Friday, November 11, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 7, Episode 3: The Cell

Sorry this review's so late. I was going to post it earlier in the week, but a certain even on November 8th kind of took the wind out of me. All of a sudden writing about a stupid TV show just didn't seem very important.

This week on The Walking Dead we take yet another side trip, as we finally get to see the inner workings of Negan's headquarters, the Sanctuary.

According to the producers, The Cell was intended to be the second episode of the season. Apparently they decided the audience needed a bit of a break after the brutal season premiere, so they moved it back a week and aired the relatively light-hearted The Well in its place.

I'm hoping we'll return to Alexandria next week, so we can finally see how Rick & Co. are coping with the death of Glenn and Abraham, and what, if anything, they plan to do about it. I get that introducing new settings like The Kingdom and The Sanctuary are important to future plotlines, but is it really necessary to devote ENTIRE episodes to each of these places? Haven't The Walking Dead writers ever heard of cross-cutting? Who writes, this show, Tolkien? Show us what's going on in Alexandria, then cut to Carol in The Kingdom, then switch to Negan in the Sanctuary, and back to Alexandria again. It ain't that tough to figure out.

This was a Daryl-centric episode, showing us how he's dealing with the fact that his outburst in the premiere ended up getting Glenn killed. Unfortunately the matter or his crippling guilt over the event was poorly written and handled. We see Daryl defy his torturers all through the episode, but it's not until the final minutes that we actually find out why he refuses to yield to honor the memory of Glenn. 

For years now, fans of actor Norman Reedus have been chanting, "If Daryl dies, we riot!" threatening to stop watching the show en masse if their favorite redneck zombie hunter is ever killed off.

After seeing this episode, I have to ask "why?" Why do fans care so much about Daryl? What the hell do they see in him? Do they love his lone wolf, bad boy image? Or are they infatuated with Renaissance Man Norman Reedus?

Whatever the reason for all the Daryl love, this episode proved he's currently the least interesting of the core characters. He had a few story arcs early on he overcame feelings or worthlessness and became a valued member of Rick's inner circle, and he developed a brotherly (I hope) relationship with Beth. But those plotlines were years ago. His character development hasn't progressed an inch for a couple seasons now. He's just sort of... there.

If you don't believe there's nothing to Daryl's character, then try this experiment. Explain him to someone without mentioning his angel wing vest, his motorcycle, his brother Merle or his ever present crossbow. I'll be over here waiting while you give it a go.

See? There's nothing left to say! I suppose you might be able to describe him as brave and loyal, but you could say the same thing about most dogs.

At this point you could remove him from the show completely, and it wouldn't change a thing (I can almost hear the Dixon's Vixens, as Daryl's fans call themselves, sharpening their knives as I type this). As proof, of that, The Cell is ostensibly a Daryl episode, but he ends up getting pushed aside as Dwight takes center stage. I'd go so far as to say that at this point, Dwight is far more interesting than Daryl.

This episode also gave us our first post-premiere look at Negan, with very mixed results. In his first two appearances, he was absolutely terrifying. He seemed both charming and deadly at the same time an unpredictable force of nature.

Suddenly in this episode he's far less sinister and much more cartoonish, as he goes on about his "super hot" wives. 

I'm going to chalk this up to the writing and source material. Now that I think back, this is exactly the way the comic unfolded. Comic Book Negan was petrifying in his first appearance, and became gradually less so the more we saw him.


The Plot:
As the episode opens, we see Dwight going about a typical day in the Sanctuary, Negan's main compound. He cuts in lines, confiscates food and enjoys the perks of being Negan's right hand man. He watches two low-ranking men risk their lives tying up walkers to form a zombified fence around the compound.

Dwight makes a dog food sandwich, opens a cell and tosses it in to his nemesis Daryl, who's curled up naked in the corner. Daryl hungrily devours the sandwich as Dwight closes the door. A horribly annoying song called Easy Street blares over and over in the Daryl's cell, which is some insidious Guantanamo-level psychological torture right there.

