to break, and Joe is full of ‘em.

The show treats Maggie and Glenn like Romeo and Juliet without remembering how violently that story ended, or how their selfish desires destroyed or killed half of Verona. Maggie and Glenn use their exclusive love for each other as an excuse to drag their friends into dangerous and unnecessary situations. Neither take any responsibility for their behavior or for putting their friends’ lives at risk. Yes, Sasha, Bob, Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene are adults capable of making their own decisions, but they’re kind enough people to not want to let Maggie or Glenn go off alone and probably get themselves killed by their own idiocy. Tara is so wrapped up in her guilt over her association with Brian that if Glenn told her to cut off her foot she’d do it. Moreover, she’s like Daryl, she’s a follower and will do anything anyone tells her as long as it means she doesn’t have to be alone.

I get Glenn and Maggie traversing heaven and hell to find each other. I don’t care either way, but I get it. What I don’t like is how neither of them seem at all bothered by how their actions affect others. It’s not a new circumstance for them, but it is obnoxious and taints their whole relationship. We all know that couple, the one who can’t talk about anything except each other, who spend every waking moment making moony eyes and babytalk. But when death is on the line, their romance doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Abraham and Rosita point this out, but none of it penetrates Glenn’s cloud of Maggie obsession. Not that they have any stronger standing, given they’re on a fool’s errand to Washington D.C. with a dude who spent too much time playing video games before the world fell apart.

30 seconds into “Us” and I was already sick to death of Eugene. And it only got worse as time went on. I know guys like that. Hell, I dated a guy like that. Part of you can ignore the silly stuff in favor of the decent, good guy stuff, but at least once an hour you want to smack the crap out of them. We didn’t date for long, but it looks like the show has a deeper commitment to Eugene than I did to my ex. Regardless of how closely to the comics the show plans to stick with this particularly storyline (they have a habit of taking inspiration from Kirkman then veering off in random directions with varying degrees of success), it seems less and less likely that Eugene is who he says he is. He seems like a guy who has bluffed his way through survival by pretending to be someone worth protecting.

As the rabbit-planting cop could attest had he not been beaten to death, the thing about lying is that it doesn’t matter how firmly you insist it’s the truth. A lie is a lie is a lie, and when the truth is revealed there will be hell to pay. I’m pretty sure Rosita and Abraham suspect Eugene’s full of crap, but, like Daryl, what else are they gonna do? It’s either wander around aimlessly or follow the man with the plan. Doesn’t matter how ridiculous or disconcerting the plan, at least it’s something to focus on.

Final Thoughts

  • “An ass end is still an end.”
  • “People don’t have to be friendly. We don’t have to be nice. We don’t have to be brothers in arms. We just gotta follow the rules.”
  • “That there is a long dark tunnel full of reanimated corpses.”
  • Michael Cudlitz and Jeff Kober cannot be given enough praise for taking such poorly written characters and making them intriguing.
  • If the show has taught me anything, it’s that if it’s too good to be true it probably is. Terminus gives off the appearance of being a peaceful sanctuary, but so did Woodbury.
  • Never thought I’d say this, but I miss Beth. Anybody else bothered by how little anyone seems to care about her? Daryl gave up tracking her almost as soon as he started (it can’t be that hard to follow a Buick in the end!verse), and Maggie still hasn’t said boo about her last bit of family.
  • There’s no logical reason not to go around the train tunnel. If Maggie’s at Terminus, then why take a needless risk? Why not make sure they get there safe and sound? And why the hell would Bob, Sasha, and Maggie have gone through the tunnel in the first place? Why not just leave a note at the entrance saying “we went around, dumbass” and then, oh, I dunno, go around? The whole thing is completely stupid, even for The Walking Dead.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

Colin R
1. Colin R
I was really bothered that Glenn was so obviously willing to put Tara in danger just because he was impatient. She was already injured; why would he pressure her into running past a bunch of zombies? It's these little details that are bothersome--it's not that they did this, it's that it doesn't feel like anyone is aware that Glenn is being a jerk. That he has exposed an ugly side to his determination.

But instead I feel like they think this is a demonstration of his manly devotion--he's willing to take risks to save Maggie. And he is willing to fight to the death to save Tara, even though it's his fault she's at risk in the first place. So yayy, everyone is reunited after Glenn pointlessly endangered them all (and probably ruptured their eardrums when they unloaded a hail of bullets in that tunnel.)

It's especially frustrating because Daryl's story at least shows some interesting insight. Daryl is hardly alone in being someone who is looking for an authority figure. There is a whole string of characters struggling with authority in this series. Tyrese and Abraham aren't that different from Daryl, in some respects--guys who look tough and manly but are ultimately lost and adrift, latching onto whatever sense of authority or purpose they can. And Rick, Andrea, the Governor, Carol, and Shane have all sort of struggled in their own ways with filling the void of authority and leadership.

