Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 7, Episode 4: Service

This week on The Walking Dead, we finally, at long last, return to Alexandria and see the aftermath of Negan's brutal retaliation.

After all the anticipation and waiting, we were presented with an episode that was OK at best. It was satisfactory in its adequacy, but something about it seemed a bit... off. 


For one thing, there was no earthly reason for this to be another super-sized ninety minute episode. There's honestly very little of consequence that happens in Service, and expanding it only accentuates that fact. 
You could easily trim half an hour out of this episode (at least!) without harming the storyline one bit. Once again showrunner Scott Gimple demonstrates he has no grasp of the concept of pacing. 

An extra-long running time should be reserved for extra-special events— things like epic plot developments or season finales. It shouldn't be used to pad out an ordinary episode to fill a ninety minute time slot (I'm lookin' at you, last season's Here's Not Here). 


Service followed the issue of the comic it was based on very closely, and— I can't believe I'm saying this— that may be the problem. As the season progresses, I'm starting to think that Negan is a character who works better on the printed page. His non-stop patter and "colorful" language have always been way over the top and kind of cartoony. Unfortunately this makes him sound kind of… goofy when heard out loud. And "goofy" is not an adjective that should come to mind when we think of Negan.

I don't think this is the fault of actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but rather with the source material. Maybe it's time to break away from the comic a little, tone down Negan and try to turn him into a character with a bit more depth.

The show's switching things around again— in the comic Negan visited Alexandria and took half their stuff. He then returned to the Sanctuary, but unbeknownst to him, Carl stowed away on his convoy. When Negan discovered Carl, he was quite taken with him for some reason, and refused to harm him. He even gave him a tour of the Sanctuary, showing him all its inner workings.

As I said last week, it's looking like Daryl's taking the place of Carl here on the series. The only reason I can think of as to why the writers are doing this is because they can't think of anything else to do with Daryl. 

Unfortunately this substitution is going to play havoc with future storylines. In the comic— SPOILERS!— Negan is eventually captured and jailed in Alexandria, and he becomes sort of a secret mentor to Carl. Without the "Stowaway Carl" storyline, the foundation for their relationship is gonna be lost. 

SPOILERS FOR AN EXTRA-LONG EPISODE IN WHICH NOTHING REALLY HAPPENS!

The Plot:
Negan comes to Alexandria and acts like an asshole for ninety minutes. The end.

OK, OK, I can do a little better than that. We see Rick and Michonne in bed. She grabs a rifle hidden in the fireplace and sneaks out of the house. She walks into a field, sits on a burned out truck and waits for a walker to appear. She then starts practicing her aim, target shooting at the walker. Unfortunately she sucks, as she somehow can't manage to hit it when it's literally ten feet away. She finally has to jump down and cut off its head with her sword. As she starts back, she sees one of her stray shots hit and killed a deer. She looks sad. Really? She didn't cry when Abraham and Glenn were beaten to death, but she cries because she killed Bambi?

Rosita and Spencer (the late Deanna's idiot son) are about to go out on a supply run, when Negan's convoy arrives. He knocks on the front gate, saying, "Little pig, little pig, let me in!" Amazingly, Spencer doesn't know who he is. This means that Rick apparently hasn't yet told the Alexandrians about Negan and what they're in for. Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

Rick tells Negan he's early. Negan clobbers an approaching walker with his bat Lucille. He then makes Rick hold Lucille, as a way of messing with him even further. He looks around Alexandria and declares it an "embarrassment of riches," and tells his men to start loading up their trucks. Rick sees a silent and beaten Daryl among Negan's men. He tries to talk to him, but Negan forbids it.

Dwight asks Rosita for Daryl's bike, which I thought he already had. She says it's not in Alexandria, and he tells her she'd better find it. He takes Rosita and Spencer's guns and sends them on their way.

Meanwhile Negan's men are emptying everyone's houses, even hauling out their chairs and mattresses. He asks how Maggie's doing, saying he'd love to see her and even take her back with him. Rick leads him to the cemetery, where we see what appears to be Maggie's grave (everyone who believes she's really in there, stand on their heads).

Suddenly a shot rings out. Rick & Negan rush to the armory. Carl's there holding a gun on Negan's men, who are taking all their medicine (instead of half). Negan tells Carl that "half their stuff" is what he says it is, and he won't punish him because he likes him. Negan says he can't allow Rick and his people to have guns and tells his men to take them all. Olivia, who we haven't seen in months, stupidly gives Negan's men the weapon inventory list. One of the Saviors says according to the inventory, they're two guns short. Negan demands to know where the missing guns are, and says he'll kill Olivia if they don't show up soon.

In the most awkward cut ever, Rick holds a town meeting in the church. He begs for whoever has the missing guns to return them pronto, or Olivia dies. He says Negan's now the one in charge.

Meanwhile, Rosita and Spencer stop at the railroad tracks where Dwight killed Dr. Cloyd last season. They dig Daryl's bike out of its hiding place, and load it in their car. Spencer says they wouldn't be in this mess if not for Rick and his reckless arrogance. Spencer's a huge douche bag, but he's not wrong. Rosita spots several walkers roaming around, the remnants of Negan's men that she and the others killed last season. She dispatches them all with a knife and steals a gun from one. Unfortunately it's empty.

Back in Alexandria, Rick and the others desperately search for the missing guns. Rick finally finds them under a floorboard in Spencer's house. He hands the guns over to Negan. Rosita and Spencer return, and hand over Daryl's bike to Dwight.

Just then Michonne returns with the deer she accidentally killed. Rick takes the rifle from her-- which wasn't on the inventory list-- and hands it over to Negan as a goodwill gesture. He asks Negan to let Daryl stay. Negan smiles and says that's up to Daryl. Daryl of course stands silently, refusing to speak. Negan says "Oh well" and laughs, taking the rifle as well as the deer. He tells Rick he'd better have something "interesting" for him next week, or someone else will die. He forces Rick to tell him "Thank you" for not killing anyone, and he and his convoy leave.

Later Rick is trying to make a bed out of blankets in his now mattress-less bedroom. Michonne comes in and berates him for giving in to Negan. He starts telling her about his pal Shane, who "took care" of Lori when they thought he was dead. He said he knows that Baby Judith isn't his biological daughter, but he accepted that fact in order to keep her alive. He said he's doing the same thing with Negan. Michonne says she'll try to accept it as well, but she's not very convincing.

The next day Michonne walks back out in the field to practice with... her sword, I guess? She sees smoke rising in the distance. She investigates and sees a pile of burned mattresses. Apparently the Saviors didn't want them, they just didn't want the Alexandrians to have them, which you've got to admit is a pretty dick move.

Rosita visits Eugene and asks him to make her a bullet for the gun she stole. Guess who's getting killed next!

Thoughts:
• Man, Michonne really does suck with a rifle doesn't she? It's one thing to miss a walker approaching from five hundred feet away, but she keeps on comically firing and missing it until it's literally close enough to grab her. I think even I could have managed to hit it long before it got that close.

• Rick is taken completely by surprise when Negan shows up early to collect their stuff. Fair enough. But why does it seem like the Alexandrians haven't even started gathering up supplies? 

It's obviously been several days since the season premiere— you'd think the second they made it back home Rick would have ordered the entire community to start rounding up a gigantic offering to avoid another confrontation. Does Negan need to crack a few more heads to prove he's serious?

• Dwight slimily approaches Rosita and demands Daryl's bike. Wha…? I could have sworn he took it (along with his vest and crossbow) last season, in his bizarre compulsion to become Daryl. So I guess that wasn't Daryl's bike that Dwight was riding last week?

