It’s Over Now
Mid-season finale next week – oh no! Well, that’s testimony to how much I’m actually enjoying this season. As that musical heartbeat pound finished out this episode, and the Gov. pulled a willing Andrea into the type of embrace Maggie had resisted just moments ago, I found myself getting excited not only for what is to come, but for all the twists, turns and stories we’ve had so far too. We’ve got so much hanging – who are all those other names on the Gov’s creepy diary list, and just what’s up with the pen strokes ///////. Where’s he hiding his zombie kid? Just who was on the phone to Rick – um, ok, that one’s a little Lost-style annoying alterna-universe, but I’m hopeful it will end up as something more interesting (Rick unraveling, perhaps, or…?). And how touching was that scene with Carol’s return – I didn’t realize I cared that much…even as it kind of felt like it was for Michonne’s benefit. Nevertheless, I found myself misting up a little. A few thoughts on this episode:
Someone help me recall when this show has dealt with themes of torture before. I don’t recall it being a major theme, but I can’t help but think that Glenn has been irrevocably broken – perhaps radicalized? – by his experience. The pause of the camera on him at the back of the room after he (badassedly) killed that zombie lingered just long enough that I sensed a psyche cracking. Shelly, this is more your arena, so I’d be curious to hear your take on that.
In terms of our ongoing interest in gender analysis, it’s also worth pointing out how quickly the torture of Maggie turned to sexual torture.
What’s up with the scene with the cabin in the woods? I’m not sure what that did for the narrative? Are we just supposed to see that Michonne is willing to kill humans? We already knew that. Is it relevant that the dog didn’t turn? This virus only infects humans. It felt like more was going on in that scene, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The escape out the back felt a bit silly, and I was left wondering what the point of it all was.
I was a little bummed that the experiment with Mr. Coleman got cut short by Milton’s impatience. I remain intrigued by the idea that traces of memory remain in the subconscious, and that habitual training prior to death can help lure the humanity of a turned person back after their transition. I noted how insistent Andrea was that no trace remains – I’m imagining what type of collective mass guilt will be in store for our team if they find out that their loved ones could have been saved!
And finally, I can’t resist – they named the baby Judith right after Michonne with her swords showed up…that has to be on purpose. Judith, the dueterocanonical heroine who beheads Holophrones to aid in the Israelite defense against the Assyrians. Is that the allusion here? Did anyone else think of her? Even if not, the throwback to a third grade teacher was such a sweet, childlike move of nostalgia that I almost didn’t recognize Carl as he made it.
Do whatever you’re going to do…then go to Hell –
I agree completely – I am completely hooked by this season now and for the first time in a long time I genuinely can’t wait to see what will happen next week! Maybe this is because I watched the last two week’s back-to-back and the sense of urgency was more pronounced, or maybe it is just because the show has managed to capture a sense of drama and menace again.
The show did deal with torture when they brought that outsider back to the farm last season and beat him up. Whereas that entire situation seemed gratuitous and symptomatic of the drama-less morass of season: should we beat him up? should we let him go? oops letting him go didn’t work so we brought him back to the farm. Should we let him go again? While torture on prime time always seems gratuitous to me now (post-24 I suppose), at least this week I believed the menace and purpose of those using physical, sexual, and psychological violence to get what they wanted. Like you, I was struck by how quickly the Governor moved to sexual intimidation with Maggie. But even more so, I was struck by how much more terrifying he was than Merle, and how much more effective his psychological intimidation was than simple physical violence. While I hated to see Glen suffering so, I did not think Merle broke him. If anything, the entire scene reminded us that Glen, mild-mannered as he may seem, has a will of steel and has always been a backbone of support and protection to the group (reinforced with too much explanation in Merle’s own dialogue: “I remember you. You’re sneaky.” “You’re tougher than you seem” etc.). We commented a lot on this last season when Rick and Shane were too busy cocking about to actually lead anyone, but until last night we haven’t really seen Glen the action hero much. I actually think he would have let the Governor shoot Maggie before giving up the group – that is what the tiny shake of his head and the sad look in his eyes conveyed to me, a message of sorrow to Maggie and willing her to do the same. Of course, the Governor senses this and turns the table and we see that Maggie might have endured physical and sexual violence, but not the emotional torture of watching Glen die.
