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The Walking Dead Underachieves Because of Its Radical Nihilism (Spoiler Warning!)

(Warning: This post contains spoilers through Episode 4×14 of The Walking Dead. Proceed at your own risk.)

Right now, The Walking Dead is my favorite show on TV, which sucks because of how disappointing the show can be. Don’t get me wrong, the zombies are terrifying and the action scenes are creative and captivating, but I just can’t stand the people moping around when they are on the verge of running out of food. What would make the show better is a dose of conservative ideology.

The Walking Dead underachieves is because it’s a wildly liberal/nihilistic show, embracing the motto, in the long run, we’re all dead. Whatever satisfies you now, do it. Which works great, in the modern American world of 7-11’s and mass convenience. When you put that philosophy into practice in a world full of flesh-eating zombies (as TWD tries to do every week), at some point, the characters become unsympathetic, because there’s so little pleasure in the world. If you live for pleasure in the zombie-apocalypse, why don’t you walk into the arms of the biters?

Season 4’s second half demonstrates how dumb this philosophy is. Rick and the counsel would have plan ready if they had to suddenly abandon the prison, like bags that were ready to fill with food, and a place to met on the outside (and getting to this specific, predetermined place could have been the major arc of the second half of the season). Remember how Glenn slept on the broken bridge through the night after the Governor’s attack? The prison was intact enough that they would have time to go to the kitchen and gather supplies before they left.

Instead, the characters run off into the woods and scavenge houses and eateries for food. Hadn’t they picked the area clean when they were on the road a year ago, at the beginning of season 3? The world went to hell, but it’s as if the McDonald’s never closed.

This roaming-in-circles, Cheese-Wiz-from-the-sky attitude is because Hollywood holds luck, not hard or planning, as the main arbiter of success and failure in life. The belief in the supremacy of lucks leads to a belief that personal actions are not important, and at some point, there’s no point in watching people whining over their personal autonomy being violating. (Like Maggie in Episode 4×13, for example.)

There’s a simple conservative ideology that could fix this: building for the future. Things may look bleak, but we have inalienable rights steaming for our creator, however we define him, and we have to preserve our society. To those who want to keep ideologies off television, I’d say this: this is a mild conservative ideology that would make the show mostly apolitical, and if you want to watch more liberal TV, you have unending options. No one says you still can’t have a couple pessimistic characters to balance things out.

I do have a glimmer of hope that The Walking Dead will get better, and that has to do with the one arc that I have found interesting in the second half of this season, the Daryl-Beth story. I know fans tend to complain about Beth (seriously, fans of guy shows hate woman as a general principal it seems), but Beth got Daryl to be more optimistic and to open up. If this season ends with Daryl saving Beth and becoming a more purposed character, that could be a great arc into the next season. But given how this show likes to play ball, I’m guessing that Beth is going to be killed, and her death is somehow going to motivate Daryl to be more of a leader. While the latter scenario would be ideologically consistent, it would do the impossible: it would make The Walking Dead even more nihilistic. But at least I might be able to give up the show then.

(For more on TWD‘s ideological issues, check out this post from The Federalist.)

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Oh Beth, if You Were Only on Hart of Dixie

Future Walking Dead Death Discovered? (MAJOR SPOILERS)

(Warning this post will contain major spoilers for the second half of The Walking Dead‘s fourth season. Proceed at your own risk.)

A few months ago, I read a spoiler from Comicbook.com that one of the deaths in the final eight episodes of season 4 of The Walking Dead would be a character that had not died in the comics yet. Being the looser that I am, I analyzed some of the promos and after seeing them closely, I’m guessing that the character who dies is Maggie, who yes, has not died in the comics.

My basis for that is the freeze frame bellow. Look at what Maggie is wearing, the blue-black top.

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Now, look at this freeze-frame from another trailer. The second body from the left in the picture looks to be wearing the same blue top. Again this, is just a guess that it’s Maggie. Notice how Beth is crying.

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And, in case anyone asks, here is another shot showing walkers in the same spot eating someone.

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Where Bad Should Have Broken Off

(Warning: the following post contains spoilers from the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, including who dies and content from the series finale. Proceed at your own risk.)

The ideal series finale for Breaking Bad (in my humble mind) would have been “Ozymandias”, the third-to-last episode of the series. Let me be clear: I don’t think the actual series finale “Felina” was a bad episode, but there was a lot of standing around and staring. And by now, Walt going Scarface on Uncle Jack and his gang was a foregone conclusion. We all knew why he had to get his keys back.