The next day Dwight opens the door and throws some clothes in, telling Daryl to get dressed. He takes him to see Dr. Carson for a checkup. Dwight's girlfriend Sherry, who we met in Always Accountable, sees Daryl and recognizes him.  Dwight sees a pregnancy test on the counter, and realizes its Sherry's. Apparently Negan took Sherry away from Dwight, and made her one of his "wives." Dwight tells Sherry to shut up, and takes Daryl outside. He shows him the protective wall of walkers, and says he can be one of them, or one of Negan's men.

Later Negan compliments Dwight on his progress with Operation Demoralize Daryl. He offers Dwight a night with Sherry as a reward, but he declines. A call comes in, saying a member of the Sanctuary has escaped. Daryl tells Negan he'll go after the escapee. 

Dwight, who's appropriated Daryl's vest, crossbow and motorcycle, rides through the deserted countryside, searching for the escapee. I'm starting to think maybe he wants to be Daryl. He comes upon a circle of walkers who've toppled off an overpass and splattered onto the pavement below. Although broken and shattered, the zombies reach for Dwight as he walks his bike through them. Suddenly one falls from above, hitting him and his bike. He's knocked backwards and lands next to a walker, and struggles to kill it before it bites him.

Meanwhile, another Savior feeds Daryl while Dwight's out. He leaves, forgetting to lock the cell door (intentionally?). Daryl escapes and runs through the endless corridors, looking for a way out. He's stopped by Sherry, who warns him to return to his cell, as Negan can always find new and even worse forms of punishment. Daryl ignores her and exits the building. He finds a row of motorcycles, but none have keys. Suddenly he's surrounded by Saviors. 

Negan appears, and asks each of the Saviors his name. They all reply "Negan." He tells Daryl that the unlocked door was a test, and he failed. Negan says Daryl has three choices work for him as a guard zombie, work for him as a slave, or work for him as a devoted follower. He leaves, as the Saviors beat the living crap out of Daryl to help him think it over.

Out in the wild, an injured Dwight pushes his wrecked bike down the road. Miraculously he catches up with the Sanctuary escapee, who I'm going to call Ike. He tells Ike he's taking him back in. Ike refuses to go, saying he'd rather die. Dwight says that can be arranged, and shoots him in the back.

Dwight returns to the Sanctuary (how?), and encounters Sherry. He asks if Negan is good to her, and she says yes. She tells Dwight that he did the right thing by offering her to Negan, as it saved both their lives. Dwight opens Daryl's cell and feeds him another dog food sandwich. He says Daryl's lucky, as he should be dead by now, but Negan's taken a liking to him. He also says it's Daryl's fault that Glenn was killed. He drops a photo of Glenn's dead body on the floor next to Daryl and leaves. Daryl begins crying.

The next day Dwight brings Daryl to a fully furnished apartment. Negan's there, and infodumps Dwight's backstory to him. He says that Dwight worked for him, tried to escape and was caught. Sherry offered to become Negan's wife if he'd spare Dwight's life. Negan said he agreed, but that Dwight would still need to be punished. Dwight got "the iron," which explains the horrific burn scars on his face.

Negan tells Daryl that he could have a room like this and a coveted place at Negan's side if he answers one simple question "Who are you?" Daryl replies with his own name. Negan says he's made his choice then. Dwight throws Daryl back in the cell. Daryl tells Dwight that he got Glenn killed, and that's why he'll never break.

Later, Dwight gazes at the walker fence again. He sees Ike, the escapee he caught earlier, now working for Negan as a zombie.

 It seemed odd that we never saw a single establishing shot of the Sanctuary. How big is the place? How heavily fortified is it? Just where's Daryl being held? Apparently it's none of our concern.

We got one of The Kingdom last week, and the Hilltop last season. Did they blow this week's budget on music rights, and couldn't afford an FX shot of the Sanctuary?

 There's some musical confusion at the beginning of the episode. We're treated to a montage of Dwight gadding about the Sanctuary, as the song Town Called Malice by The Jam plays on the soundtrack. It's obvious from the way the scene's shot that only we in the audience can hear the song. It isn't audible in the reality of the characters.