I love the way the season is setting up various showdowns to test new configurations of family: will Daryl stick it out with the group once he finds Merle? What side will Andrea choose? What about Michonne? It is all a bit melodramatic, but given that the Governor is hiding his zombie daughter somewhere, there is real potential to explore just what it means to forge new bonds beyond the ties of blood and the nuclear family. Even Rick leaving both his children behind was a reminder that he has given over the care and raising of them to the whole group. And just like you, Natalie, I totally teared up at Carol’s reunion. It was the first time I felt significant emotion about Lori’s death and the birth of Judith (!) – her reaction was so honest and so recognizable it reminded me viscerally of the currents of love and loss that unite this group.
OK, more to say about the “traces of humanity” thesis, but I’ll stop now and jump in again later!
WOW. Well you two have hit on most of the themes I wanted to talk about it, so I’ll just add a few things. But first, let me also concur that this season is good television. It’s not only going in new directions, but doing so in interesting ways.
Now, a few thoughts:
(1) Judith. I think the name is highly significant and striking, most obviously for the fact that Judith is all about decapitation (Holofernes, not zombies, but still). More interestingly, however, is the extent to which themes from Judith connect to the problem of evil, faith in God, and perseverance in a life of faith despite being overrun by wickedness. It’s really interesting to me, because it again plays on a certain relationship to the past: this is a retrieval of the past (perhaps unknowing), but a retrieval nonetheless, and it makes for an interesting move (especially because this book is not canonical for everyone). Doubly interesting, I think, because Judith never marries (and as far as I know, has no family–this is with reference to your comments about family, Kathryn).
(2) Maggie and Sexual Torture. I, too, was struck by this scene and by how expertly it was accomplished. The thing that struck me the most–and I really want to hear from everyone else whether they agree–is the extent to which this scene relies also on all of the previous times they’ve spent *sexualizing* Maggie throughout the show thus far. Then, in a really bold move, they liken the gaze of the viewer to the gaze of the Governer. This, to me, put the show into a very different level of sophistication.
(3) Maggie and Glen. I think we should add this relationship to the list of ‘where will it end up?’ Will this break their relationship? Given Glen’s radicalization (and I think that’s right) will he have conflicted feelings towards Maggie for saving his life and will he feel guilty for being saved?
(4) I didn’t get the cabin scene, either…it was quite weird. For example, I don’t imagine that I’ll be able to take naps in the middle of the day during a zombie apocalypse if I’m living all by myself in the woods.
Lastly, what’s the deal with mid-season finales? Why do we have them now? Why can’t we just have regular, you know, final, finales?
Great thoughts by all, and I’m in broad agreement with almost all of it. I too was struck by the choice of Judith as a name, but some wires crossed and I just realized I was thinking of Jael (who would fit as well, of course). I also agree about the cabin in the woods (sadly, not that one), which strikes me as establishing or reinforcing a few character elements – Rick’s continuing transformation into a brutal utilitarian, and Michonne’s general badassery – while suffering from being underthought by the writers (are we to believe this guy has been hiding in there all of this time – long enough for his dog to die and decompose?).
Totally agreed about the phenomenon of mid-season finales, Martin.
But I really wanted to take up the issue of Maggie’s near-rape, especially given the excellent point that Martin brings up. This was easily the most effective sequence in the episode, and I agree that it was so effective – and creepy in a way that the walkers rarely are anymore* – because it implicated the viewer in a way that, say, impaling a forest hermit does not. I’m not totally sure, though, whether this was a deliberate, and subversive, provocation of the male gaze, or whether it was an unconscious slide into it. Clearly there was self-consciousness about it, as the parallel with Andrea’s (apparently epic) tryst with the Governor demonstrates. But even if the scenes between Andrea and the Governor were shot ironically – i.e. we know what’s really going on even if she doesn’t, because we have more information about the Governor – it felt like the camera couldn’t help leering at her in a way that unconsciously put the viewer more into sympathetic alignment with the Governor than the writers intended. I’m thinking of the shot when she’s dressing as he walks into the room, or to put it another way, exactly who wears a thong in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, just so we can get a peek?