This season was supposed to be a payoff for Bad‘s long-hanging plot of what would happen if/when Hank found out Walt cooked meth. Once that plot was wrapped up, there was not any story that could top that, other than Walt’s family being in danger. Jesse joining with Hank forced Walt’s fall, and Hank’s death was when Walt lost his family as the cumulative payment for his lies and pride. We didn’t need to hear Walt tell Skylar “I did it for me” because it had already been spelled out.

Instead, Walt annihilated a faceless gang we barely knew, and in the last two episodes, Skylar was in some vague “legal trouble” because Hank was missing and presumed dead. They were  consistent with what the series has been throughout. Yes, it’s great that Walt rescued Jesse, and the final scene in the lab was priceless and summed Walt up completely. But the scene where Walt gets in the van to disappear into the sunrise, the dog walking across the road after the van passes? That’s the last scene of Chuck. That’s The Office characters reflecting on being part of the documentary. It sums the series completely, and it’s a shame that it could not have been the last scene of Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad and the Human Flaw

Two week, I started watching Breaking Bad on Netflix (hey, my subscription’s just sitting there.. I had only had a perfunctory interest in Malcolm in the Meth Lab because it was on the same network as The Walking Dead. The 8 minute episode recap I saw drained me; I could only imagine how much moral weight a full episode, much less a 13-episode season contained. But the show’s blending of a liberal and a conservative understandings of evil intrigued me. 

BB is partially typical liberal satire on middle America, and a liberal understanding that evil is created by one’s circumstances. The conservative dopes in the sticks want to judge us, says Hollywood? A mega-villain can just pop out of the cul-de-sac in average-joe-New Mexico if he gets cacer. But what makes the show great is a conservative understanding evil. Creator Vince Gilligan admitted that one of best decisions he and his writers made early in the series was to make Walt driven by blinding pride, so much so that he cannot accept help from others to pay for his cancer treatments (see the video below). Otherwise, according to Gilligan, it would have just been clumsy Dr. Tim Whately, bumbling to hold on to his drug money. In spite of this, BB was in fact fifteenth on a 2010 list of favorite shows of democrats, mainly because its most dominant theme is perversity-in-the-suburbs. (No doubt, many democrats also watched BB because of AMC’s other hit show, Mad Men, which was democrats second favorite show and their top scripted show.)

It is fascinating to consider the corruption of a man who says to his partner in crime, “Do you believe that there’s a hell? We’re pretty much going there.” The way Walt charges toward the blackness in front of him just shows how much nihilism has taken over American culture. We run toward judgment and indulge in pain, even if we admit what the consequences will be.

Was The Walking Dead Too Trigger Happy? (Spoilers through Ep 3×12)

Warning: The following post contains spoilers through episode 3×12 of The Walking Dead. For those of you waiting for it to come out on Netflix, I envy your financial restraint.

While I’m in the minority among cult show fans, I like Sarah Wayne Callies on The Walking Dead. I enjoyed her on Prison Break, as she is an actress who brings a lot of depth and has a real “Average America” look. So when Lori died on The Walking Dead, I was disappointed. I speculated that Lori might die (as she did in the comics), but I hoped it could be done the right way.

I was somewhat disappointed with how early Lori was killed in the show, in the fourth episode of season three. My thought when it happened was “soon, but maybe not too soon.” Rick and Lori still had issues to work on in their marriage, but I was willing to see how the aftermath of her death would play out. Robert Kirkman stated that he’d dreamed up big arcs for characters, only to end up killing them, and a lot of characters on TV end up getting killed off way later than they should. My philosophy is, if a show makes a mistake killing a character, it will very obvious after six or seven episodes.

After so many episodes, I was annoyed that Lori has appeared four times: the phone call in episode six, the two ghosts appearances in eight and nine, and in a picture in episode twelve. If you’re going to portray her four times in eight episodes after you killed her, it is questionable whether or not Lori should have been killed to begin with. Especially now, Lori could have had a huge role guiding Rick now that he’s burden with the threat of Woodbury. Herschel is the only voice of reason for Rick, and there’s only so long Herschel can survive with one leg.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying Lori’s death was a mistake. I’m saying, if you are going to kill her, go all in. Don’t show her more than once.

To be fair, TWD is going to have more deaths on it than the average TV show, just because it’s a world where 95% of the population is flesh eating zombies, and all the advances of modern technology are lacking. If there wasn’t a higher death rate than other shows, it would look completely unrealistic.

