It was with some regret that I realized The Walking Dead was never going to be another Mad Men. That’s not a knock against it. That’s just not the sort of show it is. But over these past few episodes I’ve become convinced that it may yet turn into something just as good, or at least hellafun to watch.
You can make the argument that all of The Walking Dead’s characters are strong. You can also make the argument that all of them are weak. On the one hand, they’ve managed to come together in the middle of a horrible tragedy. They’ve formed a cohesive group that’s able to make decisions without constant bickering and backbiting. They’re all friends, for the most part, and that’s got to count for something, right? But on the other hand, they’ve all got their issues. Dale looks at Andrea as a surrogate daughter/wife, and whether she likes it or not has taken it upon himself to protect her. Andrea (and to a certain extent, Lori) sees the world as devoid of hope and wonders if carrying on is even worth it. And Shane… well, Shane’s a special case. He’s the guy you never want to leave with a loaded gun, an unloaded gun, a knife, scissors, shoelaces or matches. So everyone’s human. And, as more or less realistically sketched characters, there’s a limit to the abuse they can take. So, beginning with the pilot, we get to watch as the show methodically breaks them down and destroys their spirits.** Yes, along the way there are going to be impassioned speeches about how CARL TALKED ABOUT THE DEER so life really is worth living after all, but far more often we’re going to see people like Jacqui, who wake up one day and realize there’s just no fight left in them. Or people like Shane, who will go along with the group until going along with the group no longer serves their self-interests.
(**It’s important to remember that, unless the show just completely takes him off the tracks, this will apply to everyone but Rick. Rick is the glue that holds the group together. And yes, I realize that the group came together before Rick showed up, but I wonder how long they’d all stick around if he were to disappear.)
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk a little bit about Shane. Shane is a very bad man. And his shaved head and the creepy devil stare he gives himself in the mirror aren’t doing him any favors. I have to say I was sorry to see what he did to poor, fat Otis, but I kind of love that this is where the show’s taken the character. And as much as I hate to admit it, it’s kind of a sad state of affairs when this is the guy who’s outshining the show’s leading man, both in terms of acting and character complexity. I like Rick and everything, but can the guy just be pissed off or sad for once? Does he have to keep on talking about how life really is beautiful if you just look past all the dead people?
But maybe that’s the point. Maybe Shane is meant to be the Bizarro Rick. It kind of makes sense, when you look at the two. In season one we heard Rick deliver many a smarmy platitude about not killing the living. And after the group’s made it back to camp and Rick’s had a chance to think about the fate he’s left Merle to, he decides to take a small group, head back into Atlanta and rescue him (funny how even then Rick had taken on the role as the group’s leader). Rick is trying to survive just like everybody else, but he sees human life as a precious commodity that’s suddenly found itself on the endangered species list, so he does whatever he can to take everyone with him.
In principle, Shane probably believes in a lot of the same things. But when it comes down to it, he’s looking out for himself, both physically and emotionally. He kills Otis out of a desire to survive, to physically be able to escape the zombie who were chasing them down. But we all remember watching him and Rick out in the woods, watching Shane get Rick in his crosshairs and that same dead look on his face. And now we hear him talking to Lori about sneaking off in the middle of the night and leaving the group behind. So he’s beginning to do this thing where he sees his relationships with others in terms of how they affect his long-term survival. As opposed to Rick, who sees his relationships with others in terms of how he affects their survival. In any case, while I found Shane mostly annoying last season I’m happy to have him around right now. The group needs its loose cannon, if only for the “WTF is he going to do next?” element he brings to things.
There was some other stuff that happened this week. Despite acting like some 13-year old who’s constantly having to be told that life’s not as bad as she thinks it is, Andrea got some great scenes with Daryl. Lori began to doubt what she, Rick and the group were doing trying to survive in a world like this. We got to know Hershel and his group a little better and surprise! Carl survived his surgery. But all of that was just window dressing to Shane and the horrible thing he did. I could talk a bit more about Lori’s bad habit of saying “no” and her long-term character development, but right now it makes me feel a little too pretentious. Besides, our thoughts should be with Shane, the chunk of hair Otis ripped out of his head, and whatever else he’s got cooking in that noggin of his.
Hey, where’s Sophia?
There are thematic episodes of Boardwalk Empire and there are plot episodes of Boardwalk Empire. For those of us who care more about things like feelings, the show threw us a few bones this week. When Margaret takes Teddy to be interviewed before his first confession, the priest tells her that when Teddy confesses, so will she (because it’s all about setting a good example). Now, one would imagine that Margaret would be in a position to confess all sorts of things. And for a while it looks like what Nucky called his and Margaret’s “shared history” is weighing pretty heavily on her conscience.
It was actually a nice little slight of hand the show pulled on us. Making us think that it was Nucky’s misdeeds that had piled up to a point that was making Margaret reassess her spot in all this. But once she finally gets into that confession booth, we find that what she’s really upset about is her feelings for Owen Slater, who’s been showing up at the house quite a bit lately, and who very clearly has affectations for Katy. And while Nucky remains blissfully unaware of all this, Owen knows the score, and realizes why Margaret’s been so short with Katy. Margaret asks him if he’s made a habit of toying with women. He says he hasn’t made a habit of it, but I wonder if he’s doing it now. Taking that broom from Margaret, letting his hand rest on hers for juuust a moment too long seemed to say an awful lot.
