And I froze.
To my blogging partners…..
So, ever since the western scene from last week, I’ve been thinking about TWD and masculinity. I was wondering if Kathryn, Natalie, and I failed to see something in the show, because we are failing to see anything enlivening about the female characters. We went down this road a bit with Lori, when there was a bit of exhaustion with her character and her decision to take a spontaneous—and truncated—road-trip, and Kathryn and Natalie bantered about women drivers. But, honestly, the women in this show take all of their cues from the men. (Andrea taking cues from Shane, Carol taking cues from Daryl).
Ah, but then we have this rather Shakespearean moment at the end of the show, where the woman goads the man, setting him up for another kind of show-down….from the barroom brawl to something much more epic and perhaps more raw, giving us a glimpse into another dimension of the human that we haven’t seen as much in this show. Shame. It is shame and humiliation (or avoidance of it/the overcoming of it) that will incite Rick to act, to protect. Wasn’t that the look in his eyes at the end of the episode, that glare that said, “I will not be shamed.” So shame makes a pretty important entrance in TWD. We see it in the scene with Glenn as well. He tells Maggie that he freezes and fails to ‘man up’ to help Hershel and Rick. But in the midst of his telling, the shame is palpable. In his book, Violence: A National Epidemic, James Gilligan makes a case for shame as the source of violence (in respect to his work with incarcerated men). Our punishment system, he says, misinterprets violence by targeting guilt (retributive justice); punishment, in fact, doesn’t get at the root source–shame and humiliation. So TWD might be onto something here. (Lori whispers: “Shane thinks you can’t protect us.”) And this put me back in the show this week after my rather lackluster response to the mid-season premiere.
Shelly (and everyone else),
I like your reading here very much, and it gives the show a really interesting dimension. If I can-pick up your thread–shame is a striking thing to bring up here. In distinction to guilt, it relies on community and intersubjectivity–it is a fact about my standing amidst others, while guilt is a sense of my having internalized the norms of others, then living up to or failing to live up to my individual conscience. Now, if–to perhaps beat an (un)dead horse to death–my suspicion is correct, that so much of this show hinges on different ways of navigating normative authority, then the entrance and illustration of shame is a striking reminder of the sorts of moral psychology at work in the post-apocalyptic world. Part of the suggestion as far as I take it, is that in the post-apocalypse there is no room for the sort of interior life that would sustain moral conscience. And so, the necessity of shame, as opposed to guilt. And if this is true, then Shane and Rick begin to look more and more alike (especially if shame becomes a prime motivator for Rick–perhaps we’ll see Rick move further and further away from the sort conscience-driven motivation he’s thus far exhibited–something I take to be suggested by his discussion with Hershel last week). What will separate him from Shane–as far as it stands now–is that Rick still is motivated by something like shame, whereas Shane truly does “stand apart” (as he tells Andrea). But what exactly in or about the new world prohibits the sort of interior life required for guilt? Why has shame taken on such importance? Is it that in order to internalize certain norms we must have the institutions that maintain those norms? But isn’t that the point: to internalize them so that they can exist apart from such institutions? Thoughts?
Oh Shelly and Martin, how I wish you could persuade me! I wish I could believe that this show is actually dealing, in a thoughtful and sophisticated way, with themes as deep and important as the difference between shame and guilt and the internalization of normative authority in the collapse of the institutions and practices that sustain it. Or even that Lori is a kind of Lady Macbeth, goading her man on to new heights of violence in the name of familial honor. I am glad you are both as intellectually generous with the show – I will try to learn from you. But this week’s episode just flopped as a piece of television for me. There were a few excellent moments – Glenn’s breakdown with Maggie being the highpoint for me, but also the little moments we get with Carl, who is turning into a kind of creepy adult kid in a way I hope they explore more – but mostly it just veered from repeated arguments and reheated speeches, strange lapses of time and logic, and wild flip-flopping around pressing moral issues. A few cases in point: how many times do Andrea and Shane have to stalk off by themselves and talk about how they are the “odd men out” and no one really understands the new world like they do. Either run away together or take the farm by force, but please, please stop having the same conversation over and over. And didn’t anyone else get completely confused by the fact that we see Rick yank Philly-boy’s leg off a spike and then it took them *all night* to get back to the farm?! My husband and I both looked at each other as we realized it was morning and asked, like the farm-dwellers, where the hell are they? Something horrible must have happened, we thought. But no, at least not that was worth mentioning. Maybe they drove at 2 miles an hour or took a long convoluted route home to prevent the wounded Other from figuring out the way in his pain-induced stupor. Or maybe they pulled over and debated the ethics of saving the fellow after all. Which is one example of the moral flip-flopping that drove me crazy this week. Rick confesses to Lori that he was willing to do whatever it takes to protect his own, including shooting the two men in the bar. He already let the walkers devour another man alive without even so much as thinking of a mercy kill. Why the sudden determination to save the impaled kid? I wish I could believe it is because Rick is wrestling with this own transition from preapocalypse to postapocalypse moral norms, but I mostly think it is just a plot device to give everyone on the farm a new issue to argue about. I suppose it might turn out to be a good plot device, since I think watching our survivors face the more complicated danger of other humans, not just walkers, could be a great direction for the show. But everything we’ve seen so far suggests it will all be a little too heavy-handed andLord of the Flies. Like Lori’s sudden turn as Lady Macbeth. The capacity for amazing is so high – all of Western civilization’s dramas around gender, sex, honor, shame, violence, and power played out in this sorry little band of human survivors! But all I can think about are how many scenes we are going to have to face of Sarah Wayne Callies widening her eyes and modulating her voice to show *this is really serious.* Maybe that sums up how I’m feeling about the show in general right now. Smart viewers can read smart things into a show about the end of the world and human life thereafter. It used to seem like the writers were actually giving us these things to think about. Now I just worry that the show can’t pull it off. That the “big themes” will suffocate the actors and the script. I’m glad at least the two of you are keeping the faith. Maybe I can internalize the norms of your practices of generosity. Natalie? Travis? What say you?
First of all apologies for not joining the conversation last week. The problem was, I simply couldn’t find anything interesting to say! So, perhaps needless to say, I’m with Kathryn this week. Really, it’s where I ended at the mid-season break – although I find TWD tolerable-to-fun to watch, I’ve really lost faith that the show has anything particularly interesting to say, or more importantly, that the writers are holding on to the ability to tell a story that is coherent in terms of theme or (especially) characters. It was telling last week, for example, that the one genuinely charismatic and interesting character of the episode (Michael Raymond James, of the “brilliant but cancelled” Terriers) was quickly killed off. Now, here’s the interesting thing to me: I kind of liked this episode, or at least the aspects of it in the bar (I am officially calling the farm the Place Where Drama Goes to Die, btw). I was able to put aside the mind-boggling stupidity of the Lori car crash, or Shane always glowering and being the “odd man out” (really? Poor Shane feels misunderstood?) or the random catatonia of plot-device family member #3. The reason is, oddly, exactly why the show alienated me in the first half of the season: inconsistent characterization. When I vented about the show’s shortcomings at the break, it wasn’t just that the show had become boring (although it had); it was that any momentum in the story was provided by characters standing around talking about their motivations and attitudes (which still totally happens at the Place Where Drama Goes to Die) rather than taking actions that would exhibit and embody those motivations and attitudes. So, at the bar, we have a couple fairly well put-together action setpieces, a new alliance between Hershel and Rich formed, and some depth to Glen’s character. What’s most interesting to me is that almost all of the character beats in that setting were wildly inconsistent with what’s gone on before (Hershel drinks AND can cap a walker from 50 feet away? Rick finds his inner killer?) but at the same time actually made these people a little compelling again. Even the scene with Lori-Lady Macbeth and Kubrick-stare Rick, while kind of ridiculous on a characterization level, registered a bit on the emotional scale.
There are all kinds of potentially interesting themes in this show – I think the shame angle is really interesting, Shelly, and the issue of humans being the true threat has been limping along for a while now – but in truth I don’t trust the writers to explore them in anything but the most ham-handed, desultory manner. But if I recall correctly, this episode marks the point where TWD replaced its showrunner, and so I’m wondering if we’re seeing the show trying to pick up some momentum and raise the stakes, even if it involves some kind of soft reboot for some of these characters. Questions about the use of violence, the personhood of the zombies, shame and guilt, heck, even love triangles (one of my most loathed lazy writing tropes) – all of these could be interesting. But only if the characters actually live in a world that feels threateningly realized. I don’t know if I should be, but I’m hesitantly hopeful.
So we’re at this interesting point. Many of us are losing (or have lost) faith in the writers. The ‘angles’ that we are trying to bring to the show are perhaps a way of trying to justify spending our time blogging about it. Kathryn’s Facebook tag about this week’s blog was fantastic: yes, Kathryn, I think Lori is a terrible actress and that the Lady MacBeth ‘angle’ could not even save her from being designated my least favorite member of the cast. My claim about being back ‘in’ the show was not so much because I found faith in the writers but because I found a theme that I wanted to see you develop (thanks Martin for doing this). Do I trust the writers to carry out a Lady MacBeth plot? No. I’m interested in ethics ‘after the end,’ and what I liked about these moments with Glenn is that the issues of honor and shame were drawn out; perhaps we should not expect much from Rick, Lori, and Shane, but some of us still seem to hold a little glimmer of hope for Glenn.
Follow up by Martin: eh, maybe I’m too much of an Aristotelian about these things, but I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt until its conclusion (not only season, but ultimate, you know, off the air conclusion). Unless it just turns into a total soap opera…but so far the characters do change. Yes, things get repeated, motifs re-deployed. But there does seem to be sort of telos at play here (at least I hope). I don’t have any counter-arguments against the points y’all raise (although in defense of Sarah Wayne Callies–she was the sole beacon of light in the desolate, ghoulish wasteland of acting that was Prison Break–especially impressive how utterly absurd and stupid her material was on that show)…I’m just willing to bear with them in–well, let’s say–faith in (something like) the (artistic) purpose of the show (which may be incidental, and only there in spite of the commercial purpose of it). And this is not meant as any sort of knock on you, K and T–as somehow not having enough faith, so I don’t want it to come off like that. Just trying to give some reasons for where I stand…