That wasn’t the only questionable move TWD has made this season. Rick kicking Tyrese’s group out of the prison was downright idiotic. (What, where else were they going to end up other than Woodobury, with a guide of how to get into the prison?) But Lori’s early death could end up making the show unlikable and without heart, like 24 in its sixth season. To all the fans who found Lori whiny, I would say, who doesn’t come across as whiny in the lead female role of a male-oriented serial drama? Any of Jack’s 24 girlfriends or Kate on Lost faced the same complaint. Prison Break fans campaigned to bring  Callies back to their show. Outside of Michonne and Maggie, is there one female character on TWD the fans like?

The storyline that directly came out of Lori’s death, namely rick’s delusions, is one I detest. Maybe it’s because I’m use to my dark drama grounded in realism (24, Prison Break, The Following), but I just find delusional Rick to be campy and too easy. Anyone being that self-absorbed in a world of flesh eating zombies won’t last two minutes (and he almost didn’t). TWD is best off when it is grounded in reality, like Lost was.

The last episode as of this writing, “Clear”, did move The Walking Dead in a positive direction. I don’t think it is one of the “series greats” Kirkman touted it to be before it aired, but Rick seemed to realize he has to live with his delusions, and if that brings that storyline to a close, I’ll do jumping jacks. Michonne’s character was deepened too, and given how much fans want her to be a huge part of the show, that’s a good thing. All this points to is that The Walking Dead needs a mini-reboot as Season 3 ends and Season 4 begins, which a lot of shows need after three seasons.

I just hope Sarah Wayne Callies finds another show to do. Missing her on TWD, I found the Tarzan series the WB did ten years ago on YouTube and loved it, aside from a poor cast Tarzan. Maybe the CW could redo that show with SWC now; she’d be believable as an NYC police detective, and is the perfect Jane.

Breaking Bad and the Search for True Manhood

I had been watching various clips of Breaking Bad online for quite some time. It’s not one of my favorite shows, mainly because of its Fargo-ish humor, but I appreciate the show because it gets one of the most under-appreciated aspects of American society dead-on: the dilemma of the trapped and constantly marginalized American family man.

Die Hard was the first incarnation of this struggle, but that film’s 80’s camp suppressed the realism that bleeds through Walter White: a schoolteacher who’s been the gracious provider who starts to do heinous things when faced with the reality that his loved ones will go on without him. While I don’t think Vince Gilligan is reacting directly to feminism, it’s hard not to note Bad‘s reaction to it: an ordinary man who starts pursuing dangerous things in the face of a wife who starts loosing interest.

That is the dilemma for men today, isn’t it? Women demand to be treated as equals in marriage but below the surface, they only give respect to a man who can take care of them. Women expect their men to share with their feelings (even if this isn’t what they do naturally) and aren’t content with a man’s physical provision. But some men, maybe most men, can only express their love for their women through the act of physical provision, and when push comes to shove, they throw themselves into work. After all, hard work is the only way to guarantee a woman’s respect.

It is also through this work that Walt gains the platform to put himself above his wife. Consider the scene where Skylar confronts her husband about the death of a rival meth cook. She urges him to go to the police, fearing he’s in danger. Walter responds by putting himself on a higher plane. He tells her that she doesn’t know how important his business is, and reveals to her (by inference) that he ordered the hit she’s referring to. (Like all uber-successful people, Walter White doesn’t take it well when others question his authority.) It is through this act of defying his wife that Walt, in a twisted way, somehow gains a piece of his manhood back. If only he could have gained it back through love, respect, and good will, not cooking meth.

It is a sad dilemma that faces not just Walter White, but the American man. Our society has become so much more fragmented when it comes to childbearing (out of wedlock, single women having babies via sperm donation and adoption, parenthood redefined) and “equal” marriage, the world of Walter White seems strangely fair. That’s what makes it really sad.

Joe Pa and The Governor: A Surprising Analogy

Coy is the word I would use to describe the trailer for the new season of The Walking Dead, and Robert Kirkman can afford to be coy with his pet project. Having set cable records and zombified the geek audience hungry for a cult show after the end of Lost, TWD doesn’t have to set up a huge event in its third season premiere, just be building to one.

But there is one curious thing I noticed in the trailer, and that is the possible next direction the show may go: tackling the key issue facing small town America. Will Kirkman be setting up The Governor to be Joe Paterno in the apocalypse?

I haven’t read TWD comics, but The Governor/Paterno analogy could be one that gains steam. Like Paterno, The Governor is a lone dominating figure in landscape where leadership is lacking. People turn to him no matter whether he is good or bad: like Randall, they just think they’ll have a better chance with him. In any case, David Morissey looks like the perfect pick, and it should make for great drama.

