Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 4: Slabtown

Well, that was... different.

This week The Walking Dead takes a break from the main characters and tries to do a little bit of world building, giving us a glimpse at how the zombie apocalypse is affecting the rest of the world.

I appreciate the effort and applaud the creators for trying something new here. After all, how many times can we listen to Rick speechify about losing his humanity after killing a bunch of walkers? Unfortunately their attempt didn't quite work. 

We're supposed to be appalled at Beth's situation, but it's all pretty dull as the script never goes far enough. She's being held against her will, but not really, as she can work off her debt. There's a policeman who threatens to rape her, but not really, as he'd rather shove lollypops into her mouth than actually get physical. There's no way out of the hospital, but there really is, as she fairly easily walks out. The episode wants to be shocking, but can't ever seem to bring itself to commit.

I understand that every episode can't be a non-stop roller coaster ride, and there needs to be an occasional "slower" story to let the audience catch their collective breath. This one was a little too slow though, and I caught myself checking my watch several times throughout the episode. And it looks like there's going to be at least one more episode set in the hospital!


The Plot:
After being abducted several months ago our time, Beth wakes up in a strange hospital room. She finds out she's in the oddly well-maintained Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta. The hospital's been taken over by the local police, who rule it in some sort of martial law/feudal society set up. The leader, Officer Dawn, informs Beth that because they rescued her and treated her wounds, she now "owes" them. She's then forced to work off her debt through indentured servitude.

Beth becomes an orderly in the hospital, mopping floors and occasionally helping Dr. Edwards with patients. She meets another young orderly named Noah, who warns her that he's been "paying off his debt" for over a year, with no end in sight.

When Beth is nearly raped by a sleazy cop named Gorman, she decides to join Noah and attempt an escape from the hospital. They manage to make it outside, but Beth is captured as Noah escapes through the fence.

Beth is forced to resume her duties, as a new patient arrives. Turns out it's Carol, which gives Beth new hope for escape.

• Officer Dawn's description of Beth's "rescue" doesn't quite add up. She tells Beth that they saved her from walkers "on the side of the road." 

That doesn't match what we saw happen back in Season 4 in Alone. In that episode, Daryl and Beth were staying in an abandoned funeral home. When it was suddenly invaded by walkers, Daryl told Beth to run while he fought off the advancing horde. He exited the building just in time to see a car with a cross on the back window speed away, presumably with Beth inside. It looked much more like an abduction than a rescue.

• Speaking of the car, I thought the cross on the back windshield was a Chrisitian symbol, and assumed Beth had been abducted by some nut ball religious order. I didn't realize it was supposed to be a medical cross. 

So why not paint a red cross then, unless the intent was to confuse us? For that matter, why paint a cross on the cars at all? Who are they for? There's no other traffic around to see a red cross and then move out of the way. Are the crosses for the walkers, so they know they're in the presence of rescue vehicles and politely decline to attack?

• Dr. Edwards tells Beth that there's no way out of the hospital, as the entire ground floor is overrun by walkers. Oh really? So how do the cops keep going out on "rescue" runs then?

• Dr. Edwards says all the hospital's supplies are low and are being rationed. Medicine is especially scarce, and he's forbidden to "waste" it on patients who won't survive.

If supplies are really that low, why do they keep bringing in the sick and injured? Beth was injured and they brought her in. Her fellow orderly Joan escaped and was bitten by a walker and they brought her back. They bring in a guy who fell off a building and treat him. They even bring in an apparently injured Carol at the end of the episode.

Why keep using their nearly depleted stores of medicine on the wounded? Why don't they ever bring in any healthy people? Or do they need to bring in the injured in order to have a hold over them?

• Speaking of resources, how is that after all this time, the hospital still has power? Hospitals probably have generators, but even so, I'd think after a few years energy sources would be getting slim. 

Also, If they want to keep the lights and the heat on, fine. But is clean, crisp and pressed laundry really a top priority?

• According to Dr. Edwards, the hospital staff survives by eating guinea pigs. I'm assuming they must have had a few in one of their labs, and started breeding them for food. This actually makes a lot of sense, particularly since guinea pigs are regularly eaten in some South American countries.

See, Gareth? You could have been eating guinea pigs all this time instead of people. There was no reason for you and your band to become cannibals, other than because you liked it.

• Officer Dawn tells Beth that she's trying to maintain order until help arrives.

What "help" could there possibly be? She's been living in the middle of a bombed-out city for at least a year (by Noah's reckoning), and possibly much longer. If help hasn't arrived in a major city like Atlanta by now, it's never going to.

It's possible that Dawn knows this, and is either deluding herself or trying to keep everyone else believing it so they don't revolt.

• When all else fails, slap Beth right across the kisser. Twice during the episode, someone pisses off Officer Dawn, and she takes her anger out on Beth. I'm sure it was supposed to be shocking, but all it did was make me laugh.

• The cops don't come off very well in this episode. They've basically set up a system of slavery, and it's obvious at least one of the cops is using the female orderlies for sex.

I wonder if this was supposed to be a comment on the public's current negative feelings toward the police, what with all the recent shootings of innocent citizens?

• The show's playing fast and very loose with geography. Rick visited downtown Atlanta way back in the very first episode. Yet after he and his group have wandered the countryside for five goddamned seasons, somehow they're still close enough to Atlanta for Beth to be abducted by rogue cops and taken back there.

Rick & Co. must be walking in circles. They went to Hershel's farm, then to the prison, and then everyone walked miles down a railroad track to Terminus. I guess all those locations must be within a ten mile radius of Atlanta. 

• Beth and Noah manage to escape the hospital and emerge into the sunlit parking lot. Even though Noah's injured his leg and is limping, Beth runs past an entire row of cross-decorated cars without so much as glancing at them. While surrounded by walkers, yet.

Sure, the keys may not have been in any of them, but would it have killed her to check?

• At the end of the episode, Beth sees the cops wheel Carol in on a gurney. So the question is whether Carol is really injured, or just faking an injury so she can infiltrate the hospital and rescue Beth. My money's on the latter.

• By the way, Grady Memorial Hospital is a real place in Atlanta. For many years it was segregated, with whites being treated in the A & B Wings, while blacks were relegated to C & D. It primarily treats low-income patients. It was built on the site of Slabtown, which was the nickname for Atlanta's red light district in the 1840s.  

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