But while Margaret’s only worried about her THROBBING PRIMAL URGES, Nucky’s also taking pause and thinking about what kind of person he is. He obviously gives a little bit of weight to what George Remus said during their phone call. Maybe Nucky is greedy. Or maybe he’ll stick $20 in Teddy’s bible and call it even.
Much of “Age of Reason” was given to setting up what we’re going to be seeing the rest of the season. The Commodore may be sitting on the sidelines and Jimmy’s booze stockpile may have been blown all to hell, but he’s as determined as ever to go after Nucky. Although for some reason it seems like he keeps getting set back, and every time we turn around it’s like he’s just now getting started. Anyway, it’s time to get things started since Jimmy’s got Leander Whitlock in his corner. Whitlock is a mean old bastard from way back, and is trying to teach Jimmy to be angry but still be smart, rather than go off half-cocked and do something he’s going to regret. Case in point, Mr. Parkhurst. Whitlock knows what Jimmy did there, but past how it might affect Jimmy’s long-term plans, he seems cool with it. He knows what it takes to win, and know that Jimmy knows, too. Again, Jimmy just needs to be smart.
And being smart may not include involving Gillian in all the ins and outs of they’re planning. She’s a real wild card in all this. When Whitlock asks to speak with Jimmy alone, she gets in one last dig before leaving, telling Jimmy, “I know you’ll tell me everything,” and kissing him on the lips. Jimmy says that’s just something she does. But Whitlock, along with the rest of us, know that that’s not just something a mom does to her twenty-something son. Something’s not right there. And as they go on I’m wondering what other crazy crap she might trot out in front of everyone.
Speaking of women who are slightly bonkers, Lucy finally had her baby. You had to feel a little sorry for her, going through everything alone while Nelson’s off hating himself at the hospital with Agent Clarkson. But leave it to Lucy to make as beautiful a thing as childbirth just as disgusting as, well, everything else she touches. But the real fun starts when Nelson comes home with a doctor and finds Rose helping with Lucy and the baby. She takes all that about as well as you’d expect. Surprisingly enough, Nelson’s assurances that he did what he did for Rose doesn’t do anything to make her feel better. I suppose something like this had to happen, and I admit that Nelson is crazy to the point that watching this carefully laid plan of his blow up in his face is kind of satisfying. I just hope that all of what we’re seeing somehow plays into the season’s larger story, because right now it seems like Nelson’s off in his own show.
So things seem to be going a little better with Nucky’s case. After figuring out a way to gets the feds involved, it’s only a matter of finding a prosecutor to come in and half-ass things. And for a little while, things seem to be going according to plan. That’s until Senator Edge pays a visit to Harry Daugherty and threatens to derail his new Veterans Bureau unless he fires Nucky’s prosecutor and brings in someone who will really go after him.
And it looks like things aren’t going to get any better for him, at least in the long term. After working out terms with Rothstein for bringing in booze through Philadelphia and then into Atlantic City, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky are ambushed moving a shipment in the middle of the woods by Jimmy and Manny Horvitz. But rather than kill each other, they’re able to come to an agreement: Jimmy and Manny will let Luciano and Lansky through. They’ll let Nucky and Rothstein have their booze money, and they’ll go in together and sell heroin. Whitlock told Jimmy that not every insult required a response, and Jimmy’s decided to forgo this one for a bigger payoff later. “Can’t kill everyone,” Jimmy tells Manny, “not good business.” Last week, Nucky told Jimmy he didn’t think he understood the rules of the game they were both playing. But now, it looks like Jimmy’s starting to play on Nucky’s level.
After watching this week’s cold open, I had a terrible thought. What if the show’s budget had been cut to the point that the writers were being forced to show us moments like this? Moments pre-apocalypse that could be filmed relatively cheaply, interesting enough in and of themselves but ultimately not relevant to the larger story.
It was a knee-jerk reaction, and considering the other things the show is doing, I doubt their financial woes have gotten that bad. And after watching the entire episode, that opening scene wasn’t completely irrelevant. It illustrated some of the problems that have plagued Rick and Lori’s marriage, and asks whether the zombie situation has helped them realize what’s important in life, or only swept things under the rug. It wasn’t perfect. The Walking Dead hasn’t reached Breaking Bad levels of poignancy, but how many shows can?
Whatever their problems, everything’s been put on hold this week as Rick and Shane race to save Carl’s life after he caught that bullet at the end of “What Lies Ahead.” We’re never really introduced to Otis, the man who pulled the trigger. We first catch sight of him as he, Rick and Shane are running to Hershel’s farm. I understand that less is more and that a general rule in screenwriting is to get in late and get out early, but I thought this whole thing felt a little wonky. If you haven’t read the comics, there’s a lot you need to piece together in those first few seconds. But we’re quickly past that and introduced to a whole new set of characters. On the surface, they seem like a nice enough lot. Once they spot Rick running toward their farm with a dying Carl in his hands and see that he hasn’t been bit, they’re eager to help him. And when they see that his injuries are worse than they thought and that they’ll need to go out to collect medical supplies, Otis is the first one to volunteer to go with Shane and show him the way. Who knows how long this will last. But for now it seems as if Rick and co. have found a place where they can stop and catch their breath.