Walking Dead: How to Film a Terrifying Herd, Season 2 Finale, and Where to go from Here

Last Sunday night I turned off my cellphone and settled in to watch The Walking Dead‘s season finale. Just judging by the promos, I knew the show would be great. It was the classic zombie situation: a small group of strangers are stranded in a house, facing an endless sea of predators. While I do wish the zombie herd would have spotted the herd in episode 10 or 11 so there could have been more build-up, this zombie sequence did something right that I think many of the zombie sequences on the show haven’t done as well.

The Walking Dead‘s fans have spent ample time complaining about the shows slow episodes, and while I’m not thrilled with those episodes, I think that criticism is misdirected. What I think is a real problem is that, the some of the larger zombie sequences this season have been poorly directed. This has happened in two ways: one, a smaller number of extras is shot in a way that only makes them look large, such as the herd in the season premiere that pinned the survivors down on the interstate, plus the herd that was chasing Shane and Otis at the end of episode three.  Also, the motion of the zombies in both scenes is a problem: the run straight too much. In the zombie scene at the ed of episode four in season one, the actual number of zombies is quite small. What makes it terrifying is that they seem to be coming from everywhere randomly.

The second major problem is with the zombie scene in episode ten, when Rick and Shane are at the school. When the zombies break out of the building and start chasing Shane around (and it’s a small number of zombies to begin with), there’s too much open space for the scene to be really terrifying. The bus is out in the open, and it’s too easy for Rick to get to it with car. But all this said, the worst zombie scene in The Walking Dead is roughly about as bad as the worst ice cream cone.

There are ways that the show does a job of building terror with only a few zombies. Take the scene in episode nine where Rick, Hershel, and Glenn are finding Randall with his leg stuck on the fence (literally). You didn’t to have a whole herd of walkers rushing them as they decided what to do with Randall; just the sight of a few zombies approaching was enough.

But this herd was done right: it came from seemingly nowhere, and it looked endless. I was surprised they didn’t just barricade everyone in the house but, there were some great kills (T-Dogg hitting the zombie with the truck got a huge buzz on twitter). (MAJOR SPOILER🙂 The deaths of Jimmy and Patricia, secondary characters who didn’t do a lot the second half of the season, were not that surprising. When I saw Patricia and Beth running in the promos, I thought strongly one of them would die. The Walking Dead is a show that demands not only a high body count, but you need those scenes where someone gets pulled into a herd of walkers, the fate husband and wife Otis and Patricia shared. As far as death-management goes, it is somewhat disappointing that either Dale and/or Shane’s deaths, as well as they were done, were not saved for this sequence. Dale dying in his RV instead of Jimmy while saving Rick and Carl would have meant more. They still could have killed off Jimmy with the walker Carl set free and kept that storyline for Carl. (Side note: the RV is another “character” I’ll really miss.)

Ironically, the group of ten that began season two is ten again. Three of that group were lost (Sophia, Dale, Shane) and have been replaced by Hershel, Maggie, and Beth. Beth is a characters I’d want to see more of (she was great in episode ten) and the show needs more female characters. Like many of the other fans, I’d like to see more of T-Dogg, but it’s also easy to forget that T-Dogg played a huge role in episodes two through four in season one. With the news that Merle is returning, it will be interesting to see if T-Dogg factors into his story. And if Merle is part of the Governor’s Woodbury, it will be especially great for Daryl, who ended the season at some odds with Rick.

That leads me to my disappointment with the final scene. Let me be clear: The Walking Dead takes place in a harsh world. That said, I thought ending with Rick’s speech about he’s the new dictator in town was the wrong tone to end the season. I don’t have a problem with Lori being upset with Rick for killing Shane. But it might have been better for the show end with the survivors actually looking on the prison rather than having the camera pan to it. Michael Ausellio noted in his Spoiler Alert video podcast after episode ten that the show is getting almost too conflict heavy, and does need more moments of the characters bonding and working together. It is possible for the show to get too depressing and the characters too dark to root for, as 24 did during its sixth season.

As for the other major revel, I’m as excited as the comic fans to see Michonne, mainly for a reason that Kirkman shared on Talking Dead post-finale: while most of the characters we know are stupefied by the world of zombie, Michonne has figured out how to survive. Michonne was already trending on twitter before the character appeared on screen, and perhaps the sighting of a warrior-character will keep the show from being too depressing.

