I didn’t know the Messiah complex was contagious
OK gang, here we are again. I have given up deciding if I like this show and I’m just going to track the themes that we’ve been discussing the last few weeks: namely, the retrogressive and disturbing gender politics and the ethics of post-apocalyptic fantasy land:
1) After weeks of almost complete reticence, Michonne offers us the most prescient take-down of Andrea’s problematic fascination with the Governor by calling her on her preposterous assumption that somehow she will save all the humans from their own worst instincts, despite the fact that she doesn’t seem aware in anyway of what people are really up to.
2) That said, Rick, Shane, Herschel, the Governor, and even Glen to a certain degree have all been offered as Messiah figures and no one has given them the same smack-down, so there is something gross about the fact that Andrea is denied this possibility (even though I think Michonne is totally right to call her on her delusions).
3) I experienced my first stirrings of genuine emotion when Andrea was reunited with the group. Not so much because any of these characters convincing conveyed those emotions, but because the reunion allowed us to take stock of just how much loss and change has affected our group of survivors. The entire Shane/Lori/Rick triangle, which I couldn’t wait to be done with, came rushing back with something like nostalgia. As I write this I realize that feeling nostalgia for that plot in anyway is probably a terrible sign about where the show has been, but there you have it.
4) Remembering the Rick vs. Shane showdown over Lori (“Shane loved Rick.” “Shane loved Lori.”) also set us up to see Andrea’s potential power in a gender-specific way. I know that the details of their situations are really different, but did anyone else think of Lori’s Lady Macbeth turn when Carol urged Andrea to seduce and kill the Governor? The similarity, for me, lies in the assumption that a woman’s power is through her (sexualized) body: offering or denying that body to a man, or pitting men against each other for the power/protection/domination of that body.
5) Which fits pretty much exactly into what we’ve seen happening with Maggie and Glen. Maggie’s almost-rape is just a power play between Glen and the Governor, leaving Maggie’s agency (“do what you’re going to do and go to hell”) as a non-starter. And um, why didn’t anyone think to bring Phillip’s rapist tendencies to Andrea’s attention?! Of the many, many things that were not said (really, Andrea? You will risk so much to go to the prison for a 4 minute catch up session and then just kiss the baby and leave?!), you would think “and your boyfriend almost raped me” would be worth throwing in the hopper. But no, Maggie’s almost-rape is not actually about Maggie, or rape; it is about Glen’s apotheosis as a real hero in this story, which requires him to leave behind his mutually consenting, sweet and awkward love negotiations and “defend Maggie” even when she was really defending him (the more I think about this plot the more furious I am about Glen’s transformation. Glen! If they were faithful to the fabulous character they’ve been building, he and Maggie would have at least shared all in tears and mutual shame and fear before he decided to stonewall her in a cone of male pride).
6) Watching Andrea mutilate the zombie body, it seemed clear to me in a new way how much all these gender problems are tied to the disposability of the zombie body. There is something horrific and pornographic about fixating on this mutilation – but it also assumes we completely accept that the zombies aren’t people. There is no way primetime could get away with watching a human arm be hacked off that directly, or a jaw crushed. But since it is a zombie, it is not a real body. It is somehow not real violence. Which is basically what seems to be happening with gender. The “womanfolk” are increasingly ciphers for all other kinds of meaning, but they are barely real people in a way that matters to the stories or power in the show. Maybe that is too crude; but there is something to it!
I can’t wait to hear what you all thought!
Kathryn, this is an absolutely brilliant recap – thank you for it! I found this episode slightly more palatable than the last few weeks, but then as soon as Daryl shouted about Merle, “he’s here; get used to it!” with the result of the group basically sighing, giving Merle a gun and incorporating him into the group waaaay prematurely, I realized Merle is the stand in for the new order of the whole show: this is how it is now. Deal with it. Let’s keep moving and hope for the best – even though we know no good will come of it. Sigh.
As Andrea stood over the Gov’s bed, knife in hand, I realized it didn’t all that much matter which decision she made (indeed, what seemed to matter most was that she was naked…because as you point out with your reflections on the usability of various bodies in this show, Kathryn, objectification is the real order of the day). The moral core revolved around the kids in this episode, I thought – the Gov. points out that adolescence is a 20th century invention…which makes us all gasp…until we recall creepy child-soldier Carl protecting the little ladies back home. Ambiguous morality like this should be more complex and interesting than it is here, though. Instead of textured contemplation we have reactionary survivalism. Bummer – because what it leaves us with is a moment when a main character is standing over another main character’s bed, contemplating killing him, and while I’m mildly curious, I don’t care all that much.