Hershel himself seems a little misguided. He tells Rick that all he and his family want is a quiet place where they can ride this crisis out and wait for a cure. When Rick tells him that they just came from the CDC and that there’s no cure coming, Hershel says that he doesn’t belieeve it, that everyone said the same thing when AIDS hit, and we all know how that one turned out, amirite? That one kind of left me scratching my head. Last I checked, AIDS was still very much a problem, and was killing upwards of 2 million people a year. But yeah, the zombie things will probably clear up real quick.
But Hershel is an old man whose slacks and suspenders betray someone nostalgic for a simpler time. A time filled with spring cotillions and cool lemonade on warm, summer days. So I suppose we can forgive him his optimism. Our survivors, on the other hand, seem anything but optimistic. No, they seem like a group of people living with their feet planted firmly in reality. They know there’s no help on the way, and they’re still struggling to come to terms with it. With Rick and Shane off at Hershel’s, and the others are left wandering through the woods looking for Sophia, unaware of what’s happened. And once Maggie, another one of Hershel’s group, makes her way back to the survivor’s caravan to collect Lori and let them know what’s happened to Carl, they have to give serious though to giving up the hunt. On top of all that, Andrea’s still trying to come to terms with the new lease on life Dale’s given her, and T-Dog’s half-dead from heatstroke and a blood infection. And because there’s still plenty of room here for more sh*t to pile up, he’s delusional and imagining that once the going gets really tough, as the group’s only black man, he’ll the first his new white friends hang out to dry. Forget about catching their breath. The survivors might like to hole up at Hershel’s just so they’ll have a nice, quiet place to die.
We’re with Shane and Otis as the episode closes, at the local high school where an emergency shelter had been set up before being overrun by zombies. Things have spiraled out of control as they so often do, and our heroes find themselves hiding behind a flimsy wire fence and in front of a brick wall, with zombies clawing at them from only inches away. Hershel thinks it’ll all peter out eventually, and good, hardworking Christians will be able to get back to their regular lives. My question is, how? If things got so bad so fast, how could they possibly get any better, especially when the left who could do anything about it are scattered in the wind? Whatever life our survivors are able to eke out, it’s not going to look like Hershel’s farm. It’s going to look like that high school, or that traffic pileup. What really sucks is that most people haven’t come to grips with that yet.
Stripped down and streamlined a bit, the show’s doing some really nice things. I think all the fuss about Carl living or dying is probably much ado about nothing. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t make it through next week’s episode (although the show’s balls would look a whole lot bigger). But the whole thing’s really giving Andrew Lincoln a chance to shine. He looks so beat down by the plate life’s served him, while at the same time so resigned to it. He’s held up well despite all that so far, but you’ve got to think there’s a limit.
Over the years HBO’s original series have turned into a genre all their own. Whether they’re about the mafia, convicts on death row, kids living in the Baltimore slums, or 20s bootleggers, they’ve turned into fascinating character studies. And even in this golden age of television, they’re of a quality that’s rivaled by very few others.
But screw all that hoity-toity crap. Sometimes we just want to watch fat guys get clobbered in the face with wrenches and old men in wheelchairs get scalped. Drama is good and everything, but videogames have conditioned me to want blooood! And tonight’s episode did not make me regret all those horrible videos I’ve watched online one bit.
We may have been guessing at the details a little bit, but it was easy enough to see where Jimmy would be headed by the end of the episode. We find him at the dedication ceremony of a Memorial Day *cough* memorial, unexpectedly called out by Nucky to get up in front of the good people of Atlantic City and read out the names of local soldiers killed in the war. This was a little like Nucky blowing Jimmy’s $3,000 on a roulette bet in “The Ivory Tower.” Jimmy wants to play in the big leagues, and Nucky — a seasoned vet — enjoys rubbing his face in a world he doesn’t fully understand. But Jimmy’s learned a few things in the last year, and when he gets up he speaks with just the right amount of inspiration and humility. He didn’t fall on his face like Nucky may have expected him to, so he gets to do a nice little victory lap.
But it isn’t long after that Jimmy’s put squarely in his place when he’s faced with a roomful of the city elders, including Dominic Chianese and his massive sideburns. They know that something’s wrong with the Commodore and they’re right pissed about being put out 70 grand since Jimmy’s warehouse was bombed. Jimmy and Eli have to pretend like it’s business as usual, although Eli’s a little more eager to smooth things over than Jimmy is. This is where we see how out of his depth Jimmy really is. Just like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, he’s an up-and-comer who’s finding those who came before him more and more useless. But all that aside, the hierarchy must be respected, and when Jimmy makes a crack about being thrown out of their yacht club, Mr. Parkhurst takes his cane and beats Jimmy over the head with it. Well, that tears it, and Jimmy storms out with Eli at his heels, looking like he’s about to have a stroke himself.
