One Down, Five to Go…
Well I guess we were dead on last week when we said the zombies were serving simply as a back-drop! Until the final, terrifying moments, they all but disappeared from the story. And indeed, its “story” – or, story structure – that intrigued me most this week. How do you tell a story, and how is The Walking Dead going to tell its?
It’s difficult not to make comparisons to Lost. Each week, however, I’m struck by the similarities and by how much better TWD pulls them off. Open on a backstory flashback full of meaning for the current, post-society-as-we-know-it drama, cut to intro music, and then tell the story now. I think Lost invented or, at least, popularized this tv narrative structure. But here’s where I think the two shows depart, and where TWD improves the model. I remember Martin saying once that if we thought the ending of Lost proved it was all about the relationships, we were kidding ourselves. He was right. Each flashback/narrative/island scene gave us a glimpse of an individual’s life – why their personal choices led them to this place (which makes sense in light of the ending). But here, the backstory took us deeper into the connections between the mains – Lorrie and Rick’s failing marriage, but the way they come together around Carl in tragedy, and the strange way Shane fits into all that. Switch to the country vet, and a rag-tag bunch of “others,” but take away all the confusing spiritual stuff, and we’ve got our island culture, but with a lot more compelling human stories, and much more complex, interesting human bonds.
The other thing that really struck me this week was the continued unfolding of Andrea’s narrative. There’s a theme in Western hero narratives that once you’ve truly faced death and accepted it, you become able to face it again and again all zen-like ( I loved Daryl’s line that he was the only zen one among them!); facing death allows you to become the true hero! But Andrea is facing something else here. She had her choice for death stolen from her, and she’s bitter – and it seems like each zombie encounter, each thing she doesn’t want to do, brings the loss of choice back for her. It’s an interesting seed of dissension within the group, and I’m curious to watch how it unravels.
Ok, I’ll leave it there because I’m much more excited to hear what y’all (did the Southern accents feel much more prominent to you guys this week, or was that just me and my recent move from Nashville to the north confusing me?) have to say.
For what it’s worth, I knew I was going to love the episode when Rick ran across the field almost dropping Carl – it was a much more honest vision of a father trying to save his son than the hero vision of him running along with ease. Rick and Shane stole this episode for me with what I thought was some of the most superb acting we’ve seen thus far!
Call me cold, Natalie, but I was relatively unmoved by the image of Rick running across the field with Carl or by the picture of Rick, head propped on Lori’s hip as she presses up against her dying son. And even with the opening scene in the schoolyard with Lori confessing her dissatisfaction with her marriage, I was unmoved by their embrace outside of the farmhouse. Are they finding each other again? I don’t feel very invested in the answer to this. So much for what TWD is doing with parenthood and marriage. But I am gripped by what TWD is doing with friendship. Overshadowed by American obsessions with romance and marriage, friendship is, perhaps, such a misunderstood ‘institution’ that it can actually survive in the zombie apocalypse. (If only Stanley Cavell would blog TWD!!) The complexities of Shane and Rick’s friendship was definitely a highlight, and I think the writers have an opportunity to give us more than a surface look at friendship. After the institutions falter, what remains? Friendship? (Dale & T-Dog, Andrea & Dale, etc….the connections between women? Much weaker up to this point.)
Hmm. I wonder, Shelly, if Shane and Rick’s friendship will survive the coming revelation of Shane and Lori’s brief affair (surely Rick is going to find out, right?)? Maybe in a zombie apocalypse the possession and jealousy that govern romantic couplings will give way to a more generous understanding of the various emotional and physical connections that make us human. But I kind of imagine the show will milk that new tension for all it is worth.