So here’s what I expect for season three: generally, the overall theme is going to be, band together. The season will encompass the prison storyline, from Rick and the survivors clearing out the zombies that remain in it, dealing with the inmates that are still alive, and finally, facing the destruction of the walls by the Governor and his Woodbury army. Hershel will die by the end of the season, along with several of the original survivors. I think there’s a good chance there’s a jump forward in time and Lori will have the baby by the end of the season. I’d love to see more back story for Glenn and T-Dogg. The Governor is one of the biggest questions I have for the season, mainly because he’s clearly going to come in a lot earlier than he does in the comics. My guess is, Andrea and Michonne run into Woodbury and are part of his

That leads me to the question I’ve been debating for a while and that is Lori’s death in the comics, which happens at the end of the prison storyline. Part of me hopes that Lori survives and can be a part of the post-prison story. Kirkman and Glen Mazzara have stated that the comics aren’t the definitive blueprint for the series, and that the show characters may outlive their comic book counterparts (Shane) or die before them (Dale, Otis). I hope that Lori does live on in the show, but if she does die, that’s what happens. I do know one thing: if Lori does outlive the destruction of the prison, it could be hard to get rid of her after that.

In closing, my favorite moment from the finale was the preppy walker that Carl, Rick, and Hershel encountered at the interstate pile-up. The preppy walker is to me, the mark of a great show. Too often, all of the walkers are dressed in the same dull, drab attire, and it was great to see one that stood out. It was just a little touch, but it was that’s what great shows do: pay attention to detail.

(My post from earlier this year: Walking Dead as analogy).

World of Hurt: The Walking Dead as an Analogy for Depression, and a Recap of Nebraska

Last night, I stayed up way too late waiting for The Walking Dead (my current favorite TV show) to come online; I went to bed at 10:30, show still not online, but then woke up at four, only to find that the show had come onto one of the other sites and I had searched under the wrong terms.

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While I wasn’t a fan of the comic or the zombie genre before, I turned into the show because I love post-apocalyptic, serial drama. This season, the show has reminded me of what Lost was like before Lindelof and Cuse became stars of the show: a bunch of ordinary people, trying to survive in a world with few rules. Yes, some of the episodes this fall have been tedious and short on action, but remember this a young show that has budget constraints. 24 was very similarly slowly in its early years, and the show grew once it was syndicated. As long as the second half of the season has more action, I’m good with that.

Of course, every time I see them show what should be a huge group of zombies, I get the sense that it’s only a small group that looks big because of the camera angle, but hey, the show is great. I’m a frugal Nebraskan, so I appreciate anyone making the best of what they have.

I wonder how much HBO burns over that they could have had the show. Probably some; they have made their share of blunders since The Sopranos left in 2007, and it’s not as bad as canceling Deadwood and not getting the two movies based on the series. Certainly, NBC looks more blundersome when they let Desperate Housewives slide out there back door. Of course, HBO does have Game of Thrones now, so they likely the biggest disappointment in the matter belongs to Thomas Jane, who would have played Rick Grimes, had HBO ordered The Walking Dead to pilot.

But the more I reflect on The Walking Dead, the more I see an analogy that reflects a world I’ve lived in: the world of depression. The survivors are the depressed people, and the zombies are the world around them. So many themes fit that depressed motif: the sense of hopelessness, the feeling as if everyone is oppressing you, things only getting worse. Not that I know Robert Kirkman’s motivation, but the themes do arise in the work. Perhaps that’s what takes this horror parable and makes it so appealing to geeks and masses, is it is that world of rejection they live in every day.

But back to last night’s episode, named for the state of my residence: this episode was slow-starting, mainly because it had to deal with the revelations of Sophia’s death, plus Hershel’s family that had become walkers being shot. But it ended in a better place than it began, as Rick’s decision to take out the two Philly survivors will have consequences in the next episode, as well as Lori’s car crash. (The latter event seemed about as staged as Carl’s getting shot, but that can be remedied by a good payoff). While Dave was going for his gun, you can see Rick going down that dark road that Shane did when he killed Otis, although Shane’s path was certainly darker. The conflict with this other band of survivors (as seen in the trailer) should provide some good fodder for the remaining five episodes this season. Personally, I have been rather impatient for them to get to the prison (working theory since last summer was that they’d get there by season 2’s end), but now I can’t wait for these episodes. Best moment this week: Andrea delivering the final blow with a farm implement.

Final thought: the same thing that makes The Walking Dead great is what makes Chuck great. The show creates conflict between multiple characters on multiple levels, maintaining from beginning to end. Take Lori: even though she didn’t want Rick to leave, she feels the need to go after him herself, for the same reason he wanted to leave. Daryl is willing to look for Carol’s daughter, but won’t go after Rick. Rick kills Sophia, but then commends Hershel for holding out hope for the walkers. That’s great storytelling.

(Update: A follow-up)

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