While Jimmy goes home to regroup, Eli goes to Nucky’s to beg forgiveness and for a way out of the mess he’s made for himself. For a moment and almost despite himself, it looks like Nucky’s going to give in. But he’s got one condition: Eli’s got to get down on his knees and kiss Nucky’s shoes, you know, on the count of him being a f**king piece of s**t. Well, that tears that, and Nucky and Eli throw down on each other right there in the middle of the conservatory. And Eli almost comes out on top, but he’s thwarted at the last second by Margaret and an unloaded shotgun. After she’s thrown Eli out of the house, she looks at Nucky and asks, “Is this to be our life?” Really? Is this not a conclusion she came to months ago? I thought this was a great if for no other reason than to just see the guys finally go at each other. Even last season, when things were more or less pleasant between the two of them, you got the sense that there was really no love lost between the two. The thing with Jimmy and the Commodore has just given them an excuse to do something they were probably going to do anyway. And the whole thing was great for Steve Buscemi, who’s a fantastic actor but can come across a little wooden at times.
When we next see Eli he’s at home getting plastered in his garage with his son. When George drops by, he’s got to put on the same song and dance, telling him that no, nothing’s wrong with the Commodore. Eli’s got that junkie itch so it doesn’t take long for George to see through the ruse, and when he makes a ruckus Eli takes a wrench and beats him to death with it. As horrible as all that mess is, I wonder if this is the kick to the hindquarters Eli needs to start being proactive. He hates the fact that Nucky’s been there all his life, pushing him along. He resents people like his father — and maybe everyone else in AC — for thinking he’s a nobody who only got where he is because of his brother, and when he finally makes his break, all he does is trade one master for another. There he is, standing right behind Jimmy and the Commodore. Well, now that the Commodore’s out of the game, and Nucky certainly won’t be welcoming him back, Eli’s got his back in a corner. And maybe that’ll force him to actually go out and do something. After he buries George, that is.
I think we should all take a couple of moments to silently reflect on how much we love Richard Harrow, and how our lives are happier and somehow fuller ever since he was introduced to the show. Ever since it popped up a few weeks ago, I was wondering what the writers were going to do with Richard’s scrapbook. Obviously, something like that is kind of disturbing on some level. But after Richard’s scenes with Angela these past two weeks, I realized that it was much more sad than it was disturbing. Richard wasn’t looking at those pictures and thinking about how he’d like to add a lock of Angela’s hair or some of her skin to the collection. He was looking at those pictures and imagining a better life for a himself. Maybe one where he didn’t ditch his sister in Wisconsin. What he sees in those magazines, and even the picture Angela sketched of him (despite the bond it seems to have created between the two), reminds him of what an outsider he is, and it’s just gotten to be too much. So Richard heads out into the woods, apparently to kill himself. Although I guess that can be debated, as most people who take off into the middle of nowhere with no intention of coming back probably wouldn’t pack a lunch. But whether he’s serious about it or not, he ends up with a gun in his mouth, but is interrupted by a dog who runs away with his mask. The dog leads Richard to a pair of men roasting squirrels, and an afternoon spent in their company, along with some well-chosen words about these woods being for living not dying and don’t you catch my meaning are enough to convince Richard that, at least for one more day, life is worth living. But before heading home, he stops by Jimmy’s to ask his friend and boss if he would fight for him. Jimmy says he would — to the last bullet — and I’d like to believe he would. To celebrate his new lease on life, Richard and Jimmy head over to Mr. Parkhurst’s, where they accost the old man in his study and scalp him. Richard certainly seems reinvigorated. If you’re gonna do something, might as well do it right.
So the moral of the story is, the smart money’s always on Jimmy and Richard. While Eli runs back to Nucky and then takes to murdering his friends, they get their heads in the game and slice people’s scalps off. After watching the Commodore have his stroke and Jimmy’s warehouse get blown to pieces, I really thought the house of cards he had built for himself was falling down. But Jimmy wants to be a player, and when the game doesn’t work for him he goes out and changes the rules. And while Nucky can think on his feet and improvise much better than people like sad Mr. Parkhurst, he’s still going to have to watch himself.
We got lots of juicy gossip in this episode. I actually think it’s pretty smart to pace these “big reveal” episodes with more self-contained episodes like last week’s Home Invasion. It keeps things from getting repetitive but also satisfies the audience’s need for answers.
So, it appears Constance was the lady of the murder house at one point and killed her unfaithful husband as he attempted to rape maid Moira. Did she also kill Moira? She clearly shot her through the eye, but what has prompted her to continue aging, at least in the eyes of Vivien?
I think it’s really going to be important to pay attention to how the characters interact with one another and with the outside world. Think Sixth Sense. Who is acknowledged by the outside world, and in what form? We know that the police officer who visited Ben saw young Moira, so is it like she said, that men and women see her as they want to see her? If so, what else that is witnessed in the house is dependent on one’s gender, history, experience, etc.?
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I did find it interesting that the origin of the “murder” part of the “murder house” is in abortion… it explains the photos of children and the clear link the show is pushing between pregnancy, childhood and terror, but it seems a little overtly moralistic for Ryan Murphy.
As usual, this episode had several stop-and-think lines of dialogue, either because they contained potential foreshadowing or because they had several layers of meaning. For example, when the ob/gyn says that “death, divorce and movie” are the three most stressful events a person can experience, and poor Vivien is potentially facing all three. Then there’s the fabulous Jessica Lange with her line: “With soil this toxic, the best you can do is just to cover it up…” a sentiment that can be applied to the physical house and land, to his marriage’s rocky past, to the house’s mysterious history and of course, to the toxic people surrounding the house. Last line I found particularly poignant was the exchange between Ben and burned dude after the latter kills the former’s mistress with a few solid shovel whacks.