A few minutes later we see Daryl in his cell, as the song Easy Street blares loudly and incessantly on the soundtrack. But suddenly Daryl can hear the song too, as we realize it's being used to psychologically torture him. It took me a few minutes to realize that the song was being deliberately played by the characters. Confusing!

It might have helped if there'd been a few minutes worth of space between these two scenes.

 By the way, the Easy Street song is from a band called Collapsable Hearts Club (and yes, they either knowingly or mistakenly spelled "collapsible" wrong). It's a relentlessly upbeat and peppy little ditty, and you'll never hear a more insidious ear worm in your life. It was stuck in my head for two or three days after the episode aired.

The song is an unreleased track from the band, who were reportedly genuinely puzzled as to how The Walking Dead producers found it. Jim Biano, founder of the band, said he thought it was hilarious that his little song would be used as a torture device in the episode.

Since The Cell aired, the song's reportedly rocketed to the top of the charts on Spotify and YouTube.

Unfortunately, since the song is only a few months old, technically it shouldn't exist in The Walking Dead universe. In the world of the show, the zombie apocalypse started seven or eight years ago, meaning there probably aren't too many bands out there writing new material.

For the record, here are the song's lyrics:

We're on easy street
And it feels so sweet
Cause the world is 'bout a treat
When you're on easy street 

And we're breaking out the good champagne
We're sitting pretty on the gravy train
And when we sing every sweet refrain repeats
Right here on easy street

It's our moment in the sun
And it's only just begun
It's time to have a little fun
We're inviting you to come and see why you should be
On easy street

Yeah, we got a front row seat
Oh, to a life that can't be beat
Right here on easy street

It's our moment in the sun
And it's only just begunIt's time to have a little fun
And we're inviting you to come and see why you should be
On easy street

Yeah, we got a front row seat
Oh, to a life that can't be beat
Right here on easy street'Cause the world is 'bout a treat
When you're on easy street

 Confused as to who the hell this Sherry woman is, who keeps talking to Daryl? I don't blame you I've seen every episode and I barely remembered her.

As I mentioned earlier, she popped up with Daryl and her diabetic sister Tina in Always Accountable. The trio encountered Daryl in the woods, stole his bike and weapons and left him for dead.

 Last season we were introduced to Dr. Carson, who lived in the Hilltop community. Apparently the Sanctuary has its own Dr. Carson as well, who's a completely different person. Confusing!

This sort of happened in the comics as well, as Harlan Carson was the Hilltop's doctor, while his brother Carson (who never got a first name) lived in the Sanctuary and worked as Negan's assistant.

 This episode, which introduces the Sanctuary, is a huge departure from the comic.

See, in the comic we got to see the inner workings of the Sanctuary when Carl, or all characters, stowed away on a supply truck and was discovered by Negan. He was apparently taken with the lad, and gave him a grand tour of the place before returning him to Rick.

It appears the writers are grafting this storyline onto Daryl for some reason. Probably because they can't think of anything else to do with him.

This is going to cause problems down the line, because in the comic, this meeting between Carl and Negan lays the foundation for their student/mentor relationship many episodes from now.

 Dwight ventures into the wilderness to bring back an escapee from the Sanctuary. Along the way, he's badly hurt, to the point where he can barely hobble along. His bike is also ruined. 

And yet despite all those obstacles, he somehow manages to drag the escapee's dead body all the way back to the Sanctuary, where it becomes a guard walker. Nope! I ain't buying it!

Did he fix the motorcycle, then tie the walker to the back and drag it to the Sanctuary? Did he wait till the dead escapee turned and then stay just out of its reach, slowly luring it back? Did he wire its mouth shut and sling it over his back like a fireman? 

 In this episode we find out that Dwight tried to escape the Sanctuary, but ended up returning when he found life outside the walls too hard. Negan punished Dwight for his effrontery by pressing a red hot iron onto the side of his face. Yowch!

If you look closely, there's actually a little homage to this event in the opening credits. When Jeffrey Dean Morgan's name appears, there's a brief shot of an iron resting in an open furnace. Fun!

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