What really struck me last night was the new scientific interpretation by the steadfast and endearing Dr. Greene. I was taken by his speech because it was so pragmatic and true. We do overreact to disease and virus. We panic and isolate and demonize the infected. AThen I thought, are you crazy? Have you looked around Dr. Greene? This is not a virus. This is the end of the world. But even if Dr. Greene is a bit off his rocker and falsely sanguine, what do you make of his explanation as to why this kind of virus would come around in the first place? It is just nature’s way, he said, of correcting things, setting us back on course. If the world was so far off course that the only corrective was to kill off all but a fraction of a percent of the human population, that is a devastatingly bleak view of what humans have done to the planet. I’m not sure we should get a second chance. And how is this different than most accounts of a wrathful God? Doesn’t God punishing us for our greed and excess amount to the same thing? Except if God is causing it, there is an assumption that we need to change to get right again. We need to repent, ask forgiveness, strive toward something better. If it is just nature correcting its course, where does that put our moral responsibility for needing such a corrective? Like the CDC explanation, I am fascinated by the way science functions to give an account of these previously supernatural occurrences and can’t wait to see where they will go with it.
I was struck by Rick’s conversation with the Dr. Green on the porch; at one moment, Dr. Greene could say, “I’m grateful to God for the survival of my daughters” and in another breath, “This is nature’s way of correcting things.” Those are two radically incompatible things to say! I don’t often find references to religion in tv shows all that interesting, but I can’t help wondering along with you, Kathryn, about the questions this show is asking about the divine. I don’t think it’s trying to say anything theological per se, but it seems to be allowing the characters to do exactly what they would do in these circumstances – allow the kinds of religious expressions (Rick’s “Lord, give me a sign”) that would naturally be expressed by people simply emerge and then allow their incongruities to stand out. Rick’s “sign” was the shooting of his son. Inherent in neither the porch conversation about providence and purging, nor the (apparent) sacrifice of the son for the community, is a very interesting or comforting God; but it’s fascinating to me to see these kinds of ideological tensions and discontinuities emerge in this show. Just as the vampire has always represented the thin line between desire and terror inherent in the intimacy of the “other,” zombies tend to be used to explore the furthest limits of the breakdown of what we understand the human to be, in the shockingly close continuum between our animal and social natures. If knowledge of God and knowledge of self are inextricable, it strikes me that the zombie as the total breakdown of our categories for what it means to be human reveal fascinating instabilities about what the divine has traditionally represented – the presence of an ultimate cause and final explanation. There’s none of that in this world, which is why the Malickian scene last week, which I thought was echoed a bit when Rick comments on the beauty of Dr. Green’s property, seemed so appropriate to me. The thin red line is the inexplicable coincidence of violence and the transcendent.
I have to start by echoing your point, Shelly, that I thought the real gem of this episode was the friendship between Rick and Shane. I think we can safely say that “full of tension” was an accurate description of their relationship prior to this episode–so much so that Shane was willing to leave Rick and everyone else. And, now, he is willing to risk (again) his life for his friend. To me, this propels the show from a conglomeration of vignettes about the world after the apocalypse or a vehicle for various theological musings to a bona fide dramatic achievement, one which is improved, not warped or hijacked by all of these other elements (that’s all a roundabout way of saying that I find your comparison and overall point entirely compelling, Natalie). And like y’all I was also, of course, struck by the porch conversation–my reaction being almost exactly akin to Travis’s. My sole contribution to the discussion on this point is to highlight the extent to which the show seems to revel in various aporia. If Carl being shot is a sign, then it is exactly the revelation of a God whose existence is denied by the very nature of the sign itself (but nonetheless it is a *sign*); similarly, the group seems to be concerned with maintaining their community, even though all of the normative requirements of what might constitute a community are gone. I’ve been impressed to what extent the show has been willing to, in a sense, go for the jugular this season (in many ways, I found S1 much more tame)…and the cliffhanger this week (surprised no one mentioned it) just ups the ante. Until next week!
Travis reminded me that I cannot expect nuanced theological expressions to emerge from the characters, even if I am always seeking that nuance. The stark I can’t even imagine that it would look like for Dr. Greene or Rick to try to align the ‘sign’ theology with the realities of the zombie apocalypse. But it will be interesting to see whether the God language drops out altogether. On another note, I was wondering if we will see any ‘transformations’ of the zombies, or whether they will continue to be the backdrop for this ‘drama of the human.’ Is anyone else wondering if we will see any unusual forms of the zombie…..some reptillian brain plus?? Any human-zombie relations?
Moth Chase friends, don’t forget to check back later to see where the conversation goes!