The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

They ain’t men…they’re something else.

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“Maybe there’s nothing to talk about.”

– Lori

I think Lori pretty much sums up this episode. Yes, there was lots of violence and action…but I have to say that I found this episode as disappointing as week’s was exciting. It seems that the writers are convinced perpetually to reign in whatever momentum they might achieve. This week it is back to the stylistics of last season, with the group largely stationary, whiny, and focused around one or two melodramatic events. The group of prisoners is sadly wasted. Rick’s decision to kill half of that but leave the other half alive made little sense (perhaps that was the point?)

That’s not to say that this episode had no redeeming qualities. There were moments where great tension was achieved (Lori’s CPR scene or Rick’s showdown with the prisoners). I took this episode to be centered around the law. It was striking as our group explained to the prisoners what had happened how they were unable to comprehend the utter social breakdown that had occurred. The show reveals to us that even criminals, it seems, need the law for life to make sense. (I suspect most of us already knew this, but anyways…) The theme of necropower continues as Carol uses a zombie to advance their medical capacities. Gender issues are again implicitly raised when Rick refuses to leave the women alone (and, now, Carl seemingly doesn’t count as a man in such a case).

The most interesting thing int his episode (and admittedly, interesting in a melodramatic sort of way) was the Lori and Rick storyline. First, of course, is the classic line, “If that’s what you think is best.” And, then, of course, Rick’s complete refusal to acknowledge Lori in any terms except those utilitarian logic. This is what I’d like to discuss. Does this now reflect the way in which gender is structured in the post-apocalypse? And more broadly, is the only logic that the group is now capable of one of utility? It was striking that Maggie seemed to be operating under a different premise for wishing Hershel might move on…but in urging him to do so, she was exactly employing the utilitarian logic that her attachment to her father overruled. Similarly, it is interesting how this logic is changing the scope and function of the family in the post-apocalypse. Beth’s admonishment to Carl was striking in that regard. If *these* are the sorts of themes that the show takes up, then I think a lot of interesting things could happen…but as of now, this episode was a lot of waste space, imo.

Best,

Martin

——

Martin,

Thanks for getting us started. While I didn’t find this episode  to be as much of a decline as you did, I was wary of the return to the dynamics of last season of well. I think there’s a real danger of this season getting stuck on melodramatic, sterile debates about, say, Carl’s teenage brattiness, complications with Lori’s pregnancy, Hershel’s immobility, or detentes with the surviving prisoners. But on reflection, I felt like “Sick” did everything last season couldn’t seem to accomplish: invest the debates and conversations of the group with real dramatic stakes (though I do understand why you’d see it differently). Last season, we had interminable dialogue about nothing in particular, but I think this episode established two thematic elements that gave it dramatic teeth: first, the cell block wasn’t a blank safe space so much as it was a  staging ground – Rick et al ventured out twice, to get supplies and clear out the convicts’ cell block, so there was a tangible dialectic of dangerous frontier and safe haven.

Second, and more richly, both major storylines focused on dilemmas revolving around the “real enemy is ourselves” theme I remarked on last week. Both, as you note, are essentially utilitarian debates: do we eliminate the threat (psycho killer prisoner, possibly infected Hershel), or do we take the risk of preserving lives that could kill us? It was a showcase for how brutally effective Rick has become dealing with external threats, human and walker, even if he is impotent to deal with the more recalcitrant danger of the survivors’ own bodies (in this case, Hershel, though again, Lori’s pregnancy hangs over everything). I think this could cross-reference with your mention of the theme of law, which is really interesting; this season seems to be developing along Schmittian   political lines, resting as it does on a friends-enemies distinction, the evolution of Rick into the sovereign, and the attempt of the group to instill some sense of security, in what amounts to a permanent state of exception. Time will tell whether these themes will be filled out, or whether the show will succumb to its melodramatic tendencies (I do really think Darabont’s departure has changed the dynamic). At this point, it seems to be paying attention to storytelling structure and distinct character arcs, which I’m willing to see as a promising sign.

-Travis

—————————–

I don’t necessarily have an overarching take on the theme of the episode – though I liked it more than Martin did and liked about it many of the themes you both point out: the dynamics with the prisoners, the tension with Hershel’s near death, the definite sense that the living these survivors need to fear most are within their own group. A few additional reflections to throw in the mix:

What kind of moral authority is Lori supposed to have when she absolves Rick of all his past killings and any future violence he might choose to enact? She is not exactly the most trust-worthy moral compass, having inflated and fueled Rick’s mistrust of Shane. And it seemed obvious, both in terms of character and in terms of the expressions on her face, that she hated the idea of the prisoners being so nearby. When she jumps on the “well, I could kill them” idea as a pretty good one and then goes on to try and convince Rick that he’s always only doing what needs to be done, why is this really any different than her earlier machinations to get rid of Shane? I wondered if Rick doesn’t see the same parallel and eye her suspiciously on this account. But then when he leaves one of the prisoners to be eaten alive by walkers on the prison yard, I couldn’t help but wonder if he is distancing himself from Lori because he knows that her account of him – morally upright in intention if not in deed – is actually not the case. What difference, really, is there between what Rick did with that prisoner and the threat the prisoners represent? Usually Rick’s grimaces don’t add up to all that much for me, but his various facial expressions as he listens to the prisoner being eaten suggested that he was trying to justify his actions by some internal code. Whether or not he found he measured up seems up for grabs. Maybe intimacy with Lori is impossible because any kind of intimacy would mean exposing the new moral calculus at work in Rick – the transformation of the rule of law into (as Travis says) the permanent state of exception and all that it might mean for Rick to embody a kind of ultimate power of life and death.

What intimacy might look like post-apocalypse is a broader theme overall and I actually thought Lori’s little digression about divorce was telling: what does it mean to keep a bond, but even more so, what does it mean to dissolve it after the end of humanity? It will be interesting to see what happens with Glen and Maggie [and is it just my adolescent mind, or is anyone else wondering if they are having sex? how would you manage to get it done on the run like that and eventually they are going to run out of condoms and the specter of pregnancy should be enough to keep anyone abstinent in this world. I wonder if the show will ever address what seem to me like obvious questions about the value or fear of reproduction in this landscape and what that means about sex between the surviving humans].

Overall, I was pretty engaged by the episode and I’m still optimistic about where the season could go.

Don’t go looking for the infirmary on your own!
Kathryn

Written by Martin

October 22, 2012 at 9:15 am

Posted in The Walking Dead

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