The Failure of Hope
I’m in two minds about this episode. I know we’ve all been frustrated by the writers’ insistence on telling rather than showing what is going on – but this was an episode that seemed to require lots of words. After all, its whole purpose was to get us to reflect on the power of words vs. actions vs. thought, etc., and all the ways in which words can justify (or condemn) a man. Of course, it still felt heavy handed (a few times I expected someone to reference 9/11, burn a Qur’an, or start chatting about those pesky WMDs…at the very least I wanted Shane to command the group to “stay the course,” not “cut and run”). And as usual, I can’t say these discussions revealed anything about the rule of law, the problem of torture, or the dangers of pre-emptive strike that I hadn’t thought about before. They simply performed the dynamics of the debates without adding anything to them. But at least this time the words themselves were a form of action – an alternative to the types of quick decision making that can lead to regret.
And in this way, it felt important to have a good, fulsome reminder that Dale is the group’s moral compass and that without him the promise of building post-apocalyptic civilization in our tiny band of survivors is most likely lost. The mantle, of course, was passed to Andrea and she took it (did you all remember she was a civil rights lawyer? I didn’t at all, but it’s curious that pre-apocalyptic professional women remain some version of professional women in the post-apocalypse). So I’m hoping for some more character growth in her in the weeks to come (indeed, I think she’s had the most growth of all of them over these two seasons, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on who’s had more). I guess I just hope for a little anarchy before she picks that mantle up. Lorrie’s snappy little, “let Rick finish his point” to Andrea does make me wonder if there’s more to come to this woman’s leadership that will come to challenge Rick (and by implication, the group’s gender norms) more fully. We can only hope!
All that to say, RIP Dale – I can’t say you’ll be missed, because I didn’t really know you…even though I’ve had two seasons with you (so, you know, that’s saying something). But yeah, I’m intrigued by what your departure will allow.
So let’s move on to that little shit Carl. One mistake this show continually makes is requiring the children to bear the burden of the show’s meaning in their activity (in contrast to the adults’ words). Kid actors just can’t handle portraying that depth of human experience in a way kids drawn in a graphic novel by adults can. The scene with Carl throwing rocks at the walker was, to me, a bit annoying (seriously, kid – just do what you’re told…don’t go in the damn woods where your friend Sophia was eaten alive…you should really know that by now) – but there was also something chilling in it. It felt like a Dexter flashback of animal mutilation. And this leaves me wondering just how screwed up young Carl now is. We’ve imagined him needing to choose between the way of Rick and the way of Shane…but the fact is, Shane’s not so bad as the rap he gets (at least in my view). He’s not psychotic. He’s just kind of brutal in his endeavours to survive. Carl it seems is moving into a much more dangerous territory. What I wish for is a kid who could play the role that way, though, rather than like a bratty little boy who disobeys his mother’s wishes.
In sum, as per usual the show offered a bunch of great possibilities for development that I hope it can cash out. But the reason I titled this post on hope’s failure is not because I think hope is lost post-apocalypse but, rather, because my own hope that these possibilities will come to fruition will, I’m quite sure, get dashed.
Natalie and the crew…..I wasn’t sure what to do with this week. I found elements of it compelling. I admit to liking the moral dilemma presented and the obvious parallels with Iraq, torture, and preemptive war. The opening scene with Daryl was chilling, bringing the static vision of skinned squirrels and dangling ears to some form of action. (Although, similar to what Natalie said about Dale, I don’t feel like I really know this character). The threat isn’t really the zombies; it’s the living. Nothing new there, but I appreciated having a dilemma, similar to the one at the end of last season of what to do with the walkers in the barn. It was obvious that Carl was finally going to burst, transforming into Shane, the one he has always found to be more commanding and heroic than his father. And the skinned squirrels seem to have awakened something in him, a child learning the boundaries of who counts as human. (A little Judith Butler, anyone?)
I was thinking about the living room scene, where the life of the young man is ‘on trial’ and Dale delivers his punch line: “There are 30 of them and killing him doesn’t change that, but it changes us.” I was immediately drawn in—Dale, the clarion of truth. Yes, Dale, it does change us! But then I remembered where I was—this is not my living room, but a living room in the post-apocalypse. Is it really enough to have the language about civilization and civil rights evoked? While I, as a viewer, can be moved by Dale’s moral thermometer, I wanted the show to provide some other means of moral navigation. The show falls flat in its attempts forge a morality of the aftermath. Perhaps Andrea’s post-civil-rights moves will prove me wrong.
Note: So I’ve been thinking about Natalie’s comments about not being able to mourn the death of a character she never knew. And I thought, for a moment, of what we haven’t seen in this second season – flashbacks. Perhaps the character development has fallen flat, because we have so little sense of who those characters were before the apocalypse. The fact that we didn’t remember that Andrea was a civil-rights lawyer is that we have no way of imagining her in this role. Would the use of flashbacks to the previous world (so effective in Lost) have produced mourning-worthy characters?
Enough from me…..Thanks Natalie. — Shelly
First, Natalie…thanks again for a most amusing post! (And I totally agree, Carl is a little shit!) And, yes, sad to see Dale go…but all that’s gone is the moral compass, and that–as Darryl pointed out–wasn’t doing much anyways. So, it’s almost as if the show is acknowledging the fact that Dale’s character was useless.
I thought this was a solid episode *as* I viewed it…but on reflection, it’s really a sort of transitional piece (i.e. even though it seems really important, not much actually happened that was important). What I found most striking, however, was the conversation with Herschel. Dale says, “But you’re a man of principle.” And Herschel responds by saying that, “I thought I was…but I’m not. I was mistaken…I’ve made too many mistakes” (or some such). I liked this a lot and it struck me as quite interesting. What does it mean that one’s mistakes call into question one’s principles? In order to make a mistake, I must be committed to a particular principle which the mistake somehow violates or calls into question, but in so doing, I must somehow propose another principle by which I am judging this a mistake. (Say, I believe that one ought not to kill the walkers because they may be cured, but I come to find out that this principle is a mistake–but on what grounds can it be shown to be mistaken? Such a revelation is not self-revealing, I must take it to be a revelation, deciding that perhaps other values trump things here and change the principles–e.g., safety or life). But in that case, I am a man of principle–just of different principles. This scene, then exemplifies the sort of paradox that the show has been skirting around all season: the inability of any one character to assert or tender a normative claim without proper recognition (whether through others or through the traditional sorts of institutions that the apocalypse has so violently and obviously dissolved, including it seems, even “the family”). We’ve seen characters try to avoid this state of affairs through violence and projection (Shane), through willful ignorance, i.e., an abrogation of agency (Herschel and most of the crew in this episode), or through painful (and sometimes painfully dull) indecision. In this way, nothing new in this episode. But I think in the future, when our camp will (obviously, I think) come to a head with the camp of 30, this issue will blow up into its proper intensity and perhaps we’ll get something more…we’ll see.