• Negan brings a scarlet-lettered Daryl with him to help load supplies (and mess with Rick, no doubt). Very eagle-eyed fans believe that when Daryl first sees Rick, he blinks a Morse Code signal to him, prisoner of war style.

According to fans, Daryl very deliberately blinks twice, which is Morse Code for the word "I." There's then a closeup of Rick, who nods almost imperceptibly. Then supposedly Daryl blinks the word "east." 

I'll have to take their word for it, because I don't know Morse Code, and I didn't notice any unusual blinking. If I did see him blink, I probably thought it was because his dank, filthy hair was poking him in the eyes. If the Morse Code theory is true though, then his "I EAST" message is no doubt a subtle attempt to tell Rick the direction of Negan's Sanctuary. Or maybe that's the only thing Daryl and his limited vocabulary can spell.

There may be something to this theory though. At the beginning of the episode, Michonne sneaks out for some badly-needed target practice. As she does so, she passes a large Morse Code poster hanging in the living room of her house! I can't think of any good reason why anyone would have such an odd piece of wall art in their home, other than as a subtle hint at Daryl's signal.

• As Negan looks around Alexandria, he wonders what happened to the "sick girl," aka Maggie. Rick tells him Maggie died, and apparently went so far as to dig a fake grave (which he filled with supplies) for her in the Alexandria cemetery. Negan is disappointed, as he wanted to take her back to the Sanctuary with him.

This lie's going to lead to trouble when Negan inevitably visits the Hilltop and sees Maggie there, alive and well.

• When Negan demands all the guns in Alexandria, he says, "You know, Rick, this whole thing reminds me that you have a lot of guns. There's all the guns you took from my outpost when you wasted all my people with a shit-ton of your own guns, and I'm bettin' there's even more, which adds up to an absolute... ass-load of guns, and as this little emotional outburst just made crystal clear. I can't allow that. They're all mine now. So tell me, Rick— where are my guns?"

Once again, we're reminded that Rick brought this situation on himself. He killed at least six different groups of Negan's people last season. His reckless arrogance almost justifies Negan's retaliation— at the very least it make his revenge look positively restrained.

In fiction it's generally not a good idea to make the audience sympathize with the villain more than the heroes.

• Negan meets Olivia when he visits the armory. He says, "While they're at it, I just want to point out to you that I'm not taking a scrap of your food. Slim pickin's in here. And I can't be the only one to notice that you got a fat lady in charge of keeping track of rations, can I?"

Wow. I said the exact same thing last year about Olivia, who's quite a large gal. I kind of feel like a jerk for fat-shaming her now. But you've got to admit, it is pretty suspicious that the biggest person in the community also controls the food inventory.

• This episode contained one of the choppiest edits I've ever seen in a modern network television show. When Negan threatens Olivia we instantly cut to Rick holding a big town hall meeting. It was so abrupt and clumsy I honestly thought there'd been a glitch and the show had skipped several minutes.

• Rick gathers all the Alexandrians in the church, explains that Negan's going to kill Olivia unless they find the missing guns and begs whoever has them to return the weapons. 

Amazingly it seems like this is the first time the majority of the Alexandrians have ever heard of Negan (!). Heck, Spencer legitimately didn't even know who Negan was when he showed up at the gate. I could see Spencer not recognizing Negan's face, but surely to hell he's heard about the baseball bat-wielding psycho who killed Abraham and Glenn?

Did Rick and the others really sneak into Alexandria under cover of darkness, secretly bury their dead and then keep the Negan situation a secret from all the lesser cast members? Because that's sure what it looks like in this episode.

This is beyond unbelievable. The instant they slunk back through the front gate, Rick should have called a meeting to tell everyone that Negan was now in charge and for everyone to start acting accordingly.

• In this episode's biggest revelation, Rick finally confirms that Shane is (was?) the father of Baby Judith. The viewers have all pretty much known this for several seasons now, but it's nice to finally have it officially confirmed.

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