Hoo, boy. Now that was an episode. Problematic? Just like always. But still entertaining. For the first time this season I wasn’t constantly checking the time to see how much more boring chatfests I’d have to put up with until the bloody, gut-covered cliffhanger. “Judge, Jury, Executioner” was far from perfect—and about a half mile from great—but it was a taught, fraught, and philosophical hour that shook up expectations. Particularly for fans of the comic.
Last week’s episode worked well primarily because it restricted its focus to a few select characters. This week’s ep broadened out to cover the entire farm—including the cows and specter of Sophia—but because we followed Dale’s perspective it didn’t feel as frayed as usual. He brought up some good points, even if they’re points every televised drama has argued over before with the exact same reasonings and the exact same resulting decision. But it was nice to see Andrea finally side with him. It was a nice treat for those of us who have read the comics. It was also a sneaky, backhanded move by the writers, and I finally have a little respect for them. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, the writers played with the expectations of the fans of the comics by putting Andrea up next to Dale, and then kicked the whole thing in the teeth.
With Mazarra at the helm, the troublesome parts of The Walking Dead—specifically dialogue straight out of a teen drama and characters so two dimensional that they’re little more than breathing tropes—aren’t worse than they were when Darabont was in charge. It’s just that now the few and far between good parts are so much better that the irritating bits are that much more groan-inducing.
Take Carol and T-Dog. Both are suffering from a case of “the writers never figured out what to do with them but they’ve been around so long that they can’t just kill them off without making it a fairly important plot point so now they’re just going to show up occasionally and have absolutely no impact on anything whatsoever.” If the dude playing T-Dog is getting paid more than the extras in the zombie makeup, he’s got the best agent in Hollywood. In that entire debate in Hershel’s living room he did nothing but stand around looking constipated, and when he started to speak he was cut off by someone else. Even Dale didn’t bother asking for his opinion.
And Carol, the woman who chose to sit around sulking while Daryl and everyone else risked their lives on a fool’s errand after her daughter, when someone finally asked her to be useful for once she got peevish. She didn’t abstain from casting a vote in Randall’s fate, no, she demanded to be left out of it. She wanted to be ignored and disregarded. True, she had a hell of a time under her abusive late husband, but this is a brave new world she’s in. No one is pulling her strings anymore, so to insist that she be allowed to be unhelpful and unproductive in securing the future of the group (outside of doing what Lori would call “women’s work”) is a strange position to place herself.
Also vying for the episode’s top marks in the Darwin Awards was stupid, boring, increasingly amoral Carl. What the writers intended to do with the kid was to posit him as a harbinger of doom and a mirror of Rick. His choice to go off and play cowboy alone in the woods lead him to the mud zombie. His choice to taunt, tease, and torture the mud zombie to prove what a big strong man he was backfired, and when he was faced with the choice of whether or not to kill it before it killed him he hesitated long enough that it nearly cost him his life. Carl fled back to the farm and went about his merry way, forgetting that consequences have a way of catching up with you when you least expect them. He let down his guard and Dale suffered for it (and soon the rest of the group will as well since the mud zombie took out the cattle). Swap Carl, Dale, and the mud zombie for Rick, Shane, and Randall and, well, you can see where this is all headed. It was a nice little B-story, but it didn’t have as much oomph as it would have if we actually gave a crap about anyone on this show.
Most of the time TWD is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Dale’s round robin and every conversation about how to solve a problem like Randall were no exception. But there was something wonderful about the non-actor/non-script portion of the show. The editing was spot on, the sound mixing and score deliberate and tense, and whoever created that lighting should be given a raise. “Judge” was mostly shot in late afternoon and dusk. In fiction it’s traditionally the time of day where good things go to ground and wicked things begin to stir. We may not know what the darkness holds, but we know it won’t be good, and that’s why dusk is so evocative. It’s anticipatory fear, the inability to hesitate, the desire to hold on to that last little bit of peace and security even as it slips through your fingers. Twilight is a writer’s shorthand for signifying the calm before the storm, and damn if it isn’t effective.
- “We reconvene at sunset, then what happens happens.”
- “Who says we’re civilized anymore?”
- “Like I said, group’s broken.”
- “Do it, dad. Do it.”
- “So you support this decision?” “If you think it’s best.” Really, Lori? For crying out loud, have a frakking opinion for once in your pathetic life. We’re talking about a man’s life here. Same goes for you, Hershel. Both characters always had monologues full of crap to say when no one cares, but when it mattered most they just shut up and deferred to Rick.
- Don’t poke the bear in the zoo, Carl. Don’t poke the flesh-eating bear in the unlocked zoo.
- I can’t decide if Carl’s got a really big head or Rick has a really small one, but there’s no way that sheriff’s had should fit as well as it does on that kid.
- I really want to hate Daryl’s angel wings vest, but instead I’m going to pretend it was done intentionally and ironically.
- Anyone else bothered by Rick planning to kill the kid in the same place he wanted to play house in over the winter? No, of course I don’t mind sleeping on the blood spatter. Bring me your finest cot.
- Carl was giving off some seriously creepy Damien vibes when he was hanging out with Randall in the shed.
- Unrelated topic: three more weeks ’til Mad Men! Squee!
Alex Brown is a research librarian by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. One of these days she will go out and have a life, but the daystar, it burns. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare.