Monday, December 1, 2014

The Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 8: Coda

Wow, it's the Fall Finale (how I hate that term) of The Walking Dead. Can you believe it? The season's half over already. Seems like just yesterday the gang was about to be eaten by cannibals.

The series has improved steadily ever since showrunner Scott Gimple took the reins, and I had high hopes for this season as well. It started out very strongly with the intense and gripping resolution of the Terminus storyline. But I was puzzled by the decision to wrap up that plot so early, as it felt more like an epic mid-season cliffhanger. 


I worried that when the real mid-season arrived they wouldn't be able to top that first show, and it looks like I was right. All subsequent episodes have just sort of limped along to this halfway point, which was punctuated by a character death that seemed thrown in more for shock value than narrative logic.

There were other missteps as well. The Father Gabriel subplot turned out more puzzling than interesting, and seems to exist solely to fill up the run time. Josh McDermitt, who plays the pivotal role of Eugene, is horribly miscast and seems more like Rain Man than a microbiologist who could cure the zombie apocalypse. I also wasn't a fan of splitting the large cast into three groups and giving each their own spotlight episodes.

The worst offender of all though is the Grady Bunch storyline. Nothing about this subplot gelled, as it seemed there was no clear and concise plan for any of these new characters. If the writers had an agenda for any of them, they did an admirable job of hiding it from the audience.

Traditionally the back half of each season has been better than the first, so hopefully that trend will continue in February.


MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD, INCLUDING THE DEATH OF A MAIN CHARACTER! YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!

The Plot:
We pick up right where we left off last week, after Officer Lamson bamboozled Sasha into letting him escape. This week we see him desperately trying to get back to the hospital to warn Dawn and the others. Before that happens though, Rick brutally runs Lamson down in his own squad car. 

Meanwhile, Father Gabriel limps back to the school where the Termites were holed up. Why? Because despite Rick's assurances, he just can't believe the Termites were cannibals, and has to see for himself. I guess Gabriel's from Missouri. He finds out the truth, then leads a parade of Walkers back to the church. He's then trapped outside the church doors with no way in! Just like the time he wouldn't let his congregation in to share his canned goods. Is this some of that irony I've heard so much about?

There must be a gas leak inside the church, because Carl and Michonne actually let him in, which results in their sanctuary being overrun by walkers. Just as they're about to be surrounded, Abraham and his gang pull up in their firetruck, and everyone's saved.

Back in Atlanta, Rick confronts a couple of Grady cops and tells them he's got two of their own, and wants to trade them for Beth and Carol. Inside Grady Hospital, Officer Dawn drones on and on to Beth about something that seems terribly important to her, but is lost on the audience.

The trade is set up during the commercial break, and both sides stand with their respective prisoners at the end of a long, narrow corridor. The trade goes smoothly— the Grady cops for Beth and Carol— and everything seems OK. But then Officer Dawn has to go and spoil it all by demanding Noah come back. Rick kindly tells her to piss off, but Noah agrees to go. Then Beth decides to prove some ill-conceived point by stabbing Dawn in the shoulder. This causes her to accidentally fire her gun and blow off the back of Beth's skull. Whoops!

Abraham and his Coincidence Mobile arrive at the hospital just as Rick & Co. exit. Maggie sees Daryl solemnly carrying Beth's lifeless body, and breaks down in tears, finally remembering she had a kid sister.

In the after credits scene, Morgan, the World's Greatest Detective, strolls past the Termite's school cookout, and then makes his way to Gabriel's church. Inside he finds the map to Washington D.C. that Abraham gave to Rick.

Thoughts:
• This week Officer Lamson gets mowed down before the theme song even has a chance to start. I don't know, somehow I was expecting more from this subplot. I was very surprised to see him taken out so quickly and efficiently by Rick.

That said, it made sense and I agree 100% with Rick's actions. If Lamson had made it back to the hospital, the whole place would have gone on lockdown and they'd never have been able to rescue their people.

• When Lamson was begging for his life, for a brief instant I saw Rick from his point of view. We in the audience know everything that Rick's gone through in the past few years and how he's arrived at this point and become the person he is. But to an outsider— Rick must seem like a psychopath, as bad as the Governor. Heck, all the characters on the show would probably seem like psychos to a casual observer.

• In the early seasons of the show, characters regularly made stupid decisions that caused much throwing of shoes at TV screens. When current showrunner Scott Gimple took over, the Stupid Quotient thankfully went way, way down.

Well, it looks like it's inching back up. There was quite a bit of stupid in tonight's episode.

Stupid Act #1: Father Gabriel, the most useless character to ever appear on the show, risks life and limb to visit the nearby school to see for himself if the Termites really were cannibals. Why this is so important to him, I have no idea. I guess so he knows if Rick was telling the truth and his slaughter of the Termites was justified?

Luckily for the sake of moving the story along, the Termites left Bob Stookey's well-done leg sitting on the grill for Gabriel to see.

Stupid Act #2: Once Gabriel's curiosity is satisfied, he's chased by walkers and leads an entire horde of them right back to his goddamned church! The church that he knows contains a woman, a young boy and a baby.

Stupid Act #3: If that wasn't enough, instead of ducking back underneath the church (the way he got out in the first place) he pounds on the door, begging to be let in. The poetic justice of this was not lost on me, as he's now been placed in the same position as his late flock. Still, it was incredibly stupid. How did this guy survive for years on his own? There must be a god that's watching out for him.

Stupid Act #4: Michonne and Carl hear Father Gabriel pounding on the door, and instead of telling him to bugger off like any reasonable humans would do, they actually tear down their barricade and let him in! Along with a hundred hungry walkers. Oh, Michonne. I thought you were better than this. Hey, at least she actually got to open her mouth this week. I think she had about two lines so far all season.

Stupid Act #5: Beth stabs Dawn as an act of defiance? Revenge? I'm still trying to understand what she was trying to do.

• I've got to hand it to Michonne— she can decapitate walkers while she's babysitting! The whole time she's fighting off the zombie horde in the church, Baby Judith is strapped to her back.

• Just when things look hopeless for Michonne, Carl and Gabriel, Abraham and his gang drive up in their fire truck. We see a brief shot of Eugene in the truck, and amazingly it looks like he's STILL unconscious.

I freely admit I'm useless in a fight, but even I wouldn't be knocked cold for an entire DAY after a single punch in the nose.

As I said last week, he should be brain dead at this point. Doctors agree that if you're knocked out for over six hours, if you ever wake up at all you're likely gonna need help to feed and clothe yourself.

• Last week after Rick captured Lamson, he thanked him for providing info and said he was still a good cop. Lamson looked sheepish and said, "There are no real cops left." I took that to mean that there had once been actual cops in Grady Hospital, but over time they'd all been killed and were replaced by civilians pretending to be cops.

But in this episode it certainly seems like there are still cops to me. Lamson's squad car even contains a photo of himself in uniform with his family, which certainly implies he was a real cop. Maybe Lamson meant there were no longer any law abiding, honorable cops left?


• When Rick & Co. confront the Grady Bunch in the hospital corridor, the camera's tilted at an extreme angle, most likely to create tension. 

Apparently the cinematographer went to the 1966 Batman school of filming (this is called a Dutch Angle, by the way).


• Beth's death was tragic, but she there's no doubt that she brought it on herself. The trade was done, she was back with her people and the whole miserable experience was over. All she had to do was turn around and follow the others out the door. Instead she attacks Dawn and gets her head blown off.

What was she trying to prove here? Was she exacting revenge on Dawn for keeping her prisoner for weeks? Was she trying to overthrow her by showing the other cops that a little girl could take her down? Honestly I'm not sure what she hoped to accomplish.

She had to be trying to make a statement of some kind, as there's no way a little pair of scissors stuck in Dawn's shoulder was ever going to kill her. Surely Beth knew that.

The whole scene was so contrived and poorly executed that it killed any feelings I should have had toward her death.

• It's obvious by now that I'm not a fan of the whole Grady Bunch plotline, and I'm glad it's finally over. I appreciate that the writers tried something besides the usual "running through the woods from walkers" schtick, but it never came together and none of it made any sense. The whole thing was too vague and confusing.

Officer Dawn seems to be the only good cop left in the hospital, except when she's not. She's seemingly got Beth's back, but then uses her to further her own agenda. Some of the cops appear to be good, some are bad, but we're never really sure which is which. To make matters even worse, there seems to be a seemingly endless supply of them. We meet new ones each week, and we never quite know where any of them stand. Is this cop trying to preserve order? Is that one really a rapist? Who knows? 


Worst of all, Beth's death renders the whole storyline moot. We had to sit through what seemed like weeks of hospital scenes that just dragged on and on, watching cops we didn't know or care about scream at one another. And in the end we knew nothing more about them then we did at the beginning. All so Beth could be killed by something besides walkers. 

Maybe if Beth had survived the ordeal it wouldn't feel like such a waste of time. As it stands now the storyline was just a long, slow walk to nowhere.

I'm happy to be rid of the whole thing.

• So Maggie sees Daryl carrying Beth's body at the end and falls to the ground sobbing. It's nice to see that the writers have finally remembered that these two characters are related. Maggie's seemed curiously unconcerned about the fate of her sister all season. She even went so far as to accompany Glenn to Washington D.C. with nary at thought as to whether Beth was alive or not. 

Maybe she collapsed not out of grief but guilt.

• On the one hand it's too bad Beth had to die. On the other, at least now we'll be spared a full-blown Daryl/Beth pairing. There's a sizable faction out there in the seamy, dark corners of the internet who really wanted to see the two of them get together. This despite the fact that Daryl must be 35, maybe even 40 years old, and Beth was supposed to be 18 tops.


In fact the writers have a history of trying to hook up Beth with older men. Way back in Season 3 in the episode Made To Suffer, dodgy ex-con Axel, who was 50 if he was a day, was seen trying to hit on her. If nothing else we'll never have to see anything like that again.

• So who's making the marks on the trees that Morgan keeps following? In the season opener I just assumed it was the Termites, but that can't be, especially if he's still finding fresh marks. We'll find out in February I suppose.

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