So with the Maggie and Glen scenes, I’m wondering who the viewer is meant to identify with. Maggie becomes a completely passive victim, but Glen, on the other hand, gets to be the action hero. She suffers silently, while Glen is put in a situation demanding aggression and violence – he earns his survival actively. Surely he is who we would imagine ourselves being.** At the very least, he’s the one given agency, something which is reinforced in his apparent willingness to sacrifice Maggie (I agree with the read you all give of his expression), whereas she immediately spills the beans to protect him – passivity, weakness, femininity. That’s all fine, as it makes for a really exciting and horrifying series of action beats; but I can’t help feeling at the end of all of it that, when Maggie and Glen are reunited, she’s coded as “shamed” in a way that’s really uncomfortable.
I suppose what I’m working toward here is wondering, as we’ve wondered since season 1, to what extent TWD‘s gender politics are unconsciously embedded in fairly conservative notions of order and patriarchy. To enlarge on that point, think of the widely-remarked development following T-Dog’s death: he got replaced by another virtuous, largely silent, and so far dispensable African-American character that loudly signals “token representation.” Likewise, Michonne, despite being a badass, isn’t much more as a character than a bearer of ominous glares. She’s at best somewhere between an unformed character and a peer narrative mechanism; after seven episodes, we should know something about her motivations at this point. I’m not quite saying that the show has outright become a white patriarchy, but I am starting to wonder at what point we should start asking that question.
This has probably gone on long enough. I continue to be intrigued by the show, and find it a thrill to watch in a way that excites me about its reinvention. I guess I’m just starting to wonder, as we discussed a bit at the panel last week, whether it’s more of the Vampire Diaries level of ideological clusterf*k than the Foucauldian disquisition we’ve (or at least I’ve) been wanting it to be.
*Witness the indifferent glance Rick and Daryl give the walker on the road after they get out of the Hyundai Tucson™. They’ve become so efficient at dispatching zombies a lone walker hardly merits notice anymore.
**A nice touch: the zombie bites Glen where the duct tape had bound him to the chair – a nice callback to the duct tape armor Milton used when harvesting zombie fighters a few episodes ago.
OK, I have to jump back in here. Martin and Travis, please say more about how the show has gone out of its way to sexualize Maggie, because that has not been my experience. Andrea, yes – as Natalie said a couple weeks ago, does any other character give off such a come hither vibe nearly all the time? And what is up with the super sexy lingerie (or, really, her entire post Woodbury wardrobe). I will concur that Maggie has also had some more-revealing-then-seems-appropriate-for-the-apocalypse outfits, but my overall impression of her is not as a readily available sexual creature. She is the only woman in the original group that is getting or giving sexual action. But they’ve actually kept the sexual action between Maggie and Glen off screen, choosing to shoot their tender, emotional intimacy over their hot and heavy guard tower action. So please, tell me what I am missing/forgetting!
The fact that Maggie is sexually active and that her partner is clearly able to hear everything the Governor says and presumably any noises Maggie does/might make is part of the torture. In fact, I thought it was kind of fascinating that they chose to torture Glen first. Am I wrong to think that it is more of a trope that the man will break sooner if he witnesses his lady undergoing physical/psychological/sexual torture? Whereas Maggie almost seemed to draw some kind of resolve from realizing that Glen had not only survived whatever was happening behind the wall, but he was giving almost as good as he got. I feel like it is a more common expectation that women will sacrifice themselves more readily whereas it is more psychically damaging for a man to feel impotent in the face of his beloved pain/disgrace. I felt like there was some kind of strange reversal going on. Discuss!