So this is definitely something that is thematic to the show, but as usual it's all over the place in its presentation. It would be interesting to see Daryl spend an extended amount of time with Joe, then try to fit back in with Rick's group. But I have a feeling that the sidetrip with Joe isn't going to last very long.
Bill Capossere
2. Billcap
Thanks--this recap was so much more entertaining than what I assume the episode will be, that I'm skipping this week's viewing. In fact, the show has so lost me, I've decided to just keep DVRing and reading the recaps and if it looks like a decent one, pick back up. Now with Marvel's show toeing that same line, maybe I'll have two whole extra hours a week . . .
Colin R
3. SeeingI
Idiotic tunnel hi-jinks aside, I loved the part where dude chopped the rabbit in half, thereby ruining it (it wasn't cleaned & gutted, so just chopping it in two taints the meat with all sorts of stuff.) THEN we see that Daryl has the un-skinned rabbit head in his pack hours later. Da fuq?
Colin R
5. sofrina
seemed like daryl hunted beth for at least twelve hours. she was kidnapped while they were having dinner. he came to that fork in the road at mid-morning, mid-day. and it was the fork that stopped him. which path to choose? he had no way to know which way the car went.

you are beyond right about them needing to go over the tunnel instead of through it. it was the most obvious choice. glen and maggie have certainly been reckless in their desperation.

will joe's gang catch up with rick before terminus? that will be an awful situation for team rick, even with daryl switching sides. (jeff kober may be a villain here, but it is great having him on the show.)

i'm incredibly shocked they just walked into terminus. for sure, it seemed like they'd scope it out from a distance for a few hours at least. no evidence of walkers and no locks? one person and a grill with nothing on it? is she trying to build up a cult?
Katharine Duckett
7. Katharine
@4 @6 Comments deleted. You're welcome to disagree with specific parts of the recaps, but disrespecting the author won't be tolerated (as stated in our moderation policy). Please engage respectfully. Thanks!
Colin R
8. Alright Then
I ended up liking Mullet Man this episode, mostly due to that hilarious line of speculation concerning zombie dinosaurs.

And to the reviewer, all I can say is: was you ever bit by a dead bee?
Sky Thibedeau
9. SkylarkThibedeau
I get the sick feeling that is Barbie Mary has on the barbie in Terminus.
Alex Brown
10. AlexBrown
@Colin R: Yeah, I think the writers wanted Maggie and Glenn to look devoted and heroic (that's why they had them burn her photo, which ugh), but it came off as selfish and mean. You can't justify devotion at the expense of other people. Nice connection between Daryl, Tyrese, and Abraham. I don't doubt Daryl will eventually side with Rick, but I hope it'll be an interesting journey up to that point. I suspect the season will wrap up with Joe's Creeper Gang reaching Terminus, and the climax will be cliffhangered into next season.

@Billcap: The ep wasn't bad, just moderately infuriating in parts. The scenes with Daryl and Joe are great and worth watching.

@SeeingI: I thought the same thing. Ew and no all around.

@sofrina: So much of the audience's general frustration and confusion would be so easily resolved if one of the characters would give some sort of timeline or geography lesson. We can't tell if Daryl had only recently sat down at the intersection or if he'd been sitting there all night. Did he actually track her or just run wildly after the car?

@Alright Then: Maybe it's just the way the actor is playing him. He's veering too far to the "loser who lived in his grandma's basement and played WoW all day" trope. Or maybe it's a storyline that works in the comics and fails on camera. Either way, it's doing nothing for me. If Abraham and Rosita believe he's on the level (or if he really is on the level), they need to make it clear. Otherwise, if they think he's just a dork but what the hell else are they going to do, again, that needs to be made clear.

@SkylarkThibedeau: Something is definitely not right with Terminus. Who leaves their gates unlocked when there are walkers about? Who's guarding the sanctuary? Why is it so frakking quiet there? Who decided it was a good idea to waste valuable water on non-edible flowers? While I don't think Terminus will be exactly like Woodbury, I don't think things will end up going very well.
Colin R
11. sofrina
@10 - i will gladly sign your timeline petition. at this point, i'm fairly confused about where the groups are staggered along these tracks. it seemed that carol/tyrese were in the lead having found it first. but they took that detour for a few days. did maggie/sasha/bob get ahead of them because they'd followed the bus in the opposite direction? at what point along the tracks did glen find maggie's signs? the conflict works best if joe's gang arrives at terminus in the middle, with a cavalry of some sort coming in just as rick/carl/michonne is about to lose.

over this part of the season i keep looking at the trees and sunlight to determine time of day as much as possible. which is not a real skill of mine. in that episode it seemed to follow daryl/beth and maggie/bob/sasha across the same period of time. the overall impression i got was that daryl had not stopped for very long. also beyond my skills - how far can you track a car on a paved road?
Colin R
12. Colin R
The show's sense of time and place is pretty poor, but I'm not that bothered by it. If this was a show that was very firmly grounded in the reality of the situation, and the action of the characters, it would be very important. And it would probably be a better show! I can imagine these past few episodes where we closely track the movements of the characters, watching them make small mistakes that turn into bigger ones--e.g., Glenn, determined to push through the tunnel to get to Maggie, just barely misses an opportunity to rescue Beth.

But they're clearly going more for existential dread here instead. We're sliding between the different groups as we approach different themes of hope and purpose. That's a valid way of doing things. The problem is that they are not doing that thing terribly well. The actors do what they can; more than the material gives them, from what I can tell.
Alex Brown
13. AlexBrown
@sofrina: The previews make it look like Rick's locked in a dungeon cell in Terminus with a very 1984 vibe going on, who who the frak knows what's going on in the writers' crazy skulls.

@Colin R: The way I look at it, season 4A was still tied to Mazarra's reign, so 4B is both righting the ship and laying a new foundation, to mix metaphors. Hopefully this means that 5A will be able to handle both horror/gore and character development/story progression equally. "Hopefully" being the key word there...

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