Ben: “You’re a murderer!”
Burned dude: “But you’re not, and now all your problems are solved.”
Speaking of solving problems, I was impressed (to a limit) with the relatively believable way the writers dealt with the dilemma of Vivien wanting to GTFO of that house. Given the current economic climate, it was pretty clever of them to make that the reason they’ll be sticking around the murder house for the time being. Less convincing: bratty teenage daughter’s threat to run away if they move. I didn’t buy that, and I also hate bratty teenagers in general, but especially for being bratty just for the sake of the story.
Okay, wrapping up – it appears Moira was buried in the backyard and misses her mother and now can’t leave the house? Did I get all of that right? I’m not sure how all of that information is going to play out, but I wanted to get it down now because I’m sure it will become relevant at some point along the way.
I’m fighting the temptation to keep comparing this show to Lost because it integrates supernatural and scientific/pragmatic/realistic elements into the same world, so that you’re never sure if the answer to the next mystery is going to be metaphysical or whatever the opposite of metaphysical is. For example, when Ben blacked out after his session with Tara’s mom from True Blood, I thought he might’ve actually killed her, or imagined her altogether or been possessed. But it turns out, he was just drugged by Moira with a drug that was detected by the ob/gyn, and his recorder was just swiped by his suicidal patient.
Solid episode – we got some good movement on the plot and some great insight into the history of the house. I’m still really liking American Horror Story, and part of that can be attributed to Connie Britton’s really amazing performance; it makes me want to watch Friday Night Lights. What do you think? Are you digging it (pun most definitely intended) so far?
When we last saw Rick Grimes and our plucky band of survivors, we watched as their hopes for a better life went up in flames (LITERALLY!) at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. We, the constant viewers, couldn’t help but wonder if their situation was an analogy for ours. Who wasn’t excited to hear that AMC — the home of Breaking Bad and Mad Men — would be taking on a show about zombies? It was the ultimate nerd validation. A TV show in which things would get their heads smashed in/chopped off/blown off in every episode. And this wasn’t something like Land of the Dead or similar franchises whose returns had been diminishing for years now. This was AMC. Say what you want about them, but at least we knew the show would have the freedom to tell the stories it wanted to.**
(**Yes, I realize AMC has gotten a lot of negative press this last year (and deservedly so), but both Mad Men and Breaking Bad are coming back, and both of those shows will be telling the stories they want to the way they want to. All I’m saying is, God help us if The Walking Dead had been developed by ABC.)
But as we got deeper into the show’s six-episode first season, a consensus began to form. The show was pretty good, but was doing enough wrong to leave a bad taste in our mouths. Hokey dialogue. Thin characterization. “Vatos.” Problems, yes, but we’re kind and benevolent viewers and considered six episodes not enough to pass judgement on the show. We would wait, and we would watch.
Well, the time has come, and despite reports of the show’s entire writing staff being fired, its budget being slashed and showrunner Frank Darabont being given the boot last July — and despite the fact that this is only the first episode – what the show’s come back with is pretty strong. And while it’s still suffering from some of the same problems, they’re less evident than they were a year ago. With Atlanta fixed in their rear view mirror, the survivors have set out for Fort Benning. On the way they run into a pileup on the interstate, and this is really good because anytime they get tripped up on the road in the middle of all this mess things have a way of working out juuust fine, right? WRONG, STUPID! Of course, they haven’t been parked an hour before the zombies show up and start wreaking their usual havoc. But it’s over quickly, and there are other issues the survivors have to deal with. Sophia’s missing! Andrea’s pissed at Dale! Character development! The storytelling seems likes it’s been stripped down, which I have to say is a good thing. Yes, the survivors are traveling to Fort Benning, there’s a goal in mind. But what we’re really concentrating on is the here and now. And rather than giving the group a specific goal to accomplish every episode, things seem a bit more serialized. They don’t find Sophia, and we all saw what happened to poor Carl.
The survivors seem like they’ve all had a chance to grow into their tall pants, something I’d chalk up to the fact that half of them have been killed off. Rick is still Jack with more cliched dialogue. But Shane feels like he’s a bit deeper, a little more collected than last season, and thinking past his thing with Lori. Speaking of Lost, I have a feeling Daryl is destined to become this show’s Sawyer. When he called Glenn “Short Round” I did a little fist pump. As bad as I felt for Dale, I liked where the show took his relationship with Andrea. I can’t tell whether he looks at her more as a daughter or a wife. And even though she’s right pissed about what went down at the CDC, I wonder if she’ll stay pissed, which is to say, how long until they get it on? You were all thinking it. Piss off.
Sure, the show’s still got its problems. The dialogue’s a little too hokey, especially for a bunch of Georgians (because, come on, right?). And the survivors still suffer from this strange preoccupation with keeping their humanity intact. Yes, on its surface there’s nothing wrong with that. But when everyone starts scavenging through the wrecked cars for supplies, Lori says, “This is a graveyard. I don’t know how I feel about this.” Who cares how you feel? You need food and water — especially Lori; maybe someone’s left a cache of ham sandwiches out there — so you’re not really in a position to act all prim and proper. Maybe this is intentional, and meant to contrast the gradual decline we’ll see in our characters over time. Maybe. But it’d all be a little easier to stomach without all the pontificating about survival and the long, hard road ahead of them.
