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Monday, 8 of March of 2021

The Walking Dead – “Wildfire” and “TS-19”

“If I could’ve traded places with him, I would have. I would trade places with him right now.”

Jacqui and Edwin await the end.

“So — what do you want to do for 21 seconds?”

In the podcast earlier, I was curious as to what the cliffhanger for the end of this season could possibly be. Surly, we’d get some answers to some long-standing questions and maybe some tense moments with the cast being locked down in the basement of a suburban performing arts center technologically-advanced government building but where are they going? Karen pointed out that they need a plan. So when I sat down for “TS-19” tonight, that’s what I hoped to see. Instead, I got something else entirely. And even that was hampered by some of the same problems that’ve haunted this still-so-young series.

Chief among those problems: I don’t care about 80-90% of the cast.

Thus begins my series of Lost contrasts. The Walking Dead is completely different from Lost and not just because of the spelling. Though they both feature groups of survivors trying to fight for continuance against all odds and a mysterious force (smoke monsters and Others vs the where-did-they-come-from ghouls), The Walking Dead has a pretty serious problem of never endearing many of the characters to us. Lost had a giant ensemble cast to which they were able to give a lot of service, making it so that audience not only knew of each character but could identify them in a line-up. Before Jim started going bananas on the hills, diggin’ holes, did you remember who he was? Congratulations if you did (from the radiator hose thing). Many people didn’t.

And when you have a bunch of characters no one knows anything about and aren’t very developed beyond the surface, that’s horror code for “it’s time to thin out the herd.”

“Wildfire” had more than a few moments that should’ve made the Glowy Cave scene at the end more powerful and, yet, it didn’t. Though the Amy death scene was sad, it wasn’t gripping (until Amy came back to life and Andrea blew her brains out). Next up was leaving Jim on the side of the road, which should have been devestating. Leaving a man diseased with the sickness to die on the side of an abandoned highway is a pretty rough scenario emotionally and, yet, it didn’t really contribute to the timbre of the episode. One they get to the CDC, they should be desperate, at their lowest point, crushed but for the small hope that someone in the building will have the answers they seek. But somehow that power was lost, frittered away by moving quickly through this series and not dedicating enough resources in building up these scenes. Maybe that’s why they fired all the writers.

“TS-19” offers little more. Again, there are several scenes that, on paper, should have a lot of power to them. They build this acceptance of extermination policy, which is just a fancy way of saying the suicide is painless, and debate whether or not to accept the fate that there’s nothing left. Compound that group divisions between people willing to off themselves rather than continue and those desperate to attempt an unlikely escape and you should have a tense ending. But they are hampered by the fact that those wanting to literally die in a fire are characters we don’t really care about.

In fact, there are only a few characters that could evoke an emotional reaction. Dale and Andrea operate in a gray area because we know them but know, in the end, Andrea won’t sacrifice herself. Jacqui we know nothing about besides her comments every once in a while about missing her Maytag and that she used to do zoning for the city. In fact, we might know more about Edwin Jenner in with his one and a half episodes of exposition than we know about the Jacqui who we’ve seen for five. Also, her sacrifice is framed by uneventfulness. Allow me to paraphrase the scene for you:

White People: Door’s open! Come on!
Token Black Male: Come on, Token Black Female!
Token Black Female: No! I’m staying.
White People: Really?
Token Black Male: That’s crazy.
Token Black Female: No, it’s not.
White People: Well, we’ve done all we can do.
Token Black Male: Seriously?
White People: [run away]
Faulkner: [has no words]
Arayan Poster Child: I’m staying, too!
Faulkner: The hell you are! We need you!
Token Black Female: WTF?

Very little impact. Of course, Dale gets Andrea to escape the oncoming firestorm with him and we lose people we didn’t really think we needed. In fact, it’s probably for the best since we need to thin out the herd. And, with Jenner whispering his secret to Rick at the end, the Island didn’t need them anymore.

Lack of emotional scenes aside, where do these final two episodes leave us? One: alcohol for people with only a meal inside them after days of starving is not a good idea. Two: Shane’s desperate need to be Rick is painfully obvious (I hope they drag the wagon around him later after they find out what Shane did). Three: Fossil fuels are stupid! Four: Callbacks are key for any modicum of success for a season/series finale.

Terriers did a great job of this by calling back characters from the pilot to participate in the ending, wrapping the entire season together in a neat little package (with a little cliffhanger at the end for continuance). The Walking Dead does this with a grenade. You figured they showed it to you in the first act of the second episode and, if cliches serve, it should’ve been used by the end of that episode. Instead, by keeping it in the Previously On, they extended it to the end and gave it to Carol (how did Rick lose a grenade and not remember?). Reasonable but a little ham-handed.

As far as a cliffhanger to make us wait until next October for a second season, we only have the affecting secret Jenner tells Rick, the semblance of hope they have in France, and the unfocused desire to move on thereby creating a wandering journey. Is that enough to carry you over on this series for 11 months? Or does it matter? Is genre enough to keep you coming back so that some weak storytelling moments are secondary to the excellent zombie-killin’ anyway? I suppose what I’m asking is that, when October rolls around, will you have lost interest because the story wasn’t strong enough or will it matter because all you want to remember is that it’s like watching a short horror movie every week?

I’m on the fence between the two. While The Walking Dead hasn’t really inspired me to keep watching, I’ll probably still tune in when it comes back because it does have a feel and a scope unlike anything on television, one that I can appreciate. So that’ll make me at least a casual viewer.

Some notes:

  • It seems like they took notes on Reveals from the book of Lost. Essentially, all they did was confirm what we already figured out (although with a fancy MRI thing) and bring up some other questions with the whispered knowledge Jenner passed on to Rick and the far-flung contingent in Europe. Between those thing and the Glowy Cave/Open Hatch aesthetic with a person inside afraid of going outside because of the Hostiles/Walkers, it’s hard not to draw comparisons. Or maybe I hang out with Matt too much.
  • I’m just happy the ending had nothing to do with a music box.
  • Though it’s sad that we only get Noah Emmerich for an episode before he’s gone. They could probably use a doctor of some sort with them on the survival mission.
  • Did you feel like the “fossil fuels” line was a little haphazard? Was this AMC is Green week?
  • Did anyone miss Morales and his family? Anyone sad he didn’t go with the group? Does anyone remember who he is?
  • So is next season going to be The Walking Dead: European Vacation?

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