The two points that gave me hope: (1) Carl telling Rick to step down as leader – could this be the recognition we’ve been seeking that a violent, patriarchal order is not the way to survive, let alone rebuilt society, flourish, etc…? (2) Merle noting that you can’t put a price on anything anymore – might we move out of the same questions that keep traipsing back and forth between the farm and the town, the village and the prison, and whatever geographical spots they deploy to make facile statements about what it is to be human? Might we engage some analysis of what it means to trade between communities after global capitalism has crumbled?
The two reminders that these hopes are empty (and that the heteropatriarchalism we’ve been tracking will go unquestioned and the economic questions will go the way of the legal ones last season – that is, nowhere): (1) Hershel telling Rick not to go crazy because he’s put his family in Rick’s hands…yeah, that’s all it takes – telling a guy who is seeing and yelling at his dead wife not to go crazy. Should totally take care of it. Good idea, Hershel. (2) Pretty much everything you pointed out, Kathryn.
Two things about which I’m ambivalent: (1) Biblical references – holding baby Judith while Carol basically tells Andrea to re-enact the Biblical story of Judith, and the fun little re-contextualization of Jesus telling the gathered to cut off their right hand if it offends them into a man with one arm and a man with one leg – both of whom lost their limbs to save their lives…we’ve had a few Biblical reinterpretations in this show (Hershel’s musings on the resurrection of the dead remain a high point for me). I just wish they’d go somewhere! (2) Hold On. Sigh. Whats-her-name’s singing of it was lovely…I guess. As was the blend into Tom Waits himself singing it. But all I could think was, “you don’t deserve this song you assholes!”. The show is not nearly cool, complex or gorgeous in the most painful, glorious way possible to earn Tom Waits’ voice as its closer. It wants to be, but it’s not. I know Travis agrees with me on this!
Did anyone else think it was ridiculously hilarious how many times Andrea needed to be reminded of T-Dog’s existence? Wait, who? Oh yeah, that black guy who never spoke. Yeah. He’s dead too. But please, tell me more about Shane…
ps: did anyone else think the zombie who appeared in the ‘next week on…’ at the end looked slightly more agential? It would be very cool if we finally were introduced to a zombie who couldn’t stand in in the way you describe, K.
First of all, Natalie — I’m with you too! I so love that song and Waits, but it was a cheap end to the episode, which didn’t earn the song.
I don’t have much to add to the extensive commentary you’ve offered together, but I do want to pose two questions:
(1) Are we sure that global capitalism has ‘collapsed’? Or do we read the zombie world exactly as the triumph of global capitalism (in the sense that capitalism is bound up with patriarchy, sexism, fungability of persons (see the way that Rick can easily plug in Micchone for the run instead of Daryl), and so forth). Aren’t we witnessing, as David Simon had suggested somewhere, simply the complete triumph of the capitalist worldview.
(2) This is an odder question, but if you buy into the premise of (1) above…isn’t there something fitting in the show unraveling in this way? I mean, honestly, how else could the show go? Sure, we’ve spoken of non-patriarchical leadership and what not, but was that ever a genuine possibility given the logic that both the show and the characters have staked out? In other words, once they adopted a sort of utilitarian-identitarian logic, where the only thing that matters is survival–by any means necessary (and we can’t ignore how the group as a whole has bought into this…this is just what it has meant to have Rick as leader)–then how could things have been different? (In a way, Glen’s character perhaps had to end up where he presently is–there was, in a sense, no room in this world for the Glen we glorified earlier). And I somehow took Andrea’s ‘journey’ this week to reinforce this point: Andrea is (like all of the other characters, except, perhaps, interestingly, Micchone and Daryl), essentially a product of whatever environment she’s in. Once she’s embedded back in Woodbury, there is no chance she’ll kill the Governor…for it exactly would be like cutting off an appendage. (The issue is exactly that the appendage–the Governor, Woodbury, whatever evil you want to pick out in our apocalyptic world–is incapable of striking Andrea as offensive…and the same is true of–it seems–the rest of our characters…perhaps Daryl and Micchone excluded?)
I guess, I find myself thinking the more caustic the show gets with these themes, the more I find myself satisfied with it as an argument against, well, itself. This is, I suppose, another way of saying that while I share your moral issues with where we are, I thought this week’s episode–as far as production values goes–was far superior to the last two, and could be read, sort of against itself, as showing us the failures of the very logic behind the ethos of a zombie world (as a stand in for the deepest ethos of our world). And in this sense, I find Micchone and Daryl as the two most fascinating characters emerging…