Another problem/non-problem: Anyone hoping that budget cuts meant the show would have to tone down the gore is going to be seriously disappointed. If anything, the show’s turned things up to 11. There’s just as much screwdriver-in-the-eye, ax-to-the-head action you could ever want. And I do mean ever. Of course it’s to be expected in a show like this, but I worry that some of it borders on pointless. So… discuss, I guess.
My wife still needs convincing, but I am filled with hope. Hope that The Walking Dead is on its way toward becoming the show we all knew it could be. Sure, I said the same thing last year after the pilot. But I really really mean it this time. Unless next week’s episode sucks. Then I hate it.
Like “Nights in Ballygran” in season 1, “What Does the Bee Do?” is the episode that kicked this season of Boardwalk Empire into what the Germans call high gear. I’d even say that this episode was better than that one IF YOU CAN BELIEVE IT! This episode gave us the next act in Jimmy’s weird Shakespeare thing against Nucky, but more importantly allowed us to see it through the eyes of some of its secondary characters. And the whole thing really made my socks roll up and down.
If it weren’t for the Commodore, there’s a good chance Jimmy would still be fetching Nucky’s dry-cleaning or shooting Greeks in the face for Johnny Torrio. But because of his absentee father and his highfalutin’ political connections, Jimmy’s able to toss Nucky to the side and at the same time make a grab for his business. Going against Nucky is risky in and of itself, but throwing in with the Commodore may prove just as dangerous. Taking over the hooch trade isn’t cheap, and Jimmy and Eli are into the Commodore’s buddies for thousands and thousands of dollars.
And on its face, that’s not so bad, all things considered. Jimmy’s got plenty of alcohol coming in, and once they unload it they’ll have the money to pay off their debt. There are only two small problems. The town’s flush, so if they want to sell what they’ve got saved up they’re going to have to go outside Atlantic City to do it. And the Commodore, who’s just a dirty, rotten son of a bitch, has just had a stroke. This is big news! Without those aforementioned political connections, Jimmy’s business may be over before it’s begun. While Eli’s worried about what this means for his family and Jimmy accepts the news with his usual indifference, it’s Gillian we find ourselves glued to. After being taken by the Commodore when she was 13 and getting pregnant with Jimmy presumably not long after, she’s kind of lived her entire life with his presence looming over here. And now, with the Jimmy and Nucky split and the Commodore finally showing an interest in her son, she sees a way to provide for the two of them. Still, she has to play the supplicant, less she find herself thrown out on her ass. But when the stroke comes, and the Commodore’s powerless to stop her, those memories of their first night together come too thick and she beats the ever-loving hell out of him. He’s a helpless old man, but he deserves it. I won’t argue that, but the whole scene — with his drooling and incoherent mumbling — is kind of disturbing. One of those things you can’t bear to watch but can’t look away from. Gillian understandably doesn’t want the Commodore going to a hospital. Keeping him home keeps his money and means in the family, so to speak. But is she going to turn into some weird Kathy Bates figure until the guy finally dies? What’s her role in all this?
While Gillian may be moving up in the world, Chalky’s having to deal with Nucky keeping a leash on him and his own position coming into question. I’ll just throw it out there that during the little community meeting a judge and a priest (huh?) put together for him, I felt much worse for Chalky than I did for these women complaining about their dead husbands. I’ll go ahead and let that sink in for a moment. One woman tells him that no one put him in charge. But he goes around taking a bite off of everyone’s plate and the only thing he ever gives back is a summer Clam Bake and a Thanksgiving turkey. I guess if she doesn’t like Chalky, she can dump him for the next guy looking out for AC’s black community. Wait a minute. Does such a man even exist? Yes, she’s right. No one elected Chalky to anything, but he’s the man with the connections and who the money’s flowing to. He knows everybody and obviously cares about them enough to come to these little gatherings. And if he’s willing to talk to Ms. Mayhew’s rowdy neighborhoods, or Travis’ boss in the kitchen at the Ritz about their shitty working conditions, what else does she want? If she was worried about her husband getting hurt, or worse, maybe she should have told him not to throw his lot in with an illegal booze ring. Damn. If I were Chalky I’d be pissed, too. And I’d be yelling about not getting my hoppin’ john BECAUSE THIS IS MY HOUSE! The icing on that particular cake was Nucky telling him to be a good boy. Nucky’s been put on too many people’s shit list, so maybe he shouldn’t be alienating what friends he’s got left.