Thanks, great points, Kathryn. Let me clarify – I don’t actually know that I agree with Martin on the sexualization of Maggie before this episode (I’ll be curious to hear his thoughts on this). You’re right – the show has gone to significant lengths to sideline the physical relationship between Glen and Maggie, though I’ve wondered if this wasn’t regret about the melodrama of the Rick-Shane-Lori triangle last season.
What I was getting, at I think, and didn’t state very clearly because I’m just kind of thinking things through, is this: it seems to me that the structural parallel between Andrea and Maggie had a weird effect on the way Maggie was objectified and assaulted. The Andrea-in-lingerie vibe seemed to bleed over in the way Maggie’s assault was depicted (and as cd40 points out below brilliantly, it seems really significant that Andrea becomes a contributing member of Woodbury after she’ s “been bedded”).
I guess my general question (and that’s all it is) is whether TWD, as it is depicting a patriarchal order borne out of the struggle for survival, fully recognizes what’s happening to the victims on the way. I may be overthinking this, but I’m trying to poke at something that’s been bothering me ever since T-Dog died.
I’m not totally tracking with your question about reversal w/r/t Glen and Maggie. Can you say more? Also, we definitely need to get Shelly in on this, since this is definitely her area!
P.S. Oh, and Natalie – I took that phone conversation last week to just be Rick going through a psychotic break. Or do you think there was more?
What a great discussion!
As far as my sexualization of Maggie comments — I meant this as follows: not that her character is sexual in the way that Andrea obviously is, but that literally the *camera* goes out of its way to sexualize her in ways that the other female characters (again, apart from Andrea) are not sexualized. This is apparent all of last season, but also this season. She is frequently shot in ways and angles that exploit her sexually (e.g. only her body is shown, not her face–and this whether in the midst of housework (last season) or zombie battle (last season and this season)). The other female characters and the male characters (apart from Daryl) are not shot in this way. I don’t think it’s intentional on the part of the director(s), but it is there nonetheless.
What this episode does (again, not sure if intentionally–or as you sort of suggest, Travis, as an *extension* of this logic) is associate that camera perspective (which to the extent that we are *locked* into that perspective is ours) *with* the governor.
If self-conscious, it’s really clever. If not, it’s as creepy as it is clever.
And, Travis, bringing in race here is just as important as gender–so you’re quite right and keen to do that. And I would tend to agree with you: this is a white show (oppressively so). (Although cd40…perhaps you’re right…but I doubt it, just given by the simple fact that the only characters who seem to have a voice on the show are white.)
Love this discussion, friends – thanks for keeping it going! Natalie jumping back in here…
I want to toss in a few thoughts on agency. I was struck, Travis, by your comment that Glenn was all agency and Maggie was totally passive, and I want to push on that some. I actually signed off with Maggie’s line, “Do what you’re going to do, then go to hell” (creepy I know, but I couldn’t resist) because I saw her accurate read of the scene to be full of a wily agency from the underside…and I loved it!
The governor wanted her screams as instruments of torture over Glenn. She called his bluff, refused to give them, and in so doing forced him to change his plan. I realize I’m speaking out of some of the feminist literature that criticizes Western understandings of freedom here – Saba Mahmood in particular argues for concepts of freedom and agency that entail submission – or even something like Michel de Certeau’s view of agency as entailing strategic and tactical performances of submission that produce game-changing eruptions within and to the system at hand. So what struck me in this scene was that in the midst of extreme vulnerability (which she performed perfectly), Maggie used that vulnerability to undo the Governor – to push him straight into and thus beyond his own intentions.
Although, given what I’ve heard about the graphic novels and the Gov., this makes me a bit nervous for where he’ll redirect that undoing outside the torture chamber…things are getting more and more dangerous for Andrea with each minute.
Glenn, on the other hand, gives us an easy image of agency – he kicks ass with some badass fighting moves (I don’t know why, but I love fight scenes that involve breaking and using a chair to which the character is tied…they add so much pizzazz!). But, in fact, what he’s doing is all instinct. He doesn’t have time and space to strategize – he can only react. I’m not saying that’s not agential – but I would say it’s no more agential than what Maggie did.