In just a few weeks, Richard Harrow has gone from an already kind of creepy guy who got even creepier when we saw him cutting pictures of families out of magazines to what might be the show’s most sympathetic character. First I’ll say that that first scene between him and Angela, when he stops by looking for Jimmy, was a huge relief. There was a part of me that thought Richard was going to do something terrible as soon as he found himself alone with her. I was wrong. Completely wrong, in fact. Returning later so Angela could draw him, Richard’s story about the sister he left behind in Wisconsin was kind of heartbreaking. Although taking off his mask at the very end was a little too on the those, I have to say. But watching that relationship develop will be interesting, as Richard and Angela are two people who kind of live outside everyone else’s world. Richard, for obvious reasons. And Angela, because she’s married to a man who excludes her from almost every aspect of his life. Jimmy loves her, I’m sure. And their home life seems reasonably happy, but what else does she know? She’s not even sure what’s going on between him and Nucky. In the middle of all that, how could Richard not seem like a port in a storm?
The episode ends with Van Alden’s new partners finding the garage where Jimmy’s been storing his overabundance of liquor. It’s a big find, if not for the booze than for the corruption they’re sure to expose in their superior (officer?). Little do they know that Owen Slater just packed the thing explosives and when that clock goes off the whole place goes up. One of them comes out alright, the others going to be getting strange looks from children for the rest of his life. When we see him, one half of his body’s been burned pretty bad and over at The AV Club, Noel Murray’s written a pretty good article on half-faces as a theme running throughout the episode. It was something I didn’t see until I read his piece. I’m just not that insightful. Anyway, check it out. Along with a few thoughts I couldn’t shoehorn anywhere else.
- Boardwalk Empire seems to become more stylized as it goes on. I love love LOVED the scene in Philadelphia between Jimmy’s entourage and Manny Horvitz (played by William Forsythe). Chuckling as he sharpens those butcher knives, it’s one of those little details that helps heighten the show.
- I’m glad to see Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky still in play, and imagine they must feel a lot like Chalky, still under Rothstein’s thumb. I know it’s a pitfall of show’s as sprawling as this one, but I wish we could spend more time with them, along with Torrio and Al Capone.
- I find that I don’t notice a lot of the music in the show until it ends right with whatever scene it’s playing over. It’s one of those things Scorsese began in the pilot, and has continues on, even though the cinematography has evolved a bit. Does this show reminds anyone else of old radio serials?
I loved this week’s cold open – you’re never too old or too mature for a good dick joke; they’re always funny. From there, it was downhill. Maybe I’m getting more cynical in my old age, but the “valuable lesson” episodes are my least favorite – that’s what drives me crazy on Community, but fortunately on that show, it’s usually only a minute or two.
The Office, however, is like a slightly funny and moderately edgy afternoon special every single week. This week, Andy learns to be proud of himself because his great job has led him to great friends and not let his parents’ judgment affect him anymore.
Wank. Wank. Snoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooze.
More funny, fewer life lessons please. It was mostly just awkward and uncomfortable. Even the things that were amusing in this episode were pretty weak… like the Google street view of Dwight on the seesaw with Mose. It was funny for a second, but I’m not going to think about it again like I will some of the one-off jokes in this week’s Community (chop busted, fellow adult, chop busted).
Since the beginning, the best chemistry in this show has been between Jim and Dwight. When they are messing with each other, there’s rarely a miss. I am especially fond of the long cons Jim pulls – the faxes from future Dwight, the slow addition of quarters to Dwight’s phone… so, I loved that Jim took the initiative to write a book for the sole purpose of setting Dwight up. The writers got a lot of good gags out of that, including the closing sequence (Dwight having to call out Jim’s name repeatedly and in answer to the question: Who is the best salesman in the office?) which I really enjoyed.
But at this point in its run, The Office is like the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner – it’s expected and satisfying, but it’s nothing special. Closing thoughts:
As further evidence of my Andy-is-essentially-a-replacement-for-Michael-Scott theory, when Andy is explaining the garden party, and Daryl says he can bring the barbecue – watch Andy’s reaction – it’s CLASSIC Michael Scott.
Funniest line in this week’s show: “The pewter package has the least amount of goats… it’s not no goats, it’s still 10-12 goats, depending on the goats’ availability.” But then, Robert California goes and kills the goat joke. Is the fact that he dismissed the idea as ridiculous supposed to be funny? Or was it just a set up for the less-funny exotic meats joke? I think it would’ve been funnier if he’d let the goat thing stand, and I still don’t feel like James Spader/Robert California has hit his stride in The Office yet. Overall – disappointing.
P.S. Josh Groban as a guest star was a total waste and utterly forgettable
This episode is getting a lot of hype, so I tried to go into it without expectations. Was it a funny episode? Yes. Was it clever? Yes. Was it original? Yes. Was it a little repetitive? Yes.
I get that the repetition was a necessary evil to carry out the concept, but it got a little old, and truthfully, it infringed on the amount of original content we actually got out of this episode. But that’s a very minor quibble, because the show made up for it in so many ways. I’m not sure an episode like this lends itself to traditional evaluation. So, instead, I’m going to address the concept as a whole, and then highlight a few of the funniest moments.
So, the theory is that there are six different timelines and the outcomes vary widely depending on who leaves the apartment to go get the pizza. Only a show like Community – that has already established that it acknowledges itself as a half-hour television situational comedy – could pull off a stunt like this. There are only a handful of shows that can do the stunt episode effectively (NewsRadio comes to mind), but Community has exactly the right combination of history, tone, and audience to make it work.
But more than the concept, I think the magic of this episode was in the performances – specifically, those of Donald Glover and Danny Pudi. From the moment the door to their apartment opened, they were hitting on all cylinders. Every movement and syllable was deliberate and perfectly timed. I think that the showrunners knew they’d have to hit every detail and really elevate the show to make this gimmick come off as more than a gimmick, and they were successful. It was like I was watching that one performance of a live theater production – the one where everyone is on, everything runs smoothly, there are no missed cues or faulty props – everything is just perfect. And you just can’t have more than one of those – something always fails to rise to the level except for that one time. This was that one time for Community.
It also helped that some of the scenarios and dialogue in the vignettes were just hilarious. Here are some of the best:
- “Indiana Jones and the apartment of perpetual virginity.”
- When Jeff tries to bail on the gang to go the “Single Malt Platinum Booze and Billiards” club, which was in actuality, designed just for him.
- Britta telling Abed that he isn’t dignified, then morphing into a gorilla and singing “Me so hungy! Me so hungy!”
- “Real mahogany bunk beds.”
- “Time flies when you’re baking!” “No it doesn’t!” (the expression on Troy’s face really made this one for me)
- “I demand to be housewarmed!”
- Post-burned-larynx Troy: “Clearly you don’t understand anything about defeating trolls.”
- “Chop busted, fellow adult, chop busted.”
- “Ropes? Vines? Let him finish!”
- Britta: “Shirley, don’t you think you’ve had enough?” Shirley: “Of you.”
- Watching Jeff smack his head on the ceiling fan was funny every time… same with him cutting Britta off as she starts to wail to “Roxanne.”
P.S. One additional minor quibble: I wish the baking addiction had been more clearly established in previous episodes. Yes, we know Shirley is the mom of the group and that she likes to bake, but the degree to which the group was fed up with her “addiction” hadn’t really been made apparent until they needed it for a plot point in this episode…. How very “The Office” of you, Community writers.
So, I love that the virgin dies in this week’s opening scene – it’s such an accepted cliché in horror movies that the virgin survives; they even referenced it in the Scream movies. So, it was fun to see that turned on its head.
Have there been any other single story, sustained horror/suspense TV shows like this before? I can’t think of any, but that doesn’t mean anything. The only ones that come close are Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt, but those weren’t continuous sets of characters and ongoing storylines.
I ask because I noticed that we’re getting a lot of classic horror themes and archetypes pulled from a variety of classic scary movies, which I find entertaining because you get to experience the gamut of what’s considered “scary” – the subtle emotional psychosis of an obsessed ex-lover, the paranormal creature in the basement, the creepy burned dude, the chick with white hair – it’s got a little bit of everything!
It might get old, I guess, but for horror movie fans, it’s fun to see these little tropes make cameos. There are times, though, when even I have to roll my eyes at some of the overly obvious choices. Case in point: the ball rolling back after all the characters had left the scene. I don’t know why this is different from the other horror movie staples, but for whatever reason, this one didn’t do it for me.
Another thing I’m bored with is the vibrating cell phone interruption – it was used on Community a few weeks ago, and I guess I’ve just seen it too many times recently, but it’s grating on my nerves.
Anyway, overall, a solid second episode; Jessica Lange brings some serious acting chops to her role, and watching her play the stuck-in-time vengeful, creepy neighbor is just a delight. She had some great lines this week. “Our beauty was an affront to the gods.” “I have the nose of a truffle pig.” The whole cupcake sequence was played to perfection, and we got a little more insight into her personal and family history.
Brief digression – Ryan Murphy has a way with title sequences. The opening credits for Nip/Tuck, from music to pacing to visuals, was just pitch perfect, and the same can be said for AHS. Fewer and fewer shows are using the title sequence to set the mood, opting for those extra few minutes of plot and dialogue instead, but I think it’s the right decision for a show like this – where you really have to get into the right frame of mind before watching.
Another great dialogue exchange between Ben and creepy burned dude: “I’m trying very hard not to judge you.” “Me? You murdered your entire family.” “Yes, but I was never unfaithful.”
I also loved the scene immediately after, when Ben does “the honorable thing” and lies to Vivien about why he has to go to Boston. It had great tension, and as a viewer, you had to love the layering and irony in Vivien’s response: “You know what you are Ben Harmon? You’re a good man.”
Again, I think there’s a lot of foreshadowing and hidden meanings being seeded with the dialogue. For instance, when Constance says, “A mother never turns her back on her child” and goes on to discuss her one child who was a “model of physical perfection” who was “taken by other things.” I wonder if Tate is her son – he certainly seems to be an integral thread in the weave of the house’s dysfunction. And actually, after this episode, I’m wondering if Dr. Ben Harmon has ANY legitimate clients.
I’m not going to go into the main home invasion storyline – the copycat/tribute murder is another tried and true horror staple, and I thought it was carried out really well. I especially enjoyed witnessing the difference in the 2011 and 1968 responses to injured strangers at the door. When it was all over, I wondered how they could possibly stay in this house, so I was glad that in the preview for next week, there is clearly an effort to GTFO.
I have a sneaking suspicion that effort will be in vain, and we’ll be treated to more horror highlights in next week’s episode. I wonder if the constant suspense will get repetitive if it’s all build up and no payoff, but so far, I’m entertained, so I’m not complaining… yet.