Yes, in the end it’s Maggie who caves – but in a show that always has the men protecting the women fiercely and women purely receiving that protection, I saw her ‘caving’ as a genuine reversal of the gender roles, not as weakness. She protected Glenn from hearing her cries by willingly submitting to whatever would come, and then protected him again when she saw how beat up he was. Glenn never even faced that level of choice with Maggie – she kept him from ever having to do so.
I’m in agreement with Martin that Maggie has to this point had some really embodied moments of sexualization (but I’m also wondering if Martin just has a big ol’ crush on Maggie 🙂 When she took of her shirt, I was struck by the fact that I pretty much already knew what her breasts looked like based on various costume choices and camera angles throughout this season. The lingering shots on her back with cut-away tank top sleeves echoed so many shots in the same style.
Thanks, Travis for opening the question of white patriarchy – we need to stick with that, I think. But as we do, let’s add a layer and call it for what it is: a white heteropatriarchy . The Andrea conversation certainly speaks to this – access to meaningful work through hetero-sex – but so too does the entire family structure of the post-apocalypse. I see the potential for something more radical and interesting opening up as a family unit of kinship, not hetero-parenting, develops around Judith as standard practice.
can’t believe I forgot the whole torture conversation from season 2…clearly because nothing actually happened –
You basically nailed what I was trying to say about Maggie and Glen and gender reversals of torture stereotypes, Natalie. The fact that Maggie heard all of Glen’s torture through the sheet-metal wall, and that she must have realized that he did not break, gave her the courage to both face whatever power the Governor thought he had over her, and to refuse to put Glen in a similar situation. Watching Glen’s face as soon as Maggie enters the room made me wonder if the Governor had misread the situation from the start. Glen might have been willing to watch Maggie get shot, but could he have survived watching her physical or sexual torture? I feel like there is an unspoken rule in male action torture scenes that the hero can bear just about anything himself, but will cave when his wife/lover/child is in danger (or at least do everything in his power to redirect the violence back to himself). The most certain way to undo traditional masculinity is to render it impotent to protect and defend the objects of his (supposed) dependence. The show chose not to play this out – and the Governor’s attempts to create that scene by invoking Maggie’s pleas or screams were blocked by Maggie’s defiance.
I do agree, absolutely, that we are meant to see the parallel between Maggie and Andrea and that the camera invites us into the Governor’s perspective. Most creepy and problematic for me was this meant I started to blame Andrea. Did anyone else have Lori’s moral code ringing in their ears? If it feels easy, don’t do it (maybe Lori really is speaking from the grave, not just on the phone in Rick’s trauma-addled brain). And isn’t this exactly what Andrea is doing – taking the easy way? I am not sure if Maggie has been shamed by protecting Glen, but I am pretty worried that Andrea is going to go the path of the “whore” in that cabin in the woods – sacrificed for being too easy/taking the easy way.
Thanks, Kathryn, and Natalie – that really helps me understand where you were coming from; and Martin – thanks as well for that explanation – I don’t see it as much w/r/t last season, but I’m totally with you on the coercive power of the camera, which of course is the basis of Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze.
Ok, so now I’m wondering to what extent we’re looking at a genuinely muddled, or better ambivalent, intentionality in this episode (Martin: creepy, clever or both? It raises interesting questions about intentionality in tv, particularly when we note that the credited writer and director are male). I’m really interested by what you, K & N, are saying about subversive submission, as it were; I guess I can’t get away from two things: first, how the it all ends up playing into the Governor’s hands regardless, particularly when we recall the fact that one way next week plays out is a kind of “invasion” on the prison, which, in classic warfare staging, is threatened because it’s populated with women, children, and the elderly. Second, when placed in a broader set of parallels, including Andrea’s “shamed” passivity (I agree with you there, Kathryn), and the blank slates/disposable victims the African American characters are presented as, it puts Maggie’s assault in a pretty creepy light.
Thanks, all – this is a fascinating conversation!